Author: Chris Dufresne

West crashes Final Four: Congrats to the Pacific North Pest(s)

You can’t spell W-E-S-T without W-E so let’s just log split-it out: W-E did it. Well, they did it, but not without the Birkenstock backing of left-leaners who unabashedly cheered, not so much for players or coaches, but for a geographical region. Rankman Inc. put all his stock in west-coast NCAA teams this year, knowing full well no school near the Pacific Rim had touched a Final Four rim since UCLA in 2008. No school from the West has won the NCAA title since Arizona in 1997, so projecting three teams to this year’s Final Four seemed like a Dick Fosbury flop waiting to happen. Except, if you remember Fosbury, you know he was a mold-breaking Olympic high jumper from …Oregon. (Ok, Fosbury attended Oregon State, not Oregon, but he was close enough to go on a mile run to Eugene.) Sometimes, in life, you just have raise the bar and leap over it backward. To paraphrase the poet Robert Browning,  “Rankman’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a hoop heaven for?” So, two Sundays ago, we took a flying leap and postulated a Final Four of Villanova, Gonzaga, UCLA and Oregon. Two out of four isn’t bad, Gonzaga and Oregon, especially when you consider this marks the first time two teams from the Pacific Time zone have EVER shared the same Final Four. First, it is important...

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TMG bracket “bake off” contest heads for exciting finish

The first TMG bracket challenge begged the following question: Are you smarter than three sportswriters who have covered, combined, more than 70 NCAA Tournaments? With two weekends down and a Final Four to go, know this:  only one of TMG’s co-founders has a chance to compete for the grand prize. That would be moi, DufRankman1, who currently stands t-7 with Gonzaga as his projected champion. That’s right, kids, Rankman has a chance to finish t-1 in his own tournament. That would be sort of like Bing Crosby winning his clam bake at Pebble Beach. Bad form. Actually, this is NOT what we expected, nor had in mind. And Rankman is rigorously rooting against that odorous possibility, even if it does reflect admirably upon his game-picking abilities. Thankfully, there are still miles to go, though, before you weep. TMG co-founder Jersey Guy is t-19 but his chances broke down like a nag at Churchill Downs when his champion, Kentucky, lost that white-knuckler to North Carolina. TMG co-founder HerbGould is down near the caboose, at t-36, which isn’t going to earn him many FedEx points. Herb lost two alma maters along the bracket way, Wisconsin and Northwestern, with the Badgers’ losing ever-so-painfully in overtime to Florida. Here’s the skinny: Smackyd3232 is our current leader, but he picked Duke as his champion. Basically, he’s leading the Indy 500 but he’s going to run...

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NCAA Weekend wrap: the Sweet 16 (with a side of sour)

Sixteen takes from the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament: 1: Horace Greeley wasn’t the only newspaper man to shout “Go West.”  Rankman’s pre-tournament, geographical finger point turned out to be prophetic. In a story last week read by dozens, Rankman claimed four Western schools were poised to make deep advances into this year’s NCAA Tournament. If not now, when? All four of my touts pulled through: Gonzaga, Arizona, Oregon and UCLA. The West, in general, was titanium. Even UC Davis (Big West) got to log an NCAA win in the history book. The West Coast Conference advanced as many teams to the Sweet 16 as the Atlantic Coast. Gonzaga and St. Mary’s went 3-1, with the Zags still playing. USC, the second-to-last team to make the field, won two NCAA games before UCLA played its first.  The Pac 12 emerged 8-1. Making the Sweet 16 IS NOT enough. To regain national credibility, a team or two from the West must push through to the Final Four. It’s still a fight out there in the non-west world. USA Today devoted a Monday cover story to a conference that did well on the first weekend. “Success Quells Big Ten Critics.” The Big Ten went 8-4.   2: UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball IS the best player left in the field. And that’s saying a lot, because there are terrific players left....

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West Regional: It all comes down to Zags vs. Zona

Outlook:  Top-ranked coaches Mark Few (Gonzaga) and Sean Miller (Arizona) appear to be on a regional final collision course: Few and Miller are on the short list of “best coaches who have never been to a Final Four.” You got to love this region just for the first-time inclusion of Northwestern, which hosted the first NCAA Tournament in 1939 but is only now making its first appearance. A potential second-round match up against Gonzaga, however, could make this a remake of “Gone With The Wind.”   Upset specials:  Arizona fans probably cringed when they saw a possible second-game date against No. 7 St. Mary’s. This will remind some of 1993, when another Bay Area team from the West Conference, Santa Clara, pulled off one of the biggest 15-2 upsets in NCAA history. Good news: St. Mary’s doesn’t have a guard as good as Steve Nash. Upset books: No. 12 Princeton over No. 5 Notre Dame; No.11 Xavier over No.6 Maryland. Hunch: “Dunk City” over No. 3 Florida State. Moving to San Jose: Gonzaga, West Virginia, Xavier, Arizona Regional champs:...

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It’s time for Western front to make a stand in NCAA Tournament

  To quote Jim Morrison, the former UCLA film student, booze guzzler, lizard king and early Gail Goodrich fan: “the time to hesitate is through. No time to wallow in the mire.” It’s time for the UCLA, and the West, to light someone’s fire in the NCAA Tournament. The hardest thing to hear last week, maybe all year, was ESPN carnival barker Bill Walton calling the Pac 12 “Conference of Champions.” That is all fine and good, and true, but Pac 12 revenue sports have come up drier than the Mojave for more than a decade. The last title in football was USC’s 2004 championship, later vacated by the lords of the BCS. The last title in basketball is now the 20-year anniversary of Arizona’s win over Kentucky in Indianapolis. Let’s put that in context. Arizona won the 1997 title on March 31. Almost two months later, May 22, 1997, a baby was born in Vantaa, Finland who would later matriculate into Arizona’s starting lineup: That baby was current freshman star Lauri Markkanen. You realize how much pickled herring has been consumed in the interim? So, anyway, the NCAA bracket is out and it’s time for the West to win. No more excuses. UCLA’s Lonzo Ball has a sore left thumb? Too bad. You think a bum thumb would bother someone like Steph Curry? Oregon has lost senior Chris...

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