March 3, 2006
Masha Lopatova:
Kirilenko's wife earned instant cred (and perhaps some worship) among fans after it came out that she gives her hubby an annual infidelity allowance.
 
 
 
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:
CLASSIC.  NOW.

The WBC is going to be huge.

You laugh! Ah, how you laugh.

So it didn't turn out to be a dream team for the U.S. (Um, Gary Majewski?)

So the D.R. has gone from The Team That Can Beat the U.S. to That Team Without Manny, Vlad and Pedro.

You might not have watched Japan play China this morning at 4:30 a.m. ET -- if you didn't, then you missed grown professionals getting hit with the mercy rule in Japan's 18-2 rout. (Mercy rule! Hope the Chinese government has a sense of humor.)

But you will find yourself following this WBC when more recognizable teams take the field next week -- and you will certainly follow the semis and finals.

(Well, maybe only the finals; after all, the NCAA Tournament 2nd round is smack in the middle of the WBC semis. If I have to choose between watching Creighton or Canada pull an upset, it's a bracket no-brainer.)

But, in theory, the WBC remains a phe-no-me-nal idea. And for a first try -- given the limitations, timing and (most of all) griping -- it can only exceed the increasingly low bar that is being set for it.

As long as no one gets hurt (the biggest X-factor), and as long as the final includes the U.S. (ideally with Clemens starting), this thing will gain traction late next week as Round 2 shapes up and build from there.

And by the time the finals come around on March 20, you'll find yourself rooting like crazy for the U.S. -- or perhaps cackling at them when they lose to the infectious team spirit of your new World Champs.

Bloody Which Day?
The good news? There was no "Bloody Thursday" in the NFL.

The bad news? That's because they put it off until Sunday. Who's got U2 ready on the iPod?

Until Monday, the story is that there is no story ... yet. Not while the owners are still trying to unite their coalitions, while Paul Tagliabue is trying to hold it all together and while players (free agents and otherwise) sit wondering what next year, 2007 and beyond will bring.

The best way to understand this story is to check out Pasquarelli's must-read that explains the latest. It is a sensational piece of reporting synthesized with analysis.

Spurs/Mavs
Last night the Spurs beat the Mavs 98-89 to vault over Dallas for the top seed in the West. They have the same record; the Spurs win the head-to-head advantage.

And yet, in the wacked NBA playoff system, the runner-up will end up the 4th seed in the conference playoffs, even if they have the 2nd-best record.

This detail makes the NBA playoff system the most ludicrous in major sports. (Yes, even more than college football.) And that doesn't even count the interminable days off the league takes between playoff games.

What to do? Recognizing that some division schedules are tougher than others, I'm trying to figure out why the NBA can't seed the playoff field based on total number of wins.

The one caveat: If you win your division, you automatically get a playoff spot. But if 5, 6 or even 7 teams have better records, that division winner could be an 8th seed. (This is similar to Mark Cuban's concept.)

CHECK OUT THE QUICKIE EVERY WEEKDAY MORNING!
WHO'S GOT THE MOMENTUM ...
South Korea: Beat Taiwan in WBC opener; anyone watching?
Florida St. fans: Won't be punished for premature court rush
Jon Stewart: Couldn't be more giddy for hosting the Oscars
... AND WHO'S GOT NO MO'
Eric Gagne: Dodgers closer bolts camp ("personal reasons")
Minnesota prosecutors: Sued by Daunte for discrimination
Anaheim: Judge rejects city's plea to rename Angels
 
Your USA Hoops Team
When USA Basketball's training camp roster is announced Sunday on ABC, the biggest question I'd like to hear Jerry Colangelo answer is: Why not Allen Iverson?

Three more questions:

(1) How is this team more equipped than the Athens team to excel within the international rules and against the Euro style?

(Well, aside from dumping Larry Brown, a coach temperamentally and philosophically the exact opposite of what the team needed. At least assistant Mike D'Antoni has experience coaching Euro style.)

(2) Is this really the right mix of players who can work in an international-tweaked system? Who needs an extra gunner like Paul Pierce when you really need players who can pass, cut and shoot limited numbers of jump shots?

(3) Will you include college players like Morrison and Redick simply because they happen to be hot collegians this year -- or because in two years they'll be among the most worthy NBA players to deserve a spot?

UNC-Duke: Circle!
I love the "Full Circle" concept for the way ESPN is covering the UNC-Duke game on Saturday. ESPN has the usual broadcast, and ESPN2 is providing an above-the-rim vantage point.

But the coolest gimmick of all is that ESPNU will be showing the game from the viewpoint of the Duke student section. Has someone given the camera person all the chant sheets? As the best student section in college sports, the Crazies better bring their A-game.

Meanwhile, here's a lock: J.J. Redick ain't ending his Cameron career with a loss.

Mo Valley Madness
The revolution might not be televised, but the upstart Missouri Valley's tournament -- from the quarters tonight through the finals on Sunday -- will be as high level and competitive as any major conference.

Let's review the Mo Valley:
SIX teams in the RPI Top 43.
(The ACC? 4.)
(Big 12 and SEC? 6 combined.)

That makes the MVC tournament as studded as any -- short of the Big East or Big Ten. And with perhaps only 4 MVC teams considered NCAA Tournament locks, it's going to be a dogfight all the way to Sunday's final.

To wit, today's quarters:
Mizzou St. (3) vs. No. Iowa (6), and Creighton (4) vs. Bradley (5), are Sweet 16-quality games. Rare for a quarters round to have so much depth.

Two implications: (1) They have to hope that they don't knock each other down, and (2) they have to hope that other mid-majors don't spring surprises that would decrease the overall number of at-large invites.

Just a thought: To capitalize on their surge in popularity and respect this season, has the conference ever considered changing its name to "Big Valley?" It just seems like leagues with "Big" convey more authority.

C-Week Tip-Off
March Madness really kicks in the moment a small-conference team wins its championship game to earn a ticket to the Big Dance. It's fair when a top seed earns it, but it's fun when they lose.

It starts this weekend:
Big South! (Saturday, noon ET, ESPN2)
Atlantic Sun! (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Ohio Valley! (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Southern! (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Bonus! Five tourneys to watch that start today:

West Coast: Top seed Gonzaga is hosting. Does that seem fair to you? Not to me, either. But who doesn't want to catch more of the 'stache?

Patriot: If you think Bucknell is in the Big Dance no matter what, feel free to root for a Pat upset to freak out major Bubble teams.

Mid-Con: Last year, Oral Roberts came in the top seed and lost, choking on its chance for a Dance invite. Has it learned anything?

Colonial: George Mason (RPI: 24). UNC-Wilmington (RPI: 37). Hofstra (RPI: 38). Three teams enter. Most likely, only one will get a bid out of this league. They should have this conference tourney in an octagon.

Oscar Picks
Because there's more than one office pool in March you want to win. Here's the Big Eight:

Picture: "Brokeback"
Director: Ang Lee
Actor: P.S. Hoffman
Actress: R. Witherspoon
Supp. Actor: G. Clooney
Supp. Actress: M. Williams
Orig. Screenplay: "Crash"
Adapt. Screenplay: "Brokeback"

Coming off my Grammy whammy, if only my NCAA picks were as right on...

Memphis:
Loss to UAB ends hopes of undefeated C-USA season. Should also end hopes of a No. 1 NCAA seed. The league simply isn't tough enough.
 
 
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
ESPN on WBC
Page 2 Index
 
Most Notable Sports Wives
Mrs. Kirilenko
Enters myth, instantly
 
Mrs. Benson
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Mrs. Christie
The anti-Kirilenko?
 
Mrs. Pittsnogle
College hoops' top mommy
 
Mrs. Agassi
You call her "Ms. Graf"
 

Stetson Watch: Atlantic Sun's 6-seed (and Quickie fave) upends No. 3 Florida Atlantic to move to semis today vs. 2nd-seed Belmont. Go Hatters!

Johnny Damon starts his Yankees career with a double and a single, then promptly leaves with Jeter, A-Rod and Leiter for U.S. WBC team.

Steve McNair will stay a Titan in 2006? Hmm, just enough time for him to tutor Vince Young to be his successor?

Can you believe Miguel Cabrera will only get paid $475,000 next season by Florida? On the open market, he could command $8 million to 10 million a year.

Another Va. Tech QB is suspended for violating team rules. Maybe it's time for coach Frank Beamer or the QB coach to get a suspension now, too.

Looking for a weekend must-read? Bill Simmons' interview with the brilliant Malcolm Gladwell should be right there. Gladwell is a genius.

Last chance to apply for Mike and Mike's "Marriage Madness." Your first fight? Maybe when your spouse does better than you in the NCAA brackets.





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