March 28, 2006
LSU Basketball:
Women's team joins the men in the Final Four after beating Stanford in the regional final (Seimone Augustus, who played AAU with Big Baby, scores 26).
 
 
 
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:
MASON.  MANIA.

How many pieces of long-standing NCAA Tournament "conventional wisdom" did George Mason shatter?

You can't be a mid-major.
Oh, really?

You must be toughened by schedule strength.
Nope.

Tournament experience helps.
Just ask Michigan St., right?

You need at least a little depth.
Ha!

In fact, it's a rite of Final Four week to analyze how useless pretournament wisdom is, as it relates to the teams that actually made it.

One factor stands out most significantly. In fact, it's not really a factor, because it's been exposed as an anachronism. At best a gimmick, at worst a myth:

Senior leadership.

Florida? Starts four sophs and a junior. If anything, losing its "me-first" would-be seniors to the NBA Draft (Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh) is the biggest reason the Gators are here.

UCLA? The stud backcourt is anchored by two sophs, with a frosh off the bench. The rest of the 9-player rotation is chock-full of underclassmen, with only two seniors.

LSU? Of the 8 players in the rotation, only one is a senior and four are freshmen. And Glenn "Big Baby" Davis really is a baby; he's just a sophomore. The anchor of experience has been vaulted by youthful enthusiasm.

In fact, if senior leadership is your guide, George Mason is the most conventional pick of the four. The starting guards (Skinn/Butler) are seniors, as is the MVP center (Jai Lewis).

You could argue that this senior leadership has been GMU's great equalizer. But it doesn't eclipse the minimal experience level and fascinating void of senior leadership on the other three Final Four teams.

Despite the good press they get for sticking around, seniors are increasingly unnecessary: The Final Four has become a younger man's game.

Women's Tourney
The NCAA Tournament is way too unpredictable for any regional matchup to be considered a de facto national title game (see Villanova vs. BC on the men's side).

But tonight's titanic regional final between top-seed UNC and No. 2 seed Tennessee is as massive a matchup at this stage of the tournament as the women's tourney has ever had.

The winner could very well go on to win the national title. Bitter Vols and Heels fans wondering why they're playing at this stage rather than in the Final Four itself can take solace: They were bound to meet anyway.

Who's got the edge? UNC is only 1-12 vs. Tennessee all time but has played better than the Vols this season. Keep an eye on UNC's player of the year, Ivory Latta, and UT's future player of the year, Candace Parker (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).

Meanwhile, it's UConn vs. Duke in the last regional final tonight. The game is in Husky-friendly Bridgeport, Conn. (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET)

Tourney Challenge
Who is Russell Pleasant? The ESPN.com Tournament Challenge leader is enjoying his 15 minutes after being one of only four out of 3 million to correctly pick the Final Four.
(Bracket picks here.)

I got a chance to talk with him yesterday for a larger profile on Page 2 today, and his name is as accurate as his game. The Omaha native was thrilled by his unexpected success but not overwhelmed.

And you'll never guess the case of mistaken identity that caused him to take George Mason to the Final Four. Check back on Page 2 later today for the details.

By the way, Pleasant's soft spot for Cinderellas ends this weekend. He's got Florida beating UCLA in his title game. He said he now kind of regrets not taking GMU all the way (but I'll bet he won't if he wins that $10K).

CHECK OUT THE QUICKIE EVERY WEEKDAY MORNING!
WHO'S GOT THE MOMENTUM ...
Nets: Beat Suns for 9th W in row (B2B over PHX, DET)
Maryland: Women make Final Four (men still bitter...)
Heat: Rally from 14 down in 2nd half to beat Pacers
... AND WHO'S GOT NO MO'
LLWS Home Runs: W'port fences moved back 20 feet
John Green: "Brawl" fan found guilty of punching Artest
Astros: Insurance claim submitted about Bagwell is denied
 
NFL Schedule
It's traditional to have the reigning champ open the season in the new Thursday night Kickoff Game. The fascinating pick is that the NFL paired the Steelers with the Dolphins. Expecting a breakthrough season?

The first Sunday night game is clever: Peyton vs. Eli. That sibling rivalry will last all of two quarters before the Colts blow it open. (Or will they? First chance to see Indy without Edge.)

And ESPN gets a doubleheader to kick off its new "Monday Night Football" coverage: Rebuilding Vikings at free-agency champ Redskins, then Chargers at Raiders. Let's see how Philip Rivers likes those Oakland fans. (Will Vince Young be in a Raiders jersey?)

(Meanwhile, yet another screw-job for Seahawks fans: The NFC conference champs -- with their reigning NFL MVP, no less -- were shut out of the four prime-time games during opening weekend. Does the NFL hate Seattle?)

NFL Rule Changes
If the NFL competition committee has its way, there won't be any more Monday-morning discussions at work about "did you see that?" TD celebration hilarity from Sunday.

The comp committee wants a crackdown. Players can spike, spin, dunk and even dance (if it's not too extended). But no more celebrating on the ground (even if you're tackled in the end zone) and no more props.

You can almost hear Chad Johnson and Steve Smith cringing. The committee equates creativity with taunting; that couldn't be more wrong.

Extreme TD celebrations are about having fun and breaking through the clutter of Sunday highlights with something clever. Fans love them, and if a player wants to use the pylon as a putter, who is the NFL to say no?

Bonds Watch
"My life is in shambles. It couldn't get any crazier. I'm just trying to stay sane."

See, those Bonds quotes would be worth an eyebrow-raise on their own, just for the dramatics. But then they were followed by this:

"Go to the Empire State Building and jump off, commit suicide and people can say, 'Barry Bonds is finally dead.'"

Now here we get into the murky realm of suicidal threats. Even in jest, they just make you skeeved out a little bit more than usual.

Is Barry just playing with the media? Was it a slip, signifying a larger subconscious toll this spring is having on him? Who jokes like that?

MLB Preview '06
I'm loving the start of ESPN.com's MLB Preview, which looked at the Cubs' chances of joining the Red Sox and White Sox as Curse Breakers.

After the last few years, MLB better maintain the postseason novelty if it wants to sustain its renaissance. Even though the ChiSox were ending a drought longer than Boston's, you could already sense fan interest dipping after the sport's magical run from fall 2003 through '04.

Today, the preview looks at key streaks and milestones. The only thing Jimmy Rollins' hit streak and Barry Bonds' pursuit of Babe Ruth have in common is that both will have plenty of critics.

Some cranks will argue that Rollins' hit streak isn't as great as DiMaggio's because it's over two seasons. (What bunk: You don't really want to go back and analyze some of those Joe D hits, do you?)

And you are all too familiar with the haters who want to asterisk away Bonds' leapfrog over Babe. It's going to happen. You're going to watch. You might gripe, but you're going to have to deal with it. It's huge.

CBB All-Americans
As expected, Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick were unanimous picks (why do they vote before the tournament?). Randy Foye, Shelden "Landlord" Williams and Brandon Roy rounded out the first team. Roy's pick restores my faith in the voters.

I always look at underclassmen All-Americans unlikely to bolt for the NBA as foreshadowing for who might make the preseason team next year (for example, I'm not counting on 2nd-teamer Rudy Gay to return).

2nd-teamers P.J. Tucker and Leon Powe, if they come back, will be preseason first-teamers, as will 3rd-teamers Glen Davis and Tyler Hansbrough. Honorable mention Joakim Noah is a lock preseason 1st-teamer next year if he returns.

(Five forwards on a preseason first-team All-America list? Why not? It should be the five best players; we're not forming an on-court team here.)

Paul Dana (1975-2006)
IndyCar racer Paul Dana, who died in a crash Sunday, was in Northwestern's journalism program with me. We got to know each other while we were there. While the rest of us were racing to get ahead in journalism, he had a different kind of racing on his mind.

I lost touch with Paul after I graduated, but I followed his auto racing career as he made the unique and fascinating leap: From racing journalist with a dream of driving to full-fledged IndyCar driver himself.

This year, he was continuing his rookie season cut short by injury last year, having been selected to drive for the star-studded Rahal Letterman team, along with Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice. It was a huge achievement.

He was warming up for Sunday's Toyota Indy 300 when he died in a two-car crash. It seems particularly tragic that he had just reached this career breakthrough and had such a bright future ahead.

But his life's memory seems best honored by following his lesson and maintaining a passionate focus on your life's dreams until you reach them. He is survived by his wife, Tonya.

Duke Lacrosse:
46 players had to provide DNA samples to be tested as part of an investigation into an alleged rape. What a terrible story.
 
 
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
Tournament Challenge
Page 2 Index
 
The Final Four's
Top 5 Seniors
Jai Lewis (GMU)
Overall MVP of tourney?
 
Darrel Mitchell (LSU)
Converted 2-guard plays PG
 
Ryan Hollins (UCLA)
Carried UCLA past Memphis
 
Lamar Butler (GMU)
4/6 3-pt FG vs. UConn
 
Tony Skinn (GMU)
Finally acting like a senior
 

NFL Moves: Panthers give coach John Fox a well-deserved 5-year extension (will they get a SB title in that time?); Cowboys re-sign WR Glenn.

NFL Commish Watch: At the owners' meeting this week, the NFL lays out a plan for finding a successor for Tagliabue. They'll take their time.

Chad Ford has his eye on which NCAA Tournament players have seen their NBA stock shoot up. As expected, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah top the list.

Tavarez vs. Gathright sounds like the top of a boxing card, but instead it's simply the Red Sox being the Red Sox and the D-Rays being the D-Rays.

Does Deron Williams get some motivation from Chris Paul's success? He had 20 pts, 6 reb and 5 ast in a Jazz W over the Hornets and rival Paul.

Congratulations to sportswriting colleague Josh Levin of Slate, who is currently tied for 4th place overall in the Tournament Challenge.

Point of clarification: Penn was "only" a 9-seed in 1979, but that was only a 40-team field, making Penn the 9th seed in a 10-team region.



SEND PRINT ARCHIVE EMAIL US
Sponsored Links
espn.com