April 3, 2006
Opening Day:
You won't see a bigger collection of aces this side of an All-Star Game: Unit, Schilling, Colon, Zambrano, Carpenter, Peavy, Oswalt, D-Train and more.
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

What does tonight's college hoops title-game matchup confirm?

That Cinderella was a myth?

Or that defense wins titles?

I'd argue that, more than anything, tonight's game confirms that college hoops has become a young man's game. Where is the senior leadership?

On Florida, it doesn't exist; they've won with vastly underrated "sophomore leadership" (and "junior 3-point shooting").

On UCLA, the team's engine is its spectacular all-soph backcourt of Farmar and Afflalo (and top reserve Collison is a frosh). On a team 9 or 10 deep, only two contributors are seniors.

How young are the two teams playing for the title tonight?

So young, that if none of the players jump to the NBA (and even on draft-hyped Florida, that's not a stretch), this might simply be the first title game between these two teams, with an encore at 2007's Final Four.

UCLA dismantled LSU, but the Bruins haven't played a team yet with the balance of Florida, where the only thing the Gators don't have is seniors. But that's apparently not a problem.

Pat Forde offers 20 reasons why Florida will win.

Page 2 readers know who I'm backing based on my "Fan-in-Law" status.

Youth will be served, and the young Gators will serve up a national title.

Mason Mania Ends
Bring back the 3rd-place game! Mason-LSU was the championship game everyone wanted to see, anyway. What better opportunity than to bring back the 3rd-place game (scuttled in 1981) to pair them up?

This year especially: Is there a better capper to George Mason's epic Final Four run than to let them have an encore in Indy?

As long as fans are waiting until after 9 for the title tip-off, why can't we satisfy our Dance jones with a warm-up game at 6? The semi runners-up generated enough Final Four-week buzz that fans would enjoy a game between them.

Meanwhile, did Mason's run create a seismic shift in the balance between power conferences and mid-majors? We won't be able to tell until next year's rankings come out -- and next year's Selection Sunday.

(P.S.: The NC State job has suddenly opened up, with Herb Sendek leaving for Arizona St. How can they not at least take a look at GMU's Jim Larranaga? Too old? What other "rising" candidate has made the Final Four?)

Expand Tournament?
While I'm making radical suggestions, there's never been a better time to make my annual argument:

Expand the NCAA Tournament to all 334 teams.

(1) End conference tournaments: With every team in the Big Dance, there's no need for them anymore. The first half of the new, all-in tournament will replace them -- and improve on them.

(2) Give the top 32 teams byes: If everyone is invited to the tournament, qualifying for seeding in the 32-team "bye" pool would become the incentive to shoot for as a reward for a superior season.

(3) Create a "Little Dance": The remaining 302 teams are seeded into a 1-week, 4-round frenzy that cuts that field to 32 teams, which are seeded into matchups with the Top 32.

Instead of intramural quarters and semis of mid-major leagues that no one really notices, you can create dramatic pairings that take advantage of the "David-Goliath" dynamic that makes the NCAA Tournament so great.

Phil Mickelson: Wins final Masters tune-up (BellSouth Cl.)
Derrick Turnbow: Brewers closer gets 3Y/$6.5M extension
Pistons: No surprise, Detroit locks up HCA for East p'offs
LSU: Both men's/women's hoops teams stifled at Final Four
Mason Mania: TV ratings down 8% from last year's semi
LenDale White: Doesn't do anything to impress at pro day
(4) Proceed with usual Dance: You've effectively replaced conference tourney week with an expansion of the NCAA Tournament. Everyone wins.

(Note to NCAA championships guru Greg Shaheen: Let's talk!)

Women's Final Four
If you're just tuning in, Tuesday night's Duke-Maryland final will make history: The first-ever all-ACC title game (not to mention a matchup of the two highest-scoring teams in the country).

Duke demolished LSU 64-45, which was less of a shocker than Maryland bouncing out the tournament's No. 1 overall team, UNC.

Maybe UNC was worn down by its march through the "Region of Death," but the Tar Heels more likely were worn down by the "Hack-a-Heel" strategy of the Terps; the two teams combined for 45 fouls, to go with 43 total turnovers.

It wasn't pretty, but Maryland wasn't going to beat UNC for a second time this season (the only team to beat UNC this season) by trying to out-finesse them. Will they try the same strategy in Tuesday's title game?

MLB Opening Day
2006? Let's (p)review:

You might think Barry Bonds is evil, but you're going to have one eye on his chase of Babe Ruth. How will the fans in San Diego receive him today? Here's my guess:

"Booooo ... (Crowd inhales deeply.) ... oooooooooooo!"

There are at least quality six teams (and probably closer to 10) in the AL battling for four playoff spots. That "missed it by one game!" phenomenon in early October could be a product of today's bungling.

Greenies are out: But it's probably going to take at least a few weeks for players to start showing the effects of not being able to take their favorite amphetamines. Where's that Starbucks?!

See Odds and Ends for more.

ChiSox 10, Tribe 4
It may not have the cachet of Yanks vs. Red Sox, but this rivalry could go wire-to-wire this season, which might feel as endless as last night's game (which ended at 2:10 a.m. ET due to 3-hour rain delay).

But in the spirit of "MLB Opening Day Instant History" (a favorite tradition in the Quickie), here's what fans learned from Sunday's season opener:

Jim Thome was a great pickup: He smacked a 2-run HR against his old team, the highlight of Chicago's 10-4 win and a symbol of a revamped offense to go with the existing pitching. (No more one-run wins?)

Indians are hurting: Ace C.C. Sabathia left the game in the 3rd inning with an ab strain, an ugly omen for the rest of Cleveland's season, which was pockmarked with questions about its starting pitching.

Bush Slays Pro Day
Unless the Texans have a draft-day trade or care more about marketing than winning, your No. 1 overall NFL draft pick later this month will be Reggie Bush.

And Texans fans should be thrilled, sort of like the way NFL scouts were thrilled at Sunday's USC pro day, which might as well have been called "Bush Day."

Bush ran a 4.37 40, launched into a 40-inch vertical and put up 24 reps of the usual 225-pound bench press; then he showed his stuff out of the backfield during Matt Leinart's throwing session.

Now the only question is whether the Texans can get him to agree to a deal before the draft. Would create some good momentum for them if they could.

Nets Win 12th Straight
The story of the game came after the Nets' 90-78 win over the Heat (only 3.5 games ahead of NJ for the No. 2 East playoff slot), when Shaq ripped into the game's officiating:

"That was the most ridiculous game I've ever been a part of. When you've got a guy like Stu Jackson at the top, it shows why those referees are the way they are. It starts at the top." (Expect a hefty fine for that one.)

Shaq was called for three offensive fouls and two other questionable fouls. Shaq and Pat Riley both questioned whether there's a second standard or hidden agenda in the way refs treat O'Neal.

Tournament Challenge
Winner take all! If Florida wins, Final Four week sensation Russell Pleasant will win the overall ESPN.com Tournament Challenge title. If UCLA wins, Adam Paulsen wins. $10K, people!

"Quickie Readers" Group: Another two-entry, winner-take-all finish! If Florida wins, A. Finken wins; if UCLA wins, Brad Daniel wins. Kudos to both! (But, alas, no $10K.)

(Remember, the Quickie group was arguably the most competitive individual group in the country, with more than 10,000 entries, by far the largest single group in ESPN.com's Tournament Challenge.)

Meanwhile, I will finish in the 60th percentile of the Quickie group. (Mrs. Quickie had two entries. One is in the 99th percentile, with a chance to finish Top 60 overall out of 10,000. Talk about bragging rights!)

"National Bracket":
Last year, it outperformed 90 percent of all individual NCAA bracket entries. This March, it hit a measly 56 percent. (Collective wisdom? Nah: Herd mentality.)
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
Tournament Challenge
Page 2 Index
Title Game Matchups
Noah-Mbah a Moute
Luc handled LSU's Thomas
Give UF a speed advantage
UCLA PG peaks at right time
As Packer will say: "Long!"
UCLA must shut down the 3

More MLB Opener-Watching:

NYY-OAK: The A's are trendy ESPN.com's expert consensus (including me) to win the AL this season. If any team is loaded to top them, it's New York.

BOS-TEX: If Boston's retooled lineup can't tee off on Texas' retooled pitching staff, it's going to be a long season of disappointment.

STL-PHI: Must-track player of the day is Jimmy Rollins, who is looking for a hit in his 37th straight game; Ryan Howard had 11 HR this spring.

PIT-MIL: If the Brewers are to fulfill their destiny as the trendy NL wild card pick, they've got to start by cherry-picking division wins.

ATL-LAD: Is this the season the Braves finally don't win the NL East? Meanwhile, the Dodgers are poised to retake the wide-open West.

CHC-CIN: Is it too early to start the "Dusty Baker Ax Watch"? If the Cubs lose today, it won't be. This could be a daily feature (but won't).

DC-NYM: Who else thinks that by the time the season is over, Nats OF Soriano will be playing 2B for the Mets, who will be in the playoffs?

FLA-HOU: Maybe this should be "San Antonio vs. Houston," given that Marlins owner Jeff Loria is openly courting SA officials at today's game.

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