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Michigan State’s Final Four Appearance Boosts the State and Economy

When Michigan State won its Elite Eight matchup on Sunday against Louisville, coach Tom Izzo said that he hoped the team’s victory would be a glimmer of hope in what’s been a difficult year for the state. He said he hoped the fans could rally around the success of the team to restore some happiness and pride in the community. It makes you think that the Final Four being held in Detroit couldn’t be happening at a better time and that it was almost imperative for the Spartans to make it to Ford Field. With the condition of the automotive industry, the state will now receive a significant boost in the form of tourism for the upcoming weekend. Additionally, Sports by Brooks points out that ticket prices will likely ascend because of the Spartans’ presence in the Final Four. As Darren Rovell tells it:

StubHub spokesman Sean Pate told me that the Spartans getting in should be worth at least a $50 increase in each ticket sold on the site.

Pate says that, thanks to the close proximity to their East Lansing campus, MSU fans will be willing to invest more in a ticket since many don’t have to worry about booking a plane flight.

I hope that doesn’t mean more debt-spending for folks, but if people get out there with positive thoughts and start opening up the pocket books the way they used to, it will be good for everyone. And if the folks from Carolina, the Northeast, and Philly make their way to Michigan, it could serve as a nice stimulus package for an economy that needs it so badly. All those times Tom Izzo was rumored to take a job elsewhere (Kentucky, anyone?), maybe he never left because he knew the people of Michigan needed him more than anyone else (and MSU knew that too, that’s why they paid him top dollar). I feel the same way about the town of Memphis and John Calipari, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to stop him as of now.

Kentucky Reporters Sure Are Considerate and Sensitive to Billy Gillispie

So Billy Gillispie got the axe from Kentucky on Friday. I’m not sure if anything can portray the friction between Gillispie and the media better than the following video. This is how desperate two TV reporters from Kentucky were to get a comment from Gillispie who clearly was pulling the “Cellphone to the ear bit” even though he wasn’t talking with anyone.

Alright, so there’s the side of Gillispie about which the folks at UK were complaining. Kentucky’s athletic director, Mitch Barnhardt, tried to say it was an irreconcilable difference in philosophy and that Kentucky needed more from a coach than just winning or losing. That’s total b.s.; Gillispie could be as big of a jerk as he wants as long as they win 25+ games, the SEC regular season, and they go far in the tournament. The “ambassador for the program” bullcrap was only a convenient excuse to can the guy for having back-to-back sub-par years. Why do you think Gillispie said his only regret was that he didn’t win more? Had he won a little more, they would have kept him around regardless of whether or not he shmoozes the alumni.

Two comparisons here: Ben Howland was 29-28 after two seasons then went to three straight Final Fours. Gillispie was 40-27. Also, Howland’s a jerk too, it’s just that people don’t talk about it because the team wins. Just wait til they have a down year — that’s when it might become a problem. Kentucky better have a darn good replacement in mind if they’re going to kick out a top notch coach like Gillispie, and I’m talking Pitino or Calipari good. This might work out better for Billy G.; he could wind up in a better situation, like Arizona or Oklahoma State (if UK hires Travis Ford). As for the reporters, that’s going a little too far, wouldn’t you say?

Hey Duke, Thanks for Playing!

Duke came out on Thursday night in the Sweet 16 and did what they’ve done best lately in the tourney — they lost early. Yes, Duke got hammered 77-54 by Villanova, a loss that was so bad it managed to make UCLA look semi-decent. The Dukies shot 16/60, only 27% from the field, and an even more pathetic 19% from 3-point land. That makes it five straight years the vaunted Blue Devils haven’t been able to escape the Sweet 16. Yes, that means Duke hasn’t won more than two games in the tourney since ’03-’04. The Blue Devils are totally overrated and they showed it once again. I’m just trying to figure out what was more overrated this year — Duke, or the ACC.

Sure, you can tell me that Duke had an off night, the kind that can happen to any team. But I was saying it from the start that a team reliant on three point shooting can go cold at any point and be doomed. Conversely, Pitt hasn’t played its best but still advanced because of great rebounding and timely clutch shots. Duke did have solid non-conference wins at Purdue and at Xavier, but the Blue Devils showed that they were just like every other ACC team — overrated. Clemson, Wake Forest, and Florida State were all middle of the pack conference teams, just like the ones in the Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, etc. Because of the hype surrounding the conference, they got higher seeds and higher rankings than they deserved.

Now the ACC is down to one team standing — UNC. The Heels have even been overrated, considering people made it seem as if they were the best college basketball team ever, able to drop 100 on anyone at any time. They’re no doubt that they’re a good team and potentially our national champions, but as good as they were made out to be, they shouldn’t have lost four games. So once again Duke got high rankings and high seeds all throughout the year. Once again, the Blue Devils proved they couldn’t get it done in crunch time. When will they stop getting the benefit of the doubt? When will Dukie V. see the light?

Video: Levance Fields Game-Winning Shot Against Xavier Bails Pitt Out

Levance Fields has really stepped up his game in his senior year, improving his assist/turnover ratio to 3.75:1. Even more important than that, Fields has stepped up and shown that he is the take-charge guy on the team, embodying the term “senior leader.” Check out what he did against Xavier in the final minute:

I really do think that the terms “senior leader” and “leadership” are bullcrap ones that get overused way too much. Just because a player is an upperclassmen doesn’t mean he’s any more of a leader than a younger guy. Just having been in a program four years doesn’t make you experienced. Bottom line: if you’re a winner, you’re a winner, if you’re a loser, you’re a loser. What makes someone a leader is exactly why Levance Fields did — staring fear of failure in the face and pissing on it, all the while putting the fate of your team on your back with one jump shot. Fields connected, then came up with the steal and the layup, and he bailed his team out just like he did against Oklahoma State when he scored five straight points to break a late tie. Now that’s a freaking leader. That’s how March Madness legends are made.

So Is Billy Gillispie Fired from Kentucky or Not? He Shouldn’t Be

After Kentucky got dropped in the N.I.T. by Notre Dame on Wednesday night, there was heavy speculation that coach Billy Gillispie would be fired. In Game Now, citing no specific sources, said he was gone on Thursday (that didn’t happen). Then late Thursday night, several sites linked to a report from WHAS that supposedly said Gillispie was fired according to multiple sources. Well, just see below how that’s turned out:

WHAS does have a TV report saying Gillispie is out as Kentucky’s coach, but I’ll wait for an official announcement to believe it. TV stations and newspapers have been wrong before, especially when they’re trying to be first in breaking news. I’ve said it before here plenty of times that I’m a big fan of Gillispie. If they make a change it will be completely ill-timed and nothing other than a reactionary move.

How can you only give a guy two years to do his thing? That’s not a fair shake. Furthermore, I do believe they have the right guy and one of the finest coaches around. They have some stars on the team, they did some good things this year. With his recruiting touch, they can be running through the SEC in no time. Have patience Kentucky, I know it’s a new word for you, but just have patience. Ben Howland was 29-28 in his first two years at UCLA. Then he went to three straight Final Fours. Gillispie can do the same thing.

David Price Victim of Rays’ Goals for Long-Term Success

David Price is such a baller that I made the case for him as ESPN The Magazine’s “NEXT” athlete over Matt Ryan, Joey Logano, and Ricky Rubio. Hard to go from calling him the next greatest pitcher in baseball to seeing the Rays option him down to Triple-A to start off the season. So if this guy already proved he’s the goods by nutting up huge in October, and if the Rays are serious about repeating as AL East champs, then why would they send potentially their best pitcher down to the minors to start the year? The Rays argue that they want to see Price develop more command of his fastball and better pitch efficiency. Whatever that means. I’ll tell you what they really mean.

The Rays are doing something the Yankees never would have the discipline to do — they’re taking it slowly with a player. For the Rays, most of the decision has to do with the economics of the game. Sure, in there eyes it probably can’t hurt Price to work on a few more things at a lower level but I imagine they all know he’s ready for the big time. The bottom line is that Tampa is trying to build a team that can achieve long-term success, not just be a one year wonder. And you don’t achieve long-term success by bringing guys up earlier than you should nor by starting their league service time clock earlier than needed (because it brings players that much closer to free agency). Lastly, and this is probably the part most people don’t realize, the Rays are handcuffed by Jeff Niemann and that’s why Price is suffering. Niemann was the team’s first-round pick, 4th overall in ’04. Since the 6’9″ right-hander is out of options, they have to give him a crack at the final spot in the rotation before they just let him go. Niemman’s a guy who went 17-0 his second year at Rice. They know he could be a gem. They’re not just going to let him walk for nothing, so might as well see what he can do because they could end up with some excellent trade bait that will only make the team stronger in the long run.

In the meantime, poor David Price, though he seems as ready as a pitcher can be, must grit through another April in Durham. He’ll be up with the club in no time and hopefully it won’t be too late for Tampa by then. Think long-term, Rays fans (however few you may be), and have faith in your team’s front office.

UCLA Fans Can’t Whine About Villanova’s Home Court Advantage in Philly

One aspect of this year’s tournament that immediately jumps out at you is how few upsets there were. For the first time ever, all top three seeds in each region advanced to the Sweet 16. As it has been under the pod system, many of the top teams are rewarded by being placed in a region that will allow them to play close to home in the early rounds. Both Duke and North Carolina got to play in Greensboro which is in their home state. Even Washington and Gonzaga got to play in Portland which is much closer to Seattle and Spokane than say Bowling Green and West Lafayette. And as UCLA fans well know, Villanova got to play in its home city of Philadelphia, which no doubt proved to be an advantage. I somewhat got caught up in this when I talked about it on the radio but I also must remind myself to stay balanced.

Last year UCLA got to play its first two games of the tournament in Anaheim, only 50 miles south of the campus and nearby a good portion of their fanbase. Without that advantage, the outcome of the two-point win over Texas A&M could have been different (Darren Collison even said so after the game). Two years ago the Bruins got to play their first two games in Sacramento and their next two games in San Jose for the regionals, all within the home state (quite an advantage for the two seed over the one seed — Kansas). In 2006, another Final Four season for the Bruins, UCLA got to play its first two games in San Diego (four hours closer to campus than Sacramento), and the two regional games in Oakland. Again, they never left the state en route to the Final Four.

Complain all you want about the pod system and the way it gives top seeded teams the advantage of playing close to home, or the way it makes teams in the “West Region” (like UConn) play its first and second round games in Philadelphia (go figure). I just need to remind myself and other Bruins fans that we can’t bitch about the bad luck in playing in Villanova’s back yard when we had the same advantage three years in a row. And maybe it’s not such a bad thing considering it rewards consistent winning during the regular season, something I always preach and support. But if you want more upsets, take away the home court advantage gained with the pod system.