March 30, 2006
LeBron James:
Scores 46 to lead the Cavs over the Mavs; after three seasons, he's finally helped the Cavs secure a playoff spot after coming oh-so-close the last two years.
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

You love George Mason now, but will you still love the Patriots if they're not playing in the title game Monday night?

George Mason is the biggest story in college hoops in a long time. But it's worth asking: Will they be remembered as intensely if they lose to Florida on Saturday?

The Patriots likely will remain legendary because of their perfect storm of a Cinderella story:

*First mid-major of "64" Era.
*Rare double-digit seeding.
*Toughest 4-game path ever.
*The utter unexpectedness.

Here's your thought exercise for the day:

Off the top of your head, try to name the five most memorable Final Four surprises of the past 20 years that did not make the title game.

(OK, we can all name that sick '91 UNLV team. But they were supposed to be there. Try to name four others the average fan might recall.)

One Cinderella comes to mind for me instantly: Providence in 1987. And then I draw a blank (at least for teams that weren't supposed to make it).

Final Four teams who don't make the title game tend to have that effect: They are forgettable.

So I'd argue the real success story of this George Mason team will be that, even if they lose to Florida on Saturday, we'll still remember them.

Duke Scandal, Cont'd
"Blue Devil Wall of Silence": It's the most disturbing part of the Duke lacrosse scandal and the reason why the faces of 40-plus players are plastered on posters like Most Wanted criminals, with the simple plea: "PLEASE COME FORWARD."

I recognize that these are allegations. But if several players are as innocent of the alleged sexual assault as their captains claim, where's the transparency?

Team members have some explaining to do, and they're simply not doing it. I'm astonished that at least some players haven't come forward on their own, out of a sense of simple moral decency.

I'm also surprised that none of the players' parents have grabbed their kid by the scruff of the neck and marched him to the cops, saying "You will talk."

And I'm still waiting for the coach and AD to show some leadership to tell players that if they don't cooperate fully, they're gone from the team.

Bonds Investigation
I predict critics are going to be totally frustrated by the outcome of MLB's investigation into Barry Bonds and recent steroid allegations, to be announced today and led by George Mitchell.

The ones who squawk for an inquiry are the same ones who want to see the punishment in blood, bans, asterisks, stricken records, Hall of Fame ineligibility, water torture and anything else that sounds painful.

Two problems: (1) There's been no sign of evidence beyond a handful of no-name players who failed the tests last year. (2) You can't punish players for something that wasn't against the rules beyond two years ago.

The investigation is coming together because it has to; public outcry (or maybe media outcry) demands it. But don't expect it to deliver satisfaction -- or justice, however you interpret that.

Grady Sizemore: Indians give stud OF 6Y/$23.45M extension
NFL in China: League eyeing an exhibition game in Beijing
Nets: Still sizzling, beat Grizz for 10th straight win
Holmgren Super-censure: Tags decides against fining coach
KG getting traded: T'wolves owner Taylor quashes rumors
Paul Tagliabue's retirement: May be delayed by search
2006 MLB Preview
The announcement of MLB's investigation into Bonds and other players enmeshed in the 'roids scandal dovetails nicely with the No. 1 choice for my Top 5 Story Lines of the new MLB season:

(1) Bonds vs. Babe
Screech all you want about steroids, but the sports world is going to stand still as Bonds approaches (and passes) Babe Ruth. Teeth will be gnashed. Harumphs will be snorted. But, oh yes: You'll be watching.

(2) AL East: Odd Team Out
Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays: At least one (and perhaps two) of these teams will not be in the playoffs. The Yankees overspent to poach Johnny Damon. The Jays spent $100 million to join the arms race. The Red Sox topped them all with offseason front-office drama. Someone's going home unhappy.

(3) This Year's White Sox
So who had the White Sox winning it all last year? No one. So don't laugh when I say the Brewers are this year's White Sox; you would have mocked me last year if I said the White Sox were going to dominate their way to a championship. And so consider this a grace period for reaches.

(4) Fantasy or Reality?
Every year, the grip your fantasy roster has on you gets a little tighter and your grip on your real-life team relaxes slightly. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's more fun to manage your grab bag of players from lots of teams than it is to mope about your dud of a favorite team.

(5) Greenies vs. Starbucks
When MLB banned amphetamines, I thought it was the biggest jolt to the system ever. Bigger than the 'roids ban, because everyone (ab)used greenie-like stuff. And that fraction of a second of faster reaction time could be the difference between .300 and .240, or .260 and .200 (eerie silence).

Then I found out some players are supposedly getting "legal" scrips for Strattera or mainline caffeine pills, to induce the same wake-up call for their bodies. But don't complain: You really don't want to see them without it.

Because without the boost from the pep pills off the field, how can they fulfill all of the story lines on the field?

Coming Friday: MLB '06 Picks!

NFL Rule Changes
"Did you see that? Hilarious!" Creative TD celebrations are among the most discussed parts of a Monday morning NFL conversation.

The represent a safety valve of good, clean fun during an otherwise tense and often brutal day of action.

In approving a new rule to quash excessive celebration (since when is putting the ball with a pylon excessive?), the NFL creates a new problem:

Enforcement. The guidelines are sketchy, at best. No celebrations while lying on the ground? No extended dancing?

Imagine Chad Johnson scoring a TD in front of the home Cincy crowd: A quick trigger by a more stodgy ref will trigger a hostile fan reaction.

So does that mean that the rule will be applied more leniently at home than for visiting teams?

The owners should have spent more time weighing the merits of expanding the playoffs (a legitimate issue) than cracking down on the fun.

Quickie Book Club
Just before the NCAA Tournament ramped up, I was dazzled by two offerings from the bold thinkers over at Baseball Prospectus:

Baseball Prospectus 2006: At this point, this has become THE reference manual. I know a guy who claims to read it front to back, like a novel. I hunt-and-peck, but for fantasy drafts, your own intellectual spring training (or simply to have the most ingenious things to say at parties with more casual baseball fans), this is the one.

Baseball Between the Numbers. The subtitle says it all: "Why Everything You Know About the Game is Wrong." Now THIS is a book you can read cover-to-cover, and it's fascinating, particularly for fans still trying to get a handle on all this statistical stuff. Even the more sophisticated SABR sympathizer will find it provocative.

(P.S.: I'm still waiting for the first report of a BP acolyte who named their child "PECOTA.")

A.J. Burnett:
Will miss first two starts and start season on the DL, an inauspicious debut for the spend-happy Blue Jays, who put out more than $100 mil this offseason.
Today on
Quickie: Live!
All-Time NCAA Team
Page 2 Index
Memorable Final Four LOSERS
Providence '87
Pitino and Donovan rule
Georgia Tech '90
Remember "Lethal Weapon 3"?
Illinois '89
Love the "Flying Illini"
UMass '96
Camby and Co. ousted by KY
Penn '79/LSU '86
In news because of G. Mason

Greatest College Hoops Team Ever? Unsurprisingly, users picked Michael Jordan's 1982 UNC team. Those Tar Heels nearly lost to G'town, people!

UNC super-frosh Tyler Hansbrough returning to Chapel Hill next year: Consider one of those preseason 1st-team All-America spots taken.

McD's A-A Game: Texas-bound Kevin Durant paced the annual no-D showcase with 25 pts and was named co-MVP. Greg Oden had 10 with an injured wrist.

Wie Watch: Makes pro debut today at Kraft Nabisco Championship, but the favorite still has to beat defending champ Annika Sorenstam.

More NFL rule changes: "Down-by-contact" fumbles reviewable. Watch for the uproar when one side claims to have stopped playing at the whistle.

And more: The owners rejected the Bucs' proposal to have all penalties be reviewable. What a can of worms that would have been.

It's that time of year: College underclassmen are declaring for the NBA draft. The latest: Miami G Guillermo Diaz. Enjoy the NBDL, kid.

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