This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 03/31/2008
A - Amazing. Stephen Curry and Davidson may have come up just a little bit short against Kansas, but that doesn't make what they accomplished any less amazing. Everyone in the world knew that he was the go-to guy whenever the Wildcats needed to score in any tournament game, yet no one found any way to shut him down. Kansas came the closest to containing him and he still ended up with 25. His performance, and that of his team, is one we won't soon forget.
B - Big Brown. We have had a much-needed jolt of excitement added to what had been a comparatively dull Kentucky Derby trail on Saturday. A colt named Big Brown was making only his third career start and first stakes appearance in the Florida Derby, a race Barbaro once won, but he certainly didn't look like a rookie. He led the whole way despite a rapid pace and pulled away at the end to put an exclamation point on a dominating performance.
C - Curlin. There is now absolutely no doubt - the reigning Horse of the Year is the best horse in the world, and one of the best of recent times. He took on a field of 12 solid horses in the Dubai World Cup on Saturday, including Dubai-based sensation Asiatic Boy, and he was forced to break from way outside in the 12th position. It didn't matter. Curlin settled off the pace, didn't fight the outside position he was forced into, took the lead at the top of the stretch, and pulled away for a convincing win. He was an ugly 2/5 at post time, but the price was clearly justified by the performance.
D - Dixon, Scott. Dixon won the IndyCar race at Homestead this weekend to become the first winner in the newly re-unified North American open wheel circuit. Now if only someone cared. I may just be talking for myself here, but all that the fighting and splits and mergers that the sport has gone through has done is made me care about it much less than I used to. Talk to me again at the Indy 500.
E - East. It has long been in vogue to say that the NBA Western Conference is wildly superior to the Eastern Conference, and that is for the most part true. When you are making that statement, though, you won't want to forget about the Celtics. Boston had back-to-back wins over Phoenix and New Orleans this week, and they also beat Dallas, Houston and San Antonio over the last couple of weeks. They can certainly compete with the best the West has to offer.
F - Final Four. I felt like a bit of a sissy when I filled out my bracket and had four No. 1s standing when the dust cleared, but I couldn't find a way around it. That being said, I am a little surprised that I'm right. If there has been one striking thing so far this tournament it's that the No. 1s are so clearly superior to even the teams right behind them in the minds of everyone. It will be very interesting to see if the trend of largely lopsided affairs continues next week.
G - Gibbons, Jay. The now former Baltimore outfielder played so badly in the spring and has struggled so badly with injuries since his big year in 2005 that the lowly Orioles figured that they would rather cut him and swallow the $11.9 million they owe him over the next two years than use up a roster spot on him. Ouch. This is just one more thing that will work to guarantee that the O's have a truly and perhaps historically awful year.
H - Hilltoppers. Western Kentucky may not have gone as far as they dreamed of, but they went further than most people expected, and they provided some great moments along the way. Their second half comeback against UCLA was impressive, and may have been the wake-up call the Bruins needed. The ridiculously long three-pointer to clinch the overtime win at the buzzer against Drake was perhaps my favorite single moment of the tournament. I look forward to seeing that big red blob back at the tournament any time.
I - Indiana. The Hoosiers are working hard to have a new coach in place before the Final Four starts so that they can get this ugly Kelvin Sampson era way behind them. Here's hoping that they don't mess it all up. The first rumors were that Tony Bennett from Washington State was their man, but he has since turned it down. That's a loss - he's the real deal. It's still a pretty solid job, so I'm sure they'll do fine. As long as there is no truth to the Isiah Thomas rumors, that is.
J - John Calipari. Memphis' coach has now taken his second team to the Final Four. He has 30 wins three years in a row. His dribble drive motion offense is deadly, and he recruits for his system as well as anyone in the country despite playing in a no-profile league. Only Roy Williams has won more games in his first 16 years as a coach. Calipari's accomplishments may be even greater if he hadn't spent three mostly wasted years in the NBA. Not that he's not already, but Calipari is now unquestionably among a very small group of the best coaches in the country.
K - Knicks. There may actually be a small glimmer of hope that the circus will actually leave New York. Isiah Thomas is still in place, but ownership finally showed some good judgment on the personnel side. Donnie Walsh, the CEO of the Indiana Pacers until this week, will take over the team next year. Walsh has done great work with the Pacers, and he will bring some much-needed respectability to New York. This should mean that Thomas will be unemployed after the season, and that alone is reason to believe that the future is bright.
L - Lakers. It has been a surprisingly good year in L.A. in a lot of ways, but suddenly there is reason to be concerned if you are a Lakers' fan. They lost back-to-back home games to Charlotte and Memphis this week. To make matters worse, Kobe Bryant's 53 points against Memphis weren't enough to lift his team past the lowly Grizzlies. With injuries to Gasol and Bynum, the problem is the same as was feared at the start of the year - this is a team which has one and a half talented players, and that's not enough in this league.
M - Memphis. Wow. I guess that those foul shooting woes weren't reason for concern after all. The Tigers showed that they can shoot free throws when it matters against Michigan State and Texas. More significantly, it was totally irrelevant because they were so ridiculously dominant on both sides of the ball that the games were one-sided mismatches. The athleticism of the team and the talent of Derrick Rose are both beyond description. As a long-time fan I take a perverse pleasure in how wrong most 'experts' were about this team.
N - Nene. The Nuggets are hot and they moved into the eighth playoff spot by beating the Warriors on Saturday night. There is a very good story hidden in the rush for the playoffs. Nene Hilario, the big, strong Brazilian, has returned to action after missing more than two months to have surgery to treat testicular cancer. He has played just one minute in two games, and he likely will contribute little to the team down the stretch, but it's just good to see him back.
O - Opera, Soap. Is it just me, or does NASCAR seem more like a soap opera than a sport these days? The latest drama comes from Jack Roush. He claims that Michael Waltrip stole a swaybar from his team, and that they tried to have parts made to fit the part. Waltrip says that it was a misunderstanding, and that they didn't even know that they had the part. Add this to all the fighting, name calling, and petty rivalries and you have General Hospital with faster cars.
P - Penguins. The more advanced the NHL season gets, the easier it becomes to believe that Pittsburgh may be the team to beat. Sidney Crosby had two beautiful assists in his second game back from his second stretch of games missed to injury, and his team beat the Rangers to take over the lead in the Eastern Conference. They have solid goaltending and as much offense as anyone out there, so they should be fun to watch in April and May.
Q - Quit. Former players need to stay out of the news. They did a lousy job of that this week. Jose Canseco again proved how disgusting he is with his latest accusations. Isaiah Rider was arrested for the umpteenth time, this time for driving a stolen car in L.A.'s Skid Row district. Benito Santiago owns a car that was seized as part of a massive cocaine conspiracy. These players just need to leave the hooliganism to the current players.
R - Record. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers' move from Brooklyn to L.A. the team set a world record. Their exhibition game against Boston on Saturday was played in front of 115,300 fans at the Coliseum. That's the biggest crowd ever to watch a baseball game. You would think that that would have been even more interesting if it was a regular season game. Until you saw the field, that is. The layout of the stadium forced left field to be so short that a well-struck bunt could sail over the fence.
S - Spurs. A couple of weeks ago it was pretty easy to be negative about the world's most boring basketball team. They had lost six of seven and were clearly limping towards the postseason. My, how things change. They are still ridiculously boring, but they have won seven straight. They've beat up on a few bad teams, but they have wins over Houston, Orlando and Dallas to prove that they are ready for their typical solid playoff run. Yawn.
T - Tar Heels. Wow, does North Carolina ever look good. I have to admit that I have never really been a big Tyler Hansbrough fan, but I have come around in the later parts of this season. Against Louisville he just took over the game. He was dominant inside when he needed to be, and he torched Louisville from outside when that was the shot he was given. I think all of the remaining teams have a shot at cutting down the nets, but someone will have to be at their absolute best to take down UNC.
U - UCLA. The Bruins had been limping through the tournament, winning games but not inspiring a lot of confidence along the way. Something changed on Saturday. They looked like they were not only the better team in their Elite Eight game against Xavier, but that they were playing an entirely different sport. Kevin Love was again as good as we have come to expect from him, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute returned to form in a big way after earlier injury woes. Odd stat of the night - the starters scored the first 73 of the 76 UCLA points.
V - Volunteers. Tennessee had a fairly legitimate claim to a No. 1 seed coming into the tournament, but they showed that they were a step or three short of what it took to be competitive. They didn't match up well with Louisville, and the problem was that they just don't have the high level athletes of other teams. It seems hard to believe, but the team has still never been to an Elite Eight.
W - Webber, Chris. I had high hopes for the former Michigan star and what he could contribute to the Warriors as a veteran influence down the stretch, but his knees had other ideas. Webber has been forced to retire because his body just can't keep up to the pace. That marks the end of a career for one of the most talented guys of his generation. He had a very solid NBA career, but I can't help but think that he could have been so much more with a few breaks going his way.
X - Xavier. It was a great run that came to an ugly end for our boys. They won a fun game over West Virginia to make the Elite Eight, but then the season came to a crashing end. They had no answer for Kevin Love because they hadn't seen a guy like him all year, and that just led to confusion, frustration, and a total inability to compete with the superior team. Still, I'm very proud of them, and it was a pleasure to write about them every week, and not just because nothing else starts with X.
Y - Yikes. A Washington Nationals home game?!? Was that really the best way to start the MLB season? Sure, they have a shiny new stadium to show off, and the president was there and all, but they aren't exactly a franchise known for nail-biting excitement and riveting play. Or maybe I am not being fair to Washington - at 1-0 they have the best record in baseball. I'm sure that will last.
Z - Zurich Classic. This week's PGA event in New Orleans had the least remarkable field we have seen in a while. Argentinian Andres Romero won the tournament, but the real interest in the tournament came from a couple of bizarre side stories. Superstar chef Paul Prudhomme was grazed by a bullet as he was setting up at the course before the tournament started. Steve Elkington and Bubba Watson almost came to blows on Friday when the younger player snapped at the veteran and pretty much lost his mind. If only the golf were as entertaining as the side stories.