This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 03/23/2009
A - Arizona. So much for that theory that the Wildcats didn't deserve to get an at-large bid. They had underachieved for much of the year, but the three-headed monster of Jordan Hill, Nic Wise, and Chase Budinger are incredibly talented, and they are playing very well in the tournament. Arizona has looked absolutely nothing like a No. 12 seed as they have marched past both Utah and a surprising Cleveland State squad. They have a very rough draw next in Louisville, but if they keep playing like they have been playing so far then they'll be tough to send home.
B - Brad Richards. Talk about a hard-luck case. The big center for the Dallas Stars returned to action on Saturday after missing 15 games with a broken right wrist. He lasted until the third period. That's when he broke his left hand - an injury that is likely to keep him out of action for the rest of the year. It's not a wonder that Dallas' playoff hopes are dim - despite missing five weeks, Richards is still the team's third leading scorer and the leader in shots.
C - Cleveland Cavaliers. Those of you waiting for Cleveland, with their roster that doesn't look entirely dominant on paper, to fall back to earth should probably look for something else to do. King LeBron and company have won nine in a row, and they have looked pretty good doing it. There have been some soft spots in the recent streak, but they have beat some good teams as well, like Orlando and Portland. The streak has put distance between the Cavs and Celtics and has secured Cleveland's spot as the team to beat in the East.
D - Demon Deacons. Oops. Wake Forest found a way to ruin a pretty darned good regular season with a dismal performance in their lone tournament game. It's not that they necessarily need to be ashamed of losing to a feisty team like Cleveland State. It's that they looked so bad in the 15-point loss. There is lots of blame to go around - star Jeff Teague continued the dismal play that plagued him down the stretch, the big men were totally useless, and the team looked disoriented and surprisingly disinterested.
E - East Tennessee State. It seems so unlikely, but performances like the one by East Tennessee State on Friday make it possible to believe that a No. 16 seed may just pull off the ultimate upset one day. The Buccaneers lost to Pitt by 10, but it was much closer than it appeared. The Panthers struggled with the intense ETSU defense, and the Bucs were within one score with less than seven minutes left. It was only a huge game by DeJuan Blair that saved Pittsburgh from incredible embarrassment.
F - Freshmen. The freshman class this year isn't as heralded as it has been in recent seasons, but the youngsters have certainly stepped up in under the pressure of the biggest spotlight. DeMar DeRozan of USC has continued to be crucial to his team, Demetri Goodson was the hero in Gonzaga's second win, Tyreke Evans led Memphis over Maryland, Samardo Samuels is crucial to Louisville's success, and Willie Warren at Oklahoma has been very cool under pressure.
G - Griffey. The Kid is back with Seattle, and he did something very familiar to the team's fans on Friday - he clubbed a monstrous home run. It was one of few highlights for Griffey this spring - he was batting just .105 in spring training before the two-run bomb. Things aren't as bleak as they sound, though - Griffey is reportedly healthy, and the knee problem that limited his power in the second half of last season hasn't been a problem so far.
H - Hilltoppers. Where have we seen this before? Like last year, Western Kentucky came from nowhere to put together some impressive performances and open some eyes. They made it to the Sweet 16 last year, and they came very close to doing it again. In the first round they took advantage of the absence of playmaker Chester Frazier to get past Illinois. In round two they gave Gonzaga everything they could handle, and they had the lead for the last time until 0.9 seconds were left in the game. Impressive.
I - Idiot. Jay Cutler is a massive baby. The Denver quarterback situation has been mishandled by the player, ownership, and the new coaching staff. Of all those groups, though, Cutler is the one who most badly needs to grow up and get over himself. He's pouting and being ridiculous, and he's going to wind up in a situation that is quite likely not as good as the one he is in now. It's as if Cutler and Donovan McNabb are good buddies who give each other advice. I don't understand why either player can't just shut up and use the situation as motivation to play even better.
J - James Harden. Arizona State's sophomore stud was the Pac-10 Player of the Year, and he's a likely high lottery pick if he enters the NBA Draft, but he certainly didn't handle the pressure of the tournament well. Harden shot just 3-for-18 for 19 points combined in his two games, so he didn't even manage half of his season average of 20.4 points per game. The Sun Devils sorely missed him, too - they had more trouble with Temple than they should have, and were never really in contention with Syracuse.
K - Klitschko, Vitali. The WBC heavyweight champ defended his title easily on Saturday night, and it's amazing to me how few people - myself included -- care. A heavyweight title fight used to be a huge deal, but Klitschko is so colorless, and the opposition so pathetic, that it hardly registers anymore. Klitschko beat Juan Carlos Gomez, his former sparring partner, with a ninth round knockout that followed a one-sided fight. Sadly, the division has little hope of improvement in the future - the only fight it could offer that is worth seeing is if Vitali fought brother Wladimir, but they refuse to meet in the ring.
L - Lawson, Ty. Lawson clearly has a flair for the dramatic. He missed the Tar Heels' first round game with an injury, and he was a game time decision for the second game because his toe injury was still an issue. He ultimately played, but for the first half against LSU it looked like he probably shouldn't have. That all changed in the second half, though. Lawson had 21 points after the half to lead his team to the Sweet 16 yet again. Gonzaga is up next, and they are playing well, so Lawson will need to be in top form again to help his team advance.
M - Matthew Stafford. The likely top quarterback in the upcoming NFL Draft finally threw for scouts this week at Georgia's pro day. The event was, as usual, highly scripted and carefully managed. As expected, then, Stafford looked quite good, throwing the ball well and only occasionally missing his receivers. It's hard to believe that Stafford did anything in the performance to help or hurt his stock, but he certainly has to be relieved that he has cleared the last hurdle and it should be smooth sailing from now to his big payday.
N - Nuggets. Denver has shown signs that might lead you to believe that they are in trouble - injuries, a clash between coach and star, and so on. Despite that, and despite expectations that widely viewed them as less than a playoff squad, the Nuggets are hot and are currently holding home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs with 10 games left to play. Denver has won five in a row, though that's more of a sign of just taking care of business than of real power given the incredible weakness they have played over the stretch - the Thunder, Clippers, Nets, Grizzlies and Wizards. That's hardly a murderer's row.
O - Ovechkin, Alexander. Alexander Ovechkin accomplished two things this week. First, by scoring his 50th goal when the second highest total is just 41, the Russian reaffirmed that he is unquestionably the top goal scorer in the game today. Second, with a celebration that was more befitting of a wide receiver than a hockey player, he sparked a controversy of laughable proportions - his coach was vocally outraged, and the action added fuel to a war of words between Ovechkin and hockey icon and general hot-air dispenser Don Cherry.
P - Pudge. It took longer than expected because he was involved in the World Baseball Classic, but Ivan Rodriguez finally has landed with a new team - the Astros. He comes at a bargain - just $1.5 million - and he joins a team that needs any boost it can get - Houston has been indescribably brutal this spring. Pudge's best years are behind him, but he has a strange habit of being on teams that win, and he'll provide veteran leadership for a team that looks like it could use some more.
Q - Quick healer. Dominic James broke his foot less than a month ago, so it was truly a shock when the senior was cleared to play for Marquette on Sunday. Unfortunately, the potential Hollywood script didn't end like it would have in a movie. James was able to play 17 minutes, but his impact on the score sheet was virtually non-existent, and his return wasn't enough to lift his team past a tough Missouri squad. Still, no one can question the guy's toughness.
R - Record breaker. Martin Brodeur certainly had an eventful week. On Tuesday he won the 552nd game of his career to pass Patrick Roy and become the league's all-time win leader. Then on Friday he secured his 101st career shutout to move to within just two of the 40-year old record set by Terry Sawchuk. Brodeur has five blanks in just 20 starts this year, so he could add that record to his impressive collection before this season ends. Fate couldn't be entirely kind to Brodeur this week, though - he also got hit with an alimony bill worth about $6 million.
S - Siena. The Saints are going home, but not before putting together one heck of a dramatic tournament run. In the first round they fought back to tie Ohio State in the last minute, came from behind again in the last seconds of overtime to tie it up, and won it in the second overtime period. Round two saw them run into the No. 1 seed in the tournament in Louisville. The Saints struggled to keep up through the first half and the start of the second, but they had the lead with as few as four minutes left. They stayed close right to the end, but the Cardinals were just that little bit better. Still, the Saints should be proud.
T - Tigers. Memphis probably feels slighted by being made a No. 2 seed, and they have used the tournament as a way of showing their frustration. At times. They had more trouble with Cal State Northridge in the first round than they really should have. They more than made up for that, though, by demolishing Maryland on Sunday. All five starters for Memphis were impressive in their own way, and Roburt Sallie continued his unlikely tournament offensive explosion as John Calipari's boys served notice that they are here to stay.
U - USC. The Trojans' bubble had to burst at some point, but before it did they put together an impressive run - so impressive that you have to wonder what they could have done if they had played anywhere near their potential all year. After coming from way back to win the Pac-10 Tournament and earn a tournament bid they wouldn't have otherwise received, USC absolutely demolished Boston College in their first round game. They almost pulled off another upset against Michigan State, too, but foul trouble caught up to them and led them to fall just short. Freshman DeMar DeRozan had a great tournament, increasing the chances that he will be one-and-done.
V - Villanova. The Wildcats are a better team than most people expected them to be, and their hot play has continued into the Sweet 16. Their wins over American University and UCLA weren't always smooth, but in the end both were convincing. They were particularly strong against UCLA, jumping out to an early lead and never really letting the decidedly overrated Bruins to be a factor. Next up is a tough but decidedly winnable tilt against Duke.
W - Wolverines. It has been a long while since it has been fun to be a Michigan fan, but I was very proud of my boys this weekend. Even making the tournament in the second year of John Beilein's reinvention of the dismal program was more than we could have hoped for. The Wolverines didn't stop there, though. They made the second round by getting past Clemson in an incredibly physical game, and then hung tough in another bloodbath against Oklahoma. Not to make excuses, because the better team won the second round game, but it was amazing to watch how differently the officials call a team with a megastar like Blake Griffin than they do a journeyman squad few people know much about. Whether Griffin has earned the breaks or not, he certainly gets them.
X - Xavier. The mascots of our program are doing us extremely proud. I was concerned about the form they had shown down the stretch and in the conference tournament, but I didn't have to be. The Musketeers had wins over Portland State and Wisconsin to reach the Sweet 16, and they didn't even have to break a sweat to do it. As usual, they have done well by playing stout defense and by sharing the load offensively. Their next game against Pitt will be tough, but it should also be very interesting.
Y - Yikes. The Kentucky Derby trail was looking simple and straightforward, but for the second straight week an upset has created confusion. This week's headline race was the Lane's End at Keeneland. West Side Bernie and Bittel Road were the two big contenders, but neither fired and they wound up sixth and 10th, respectively. The winner was Hold Me Back, a 9/1 choice who hadn't run since November. This race was on a synthetic surface, and like so many other horses on the trail this year we really have no reason to believe that Hold Me Back can run on dirt.
Z - Zzzz. The WBC has had some good moments, and I have enjoyed watching it at times, but it has one big problem that is keeping me from really being engaged - it has just moved too slowly to be engaging. Baseball is meant to be played every day, but this tournament has stretched out too long, and the format has been convoluted and too confusing to follow if you aren't paying close attention. I also don't think that anything is proven in baseball by a one-game series.