This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 03/30/2009
A - Anthony Grant. Two years ago, VCU coach Anthony Grant's star couldn't have been burning brighter. His Rams upset Duke in the first round of the tournament, and they almost got past Pittsburgh in round two. There was talk of some big jobs for the young coach, but he stayed put. His patience paid off - Grant signed on as the new coach at Alabama this week. Things are bleak in the short term, but Alabama has had success in the recent past, and they play in a soft conference, so Grant could do well right from the start.
B - Back. It took Tiger Woods longer than some expected to find his form, but he found it with a vengeance this week. He hung around for the first couple of days, but he didn't look like he was particularly going to be a factor. He woke up on Sunday with a different idea, though. Woods started the day five strokes back, but he went three under on the day and had a dramatic birdie putt on the 18th to win for the sixth time at Bay Hill. This certainly makes the Masters more interesting, though every golfer not named after a big cat probably isn't thrilled with the rediscovered form.
C - Cavaliers. I have officially given up on waiting for Cleveland to collapse. I haven't particularly believed in them, but only because they are so much better than they were expected to be. They passed a big milestone this week, winning more games than the franchise has ever before won in a season. That wasn't their only milestone, either - their current 12-game winning streak is the longest ever for the team.
D - Duke. For a long time now it has seemed like Coach K has had a pact with the Devil that ensures tournament success. It must be time to renegotiate, though, because Duke isn't the unstoppable March force that they once were. They finally made it back to the Sweet 16 after an abnormally long absence for the program, but they really didn't look like they belonged there. The whole team didn't manage to score as many points as Villanova's five starters did, and the game was never a contest.
E - Evans, Tyreke. Memphis fell before I thought and hoped that they were going to, but it certainly wasn't the fault of their freshman star. Evans used the spotlight of the tournament to prove what people who had been watching the team this year had come to know - he's darned good. He might not be quite the player that last year's point guard for the Tigers was, but he can certainly hold his own. The team had problems against Missouri, especially on defense, but Evans was huge in the loss, putting up a career-high 33 points.
F - Fired. Billy Gillispie seemed like an odd fit when he arrived at Kentucky, and that feeling never went away. He didn't fit into the culture of the school, his playboy lifestyle didn't fly in conservative Lexington, and his results on the court were uninspiring and at times truly dismal. Now, just two years after he arrived, he's unemployed and his pockets are bulging with a sizable payout. It will be interesting to see where he lands next and who takes his place. Rumors about John Calipari are flying around, and I can't think of anything that could make more sense.
G - Gonzaga. Stop me if you have heard this one before - a talented Gonzaga team was faced with a winnable bracket, but they couldn't get out of their own way and went home in disappointing fashion before they probably should have. No team out there has the ability to consistently under-deliver that Gonzaga does. Mark Few has done a heck of a job putting the program on the map, but I am beginning to think that the best thing for him and the team could be a change of scenery.
H - Home. Like several teams, Michigan State is heading home after their last game. Unlike the rest, though, they must be ecstatic about it. The Spartans showed surprising talent and determination as they convincingly shut down a Louisville team that had looked all but unbeatable up to this point. Now they get to play a game or two right in their own backyard in Detroit. Their win over a serious Big East power was proof of the good work done under the radar in the Big Ten this year.
I - Injured. Lance Armstrong has seen his comeback that is supposed to culminate in a return trip to the Tour de France hit a serious speed bump this week. Armstrong flipped over his handlebars in the opening stage of a race in Spain and broke his collarbone. He's already had surgery to fix it and his team says he is still on track for France, but it remains to be seen how much of a setback this is for a guy who already faces a serious uphill battle.
J - Jayhawks. Kansas will not be defending their National Championship this year, but they came a heck of a lot closer than a lot of people probably thought they would. They won two solid tournament games against opponents that they outclassed, but which could have been dangerous if they weren't ready. They ultimately fell to Michigan State, but they played them a lot tighter than Louisville did. Bill Self did a very impressive job getting the most out of some talent that certainly didn't look like a Sweet 16 squad on paper.
K - Kim Clijsters. After a two-year retirement, the former world No. 1 tennis player is returning to action. Clijsters has asked for wild cards to the U.S. Open as well as events in Toronto and Cincinnati before that. She won the Open in her last appearance. This news should be well received by bettors - Clijsters was a very useful bet when she was in her prime, and if she is serious about her return then she could be again.
L - Louisville. So much for that No. 1 overall seed. Louisville hadn't looked even remotely mortal since losing to Notre Dame early in February, and they looked virtually unstoppable as they rolled over Arizona in the Sweet 16. The wheels fell off in the Elite Eight, though. The Cardinals had no answer for Goran Suton, of all players, and Michigan State won way easier than anyone who doesn't bleed green and white could possibly have expected them to.
M - Martin Gerber. Very little has gone right for the Toronto Maple Leafs this year, and goalie Martin Gerber did his part to add to the chaos. Gerber wasn't happy with the tying goal against Washington on Tuesday, so he did the logical, mature thing - he bumped the referee and then fired a puck at him. Needless to say, he finds himself with an unpaid vacation. Gerber got a three-game suspension, and as hard as it is to believe, the Leafs were even worse without him. Prospect Justin Pogge did an impressive impression of an empty net on Saturday night, allowing six goals in just over 30 minutes.
N - Nene. There appears to be no stopping the Denver Nuggets these days. On Monday night, their big Brazilian had a rough night - he head-butted an opponent then bumped the referee. He earned himself a two-game suspension for the incident. Nene is a key performer on the team, but Denver still won both games while he was out. They have now won eight of nine behind brilliant play from Carmelo Anthony, and they look to be on the road to a home court advantage in the first round. Not bad for a team that barely looked like a playoff team before the season.
O - Oakland. Sports fans on the less popular side of the bay just can't catch a break. The Raiders suck, and the A's haven't been much better recently. One of the few potential bright spots on a team destined to be very average this year is ace Justin Duchscherer. Or at least he was. Duchscherer underwent arthroscopic elbow surgery this week, and should be out for at least the first month of the regular season. With him out, the A's rotation is, to say the least, scary.
P - Pro. Here's a shock - an Ohio State freshman center has declared himself for the draft. B.J. Mullens follows Kosta Koufos last year and Greg Oden the year before. Besides their time in Columbus, Mullens has something else in common with the other two - I'm not particularly optimistic about his future as a pro. Oden has been a serious disappointment, Koufos has struggled in Utah, and Mullens spent a lot of the season looking like a barely adequate college player, never mind a pro.
Q - Quality Road. A true superstar has emerged on the Kentucky Derby trail after the Florida Derby. Quality Road surprised many by winning the Fountain of Youth last time out, but he proved it was no fluke here. Against a strong field that featured Dunkirk and Theregoesjojo, Quality Road stuck to the lead, dueled with Dunkirk down the stretch, and then pulled away for a convincing win. If all goes well he's heading to Kentucky next, and he's packing a nice legacy with him - two of the last three Florida Derby winners went on to wear the roses.
R - Repeat. Coming into the World Baseball Classic it seemed unlikely that Japan was good enough to repeat in the face of the stiff competition they were up against, but they found a way. It was an unlikely run, and Korea was an unlikely opponent in the finals, but the ultimate hero for Japan was a very likely one - Ichiro Suzuki hit a two run single in the top of the 10th inning to win the game and the title.
S - Sooners. The commentators will have to find someone else to drool over endlessly because Blake Griffin is going home. Oklahoma made a nice tournament run, but in the end they couldn't overcome a ridiculous lack of depth or a slow start from their big man. North Carolina started strong and had a plan for Griffin, and the Sooners just couldn't adjust. Now the Griffins are gone. Willie Warren will likely stick around for another year, but next year is going to be a rough one for this team. If I was coach Jeff Capel I'd be looking for an exit now while my star was bright.
T - Tar Heels. Watching the Heels has been a bit of a roller coaster this year. Coming into the season they looked like they were completely unstoppable, and there was serious talk of an undefeated season. At times throughout the year they looked downright mortal. Now they have found their stride again, and they again look unbeatable. Their first half against Oklahoma was a defensive tour de force, and a clear sign of how well this team is coached.
U - UConn. The Huskies struggled down the stretch in the Big East, but they have found their mojo again. They haven't faced a particularly easy tournament run, but they have handled it with class. Hasheem Thabeet has been good but not great, and A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien have done their part to earn the trip to Detroit. The real revelation, though, was freshman Kemba Walker's surprising offensive revelation against Missouri. His 23 points was his best total since November, and he led all scorers en route to the win.
V - Villanova. In the absence of a Cinderella this year, Villanova is filling the role of the little team that could. They are smaller than the rest of the teams remaining, and they play a somewhat unconventional system. However, they are going to Detroit, and they are going there fighting. Villanova will be a significant underdog against North Carolina, but by getting past Pittsburgh and demolishing Duke and UCLA they have shown that they are for real.
W - Well Armed. After finishing third in the richest horse race in the world last year, Well Armed headed back to the Dubai World Cup for another shot at the big prize on Saturday. Despite not being one of the favorites, he won emphatically. On a track that was favoring speed, Well Armed took the lead early under jockey Aaron Gryder, settled comfortably, and then ran away to a remarkable 14-length victory down the stretch. It was far from the strongest World Cup field, but it may have been the most impressive finish. Well Armed now will have a break before his next outing while his owners decide what to do with their $3.6 million share of the purse.
X - Xavier. It's the end of the road for the mascots of our column this season, but it was one heck of a road. They were looking to get back to the Elite Eight for the second straight year, but in the end they came up five points short. They were in it right up to the end, holding the lead for the last time into the final minute. Ultimately, free throws made the difference, but Xavier might not have been in that position in the first place if they had been able to slow down DeJuan Blair on the boards.
Y - Yoshida, Eri. Suddenly, being told you throw like a girl isn't an insult in Japan. Eri Yoshida, a 17-year-old girl, made her professional debut this week for the Osaka Gold Villicanes. Despite being just five feet tall, Yoshida has a mean knuckleball - mean enough to strike out the second batter she faced. This obviously has the odor of a publicity stunt, but she throws well enough that she might be around a while longer.
Z - Zero, Agent. The Wizards' season was effectively over months ago, but fans at least finally have something to cheer about. After missing the whole season up to this point due to injury, Gilbert Arenas returned to action on Saturday. He was surely rusty, but he didn't look it at all - he scored 15 points and added 10 assists. There is obviously nothing to play for this year, but at least this gives fans a glimmer of hope for next season - especially if their ball gets picked early in the lottery.