Do you want any more proof that Sectional basketball week is the best weeks of basketball across Indiana? The first two days have proved it.
On Tuesday, Rivet had Loogootee right where it wanted it-- at Loogootee-- and couldn't close the deal, as they lost in overtime. On Wednesday, North Knox had favored Eastern Greene where THEY wanted them-- at home-- and they DID close the deal on a solid upset. One team lets a favored opponent off the hook, the other takes the win hook, line, and sinker. The upsets and the near-upsets-- THAT is what memories are made of.
Every year, new sets of seniors play their last games before cheering fans. Many in those cheer blocks are students-- who wish they could be there, but for some reason, can't be. Some are parents-- men AND women who may have played the game before their offspring did. Some are older men who remember their years as players, and how today's generation "just can't stack up" fundamentally to the teams before them. And finally, some are old broadcsters like me-- who has seen and recorded the exploits of these players, and others, for years-- in my case, over 20 years.
However, the greatest part of the Sectional is anticipation. Do we have enough to beat this team? Can we handle this great player? Do we have the horses-- or the luck and skill-- to win the Sectonal, and move to the next level? These-- and more-- are reasons we have loved Sectional Week. It isn't what it used to be-- which is a whole other column in itself-- but it is still the best game in town for many small, medium, and large cities across Indiana.
How much have the Indiana University Hoosiers improved? We will find out when they play Minnesota at the Barn-- Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Last time we saw these two play, Indiana was disassembling Minnesota at Assembly Hall-- but then a little Gopher press made things interesting.
Following that game, Indiana hit another press-- at Northwestern-- and struggled, but survived. They followed that with huge wins-- versus Michigan State and Michigan, at Ohio State, and at Michigan State. They are a close to consensus Number 1-- and have brought stability to the top spot. Now the fun begins. Minnesota wants to lock down a tournament spot, as does Iowa. Indiana plays both in the final four games-- along with a league -ender in just over 10 days at Crisler Arena against Michigan.
Questions abound. Has Indiana improved? Is it a lock for a Number 1 seed-- both in the NCAA's and in the Big Ten tournament? Can it stay Number 1 nationally? A lot of answers will be determined in the next 10 days-- but it all starts in the Barn in Minneapolis. Remember-- they don't call the Big Ten America's best league for nothing.
It is the best of times...and the best of times. This is a tale of two Indianas. The one Indiana you know-- Indiana University... Number 1 in the polls and improving. But what about that other Indiana-- the Indiana Pacers? The state's NBA team is quietly Number 3 in the Eastern Conference, and while the Knicks, Nets, Bulls-- and especially the Miami Heat-- get the credit, Indiana just keeps winning-- quietly.
This is not a team with recognizable stars. Indiana's most recognizable face-- Danny Granger-- would not be confused with LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, or other top-tier stars. And that doesn't even speak to the other players on the Pacer roster. All they do is win-- and win big, like last night over the New York Knicks.
The other Indiana-- Indiana University-- has the recognizable stars-- like Luke Zeller, Jordan Hulls, and Victor Oladipo. But even though everybody knows their names, they have one thing in common with that NBA Indiana team-- they both don't care who gets the credit. They just win.
It is the best of times...and the best of times... to be an Indiana fan. Love them both-- they both deserve your affection. They do it the right way-- the Indiana way. In both cases, it's all about the results-- not the men who make it happen.
The Big Ten is a B1G deal nationally. Toughest college basketball league in America? Yes, without much question. Seven-- and maybe eight-- NCAA Tournament teams, if Iowa gets its act together? Yes, again without question. But, what about the way the seedings shake out? Buckle up.... it could be a fantastic last two weeks of the conference season. Some observations so far...
1. The Big Ten is better when Indiana is relevant. When Indiana was in the depths of irrelevance, the Big Ten wasn't the same. That didn't mean basketball in the state was-- Purdue was good throughout that period, and of course, Indiana's decline directly led to Butler's rise-- but the Big Ten just isn't the B1G without Indiana as a relevant team. Yes, I'm biased-- but I think I am right as well here.
2. Indiana versus Michigan State at the Breslin Center may determine the title-- and it may not. Indiana, Michigan State, and Ohio State have very rough schedules the last few weeks. The ultimate winners? Wisconsin for starters... the Badgers' schedule down the stretch is favorable. Ditto with Iowa. The Hawkeyes final weeks set up favorably as well. Can Wisconsin slip in and take the title? As we learned before, NEVER count out a Bo Ryan team....
3. The Saturday of the Big Ten Tournament in Chcago could look like a Final Four. It is CBS' dry run to prepare for the national semifinals-- and the teams playing on that Saturday could very well make the OTHER Final Four as well....
4. Is Illinois a NCAA team? The resume says yes, the strength of schedule says yes, and a good tournament run would further cement a good seed for the Illini. Good to see both John Gruce AND Bruce Weber (at K-State) are doing the job...
Finally, I digress from the Big Ten to push for Indiana State. If the Sycamores don't win "Arch Madness,:" do they get in? Interesting thought-- they are definitely a bubble team, but they can make it sure by winning in the Valley tournament.
So, Danica Patrick gets her name back on the sports pages, as the pole winner for the upcoming Daytona 500. Previously, she was, in a sense, the racing version of tennis' Anna Kournikova-- easy on the eyes, but hard on the sporting heart. Coming into Pole Day yesterday at Daytona, she was best known for dating a fellow NASCAR rookie than for her driving skills. This pole changed everything-- she goes from the social pages to the sports pages. How did she go from back pages to front pages? Let's review...
1. She has a reservoir of un-fulfilled potential that is finally coming to the fore. Flashes of that potential have come through-- in an IndyCar win in Japan, and in her leading laps late in a recent Indy 500-- but inconsistency has dogged her tire tracks. Maybe she is FINALLY reaching the level everyone expected when she blasted on the scene in the mid to late 2000's.
2. She has hooked up with NASCAR's best team-- Hendrick MotorSports. If she can't win with Hendrick, she isn't going to win with anyone else. Danica is going to win races-- that much is clear; how many is a matter of discussion.
3. Her experience with IndyCar racing has helped her get accustomed to the media blitz in NASCAR. She is bringing new fans to the sport; with more consistent performances, she will win over established fans and drivers. Even with that, it will be a struggle-- but will make it easier for the next talented female driver to make the move. But whoever that may become, she won't be Danica-- there will be only one Danica.
So Danica is poised to become a major NASCAR player-- on the track, as well as off it. However, history tells us Daytona pole success doesn't usually turn into Daytona race success. The last pole-winner at Daytona to win the race is Dale Jarrett; he won the pole and the race in 2000. Can Danica turn that record around? Could happen...after all, she beat the odds on Sunday.
Do we have any heroes in sports anymore? I look around, and all I see are heroes falling left and right. Just today, one of the most inspirational men in running-- the "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius-- was charged with murder in the shooting of his girlfriend in South Africa. Pistorius is the runner who made an Olympic track semifinal in London on two prosthetic blade-looking legs. His South African relay team-- with him running anchor-- also made a relay final. And yes, he is a multiple Paralympic medalist.
This case, in some cases, is similar to the Lance Armstong fiasco. Armstrong is not accused of murder, but in a sense, he killed off a lot of reputations while denying use of performance-enhancers. Going back further, the O.J. Simpson trial-- almost 20 years ago, in 1994-- where he was eventually acquitted or murder in a criminal court, but lost a wrongful death suit in civil court. Then you have the fall from grace of Joe Paterno. "Joe Pa " was accused of covering up the heinous crimes against children committed by one of his top assistants, Jerry Sandusky. The alleged cover up led to a great coach's disgraceful exit from football-- and maybe to his death a short time later.
Let's turn the clock back further. Pete Rose was banned for life from baseball-- and from the Hall of Fame-- in 1989 as part of a gambling scandal. Now, my question-- expecially given Pete's love for attention-- is an Armstrong-like Pete Rose "mea culpa" coming beore a famous baseball reporter-- maybe to someone like ESPN's Buster Olney, as an example? I don't think it will happen tomorrow-- but if and when Pete Rose's health starts to decline, don't rule it out. Just my opinion-- nothing more...
And how about the most famous sports scandal in history? The 1919 Black Sox-- a scandal so famous, it was even mentioned in F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece "The Great Gatsby." The eight Sox-- talent rich but extremely cash-poor-- threw the World Series, and were all banned from baseball by the sport's first Commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis. One of the centerpieces of that scandal was Chicago's Joe Jackson. Say it ain't so, Joe-- or Joe Pa, or Pete, or O.J., and Oscar. We need heroes-- and in the light of what we have seen recently, and in days of long ago, the elevation of Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow, Aaron Rogers, and all is understandable. Lets's hope we use some sense in placing these men on a mountain-- because as we have seen through history-- recent and otherwise, the higher you elevate someone, the longer the fall-- and the greater the impact.
All governing bodies make questionable decisons. In return, all governing bodies usually get their share of ridicule for forwarding those decisions. But the one made earlier this week by the International Olympic Committee takes the cake-- along with the cake dish, cutting knife, and butter cream icing.
The International Olympic Committee has placed Olympic wrestling on a list of endangered sports to possibly be dropped after the 2020 Olympic Games. Wrestling joins other sports on the endangered list-- but WHY? I haven't attended many high school meets around here, and you have to go to Minnesota or Iowa before you find anything CLOSE to a manistream wrestling culture (and let me tell you, they LOVE the sport out there), but it is still a basic, fundamental, Olympic sport.
Remember Rulon Gardiner? The soft-spoken guy from Wyoming who beat the greatest of the Russian Bears-- Aleksandr Karelin-- in Greco-Roman wrestling. Karelin had been undefeated in heavyweight Greco-Roman rings for 13 years, and this unknown American takes him down-- in the Olympics, no less!
Here are a few facts the IOC should wrestle with to keep their paws off the sport...
1. Wrestling was one of the original Olympic sports-- not just in the modern Olympics, but in the Ancient Greek games as well. So, nearly 3,000 years of Olympic history is on its side.
2. It requires nothing more than base muscle, an ugly-looking singlet, and good coaching. For a great American example of all three, look up Tom Gable.
3. It is one of the few sports that has equal footing among worldwide competitors. Asian, North American, European, South American, African-- and maybe even an Austrailan or two-- can wrestle at the highest levels.
4. Although professional wrestling is a COMPLETELY different-- and staged-- breed of cat, some of the wrestling moves are real-- and if Olympic wrestling markets itself right, can tap into a built-in fan base from the WWE and related federations.
5. It is a great equalizer. No matter if you are rich or poor, if you are stronger and technically better than the other man, you can physically dominate your man and rise to the top.
There is my case for Wrestling as an Olympic sport. It is sad that I actually have to make a case for it....
The Regional Round in High School Basketball. The girls get their chance at a Regional this weekend. As I thought about this round, I have come to find it is my favorite round of the entire tournament. Let me count the ways I love this round...
1. 90 percent of the teams in that round are good to excellent. The typical resume of teams in that round is a team with four of less losses on the year. However, it is not unusual to find a near-.500 or sub-.500 teams sneak through-- and sometimes do significant damage.
2. It is the only state championship round in the new class format of basketball that has a two-game, one day format. It is the ultimate test of a team-- can you win the morning game, and then turn around six hours or so later and defeat another great team-- with a title on the line?
3. It is amazing to me the amount of hype that can be raised in six hours. For example-- if Rivet defeats New Washington Saturday morning, and see Northeast Dubois in that evening's final, how juiced with the fans be for that matchup? All is a six-hour time span....
4. The teams are close enough--usually-- to relate a sense of rivalry. Class basketball has blurred that a bit, but there are still significant rivals seeing each other at Regional round time.
5. All the teams involved are already champions-- they all won Sectional titles the week before.
6. The two-game, one-day format is a bow to tradition. How many fans remember the days when the last three weekends of the old format were held that way?
7. The Regional is the ultimate crucible to determine a worthy team to move into the next week's Semi-State- the Final Four of their class tournament.
There are just some of my reasons... maybe you have thoughts of your own. But for now...