The Opening Pitch: Ty Lawson is the most important player remaining in the NCAA Tournament.
The President's bracket depends on him. The plurality of fans' brackets across the nation depend on him. Tyler Hansbrough's legacy depends on him. UNC can't win anything — the regional semi, the regional final, the Final Four — without him.
Lawson's value was obvious on Saturday: When he gimped around in the 1st half, UNC looked saggy. When he exploded in the 2nd half, UNC looked unbeatable.
Here is the question: With that iffy toe, can Lawson string together four straight superlative games that UNC will need from him to win a title?
Better question: Even if Lawson and UNC can get past Gonzaga on Friday night — and, to be sure, the Bulldogs will do everything they can to zig-Zag Lawson right out of any comfort zone he has left — who's to say he can turn around 36 hours later and keep up with the Oklahoma-Syracuse winner?
Sure, Lawson will be ready for Friday night. But will he be just as healthy (or "healthy-ish") on Sunday?
My bracket is a shambles, but I have one "big" pick left: Syracuse over UNC in the regional final. My bet is that Lawson has enough time this week to get healthy enough to sneak the Tar Heels past Gonzaga, but not enough time to stop Jonny Flynn.
As Lawson goes, so goes the Tournament's most popular pick to win it all.
Must-Read: Mike DeCourcy's 16 Things To Know About the Sweet 16. If you read one column about the NCAA Tournament this week, make it this one.
Scandal-Watching: U!-C!-O!-N!-N! Just in time for the Huskies' Sweet 16 appearance, how about a hot new recruiting scandal? (h/t: Woj and Wetzel)
Women's Tournament: More insanity! First Tennessee, now Duke. Top-seeded Duke was shocked by 9-seed Michigan State. Perhaps it shouldn't have been THAT much of a shock, given that the game was played in East Lansing — does the NCAA not want its top women's teams to advance?
Why wouldn't they follow the men's model of playing top teams closer to home? On the men's side: If Duke played Texas in Austin instead of Greensboro, the Blue Devils would have lost. If Villanova had played American in Washington instead of Philly, they would have lost.
NFL Draft: The Lions are willing to trade the No. 1 overall pick? OK, that makes sense — they could trade down to another team in the Top 10 and retain a high pick, plus probably get a bunch of other picks critical for a rebuilding franchise. (But to think that they would trade it for Jay Cutler? Seriously? They could probably get Cutler for the first pick of the SECOND round.)
Tony Gonzalez vs. the Chiefs: Hey, Chiefs fans — your superstar tight end still wants out, no matter what the owner says. Still love him?
NFL Owners Meeting: Hey, look — Tom Brady now has a rule in his honor. The question is: Would the owners have made the rule-change if Brady hadn't gotten hurt? What if it was Tyler Thigpen who got hurt, rather than Brady?
NBA Instant History: If the Celtics don't earn the No. 2 seed in the East, they won't get past the Magic in the playoffs. Watching the Cavs, C's and Magic battle it out at the top of the conference, home-court advantage has seemed critical. Sure, Doc, Boston has to get healthy before they even consider a run for a repeat — but only a combo of health and home-cooking will get a contender out of the brutal top of the East this season.
So that makes tonight's game in Orlando between the Celtics and the Magic (1 GB Boston for the 2-seed) a damn-near-must-win for both teams. There are a bunch of games after that could certainly move the advantage to one team or the other, but understanding what's at stake, this sure feels like the Most Important Game of the Regular Season — even if Boston isn't BOSTON right now.
Fantasy Watch: Anyone thinking of drafting Fausto Carmona? (Meanwhile, my league draft is tonight, and I have the No. 1 overall pick: It's gotta be Hanley Ramirez, right?)
Just a reminder: This is why the Dodgers brought back Manny.
CBB Transfermania: Where will Seth Curry end up after leaving Liberty? (That's a trick question. The answer is: Anywhere he wants to.)
TV: The NFL's "Red Zone Channel" might not be available on my cable system for another three years, but I already can't wait. (Three years? Consider where we were in media consumption three years ago to now. In three years I'll expect to have that on my HD live-streaming iPhone, let alone on my TV.)
The bad news for Florida? The basketball team was ousted from the NIT in the quarters, losing at home to Penn State and capping a second straight disappointing season ("disappointing" is relative, given that it came after two straight national titles).
The good news: Florida spring football practice starts today, and the defending national champs are going to take advantage of the returning experience and take a page from the team they beat in the national title game: By installing a faster-paced offense.
R.I.P.: The Hardball Times' John Brattain. Condolences to his family, friends, fans and colleagues at THT.
The Last Word: "This is the biggest setback in my cycling career." — Lance Armstrong, on the extent of his collarbone fracture, now known to be worse than originally thought.
Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com.
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