Bill Self and John Calipari are trading places. We've got Kentucky and Kansas in the final of the NCAA Tournament. Understandably, that will bring out replay after replay of John Calipari withering during Memphis' collapse at the end of the 2008 championship game. But if we're going to look back on that game, let's not forget the biggest difference for those coaches four years later -- it is Calipari who has the more talented team. This time, Cal has six legitimate NBA prospects and Self has maybe three, almost a reversal of their '08 rosters. For all the hype surrounding Calipari's recruiting through the years, he has more NBA prospects on this team than the ‘96 UMass and ‘08 Memphis teams combined. Monday is about him, his microwave juggernaut and how he handles it all. Ironically, Calipari's One Shining Moment may be his forthright post-game press conference after losing to Kansas in ‘08, where he sat and owned that excruciating loss with uncommon candor and decency. There will be no redeemable moral victories for Kentucky Monday night. Only an awkward trophy exchange with Mark Emmert will be enough.
Yup, Kansas is still in it. Kansas is mounting the best skin-of-our-teeth run to the championship game since ‘95 Arkansas, when the defending champs didn't manage one double-digit victory in the tournament (not even over 15-seed Texas Southern). They roared back after being outclassed in the first half against Ohio State and held themselves together as the Buckeyes fell apart. It gave credence to the notion that Bill Self is the best coach in the country. And while it should certainly be about Monday's games, someone's gotta say it. ... HOW DID KANSAS MAKE THE TITLE GAME WITH THIS TEAM BUT LOSE AS A ONE-SEED TO NORTHERN IOWA AND VCU??? That said, the two best college basketball coaches of the last 50 years -- Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski -- each won a title few could have seen coming (‘93 and ‘10, respectively) -- and lost with their best rosters (‘84 and ‘99). Jim Calhoun snuck one in last year. Could Self do the same Monday?
This is a public service announcement, courtesy of Jared Sullinger. If anyone tells you're a lock to be a Top 10 NBA Draft pick, take the money and run. Sullinger's 5-19, 13-point performance was worse for his draft stock than his stat line would indicate. He looked incapable of -- and unwilling to -- handling himself on the block against Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey. If he wasn't too short, then he wasn't explosive or crafty enough, and the entire game was a startling reminder of everything about Sullinger that could give pause to a team thinking of drafting him. After the game, he seemed immature when he chastised the media for not predicting Ohio State would make the Final Four, as if he's not the biggest reason the Buckeyes didn't make the championship game. Late Saturday, it hit me -- what makes Jared Sullinger a better pro prospect than Tyler Hansbrough was? That the question is even compelling makes you wonder just how much money Sullinger cost himself by returning for his sophomore season.
So, about Bill Parcells coaching the Saints... While so many are excited about the prospect of Parcells minding the shop in New Orleans, have we fully considered whether this is a great idea? Parcells’ reputation for building and rebuilding franchises is rivaled only by Don Shula’s, but that’s not what New Orleans needs. They have everything in place but their head coach. They need a substitute teacher. Parcells is a professor emeritus with an ego that makes it hard to imagine him simply keeping the chair warm. Even if he does, some of the assistants being passed over for the interim coaching gig may not be so happy about it. And don’t forget -- the Saints will have no general manager for the first eight weeks of the regular season. Who’s going to tell Mr. Pick The Groceries "no" when necessary? The best thing for the Saints in all this may be Parcells’ track record of getting this close to taking a new job, then backing away.
Are the Heat in trouble? At what point are games we won’t remember once the playoffs start worth mentioning? The Heat laid another egg Sunday, getting smashed by the Celtics without Ray Allen. Since the All-Star Break, Miami is 5-6 against teams who would make the playoffs if the season ended yesterday. Sunday in Boston, they looked as if they didn’t even want to be there. Matt Moore correctly notes that a lot of guys have a lot going on right now, but this isn’t the team that looked like the championship favorite two months ago. They looked Sunday like the team that shamed itself in Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals. And regular season criticism sounds like what we did last year...before the Heat made the NBA Finals. There’s reason in Miami to worry, but it still feels early to do so. Except the playoffs start, you know, in a month.
But the Celtics are back, right? Even after thumping the Heat, what should we make of the Celtics? They're 15-5 since the break, but only Sunday's victory and a win at the Clippers March 12 seem worth bragging about. It's easy to get captivated when Rajon Rondo is in full maestro mode, but remember -- the Celtics will probably finish between fourth and seventh in the East. Who would bet on the Celtics in a seven-game series against Chicago or Orlando? Boston's making this interesting, but it's going to take a lot more to make that matter.
You didn't think Kobe was going to shoot less because of a bad game, did you? Bryant shot 3-21 Saturday, but hit the game-winning jumper to beat the Hornets. The next night, he put 40 on the Warriors on 16-28 shooting, carrying the Lakers to a 120-112 victory after Andrew Bynum sprained his ankle in the first quarter. Make or miss, with or without Bynum, Kobe's going to keep shooting. Right now, it doesn't seem like the worst idea.
Opening Day is this week...right? The first games of the season were held in Japan last week, and I knew nothing of that farce until the "Around The Horn" conference call Wednesday morning. So I must ask -- if Major League Baseball didn’t think enough of the tradition of Opening Day to make sure its home market was aware the season was starting, why should anyone treat this week’s games with greater reverence than the other 161 each team will play?
Kansas State replaces Frank Martin with someone far less interesting. Bruce Weber is a good basketball coach. He’s good at coaching basketball. But if he couldn’t recruit well enough to win at Illinois, who will he convince to spend the best years of their lives in Manhattan, Kansas? Weber may keep things steady for K-State, but it’s hard to imagine him making things very interesting. And a program at K-State’s level, if nothing else, must keep things interesting if it hopes to grow. Hiring Weber seems safe, but it could easily get the Wildcats’ athletic director, John Currie, fired.
A quick note for those pining for the good ol’ days. The hand-wringing over Calipari and his use of "one-and-done" players will continue whether Kentucky wins or loses Monday night. But before you say what Cal is doing somehow "mocks" education or anything like that, remember this -- Cal’s only one-and-done player last season, Brandon Knight, was a 4.0 student. The Wizards' Chris Singleton, who spent three years in college, spent $10,000 on losing Mega Millions tickets. Guys who stay in college because they’re not yet good enough to turn pro aren’t necessarily closing down the library, either, you know?