published Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

5 at 10: Vols spring practice, Final Four primer and Pat Summitt faces decision

From the "Talks Too Much Studios" here we go.

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    Tennessee coach Pat Summitt walks off the court at the end of the first half of the NCAA women's college basketball tournament regional final against Baylor, Monday, March 26, 2012, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Summitt faces decision

Wow, Brittney Griner is a monster. She finished a block away from a triple-double to lead the top-ranked and unbeaten Baylor Bears to a comfortable win over the UT Lady Vols on Monday night in a game that was not overly tight after the first 10 minutes. (TFP ace columnist Mark Wiedmer makes a great point that the NCAA tournament committee did UT and legendary coach Pat Summitt no favors with the bracket (Wiedmer: Pat Summitt deserved better draw).)

Baylor's run continues, but Griner and her mates ended Summitt's 38th season. Will it be her last?

Summitt, the face of women's college basketball and maybe even women's sports in general in the last half century, announced in August that she has early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. She has noticeably given more control to her assistants, and Holly Warlick did most of the in-game coaching.

It's an uncertain time for the Lady Vols to be sure. Summitt has earned the right to exit on her own terms. Period. She is a coaching giant, a true legend and a slam dunk on the coaching Mount Rushmore.

But... (there's always a but, right?) we all want to remember our heros at the height of their careers. At the summit of their powers. We know the magic can never last forever for anyone, but somehow the true greats forever appeared infallible, and Summitt was chief among them. No matter the obstacle, no matter the challenge, her steely glare and her will was more than enough to clear it. And if she did not clear it at first, she would eventually find a solution through work and effort and sheer determination.

Now, we can't embrace such certainty, and the unknown scares us more than anything.

Is this the end? Was this the final game?

Only Pat knows for sure, and that's how it should be, of course. Not that that makes it any easier for any of us.

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    Tennessee's Raijon Neal, No. 20, tries to fend off Buffalo's Najja Johnson.
    Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

UT spring practice

Johnny Vols Fans everywhere got a bolt of good news from our UT beat ace Downtown Patrick Brown with his story on Justin Hunter here (Tennessee Vols' Justin Hunter excited by return to practice).

UT has a ton of familiar faces coming back. Some of those are even actual SEC contributors. But if we were to put together a list of MIP — most important players — this spring, Hunter would be super high on our list. If you take quarterbacks off the list — because no team can really afford to lose its starting QB — Hunter and A.J. Johnson are arguably among the top 10 MIPs in the SEC. (And if Hunter is ahead of schedule, that's outstanding in its outstandingness.)

Here's a look at a potential top 10 of MIPs this spring (QBs are excluded). This is not the best players per se (but they are pretty super talented), as much as the guys who if they were injured would cause an entire fan base to wear black for 48 hours.

1) Marcus Lattimore, USC

2) Tyrann Mathieu, LSU

3) Robert Lester, Alabama

4) AJ Johnson, Tennessee

5) Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri

6) Jarvis Jones, UGA

7) Matt Elam, Florida

8) Zac Stacy, Vandy

9) Chad Bumphis, Mississippi State

10) Justin Hunter, Tennessee

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    Kentucky forward Anthony Davis (23) shoots over Western Kentucky's Teeng Akol (22) in the first half of their NCAA tournament second-round college basketball game in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, March 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Final Four primer

As we speed toward arguably the biggest Final Four matchup since Duke and UNLV in 1992, let's collect our breath and look around college hoops for just a second.

— The 5-at-10 loves the draft. You know this. This could be the deepest draft since 1984, when the best player ever (Michael Jordan), the best pure point guard ever (John Stockton), a top-five center (Akeem Olajuwan), a top-seven power forward (Charles Barkley), a top-10 defensive stopper (Alvin Robertson) and a jheri curl Hall-of-Famer (Michael Cage) were all first-rounders. Duke's Austin Rivers has already announced his decision to go pro, and looking at the stunning talent — Anthony Davis will go No. 1 for sure, but there are at least five guys that would have been No. 1 overall picks in most years — there will be strong pros throughout the first round.

— It's hard not to be excited about this Final Four, and that's not even looking at the drag-out rivalry nature of the Louisville-UK showdown Saturday. (Nice job committee.) This has the feel of a potentially epic event if for no other reason than it's in New Orleans, the host of some of the most memorable Final Fours ever. Jordan's shot was in the Superdome. So was Keith Smart's buzzer beater and Chris Webber's timeout. Buckle up.

— The first shoe dropped in the offseason coaching musical chairs. Frank Martin left Kansas State for South Carolina, and that appears to be a strong hire for USC. Speaking of appearances, let's put Frank Martin on the ballot for the Bobby Knight Hall of Fame — the collection of coaches who look to get about a step or two past "super mad" and seem like they may pop a blood vessel on their forehead at any time. The biggest ripple effects of what likely will be a fairly quiet offseason will be felt when Illinois finds its next coach.

— If you are a scalper, it's good to be in New Orleans. First there was the Sugar Bowl. Then a BCS title game that was a world-class tough ticket. Now a Final Four with Kansas and Kentucky — two of the most hoops obsessed and best-traveling fan bases anywhere — and tickets are scarce. Nose-bleed seats are starting at $200 per, and on stubhub there is a luxury suite available. The 16 tickets — and we'd have to assume a couple of cocktails — could be yours for the bargain-basement price of $360,000.

— Anyone up for adding a Final Four version of the Kemba Walker Memorial Shootout? We're up for it if you are.

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    Alabama coach Nick Saban applauds during ceremonies at Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012. Alabama celebrated their 14th national championship with a 21-0 win over LSU in the BCS Championship game in New Orleans on Jan. 9th. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

This and that

— Nick Saban got a raise and an extension from Alabama on Monday. Dude deserved it too, especially considering the biggest part of the raise came in a category dubbed "talent fee" that made Saban's average salary better than $5.6 million per year through a deal that now runs through 2019. Who has more college coaching talent than Saban? He's 48-6 in the last four years, and five of those losses were against SEC foes. He's a monster recruiter and he has assembled a stockade of talent that is comparable to the talent-rich runs of the Miami Hurricanes of the early 2000s. And yes, there is a very sound argument to be made that the salaries across all sports are over the top, but considering that Saban has brought at least 10-times his salary to Alabama athletics and the city of Tuscaloosa, he deserves whatever he gets.

— The U.S. men's Under-23 soccer team failed to qualify for the 2012 Olympics after giving away a late lead in a 3-3 tie to El Salvador on Monday. Yes that mighty El Salvador, with its population of roughly 6 million people which would make it the second biggest city in the U.S. Hey, we never want the U.S of A. to lose in anything, but now, when we ignore the Olympic soccer later this summer, we'll be doing it for patriotic reasons. (How about that for finding a silver lining, huh?)

— We don't do a lot of tennis here, but Bernie Tomic caught our eye this weekend. Tomic, a teenager from Australia, asked the chair judge to remove a fan that was "irritating" him during a tournament Saturday. The judge denied Tomic's appeal, meaning Bernie's dad John got to watch his son finish the match. Yep, here's saying that a kid asking the ump to remove his dad from the event is not a chapter in Dr. Spock's guide to parenting.

— Tough blow for Georgia Tech fans. Julian Burnett, the Jackets leading tackler each of the last two years, will likely miss the 2012 season with a neck injury he suffered in the season-ending Sun Bowl loss. "He's probably not going to play," coach Paul Johnson told the media Monday after Tech's first spring practice. "I'm sure it's really tough on him. He loves football. He's a heck of a competitor and a great football player, but there are bigger things in life than football. You have to be safe."

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    Tiger Woods gives a thumbs up as he celebrates his Masters 2002 Masters win after getting the Masters Green Jacket Sunday, April 14, 2002, at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. Woods won his third title with a 12-under-par 276. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Today's question

We're giving the final word to longtime show contributor Patrick Davis.

Today's Patrick's final day on the TFP web team and he has done a great deal to really help and improve the 5-at-10. He will be missed.

So here he goes (and if this question stinks, we'll fire him tomorrow — kidding, kidding)...

Jay, like most of your readers, one of the best parts of my workday is the 5 at 10, and I will certainly miss being on this side of things. Rest assured, the 5 at 10 hasn't seen the last of Pdavi.

As for today's question. I used to love the days when I'd get a call from a golfing buddy looking for someone to take Eldrick in a "Tiger vs The Field" bet. With the Masters approaching and Tiger being a Vegas favorite it almost feels right to dust off this old bet and give it a run for old time sake.

I'm looking for some insight from the gallery on this one, and I'll keep it simple. Is Tiger Woods going to win The Masters next week?

Thanks guys,


about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
Livn4life said...

In Women's Sports, Pat's Where it's At period! If she leaves now, no shame. She has contributed more in a decade than most have in a lifetime or more to women's sports and women's college bb especially. I'd hate to see her not make the desired goal of 40 years at it but having seen the devastation and struggle with persons battling her illness understand completely. Will Tiger win? I am a bit torn as he did win this past weekend. But the Masters is the Masters. While Tige looked good at Bay Hill there will be some people a lot more serious when he tees it up in Augusta. I will say IF he does win convincingly, I will believe he is back though not in the same dominant fearful sense he once enjoyed. Those days may have gone the way of the dough-dough bird. Did I just use the term for money in regard to the long gone bird? It should all be interesting as wil be the Final Four.

March 27, 2012 at 10:49 a.m.
chas9 said...

Tune in this evening at 7 (ESPN2) to see Kentucky battle Connecticut for a slot in the final four.

Is Griner the women's Anthony Davis? The female Jabbar?

Good luck, Pat. You're the top.

March 27, 2012 at 10:55 a.m.
fechancellor said...

No reason to doubt after all these years that Pat will put Tennessee Athletics first and her needs second.

10 Ring, I see no reason to take Tiger against the field at this Masters. So Tiger held it together for one Sunday at a place he knows the best. The bet should be can Tiger keep it in the fairway come Sunday?

Sorry Tiger, Rory's is the World #1 and US Open Champion with belly full of bad memories from last year. This is the guy you may play on Sunday. Then there's on and off again Phil, who can play Bobby's fast track with the best of them.

March 27, 2012 at 1:17 p.m.
jgreeson said...

PDavi —

Right now, I'd take the field over Tiger, but that the fact that we debated it and that we paused for it screams about how much his game has improved and how good he is at the Augusta Muni course that hosts the event.

Livn(Large) —

Concur 100 percent on Pat. She's the bees' knees. Women's college hoops should name their player of the year, coach of the year and Final Four MVP awards after her. The player of the year award can be the Pat Award, the Coach of the Year can be the Head Award and the Final Four MVP can be the Summitt Award.

9er —

You'll have to circle back and fill us in on your Lady Cats.

We think Griner is the female Chamberlain — in that they may have to juggle rules to slow her down — with a little Jabbar/Alcinder mixed in. Remember when Alcinder was the best college player as a freshman even though freshmen weren't eligible and Alcinder's last two UCLA teams would have been playoff teams in the NBA? This Baylor team would make a legit run at the WNBA title because Griner is that unstoppable.

— 5-at-10

March 27, 2012 at 1:22 p.m.
jgreeson said...

FE to the C —

Beat us by a few clicks. We're on the same page.

In fact there's no one we'd take over the field because the entire field is too talented. Try this:

Would you take Americans or non-Americans? That's how global and balanced and good golf is right now.

Sure Rory's the top player in the world, but here's saying that whomever is putting lights out come 5 p.m. Sunday afternoon will need to clear some closet space.

— 5-at-10

P.S. We've had some positive feedback about a Final Four contest. You guys in?

March 27, 2012 at 1:27 p.m.
chas9 said...

All in.

How about the seeding for the women's tourney? The flippin' geniuses got it so right that the elite eight consisted entirely of one and two seeds. I doubt that's ever happened on the testosterone side.

If The Lady Cats win tonight, KY will become only the seventh school to have both its women's and men's teams in the final four in the same year. Hint: Tennessee has never done it.

March 27, 2012 at 2:01 p.m.
jgreeson said...

9er —

Good question.

Feel good that UNC and Duke are on the list. And UConn — multiple times. Michigan State did it with Joanne P. McCallie a few years ago. Georgia did it a long time ago. And maybe LSU?

That's off the top of our head.

— 5-at-10

March 27, 2012 at 2:06 p.m.
chas9 said...

Not bad for off the top o' the head. NC has never achieved the elusive double, but your others are correct, along with Texas and Oklahoma, out there in the forgettable portion of our great land. For anybody who's counting that would make KY the 8th, not 7th, as previously reported. Yes, the Huskies have done it thrice. Speaking of the Lady Huskies, they have held opponents to just 45 points and 24% shooting. The Lady Cats will need to bring it.

March 27, 2012 at 3:56 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Coach Pat is one of the top 10 coaches, any sport, any time period, ever. But giving them a better bracket would have set a bad precedent regardless of circumstances.

March 27, 2012 at 4:08 p.m.
BIspy4 said...

Looks like the Final Four is once again the domain of the big boys in college hoops. Cinderella, your ride's here. And the meter's running.

March 27, 2012 at 4:13 p.m.
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