5 at 10: The Final Four, April's glory and an a hazy shade of UT spring practice

5 at 10: The Final Four, April's glory and an a hazy shade of UT spring practice

April 2nd, 2012 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

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

Final Four

Kentucky head coach John Calipari talks with Kansas head coach Bill Self, right, during a television interview at the NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament Sunday, April 1, 2012, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kentucky head coach John Calipari talks with Kansas...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

And with that Kansas and Kentucky - arguably two of the most storied programs in college basketball history - will play tonight for all the marbles. In truth, the 5-at-10 has been supremely high on both these clubs since early January. In fact, to echo an astute claim made by StuckinKent last month, we may really over-think our NCAA brackets, you know? While that may not be the case every year, it certainly was true this season.

Look at it this way: Of the Final Four, each was ranked in the top 12 teams in the country before the season. Sure, there were some ups and downs along the way and there was some hand-wringing, but that was more from the outside perspective than anything.

To magnify the top-heavy status of the game, with out difficult losses to injury or eligibility, who's to say Michigan State, Syracuse or UNC would not be in the mix.

Here are a couple of other lessons we'll try to remember next year when we fill out our bracket:

- If two teams appear even, give the edge to the best player on the floor. It's not an accident that the top two vote-getters in almost every player of the year ballot are set to face off tonight. We're just saying.

- Stay away from teams that are too-reliant on the 3-point shot. Ask Missouri, Vandy and Duke how that works out. It's fine for upsets and underdogs, but a team would have to be really good for four consecutive games in arenas they've likely never played in to get to the Final Four riding 3-pointers.

- If you have to pick between offensive and defensive teams, well, this Final Four answered that dilemma once and for all. Defense wins tournament games.

As for the weekend, those were two enjoyable games. Sure, Louisville never quite got over the hump to really put the pressure on UK, but it still was intense and enjoyable. (And how about those Vegas guys, huh? UK minus-8.5 and they win by 8. The odds-makers are scary good, especially considering they are trying to establish betting lines as much as point spreads.) Plus, UK got it down with MKG in foul trouble.

As for the Jayhawks, that's a tough group of kids. Play hard, play smart play aggressive. Kansas' come-from-behind two-point win over Ohio State in the nightcap was worth staying up for.

(Side note: If college football has to clean up its postseason conundrums, college hoops had better get a handle on its officiating. We have never seen it as bad as it is right now, and Sweet buckets of whistle beads, if a defender falls down in today's college hoops, it's an AUTO-matic charge. This is getting out of control and is leading players to mesh the Vlade Divac Flop with the FIFA soccer opossum - the move where they drop like they've been shot roll around like they've lost a finger and then pop up as soon as the yellow card is handed out.)

The joys of April

Kentucky's Anthony Davis walks off the court after an NCAA Final Four semifinal college basketball tournament game against Louisville Saturday, March 31, 2012, in New Orleans. Davis scored 18 points as Kentucky won 69-61. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kentucky's Anthony Davis walks off the court after...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

We give October the slightest of nods as the best sports-month on the calendar. College football, NFL, playoff baseball, hoops right around the corner, October has a lot on its side.

That said, April is closer than most realize. The Final Four, the Masters - and rest easy guys, we'll cover that in earnest starting Tuesday, including the breakdown of the Masterful Masters Match - Opening Day, the NFL Draft (and you all know how the 5-at-10 feels about the draft), and April has a lot going for it.

(Side note: While we will start a serious draft breakdown series next week - we love the draft; you know this - if you have not seen the Jon Gruden Quarterback Camp with Andrew Luck, you have our permission to spend a good portion of your workday finding it on the Interwebs. It's that good, and hey, if your boss needs a note, we've got your back.)

Of course there will be time to discuss each of these in the coming days, but let's look at tonight's title game, and when we face a situation like this, it's always good to go to the tale of the tape:

Starters: UK has five NBA players in its starting line-up. Kansas starts at least one white guy. Edge Kentucky.

Reserves: UK has arguably the best sixth man in the country in Darius Miller, but after Miller and Kyle Wiltjer, we're not sure whether the rest of the UK players have uniforms on underneath their warmups. (Like it matters.) Kansas got 28 minutes - and all of three points from its bench - in its win over Ohio State.

Intangibles: UK is comparable to the might Bears of South Bend Central. That means Kansas is..... "HICK-O-REEE." Edge: Huskers...er, Kansas.

Coaches: UK's John Calipari is an elite recruiter who is a vastly underrated coach. Bill Self is one of the game's best coaches and a vastly underrated recruiter. So it goes, but since it looks like a push, we'll give the edge to Self, who has a title and beat Calipari to get it. Edge: Kansas

In the end: This one could be super-tight or UK could blow KU's doors off. We're hoping for the former. Ultimately it's a pretty easy call - Kentucky has Anthony Davis, and his unibrow can't be denied. Kentucky, 70-63.

Orange haze of spring (with a lot of side notes)

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley watches his team during spring NCAA college football practice, Thursday, March 29, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley watches his team during...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Wow, just a run of the mill, ho-hum average spring practice in Knoxville, huh? Remind us after the end of this spring session , we're going to have to buy our UT ace Downtown Patrick Brown one of those fancy-pants dark beers that is hard to pronounce and costs $8. (Side note No. 1 - We prefer a fine pilsner that sounds an awful lot like Sud Mite.)

OK, to recap since we were last with you late last week, Da'Rick Rogers skips meeting with media. Da'Rick returns the next day and even draws praise from UT coach Derek Dooley, who also added "He's obviously an extremely talented player. Glad he took care of what he had to do." (Side note No. 2 - Which of part of Dooley's quote do you think is more important: that he's a talented player or that Da'Rick handled his BID-ness?)

And all the while covering the latest development with UT's latest version of Kelley Washington, Downtown unloads two weekend stories that may be even more important to UT's 2012 chances. Here's his view of the Vols' running game (or continued search to find something resembling one) and here's a story on former local star-turned-player-to-watch Jacques Smith. (Side note No. 3: To say this is a huge spring for Smith would be an understatement on the level of this could be a somewhat interesting Masters. Smith gets a chance to re-invent himself in a system that produces NFL-ready linebackers. Or if he misses this chance, there's a real chance he could fade down the depth chart while a younger player takes his spot.)

Enough to make your head spin, huh?

OK, here's what we got on the three big issues of the day in Knoxville:

The Da'Rick Da'Bacle - It's hard to see how Dooley could have managed this one much softer. If you're going to say, "He's got some things he has to handle," at least make it last the weekend. Now, it appears that if you skip practice - not to mention all the "rumored" confrontations between Rogers and various members of the UT staff - you need to preform some sort of penance that takes roughly an afternoon. Maybe they all hugged it out. Maybe they burnt some incense and did some chants. Who knows, but that Da'Rick is in Da'Clear screams a few things: It's obvious Dooley and this team needs Rogers' talent; it's obvious that the offense is going to built around an offense that's going to battle Arkansas for SEC air supremacy; and it's obvious that whatever Janzen Jackson did to get the boot last year must have been serious.

The (lack of) a running game - This one actually has a plausible and somewhat pleasing answer for Johnny Vols Fan. If you keep Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter healthy - and Da'Rick out of Da'Doghouse - the running game will take of itself. With defenses super-concerned with what appears on paper to be the best passing-game talent across the board in the league, running against six-man fronts should be doable for Marlin Lane or Marlin Perkins and there will be holes whether Tom Smith or Tom Jones is carrying the ball.

The Jacques Smith experiment - Smith is a monster talent, and is still one of the top 10 high school players we've covered in 15 years of doing this. Stud - plain and simple. If he can - as Dooley accurately noted, "put himself in a position to let his abilities take over" then Smith will be a regular on All-SEC teams for the next two years. (Side note No. 4 - If Smith can fill the "Jack" role for this Vols defense, with A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt, then UT will have answered a large part of the lingering linebacker questions that have plagued them in recent years.)

This and that

- Did you see our ace Wiedmer's story on the changes to college football's postseason in Sunday's paper? Check it out here. Wiedmer quotes NCAA president Mark Emmert saying that "the momentum seems to be toward an eight-team playoff." The wheels are spinning and a playoff seems to be a certainty - let's just hope they are taking enough practical steps to ensure the regular season is not diminished.

- Let's just say that Clint Bowyer's name will probably come up at the team meetings today at Hendrick Motorsports. Bowyer made what euphemistically could be described as a "dive-bomb" move with two laps left inside Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Bowyer's move resulted in wrecking all three, and despite the race being dominated by the Hendrick teammates of Johnson and Gordon, Ryan Newman used the opening to grab the checkered flag Sunday at Martinsville. (Side note: In about six weeks, when Bowyer gets wrecked late by Johnson, Gordon, Dale Jr. or Denny Hamlin, in a race he has been a factor in, remember this day.)

- The women's title game is set between Baylor and Notre Dame. Hard to see how any Notre Dame defender this side of Manti Te'o has any answer for Brittany Griner.

- Looks like the Chattanooga Lookouts will return a bevy of pitching, as our ace David Paschall tells us here.

Today's question

"Hello, Sheboygan, you're on with Jay..."

"Hello, Sheboygan, you're on with Jay..."

You know that Monday is open forum day, so let it rip.

We'll give you a Larry King-type lead-in...

LKing: "Hello, Sheboygan, you're on..."

Caller 1: "Yes, Larry wanted to get your thoughts on the Final Four. Thanks and I'll hang up and listen."

LKing: "Love Sheboygan. It's beautiful this time of year. You know who else loves Sheboygan? Tim Tebow."

(LKing stops and does a Tebow. A production assistant races to his side worried he broke a hip. LKing proposes to her.)

LKing: "Where were we? Oh yes, Tim Tebow. I'll take a team full of Tebows every day, unless John Calipari is coaching the other side. What a dresser. Coach Cal is Michael Corleone - Bill Self is more Tom Hagan, and that's not a knock mind you. Wow, that Bobby Duvall... pound-for-pound as good as any actor out there. Other than Tebow, of course.

LKing: "Maryville, Tennessee. Hello..."

Caller 2: "Is Derek Dooley the right guy for the job?"

LKing: "What job are we talking about here? There are a lot of jobs to be done at UT. A lot. You know who he needs? Tim Tebow."

LKing: "Your town. Hello."

Bring it.