Weekend college hoops picks. We added UK (-4), UT (-11) and LSU (-2.5) Friday afternoon on Press Row. (Lines courtesy of VegasIInsider.com.) The Wildcats pushed, the Vols covered by a point and the Tiger beat my Tigers by 5. That 2-0-1 mark — after last Thursday's loss on Troy — 13-7-2 against the number this year. Listen to Press Row for today's pick, and we'll drop it later this afternoon in the comments.
The power players of Duke — that was impressive at UVA — UT and Kentucky. Those are the three best teams in my view, and man oh man, are we all not pulling for the Vols and the Wildcats to finish the drill and have these streaks intact for Saturday's date in Rupp. Been a while since an SEC game has been much-watch to every college hoops fan in the country, but Vols-Cats will be awesome in its awesomeness.
Everyone involved — from Tim Tebow on down to local event organizer Brianna Smith to the UTC staff and students who helped to especially the guests of honor to TFP ace columnst Mark Wiedmer for sharing the story — that made the "Night to Shine Prom" a grand slam success over the weekend. There's way more detail — and way better presented — here by Weeds, but wow, stories like this make me proud. Proud of my faith, proud of my country, proud of where we live, and proud of where I work.
The 76ers. Wow, that starting five, with the addition of Tobias Harris, is overpowering. The Sixers manhandled the Lakers by 23, and it was only that close because Kyle Kuzma played out of his mind and NBA All-Star Ben Simmons was dreadful. If you watched any of it, well, it was clear that the 76ers were three steps better — and physically way more dominant — than anything the Lakers put out there. We'll go as far as to say, the distance between this Sixers' starting five is closer to the Warriors than the distance between the third-best collection of starters in the NBA is to Philly.
Signal Mountain 5th grade hoopsters. Yes, from the rough-and-tumble streets from the brow to Hidden Brook, the mini-Eagles continued to roll, grabbing the tournament title of the North Hamilton Basketball League to go along with the league crown. The interchangeable nine of Bo, Lee, Max, Zach, Tommy, J.B., Colton, Hudson and Tyler was great all season-long, finished 10-2 — the two losses were by a combined two points — and placed four on the all-league first or second team. Fun to watch kids genuinely want to improve, genuinely want to be coached and genuinely compete and work together.
The truth. This is a powerful story — and a scary one in a lot of ways — that effects all of us really. Sunday's Outside the Lines story on how the NFL strong-armed Bob Costas and NBC — a company gladly paying the NFL billions of dollars a year — is a staggering realization about real power in this day and age.
The Celtics. Unlike the 76ers, Boston — one of the four Eastern Conference power picks to get to the Finals — look more Boston Creme Pies than Boston championship material. Side question: And we're sure this will be a bigger deal when the playoffs starts, but do you realize how close we could be to an unprecedented a Town Title Three-peat? Red Sox won rings. Pats won rings. The Celtics are 9-4 favorites — and at their best are the deepest team in the NBA. Boston has already won more MLB, NFL and NBA titles in the last five months than Atlanta has in the last five decades, so no one wants to hear any bellyaching Spy. But dang this a glory run, no? But the Celtics have a lot to turn around considering they surrendered a 28-point lead to the collapsing and tanking Clippers on Saturday and now Kyrie Irving is limping. No es bueno.
AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Not that anyone could have predicted or deserves blame for it, but it's extremely tough to get into any championship Sunday of any golf tournament when you are almost assured of a Monday finish. The weather wreaked havoc throughout the weekend, and we are left with a few holes still to play. That said, Phil Mickelson going 6 under through 16 to grab a three-shot lead with two to play — third-round leader Paul Casey is among the group three back with three to play after his Sunday struggles — was some excellent stuff.
The fragile Lakers pups who needed Magic Johnson to fly to Philly to be consoled about being mentioned in trade talks. Man, if there's not a more modern-day, AAU attitude than that, I don't know what it possibly could be. Heck, that's worse than the AAU-ization trend of these players linking up and trying to form super teams. Dude, you dudes are getting paid millions to play hoops and if you get traded to another locale to get paid millions to play hoops, well, isn't that what is called having a job?
Holly Warlick. UT played a team they used to crush on the road and the Lady Vols got steam-rolled. A 40-34 deficit became a 91-63 loss for the 15-8 Lady Vols who are staring at a possible double-digit NCAA seed. UT is 4-6 in the league, which is 10th. Yes, 10th. And this narrative that UT is not an elite job and would not demand a sure-fire star coach is a prisoner of the moment. Period.
Grading the new football league
OK, we'll admit it. We watched some of each of the AAF games available. Here are some quick takeaways:
Fittingly my picks went 2-2 because it was clearly a lot of guessing and dart-throwing. And we should have never gone on the under with Steve Spurrier involved. (That said, the game still hits the under without a meaningless pick six late in the third quarter or a garbage time TD with the second unit late in the fourth. Oh you Steve Spurrier Foiled again.)
Atlanta's performance was dreadful, which should not be all that surprising since they have already had serious turnover at head coach and at OC. That said, Spurrier's Orlando bunch looked far and away the most polished offensively, and Apollo QB Garrett Gilbert was easily the most impressive quarterback from the opening weekend.
Speaking of that, it's impossible to call the AAF opening weekend a smash because of that simple reason. And maybe we should have been able to peg that before the season, because there's not enough good quarterbacks to fill 32 NFL teams with quality starters across each franchise. And that shortage was clear, even among the names you recognize like Christian Hackenberg, across almost each game. Too many missed throws, especially on wide open guys.
That said, here's betting there were a handful of defensive dudes who will get NFL camp invites. There were a lot of guys flying all over the place and making plays on that side of the ball. And make no mistake the league is getting a ton of mileage out of that monster hit on the QB and the 'legality' of it.
I know a lot of folks on social media were poking a lot of fun that the Saturday debut on CBS drew more viewers than the NBA game on ABC, but that's as much about the newness as it is anything else because the AAF numbers were down by a lot compared to the XFL debut weekend almost tow decades ago. Was there interest? Sure there was. But banging the "Outdrew the Rockets-Thunder" is not completely apples to apples either.
Fat Vader's Memphis bunch may be the only team that looked worse than my adopted Atlanta Legends. And know this: The Mike Singletary coaching career ends whenever he gets his pick slip from the Express.
I appreciated the pace of play with the shorter game clock and no forced TV timeouts. I did not miss kickoffs one bit, and while the onside-kick rule did not make an appearance because three of the four games were blowouts, we're intrigued by that too. (And since last year, with the rule changes about line-ups and formations, onside kicks were successful about 8 percent of the time, we can see the AAF's plan — team gets the ball fourth-and-12 from its 28 and gets on play to convert to keep the ball or turn it over at that spot — being embraced.)
And now to maybe the most enjoyable part of every game that I saw. Major props — home run, walk-off-style celebration props in fact — for the extra access we got during the broadcasts. Whether it was listening in on Spurrier's actual conversations and play calls, listening into the players' huddles or the refs' huddles and maybe the best of all, listening to the replay booth dissect the layers of the review, true transparency was gloriously refreshing and amazingly interesting.
That said, conversely, CBS needs to raise the level of its broadcast cats. And no one is expecting Nantz and Romo to be there for the crucial Week 2 Orlando-San Antonio tilt, but some of the stiffs in the booth this weekend struggled more than the quarterbacks.
Hey, maybe that was the idea — a distraction of the bad throws by some even worse verbose.
This and that
— OK, we admit it. We watched way more of the Grammys than we should. (Yes, we were the one.) Couple of takeaways that do not really fall into the winners or losers categories solely: Man, Michelle Obama is more visible now than when she was the First Lady; I am here for superstars — be them sports-related, Hollywood-based or musically inclined speaking openly about their challenges with mental issues — if that helps even one person watching and wondering about his or her here and now, well then mission accomplished; Dolly is brilliant — simply brilliant, and a Tennessee icon friends; there needs to be a review process for the legends and icons who are being celebrated in terms of whether they should be allowed to perform — of example, Dolly crushed it, but there will be a sizable part of my generation and young who will never believe Diana Ross was the most supreme of the Supremes after last night's showing; Brandi Carlile stole the performances, and that was not even close — amazing; J-Lo is amazing in a slew of ways — she'll be 50 in July for Pete's sake people — but a NYC girl with a Hispanic background and some question outfit choices hardly seems like the best choice for the Motown tribute, no? Thoughts.
— While the golf coverage of what a lot of us believe to be the first notable event on the schedule was derailed by weather, nothing — and we mean nothing slows down Tony Romo. Not weather. Not Jim Nantz. Not nothing. Here's Romo hitting from the patio — seriously — and knocking it to a foot.
— Have waited on this bounce-back and curious it came from Madison Bumgarner, but the Giants ace said plainly that he would not participate in the new trend of an opener out of the bullpen. Interesting.
— This is a very interesting read with all 32 of the ESPN NFL beat writers making 'bold' predictions for each of the teams they cover. Two writers said the teams they cover — the Packers and the Texans — will land Le'Veon Bell. Aaron Rodgers and Le'Veon would be an amazing combination friends.
Weekend winners and losers. Please share.
Some personal favs celebrating (or would celebrate) a birthday today.
Jennifer Aniston is 50 gang. Sheryl Crow is 58. Thomas Edison would have been 172. Burt Reynolds — rest easy Bandit — would have been 83.
On this day in 1990, Mike Tyson was dropped by Buster Douglas. For me that is one of the 'Where were you moments' in sports history. For sure.
Whitney Houston died on this day in 2012. Which brings us back to Dolly.
Sarah Palin is 55 today. Rushmore of best SNL impersonations, because Tina Fey's of Sarah Palin was DEAD-on.