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AP photo by Gerry Broome / Army's Tommy Funk, left, and Duke's Zion Williamson chase the basketball during the first half of their teams' matchup on Nov. 11, 2018, in Durham, N.C.

College hoops 109

Thanks in part to some of our regulars around these parts, we got in the habit of writing a Tuesday college basketball essay. We have done it for the last eight weeks. (Hence the 109 in the header, as it started as college hoops 101 after all.)

Yes, we skipped last week. Aloha, and all.

Well, today, the opinion piece will become a bit of a history lesson.

For on this day, twoscore years ago, college basketball took the leap and March Madness was hatched.

Sure, the true madness of March and the passion of the tournament was forged in the early 1980s when Jordan hit the game-winner before Fred Brown threw the ball to a worthy James, Jimmy V looked for someone to hug, Georgetown became a fixture among the final four and Villanova was high on life.

But today — March 26 — 40 years ago was the day when some white hick from someplace called French Lick tried to defy Magic.

Yes, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird took center stage on this day in 1979 in what was — and likely will forever be — the most-watched college basketball game ever. The rating of 24.1 still ranks as the best in the sport, topping Villanova's shocker over Georgetown in 1985 (23.3) and Duke over the Fab Five in 1992 (22.7).

It brought college basketball's postseason tournament to a place few imagined. Think of the two decades prior to Bird-Magic. It was UCLA's dominance of the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, as the Bruins won nine titles in 11 years. Bob Knight's perfect year in 1976, Al McGuire's miracle from Marquette in the Omni and Joe B. Hall and the Wildcats in 1978.

So the game was dotted by big coaching personalities and perennial powers like UCLA, UK and IU.

Then 1979 happened and the possibilities availed themselves.

And the personalities of the players became a much bigger thing than we ever imagined.

It also forged the best individual rivalry in the history of team sports, and while it birthed March Madness, it completely changed the NBA.

East coast vs. West coast. White guy vs. black guy. Quiet Bird vs. Charismatic Magic. It was one or the other. Period. 

Remember, before Larry and Magic, the NBA Finals — the FINALS — were shown on tape delay on CBS after the nightly news gang. 

Forget the ripples of social media and the chatter of today's personalities, Magic and Larry lifted basketball to a place that no one since Naismith could have envisioned.

And it started on this day 40 years ago.   

 

Let's enjoy the field of 64

No, not that one. Everyone enjoys the tournament. (Side question: How's your bracket? We heard Chas crowing about his supremely sweet Sweet 16 Monday, so we have to expect he's leading his bracket. My Final Four — UK, Duke, Michigan and UT — is still in tact. We had 12 of the 16 still alive — and three of those misses were in the South because I trusted UC Irvine and did not trust UVa — so there's that.)

Anyhoo, let's look at the field of 64 for the WGC Match Play. Yes, it's golf. And more importantly, it has some of the biggest names in the game.

And a local feel. Here's more from TFP all-around ace David Paschall, who caught up with Baylor School grads Luke List and Keith Mitchell.

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Former Baylor School standout Keith Mitchell tracks his shot on the third hole at TPC Sawgrass during the third round of The Players Championship on Saturday in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

That both are in the field — which is composed of the top 64 players in the game according to the world rankings.

Mitchell has caught a ride on a lightning bolt and is 58th in the world; List is ranked 69th and got an invite because Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson passed on this week's bracket battle.

So, List is the last dude in and he drew a first-round pod that includes Rory McIlroy, who is playing better than anyone anywhere. But if List, the long-hitting veteran — yes, it feels like Luke was just at Baylor a couple years ago, but dude is 34 and has not become a PGA Tour regular — can get by Rory, his group is gettable.

Mitchell's pod does not contain a headliner like Rory — although Tony Finau is no slouch. But with match-play whiz Ian Poulter and Kevin Kisner, who was the runner-up in this event last year, also in Mitchell's foursome, well, it may be the most challenging group of the 16-pod event.

With the way Mitchell and List crush drives — and their ability to make birdies in bunches — each could make an impressive run through this tournament.

Regardless, being there, not unlike the Oscars, is a real accomplishment. And for Mitchell, who has qualified for the Masters with his win earlier this season at the Honda Classic, it's just the next one on the list.   

 

Reason for concern?

Thought this article by CBSsports.com's Dennis Dodd was quite interesting.

College football attendance declined for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.

Worse, the average attendance for the 129 FBS teams of 41,856 was the lowest number since 1996.

Only one conference — the ACC — saw it's average attendance rise from 2017.

Think about that. In what appears to be the highest of high times for the sport, the actual butts in seats is generationally low.

And the questions being asked are not what can be done as much as if anything can be done. The numbers are trending down for close to a decade now, and some of the names atop the list of declining attendance — Virginia Tech, USC, THE Ohio State, South Carolina and Florida were among the top 10 in attendance drops — are power players.

Yes, the TV numbers are strong for the Power Five leagues, especially the SEC and the Big Ten.

But the profit margins and line items are determined by the crowd sizes, and the schools directly benefit from that revenue. 

So, for the schools that continue to sell-out, the divide will only continue to grow.   

Still, the SEC's average attendance of 74,185 was the largest in the country, but that number was the SEC's lowest since 2003, a time when Texas A&M's monster stadium and crowds were in another league.

Expect talks about the in-game experience — as well as juicing up schedules — to be all the rage this spring at AD meetings. 

 

This and that

— OK, Devin Booker can slap score. Big time. Monday night he joined a club of LeBron, Rick Barry and Kyrie Irving as the only players with multiple 50-plus-point games before the age of 23. Cool, right? Well, there were ripples as well. He did it in a blow out loss. None of his teammates scored more than nine points. And the Jazz fouled — up a million — one of Booker's teammates in the final seconds to prevent Booker from getting to 60. Booker finished with 59 of the Suns' 97 points.

— OK, here's a thought from rapper and apparent football aficionado Eminem. Here's his Tweet: "DEAR @THEAAF, PLEASE ENTERTAIN THIS THOUGHT REGARDING THE @AAFIRON @AAFEXPRESS GAME: ALLOWING THE PLAYERS TO ACTUALLY FIGHT WOULD BE KEY TO LEAGUE'S SUCCESS LIKE HOCKEY, I WOULD WATCH EVERY GAME (EVEN THOUGH THERE IS NO DETROIT TEAM YET - HINT). DON'T BLOW IT. SINCERELY, MARSHALL" (Sorry for the yelling, it was Marshall, not me.) 

— Not that this is breaking news, but I saw this list on Twitter last night and was blown away. This list is part of the portfolio of one Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq owns "155 Five Guys; 150 car washes; 40 24-Hour Fitness gyms; 17 Auntie Anne's; 9 Papa John's; 1 Krispy Kreme; 1 Big Chicken; 1 Shaquille's; 1 CityPlex12." You go big fella.

— Tuesday morning there was Mock 3.0 from Mel Kiper Jr. "Todd! Todd! Todd!" Kiper has Kyler Murray at 1 to the Cardinals with Chas' fav Josh Allen at 3 to the Jets and my pick as the best overall player in this class, Quinnen Williams, going to Oakland at 4. Congrats Gruden. Hey, did you know his wife was a former UT cheerleader?

— For those looking to see more of the brilliant photos from the Mrs. 5-at-10 from Hawaii, check out her Instagram at @kathleengreesonphoto. Great times.

— Updated transfer portal names and destinations can be viewed here.

 

Today's questions

True or false on a Tuesday.

True or false, Larry vs. Magic is the best individual rivalry in the history of sports.

True or false, Conor McGregor, who announced his retirement last night, will fight again.

True or false, you had no idea Shaq was worth half a billion bucks.

On this day in 1982, "Ebony and Ivory" from Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder was released in the UK. 

In honor of that, what makes the Rushmore of duet singles of all time. Go. 

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2019 NCAA Division I Men's bracket

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