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Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt yells onto the field during the Vols' Sept 29 game at Georgia.

Good kind of spring fever

Let the spring excitement begin for Johnny Vols Fans everywhere.

And stoking that excitement is TFP ace sports columnist Mark Wiedmer, who shares his view today that UT coach Jeremy Pruitt looks like a coach poised for a big season. 

Is that spring hyperbole? Maybe a touch, especially if you know Weeds.

But for a UT fan base that has had to endure more than be excited over the last decade or so, this spring is understandably filled with high hopes.

First, spring — be it baseball or preseason football practice, the draft (I love the draft; you know this) or even the first day at Augusta National — is always filled with promise.

This could be the year. This could be OUR year. This could be THE team that changes our direction, our current and our future.

It's part of the magic of sports, and it's the one thing that rejuvenates even the most hardened and disappointed fan bases among us.

And it's not like there are not reasons for eagerness over anxiousness for Pruitt, for those in his program and for those that love his program.

The offensive line will be better than it's been in a long while, and certainly more star-studded. There are experienced skill position guys.

The back seven, defensively, will be very good — and Pruitt's area of expertise — as well as deeper than any Vols fan can remember.

And that's even before we get into the QB discussions and what Harrison Bailey could be long-term.

Simply put, this team is deeper. It certainly appears more talented, and considering the adversity the program withstood last September and the turnaround it engineered after disastrous losses to Georgia State and BYU, it's completely fair to say the program is as mentally tough as it has been in a long time. (If the Vols had suffered the September struggles of 2019 under Butch or Dooley, well, we all saw how the wheels fell off under those regimes, and there is nothing as close to a painful gut punch as losing at home to GSU.)

Enjoy the excitement UT fans. Lord knows you have put in the time and deserve the hopes of a better tomorrow.  
 

 

The other spring virus

There's a slew of corona-related details in the sports world.

Cancellations. Cautionary warnings. Crowdless games. Several other sentences that start with startling words with a 'C.'

The expanding reach and number of cases are understandably putting people and officials on notice.

Couple of observations about this, in a practical and procedural sense.

First, while I'm not worried about the coronavirus — and that's pretty well-documented, just check my hate mail — the ramifications are having an effect on all of us.

Price gouging on hand sanitizer, stock markets tumbling, the likelihood of school cancellations, you name it. Forget sports for just a second, the hysteria over this looks like it's going to change everyday life for the majority of the country.

Second, it's hard for cynical me not to think that a great deal of these precautions are done by leadership groups who look through the litigation prism of what decisions can we make that insulate me, us, our organization from being sued for someone coming to our event, business, school, et al., and catching this thing.

Third, the NCAA's only consistent leadership mantra appears to be inconsistent leadership, right?

The NCAA ostriches are passing the COVID-19 buck down the line to the schools and conferences. So predictable.

That said, the NCAA is staring at a real dilemma considering the timing of this virus.

There are NCAA events all over the country, most notably the NCAA tournament.

Go finless? Cancel? The dominos of the NCAA tournament make the decisions even more challenging.

And there is no event more important to the whole of college sports than the NCAA men's tournament, which funds college sports as a whole. (Yes, college football makes more money, but that funds the power programs and Power 5 conferences. The rest of college sports and the NCAA are funded by the next month and your bracket.)
 

 

College hoops clunkers

Speaking of college hoops and the tournament, well, if you were like me and wondered, "Man, this college basketball season feels kind of blah," we're not alone.

The season-long TV numbers for college hoops have been released, and friends, it was dreadful.

Last Saturday's Duke-UNC game, normally the gold-standard for college hoops TV, drew eye-poppingly low numbers. The 1.4 rating and 2.23 million viewers was the fewest since the rivals met in an ACC tournament game in 2011, and it's the least-watched regular-season Duke-UNC game since 2007.

And compared to the energy from last year and a not-so-little dude named Zion, who was only minimally involved against UNC, this year's lack of energy is staggering. Saturday's game dropped 44 percent in ratings and 46 percent in eyeballs, according to Sports Media Watch.  

Still, Duke averaged 2.14 million viewers per game last year with Zion, and the UNC-Duke game last weekend barely surprised the Devils' average from 2018-19.

The Duke-UNC game was only the sixth-most watched game of the season, which is surprising considering the folks who bang the drum for this being the best rivalry in sports. It's the sixth-most watched game of the year. OK.

But year-to-year, the most-watched college basketball game of 2020 would not have cracked the top 10. And the two most-watched games of the college basketball season still remain the season-opening doubleheader of Kansas-Duke (2.42 million viewers) and Michigan State-Kentucky (2.27 million viewers).

 

This and that

— Some interesting NFL rule changes are leaking out, including several from the Eagles. Philly wants some clarity and expansion of the blind-side block rules and an overhaul on the on-side kick to where teams could choose to go for it on fourth-and-15 from their own 25 to keep possession rather than an on-side kick.

— Speaking of the coronavirus, it's all fun and games until the Masters is put in jeopardy because of this thing. Don't test me on this, COVID-19. Seriously.

— OK, when did these accusations happen, because we have skipped straight to Charlie Sheen's denial of the allegation from Corey Feldman that Sheen raped Corey Haim. So there's that.  

— Is there any headline coming out of Michigan State these days that does not involve some sort of controversy? Here's another lawsuit filed against former football coach Mark Dantonio and the program from Curtis Blackwell claiming discrimination and that the former assistant coach was ordered to film at least one opponent's practice.

— And just like that, Joe Biden has rewritten the Democratic primary narrative. It's not longer "Who will win?" It's "How will Bernie Sanders elect to lose?" Biden picked up the vast majority of states that voted Tuesday, including delegate-rich Michigan, and Sanders has gone from the clear front-runner to the next candidate to figure out how to step aside as gracefully as possible. (Something he never did in 2016, when he sprinted to the very end against Hillary Clinton.)    

— Another 2-1 night in hoops tournament action. We hit UNC minus-4 (comfy win over Va. Tech) and North Dakota State minus-6 (89-53 blowout over North Dakota). We missed on Wake Forest plus-2 (drummed by Pitt). That moves us to 48-33-1, and that's 59.3 percent against the number. Riding a pretty good streak since we were what, 24-21, at one point. That's 24-12-1 (66.7 percent) since mid-January. More picks late in the 5 o'clock hour of Press Row today.

— The Draymond Green-Charles Barkley feud is golden. In addition to the past bad blood — remember when Charles said he wanted to punch Draymond in the face? — it got rekindled earlier this month when Charles said Draymond got his usual "triple-single," which is a truly great line. Draymond fired back, saying he was going to take Charles' TV gig and of course the ring criticism. Well, Draymond coming at Chuck feels a little like me challenging MJ to a game of 1-on-1. Chuck's answer on The Dan Patrick Show: "He's the least famous person in the boy band, and he thinks he's a star. And he's not. He's lucky to be in the boy band. He thinks all the girls are screaming for him. No, they're screaming for Justin Timberlake." If this was a fight, Draymond's corner would throw in the towel.

— The All-SEC basketball team from the coaches was released Tuesday afternoon. I have a few thoughts on it and a lot of them were in Tuesday's comments of the 5-at-10. Couple of recap points from that: First, any all-star team with nine first-team basketball players or 14 baseball players or any number that does not match the number of starters (and don't get me started on positions) are hollow. Second, to the victors go the spoils, so UK got the player and coach of the year. I'm OK with both those choices, but think AU's Isaac Okoro got jobbed for freshman of the year. So it goes.

— Gang, the folks who are losing their minds about Mark Richt wearing Georgia Tech gear during an assignment for the ACC Network over the weekend need to get a grip. Georgia fired Right, remember. Yes, you wanted him gone after he won 10 games a year for a decade and a half, which we all understood. It happens. How many of you would still be loyal to your employer if you got fired after 15 years of great results?

— Here's the skinny from TFP ace sports editor Stephen Hargis on  Cleveland's JaCobi Wood and East Hamilton's Madison Hayes for winning Mr. and Miss Basketball awards. Many congrats. Side question: If the winner of the female award happened to be married, would it be changed in that instance to Mrs. Basketball? Discuss.

— Georgia basketball may have the best freshman in the league, but as TFP college sports ace David Paschall notes here, the Bulldogs have the rare chance to be the first team bounced in the SEC tournament for the second consecutive year.  
 
 

Today's questions

Which way Wednesday starts this way.

Which way would you vote for conference player of the year, the best player in the league, the most valuable player to his team or the best player on the best team?  

Which show-spinoff is the best tandem ever? (Because I'm willing to die on the Breaking Bad-Better Call Saul hill friends. Better Call Saul may be the best show on TV right now. Which current TV show are you watching that you'd put against Better Call Saul? Asking for a friend who needs some new shows in the rotation.)

Which is more likely to happen because of the coronavirus and the NCAA tournament: Nothing happens, games are moved, games are played without crowds, games are cancelled?

As for today, March 11, well happy birthday Anthony Davis. Glad you are winning running alongside LeBron these days.

Rupert Murdoch is 89 today.

Today is also Johnny Appleseed Day for some reason.

Rushmore of people with a fruit in their name. Keep it clean Spy.

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