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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / UTC (29) Telly Plummer and (4) Romeo Wykle go after Mercer (15) Carter Peevy as he fires a pass at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga on Saturday, March 27, 2021.

Weekend winners

Zion Williamson. Yes, it's regular-season NBA and that is going to elicit a tsunami of shoulder shrugs, and that's fair. But the Big Z — dude is like Ebby Calvin LaLoosh; he needs a nickname — is doing unbelievable things at a level of which most of us are unaware. First, since the NBA put in the 3-point line, only MJ has scored more points in his first 66 games as Zion. Plus, in his last two games Zion has made one of those lists — you know where you look around and the other names are big-time — where you just shake your head. Here are the players over the last 35 years to score 75+ points with at least 10 rebounds and 10 assists while shooting 70% or better in back-to-back games: Giannis, Shaq, Scottie Pippen, MJ and Zion.

NCAA underdogs. With UCLA's win Sunday over Alabama — a terribly bad beat for those who added Alabama plus-3.5 at halftime considering the buzzer-beater that sent it to overtime and the Tide collapse in the extra session — there have been nine underdogs by 7 or more points to win outright in this tournament. It's the most since the tournament expanded to 64 teams 36 years ago, and for comparison in the last tournament, underdogs of 7 or more were 0-24.  

Zach Wilson. All the way back to Friday, the BYU QB made a ton of coin by turning in a head-turning effort at his pro day. By almost every measure, Wilson is now the No. 2 QB on the board behind Trevor Lawrence.

Tennessee baseball. A three-game sweep over just about anyone in this SEC is amazing. A three-game sweep over the perennially strong LSU Tigers is especially good.

 

Weekend losers

NASCAR. Yes, J-Mac, I was planning on giving the dirt race at Bristol some attention. But the monsoon consumed the weekend in Northeast Tennessee and we all know that Monday NASCAR is like Tuesday night MAC-tion during football season — made for only the die-hards and the gamblers.

The NBA. Yes, the Zion numbers are awe-inspiring, but there were two clear headlines this weekend around the NBA. First, so many stars are either hurt or resting it makes the game unrecognizable to a lot of folks. Second, the Nets' continued acquisition of big-name talent is not good for the competitive balance. Hey, I get it. Go play with the best and have the best chance to win it all. I get it from the ownership point of view too. If there's not a hard cap, spend whatever it takes — if you have it — to win it all. The Nets have added Blake Griffin and now LaMarcus Aldridge in the last few days and could start five former All-Stars when they get healthy. (Side note the Lakers added double-double machine Andre Drummond, too.) But you have to wonder for a league that once voided a trade of Chris Paul to L.A. because of competitive balance, this trend has to be troubling for the vast majority of those in leadership and those who call themselves fans.

All of us. Our society is broken. Call it the cancel culture, call it whatever the bleep you want. But activist groups are calling for the boycott of Coke products and for the Masters to be moved out of state because of the voting changes that have been signed into law. (Side note: Coke will start slinging Pepsi products before the Masters flinches at anything remotely related to any part of the latest trends. In fact, the way the Masters handled the protests and boycott about the demands for a female member more than a decade ago were just about perfect.) And then on the other side ledger, Lil Nas X shoots a music video giving Satan a lap dance and those of us who follow Christ who have a problem with that — never mind his Nike shoes that have Satan in the name for Pete's Sake — are in the wrong, according to social media. Where are we friends?      

The ACC. We knew the league was down. Heck, when Duke is that bad and UNC gets boat-raced in the opening game of the NCAA tournament, well, when your bellows are sour, the rest of the herd is going to be thin. But how about this stat: The ACC finished 4-7 in this tournament, which is the fewest wins and worst winning percentage since the league went 0-2 at the Dance in 1979.

 

Spring forward

So UTC sent the stand-ins to face the Mercer Bears on Saturday.

It's a bold strategy Cotton, let's see if it pays off for them.

Here's Weeds on the aftermath of the Mocs calling off the dogs on the spring season and a legit chance to contend for a national title.

And friends, that's not hyperbole. The Mocs were 3-0 this spring against SoCon foes and last fall outplayed Western Kentucky in the lone loss on the resume before Saturday's dress rehearsal.

Hey, Rusty Wright has every right to run his program however he sees fit. And from Weeds' story, UTC AD Mark Wharton is 100 percent behind Wright which is good — especially for the coach.

And yes, playing as many as 19 games in 10 months is an arduous task in an extremely arduous sport. So I get it.

But here are some of the questions I have that have been unanswered in the dancing around this topic as Wright talks about 'depth' and finding out if the young kids can play.

> If you are this opposed to the spring, why not opt out? And maybe the SoCon turned their arms, but I bet UTC is cashing whatever checks in full.

> If you are going to put your second-best product on the field, why are you charging first-rate ticket prices?

> Heck, why if you are against the wear and tear on the players, why are you charging at all and why are the walk-ons not getting more run too?

> And, if it's about depth, you couldn't mix and mingle the lineup with a little more competitive balance than sitting 21 starters on Saturday?

> And for a program that has always needed more connection to the in-game crowds, why not do this on the road?

Finally, one of the reasons I love sports as much as I do is because of the life lessons that they generate.

How to win. How to lose. How to work hard and set goals and do what it takes to reach them.

It also is based in the very fundamental, very Herm Edwards-familiar, "You play to win the game."

I understand Wright's decision and the complexity of the situation. But if they are not going to care about the outcome, why should we?

 

This and that

— Not sure if this is a winner or a loser, but I do believe it's faulty logic. The conversation and the rationalizations about why this NCAA tournament is so bananas is shallow. This headline says the talent gap is more narrow these days. That's a falsehood. It's not the talent gap narrowing, as much as the value of chemistry growing. That chemistry has been made doubly important in a season unlike any we've seen because of COIVD.

— You know the rules. Here's Paschall on the ever-improving recruiting realm that is Kirby Smart's UGA program. Man, is Kirby the No. 2 recruiter in college football? And because he has so much talent, what does that say about his actual in-game coaching skills?

— A great Thursday followed by a rough weekend for Stephen Jaeger, the former Baylor School and UTC star golfer on the PGA Tour. He carded a 66 in the first round to take the lead. He finished 75-74 and fell to 48th and made $7,890.

— Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed the sports and transgender bill into law. Good. The bill states "a student's gender for purposes of participation in a public middle school or high school interscholastic athletic activity or event be determined by the student's sex at the time of the student's birth, as indicated on the student's original birth certificate." Again, good.

 

Today's question

Weekend winners and losers. Go.

On a multiple choice Monday, how do you view Rusty Wright's decision to send out the reserves Saturday?

> Right call (or the Wright call)

> Bad call

> Who cares

As for today, March 29, well, Cy Young would have been 154 today.

Rushmore of Cy/Sigh and be creative.

 

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