March 23, 2006
Detroit Pistons:
Last time they played the Heat, the Pistons let Dwyane Wade score Miami's last 17 points and lost. This time, they held him to a season-low 13 and won.
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

The first weekend of the NCAA is sort of silly: Bracket picks bursting like fireworks as you scrambled at work to hide the fact you spent days following games. It's the most fun weekend of the sports year.

The Sweet 16 is serious.

For the teams seeded 1 to 4, a trip to the Sweet 16 isn't a treat; it was expected.

Make no mistake: For Duke or Memphis or Texas or the loser of UCLA-Gonzaga, a loss today represents a failure this season.

Annual Sweet 16 trips are nice, but in any individual year, if you're a team considered among the Top 8, it's Elite Eight or bust.

(Even for West Virginia, after an Elite Eight trip last year, this round is all-business. Of teams playing tonight, only Bradley is playing with house money. See next four items for game snapshots.)

That's why I was so obsessed with Sweet 16 upsets yesterday:

Analysts are making awfully good cases for the lower seed to pull the upset. This is the round where college basketball parity flexes hardest. This is the round where pain of a loss anguishes fans of the top seeds the most.

A No. 4 seed losing in the first weekend is humiliating, but a top seed losing today or tomorrow is deeper failure.

And who doesn't want to see that?

Duke vs. LSU
Subplot: Who's the Big Baby?
You might not have thought it was possible, but Duke fans are managing to whine position themselves in the role of underdog, just because a few people think that LSU will pose matchup problems.

X Factor: Frosh Forwards
Forget Big Baby vs. the Landlord. The most intriguing matchup is between NBA-hyped frosh: Josh McRoberts (13 pts, 12 reb vs. GW) versus LSU's spring-loaded Tyrus Thomas.

Pick: LSU. (Tip: 7:10 p.m. ET)

Memphis vs. Bradley
Subplot: No More Disrespect?
Both teams can play the "D" card: Memphis was widely considered to be the most vulnerable No. 1 seed; Bradley was one of the last two teams picked for the tournament field. From opposite ends, both have quieted doubters.

X Factor: Patrick O'Bryant
After his breakout 28-point game in the W over Pitt and fellow lumbering C Aaron Gray, he has to match up with Memphis' sleek, deep frontline.

Pick: Bradley. (7:27 p.m. ET)

WVA vs. Texas
Subplot: We Meet Again!
Way back in November, the Horns and Eers met in Austin, with then-No. 2 Texas escaping with a one-point victory. Who learned more since?

X Factor: Does Size Matter?
In the first meeting, UT outrebounded WVA, 40-19, behind Buckman and Aldridge. WVA features big man/national sensation Kevin Pittsnogle, who is more comfortable (like the rest of the WVA offense) shooting 3s.

Pick: WVA. (9:40 p.m. ET)

UCLA vs. Gonzaga
Subplot: Cindy No More?
Has 'Zaga lost its cachet as an underdog? No. 3-seeds reek of "establishment," and ones that play sorry defense can't maintain the "scrappy" tag.

AI: After 4-game rest (injured foot), scores 29 in 76ers' W
Lakers: Beat Kings to flip-flop into West's 7th playoff slot
Germany: Thumps shorthanded U.S. team, 4-1, in "friendly"
Pedro Martinez: Expected to miss Opening Day start (toe)
Steve Alford to Missouri: Says he "loves" his Iowa program
Channing Frye: Knicks rookie out for season (sprained PCL)
X Factor: Arron Afflalo
UCLA's shooting guard might be the team's leading scorer, but he's also one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. Look for his matchup with Morrison, who is coming off the flu (and his worst game of the season).

Prediction: UCLA. (9:57 p.m. ET)

Sheffield Juiced?
The latest bombshell from the new Bonds book, "Game of Shadows," is the allegation that Gary Sheffield used testosterone and HGH.

Now, this isn't new: Rumors about Sheffield have been swirling around since the beginning of the BALCO story.

But I remain surprised at the language Sheffield uses when talking about the allegations. Call them classic non-denial denials:

"What can I do? I'm not going to defend myself my whole life. It doesn't matter to me. I don't have anything to say. No need to. It is what it is."

Point taken, Gary. But something more along the lines of, "This is completely untrue and I'm suing the hell out of these writers for libel" would send a stronger message that you're actually denying the allegations.

He never tested positive. He never will. He'll simply remain on the roster of players tainted by the Steroid Era scandal.

Huggins Returning?
After a year in exile, former Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins reportedly will return to college hoops at Kansas State.

If you had any questions about K-State's priorities, they are now answered. They want a winning program and they want it now. Say that for Huggins. (Can't wait for that first game against Bobby Knight.)

The only remaining question is what will rise first: The win total or the team's graduation rate. And I think we all know how that will go ...

Meanwhile, Huggins' ex, Cincy, got permission to talk with hot GW coach Karl Hobbs, who might be interested in a leap to the Big East.

Cincy would be a step up for Hobbs, but would his sketchy recruiting decisions sit well with the school prez who ran off Huggins?

(By the way, for those thinking that O.J. Mayo will simply follow Huggins anywhere -- before bolting to the NBA after one college season -- consider that Mayo also said he didn't want to go to a "raw" program with a limited fan base. K-State doesn't sound like a lock to me.)

Vince Young Pro Day
And the verdict is ...?
Wait and see.

It's a victory for the critics that Vince Young didn't blow away scouts during his pro-day workout yesterday.

The reports from scouts in Austin are that he was "fairly impressive" (which might be labeled "fairly wishy-washy"), but that he'll need to do more to impress teams in his individual workouts.

Meanwhile, he might have looked like he ran a blistering 40 from his Rose Bowl highlights, but yesterday he ran "only" a 4.58, which was slower than anticipated.

For comparison, that's basically the same as Toledo's Bruce Gradkowski.

Soriano Plays LF
Time for a Quickie Quiz!

Alfonso Soriano trotted out to left field yesterday for the Nationals and said he intends to play there all season, thus ending the week's quasi-dramatic standoff. Why did he make the move?

A) "I love this game." (A.S.)

B) Frank Robinson "asked."

C) Come on: The $10 million!

D) All of the above.

NFL Rule Changes?
Expanding the NFL playoff field from 12 to 14 will be one of the issues on the table next week at the owners' meetings. And I can't support it more strenuously.

More slots, more chances your team is in the mix toward the end of the season, more excitement. It's impossible to argue that expanding the playoff field from 10 to 12 in 1990 wasn't great for the NFL.

Ignore the naysayers: They were probably arguing the 1990 expansion was a bad idea. (Or that expanding the number of MLB playoff teams was a bad idea. Come on: Best MLB innovation of the past 25 years!)

It'll be hard to deny the competitiveness of a 7th team in each conference's playoff pool after the unprecedented success of the 6-seed this year.

Shawn Kemp:
"Kemp eyes comeback" is the hilarious headline of the day. He stopped eyeing the buffet line and slimmed down from 320 to 270. Keep dreaming, Reign Man.
Today on
Quickie: Live!
Madness Makeover
Page 2 Index
Katz's Madness Makeover 5
Patrick O'Bryant
7-footer a lottery pick?
Sean Williams
BC complement to C. Smith
Darrel Mitchell
LSU's very underrated PG
Jai Lewis
G. Mason's space-eater
Kyle Wilson
(For more, see Q It Up)

Vikings "Love Boat" update: The judge agreed with Daunte Culpepper's argument that race seemed to be a factor when he was charged. No decision yet.

I don't know why Craig Littlepage is acting defensively. His tournament selection committee has been vindicated! He says they could use more time. Nah!

There's another NFL rule change the owners will consider: Expanding replay to cover any penalty assessed. Given the Super Bowl, not a bad idea.

Favre Watch: His agent told Mort that he's still undecided on whether to retire. Agreed with team to push back deadline for bonus payout.

NIT: Old Dominion beat CAA buddy Hofstra to reach semis. They'll play NCAA snubbee Michigan. Louisville bounced MVC's Mizzou St to fill 3rd spot in NYC.

Yankees-Red Sox didn't have midseason intensity yesterday, but three players were plunked by pitches. Nice to see some things don't change.

Doc Gooden may do jail time after violating his probation. If you've got the 1st pick in a "Cell Block D"-only fantasy league, he's a top choice.

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