"Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel"

My new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" is the follow-up to "Illegal Procedure" and "Roughing the Passer" and is now available in print and in e-formats at amazon.com, smashwords.com and iBooks. Follow me on twitter @kevinkrest.

Monday, March 30, 2015

MONDAY MUSINGS

Falcons Crowd Noise: It appears that the Atlanta Falcons will lose a draft pick for pumping crowd noise into their stadium in an effort to disrupt their opponents. The Falcons are 6 - 9 at home the last two seasons, the alleged time period of the infractions. It looks to me that not only has Atlanta been inept on the field, but whoever was in charge of the volume control might not be all that competent either. They're definitely not the person you want handling the remote control during a playoff watch party...just sayin'.

College Basketball Firings: Rick Barnes is out as the basketball coach at Texas. All he did in his 17 seasons was get to 16 NCAA tournaments and make the Longhorns, traditionally a football school, relevant in a conference long-dominated by Kansas. St. Johns decided to part ways with Steve Lavin, who brought that program back from the dead, guiding them to their first two NCAA appearances since 2002 and graduating players at a high rate. I can understand it when coaches don't win, but Barnes and Lavin both put up good numbers in a very competitive environment. Over 300 schools now participate in Division 1 basketball, making it increasingly difficult to consistently get to the NCAA tournament, considered the Holy Grail of the sport. For Barnes to have gotten there in all but one season is remarkable. There aren't many Duke's, Kentucky's, Kansas' and North Carolina's, and for Texas to think they can get there in basketball is a little unrealistic, no matter how much money they throw at it. Look at Virginia Tech, which hasn't even been competitive since parting ways with Seth Greenberg, who consistently had the Hokies in the top half of the ACC.

Final Four: Three number one seeds and a seriously under-seeded number seven comprise this year's Final Four. Oh, and there are Duke and Kentucky, with a combined 19 appearances since 1986. Some very good teams, including Virginia, Arizona and Villanova are on the outside looking in. Can Wisconsin defeat Kentucky in a rematch of last season's semifinal game? Absolutely, considering how close the Wildcats came to losing to Notre Dame, which made up for a lack of size with excellent outside shooting. Can Michigan State beat Duke, something that Spartan coach Tom Izzo has difficulty doing in the NCAA tournament? Maybe, especially when you look at the run they've made to get to the Final Four.

Tiger Woods Drops: Once dominant Tiger Woods has fallen out of top 100 in the World Golf Rankings. It's been since Tiger's first couple of weeks on tour in 1996 since the golfer has dropped to that low a level. In a lot of cases, it would just be his inactivity that would be responsible, but this time he might really not be among the game's best players. When he attempted to return from injury earlier this year, his game was really not sound, especially around the greens. Is it possible for him to recapture a bit of his prior magic? Maybe, but I believe we've seen the best of who I believe is the greatest golfer of all time. It's a shame, but not particularly surprising that his body has decided to break down. He's pushing forty and has been swinging ferociously at the golf ball for thirty-four of those years.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords.



Friday, March 27, 2015

MARCH MADNESS SWEET SIXTEEN - DAY TWO

After going four for four in last night's picks, which wasn't exactly rocket science, I venture into more difficult territory with a busted bracket in one region and the only remaining double digit seed in the other. But first, it's probably appropriate to make some comments about Thursday's action. All of that talk about West Virginia's press and tenacity lasted about three minutes into last night's game. The Mountaineers stumbled out of the gate and Kentucky made sure they stayed down. Not that it made a big difference, but perhaps West Virginia freshman Daxter Miler learned a bit of a lesson in providing opponents with some bulletin board motivation. Miler commented earlier in the week that Kentucky didn't play hard and that after Thursday's clash with West Virginia they would be 36 - 1. Well, not quite. After managing just 18 points in the first half, the Mountaineers managed to better their offensive performance, but still failed to get to 40, eventually getting doubled up in the 78 - 39 loss. I'm not sure what games some analysts are watching, but it's fairly absurd to me to think that anyone left in the tournament has a very good chance of beating Kentucky. Arizona? It took a scoring drought by Xavier, a team that lost nine Big East games this year, for the other Wildcats to prevail. Wisconsin? Big, but not as big as Kentucky, they struggled to get out of the North Carolina game with a win. Duke? After Okafor, not really a lot there to go up against what would be a 39 - 0 Kentucky team in the finals. Of course, it was 1991 when the Blue Devils defied all of the odds and took down undefeated UNLV in the national semifinals. But that was a team led by Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill. The only constant is Coach K. Who knows if lightning can strike twice?

East Region

(8) N.C. State vs. (4) Louisville: With four of the dozen teams left, the ACC has shown itself to be a great league. Unfortunately, there will be no more than three of those squads in the Elite Eight, as the  two facing off in this game hail from the ACC. Of course, that also guarantees that there will be at least a quarter of the next round comprised of ACC schools. Louisville has appeared to have advanced by using mirrors or some other supernatural method, while the Wolfpack has played solidly, especially in their win over top seed Villanova. N.C. State's sophomore guard Anthony Barber has been impressive since getting shut out by Duke in the ACC tournament. Meanwhile, Louisville hopes to ride Terry Rozier's offense to a spot in the Sweet Sixteen. I wasn't a big Cardinal fan at the outset of the tourney, and that hasn't changed. I'm going with State here.

(7) Michigan State vs. (3) Oklahoma: A popular darkhorse pick, Michigan State has seen its bracket open nicely. No one seems to be giving Oklahoma much of a chance, probably because they're the only Big Twelve team left, fueling the popular opinion that the entire league contingent was over seeded. The Spartans' systematic dismantling of Virginia is another reason, but I'm not going to be quite as quick to just assume Michigan State is on an unobstructed march to the Final Four. Virginia shot poorly last week and Michigan State played very well, especially early. Perhaps the Sooners will get some motivation from being a forgotten three seed. They've played well, especially in their win over a Dayton team that was deserving of far better than their eleventh seeding. I have no real reason to go with Oklahoma, other than I don't think Michigan State is good enough to get the Final Four.

South Region

(5) Utah vs. (1) Duke: I have to admit to not really knowing a lot about the current Utah squad, except that they took out one of my darkhorse picks, Stephen F. Austin in their opening game. Their defeat of Georgetown was no surprise, considering the Hoyas were one of those teams that was grossly mis-seeded. Duke is well known, led by player of the year candidate Jahlil Okafor whose last college game will be the next one Duke loses, or the national championship match, whichever comes first. The freshman is over 18 points and almost 9 rebounds a game, but his contribution is far greater, as he forces double teams that free up the Blue Devils' outside shooters to get open looks at three pointers. If the Utes can find some way to neutralize Okafor without double-teaming, they may be able to contend. I don't think that will happen.

(11) UCLA vs. (2) Gonzaga: I was definitely a proponent that UCLA should not have made the NCAA tournament field. However, they've only lost three games since February 7 with two of those coming against Arizona. That's not really terrific news for the Bruins, considering that Gonzaga plays a similar game as the Wildcats, with their offense led by 6'10" junior Kyle Wiltjer, with a lot of help from 7'1" Przeneck Karnowski and 6'10" freshman Domantas Sabonis. That size gives Gonzaga a lot of close looks at the basket and they lead the nation in field goal percentage at better than 52%. UCLA will need to rely on their guards Norman Powell and Kory Alford, both 6'4" upperclassmen, for scoring punch. I just don't see this as a good match-up for UCLA and I see it turning midnight for the Cinderella Bruins.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords.



Thursday, March 26, 2015

MARCH MADNESS MUSINGS

With my bracket in ruins, primarily because of the East Region where I have no chance to get additional points, I can now be totally objective when looking at the remaining games. Although it shouldn't be, the ACC getting five teams into the Sweet Sixteen has surprised some people. To me, I thought the Big 12 was really over-seeded in this tournament, so it is very surprising that they couldn't get more than two teams through to this point. With all of the upsets so far, it's a little hard to believe that there isn't more than the single double digit seed left, UCLA at 11 in the South Region. I had Virginia advancing to the final against Kentucky, but a poor shooting night left them to wait another year to try to advance to the Final Four. In fact, poor shooting was a big reason some of the favorites are out of the tourney. It's hard to win when you can't score.

Midwest Region

(5) West Virginia vs. (1) Kentucky: A lot of people are saying that the Mountaineer press should be able to give Kentucky problems. Arkansas, who lost to the Wildcats by double digits twice this season, also have a vaunted press. It doesn't produce turnovers at quite the pace as West Virginia's, but it tended to be effective throughout the season. Against Kentucky, it was virtually meaningless. With their size, the top-ranked Wildcats can just throw over it and with their guards, they can simply dribble through it. I have to admit that I haven't seen West Virginia play more than a few minutes this season, but I find it difficult to consider that Kentucky won't be able to neutralize the Mountaineer pressure.

(7) Wichita State vs. (3) Notre Dame: The ACC has shown that it's a formidable conference. It was evident from their performance against Kansas that the Shockers had a chip on their shoulders for being disregarded by their in-state foes for so long. The Irish are a very good basketball team, losing only five games on their way to capturing their league tournament title, defeating fellow Sweet Sixteen team UNC in the final. Wichita State has only four losses, but failed to win their conference title. Northern Iowa, the runner-up to Wichita State in the regular season and winner of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, lost to Louisville, another ACC team in the round of 32. I like Wichita State, but Notre Dame is battle tested and can really shoot well, forcing me to give the Irish the nod in this one.

West Region:

 (4) North Carolina vs. (1) Wisconsin: In a brutal region, the winner of this game potentially has to get past Arizona to advance. But first things first. North Carolina was able to shoot well and control the ball against an inexperienced Arkansas tournament team, something they'll have to do an even better job of if they have a chance to pull off an upset. Wisconsin has been here before, led by possible player of the year Frank Kaminsky. The Big Ten champs will also be facing a Tar Heel squad that will probably be without 6'9" forward Kennedy Meeks who hurt his ankle in the win over the Razorbacks. His size will definitely be missed. However, there have been times this season when the Tar Heels have looked invincible. If they get it going like that, they have a chance against the Badgers. If not, we'll be watching Wisconsin again on Saturday. My money is on the Badgers, my heart in Carolina.

(6) Xavier vs. (2) Arizona: I had Arizona getting to the Final four from the beginning, and I haven't seen anything that makes me think differently now. The Wildcats aren't particularly deep, but they're balanced on offense and have the second tallest team in the NCAA tournament. Xavier, the lone survivor out of the Big East, suddenly looks over-matched, despite two good victories in the tournament. The Musketeers have a fair amount of height, with three regulars at 6'9" or taller. Starters Stainbrook and Reynolds both shoot at better than 60% from the field, but Arizona's height might be able to neutralize those easy shots inside. This doesn't look like a great match-up for Xavier, but if they can get some space under the basket, who knows.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords.








Sunday, March 22, 2015

CRISIS IN COLLEGE SPORTS: ACADEMICS VS. ATHLETICS

There has been a lot of controversy lately, especially on Tobacco Road with Duke and North Carolina experiencing different types of scandals. For the sake of this post, I'll focus on the UNC issue, particularly because it applies to virtually every major college football and basketball athletic program. In case you missed it, the University of North Carolina has been reeling the last couple of years from revelations that at least one academic department offered what amounted to sham classes that were designed to make it easier for student athletes to maintain their academic eligibility. S.L. Price recently wrote an excellent piece in Sports Illustrated titled "How Did Carolina Lost Its Way?" But Price's article was more of a micro view of the balance between academics and athletics, written from the perspective of an alumnus questioning the long term value of his alma mater's reputation as an institution of higher learning.

However, the issue is much broader and has far more implications than just the legacy of former coach Dean Smith and the University of North Carolina. Every big time program is competing to attract top athletes, make sure they can get admitted to school, assimilate into the population and  remain eligible throughout their tenure at the university. I'm going to take these issues one at a time and then wrap them up in one box with a big green bow.

Attracting Talent: In many cases, it doesn't matter as much where the athlete wants to go as it is where his parents or parent thinks gives them the best chance at long term life success. So the recruiter needs to be able to pitch the kid on playing time, chances of getting to the next level and possibilities of winning a championship. The parents want to know if their son or daughter will be treated well, have a good college experience and foremost, get a degree that will set them up for success in whatever endeavor they decide to pursue. Therefore, the promises have to be made that yes, we'll make sure he or she will get their degree. We have tutors, we limit travel days as much as possible, we care about our athletes like family, we know they can make it.

Admitting Talent: The problem many, if not all programs have is that not every great athletic prospect has the same propensity in the classroom. So it's the nature of the business, and yes, it's very much a business, that universities have to make tough decisions on how much they are willing to dilute their academic requirements for the sake of athletic success. Very few schools have the luxury of holding athletes to the same admission requirements as the general student population. The NCAA has minimum standards that all potential college student-athletes need to meet, but those aren't really the issue here. The real issue is how a university deals with the dilemma of admitting someone because of athletic prowess and potential who has perhaps an SAT score of 900 and a 2.3 GPA, when the student population as a whole averages 1050 and 2.8. With coaches making seven figure salaries and athletic budgets approaching eight figures, concessions have to be made.

Assimilation: Until very recently, many scholarship athletes were at not only an academic disadvantage, but an economic one as well. NCAA rules forbid outside employment and any other ways for scholarship athletes to have access to spending money. Add to that the lack of academic skills possessed by a lot of athletes that got a break in the admission process and we end up with the potential for a divide between the two groups. This has manifested itself in a number of problems and disciplinary issues with some scholarship athletes. It also created a divide between the faculty, whose mission is and should be to educate the students, and the athletic program, which generally speaks to making sure kids graduate, but whose only mission is really to win.

Maintaining Eligibility: So if a university student-athlete comes into an environment where they are ill prepared to compete academically yet have demands on their time that are greater than almost every other student, how are they expected to get the grades necessary to keep them eligible to play football, basketball or any other sport, not to mention graduate in a reasonable amount of time? Quite a tall order, I would think. For the few basketball players that will only play a single season before heading to the NBA, it really isn't an issue. They only have to survive twelve hours of freshman classes, make it to the spring semester then shut it down academically. But what about the football players, with practice starting before the academic year begins, then the demands of a twelve to fourteen game schedule, followed in March and April with spring practice, plus off-season conditioning? Or the basketball players with thirty-plus game grinds, including at least one road game per week? Challenging at a minimum, impossible at a maximum.

I don't have a lot of answers, but I know one very important thing: the illusion of academic and athletic balance is clearly that, an illusion. Money has served to make that goal even more of a stretch. Open the hood of any major college athletic program and you're bound to find an engine that fails to hit on all academic cylinders. I'm not proposing that we drop the motor and replace it with a new one. I just want recognition that the system is what it is, which is a revenue generation vehicle for universities to fund their athletic programs. Seriously, have you ever seen a coach hold up a trophy, only to be let go because his star running back missed a class or two on his way to gaining 1,500 yards? Only when a coach starts to slip on the field or court are those issues used as a way to get rid of him.The hypocrisy is so apparent, yet networks, college presidents, conferences and the pro leagues that benefit from all of it are hesitant to call it what it is, apparently for fear that the money spigot will run dry. Nothing to be afraid of though, because as long as the games are entertaining and people like to watch, the dollars will continue to flow.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords.



Monday, March 16, 2015

NCAA BRACKET IMPRESSIONS

Even though the NCAA Tournament Committee did a pretty good job this year, there's always room for improvement, or there wouldn't be anything for people like me to write about. The primary complaint I have, and it's been a continuing trend, is the repeated dismissal of mid-major programs, despite success by those teams on the court. In many cases, they've even recorded big wins against quality power teams.

Power Conferences: The seeding of Oklahoma third and Louisville fourth in the East, Georgetown fourth in the South, plus the inclusion of UCLA, LSU and Indiana at all, without even having to participate in a play-in game, are clear examples that mid-majors had a more difficult time getting in and achieving high seedings in this year's tournament. Murray State, which was ranked twenty-second in the AP poll and at one point possessed a twenty-five game winning streak, lost their conference tournament by one point and was left out of the field, probably based on their RPI ranking of sixty-seventh.

Mid-Majors: Only two mid-majors, Gonzaga and Northern Iowa, with five losses between them,  managed to make it into the top twenty seeds.  Despite a high RPI, VCU was shuffled back to a seventh seed. SMU, an impressive team, managed only to make it in as a six. The trend was pretty clear that the committee felt power conference teams were stronger and had a better chance of success in the tournament. However, by consistently burying the mid-majors back in the field, it's actually a self-fulfilling prophecy. You'd think that recent success by a few of the non-power teams would change this thinking, but it doesn't look like it has.

RPI: The committee historically uses RPI as a justification for some of their decisions, but uses other criteria when the computer ranking system doesn't match with what they decide, particularly when it comes to seeding. Dayton, with an RPI of 32, was reportedly the last team in, because the committee informed us that had UConn upset SMU, they would have been left out of the field. Really? Just look at the RPI rankings and seeds of teams seeded ahead of or even with Dayton, all from power conferences: Iowa (7) - 43, N.C. State (9) - 40, LSU (9) - 54, Purdue (9) - 53, Indiana (10) - 58, UCLA (11) - 49, Ole Miss (11) - 57 and Texas (11) - 42. Colorado State at 28, Temple at 34 and Old Dominion at 45 are all headed to the NIT.

So why the bias? Oh wait, it's pretty obvious, isn't it? Which team is more likely to generate ratings and thus revenue? Is it Indiana or Old Dominion? Is it UCLA or Colorado State? Is it LSU or Temple? I think you probably get my point. What's that old saying? Oh, yeah, "Follow the money".

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords.



Tuesday, March 10, 2015

WHAT MAKES A GREAT SPORTS NOVEL?

I've been asked to appear on a radio show Thursday morning to talk about what makes a good sports novel. As I researched the topic, I noticed almost every list of great novels about sports included a wide array of differing titles. Sure, "Friday Night Lights" and "Fever Pitch" seemed to be consensus favorites, but it was obvious that the perspective of the people doing the rating skewed the choices in a particular direction. Some lists appeared to favor great prose, as in "My Losing Season", by Pat Conroy, best known for "Prince of Tides" or "Paper Lion" by George Plimpton, considered one of the great writers of the twentieth century. Alan Alda later played Plimpton in the film about the training camp the writer spent covering the Detroit Lions, even taking a few snaps at quarterback in a preseason game.

Then there are novels that, while clearly having sports as a theme, are more commentaries on our society and culture. "Friday Night Lights" by H.G. Bissinger fits this mold. The novel, ultimately brought to the big screen and television, captures the essence of small town life, with otherwise frustrated people living out their hopes and dreams through a high school football team. Even North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent, while chronicling a season for the fictional North Dallas Bulls, captures the roller coaster of emotions and the choices we all have to make between personal expression and conforming with the norms of our environments.

A large and popular number of sports books are factual accounts of seasons, teams or individuals. John Feinstein, a fantastic sports journalist, has written many, but two stand out: "A Season on the Brink" about the 1986 Indiana Hoosiers coached by the legendary and incendiary Bobby Knight, and "A Good Walk Spoiled" that documents life on the PGA Tour in the pre-Tiger Woods era of the early 1990's. Jerry Kramer's "Instant Replay" was a straightforward account by the offensive lineman of the Green Bay Packers during the final season of Vince Lombardi's great reign as head coach, ending with Bart Starr's quarterback sneak to win the famous Ice Bowl over the Dallas Cowboys. Even though the Packers went on to win Super Bowl II, Kramer chose to instead focus on the touchdown for which he cleared the way for Starr. A few years later, Jim Bouton rocked the sports world with his behind the scenes, locker room expose of Major League Baseball's Seattle Pilots. Bouton was subsequently blackballed in baseball circles, but as a fourteen year old, I thought it was just about the funniest thing I had ever read, and still do.

My personal favorites, and the ones I pattern my own stories after, are humorous, irreverant and generally use sports as a backdrop for other plot lines.  Dan Jenkins, author of "Semi Tough", among others, is a master at this type of story. Mike Lupica, now writing sports novels for Young Adults, also had a knack for telling fictional stories that resonate with our sense of reality. I could go on and on, of course, no doubt leaving out some all-time favorites like "Hoop Dreams", "Seabiscuit" or "Boys of Summer".

But the breadth of variety just goes to support my point that a good sports novel can be many things to many people, just as sports themselves are. Athletic competition is intrinsically exciting, particularly when we have something at stake, like national pride during the Olympics, our alma mater's reputation during March Madness, or when an entire country is trying to recover from tragedies such as the assassination of president or the destruction of office towers and the lives within them. Just as sports represent the fabric of our culture, books about that topic decorate the literary landscape. A good sports novel makes us feel, it makes us think, it makes us laugh and it makes us cry. But most of all, just like watching sports, it makes us want to experience another, and another, and another, because no two books and no two athletic events are ever the same.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords.



Thursday, March 5, 2015

THE NFL'S BUSINESS SIDE

It has been reported that Denver quarterback and future first ballot hale of famer Peyton Manning will take a paltry $15 million next season, down from the $19 million specified in his contract. In case you've forgotten, Manning's playoff performance against the Colts was awful, particularly by his lofty standards. It was later released that he was suffering from a leg injury, which clearly would explain, at least partially, his subpar performance. But the former Super Bowl winner while with the Colts will turn 39 later this month, which might as well be 68 in any other profession. I have been a huge fan of Manning since his days at Tennessee, an advocate that his failure to be voted as Heisman Trophy winner is one of the most blatant injustices in sports history. But Father Time catches up to all of us, the silver strands of hair on my head testimony to that inevitability. Can it be argued that Peyton Manning has deserved to go out on his terms, at whatever salary he negotiated when Denver offered the contract? Sure. But there's a business aspect to the NFL that is even more important since the advent of free agency. So if the Broncos can use that $4 million to attract a better player to put around Manning, then it's in his best interest, at least from a team perspective, to take the cut. After taxes, he'll only feel a mere $2.4 million dollar decrease.

On another note, the New England Patriots did not pick up the option on Vince Wilfork, an eleven year veteran and a longtime stalwart in Bill Belichick's defense. But no team has done a better job of balancing on the field performance with managing the salary cap than the Patriots. Wilfork is just another example of how, from a business perspective, the NFL can be brutal. Did Joe Montana and Jerry Rice get to retire as San Francisco 49ers? No. Do you want to go back even farther, just in case you think this is a recent phenomenon? How about John Unitas? He ended his career as a San Diego Charger. Really? It's about business and making sure the best team possible based on the current roster and contract situations finds its way to the field. There was a huge outcry, many of it by Eagles fans, when Chip Kelly traded away running back LeSean McCoy to the Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso. But Kelly has to manage a lot more than the running back position and freeing up salary cap space while getting a talented, and let's face it,cheap player in exchange for an expensive and aging running back makes a lot of sense. For these NFL General Managers, it's like a giant jigsaw puzzle with 53 pieces. The complicating factor is that the pieces all have a different value, so it's possible to put the puzzle together, only to find that the whole thing is too expensive. I've long maintained that for all of his positive attributes as a person and a businessman, Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones hasn't really figured out how to complete the puzzle. He needs to hire an experienced NFL puzzle master to put the right pieces together, just as Robert Kraft has done in New England.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords.



Sunday, March 1, 2015

SUNDAY SPORTS MUSINGS: NBA UPDATE, KENTUCKY ROLLS, PGA TOUR AFTER TIGER

Race in the NBA East: Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving will sit out an important game at Houston today with a sore shoulder, a move that might have an impact on playoff positioning in the NBA's eastern conference. Entering  play today, three teams are within one-half game of second place, while six  fighting for two playoff spots are separated by two and a half games. With twenty-three games remaining, front runner Atlanta has a ten game lead, so it's highly unlikely that they'll be unseated from their perch atop the conference. At the top, Chicago is clinging to a second place tie after winning seven of their last ten, but guard Derrick Rose's knee injury this past week could have a major impact on their playoff seeding. The Bulls have had to play large stretches without Rose the past few seasons, so perhaps they can continue their run without him. If they can hang on, Chicago may still have hope since Rose's absence is estimated to be between four and six weeks. That means he could be back for a handful of regular season games to get himself game ready for the playoffs, so hope isn't all gone for the Bulls. The real wild card in all of this is Atlanta, a team with limited playoff experience. It's way too early to project their first round opponent,, but it could be Boston, Indiana or Miami, all teams with extensive post-season experience and success. Well, not this particular Celtic lineup, but you get my point. And then we have Cleveland, as they try to balance team health with winning enough to get the second seed. Since a dismal nine losses in ten games, Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and newcomers J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov have the Cavs in great position for a deep run in the playoffs.

Wildcats Remain Unbeaten: Arkansas got into Lexington late and never seemed to get their clocks synchronized, losing to top ranked and undefeated Kentucky by the score of 81 - 64. I thought the Hogs might have a chance if they played well, but they couldn't get it going, coming out of the locker room cold, falling behind early and unable to make any significant run. Of course, this Wildcat team makes it extremely difficult to sustain any momentum. The major topic of discussion in college basketball, especially now that Kentucky has posted their twenty-ninth win without a loss, is whether they can become the first team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to go undefeated and win the national championship. This team is definitely good enough. They only have five more games before the NCAA tournament, assuming they make it to the SEC tournament championship game. Kentucky travels to Georgia Tuesday night, a tough matchup. If they get by the Bulldogs, then I would think a rematch against Arkansas might be the only chance for a loss before March Madness. Can they win it all? Of course, but it will really depend a lot on the regional matchups. They will almost certainly be seeded first in the South region unless they implode down the stretch. That would put them in Louisville for the second and third round games and Houston for the regional. Right now, it appears that Virginia and Duke are the favorites for top seeds, meaning they would avoid having to play either of those teams until the Final Four in Indianapolis. Gonzaga's loss on Saturday puts some intrigue into the race for getting a number one seed. but I haven't seen many teams that will be able to combine athleticism and defensive capability to challenge Kentucky before the Elite Eight. A lot can happen between now and April 6, but that's why they call it March Madness!


PGA Tour After Tiger: I've been watching golf my entire life, some of my earliest memories tuning into tournaments on Sunday afternoons to view the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Billy Casper, Tony Lema and Gary Player. As I sit looking at this week's Honda Classic, it appears the golf course has more appeal than the players themselves. Sure, Phil Mickelson is in the hunt, but his time at or near the top is coming to an end. No one can continue to putt consistently after they hit the age of 45 or 46. I like the young crop of Americans, including Patrick Reed and Jordan Speith, but none of them, not even Rory McIlroy can generate the interest and excitement that Tiger Woods did for the better part of fifteen years. When the Ryder Cup, an exhibition really, seems to be more important than the majors and regular tour events, something is wrong. My take on Tiger is that he used some type of PED's early in his career, and just like many before him, his body is breaking down a a result. I'm not accusing Tiger of cheating, because there are a lot of supplements that are within the rules. But as competitive as he is, there's little doubt that he would have pursued any avenue to try to stay on top. So if he really is done, with the exception of an occasional burst of brilliance, where will the ratings come from? Who can generate the same type of excitement as Tiger, and Palmer before him, were able to do? Unfortunately, I just don't know.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords.