Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, April 7, 2014

Monday Grab Bag: A champion will be crowned

No time for idle chit-chat.  Straight onto today's bag...

Today I'm talking Final Four, Championship Monday, and the baseball series that has me missing the final.

Click below for the bag...

Wrapping up the Final Four - 

Final Four Saturday is one of the best sporting days on the calendar.  If you can't get on board with the drama inherent in the four remaining teams battling it out for a spot in the title game, then we simply can't be friends. Yes, the football stadium setting isn't ideal, and no championships are being won, but it's damn fun stuff.

The day started off with Connecticut and Florida.  The overall-#1 Gators seemed to be a heavy favorite to win the Tournament after the defeat of many of their primary rivals, but you had to appreciate the irony of them being pitted against an opponent (UConn) that handed them one one of their only two regular season losses.  The Shabazz Napier game-winning shot from back in early December was one of the defining images from non-conference play, and made for one of the few flaws in the Gators' resume.  A rematch looked like a chance for Florida to exorcise some demons.
Napier KO'd Wilbekin, which was the difference in the game.
Unfortunately for them, Napier seems to be in unstoppable mode.  Feeding a highlight performance from the blossoming DeAndre Daniels (Remember when he was a CU target?), Shabazz put down an all encompassing 12/3/6/4.  Compared to Florida's headlining point guard, Scottie Wilbekin, it was no contest, as the Gator had more fouls and turnovers (seven) than points and assists (five).  With that disparity in mind, is it all that surprising that UConn rolled for a 63-53 win?  It shouldn't be.  After a scoring drought to start the game, the Huskies controlled the pace of play the rest of the way, and easily earned their berth in Championship Monday.

The nightcap, and better of the two games was between Kentucky and Wisconsin.  While the first game was borderline good (at least above average), this one was fantastic.  Back and forth they went, trading blows for 40 minutes.  With the superlative Badger Frank Kaminsky struggling to find his looks (held to only eight points) the Kentucky freshmen were able to keep the veteran Wisconsin club on their back foot all night long.  When it came down to the wire, it was left in the hands of cold-blooded UK shooter Aaron Harrison, who nailed yet another clutch shot with the game on the line. Via a 74-73 final, Kentucky moves on, and will face Connecticut this evening.
Again?  Seriously?
It was deja vu all over again, as Harrison hit his shot from almost the exact same spot on the floor that he did against Michigan in the Elite Eight.  With the clock ticking down, Wisconsin sagged off of the freshman, almost daring him to repeat the deed.  The freshman immediately noticed the lounging defense, gave up any guise of driving the lane, and pulled up for the winner.  It softly rimmed in, leaving the 'Cats to celebrate, and the Badgers to plan with just under six seconds to play.  With Kaminsky struggling, their play was for Traevon Jackson, who proved unable to hit a wide-open look from 17-feet.  Gotta give it to the Wildcats, they know how to close.

Championship Monday is set - 

The Final Four has been whittled down to Two for the Title, as the college basketball world gets ready for the tilt we were all expecting... UConn vs Kentucky... wait, what?  No, that has to be a mistake. What happened to Florida, Arizona, and Kansas?  After all of that, we're left with two teams that merited a combined seed total of 15?  This is certainly not the Championship Monday we were expecting three weeks ago when the brackets were announced...

But, of course, that's why we all love the Madness.  If everything played to chalk, this wouldn't be a billion dollar distraction for the American workforce.  So, I guess, God bless you, UConn and Kentucky, bring on #7 vs #8!
Who has their one shining moment this evening?
You have to look at Kentucky as the favorite.  They've got the skill and athleticism advantage, and have coaching experience, to boot.  Shabazz Napier may have been the best individual player of the tournament, but the Wildcats have been playing the better, more entertaining basketball.  If I was putting money on this one *cough*, it'd be going on Kentucky.

That said, I'm hoping the Huskies find a way to pull this off.  I won't stand for this goober to be proven right. Get it done, UConn!

Sox vs Rox - 

Well, look who's coming to town...  it's my beloved Chicago White Sox, headed to Denver for a three game set against the Rockies!  If there's anything that can force me to watch the National Championship Game on DVR, it's a visit from my childhood favorites.  Apologies to basketball, but you come second tonight.

The Sox and Rox don't have a long history with each other.  Despite being spring training neighbors in Tucson for many, many years, they had never played a regular season game prior to June 6th 2005 in LoDo. Since then, they've only played every three years, meeting up again in '08 on the South Side, and in '11 back in Devner.  I don't know why baseball decided to send them back to Colorado this year, as the rotation seemed to suggest the triennial series was set for a return to the Second City, but I'm glad it's back in the Mile High.
The Rox and Sox are on a collision course.
So far, both clubs have been pretty shaky in 2014, playing to expected form.  The Rockies opened up with a four-game series in Miami, and proceeded to look exactly like a team that finished 14 games under .500 last season, losing three of four.  Opening the home slate against the Arizona Diamondbacks seemed to give them a shot in the arm, but I'm still not sold on their rotation.  My Sox started better, given the gift of playing a Minnesota Twins club that looks capable of losing 100 games.  After taking a soft two of three against them, the weekend road trip to Kansas City was a rude awakening, as expected bullpen issues reared their head.  No, neither of these teams is going to end up seriously competing for a playoff spot, but we knew that coming in, and I'm still damn excited for the series this week.

The big disappointment for me is that My Sox won't be sending their ace pitcher, Chris Sale, to the hill during the series.  Sale pitched eight shutout innings against the Royals yesterday, and won't take the mound again until the team is back in Chicago.  Instead, I'll get treated to a helping of Felipe Paulino, Jose Quintana, and Erik Johnson (woof).  Compare that to years past when my guys have been throwing the likes of Jose Contreras, Freddy Garcia, Mark Buehrle, and Jake Peavy out there.  It's not going to be a star-studded set, but at least it's baseball, and at least it's My Sox.

Happy Monday!

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