April 05, 2008

Hansbrough Has Only One Gear

SAN ANTONIO -- We're still more than a couple hours away from our first semifinal between Memphis and UCLA, but there's plenty of buzz already surrounding the Alamodome as media members and fans start to file in the building for what should be some exciting basketball tonight.

And if you've watched Tyler Hansbrough at all this year, you'll know that there's no one who will be more excited than the North Carolina junior to take the floor for this evening's second semifinal against Big 12 champ Kansas.

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Getting Ready For Some Fun

SAN ANTONIO -- Here's what the floor of the Final Four looks like here in San Antonio two and a half hours before game time.


UCLA and Memphis tip off at 5:07 p.m. Central time. I'm guessing this place will look a whole lot different by that time. Should be wicked fun. Can't wait.

April 04, 2008

Williams Not Worried About Facing Former Team

SAN ANTONIO -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams knew while his team played Louisville in Charlotte, N.C., last weekend that there was a decent chance he could be facing his former team in the Final Four.

But after Kansas' survival victory over Davidson in the Elite Eight last weekend, that circumstance has now become a reality and Williams has never really totally forgotten about his days in Lawrence, Kan.

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North Carolina Takes Floor For Open Practice

SAN ANTONIO -- North Carolina has taken the floor for its open practice here at the Alamodome, and the Tar Heel faithful that have shown up for the session are on their feet and applauding their team.

Stretching, of course, is the first order of business for Roy Williams' players, and after Kansas' Rodrick Stewart fractured his kneecap earlier this afternoon on a dunk attempt late in the Jayhawks' open practice session, you can't undermine the importance of getting those ligaments and tendons all worked out before putting any other stress on the body.

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UCLA Is All Business In Alamo City

SAN ANTONIO -- UCLA point guard Darren Collison is making his third straight appearance in the Final Four.

But while the Bruins ended both of their previous two runs to two-time national champ Florida, they won't have to worry about facing the Gators here in San Antonio.

Now after two years of disappointment on this same stage, it's just business as usual for Ben Howland's club.

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April 03, 2007

Final Four: Highs and lows of the Road to the Final Four

I would be remiss if I did not give you some of the highs and lows of this march to Atlanta.

Best band (Atlanta): Ohio St (Chicago, St. Louis or Atlanta): Oregon
Best band unis: UCLA's Hawaiian shirts
Best food: Buffalo meat pot roast at the Montana Grill in Atlanta
Best drink: Mint Juleps at Pittypat's Porch in Atlanta, Beer in a Frozen Fishbowl in St. Louis
Best fans (Atlanta): Ohio St - Buckeyes were everywhere (CSA): Butler in St. Louis
Best cheerleaders: the UCLA veela
Best part of job: Seeing the players up close gives you a deeper appreciation of their abilities than you can get watching on TV or seeing them at a distance.
Best mascot - UCLA Bruin got jiggy with dance team
Best arena - Edward Jones dome, St. Louis
MOP: Corey Brewer
The rest of the All-CSA team: Al Horford, Greg Oden, Michael Conley, Aaron Brooks
MVP: My son, who turned 10 on Monday. Those are his real initials. No, we didn't do that on purpose.

Worst food: Anything we got in the arena in Chicago.
Worst drink: Shot glass of pop in cup overflowing with ice in Atlanta media area.
Hardest part of job: keeping up with David Scott on night patrol.
Worst mascot costume: TAMU-CC Islander, which looked like a third grade art project.
Worst arena: United Center, but I've never really liked that place since they built it.
Worst itinerary: Mine. What idiot booked me a 7:30 flight after a game where I'm not going to be done until after 4 AM? Oh, wait a minute. That was me. Well, at least I can sleep when I get home. Oh, wait a minute. My wife has a list of six months worth of stuff that hasn't gotten done while I've been chasing after ball games. Hey! Maybe I can cover baseball too!

It's been a great season. I can't wait to get after it again next year.

Final Four: Want To Join The Fun?

You have until May 31 to apply for tickets to next year's Final Four in San Antonio.

Final Four: The 3am view

I'm pathetic enough to be one of the last people still here in the Georgia Dome tonight. It's just about 3am and this is the final view of the Georgia Dome floor, still wrought with wires and confetti.

Sadly, it's also just five and a half hours away from Coach Billy Donovan's getting presented the Siemens National Championship trophy with the Waterford Crystal at the Downtown Hilton Hotel. Couldn't they just do that after the game and let coach get his sleep? Gah!

Okay, gotta go drive to the airport and catch my 7am flight... who's my damn travel agent?!

Goodbye Georgia Dome.

Final Four: OSU-Florida, comparing this and the BCS title game

Poor pitiful me.

I'm the sucker. I'm the goat. I'm the one that has been sent to both the football and basketball national championship games by CSTV here in the last three months or so and had to sit through some lopsided, un-exciting title games. I equate it to going to a friends stag party and having to watch a corporate video by an accounting firm instead of getting to see Girls Gone Wild #21.

Continue reading "Final Four: OSU-Florida, comparing this and the BCS title game" »

Final Four: Ohio State Potent Quotables

A quick sampling of some Ohio State reactions:

  • "We lost. There's really nothing else to be said. This is where we wanted to be. We wanted to have a chance to play for the national championship. We didn't get it done." --Greg Oden

  • "We knew we needed stops but they would just come down and hit big shots when they needed them -- even though we were in their face or the shot clock was expiring. They just made plays. You can't do anything about it." --David Lighty

  • "Greg played a great game. He fought hard. He did everything he needed to do in his power on the offensive and defensive end. I think it was one of his best performances, staying out of foul trouble and doing the things he needed to do to help this basketball team." --Ron Lewis on Oden's 25-point performance

  • "It was a big factor. I couldn't be as aggressive as I wanted to be with two fouls out there. I didn't want to pick up the third foul before going into halftime. I think that really hurt me mentally going out there trying to be physical and aggressive but at the same time not foul. I kind of took a back seat for a while." --Mike Conley, Jr., on his first-half foul trouble

Final Four: Closing thoughts

The debate can now begin over where Florida ranks in the historical annals of college basketball. Certainly, this team would have to be considered among the greatest of the last 25 years. Few teams have done what they have been able to do (win the title twice). Few teams had not one, not two, but five guys who could put 25 points on the board on any given night. Few teams with that much firepower could defend as well as they defend. This was one great basketball team.

Ted Lewis of the New Orleans paper tells me that the stat of the tournament is that Florida made one fewer field goal than its six opponents. 155-154. The difference is that they made 53 threes while only giving up 35. Also, they outscored their opponents at the line 135-69.

I saw Tournament Queen Jeanne Boyd on the floor after the game and asked her if she can take a nap yet. She just laughed. They're tearing the place apart now, but she's still here.

The confetti had a lot of orange and blue in it. It wasn't all orange and blue, but I wondered if there was another set with more red and gray in it in case OSU had won. Nobody knew the answer to that one.

The Yellow Coat guarding the Florida locker room door was getting a LOT of love from the players and coaches as they went by. Noah was high-fiving him and hugging him, yelling "I told ya! I told ya! I never lied to you!" over and over.

The media horde around the Florida locker room was pretty thick, as you might imagine. Once they finally brought out the players for the press conference (all the starters but Noah), the crowd plowed into the locker room to get to Noah.

I decided to go back later and head for the press conference instead. On my way, I saw OSU coach Thad Matta being interviewed in a chair against a wall, so I listened in as best I could. There wasn't a big crowd around him, but he's pretty soft spoken, so it was hard to hear. That changed when a reporter asked him how he felt about Conley coming back. Matta said something about hoping he does, and the reporter told him that Conley just said he was in the locker room. Matta let out a big "WOOO!"

Seeing fellow blogger Bryan in the press room, I made my way back to the locker room to see if I could hear Noah. That crowd was at least 6 feet deep. One camera girl tried to climb on to a chair to see over the top, but fell through the back. It was right next to me, so I grabbed her and the camera to try to keep her from falling off (and possibly worse, breaking the camera). I don't know how much I helped, but the camera was OK. She said she was fine too, but when I passed her again 15 minutes later, I overheard her tell her on-air person that it hurt pretty good.

The scoreboard has been lowered to the floor to break it down, and there's a guy standing on top of it. There isn't enough money to pay me to get me to do that. I'd sing Karaoke before I did that.

The first question to Billy Donovan at the conference was about his future. As usual, he deflected it, but didn't take as long to do it as usual. He finished with, "Nice try, though."

Greg Oden's college career likely ended with a 25 point, 12 rebound, 4 block performance. He was the monster we knew he could be tonight. And the refs let him play. But one man, or even two, can't beat a team.

I am in complete agreement with the all-tournament team, which is reported below.

I'll have another entry, about the bests and worsts of Atlanta, but I have to think about it first.

OOPS. There goes my power. Talk to you later.

Final Four: A Disturbing Trend

While a lot of the focus in trying to encapsulate this year's NCAA Tournament is going to center on the lack of major upsets and the return to a power conference-laden Final Four - where have you gone, George Mason? - there's a potentially more disturbing trend in the air: bland title games.

Including Monday night's comfortable 84-75 win by Florida over Ohio State, three of the past four Championship games have been decided by an average of 10 points and each of the past five have had double digit half-time leads. (Florida 73, UCLA 57 in 2006; North Carolina 75, Illinois 70 in 2005; UConn 82, Georgia Tech 73 in 2004 and Syracuse 81, Kansas 78.)

And while North Carolina's win over Illinois in 2005 and Syracuse's final second win over Kansas in 2003 were compelling, the overall Final Four product is becoming less and less competitive (witness Saturday's two fairly mundane conetsts).

It's difficult to determine what the trend is suggesting but one thought we have is that the parity of college hoops that has been so widely dissected only holds for weekends one and two of the Tourney. By the time the Final Four weekend rolls around, when many of the teams have played near 40 games, they are either too spent from the entire season or there is head and shoulders, one superior team (Florida this year and last, UConn in 2004).

We're guessing the trend will be self-correcting and cyclical, but for now, the end result has been some less than shining moments in the recent Final Fours.

. . . This was the 21st NCAA tournament with teh 3-point shot. Including Florida's win, the team with the higher 3-point field goal percentage is now 17-4 in NCAA Title games over that span.

. .. The center court overhead scorebaord has been lowered so the CBS cameras could be removed. This is how we started things on Thursday when we came to pick up our credential, so we think with that bit of closure it's time for us to check out for the evening. Our other intrepid bloggers are likely still at it and there will be plenty of worthwhile copy for your reaqidng pleasure all over the site for the next couple of days. We'll be back at some point with an overall re-cap of our Atlanta Journey. Until then, thanks for hangin' with Hang Time.


Final Four: Best post-game moment. A Fine(stein) one.

After Thad Motta and Ohio State were done in the interview room, room coordinator Joh Gerdes announced to the media that was waiting around, "Florida just made it to their dressing room. They'll be here in about 10 minutes."

(... slight pause)

Then we hear John Feinstein crank up from the back of the room, "Ridiculous! Look they've been out on the floor for the past 30 minutes. They don't need a 10-minute cooling off period! It's after midnight. Just go get them."

John Gerdes responded with, "I'll pass that along to them John." and then left the room.

Meanwhile, another press sribe said to Feinstein, "You could be voted President of the country for that one, John."

Feinstein answered with, "Thanks. I'd be the first democrat to get voted in since 2000."

Final Four: Notes and Thangs

There's a couple of handfuls of reporters still working here at courtside while the rest of the horde is in the back getting quotes and meeting deadline.

Helpful people keep delivering us notes and quotes sheets so we're pretty comfortable letting the rest of the crew do the heavy lifting for now. Although we have a sneaking suspicion that the HO Guys are probably getting dance tips from Joakim Noah or partying with the Gator Dancers. Those guys rock.

. . . According to reseacrh by CBS National Championship game victories for Florida during the past two years, UCLA and Ohio State have combined to make just 7 of 40 (.175) of its 3-pointers.

We call that perimeter defense at its finest.

. . . We forgot to mention that CSTV colleague and all-round great guy, Sean Farnham and his wife are expecting their second child any moment now. Farnham told us before the game that his wife is 2 centimeters dialated. Being single and childless, I'm not sure what that means in terms of when the kid will pop out, but I'm guessing Mrs. Farnham wasn't allowed to be jumping around when viewing the game.

. . .

Final Four: Dome Closing in Ten Minutes

An announcement was just made that the "Dome will be closing in 10 minutes." Guess that means we're all going to to have a sleep ove ron the confetti-strewn court. I call the stage!

. . . Jim Gray of CBS Radio was just introducing his dad around to his co-workers, Bill Raftery and John Thompson, and it was sort of a nice, touching scene. I'm a sucker for dad-son scenes and I won't deny that.

. . . Billy Donovan on being among an elite circle of coaches with multiple national titles:

'Well, it's very flattering. But I think there are a lot more coaches who are more deserving. Coaches on the Dvision II and Division III level who don;t get the exposure on this national stage.

. . . Joakim Noah on winning it all:

"I'm so proud of this team, I love them so much. This has been so much fun; we've been through so much, so much adversity together. I feel like we've accomplished something special. Som many people doubted us, but we're in the books now. People can say whatever they want about this team, but at the end of the line, they have to say we won back to back titles."

. . . OSU was 4 of 23 from 3-point land while Florida was 10 of 18. The Buckeyes scored 48 of its 75 points in the paint.

. . . Jamal Butler summed a point we made during the game when asked what his team didn't do to win the game: "Hustle plays. I mean, they got every hustle play. All the turnovers we had, they capitalized on them."

April 02, 2007

Final Four: Parting Shot?

Chants of "One More Year" broke out shortly after OSM was finished and the "04s" (plus Lee Humphrey) took the stage to be photographed by the adoring fans. Sure looked like a farewell picture to us.

. . . Still on air for CBS Radio, Bill Raftery, watching the big board, nudged John Thompson when the shot of him hugging JTII was shown on the big borad. JT nodded, as he was watching on his monitor small screen monitor.

Final Four: Ouch

I'm sure my three Hang Time comrades in the crowd are blogging about the playing of One Shining Moment but I thought I'd add that you can hear the song loud and clear in the interview area where Conley and Lewis are speaking -- despite the room's location buried deep in the bowels of the Georgia Dome. Like so loud that I can barely hear what these guys are saying because of the rumbling music. There's no way these poor guys can't hear it.

Final Four: Our Boys Hard at Work

Standing a short jumper from the ladder where the net cutting is now taking place are Jerry Palm and the Hoops Odyssey Boys (a kickass country band if ever there was). Already the resourceful Matt Waxman has managed to procure a championship t-shirt.

One Shining Moment is starting. We're going to get tissues and we're also going to scope out a lovely Gator lady to hug when it's over. More likely that not, I'll wind up hugging Palm or the Gator mascot.

Final Four: Ohio State Taking The Dais

While the celebration continues on the court, NCAA media official John Gerdes is putting the name placecards on the dais for Ohio State coach Thad Matta along with Mike Conley, Jr., and Ron Lewis. (This is the only game of the weekend where the losing team goes first.)

Final Four: MOP and All Tourney

Greg Oden, Micke Conley, Jr., Al Horford, Lee Humphrey, Corey Brewer and the MOP is Brewer.

Final Four: Gators storm the crowd

How many times have we seen a crowd storm the court after a big win in the regular season or conference tournament? Here, of course, the Yellow Coats prevented that sort of thing, but they weren't ready for the Gator players to storm the crowd.

Noah ran right past me on his way deep into the section of Gator faithful behind me and put a big bear hung on someone. Next thing you know, Speights and Richard are right behind me celebrating with the fans in the front row.

The Yellow Coats looked pretty agahst that after all their efforts to protect the players from the fans, that the players went up into the fans anyway.

Oh, oh, here, they come again!

We now interrupt this blog to take cover...

The Yellow Coats have finally whisked them away and all is normal again on press row. I was really hoping I wouldn't have to take a charge.

Final Four: Proud Papa II

Billy Donovan's father watches as his son gets interviewed by Jim Nantz and Billy Packer after the game.


Final Four: Proud Papa

Amid chants of "It's Great To Be A Florida Gator," the two-time national champs are celebraating on-court.

Bill Donovan, Billy's dad, is accepting congratulations from near our perch and a team official tossed him a championship t-shirt which he slung over his shoulder. You can't imagine the pride in his eyes, although Sorenson just took a photo that should sum it up.

. . . Two signs right behind our perch that were held high as the confetti fell:

Billy please

Back as

. . . We spared bothe our computer and our drink from the confetti drop, which was really well orchestrated as the confetti in Spain fell mainly on the plane (it all went on the court).

. . . The Gators are being asked to take the stage for the trophy presentation. Joakim NOah is doing another of his crazy dances - he's quite rock and roll too.

Final Four: Just like football!

That's the chant from the Gator faithful behind us as the clock winds down on the season.

All of a sudden it's pretty crowded behind me as the aisle fills with more Yellow Coats.

And another chant of "It's Great to be a Florida Gator goes up." Indeed.

Final Four: Coaching Elite in the House

The big video board in the Dome (and maybe on CBS) just had a split screen of a smiling Urban Meyer and then a shot of a standing Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, who was standing next to an attractive blonde woman. We have no way of knowing who the woman was or if she was even with Belichick, but a Google of "Belichick and New Jersey woman" will give you some background into Belichick's personal life.

. . . We've adopted a new motto for the 2007 Final Four: "Sit down, Harlan." And you have to say Harlan with a Newman intonation. Co-blogger Eric Sorenson's photo work on the Mexcian Jumping bean was Leibowitz-esque.

Final Four: Assuming the position and the outcome

The Yellow Coats have taken their position for the postgame celebration as the Gators are about to claim their second straight title. The lead is 12 with 1:33 to go. OSU has had some miraculous comebacks in this tournament, but this isn't going to be one of them.

Lots of smiles on the Florida bench as they break the huddle from the timeout. They know it's over too.

Final Four: Daddy Donovan Three Seats Away

We didn't realize it until just now, but the nattily clad white-haired man three seats to our right is Billy Donovan's dad, Bill, a former Boston College basketball player.

He usually sits on the Gator bench but NCAA rules prohibit it so he's apparently been given press row access.

. . .Select writers are busy filling out their all-tourney team ballots. So far the ballott we don't have would include Greg Oden, Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Lee Humphrey and a still TBD fifth choice. The MOP at this point, in our minds, is Corey Brewer, who is making himself a healthy boatload of cash this evening.

. . . The Florida radio network, sitting next to Donovan's dad, has been knocked off the air and there is panic in the streets. Some of you may recall this also happening to the Wright State radio network when we were at the Buffalo sub-regional. We want to make it clear thyat it has nothing to do with us and is merely a coinidence.

Unless this unplugged thingy majingy at our feet means something. But we doubt it.

The engineer guy who is sweating profusely is creaming into his cell phone: "CALL THE HOTLINE." Between this guy and Harlan, it's a freak show and we've missed a good third of the game. But we're thoroughly entertained.

. . . Florida is getting all the hustle plays as our esteemed neighbor has indicated.

. . . Already scuttlebutt on press row of Bob Huggins being the logical choice for the West Virginia game.

Final Four: Gators Keep On Keepin' On

Ohio State used an 8-2 run to cut the score to 66-60. But Taurean Green responded with an emphatic three-pointer -- his third of the night -- to re-open a nine-point edge. It's like Jerry said: Every time the Buckeyes make a push to cut the deficit within two or three possessions, the Gators have issued a prompt response.

Final Four: Marreese Speights - towel boy

After a scramble that led to a jump ball, Speights was tossing towels to the refs to help clean up. Most teams have managers for that duty, but Speights is a team player and offered his up and another right away.

Final Four: Now if only they can work on the GOW

The Secret Police are hard at work in front of us trying to identify and evict someone in the section behind us who won't sit down.

Meanwhile, Big Ten basketball SID Scott Chipman just brought the trophy out to the court in a cardboard box. You might wonder how I know it's the trophy if it's in a box. He told me before the game that trophy toting was his primary duty tonight.

The Secret Police still haven't got it figured out yet, but fingers are being pointed frantically in the effort.

Final Four: Kevin Harlan freakin' out, part II

See. As over-dramatic as Bryan Boitano after his Olympic performance.


Final Four: Meet Mr. Chompy

There's an old guy (at least 75) sitting down low behind the basket who is sporting a gator head puppet, which he makes chomp when everyone is doing the arm chomp.

Final Four: That's Four for Lee

A pair of Mike Conley foul shots just cut the Florida lead single digits (at 61-52) but when Ohio State failed to corral the defensive rebound on the ensuing possession, the ball popped out to Lee Humphrey on the baseline beyond the arc and the senior sharpshooter put down his fourth three-pointer of the night to open a 12-point advantage and ignite the sizable Florida section to my rear.

Final Four: Kevin Harlan freakin' out

CBS radio play-by-play man Kevin Harlan can't sit still in his chair. It's as if Bobby Brady put itching powder in his pants before the game. Bill Raftery and John Thompson are seated to his right doing the game commentary.


Final Four: Blogger on Blogger Crime

A certain leader of worldwide proportions has enlisted the services of a writer who has impressive credentials and is widely recognized as one of his generation's most creative auteurs.

However, the guy is apparently stealing some of the handsome money he's earning as he is claiming that courtside WiFi is too sketchy for his blogging prowess becasue of the "traffic."

Let me tell you something folks, the courtside WiFi is just fine and if you think we're lying, just look at the work that the fine, hard-working souls at this website have been putting forth.

On Saturday night the same pseudo-blogger complained about his seating being up in the eaves. Tonight he's making up stories about slow access to avoid doing what a live-blogger should be doing, which is blogger.

. . . Jim Tressel and a woman we believe to be his wife is sitting behind use, over our left shoulder.

. . . Sorry for the venting on the other so-called live-blogger - but we're running on fumes after busting our butt for five straight days and prima donna writers are not high on our list of faves.

Final Four: Fashion police

We now interrupt this game to make everyone tuck in their shirts. The refs made Noah, Oden, and Jake from Hoops Odyssey do the tuck.

Now if only we can get Mr. Gorbachev to take down that wall.

Final Four: Bucks Shooting Rest of the Way

Marreese Speights just picked up his third foul (the team's sixth of the half) and Noah, standing a few seats down on the Florida bench, just spun and hurled an expletive where the officials couldn't see him. The Buckeyes, who trail 53-44 with 11:49 remaining, will be shooting on every foul until the end of regulation -- which is probably their best hope for getting back into the game.

Final Four: Floirda fending off the Buckeye challenge

So far, Florida has hit enough shots to fend off any challenge by Ohio St. The Buckeyes have cut the lead to seven at times, but Florida has always had an answer. Marreese Speights provided one of those, and when Speights gets on the board, you know it's your day.

I think it's not the least bit coincidental that we didn't hear that blogger Scott had better seats than us until the second half and it was too late for us to evict him. I'd rather be behind the Mexican jumping bean than the GOW.

Final Four: I hope that confetti they're going to drop after the game...

... doesn't get stuck in my hair.

Final Four: One wall after another

It's been difficult to see the game because the Florida bench is the Great Orange Wall. They have stood almost the entire game. The only time they sit is if the ball is in the part of the court in front of their bench and sometimes not even then.

So far, Noah has picked up his third foul and Ohio St had a mini-run, but an Al Horford jumper and Lee Humphrey LONG three has keep the Gators up nine.

At halftime, the wall of Yellow Coats kept us cooling our heels for over five minutes while the teams moseyed back onto the floor for the second half.

The best view I've had of the game so far was walking back behind the basket to my seat with a diet Coke after the half had just started. Maybe I'll drink more.

Final Four: Confetti Warning - Protect Your Popcorn

The NCAA has just distributed a courtside advisory that there will be a "Confetti Drop" at "immiediately following the final horn of tonight's championship game."

"Media are advised to protect their laptop computers, radio equipment, drinks, etc. from confetti that may fall in the press table areas."

The warning is helpful for a number of reasons but mainly because we would have surely thought the sky was falling. It's probably a good idea to protect your own valuables at home in case the NCAA has rigged it so confetti will pour forth all over the nation.

. . . The absconded seat that we are occupying is that of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and we'd like to thank them for not having anyone here tonight. It puts us diagonally behind the radio broadcast crew for CBS Radio and play-by-play man Kevin Harlan has been up and down more than all the players combined. He is the Mexican jumping bean of announcers and it would be comical if it weren't so annoying. Compared to his partners, Bill Raftery and John Thompson Jr. it's the sharpest of contrasts.

. . . Yannick Noah walked by our perch during halftime and his son was right when he said yesterday, "My parents are rock and roll." Without question.

. . . This whole seat stealing thing isn't as bad as I made it out to be when the culprits were Butch (Palm) and Sundance (Sorenson) on Saturday.

Final Four: Beware of Falling Confetti

A halftime message from the friendly people at the NCAA:

Confetti Drop

Please be aware that confetti will be dropped over the playing court immediately following the final horn of tonight's championship game.

Media are advised to protect their laptop computers, radio equipment, drinks, etc., from confetti that may fall in the press table areas.

Thank you.

Final Four: Florida in the tunnel

"20 more minutes. That's it."
"This game is ours."
"Just keep dominating."
"It's our house."
"20 minutes to the big time."

Those are the things that Florida players were saying as they came out for the second half.

At least this time Mareese Speights wasn't trash talking the other team while still in his warm-up suit.


Final Four: Three Halftime Numbers

This is my 29th game blogging for Hang Time in the last 26 days and I've composed a Three Halftime Numbers post for each and every one (I think). With that, here's one final look at the "three numbers that jump out from the halftime box."

  • Billy Donovan is willing to throw everything and the kitchen sink at Greg Oden and that includes deep reserve Marreese Speights, who logged his first time of the tournament since getting three minutes in the second-round game against Purdue. The 6-10, 250-pound freshman played the last 2:06 of the first half when Donovan put Noah on the bench to prevent a third foul. Speights grabbed a single rebound during his limited time.

  • Taurean Green, who logged a season-low two points (but a game-high eight assists) in last season's national title game victory over UCLA, has already matched a game-high at the break with 11 points on 3-for-4 from the field -- including a perfect 2-for-2 from beyond the arc.

  • The free throw discrepancy is another thing to watch during the second half. Florida converted 8-of-10 (80 percent) of their attempts from the stripe during the period while Ohio State made just 1-of-2 -- Oden's split which didn't come until there were just 78 seconds remaining.

Final Four: Behind the numbers

The Gators have shot themselves to a big halftime lead. Even though the Gators overall shooting percentage is just under 50%, but they are 6-9 from long range, and the last miss was a half-court attempt by Brewer at the buzzer. The Gators are getting nothing at all inside because Oden has been able to stay of the floor. Noah, Horford and Richard are a combined 2-10, with Horford having both hoops.

Ohio St, on the other hand, is getting almost nothing from the perimeter. The Buckeyes are 2-12 from long range, with Butler, Conley and Lewis a combined 0-6.

Florida has also done a good job taking care of the ball, which has not been the case in this tournament. The Gators actually lead the turnover battle 4-6, and are killing OSU in points off those turnovers 12-2.

Florida is not in a position to let up though. Ohio St has been proven to be very resilient.

The Marine Corps rifle team showed off some precision moves at halftime, and did it in complete silence. Then we got back to the typical dance-team action with the typical, bass-heavy, brain-damaging music.

Final Four: My two cents. It's over.

It may only be halftime and an 11-point game. But you just get the feeling that Florida's experience and ability to go on big runs is putting OSU into an early grave. If OSU doesn't come out on fire in the second half and put together a big run of its own, we're going back to back with UofF people.

Anybody care to wager? Go ahead and raise your hand... that's what I thought.

And is this sound-less military gun drill team as halftime entertainment bringing things to a screaching halt or what? Hey I can dig their precision, but c'mon, the Atlanta Hawks dance girls thrive on precision too... and their bikini calendar is wicked-awesome too.

Final Four: Gators Holding 11 at the Midpoint

Jamar Butler just missed a running bank shot that would have cut the Florida advantage to single digits heading into the locker rooms. Instead, the Gators hold a 40-29 edge with 20 minutes remaining in the college basketball season. More to come when Jerry and I get a peek at the halftime box.

Final Four: Three strikes

Just when it looked like Ohio St had figured out the Florida zone and had cut the lead to two, back-to-back-to-back threes by Humphrey, Brewer and Green have extended the lead out to 11.

Oden sat for a few moments, and Florida took advantage right away going into Horford, who abused Matt Terwilliger for a bucket and a foul. Oden came right back in after that.

Final Four: OSU Guards Scrambling

It's raining threes in the Georgia Dome and the Ohio State guards appear to be helpless.

Humphrey, Brewer, Green. Better known as wham, bam, thank you ma'am.

That's nine unanswered points over the last 90 seconds to open the first double-digit lead of the game. Florida leads the Bucks, 33-22, at the four-minute TV timeout.

Final Four: Point of Concern

Mike Conley, Jr., is back into the game with two fouls.

A number of times during this tournament as dozens of different reporters have asked the Buckeyes questions focusing on Greg Oden's recent foul trouble, Thad Matta has noted that Ohio State has a much better chance of winning without the seven-footer than without Conley.

So if you're asking yourself why Matta sits Oden for the entire first half Saturday after picking up his second but why Conley is on the floor with 10 minutes to go tonight -- well, that's why.

Final Four: Gators making a run

Florida switched to zone out of the last timeout and OSU having problems with it. The Gators only gave up four points during this last stretch and Oden hardly touched the ball.

Horford and Brewer have missed badly on shots inside lane - possibly Oden's mere presence altering the shot.

Noah was called for a foul for sticking his knee in the butt on Oden (he also had both hands on him). After OSU gives it right back on an offensive foul, Noah asks Donovan, "I can't do this? (does knee motion) and Donovan says "no." Noah just shrugs.

Brewer missed a minute because he stepped funny and went down. He came out, but went right back in at the next opportunity.

A layup and four free throws have the Gators up four at the second timeout.

Final Four: Oden's First Giveaway

Oden just caught the ball on the same block as described in my previous post, tried a shiftier move to shake Horford and ended up traveling.

Final Four: Letting them play - mostly

Al Horford got a cheap foul on Oden in the first couple of minutes, but otherwise the refs are letting them play so far. Oden and Horford got their arms tangled up on one of the first series and even though it took them until they got about a third of the way down the floor, the refs let them resolve it themselves.

A concern for the Gators as they trail 9-7 at the first timeout has to be that foul on Horford and the fact that Conley has beaten them down the floor twice for layups. Horford gave up an easy two in the lane to Oden in an effort to avoid his second foul.

Final Four: It's So Easy For Greg Oden

Greg Oden just caught the ball on the low block, spun around Al Horford (who's already drawn a personal foul) and gently deposited the ball into the net -- a technically precise post move that appeared to unfold in slow motion. It's 9-5, State.

Florida's perimeter defenders are going to have to find a way to make things more difficult for the Ohio State guards looking to get the ball inside to Oden or it's going to be a long night and even longer drive back to Gainesville.

Final Four: On a Personal Note

This might be college basketball's national championship but make no mistake: There are pro prospects galore on both rosters. Of the 10 names that just got called during the starting lineups, there are no less than five -- Oden, Horford, Noah, Brewer and Conley -- which I would be absolutely thrilled to hear David Stern call when the 76ers pick on June 28. (In that order, Billy.)

Final Four: Lineups different tonight

For each game of the tournament, the lineups for each team were introduced alternately. That means, they would introduce a player from one team and then a player from the other, and those players would shake hands at center court before returning to their teams. That's usually when Oden would get his first foul of the game. He would get his second on the jump ball and then we wouldn't see him for the rest of the half. But I digress.

Tonight, they played a little video clip for Ohio St, then introduced the Buckeye line up. Then they did the same for Florida.

I prefer it the other way.

Final Four: Many Shining Moments

ATLANTA - Leave it to the 16-year-old daughter of the folk singer who was on her way to see the rapper Ludacris perform on the big stage at Centennial Park to put her father's March Madness anthem in perspective.

"People light up when they hear that song," said Esther Barrett, 16, the older sister of 14-year-old Claire and the daughter of David and Tracy Barrett.

Tonight, after Florida either repeats or Ohio State defeats, Esther's father's song will once again light up a nation as it accompanies - for the 21st year - an end-of-Tournament highlight package on CBS's coverage of the National Title game between the Gators and the Buckeyes.

As he has been for the past few years, Barrett will be in the arena when the montage is played for both the remaining crowd in the Dome and the national TV audience. In St. Louis a couple of years ago, announcer Jim Nantz made it a point to go into the crowd near where Barrett was sitting and tell people around him, "This is the guy who wrote 'One Shining Moment.'"

Continue reading "Final Four: Many Shining Moments" »

Final Four: Leave it to the bands

Bryan, you ignorant bad word.

One thing I like about the Final Four that is different from other major sporting events is that they let the band play the national anthem instead of bringing in some overpriced celebrity hack. Having Ludacris sing the national anthem would definitely be so. Cheyenne should stay in Wyoming (nobody could see her anyway). College sports is about the students and the bands should keep doing the anthem.

And with that, the first punches of the Final Four have been thrown. The Yellow Coats are on their way over to break us up even as I write. Eric and Dan may have to fill in.

Final Four: Yes, some people actually paid money for these seats.

This is the view from Section 311, Row 16. It's on the far "end zone" away from the basketball floor. This is on the third level of the stadium and is next to the four unused sections of the upper tier (those sections are blocked by TV camera towers.). The tables and curtains you see in the foreground are where the media is located. As you can see, there are a whole bunch of them.

Hope these people enjoy the game.

By the way, they were renting binoculars for 10 dollars each in the plaza areas.


Final Four: National Anticlimax

Twenty minutes until tip and it's anthem time. With all the pomp and circumstance (read: the Yankee Dollar) that gets poured into Final Four weekend, you'd think the NCAA could do a little better than the University of Florida band for the national anthem. Hell, at least give me Cheyenne!

Final Four: Coaching Changes Coming Fast and Furious

The ever-diligent and redhot Jeff Goodman of foxsports.com is reporting two more dominoes that have fallen in the coaching cascade:

John Beilein will, in fact, leave West Virginia for Michigan, according to Goodman and Butler's Todd Lickliter will be named as the Iowa head coach, the Scoop Master is reporting.

Goodman has been on fire today, as he also broke the Dana Altman to Arkansas news.

Final Four: Dome filling up

Both teams have been out already to shoot around and have returned to their locker rooms as we approach 30 minutes to tip.

Both bands and cheerleaders are out. My walk to and from the media area will be a little more adventurous today because the Florida cheerleaders are in the walkway instead of on the floor, which means we'll have to be careful to avoid getting kicked.

A TV station was interviewing a few members of the Ohio St band during a break in their playing.

Some Florida fans are walking around with T-shirts that say "We dotted both your eyes." You gotta love confidence.

There isn't much left to say about this game that hasn't already been said I suppose, but I think the key to Florida's chances of repeating can be summed up in three words: "value the rock." Turnovers have been the biggest problem so far for the Gators in this tournament. Turnovers kept Purdue, Butler and Oregon in those games as long as they were. Florida has been able to overcome that with good shooting. The only team the Gators failed to shoot at least 50% against in this tournament is Oregon. Ohio St really made Georgetown pay for their sloppy ball handling the other night. They'll do the same to Florida given the chance.

Final Four: Deja Vu All Over Again?

The Southeastern Conference champions enter the national title game having won 11 straight NCAA Tournament contests since their last loss in the Big Dance -- a span of just over two calendar years. All the talk Sunday and Monday has surrounded the team's favorable chances to become the first back-to-back national champ since Duke in 1991 and 1992. And all this while the coach is trying to shut out the distractions of rumored interests from outside sources.

If you picked up the newspaper 10 years and two days ago -- on the morning of Mar. 31, 1997 -- you might have read that story. Of course, top-seeded Kentucky would go on to suffer an 84-79 overtime loss at the hands of No. 4-seeded Arizona in a game best remembered for Miles Simon's clutch 14-for-17 performance from the foul line. Five weeks later, Rick Pitino would leave Lexington -- where his name still hangs alongside the jerseys in the Rupp Arena rafters -- for the head coaching post with the Boston Celtics.

It's funny how these storylines have a way of repeating themselves in the sports arena -- as that Kentucky tale sounds an awful lot like what the Gators have gone through over the past day or two. But one thing's for sure: The Florida fans packing the stands as I type hope that the parallels end right here and now.

Final Four: CSTV's own Lindsay Schnell on page 121 of the Final Four program

I got an Email from our very own Lindsay Schnell, an Oregon State senior, who claimed she was pictured in the Final Four program for winning the 2007 Sports Journalism Scholarship. Sure enough, I turned to page 121 of the program and there's Lindsay's smiling face beaming back at me.


Good job chicky. Additionally, Lindsay told me she has been selected to work an internship with Sports Illustrated this summer (which I'm NOT happy about because it will take away from her coverage of college baseball for us.).

Now Lindsay, when you become some bigshot at Time Inc., don't forget about college sports peons like me.

Final Four: Pregame activities

I'm sitting about where I was the other night in what was Washington Post seats about two and a half hours to tip. The Post has two fewer guys here tonight so they let us poach these seats.

On the floor, the green shirts (NCAA staffers and volunteers) were in choir formation at center court, where I thought they might practice the national anthem, but they just got their picture taken after getting a pep talk from Tournament King and Queen Greg Shaheen and Jeannie Boyd. The committee is filing past me onto the floor, and just now, the voice of God came over the PA and announced, "Five minutes until we let the fans in. Put on your smiles, everybody! Let's have a good night!"

The fans are ready. They were outside getting lubed up, mostly at Jocks and Jills, where CSTV bar correspondent David Scott was reporting from earlier today. (Note to DS: I don't mean to come off as "holier than thou." I am in awe of your prowess and endurance. I feel like Dr. Watson chronicling the adventures of Sherlock Holmes.)

I walked over to CNN Center where J&J is and saw a face painter doing a number on a bald, Ohio St fan's head. I thought about going in and getting the CSTV logo on my face, but it was so crowded, I didn't think I'd get back there. Also, I figure DS probably already had it done when he was there earlier and it would be tacky if we both did.

It looked like the Florida fans outnumbered the OSU fans in CNN Center by 3-1, but there were more Buckeye fans roaming around outside. That's probably because they don't get much hot and humid weather in Columbus this time of year. Florida fans, on the other hand, are probably cold.

Ticket prices on the street are pretty high. I overheard a guy on the phone in the hotel lobby say, "Anything good, they're wanting 1500 and up."

Now, the committee and other senior staffers are getting their picture taken on the floor.

I'm going to get some dinner. More later.

Final Four: Jocks & Jills, Final Part

Gator Wench is now in on the joke and she's not offended at all. This is a good woman that Steve has landed here and we're encouraging a quick courtship so they can create little Gators.

Gator Wench and Steve each have season tickets in Gainesville for football and hoops, but they are separate. Time to unite those seats.

. . . Meet Mel, who we asked if she was a Gator fan:

"I am definitely not a freakin' Ohio State fan," said Mel, a Wisconsin Badger who is in town with her friend Julie for the games. They both live in Ann Arbor and can not find it in their hearts to root for th Buckeyes. "Hail to the Victors, baby," said Mel.

. . . A dead ringer for Terry Francona has entered the bar. He's even in red, but his red is for the Buckeyes. The Sox are trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth to KC.

. . . Gator Wench's fella, Steve, is claming that Brewer, Horford and Green will combine to score more points than the Buckeyes attained in total yards during the BCS game (82 net yards). Steve has great taste in women, but his handicapping skills are a bit suspect.

Fortunately, Gator Wench more than makes up for Steve's shortcomings.

. . . Car Bomber is searching for a Gator Tramp to be the evil sidekick of Gator Wench. At some point, this all became a bizarre comic book and it's a good indication that we've overstayed our visit.

. . . The late-arriver from UMass, Associate Athletic Director Tim Kenney has arrived - probably just waking up after a hard day of work. Kenney and Coach Travis Ford were at the Runyon's Party last night and were both quite excited to meet Jerry Palm, whose work they use extensively for non-conference scheduling purposes.

. . . Thorr just asked if he can check his bank statement on my computer.

. . . After the jump: The Return of Phil and Nancy from Columbus!. . .

Continue reading "Final Four: Jocks & Jills, Final Part" »

Final Four: Breaking News - Gator Fan Temporarily Ejected

We've had our first ejection of the afternoon as an overserved, under-educated Gator fan was just escorted from his corner bar stool (no it wasn't Thorr).

Although Thorrs did say, "This bar needs a big ass bouncer."

. . . We actually got permission from Gator Wench's boyfriend, Steve, to use the moniker.

. . .Wait, the Gator-hole is back. He just got re-admitted.

Final Four: The Finality Of It All

There's a verse from the Book of Joel that kind of sums up Final Four weekend: Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.

The old men are the people who pick up their lives to travel across the country to a city where every third street is named Peachtree to watch a bunch of kids play the old Indian game that R.P. McMurphy once called Put The Ball In The Hole. They are past winners like Lute Olson or Rollie Massimino or the ones that have come so close like Bruce Weber or Phil Martelli. Or the anonymous followers -- the older gentleman I saw getting into a cab at the airport with a leather jacket that had decades of nondescript rectangular patches listing Final Fours with their dates and host cities meticulously sewn up and down the sleeves like badges of honor. Whether it's the onlookers who enjoy watching young men achieve the peak of human performance performing an activity that values skill over strength or the coaches and former players who will never reach this stage but hope to experience the dream vicariously: These are the dreamers.

The young men are the current and future players, many who will spend Monday evening in driveways, playgrounds and city streets around the country re-enacting the shots made by Lee Humphrey or Raymond Felton or Ben Gordon or Gerry McNamara or Juan Dixon, counting down the seconds before launching a game-winner -- and repeating the process if the shot draws iron -- until the non-imaginary clock strikes nine and the telecast starts. They are the tweeners in the crowd who harbor dreams of playing basketball for a living, who watch the games and study the mannerisms of the players. Who think, I will be out there someday and then live the reality in their mind's eye: These are the visionaries.

The whole entity, the old and the young, the dreams and the visions, adds up to the palpable tension this weekend creates. Consider Saturday night: Corey Brewer's exultation and Arron Afflalo's tears, while such seemingly disparate emotions, go hand in hand with one another like yin and yang. There is no Final Four without happiness just as there is no Final Four without despondence and the disappointment of broken dreams. Which explains the nervous excitement and apprehension that's everywhere this cloudy Monday. No one dreams of being Afflalo. The Florida fans in my hotel lobby just can't stop talking about basketball -- so obviously bubbly about their team's opportunity to repeat as national champs but nervous and helpless while discussing things like the possibility of losing or whether their coach will take the Kentucky job next week. The Ohio State fans who couldn't have imagined this kind of success even 12 months ago are just as nervous because these opportunities don't come often. Only the dreamers in Columbus can remember the last time the Buckeyes got this close to the game's ultimate prize.

Continue reading "Final Four: The Finality Of It All" »

Final Four: Jocks & Jills, Part III

The outdoor patio area of J&Js is a sea of red as the Buckeye faithful have pretty much overrun the place. Inside, where we are situated, is mostly Gator and neutral folks.

We tried to start our new chant of "CS" to which the other side is supposed to respond "TV," but the folks failed to return the call. These things take time to catch on. You think the Hoyas fans immediately knew to reply to "We are" with "Georgetown?" I think not.

. . . Car Bomber wants us to call our new friend bar stool Lauren, "Gator Wench." But she's far from a wench and her boyfriend might get upset.

. . . Random conversation between Thorr and Strickland:

Thorr: "My nine-and-a-half-year-old daughter Stephanie's log-in name for the computer is StephanieTheSportsFan - how cool is that?"

Strickland: "That's too many letters."

This is what live-blogging is all about.

. . . Thorr is calling the Car Bomber, "Unabomber." It seems to be sticking.

. . . Red Sox are up 1-0 in the first, we're feeling an undefeated, 162-0 season.

. . . Our bacon, mushroom and olive pizza has arrived. We'll be back for one last post before we head back to get presentable for the title tilt. We are here for a game, you might recall.

Final Four: Jocks and Jills, Part I

JOCKS & JILLS SPORTS BAR, NEAR THE GEORGIA DOME - We'vre established a home base at a corner spot at J&Js where the crowd is beginning to build with a collection of blue, orange, red and gray clad fans. It's still probably a bit early for the rowdies to be present with the post-9 p.m. tip, but with a full slate of Opening Day baseball being show throughout the bar, it's a perfect sporting afternoon (especially when the Red Sox atrat at 4 p.m.)

. . . We're joined at the Hang Time perch by the honorable Atlantic Ten commissioner Linda Bruno who has just enjoyed a nice snack of nachos with UMass senior associate athletic director, Thorr (Thorr, Open the Door) Bjorn and the erstwhile CSTV Director of Marketing Partnerships, Bill Strickland. My connection to the crew is that I used to attend and work at UMass and they all, at one point or another, were kind enough to provide free meal and beverage for a struggling college-aged person of little means. (Funny, they're still dong that and I'm still of little means, but far from college-aged.)

. . . Now that we've divulged our location, we're fairly sure Jerry Palm will be quick to follow so that he can play holier-than-thou and spread more falsehoods about my honest attempts to simply spread the gospel of CSTV.com and its high class stable of live-bloggers and writers. That's the only reason I have been at the bars of ill repute of which Palm speaks.

All about the team, JPalm - one for all and all for CSTV.

. . . When last we left this spot, we had made the acquaintance of Nancy and Phil a happily married couple from Columbus who presented as a downhome, wholesome pair. That was, until Nancy began calling her bookie, trying to scalp tickets and drinking like a sailor. We tell you this because we miss Nancy (and Phil to some extent) and we're hoping she stops by to see us again.

Final Four: Closing down the house

Yesterday's post-practice festivities started at Pittypat's Porch. My first visit to Pittypat's was in 1984, when I was here for the Peach Bowl and I make sure I get over there every time I come back. Great mint juleps....

Continue reading "Final Four: Closing down the house" »

April 01, 2007

Final Four: Lesson in semantics and other notes

Being in a crowd of professional wordsmiths can be a tough thing sometimes...

Continue reading "Final Four: Lesson in semantics and other notes" »

Final Four: Oden Leaves 'Em Smiling

We can confirm two things at this point of the afternoon:

1. Jerry Palm Sunday does indeed have his face in a box of Krispy Kreme donuts (the Official Food Group of CSTV.com Live-Bloggers). It's a good look for him and one I will be duplicating in mere moments. Once again the will power to resist orange, basketball frosted sugar mounds is too great to resist.

2. Greg Oden has already accomplished the near-impossible: He left a bevy of usually ornery and sullen media types with broad smiles and visions of wonderful features stories and column dancing in their heads. After 30-plus minutes of questioning and answering from the Room 5 breakout area (where Joakim Noah will soon sit in the same seat), Oden showed a congenial, humorous and slightly introspective side, in contrast to the persona that has been slowly developing of the quiet big man.

We'll have more on Oden tomorrow from the main page of CSTV.com, but for now it's time to get the Gator side of things.

. . . Oh, and as for the Palmologist referring to this live-blogger as a "bar hound," we'd like to suggest that the only way to know and identify a bar hound is, as you can surmise, to be a bar hound yourself.

Takes one to know one, flocks of a feather and peas in a pod does come to mind.

Final Four: Long night leads to long day

After the game last night, I managed to track down fellow slogger and bar hound David Scott in the hotel bar. I got to spend some quality time talking golf, officiating and other things with Jesse Solomon of the Houston Chronicle and Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press. Those two are semi-serious golfers and I'm a big-time hacker (the movie about my golf game would be Indiana Palm and Raiders of the Lost Ball), so it's funny to listen to them trade stories about their struggles to break whatever goal they're trying to make. I have no aspirations of ever breaking 90 or anything like that. Some older guys hope to shoot their age. One day, I'd like to shoot my weight.

That party broke up around 3:30, which means I didn't get much sleep because I had to get up and go to church. For you non-Christians, it's Palm Sunday. I figure if they're going to name a holiday for me, it would be rude of me not to show up. (Yes, I'm vain enough to think it was named for me and don't give me any argument about this holiday beginning hundreds of years before I was born).

After church, I hopped a bus to the dome, where I found David, a man whose endurance is becoming legendary. He's bright-eyed, bushy tailed and ready to go. Eric's here too, and I imagine Bryan is as well, but he's going incognito. Or merely avoiding me again.

I'm going to stick my face in a box of Krispy Kremes and I'll be back with Florida quotes and notes in a bit.

Final Four: Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2007 Announced

The fledgling National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame has announced its 2007 class, which will be inducted on November 18.

The class is made up of Vic Bubas (Contributor, fromter Duke Coach), Guy Lews (University of Houston coach), Norm Stewart (Missouri coach), Charles "Lefty" Dreisell (Maryland, coach), Austin Carr (Notre Dame, player), Dick Groat (Duke, player), Dick Barnett (Tennessee State, player), Kareem Abdul Jabbar (UCLA, player), Henry Iba (Oklahoma A&M, coach), Adolph Rupp (Kentucky, coach), Forrest "Phog" Allen (Kansas, coach) and John McLendon (coach).

The ceremony will be held at the new College Basketball Experience in Kansas City, Mo. This will be the second class of the NCB Hall of Fame.

Final Four: Sunday Pressers

ATLANTA - Welcome back to the Georgia Dome where the pre-Championship Monday press conferences and media availability is scheduled to start in 30 minutes. Ohio State gets the bright light treatment from Noon until 1:40 p.m. with Coach Thad Matta available for an hour and selected players joining their coach for the first 30 minutes on the "big" dais. After that, five selected players (Mike Conley, Jr., Ron Lewis, Ivan Harris, Jamar Butler and Greg Oden) will be available in what are called "breakout rooms," which are mini-large press conference set-ups in an a more intimate setting. The final half hour of time is open locker room access for the remaining players.

Then, beginning at 1:30 p.m., Florida and its players will be available in the same fashion. Players getting breakout honors for the Gators are Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey and Joakim Noah.

Oden and Noah will have the same Room assignment (No. 5) - and the difference in personalities will be quite evident to anyone paying attention. Oden is a bit reserved to the point where we sometimes wonder if he has a pulse. Noah is the quote machine who has no filter and never gives a three word answer.

. . . With pressers taking up the early part of the afternoon, there's not much to live-blog, but the Too-Live CSTV.com crew (Graham, Palm, Sorenson and your humble servant) will do our best to give you some tidbits as we work on several different stories for your Monday reading pleasure.

. . . It's been confirmed to us that Dick Vitale will NOT be getting induction into the Hall of Fame, which is announced on Monday morning. Phil Jackson has been confirmed by the LA Times and we're still being told the 1966 Texas Western team is getting in among the field.

. . . Reports this morning that John Calipari is the target of Arkansas (Memphis granted permission for the Razorbacks to talk to their always in-demand head man). The job is not exactly a logical fit for Calipari for many reasons, chiefly he's got a potential No. 1 team coming out next season; Arkansas' football team takes too much attention for Cal to have the whole spotlight as he does in Memphis; if Calipari is going to get an SEC job, it's at powerhouse Kentucky, not at flash-in-the-pan Arkansas.

. . . The College Basketball Hall of Fame is about to announce its next class in a hastily annnounced press conference. There was not a big rush int he media room to get to that presser.

Final Four: Florida overcomes deficiencies

Florida overcame its deficiencies again tonight to post another win against a pretty good team that seemed to be the kind of team to take advantage of those problems.

The Gators turned the ball over 16 times tonight to only three for UCLA. Florida only hit 19-31 free throws. Yet, the not only won, they won easily.

Florida shot the ball very well, after yet another slow start. Brewer and Richard carried the load there. Brewer was 5-7 for 19 points and Richard was a perfect 7-7 for 14. The Gators ended up hitting 24-45 for 53% after starting only 1-7. The 31 free throws was 18 more than UCLA attempted, so even though they only hit 19, the Gators were still +8 on the scoreboard from the stripe. They also hit 9-22 three pointers (again, after a 1-7 start). Coach Billy Donovan talked after the game about that shot being the one the defense was giving them because UCLA was double-teaming the post.

Even though Florida dominated the boards (Horford and Noah had 28 by themselves, UCLA had 26 as a team), that was more a function of UCLA missing more shots. The Gators only had 8 offensive rebounds to 6 for the Bruins, but outscored UCLA on second chance points 16-4.

When looking ahead to Ohio St and comparing this to their earlier meeting (an 86-60 Florida win in Gainesville on Dec 23), Donovan said, "That was at home, right before Christmas. I think when you have freshman and it's right before Christmas, there's a growing process. At that point, Oden was not where he's at today. It should be a great matchup."

So I will leave Eric to write the obituary on UCLA and head off to find food and drink. The lasagna they served us tonight was pretty good, but that was several hours ago. I'll be back tomorrow with nuggets of wisdom from the Florida press conference.

March 31, 2007

Final Four: I know UCLA doesn't want to hear this right now, but - good season Bruins.

Okay, so the Bruins went down tonight by a 76-66 count to Florida here at the Georgia Dome. Granted. But let's Big Picture this thing...

UCLA lost two NBA draftees off last year's team, Jordan Farmar and Ryan Hollins, along with a dependable senior in Cedric Bozeman. They brought in a couple of Frosh, but James Keefe and Russell Westbrook weren't difference-makers as first year players.

And yet, the Bruins finished the season at 30-6 and in the Final Four for the second straight year. Had it not been for the return of the Florida five juggernaut, this may have been UCLA's year to get back in the winner's circle.

Even UofF coach Billy Donovan said after tonight's game that going back and studying the films of last year's win over UCLA did them no good. "I just thought for our team we needed to understand that UCLA was different and they were better than a year ago."

Pretty heady words considering the aforementioned losses off last year's squad.

The emergence of Darren Collison had to be the most important and pleasant development for Ben Howland's team. The National Defensive Player of the Year was an impact player from the first tip of the season and did a better job of distributing the ball than Farmar did last year. He was, in the words of former UCLA coach Steve Lavin, the guy that shared the sugar to all the shooters.

Aaron Afflalo became a more demonstrative leader, despite some spells where he vanished from games. His scoring was great, but his the example he set was the most important part of this team.

The inside play of Lorenzo Mata and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute got better as the year went on and made this post-season run possible. They weren't dominant by any means, but they were mean as rattlesnakes on defense, especially in tournament games with Pitt and Kansas.

Josh Shipp was the X-factor. Out all of last year due to injury, his return signaled a secondary go-to guy at key times. Like in the first half tonight, he seemed to pick up his game when the team needed a boost. His first half didn't go unnotinced by Florida's Billy Donovan, "Give Josh Shipp a lot of credit. He stepped up and played well in the first half." He had 14 points at the half, going 6-of-10 and single-handedly being the one reason the Bruins were only down by six.

The upshot of this loss and the promise of tomorrow was echoed by Ben Howland in the post-game news conference, "We've got no seniors in the program. I'm thinking that we're going to be a very good team and very competitive team next year."

Howland expanded a bit on the new prospects for next year as well, "Kevin Love, who is one of the top players in the country, if not the best kid in the country is joining us. He gives us a very good inside presense. Then we're also getting the Los Angeles City Player of the Year in Chase Stanback."

Howland readily admitted his team's current state of frustration. "Our players are hurting right now. They're deeply disappointed. You know, we've got to bounce back. But I'm excited about our team for next year."

Again, good season UCLA. It's little solace right now, but Bruin fans can take heart in the silver lining being two things: 1- Ben Howland is still your coach. And 2- You guys aren't going to go away anytime soon.

Final Four: Just like last year!

That's the chant coming from the Florida section between the "It's great - to be - a Florida Gator" chants.

I suppose it is. They'll get a shot at defending their title against the Buckeyes on Monday after dropping UCLA 76-66 in a game that was not as close as the score indicated.

Of to the press conferences to hear how very, very happy Billy Donovan is and then a wrap.

Final Four: 56 wasn't enough

It turns out that 56 points wasn't enough. The Gators put it in cruise control and Aaron Afflalo has scored 15 points, earning him the Too Little, Too Late award.

We have also learned, from the trainer sitting next to us, that the guy Eric threatened in defense of our seats is the head orthopedic surgeon at Georgia Tech who is here helping out the medical staff. That means that if I hit a soft spot on the floor and blow my knee, I can count on him to come over and give the other one a good swift kick.

Actually, that's probably more true of Eric, but Eric is less likely to injure himself.

Eric points out that if he did kick the doctors butt, he could fix himself.

Final Four: It's foulfest now. Gators ready to play for another national title

Gators by 12 now. I'm sure the Florida administration is currently looking into adding more sports to their ledger so they can with more national titles. I hear the darts and billiards national titles are going to be contended for next month.

Final Four: Fried Bruin

Afflalo just hit his first points of the game at the six and a half minute mark of the game. He's still got more fouls than points.

It's Florida by 16 with 4:44 left. It might as well be 6:66 left for UCLA. They're getting the Devil kicked out of them here.

Final Four: Florida just toying with them now

The Gators have 56 points at the 8-minute timeout, which is probably six more than they will need today. They are starting to play with more fun and clearly feeling less pressure. The band and even Al the Alligator are already celebrating. We're on our way to a BCS title game rematch.

Final Four: The Numbers Game

Basketball is played on cedar and not paper. And with so much emphasis during the second half of the season placed on numbers like the RPI or SOS, it's easy to forget that sometimes these figures can represent nothing more than math voodoo. After all, even numbers like offensive and defensive efficiencies -- among the most powerful and revealing statistics in the sport -- are drawn from gigantic sample sizes much greater than the span of a single game. (Which can make the numbers that much more irrelevant come March Madness.)

But sometimes the stats can bring to light ideas and insights which can't be drawn from the box score. Like with tonight's plus-minus experiment examining how the Hoyas and Buckeyes performed with and without their marquee big men. After checking my chicken scrawl against the official play-by-play, here's a look at the final tallies with respect to Hibbert and Oden:

When Oden and Hibbert were both in the game: Georgetown 33, OSU 24
When Hibbert was in the game and Oden was out: Georgetown 15, OSU 14
When Oden was in the game and Hibbert was out: OSU 15, Georgetown 2
When both Oden and Hibbert were on the bench: OSU 12, Georgetown 9

It doesn't take a genius to realize that the Hoyas needed Hibbert to stay on the floor to have the best chance for victory. Three of the above four scenarios saw Georgetown and Ohio State play one another to a deadlock. The score was essentially even when Hibbert was on the floor and Oden was on the bench and the same goes for when both big men were sidelined. Georgetown's nine-point advantage while both players were on the floor is actually a three-point edge when you deduct Georgetown's cosmetic scoring during "garbage time" -- after David Lighty's three-point play opened a 61-52 lead with 1:41 remaining.

Continue reading "Final Four: The Numbers Game" »

Final Four: Bruins worst nightmare... feather fouls

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute just breathed heavy on Chris Richard and got called for his fifth foul. And I'm talking about genuine piece-of-crap calls are going against the Bruins.

They don't have much chance here. Florida is too talented and the Bruins would need a LOT of breaks to go their way now.

Final Four: Successful eviction

It's been a real odyssey for the Hoops Odyssey guys. They have been struggling to find a seat here today, and it's been especially hard for Matt. His credential says MUP, which means upper press box only. Jake has the regular M credential, which means he can go anywhere.

Matt managed to sneak into a seat near us at the start of this game, but he made the mistake of leaving and now the yellow coats (security) won't let him back in. Problem is, he left his computer, so Jake is here to work it now.

Final Four: Hoya Turnova

It wasn't even a storyline coming into the national semifinal, nor should it have been. Both Ohio State and Georgetown had made their March Madness runs without the sadness of turning the ball over extensively.

For Ohio State, which had valued the ball all year, its highest turnover game of the entire post-season was 14 (against Xavier in the second round of the NCAAs). The Hoyas had been even more protective of the rock committing its post-season-high of 12 turnovers against Belmont in the first round of the NCAAs.

But the Hoyas reverted to the form that had appeared in fits and starts throughout the season - including back-to-back 19 turnover games to end the regular season - with 14 turnovers in Saturday night's 67-60 loss to Ohio State. Though not an astronomical number, those turns were converted into 22 points. The Buckeyes had just eight turns that resulted in 10 Hoya points.

"That was obviously a key to the game, I think," said OSU's Thad Matta. "We weren't sure if we could turn them over. We did a great job of covering down the way we wanted to and scoop some balls up, got out (and advanced it). I thought our guys did a nice job of finishing in the transition zone."

His guys - especially the fantasmical freshman guard, Mike Conley, Jr - also did a nice job controlling the tempo and making good decisions. Conley had 15 points, six assists and one turnover and played all but one minute of the game. The tandem of Ron Lewis and Jamar Butler combined for 19 Buckeye points, six assists three turnovers and three steals (the team had eight steals as a whole). And the Hoya big men (DaJuan Summers, Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert) acocunted for 8 of the 14 Ohio State turnovers.

Coach John Thompson III didn't see it coming from his club.

Continue reading "Final Four: Hoya Turnova" »

Final Four: Gators running away

Corey Brewer has shot two three pointers. Unfortunately on the first one, he was inside the line, so it was an airball. The second was behind the arc, so that was a lot more accurate. Noah and Richard have rim-rattling jams and Florida is now up 16 and threatening to send everyone home early.

Final Four: Time to stick a fork in the Bruins?

13:49 left. UCLA down by 16. Just used their last time out.

They can't drive to the basket. They can't hit an outside shot (What was THAT Luc?). In a word, ouch.

It's starting to look like the Gators will end the UCLA season again.

It may be hard to think of a scenario that UCLA makes a big comeback in this one.

Final Four: Nearly evicted

Lee Humphrey buried a couple of threes and Joakim Noah has a layup to pace the Gators to a 37-28 lead.

Someone came by to try to throw us out of our seats claiming they were his, but Eric threatened to kick his butt (actually, Eric is a lot more vulgar than that, but this is a family blog) all the way across Atlanta, so he crept away, sobbing softly.

Final Four: Afflalo back in, Gators by nine, 16:14 left.

One of the huge problems for UCLA is the personals on Aaron Afflalo as he just now entered the game (17:00 mark) with his three fouls and foul demeanor. Also on the foul front, Mbah a Moute and Mata are currently playing with two fouls each. Both need to make it to the 10-12 minute mark foul-free.

Final Four: Revealing halftime

And I'm not talking about the dance teams. Unlike previous rounds of the tournament, we get a shot chart at halftime. Florida is playing right into UCLA's hands, yet still leads. Florida has taken only four shots inside the three point line. Four. One was by Hodge, which was a miss, and one was a 17-footer by Green, which went in. The Gators also have ten turnovers to one for the Bruins. So why are the Gators leading? UCLA is 0-3 from three point range and 9-29 overall. Also, Florida is killing them on the boards to the tune of 20-11, although there was only one offensive rebound in the entire half by either team (Alfred Aboya of UCLA, who missed a putback).

The second half is underway!

Final Four: Florida up at half

We have finally reached halftime and the Gators are up 29-23. They have to feel pretty good about being up despite the game being played at UCLA's pace. Foul trouble on the Bruins has helped, but Brewer is on fire with 15 points on a perfect 4-4 from the field and the line.

Eric is about to tell you why we should expect a pretty spirited second half.

Final Four: Jawwwwing in the tunnel

While I went to hit the urinal at half-time, I came walking back out and heard this back-and-forth between the Florida and UCLA players as they walked to the locker room...

Marreese Speights (talking to Corey Brewer):
Man, those guys gotta be saying 'Will you PLEASE stop hitting all those shots"

Corey Brewer:
I guess so.

Michael Roll (to Speights):
Shiiiii. You haven't even left the bench. You're still in your warm-ups.

Josh Shipp:
We're out there playing. What would you rather do, hit shots or sit on the bench?

I found it strange that the two teams would not only be able to leave the court at the same time, but also go down the very same walkway to the side-by-side locker rooms.

Final Four: Noah not a happy camper

Joakim Noah just picked up his second foul and was not at all pleased. He flailed his arms around a couple of times, but when he yanked his shirt up, I thought he'd get T'd up for sure. Luckily for him, that didn't happen because that would have been his third.

Brewer is really feeling it. He just hit his third three and according to Eric, made some gesture at the UCLA bench.

Horford just picked up his second foul and when he went to talk to the ref about it, the ref told him to go away.

Final Four: Dean and Russ/Butch and Sundance

Earlier this evening, we had occassion to ride up in the elevator to our LEGAL seats in the UPPER PRESS BOX with a field agent for the FBI who is on duty protecting the Dome. We have placed a call to the kind gent's phone and he assures us that the two perpetrators who are hanging with Dean Smith and Bill Russell and having a grand old time from their ILLEGAL seats.

We've also instructed Al the Florida Gator that he would be well within his right to chomp on a limb or two of the Palm reader and Sorenson of Abner Doubleday.

. . . The mascots are supposed to be wearing a black armband to honor the deceased Tar Heel mascot but we'll have to leave it to Butch and Sundance to report on any such remembrance because they can, ya know, see the mascots. . . and the cheerleaders. . . and the game.

Final Four: Lots of football smarts in the house

Not only is Ohio St football coach Jim Tressel here, but so is Gator grid mentor Urban Meyer. Tressel has better seats. He's in the front row on an aisle, while Meyer is about 30 rows up. Meyer is getting even by trying to reflect the light off of his championship ring into Tressel's face.

OK, I made that last part up. So far as I know.

Also here is Tony Dungy, coach of the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts. Dungy's a Minnesota grad, so I assume he's just a fan and has no dog in this fight.

Final Four: It's starting to look a lot like '06 for Bruins

Florida has built up a 9-point lead with 3:58 left in the first half. Much like last year's title game, Florida eventually broke out to a lead in the first half and kept UCLA at an arm's length the rest of the night.

If the Bruins don't cut this lead to at last three or four before the half, it could be Taps City for them. Any bigger of a lead? Oh, that's a death-knell.

Aaron Afflalo's three fouls is a back-breaker for them. As is Lorenzo Mata having to sit out with two fouls.

Final Four: Finally, a three point threat

The slowest first half in Final Four history has the Gators up 24-16 thanks to a barrage of threes by Brewer (2), a Humphrey and Green.

And in spite of my lawlessness, of which I am not the least bit ashamed, let the record show that if I get jiggy with anything, I will likely need medical attention.

Final Four: For the record, Ludicris is...

of no interest to me, if he IS sitting near us.

If I had the chance, the first thing I would ask him is, "So Ludi... I know you can talk over music and rhyme and stuff... but is there an instrument you know how to play? Or are you as MUSICALLY talented as, say, Britney Spears?"

Hmmm. Keep it real.

Final Four: Gators now looking inside

Florida is now up 13-12 with 7:52 left and while the pace favors UCLA, the Gators are benefiting from foul trouble on UCLA in general and Afflalo in particular.

Also, Florida is now finally looking inside. The Gators' last two buckets have come in the paint from Richard and Brewer.

Final Four: The coach and the player sitting right near me

Coaching legend Dean Smith and the hall-of-famer Bill Russell, reading my blog entries over my shoulder.


Final Four: Security! Come Quick

Just so there's no question about who initiated the removal of our courtside bloggers, we have just alerted the authorities to the Press Row Squatting being conducted by Palm and Sorenson (or as they will soon be known, Bucth and Sundance).

Here we are - Bryan Graham and yours truly - law abiding citizens obeying the NCAA's misguided and antiquated seating assignment policy and Butch and Sundance are down there playing with mascots and ogling cheer squads.

As a man on the side of truth, I find it offensive and I'm trying to contact the Hoops Odyssey guys to capture the expulsion and imprisonment on tape. I hear the Georgia Dome prison makes Sing Sing look like doggy daycare.

Worse yet, the Dastardly Duo is not too far from rapper, Ludacris (who performed a free concert earlier today at Centennial Park) and they're probably getting all sorts of jiggy with him and planning on hanging with Lud (or is it 'Acris?) well into the wee hours of Sunday.

. . . An no, I won't return the favor and bring you guys soda and snacks at half. Maybe one of your cheerleader friends can feed your seat-stealing mouths.

. . . I kid, I jest, I need a nap.

Final Four: Florida dialing long-distance, but no connection

Florida trails 6-5 at the second time out and is still shooting nothing but threes. They are 1-7 from the floor, and all seven shots are from long range. At some point, the Gators are going to have to start looking inside, because this ain't working. A couple of possessions ago, Green got to the hole for a layup, but it was waved off for a charge. It looked like the UCLA player was under the basket, which is a call I don't like. When I reffed, we were taught not to call charges too deep.

At least the Gators will be in the bonus the rest of the half.

Al the Gator mascot is sitting on the floor, head in paw, looking bored. I can only assume his eyeholes are plugged, because the veela are on the floor.

(For those who don't know what veela are are, click here)

Final Four: Afflalo body language/foul situation not looking good

Bruin guard Aaron Afflalo was put back in the game with two fouls and next thing you know, boom! he picks up hhis third foul at just the 11:26 mark of the first half. THAT hurts.

Afflalo nearly tripped over his lip as he walked off the court before this time out.

On another note, the Florida fans behind us claimed that the Gators were "going to have their way with UCLA inside"

So far, the Bruins size difference hasn't been exposed. That's because of the number of hands, elbows and arms the Bruins have in all their passing lanes. Forcing Noah to travel was the first indication that this wasn't going to be a cakewalk inside.

Final Four: Better seats, pace favors Bruins.

Unlike the two bloggers from today's first game, Jerry Palm and I aren't sitting in the "football press box" that sits two football fields from the floor. Jerry found some seats on the second row of the press section right behind the Florida bench... and within great sightlines of the Florida dance team.

Defense dictating things so far, which you would expect for the Bruins. The pace is favoring UCLA... but it's early.

Make note that Florida's first point from the field didn't happen until the 12:30 mark of the first half. Again, that's a UCLA thing.

Second foul on Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is not a good sign for the undersized Bruins.


The view from Jerry and I's seats for this game.

Final Four: Veela working their magic early

Florida trails 4-2 at the first timeout and it looks like the veela are having an impact. All three of Florida's shots have come from beyond the arc and all drew big iron. UCLA has already committed five fouls which means the Gators may shoot a lot of free throws in this half (where the veela could again come into play). That's where Florida's points have come.

Donovan working subs in already. Richard is in, giving Noah a break, and then Horford. Hodge has just come in for Green.

Final Four: Down in front

One bad thing about our seats, which could be a problem all night, is that Florida bench always stands, which means they're always in our way. Every Gator game I've done, they've been told repeatedly to sit by the refs (it's a rule). So, we may only see half the game.

In fact, the ref just gave them the first warning of the game.

Final Four: Getting ready for game 2

Eric and I have found spots at a table by the floor, so until they throw us out, we'll be down by the Florida bench and band. We're also sitting right next to the emergency, back up trainer for the NCAA. Her day job is at Georgia Tech. She is equipped to deal with any blood emergencies. I wonder if I should show her my elbow. I went head first into my chair once in the first half and scraped my elbow.

The Gator band is jammin' and the OSU band is dancing their way past and out of the gym. When I came out of the media area over to our seat, I walked past the band and almost got cold-cocked by a trombone slide. You would think an old band jock like me would know better.

Both teams are on the floor warming up. The Gators are in home whites and orange warm up tops, which I don't think I've seen before.

In the first half, they will shoot at the end of the floor where the UCLA cheerleaders/veela are, so if they only hit about 5% of their shots, you'll know why.

While roaming around at halftime of the first game, I saw the Hoya mascot walking around without his head on. Well, the mascot head. The kid's head was still in place. He looked like he had spent an hour wrapped in a wool blanked. Maybe that's because he had.

We're less than ten minutes to the tip.

Final Four: Initial Thoughts and More Text Messages

David and I have navigated our way down to the interview room to await Ohio State then Georgetown. My pretty angry friend Billy, a lifelong Connecticut fan who doesn't even like Georgetown, keeps sending text messages expressing his outrage at the officiating. (His most recent offering: Ohio State has been handed this entire tournament on a silver platter and it is disgusting.) While mine may not be on par with the degree of his sentiments, I have seen better-called games and there's no question that the discrepancy at the foul line made the difference in the score: Georgetown was 3-for-8 (37.5 percent) while Ohio State was 13-for-19 (68.4 percent) -- making good on more than twice as many chances.

With Matta, Oden and Conley, Jr., coming to the dais any moment, here's a quick look at three more numbers that jump off the box score:

  • In a game that saw so many Ohio State freshmen step up to secure the victory, no one came up smaller than Georgetown first-year stud DaJuan Summers. The McDonough alum finished with four points on 1-for-10 shooting.

  • The Hoyas got bupkis from its bench: a giant goose egg. Ohio State's reserves outscored Georgetown's, 13-0.

  • Ohio State's advantage on the glass (a 37-30 margin) was earned on the offensive end, where the Buckeyes outrebounded the Hoyas, 16-9.

Final Four: Halfway to a Re-match of the BCS Title Game

With :21.8 left in the game and the Buckeyes leading 63-57, it appears as though the Matta Men will advance to Monday night's title game and a possible re-do of the BCS title game from January where Florida beat the Buckeyes in Arizona.

Rebounding woes and turnover problems have been the undoing of the Hoyas.

. . . We're ready to leave you in the capable hands of the live-blogging firm of Palm and Sorenson for tonight's second game. We'll be back with you later tonight with some post-game thoughts and comments from the Ohio State win.

Final Four: DiGiorno Pizza commercial - Final Four connection

Have you guys seen the pizza TV commercial where Dick Vitale is having a dream of slam dunking and sky-walking over opposing players in a game?

That commercial was filmed in the old Sports Arena that sits next to the Coliseum in Los Angeles. The Sports Arena is notable as the location of the 1968 and 1972 Final Fours. UCLA won both of those titles: 78-55 over North Carolina and 81-75 over Florida State.

To be honest, the place is a real dump too. The crowds for those two final games were 11,492 and 9,207. Guess people just stayed away knowing that UCLA was going to win it again.

USC was the last regular tenent, playing last year at the aged arena, before building the new Galen Center just off campus.

Final Four: Getting the Message

I've gotten three text messages in the last five minutes about the quality of the officiating in this game. I'll let you take a guess on the sentiment.

Endgame here at the Georgia Dome with Ohio State holding a 63-57 lead over Georgetown with under a half-minute remaining.

Final Four: TV Teddy Leaves His Mark

The Hoyas will not quietly in this one and now trail 56-52 with 2:36 left in the game. Roy Hibbert now had a game-high 19 points and OSU is led by Conley's 15.

The Buckeyes have four timeouts remaining, the Hoyas have three and team fouls are even at five apiece.

. . . OSU is out-rebounding Georgetown 17-11 in the second half and the Buckeyes have a full 15 of their boards on the offensive glass but Georgetown continues its one and dones on the O-glass.

. . . The blocking foul called on Jeff Green on the monster dunk attempt by Greg Oden did not appear to be a good call from the replay we saw (just shown once by CBS after the break). The call, a bit delayed, was made and emphasized, of course, by Teddy Valentine.

Final Four: High Drama in the ATL

When Greg Oden's free throw capped a 7-0 run that gave Ohio State a 51-44 lead, prospects appeared grim for the Hoyas -- whose slow-developing offensive isn't particularly conducive to playing from behind. But the Big East champs have pulled within 56-52 at the 2:36 mark on Jessie Sapp's slashing lay-up. Greg Oden just picked up his fourth foul. Even in the upper press box, the tension in this building is palpable.

Final Four: Four-boding

John Thompson III took a gamble in leaving Roy Hibbert in the game with three fouls but the big man's fourth foul (at the 8:49 mark) makes one wonder whether the Georgetown coach should consider the value of conservatism instead.

With Hibbert out of the game, Ohio State is pushing the ball into the teeth of the Georgetown defense, which is looking a little sluggish as the game wears on. The Buckeyes have scored six unanswered points since Hibbert's exit to open a 50-44 advantage.

When Oden is in the game and Hibbert is on the bench, the Bucks have outscored the Hoyas, 11-2.

Final Four: GTown is Hibbert Town Now

With Thad Matta continuing to baby his 7-footer, Greg Oden, JTIII began riding his horse, Hibbert, the game's high-scorer with 15 points. But the ride ended with 8:50 left in the game when Hibbert picked up his fourth foul of the game and Matt re-inserted Oden.

The Buckeyes went on a 6-0 run in a minute-twenty-five and now lead 50-44 with 7:24 left in the game.

. . . We're not going to say that the refs are deciding this game because there's been just 18 total fouls to the point, but it is worth noting that the game was billed as a Battle of the Big Men and that has never been allowed to manifest itself for a combination of reasons.

Final Four: Bucks Holding Six

The 12-minute TV timeout is breaking for play with Ohio State ahead of the Hoyas, 44-38. Hibbert is walking onto the floor while Oden is on the bench. Quick plus-minus update:

When Oden and Hibbert are both in the game: Georgetown 18, OSU 11
When Hibbert is in the game and Oden is out: OSU 10, Georgetown 9
When Oden is in the game and Hibbert is out: OSU 7, Georgetown 2
When both Oden and Hibbert are on the bench: OSU 14, Georgetown 9

Final Four: JTIII Rolls the Dice

JTIII didn't want things to get too far out of reach and he re-inserted Hibbert in the 12 minute area. With the Hoyas trailing 42-36, HIbbert's first possession resulted in a dunk and foul where he missed the free throw. It's 42-38 with 11:30 left in the game.

Thompson had to do a similar thing last week and when asked about it after the game he saidc it was a "feel thing" nad he had no hard and fast rule on when to put players in foul trouble back into games. We like that. A lot.

. . . A special treat for all you 'Toon fans after the jump, as Hang Time offers up another in our long line of crappy cell phone pictures for your viewing pleasure. And your childrens'.

Continue reading "Final Four: JTIII Rolls the Dice" »

Final Four: Hibbert with Three

Now we'll see what Greg Oden can do without Roy Hibbert in the game as the Hoya 7-footer picked up his third foul with 15:56 left in the game and the Hoyas clinging to a 34-33 lead. He committed it on Ivan Harris.

Georgetown has come out with a bit more purpose in this half and have already hit two 3-pointers (Summers and Sapp) to match their trey output of the first half.

This next eight minute stretcth will likely decide the game as the Hoyas will need to keep it close.

. . . On the OSU's first possession after the Hibbert sit-down, Oden dunked for two and quickly find themselves up 38-34.

Final Four: Georgetown Pulls Ahead and Plus-Minus Update

The Hoyas have sprinted from the gates with an 11-6 run to take their first lead of the game -- at 34-33 -- since the 16:20 mark of the first half. Roy Hibbert is headed to the bench after picking up his third foul. This will mark the first time that Oden will be on the floor while Hibbert is not.

A quick update on the plus-minus numbers with respect to Hibbert and Oden, which I didn't include in that halftime post.

When Oden and Hibbert were both in the game: Georgetown 5, OSU 3
When Hibbert was in the game and Oden was out: OSU 10, Georgetown 9
When both Oden and Hibbert were on the bench: OSU 14, Georgetown 9

Final Four: Palm for M.O.P.

The Palm Reader delivered on our beverage request, thus making every other Upper Press Box inhabitant completely jealous of the BAG man and myself.

. . . The turnover story is a major factor as the usually protective Hoyas have nine int he first half to just four for the Buckeyes. OSU converted those nine turns into 13 points. Reboudning is virtually even with the Hoyas holding a slight 16-15 edge.

DaJuan summers had three of the Hyas' nine turns, but also had two assists, a block and a steal.

. . . OSU managed six offensive boards out of their 15, while Georgetown had three of 16 on the O-glass.

. . . Jeff Green, who came on in the latter part of the half, has a game-high six rebounds to go with his five points.

. . . Largest lead of the half for GTown came with 19:22 left in the half (two points) and OSU built an eight point lead with 3:33 left.

. . . The Hoyas returned to the floor with 3:23 left on the halftime clock.

. . . Hey Palm, thanks for the drinks. You got any of the DiGiorno pizza left over? (I sampled the Big D's pizza as well during my visit to Hoops City and with each slice I was handed (upwards of 18), I asked, "Is this delivery?" And each time the dutiful server repliued, "No, it's DiGiorno."

Final Four: The Value of Conservatism

Going back to his days at Xavier -- at the height of my Atlantic 10 fanaticism -- Matta has always struck me as a conservative coach. Never dangerously so but that's always seemed to be the governing principle behind his decision-making.

That tendency finds itself in the national spotlight at halftime. Ohio State holds a 27-23 lead over the Hoyas at the midpoint but Oden has played under four minutes -- picking splinters since picking up his second personal foul at the 17:13 mark. (Both were offensive fouls: a charge and a moving screen.) Should Georgetown come back to win -- regardless of how the second half unfolds -- a huge controversy will spring from the second-guessing of Matta's conservatism -- or as my Hang Time comrade David Scott has called it: "coaching scared."

For the record, I agree with Matta's choice. The advantage of conservative coaching is the ability to "keep it all in front of you" -- and the way Georgetown plays is inherently predictable which plays into the tactic, since it's rare that the Hoyas will blitz to a 10-point run that could change the game before Matta could get Oden into the game. So as long as the Buckeyes were able to sustain their two-to-three-possession cushion with capable pivotman Othello Hunter in the paint -- which they did -- Ohio State could get away with keeping Oden for the bench and saving those minutes for the second half.

Of course the devil's advocate would retort that the Buckeyes could have widened that advantage with Oden in the game, thus increasing their chances of victory. But risk -- losing Oden for an even lengthier period or even for the game -- outweighs that reward. Especially when you've got a team that's more than accustomed to playing without the freshman wunderkind (like the entire month of November).

Add in the fact that the referees seemed to be very vigilant in the early going (though they did ease up) and that makes Matta's decision that much more sensible.

Other notes of interest:

  • Ohio State was outscoring Georgetown in points off turnovers at the four-minute mark by a 13-0 margin. It's 13-1 at the break.

  • Georgetown didn't attempt a free throw until Jeff Green split a pair at the 2:44 mark. The Hoyas finished with four -- the second pair coming on a shooting foul with 4.2 seconds remaining.

  • Mike Conley, Jr., has been the best point guard in America since the beginning of March and that reputation is growing today. Oden's kemo sabe has a game-high 11 points on 5-for-7 from the floor with two assists against zero turnovers.

Final Four: Hoyas Can't Control Conley

The Hoyas trail 27-23 at the break and Thad Matta has to be feeling good about getting nothing out of his Big Man and still managing to take a four point lead into the break.

Mike Conley, Jr. has been as-advertised for the Buckeyes and the Hoyas have no answer for his penetrating ability against GTown's two-three zone. Conley leads all scorers with 11 points in the game. Hibbert has eight for the Hoyas.

. . . The teams went a combined 6 of 12 form the free throw line in the first half and 6 of 14 from 3-point land (3 treys for each side.

. . . There's only been two bench points scored for either side (Terwilliger for the Buckeyes).

Final Four: Palm on the Floor

This live-blogging operation is really gaingin some steam as we're now able to throw it down to our man on the floor, Jerry Palm, for his take at court-level.

Hey, Palm? Can you send up two beverages. we're parched up here.

. . . The Hoyas are not able to capitalize on the absence of Oden and continue to struggle a bit form the field. jeff Green's first points of the game didn't come until the 3:00 area. Not what you expect from the Big East Player of the Year.

Final Four: Corporate Sponsor problems

"NCAA Coca-Cola CASH CORRUPTS" balloons have been confiscated.

While I was standing on the floor watching some of this first game, a rich man in an expensive suit came up to the guy I was standing next to and said, "Gary, people have been smuggling in these 'Coca-Cola Cash corrupts' balloons and fillling them up with air."

The guy brought over a sample to Gary who is apparently in charge of NCAA sponsorships for the Final Four.

Gary unrolled the balloon and said, "Shit, this thing even has the NCAA logo on it!... where are people getting these things from?"

The guy told him, "We've got 20 people walking around the outside of the arena on the lookout for them. But I don't know how they got all these logos on them!"

I don't know if Coca-Cola corrupts, but I DO know these same people were outside of the San Jose HP Pavilion last weekend before the Regional finals. They're getting around.

Final Four: Centers of Attention

A pair of Hibbert baskets including a put-back dunk closed the margin to 15-14 -- but the 7-foot-3 pivotman just picked up his second foul of the game in hacking a driving David Lighty going into the eight-minute TV timeout. Wouldn't be surprised to see Georgetown take the floor without Hibbert here -- but will Oden's having sat for the past 11 minutes and likely to soon return influence Thompson's decision?

Moot point as the case may be -- as both teams just took the court without their marquee big men. Othello Hunter (6-8, 225 lbs.), the least heralded member of the Thad Five, is playing the five for Ohio State while Patrick Ewing, Jr. (6-8, 238 lbs.) is his counterpart.

Final Four: Hibbert Dunking Hoyas Back Into Game

On two Roy Hibbert dunks on consecutive trips down the floor, Roy Hibbert has brought his Hoyas back into this one and they now trail 15-14 with 6:48 left in the game.

Of you ask us, and we know you did, Thad Matta is coaching scared with his big man, Oden, who is still not being re-inserted into the line-up with his two fouls. Hibbert leads all scorers with eight points. We know of few coaches who will play anyone with two fouls in the first half, but Matta was over-cautious when Oden had one.

. . .Jeremiah "Li Doc" Rivers got his first foul of the game with 8:10 left in the half. It was the team's second.

Final: A Hib to the Hibberty

With Oden out of the game, the Hoyas looked to got to Roy Hibbert inside and were fairly effective before JTIII decided to rest him with around 13 minutes left in the half to take advantage of Oden's absence form the game.

With 9;48 left in the half, the Buckeyes have extended to a 14-7 lead.The Hoyas are shooting just 30 percent from the field (3 of 10) and the Buckedyes are at 6 of 13 (46 percent).

. . . Before this timeout, it appeared that both big men were ready to check back into the game. Of course from up here, all the big men and little men look the same - in fact, they all look like little men. (Only Hibbert came back in.)

. . . The Hoyas are getting picked apart on defense and GTown continues to miss some bunnies in the lane.

Final Four: On the floor

The view from the corner behind the OSU bench is probably different than from above.

Just about everybody walks past where I'm seating, including Joe Lunardi, who I met for the first time. Hopefully Dave Jones and Ted Gangi aren't reading this since each hopes to be the first to introduce us

A couple of things I noticed that may have escaped the attention of the guys upstairs:

Ted Valentine has lost some weight and is REALLY pumped for this game. I thought he was going to break the arms of the OSU coaches shaking hands.

Georgetown's band played, "Jesus Loves the Little Children" during a timeout.

Buckeye FB coach Jim Tressel is in the house, but incognito. He's not wearing his trademark sweater vest.

Thad Matta has an signal for an offensive play that is similar to the Gator chomp.

More later - maybe.

Final Four: State Doubling Up Hoyas

I don't think Ohio State's energetic man-to-man defense the cause of Georgetown's offensive struggles so much as the D.C. school's hesitancy. The Hoyas looked much more confident in the execution of their deliberate offensive sets the last couple times I've seen them on TV and in person. John Thompson III's charges just turned the ball over on consecutive possessions -- and nearly a third straight time on a full-court baseball pass.

In the seven-and-a-half minutes since Greg Oden left the game at the 17:19 mark, Ohio State has used an 11-2 run to stake a 14-7 advantage.

Final Four: Close Early

The Hoyas are having early problems defending the 3-pointer as 2 of OSU's first 3 field goals have come form beyond the arc. The Hoyas trail 8-5 with 15:38 left in the half.

. . . Roy Hibbert committed his first foul of the game with 28 seconds gone in the game. Not a good sign. Oden got his with 51 second gone. Also not a good sign.

. . . Hibbert's waved off putback was clearly goaltending. Good call.

. . . You can't even imagine some of the tickets that are sold to this event - there are seats in the upper bowl that are as far form the court as if you were in Columbus, Ohio.

Final Four: Crying Foul

Took Roy Hibbert a whole 18 seconds to pick up his first foul -- hacking Greg Oden in the act of shooting. (The freshman missed both shots.)

But Oden picked his first at the 19:02 mark and his second just possessions later -- heading to the bench before the first TV timeout. Not a great harbinger for Ohio State fans.

Final Four: OSU enters the Georgia Dome

The Ohio State team jumps up and down in a circle chanting "Let's go! Let's go! Let's go!" before they enter the floor area.


Final Four: The Ball is Tipped. . .

Just so you know how things are working around here for the next five hours, the first game will be live-blogged by myself (commenting on Georgetown) and Bryan Graham (on Ohio State).

The second contest brings you Jerry Palm on Florida and Eric Sorenson on UCLA.

Sit back and enjoy the ride as we take you from four teams to two over the course of the evening.

Final Four: Hang Time Perch in the Sky

As the largest slacker of your dutiful correspondents here in Atlanta, I am just arriving in the Dome and have settled into the Hang Time perch high above courtside. We might need to emphasize "high above" courtside becuase we're apporximately 53 miles from courtside in an area known as the Upper Press Box. The good news is we have TV monitors above our heads, the bad news is those monitors offer us our best view of the action.

Despite our live-blogging disadvantage, we're still here to provide you the color and pageantry of the games and the dominate color in front of our perch is Red, as in Ohio State red. In fact, in our roamings around Centennial Park and Hoops City (the interactive fan event that has grown exponentially in recent years) the majority of fans we ran into were Ohio State boosters. It's become clear that the two best travelling programs in Atlanta are OSU and Florida.

. . . Between the time we last left you from the NABC All-Star dud last night and now we have: rubbed elbows with Tony Romo and Hannah Storm and we've also been reunited with our dear friend from Buffalo, Pabst Blue Ribbon in a can. In fact, the mothership (CBS's) fantastic party last night had numerous highlights but the absolute finest moment came when we went to order a final round of Bud Light and Heinekens and were told that "all we have left is PBR in a can." I must have yelped because the poor barkeep was taken aback when I screamed for six pack.

Better yet, the walk back to the Hang Time balcony perch was like the walk of a conquering hero. "Hey, look at the guys with all the PBR." I was famous for one shining moment. And the prominent East Coast coach who grabbed one of the six is forever indebted to us.

. . . Game officials for tonight are TV Teddy Valentine, Richard Cartmell, Mike Kitts and the standby official Tom Lopes. We have to hoep that TV doesn't try and take over the game early and put one or both of the big men (Roy Hibbert and Greg Oden) on the bench with two quick fouls.

Valentine has a propensity for getting his mug on national TV games.

. . . Starting line-ups look like this:

For Georgetown, Jonathan Wallace, Jessie Sapp, Roy Hibbert, DaJaun Summers and Jeff Green

For Ohio State, Mike Conley, Jr. Ron Lewis, Jamar Butler, Greg Oden and Ivan Harris.

The total is three freshmen (Summers, Conley and Oden), one sophomore (Sapp), four juniors (Wallace, Hibbert, Green and Butler) and two seniors (Lewis and Harris).

Final Four: Simple Arithmetic

During my school days in Philly, I worked part-time with the Philadelphia 76ers department of statistical information under family friend Harvey Pollack, the numbers guru and innovator who coined the term triple-double, hand-wrote the "100" on the sheet of paper from the famous photo of Wilt Chamberlain following his 100-point game and remains the only person who has worked for the NBA since its inception (a distinction the Philly native long shared with Red Auerbach until a few years ago).

One of my heavier periods working with Harv and the group came during the tail end of the 1999-00 season into the playoffs. That 49-33 team was the second-best group of the Larry Brown era -- the first of the two legitimate conference championship contenders during the Iverson years -- and afforded this student of the game an exciting laboratory to peruse basketball's numerical intricacies several years prior to my discovery of possession-based statistics. It was also when I discovered the importance of the plus-minus statistic -- a number commonplace in the hockey arena -- where a player gains a point for each point his team scores while on the court and one deducted for each point allowed.

According to Harv, Coach Brown was obsessed with the number -- and not just the individual plus-minus for a particular player (as you see with hockey) but for entire five-man lineups. Brown wanted to know whether Snow-Iverson-Lynch-Ratliff-Hill was really a more effective group as one would expect than, say, an Iverson-Hughes-Lynch-Hill-Geiger lineup with Allen playing the one. Compiling the number, which can only be done by poring through the play-by-play records that each NBA team tabulates, is next-level tedious. And that's how I spent most of my time in the office that spring. But Brown's emphasis on the stat -- the coach would ask for plus-minus reports during halftime of games on occasion -- has always stuck with me. Even when that cockroach left the Sixers high and dry at the first sight of the oncoming train rushing down the tunnel.

This is all a roundabout way of delving into the plus-minus discussion which the recent work of Ken Pomeroy and SI.com scribe Luke Winn have been addressing. With game time approaching (52 minutes from tip as I type this), I'll spare you the paraphrasing and let you delve deeper for yourself if numbers are your thing. But the short version is that I'm looking forward to examining how both Georgetown and Ohio State fare when their respective seven-footers -- Roy Hibbert and Greg Oden -- are either on or off the court. And I'll report my findings at a later point.

Starting lineups have just been handed out and the most important names on the sheet could be Richard Cartmell, Mike Kitts and Ted Valentine -- the zebras whose handling of tonight's action is a major plotline considering how Hibbert and Oden have been hampered by foul trouble in recent weeks. But as for the players, no real surprises: Jon Wallace, Jessie Sapp, Hibbert, DaJuan Summers and Jeff Green getting the call for the Hoyas while Mike Conley, Jr., Ron Lewis, Jamar Butler, Oden and Ivan Harris are good to go for the Buckeyes.

Final Four: Game day pregame/name droppings

I had breakfast this morning with Dave Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, who doubles as my agent. A family of UCLA fans sat down a table near us as we were getting ready to leave and one of the young ladies, who turned out to be a UCLA student, had on a shirt with a funny drawing of Lorenzo Mata and said "Lorenzo Mata Superfan Club."

Her mom was a dead ringer for Mary Steenburgen, the actress who is married to Ted Danson. Since Danson wasn't there, we figured it probably wasn't her.

I walked over to the Florida team hotel to see if anything was going on there. On my way, I passed Steve McClain, who was fired from the Wyoming job, bending another coach's ear. Everywhere I go, I see him. I beginning to feel stalked.

I also came across Kansas coach Bill Self, who was telling a group of women that "I screwed up a lot of people's brackets."

After quickly discovering that nothing was happening at the team hotel, I headed back to the coaches' hotel to do some radio. On my way, I passed Southern Illinois AD Mario Moccia talking with current Purdue and former SIU assistant coach Paul Lusk. I didn't eavesdrop, so I can't say if it was just old friends chatting or Moccia screening a potential replacement for Chris Lowery if he leaves.

When my radio gig was over, I ran into Jones again in the lobby of the coaches' hotel. He introduced me to former Penn St three-point bomber Shareef Chambliss, who is now an assistant at UW-Milwaukee. Nice kid.

There really wasn't much going on there though, so I decided to head for the dome, find our seats, and catch some of the action at Hoop City and Centennial Park. The media shuttle was delayed because traffic was blocked by police and fire units outside the hotel. Apparently, a window was shot out of the building across the street from the hotel.

We did get here eventually, but the seat assignments weren't available yet (they were up the day before at the previous sites), so I headed for Hoop City.

There's quite a bit going on there. They have all kinds of basketball exhibitions, as well as oppotunities to test your own shooting skills. You can also kick soccer goals and see how fast you can throw a baseball. When I walked by, there was an 8 or 9-year old really bringing the heat, and with accuracy.

DiGiorno Pizza had an area where you could try their pizza (my slice of pepperoni was tasty enough, but a little overdone). You could also try to shoot baskets from a comfy chair, which I didn't try because the line was too long.

I happened across the CSTV setup and talked to PR honcho Dan Sabreen. We left and walked over to the CSTV set at Centennial Park, where Greg Amsinger, Steve Lappas, Pete Gillen and Seth Greenberg were working hard to do a show with Ludacris performing in the background. I'll say this about Ludacris - he lives up to his name.

I also talked for a while with Jason Horowitz of CBS Sportsline, who was there to do a segment with the guys. Among the many things I found out about him is that, while he likes stuff like Ludacris, his favorite band is Queen. That's my favorite band also, but considering Freddy Mercury died when he was still in diapers, it's pretty surprising that someone his age would even know Queen, let alone consider them a favorite.

The last stop before getting back here to the dome was at the Florida Alumni Association pep rally in the building next to the dome. There wasn't a whole lot of pepping going on, but Gator fans (and three Ohio St fans) got in long lines for freebies like shirts, hats, signs, pom pons, buttons and ticket holders. The signs they gave out had Geico ads on them, which makes sense, since Gators are nothing more than overgrown geckos.

A couple of fans were looking for tickets, but the only ones being offered were down low seats that brokers are trying to get $1500 for. They just want to get in the gym, not take out a mortgage.

There was one guy there in what looked like a plastic, white Elvis-style outfit. You will undoubtedly see that on TV.

You probably won't see us on TV though. Our seats (two for the six of us who are here) are up in the football press box. The blimp is here to provide an aerial view of the action. We'll be looking down on the blimp from our perch.

Final Four: Dome Buzz Growing

As the media shuttle turned left down Georgia Dome Drive NW and the will call windows on the south end of the venue came into full view, I had to take a look at my cell phone to make sure I wasn't much later that I thought. Nope. 2:48 p.m., 72 minutes before the gates open to the public and a full three hours and 19 minutes before Roy Hibbert and Greg Oden meet at center court for the third-to-last game of the heretofore most predictable college basketball season I can remember. The bus slows for the drop-off point and I'm seeing close to a thousand scarlet football jerseys, T-shirts and newly minted Final Four gear in a queue for the Ohio State will call window. The line leads back about 30 yards before bending on a right angle and wrapping all the way to the end of the building.

The NCAA allots 3,750 tickets to each participating school -- or 15,000 of the arena's 53,500-seat capacity for basketball. Since the Final Four wasn't set until about five-and-a-half days ago, picking up school-distributed tickets through will call is the most popular option and the Dome sets up one window for each school. As I walked from the bus into the venue, I counted two people in the UCLA line, two in the Georgetown line and maybe a dozen and change waiting for Florida. So either the Buckeyes are going to enjoy one of the most overwhelming home-court advantages in this event's 68-year history -- or the Columbus school can just claim the most hyper-punctual fan base in college sports. 2:48, kids.

The seat cushions mentioned in my final post from the Dome Friday night have been placed in every last seat in the building and a few dozen yellow-clad stadium workers are seated in Sections 200 and 201 getting a pep talk from a bullhorn-toting supervisor. In just the 25 minutes since I started writing this, the population in the media work area has quadrupled while the arena workers are testing the P.A. system. I haven't gotten to watch a ton of TV since landing in the ATL but I'm guessing CBS is going heavy with the feature stuff because my mom just called from Philadelphia sobbing so hard that I instantly thought a family member had died. Turns out she'd been watching a story on Ryan Francis, the USC point guard who was murdered 10 months ago in his Baton Rouge hometown. It's 4:07 p.m. now and I'm hearing "Let's Go Hoyas" chants from what sounds like a sparse but spirited group behind the curtain that separates the press area from the floor. Maybe the Dome won't be Value City Arena South after all.

Final Four: No b.s., this is where my friend Eddie is sitting after ordering tickets for the Final Four...

In case you guys were wondering where your seats are when you order Final Four tickets and get put into the "lottery" for the next season's event, this picture was taken where my friend Eddie is going to sit for the three games this weekend.

They are in section 345, row 15, seat 11. Goodbye to 275 dollars. Thank you NCAA:


Final Four: Name Droppings, part deux

Back by popular demand, another edition of Name Droppings.

After leaving the dome yesterday, David and I made it back to the coaches hotel (I sat next to a couple of Ole Miss assistants on the bus - they were bragging on their season a bit) and hung out with the Wetzels, Drexel assistant coach Tony Childs, and Charlie Pierce. Pierce is apparently a writing legend on the East coast. I've seen him at every Final Four I've been at wearing the gaudy hat with eight sections, each one representing a SWAC school (note - the SWAC is a conference of HBCUs, he's a middle-aged white guy who went to Marquette). And at every Final Four I've been at, the media folks flock to him like ants to a picnic. I didn't get to ask, but I wonder why he doesn't just get a credential.

I also talked shop Ted Gangi from the FWAA and USBWA (football and basketball writers groups). Gangi said he was going to try to introduce me to Joe Lunardi, who is supposedly here somewhere. One question I get asked frequently, especially in early March, is what my relationship is with Joe (since we are generally considered to be the main resources as bracket-guessers). People expect us to have a deep hatred-filled rivalry, but we've corresponded over the years (not as much now as say, ten years ago, because we're both so busy) and it's always been friendly discourse. We've just never met in person because we're rarely in the same part of the world.

After David and TC took off, the Wetzels and I went to the sports bar in the media hotel for dinner and ran into Bob Kravitz of the Indy Star. It's fun for a relative newbie like me to listen to guys like Bob and Dan talk about the trials and tribulations (and joys) of their jobs.

Another of my agents, Dennis Dodd from CBS Sportsline, showed up with another group of writers after a while. Dodd usually covers college football, but is taking a temporary break from spring practice coverage to help on on hoops this weekend.

Then it was off to the CBS party in a cab driven by Edwin Okafor, who claimed to be a cousin of Emeka. You can read some about that below. I was hanging out with the Hoops Odyssey guys a little (more Matt than Jake). There was a ton of CSTV people there. I also got to sit in on the chat the HO guys had with Maryland coach Gary Williams, who I fully expected to try to throw me off the balcony. I was a bit tough on his Terps the last couple of years (not this year, but the two previous) and a reporter told me that he took my name in vain more than once. He probably forgot all that though, because none of that ever came up.

Among the CSTV people I saw was fellow Hangtimer Bryan Graham, who until then had successfully avoided me. He couldn't escape in the crowded party room though. I also chatted Purdue basketball with Steve Lappas, who had met coach Matt Painter earlier in the day and couldn't believe how tall he is. Matt's 6'6", but all Lappas knew was that he was a point guard at Purdue. You don't see a lot of 6'6" PGs now, and that was especially true back when Matt played in the early 90s.

I also got to talk with ESPN's Doug Gottlieb, Tim Brando, CBS Sportsline's Gary Parrish, Hannah Storm (I'll let Matt tell that story), and played a brief, but weird game of charades with Shawn Farnham through a window between the party room and the balcony.

After David ditched me, I ended up walking back to the hotel and went past a couple of interesting places. One was Gladys Knight and Ron Winans Chicken and Waffles, which appeared to be doing a brisk business for 2 AM. The other was a place that I think was called Jango (the logo was tough to read), which billed itself as a Gypsy Kitchen and Saloon. Gypsies must go to bed early though because it was closed.

And finally, just this morning, I said hello to Lute Olson (in the Starbux at the hotel - he's a latte guy), Bruce Pearl, and Illinois assistant Jay Price, who I know from his days at Purdue.

Games today, of course, and I'm going to try to hit some pregame festivities.

Final Four: Columbia Broadcasting Soiree

CSTV.com gossip correspondent Perez Horford can't get a proper Hang Time login for another couple days, so I've agreed to turn over the keyboard to our team's mercurial yet well-traveled rookie -- a jet-setter in the classical sense who makes the Hoops Odyssey twinsies look like North Country homebodies -- on his condition that I neither edit nor alter his thoughts about tonight's event. So without further ado, here's the report on tonight's CBS party:

Went to the CBS party tonight in the private room of the Sweet Lowdown, a swanky nightspot not a five-minute cab ride from the Marriott Marquis and just up the street from the Fox Theater, where Jamie Foxx was playing his song-and-standup show. In the house were CSTV studio personalities Pete Gillen and Steve Lappas as well as a bevy of coaches: Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon, Bucknell's Pat Flannery, Hofstra's Tom Pecora, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Houston's Tom Penders, Seton Hall's Bobby Gonzalez along with Fred Hill from regional rival Rutgers.

Follically challenged Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli was in attendance along with once-assistant and current Marist coach Matt Brady, who led the Red Foxes to a MAAC regular-season title this year. Big East commish Mike Tranghese and right-hand man John Paquette as well. Same with Villanova coach Jay "Buttons" Wright, compensating for the absence of his trademark three-piece suit with a killer tan. Among the former coaches were George Washington and St. John's departee Mike Jarvis, Fairfield expat Tim O'Toole and 'Nova legend Rollie Massimino, who led the 'Cats to a surprise national championship 22 years ago Monday.

Media types included The Early Show anchor Hannah Storm, ESPN sideline jockey Erin Andrews and pair of noted scribes: Boston Globe writer Bob Ryan and New York Daily News staple Dick "Hoops" Weiss. Also in attendance was Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who was every bit as dreamy as I imagined -- though a suddenly irascible Bryan, diehard Eagles fan that he is, spent the last 75 minutes of the night fantasizing about tossing his glass of Cabernet in the signal-caller's face. Right before the open bar closed for the night, Maryland coach Gary Williams slipped a Pabst Blue Ribbon to CSTV behind-the-scenes vet Ryan Dougherty, who's probably telling the story as I write to anyone who will listen.

Took a cab up Peachtree Street back to the hotel with Bryan and put our poor and overworked word jockey to bed. Given our non-smoking accommodations, I slipped outside for a cig around 3 a.m., and it didn't take a minute to see the Marriott Marquis was still poppin' -- a steady stream of taxi drop-offs with the late-night crowd slipping out of the cars like reanimated corpses while the hotel bellhops and valet service roll their eyes. And with that, I'm off to bed as as soon as I can find my air-pillow silicon earplugs -- that Bryan is a snorer! TTFN.

March 30, 2007

Final Four: Karl Will (Not) be the MVP

In some breaking news provided by ace reporter, Jacon Osterhout, we have learned that Coby Karl will be named the game's Most Outstanding Player.

UPDATE: Our information was poor and there were actually two MVPs (one from each side) and neither is Karl. The MVPs were Winthrop's Torrell Martin and Xavier's Justin Doellman.

The final score is the 'Nagas 128 and the Bradys 100.

. . . The HO Guys are hanging with Lute right now. Those three would be able to attract the ladies, for sure.

Olson, according to Matt (my new HO source after the misinfo perpetrated by Jake) was asked to sign two different pieces of parquet by one "fan." The first one was signed with Lute's name and National Champs, the second with coach's name and Hall of Fame. Matt asked what the deal was. "Ebay," Olson said.

. . . Warrick Dunn was in the building but he was even too elusive for the HO Guys.

. . . The game's high scorer was Coby Karl with 22 points while Rashad Jennings had 12 points and 11 rebounds and was perfect form the field (5 of 5).

The Bradys high-scorer was Justin Doellman with 20 (7 of 8 from the field).

. . . The announced attendance was 3,975 and is one of the more creative attendance figures we've seen in recent memory.

. . . We chatted briefly with Larranaga after the game and he picked Florida to win the second game tomorrow night but hedged on the first game. He also said that last year at this time he was an Outback Steakhouse with his team in Indy. "I'll be honest, I'd rather be coaching tomorrow night than tonight," he said. "But this was great and my staff did a great job getting the team ready in just two days of practice."

Larranaga just arrived in town today, he said.

. . . Good night and we'll be back with you tomorrow afternoon.

Final Four: Straw Stirring the Bradys

If I had to guess at the one surefire NBA player on the court, I'd go with DJ Strawberry, who has shown some fabulous flashes of his indiviidual skills. Cartier Martin also has some NBA skills in his tool box.

. . . Some stellar work by our roomie for the trip, Bryan Graham, who it appears will be one of the last ones to leave the Georgia Dome this evening. We were wondering where BG was hiding himself while we slave over the rigors of this live-blogging extravaganza. And now we know: he's been with the rest of the Krispy Kreme donuts in Dome.
The dedication of this CSTV.com staff is something I'm hoping you're appreciating.

. . . The 'Nagas are threatening to eclipse the 120 point mark as they lead 115-96 with 2:30 left in the game.

Final Four: The Whistler

The 'Nagas are running away with this one leading 91-66 with under 12:00 left in the game.

. . . Torrell Martin of Winthrop has stepped it up in the second half, earning "That was nice" compliments from Larranaga when Martin was replaced int he line-up.

. . .You know it's a shaky game when a fan in the crowd yells, "Come on blue team." No one has any idea what the teams are called and the rosters handed out to fans have no uniform numbers on them.

. . . Larranaga as we pointed out early in the season from a Holy Cross game, is one of the foremost whistlers in all of coaching. He could hail a cab in midtown Manhattan in the dead of rush hour and have no problem getting a ride.

Final Four: Sayonara from the Dome (Until Saturday)

While my Hang Time comrades appear to be having all sorts of fun around the ATL, your faithful narrator will be the ninth-to-last reporter to leave the Georgia Dome when I finish this post. Spent the last four hours working on a couple pieces in the media work area -- among them a Final Exam with a Final Four bend which should go live on CSTV.com in the next hour. If being a good test-taker and bragging about it is your thing then give it a shot.

Since periphery noise doesn't stand a chance at being noticed while I'm writing, I've only just taken note of the happenings in the upper reaches of the venue. Anywhere between two and three dozen stadium workers have been placing white squares -- they look like seat cushions with Final Four logos but that's a long way to look up -- on every last seat in the upper deck. They appear to be having as much fun as a group can have performing such a menial task, chirping away while tossing around the boxes to one another. Maybe they'll hit the lower level later but I won't know until tomorrow because I'm out like slap bracelets in '88. Until tomorrow!

Final Four: 'Nagas Build on Lead

The 'Nagas are now ahead 75-58 with 15:25 left in the game.

. . . It's not delivery, it's DiGiorno and we're damn hungry. So please stop reminding us.

. . . We're starting to fall in serious like with Coby Karl and not just because of his inspiring story. He can stroke it.

. . . It appears Aaron Brooks was a late scratch as he didn't aapear in the first half and we don't see him on the Bradys bench.

Final Four: Halftime Stats and Observations

The Bradys were led by Justin Doellman's 11 points in nine minutes of play while the Larranagas were paced by Courtney Sims' 11 points, also in nine minutes. Rashad Jones-Jennings (UA-L) has ten points in his 11 minutes.

The Larranagas hold a 26-21 rebounding edge.

. . .Coach Caputo said the big adjustment for the 'Nagas will be adjusting to how they handle the ball screen and they will not be following suit with the full court press. "They got one turnover out of it and we got three lay-ups. We like those percentages."

This Caputo guy has head coach written all over him, not to mention he went to the same college as my sister Stacey - Westfield (Mass.) State. She, however, does not have coach written all over her.

. . . Mahogany in Motion was the halftime entertainment and if I'm not mistaken, they might have given me Goose Bumps.

. . . Lute Olson is in the house, looking as sharp as ever.

Final Four: Our Dedication Knows No Bounds

We were starting to feel bad about the $100 bar tab we ran up in our Coaches' Lobby foray this afternoon and then we got here and began live-blogging this game.

We now realize we still had about $300 worth of damage to do to make up for this event. It's not that there's not some good players - Xaveirs' Justin Doellman has been impressive - but there's no energy in the arena and the most interesting thing to happen is when Matt offered two side by side pictures of Alando Tucker and Tracy McGrady to prove his point that they're blood brothers.

They look nothing alike in reality. And Matt now realizes this, but I tried to soften the blow. "They both play hoops and wear red while doing so."

. . . For the record, the Larranagas are ahead of the Bradys by a halftime score of 58-46. We're not expecting halftime stats but if they come, we'll give you the deets.

. . . I learned a tough lesson this afternoon when I decided to introduce the HO guys to an official from the Big XII conference. Little did I know the Dynamic Duo had offended the gentleman earlier in their trip.

I now have a HO Rule that states: Meet your own damn people.

. . . For a second there, we thought Courtney Sims was going to start a fight on a rebound. Sadly, no such luck.

Final Four: Exciting NABC All Star Action

The Larranaga National team is out to a 31-25 lead and we're sensing that Chris Caputo's scouting efforts are paying off for the team in red.

. . . The Philips has a ridiculous stack of luxury boxes on the upper levels opposite the bench. It looks like apartment living straight out of "The Jetsons."

. . . HO guy, Matt Waxman just had the National team bench managers pour him a cold glass of water. These guys are the best - no one ever says no to them.

Final Four: Larranaga on His Game

Coach Larranaga is in mid-season form as he noticed that the score is wrong in the early going (his squad was up 4-2)

. . .There has also been some early clock issues. Brady said from in front of his bench to Larranaga: "I gotta go to dinner at 9:30, so we need to get things going here."

. . . The Hoops Odyssey guys are in the house with Jake to my left and Matt grabbing a front row seat behind the scorer's table.

. . . DiGiorno is the presenting sponsor but there's not a pizza (nor a cold drink) to be found in the media room.

. . . Larranaga is having a heck of a time. When Brady's American showed a full court press, Larranaga yelled at Brady, "No full court zone press, didn't you get the memo?"

. . . The game is tied 12-12 with 14:26 left in the half.

Final Four: NABC All-Star Game

And just like that we've gone from Lobby Madness to NABC Madness, as we've arrived at the Philips Arena for tonight's NABC All Star game between the American side and the National side.

Already we've been given bad information as the coaches for this game are not John Brady and Chris Caputo, but Brady and Caputo's boss at Mason, Jim Laraanaga. Caputo just stopped by the Hang Time perch and had nothing but praise for his side's squad which is made up of Bobby Brown (Cal State Fullerton), Zabian Dowdell (Va. Tech), Adam Haluska (Iowa), Rashad Jones-Jennings (Arkansas-Little Rock), Coby Karl (Boise State, sone of George Karl), Cartier Martin (Kansas State), Torrell Martin (Winthrop), Ivan Radenovic (Arizona), Blake Schib (Loyola-Chicago) and Courtney Sims (Michigan).

For Brady's American team: Aaron Brooks (Oregon), Sean Denison (Santa Clara), Justim Doellman (Xavier), Caleb Green (Oral Roberts), Jarrius Jackson (Texas Tech), Trey Johnson (Jackson State), Calr Landry (Purdue), Dan Nwaelele (Air Force), DJ Strawberry (Maryland), Jamaal Tatum (Southern Illinois) and Kyle Visser (Wake Forest).

. . . Last year at this time both coaches and their staffs were preparing for the Final Four.

What a difference a year makes as the arena is probably housing fewer than a thousand fans.

. . . Among the crowd is Celtics GM Danny Ainge (not sitting next to any players relatives as far as we can tell) and Danny Ferry. We also spotted Skip Prosser of Wake Forest, here to watch his player, Visser.

Final Four: Lobby Lobs, Day Two, Final Entry

TC has spotted the "Hawaii dude who got forced out." Riley Wallace of course.

. . . Garland Mance, a former star at St. Bonaventure, is looking to be a front-runner for the Bonnies job, which has had no luck in luring a head coach. Mance is an assistant under Perry Watson at Detroit.

. . . When I informed TC that he was tlaking faster than I could type, he said, "That's the way I do it, you know."

. . . TC says he got a doggie bag for me from my favorite restaurant R Thomas. "But I had to wait 20 minutes for the cab and I ate the wings I was brinigng for you. They're just bones now in my garbage. I got some celery for you too."

The celery's gone too, I suppose.

"It was a long wait for the cab."

I'm starting to have a growing distaste for TC, despite a decade friendship.

. . . "I've got something for you, Bill Courtney, who is at Virginia now just walked by. he's the guy who recruited all the kids at George Mason who made the Final Four. Reaping the benefits."

. . . "See this not a good blog area - all the people trying to get bull-^#@* are up front," said TC, who is now all of the sudden a live-blog connisseur. "I just miss then pretzels and the table."

. . . The younger, less wise Wetzel, has brought up the fact that it was unfair of the Dome catering to provide Krispy Kreme donuts all afternoon long.

"The first time I resisted, the seocnd time I faked a take. By the third time, I was taking three at a time."

Join the club. And the best thing was the donuts had orange frosting and a replica brown frosting basketball on the top. How could we resist.

. . . "Another one for you," said TC. "That was Brian Bartley, who coached Randolph Morris (now of the NY Knicks) in high school."

TC's really on a roll now, unfortunately we have to head over to the NABC all star game, sponsored by DiGiorno, which is not delivery.

We've been told that one of the coaches, George Mason assistant Chris Caputo in the game (facing John Brady) is taking the game very seriously. Which we like, especially if a mid-major assistant beats a high major head coach.

Final Four: Lobby Lobs, Day Two, Final Entry

TC has spotted the "Hawaii dude who got forced out." Riley Wallace of course.

. . . Garland Mance, a former star at St. Bonaventure, is looking to be a front-runner for the Bonnies job, which has had no luck in luring a head coach. Mance is an assistant under Perry Watson at Detroit.

. . . When I informed TC that he was tlaking faster than I could type, he said, "That's the way I do it, you know."

. . . TC says he got a doggie bag for me from my favorite restaurant R Thomas. "But I had to wait 20 minutes for the cab and I ate the wings I was brinigng for you. They're just bones now in my garbage. I got some celery for you too."

The celery's gone too, I suppose.

"It was a long wait for the cab."

I'm starting to have a growing distaste for TC, despite a decade friendship.

. . . "I've got something for you, Bill Courtney, who is at Virginia now just walked by. he's the guy who recruited all the kids at George Mason who made the Final Four. Reaping the benefits."

. . . "See this not a good blog area - all the people trying to get bull-^#@* are up front," said TC, who is now all of the sudden a live-blog connisseur. "I just miss then pretzels and the table."

. . . The younger, less wise Wetzel, has brought up the fact that it was unfair of the Dome catering to provide Krispy Kreme donuts all afternoon long.

"The first time I resisted, the seocnd time I faked a take. By the third time, I was taking three at a time."

Join the club. And the best thing was the donuts had orange frosting and a replica brown frosting basketball on the top. How could we resist.

. . . "Another one for you," said TC. "That was Brian Bartley, who coached Randolph Morris (now of the NY Knicks) in high school."

TC's really on a roll now, unfortunately we have to head over to the NABC all star game, sponsored by DiGiorno, which is not delivery.

We've been told that one of the coaches, George Mason assistant Chris Caputo in the game (facing John Brady) is taking the game very seriously. Which we like, especially if a mid-major assistant beats a high major head coach.

Final Four: Lobby Lobs, Day 2, Part 2

Okay, TC is here and in fine fiddle after a restful night and a meal (which he was supposed ot have with us) at the nearby classic joint, R Thomas.

"I was just in the bar with the 800 win guy from Philly Textile," said TC. " Herb McGee."

Oh, you know his governement name? (Yesterday, TC claimed not to be too good with names, especially governmnet-issue names.)

"He's gonna be one the all-time winningest coach, I know those people's government names," TC said.

Now TC is on a roll. "That was Johnny Mathis - him and Tony Archibald are 'like this' to this day," he said.

. . . A soft rumor of Rick Majerus going to Iowa has been flowing, but that's a long shot at best. But since we're in the coaches' hotel, it's prefectly legal to rumor-monger. The lobby thrives on it.

. . . Steve Lappas (of CSTV) was seen huddling with his his agent, furthering the speculation that Coach Lappas might be leaving CSTV for a job in the near future.

. . . TC reports that Villanova assistant Ed Pinckney lost his cell phone in a cab. If you know any coaches, you know how devestating that can be. Pinckney looks like a lost puppy without the cell phone. TC, in his first ever quote delivery, "I'm done without that thing. Lost."

TC really has a knack for the quote gathering. We need to get him on payroll.

. . . Jerry Palm has returned from Radio Row. he smoothly transitioned back into a Miller Lite.

. . . The lobby is definitely hopping today, much more so than yesterday.

. . . The multi-colored SWAC cap that Chalrie Pierce wears - "It''s made more Final Fours than Wooden," said Dan Wetzel, who has just arrived (surprise, surprise, there's beer and Wetzel arrives) - has been at every Final Four, except last year's, since 1993. "It's stored in plastic all the rest of the year. never worn other than at the FF."

. . . "There's a lot of peopl here, but there ain't a whole lot of scuttlebutt," said TC.

Final Four: Lobby Lobs, Day Two

Due to popular demand, we're back live-blogging in the Coaches' Hotel Lobby at the Hilton (where your Internet access is free if you're creative).

We're efforting to get Drexel assistant coach Tony Chiles back on live-blogging duties but if you recall from yesterday's session, this is right around Chiles nap time.

We're joined today by CSTV's own Bill Strickland (a former boss of mine who now is mucking things up with our beloved brand), Paul Wetzel (the famous father of Yahoo! national columnist) and the esteemed author and Boston Globe magazine writer (and quite insane fellow) Charlie Pierce, a Marquette alum who still thinks his team is nicknamed the Warriors. And will never believe otherwise.

. . . A text message has just informed us that guest blogger, Tony Chiles is en route. Let the fun re-begin.

. . . We're in a much less visible position this afternoon so it's harder to see the minglers in the front lobby.

. . . Our man, Jerry Palm has abandoned us to go do a radio interview. Big timer.

Final Four: No b.s., this is where my friend Eddie is sitting this weekend...

He got his tickets through the yearly lottery that they hold after every Final Four ticket order is sent in. Bring your binocs Eddie. And when the guy on the p.a. asks for the loudest fan to win a free pizza, scream your head off and wave your arms.

Section 345, Row 15, Seat 13

Final Four: Done at the dome

Florida finished early, so we're all done for the day. I still have a few random thoughts lingering in my brain and they must be removed.

The floor here is treacherous. Not the playing surface - that looks OK - the floor that we're all walking on around the playing surface and back in the media area. There's random soft spots and edges that, for a balance-challenged person like myself, will probably result in a blown knee or ankle or, God forbid, a pulled groin. I was following CSTV's Steve Lappas down the hall and one of those edges almost sent him on his ear. Fortunately, being the well-conditioned athlete that he is, he stayed on his feet.

The snack table spread was pretty nice today. We had all varieties of chips and pretzels, pop, and cookies as big as your head. Well, my head anyway. I've never seen your head.

In the locker room, while the media was fawning over Noah, Horford, Green and Brewer, the backups sat around in various states of boredom. A couple of them were back in a corner battling a Sudoku puzzle.

That's in for now. Tonight, we may see if we can crash the CBS party.

Final Four: Randomnality

We're side-by-side with the Palm Reader at press row and the dueling banjo bloggers are feverishly attempting to inform and entertain.

Since I can do neither for you, I'll offer a few random thoughts on the Official Day Before The Day. . .

. . . Florida appeared to have the largest crowd at their open practice and we're still expecting the Gators to have the largest fan representation in Atlanta. As Gator SID Steve McLain pointe dout to us, there's a lot of Gator alum in the greater Atlanta area.

. . .One wiseacre near the Hang Time perch suggested that the Florida practice session crowd was larger than the SEC tournament crowd. We were here for that and the wiseacre is way off in his assessment. But his point is well-taken: the SEC Tournament did lose some oomph, especially when Kentucky got bounced.

. . . Some strong rumors that have filtered around the Dome today include one that has John Beilein in heavy consideration for the Michigam job. Beilein's buyout at WVU is quite hefty (believed to be int he $3 million range) and that's going to be a stumbling block. However, if Michigan is serious about getting him, that's chump change.

We haven't assembled the entire Hall of Fame class that will be announced on Monday morning, but we're fairly confident that Dick Vitale will NOT be among the Class of 2007. We're also relatively comforatbel in sharing that Bobby Hurley, Sr. is not getting the nod. The three entrants were 99 percent sure on are Phil Jackson, Chris Mullin and the 1966 Texas Western team.

. . . We've lost track of the HO Guys (not our turn to watch them), but we're fairly confident they're off creating mischief somewhere. Our fondness for those guys grows by leaps and bounds with each passing blog entry they provide and each pasisng conversation we have with the pair.

. . . Billy Packer is resplendent in his yellow sweater.

No, really he is.

. . . Clark Kellogg is in the house and he looked like he had good spurtability for the weekend of work he's undertaking. His tablemate and CSTV compadre, Seth Davis is also roaming the courtside area. It's always nice when Seth acknowledges us live-blogger types. Gives us Goose Bumps.

. . . Final Four Friday has officially ended and the Gators, according to CSTV.com's Florida correspondent, Jerry Palm, left four minutes of court time on the clock. The CSTV.com Live Bloggers contemplated taking the floor to wow the crowd, but none of us had our New Blanace mud slinging sneakers with us.

. . .

Final Four: Fan-atacism

A silver-haired Florida fanatic no less than 300 pounds with an obvious joie de vivre and a mustache as thick as his Southern drawl has made his way to the front row behind the press tables, shouting encouragement and waving a ratty orange handkerchief at the Florida players who have been on the floor for practice during the past half hour. Brief exclamations soon gave way to a colorful if not particularly funny array one-and-a-half-liners that seem pretty much the opposite of spontaneous. These are the moments that I don't even bother trying to share with my friends and family when I return home from a basketball trip since James Agee wouldn't have the words to do the picture justice:

That California dreaming's gonna be a nightmare when the Gators get to them!

"I got one thing to say and I'm going to say it: If you're not a Gator, baby -- you're Gator bait!

UCLA: That stands for University of California Loses Again! (To which an eye-rolling teenage girl across the section commented: "You already said that!")

Quick postscript: One moment after finishing the above post, no less than three members of the press have circled around the guy for a quick interview. Don't be surprised to read about the latter-day Bill Swerski in tomorrow's early editions.

Final Four: Florida in their own words

I decided that instead of sitting through the press conference with Gator players Lee Humphrey and Chris Richard that I would go into the locker room and see what has happening there. It turns out that I was not the only one with that idea. I felt compelled to MOOO! as we were herded in like cattle. Fortunately, they put Al Horford right next to the hallway, which made it even harder for all of us to get in. By the time I got there, the hardest working man in television, CSTV's Brian Curtis, was already wrapping up his interview with Horford.

The player with the biggest horde around him was Joakim Noah, who has the one quality reporters love - an unfiltered mouth. The locker room is a tough place to be only 6'1" and I'm not the shortest guy in there by far. I saw one reporter standing on a chair to try to get a look over the crowd around Noah.

Noah warmed us up with, "At this point, the best team is the one that's focused." He talked about focus a lot. You could say he was focused on it, but I wouldn't.

He also talked about making a return trip to the Final Four. He said, "This is so satisfying. So satisfying. So satisfying. But we're not satisfied." Huh?

Noah on how hard it's been to repeat: "This is so hard because all we do is talk. Talk, talk, talk talk. We just want to play basketball."

We now interrupt this quotefest to report that UCLA asst coach Donny Daniels had sat down next to me to scout the Gators. I asked him what he can get out of scouting something like this and he said, "see how they shoot."

Billy Donovan was up next. He's very, very excited to be here. Billy isn't very excited. He's very, very excited. He says "very, very" so much that you might be inclined to believe that he thinks "very, very" is one word.

UCLA is a "very, very good defensive team" and "very, very physical." His players are "very, very receptive" to his coaching and it's been "very, very difficult" to get back to the Final Four.

And what about the Kentucky job? You don't really think that question didn't get asked, do you? Florida fans will be relieved to know that he's "very, very happy" at Florida. However, he also never said "no." Again.

Coach Daniels ought to be happy. He's seeing a lot of shooting. In fact, he just borrowed my pen to make drawings of some of the stuff their doing.

Meanwhile, we're playing dodgeball here as long rebound after long rebound threatens to knock us out.

More later, if the computer survives.

Final Four: Behind the Scenes with CSTV

The Hoops Odyssey guys are in the house and the legend of the HO guys grows by the minute, hour and day. Matt and Jake finished up their first Starbucks coffees of the day just in time to be energized for a live shot with the CSTV crew including Greg Amsinger, Steve Lappas and Seth Greenberg. From all accounts they did a fabulous job in re-telling some of the highlights of the 100 day/103 game (and counting) journey.

I have to say the Dynamic Duo is looking a lot perkier and more fresh than this time last week when we shared some time in East Rutherford. They see the light at the end of the tunnel and they are energized by it for sure. Not to mention the Goose Bumps that we're all getting from being on-site at the Final Four.

. . . As Jamie Dixon waited for the duo to be done for his live shot on CSTV, his two young children, Jack and Shannon played some old-school WWF wrestling, followed by Jack (5 years old in June) giving his little sister, 3, a horsie ride on the blue carpet of the CSTV holding pen. Jack refused to give us the next ride, which we found to be a bit selfish.

. . . Crack CSTV research man, Steve Brauntuch was keeping the hosts honest on facts and was at the ready with any number of media guides and game notes. I need a Steve.

. . . HO guy, Jake has aodpted the Roy Hibbert look and theory on hair giving him strength as he has gone unshaven for the journey. Where Hibbert is still having trouble growing his beard, Jake has a robust red scruff kicking. Hibbert's 'fro, however, is much poofier than the Osterhout 'do.

. . . CSTV poobah and overall nice guy, Tim Pernetti stopped by the Hang Time perch to encourage our writing endeavors and let us know how happy he is with our efforts. (Okay, he might not have said those exact words, but I sensed them, nonetheless.)

. . . Hang Time's arch enemy, JJ Jumper, the lame NCAA Mascot is jumping around the building.

We have ways of dealing with mascots like him.

You've been warned, JJ.

Continue reading "Final Four: Behind the Scenes with CSTV" »

Final Four: UCLA quotes & note about press conferences in general

At the risk of getting fired from CSTV yet again - I've gotta say, the NCAA media team here in Atlanta does such an incredibly quick, efficient job of typing and distributing press conference quotes, there's almost no need for me to physically attend the pressers.

So unless I want to be sure to talk about some of the facial expressions or laughter in the room, I can get every quote and every uttered word in each press conference.

None-the-less, here are some of the somewhat interesting quotes from UCLA's press conference. (Quotes-be-damned, it still pales in comparison to seeing the whole team and coaching staff trying to sink half-court shots for the last five minutes of the practice.)

Coach Howland:
- We're really excited to be back. It's a great, great honor to be a part of the Final Four. Just an unbelievable field this year.

On the NCAA selection committee:
You have to commend the NCAA selection committee fo rthe great job they did selecting the field and the seeding of the field, with the way things played out. There are four outstanding teams here in Atlanta.

On the "Princeton offense":
You go back to the old school... Pete Carril is truly a genius in college basketball. His philosophies you see how not only at Georgetown, but you've seen the NBA over the last decade both in Sacramento and the Wizards right now. A number of different teams imploy that offense. We all thought of Princeton being a slow-down offense. If you emply it at the NBA level, these are the highest scoring games. It's about passing, cutting, moving without the ball, knowing how to play basketball.

Going against Noah and Horford:
Well we know we're going up against two of the best big guys on the same team in the country. They're really a rarified duo. I can't think of another one in recent memory that has two lottery picks either this year or a year from now.

Talking about Noah's passing:
He's such a good passer. I think when you see a good basketabll player - you can't be a good passer and not have a good understanding of the game. Good passing skills and understanding of the game, correlate.

Howland the stats gearhead:
Florida is shooting 53% from the field. They're shooting 40% from threes, 42.3% in the last 22 games. Inside the three-point line they're shooting 59.8% as a team. They're holding their opponents to 40%. They out-board their opponents by seven boards a game. I mean, this is an incredible team, one of the great teams in college basketball history.

On being a UCLA junkie as a kid:
UCLA has always been the dream job for me. As a child, watching the Wooden teams play with Dick Enberg doing the call. Each and every replay game on KTLA back in the day at 11 o'clock. Watching those games as a young player, idolizing all the players, wanting to be a player. As a coach, that was always to me, the pinnacle job: UCLA.

Aaron Afflalo:
On seeing Florida celebrate last year's title:
I definitely wasn't happy. (laughs). I had a lot of anger, a lot of pain as well. It's just different to watch other people celebrate agaisnt you. But those times are gone. They came out and competed. They played very hard. We didn't put forth the effort that we needed to. They were deserving of that championship last year.

On the Bruin defensive reputation:
We have the personnel to play that type of defense. The way Josh (Shipp) sees the floor on the defensive end. The way Darren can pressure the ball. My willingness to try to stop whoever. The physicality and mobility of our bigs allow us to play a certain type of defense that has really worked for us.

Final Four: Ohio State Open Practice

Jerry's name droppings from earlier this morning gets the point across just fine -- but it's impossible to overstate the number of basketball luminaries, semi-luminaries and just plain faces of the game that this weekend's convention draws. During my 20-second foray to from the elevator in the lobby of the Marriott Marquis to the media shuttle outside the hotel entrance, I bumped into Illinois men's coach Bruce Weber, Villanova women's coach and one-of-a-kind personality Harry Perretta and Gotham prep hoops guru Ron Naclerio, who was wearing a Mitchell-and-Ness style Cardozo High shirt that I want. (Meaning serious propers to the reader who can tell me where to get one.)

Open practice day at the Georgia Dome continues to operate like clockwork as the Buckeyes have just taken the court for their session at 2:10 p.m. on the dot. Even as the lunchtime crowd files out, there's still healthy number of diehard fans and curious onlookers in the lower bowl, with the heaviest concentration behind the scorer's table and player benches. Among the sights in my immediate field of vision: the Hoops Odyssey duo getting their game faces ready for a TV interview, the Ohio State pep band going through their reps (including staple anthem "Across the Field"), a stunning redhead seated on press row five empty seats to my right who's knows I'm staring, Washington Post scribe John Feinstein conducting an interview with CSTV's own Craig Esherick, another anonymous reporter doing the same with ESPN talking head Jay Bilas, a group of teenagers in the front row behind the press tables playfully jawing with Ron Lewis and Ivan Harris -- colorful banter that the players can't help but acknowledge with a nod and a smile.

Continue reading "Final Four: Ohio State Open Practice" »

Final Four: Testing, testing, 1-2-3

While I'm waiting for the Buckeyes to take the floor, I thought this would be a good time to test out my internet connection. I about half an hour, I'll be in the interview room, which has all the ambiance of a dungeon, listening to Billy Donovan pontificate on some subject or another. I'll have all that for you when it's over.

Meanwhile, I've been hanging out in the dome, pestering as many people as possible. I tried to make it difficult for David and Eric to get any work done, but they were too focused, so I headed over to the CSTV set for a while. There, I got to meet selection committee chairman Gary Walters and chat him up a bit while the CSTV crew worked out some technical difficulties. Nothing earth shaking came from that conversation except that he indicated that while he enjoyed his time on the committee, he is looking forward to getting the time that takes back into his life.

Ohio St just walked out onto the court in front of me. I can report to you that Greg Oden is one big dude in person. I'm sure I'll have more shocking revelations later.

While UCLA was on the floor, I walked around past their band and some young reporter-type was interviewing one of the Veela, er, dancers. I eavesdropped and this is what I was able to pick up:

Young Reporter: "Hi, I'm from the New York Times. Can I interview you for a story I'm doing on dance teams?
Veela: "Sure!"
YR: "Thanks! What's your name?"
Veela: "Veela!"
YR: "Can I have your phone number, Veela? You know, in case I have to, um, follow up with you?"

Or perhaps that's what YR was hoping for.

Final Four: Bruin half-court shots

To close out practice, the entire Bruin team, including coaches too, are taking half and 3/4er shots. They're actually hitting a couple here and there, but mostly just pelting ball boys and photogs at the other end.

This is actually something fun to watch.

Press conferences chock full of boring/expected quotes.

Final Four: Loco Locker Room With the Hoyas

Media access for the Hoyas has wound down and the Hoya locker room was completely jam-packed with media types. So much so, in fact, that Jonathan Wallace and Jeff Green were brought into the hallway to help free up some space in the cramped quarters.

The two players brought into the media interview room were also Green and Wallace and many of the media were upset that Roy Hibbert was not made available on the dais.

. . . Green is quickly emerging as a real personality of this Tournament. He's quick with a smile and provides some great quotes and insight. The best one we heard was Green explaining that his favorite stastic is "assists. I look at rebounds and assists first. I like to look at how many boards I got."

For more of Green and other presser transcripts, check out asapsports.com in the coming minutes and hours.

. . . We'll go nose around the CSTV set and see if we can annoy the TV people in some small way.

Final Four: UCLA loose, band joins in

Unlike the Hoya Paranoya in the first practice session that saw Georgetown go through the motions with stone-like seriousness, UCLA came out laughing and jovially going through lay-up drills after they took the court.

Right now, they're stretching on the floor. Aaron Afflalo and Russell Westbrook were just trying to slap each other while on the floor.

They've also been joined here at practice day by their pep band, cheerleaders, dancers, mascots and... well, I'm still looking for the juggler. Jim Nantz just came down to courtside and shook hands and chatted with Ben Howland.

I'm also sitting next to Lesley Visser here in the press area. She's a chatty Kathy, I tell ya'. John Feinstein is sitting with her.

Final Four: Hoyas Winding Down

We're in the final ten minutes of Hoya Time and the team is in full-on free-shooting mode. Jonanthan Wallace, the Elite 8 hero is a bit cold from beyond the arc at this moment but he did just nail a repeat-of-Sunday top of the key bomb as we type these words. He must have sensed our live-blog criticism.

. . . A Lesley Visser sighting has now occurred as well as a Bryan Curtis of CSTV encounter. The sheer volume of CSTV media badges is quite something to behold. We could very well have better representation than any media outlet in Atlanta.

. . . We'll work the Georgetown access period and get back with you after that. In the meantime we leave you in the capable hands of Eric Sorenson, who you should know, has been sneaking peeks at college baseball stats. You can take the guy out of a baseball stadium, but you can't take the baseball stadium out of the guy.

Okay, I'll go away now.

Final Four: Ohio State Preview

Hang Time's fourth and final team preview is coming live from the open practices at the venue, where the media contingent is putting the Georgia Dome Network Services Department's wireless access point to the test judging by an Internet connection that's loading slower than the Georgetown offense.

What the South Region champion Ohio State lacks in experience, the Buckeyes compensate for with star power and droves of it. Floor general Mike Conley, Jr., is a freshman in classification only -- having played more like a senior during the NCAA Tournament than most of the fourth-year point guards in Division I throughout the season. Mercurial senior guard Ron Lewis has been electric throughout the month of March, his three-point equalizer to push Ohio State's second-round escape against Xavier into overtime is just the most famous play in a highlight-reel month for the Bowling Green transfer. Junior Jamar Butler is the resident sniper whose long-range precision -- as indicated with a team-leading 73 made three-pointers -- has kept opposing defenses honest throughout the season. And there's no bigger impact player in college basketball than Oden, who commands the attention of the other nine players on the court -- not to mention the capacity crowds before which the seven-footer has been playing for the past five years. (Not since I saw LeBron James bring his St. Vincent-St. Mary club to the Palestra for a showdown with reigning Philly Public League champ Strawberry Mansion on Dec. 22, 2002 have I seen an amateur demand the attention of 10,000-plus onlookers the same way.)

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Final Four: Hoya Practice Continues

The Hoyas continue to go through the paces of what can best be termed a light workout.

Mothership announce team, Jim Nantz and Billy Packer are being debriefed by the Goergetown Sports Information staff (Bill Shapland and Mike "Mex" Carey). Braodcaster Jim Gray is also in the house, and we believe he's on the national radio broadcast in some fashion.

Basketball Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe did a quick Packer interview courtside as well.

. . . Hoya big men are now working out at one side of the court and the little men are at the other. With 30 minutes left in the session, they switched sides to get a feel for both rims and sight lines.

JTIII iswatching the proceedings from midcourt while assistants orchestrate the shooting drills.

. . . Tyler Crawford appears to be the sweatiest Hoya at this end of the floor.

. . . We'd like to give you a re-cap of the Calipari/Flint dinner from last night (held at an excellent local Italian joint on No. Highland, Il Localino) but Calipari swore us to secrecy on the night's events.

The one thing we can tell you is that a former Cal assistant got a full tray of odd-smelling beverages dumped on his dress shirt. Fortunately it was a good-natured former assistant and not one of his current guys like the ornery John Robic who was three minutes shy of going in the kitchen to prepare his own meal when the food service was delayed because of the large number in the Cal/Flint party.

Final Four: Okay, I'll say it first... I'VE got better feet than Roy Hibbert

Watching the Georgetown practice, I've noticed how tall, long and large of a man Hibbert is. But also how he's stumble-footed, has the vertical jump of a rhino and as gangly as a newborn deer.

Then again, he's the one that's going to be a sick-like millionaire in a short amount of time. Not me. In my face.

Final Four: Hoya Delaya

The Hoyas court time clock started ticking promptly at noon and the Hoyas did not jump at the opportunity to be on-court. Coach Thompson hit the court with 46:04 left on the clock and his team followed closely behind. The final Hoya to hit the floor was Roy Hibbert.

The team is currently going through full court dribbling drills - no shooting yet.

Final Four: Open Practices/Pressers/Dome Loitering

ATLANTA - Welcome back to the Georgia Dome for today's open practice session which begins in just a few minutes with Georgetown taking the floor first (followed by UCLA at 1 p.m. (EST), Ohio State (2:10 p.m.) and Florida (3:10 p.m.). Each squad gets 50 minutes of floor time and also has interview responsibilities that strecth for 30 minutes either before or after the team's court time.

. . .Members of the NCAA selection committee have been on the floor and on one of the team benches mingling and doing important things like looking at the quality of the hardwood (where the dominate color schemes are green and black with the Atlanta Final Four logo at midcourt and two red white and blue ribbons).

. . . A good crowd is already on hand as the lower sections of each sideline are mostly filled in (where seats aren't otherwise designated as reserved). The lower endzones also have a good amount of folks and there appears to be several area school groups.

. . . John Thompson Jr, the proud papa, just entered the courtside area. He walks with a pronounced limp and his arrival was chronicled by more than a few videographers.

Soon after he settled into his seat, an introduction video for the Hoyas, narrated by Jim Nantz, began playing on the video boards.

. . . The Hoyas are about to take the floor and Final Four weekend is officially underway.

Final Four: A who's who red-eye flight

Just got here to the Georgia Dome. Man this place is big. Man this place is too big for a basketball game. I've got friends that will be sitting in section 346 for tomorrow's games. It's hard to describe how nose-bleed that is. It's the third/top tier of seats in the stadium. iv'e warned him to go ahead and bring his binoculars with him. And some gauze plugs to stick up his nose when the blood flows.

On the red-eye flight from Los Angeles, I was joined by L.A. luminaries like radio personalities Steve Hartman and Vick "The Brick" Jacobs. Vick was in his usual Molly Hatchet-length hair and bucket hat. Feelin' YOU!

Also sat near the dignitary of L.A. sports television: CBS 2's Jim Hill. That guy is pure class, through and through, dressed in his usual double-breasted suit. Just sharp, man. I remember that guy when he was doing college football studio work for ABC's national telecasts in 1987... I swear the dude hasn't aged a freakin' second since then!

Practices are about to start here. They'll have press conferences for each team today as well. I personally am hoping for a "Big Country" Reeves type of thing where someone crashes a backboard with a dunk in practice. $10 bonus for those of you who remember that..

Final Four: Name Droppings

Dropping names isn't really my style, but there simply is no other way to describe day one in Hotlanta (high in the low 80s) without them.

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March 29, 2007

Final Four: Lobby Lobs, Final Part

We left TC to his own devices with the computer but he failed to pull a post for us while we were chatting with Jeff Ruland.

In the interim, we've also been joined by the Palm Reader, Jerry Palm, fresh off his coverage of the NABC and Myles Brand pressers for CSTV.com. Boy was he parched after that duty.

The highlight arrival is the early evening is that of Yahoo!'s national columnist, Dan Wetzel and his Final Four Father, Paul (husband of Mickey). (We can confirm to Mickey that Paul has actually had a nap today and is also sharply dressed for his annual crash of the Calipari/Flint dinner. So far, so good with Papa Wetz.)

. . . TC is starting to fire up his recognitions again, but his name recall is abysmal. "I don't get too personal with people, you know that. That was Beano over there from Marist."

Beano isn't listed as a coach at Marist, TC.

"I don't use government names. That's him, Orlando Ranson," TC says. "I gotta go get dressed for dinner."

And just like that my color commentator is gone. I will never be able to explain these expenses.

. . . Ruland is in fairly good spirits, considering he was fired while he was on a cruise with his wife (to Mexico). His settlement will take care of him for quite some time and he has some opportunities looming in both coaching and perhaps TV.

He's sporting a pair of size 15 Ostrich boots, he shot 90 today on the golf course with UConn assistant George Blaney and is on his way to dinner with his wife, a close friend and his agent, Rob Ades.

. . . Coaches spotted: Kevin Nickelberry at Hampton, Gary DeCesare and Jerry Wainwright from DePaul, Kent State's Jim Christian, Jareem Dowling Cecil Community College, last year's DII JUCO Champs.

. . . Okay, when we start i.d.ing JUCO coaches, it's time to pack it in. Join us again around lucnh time on Friday as we live blog from open practices and the four teams' press conferences.

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Final Four: Lobby Lobs, Part II

Our man, TC (Tony Chiles), is now starting to step up his game. He's overheard the shady gentleman in the Nike Airmax sneakers next to him trying to sell some tickets. He's discovered a closer bar to our perch than the one I had previously been using. And, he's on the verge of procuring where the annual Calipari/Flint Family Tree dinner will be held tonight. (It's our goal to sneak in on that for the sole purpose of watching the yearly battle between Cal and his former assistant, Bruiser, when the check comes. "They're all your guys, Bru." "No, they're all your guys, Cal." Cal usually winds up paying.)

To top it all off, TC has landed us some some soft pretzels. (Also being expensed, if the beancounters are reading.)

TC has now befriended the ticket scalper, Timmy's Buddy, who says the market is slow.

. . . "This is a good pretzel - not a Philly pretzel, but it's good," says TC. "You just missed Coach (Bill) Self going up to the fitnes center. There's the Kent State coach and the Buffalo coach - you know I'm not good with names."

Jim Christian and Reggie Witherspoon, respectively.

"See, you got the technology and I lead you in the right direction. At least I didn't call him Bill," TC says. "Karma's a mutha-f&*^$#, you know that."

No idea where that last comment came from, but it appears TC has spotted an arch coaching enemy.

"Just on the side of truth, Hang Time man."

. . . The ticket scalper crew (including Timmy) have overtaken my office space. They answer the cell phone, "Ticket Central." But they're complaining at how slow things are, which should be expected on the day before most people arrive.

Final Four: Lobs from the Lobby

Our distinguished color commentator for this session of CSTV.com "Coaches Hotel Lobby Lowdown" is none other than Tony Chiles, an assistant coach on Bruiser Flint's staff and a man recently named one of CBSsportsline's Top 10 rising assistants in the nation.

Chiles is one of the most connected New York City recruiters and has coached at Manhattan College, Iona College and now Drexel. He is a grad of Columbia, where he was a pretty nifty guard for the Lions.

All that is seocndary to Chiles' true talent: Funniest Coach on Earth.

So, TC, how's the lobby treating you.

"I'm tired man, you just woke me up. You think I can come out of bed just making threes? Let me warm up"

He's making this hard to justify expensing the Lilte beer.

"It's kind of slow right now," says Chiles. "It's heavy traffic, but there's not a lot going on. Oh, that's the fired Georgia State coach over there (Michael Perry)."

"There's the Nevada coach (Mark Fox), he's like me, he doesn't wear any gear - I've got no Drexel stuff on, as you see," says Chiles. "There's Fran-Tastic, Fran Dunphy (Temple). You've got guys looking for tickets. There's Kevin Clark from Rhode Island."

Now we're rolling. The Lite beer is starting to work it's magic.

"I'm getting my bitter back on, too," Chiles says.

. . . Coaches spotted: Andy Kennedy of Ole Miss, In-demand Billy Gillespie of Texas A&M, coaching legend Billy Tubbs, Pitt assistant Orlando Antigua, Marist assistant Rob O'Driscoll, Fordham's Derrick Whittenburg.

. . . Non-coaches spotted: Rudy Martzke, the former USA Today emdia columnist and his ever-trusty sidekick, "Mouse." Recruiting guru, Clark Francis, Andy Katz from ESPN.

Final Four: Coachapalooza

Welcome to the lobby of the Atlanta downtown Hilton where we have re-convened in a hidden nook off the main entrance. We are awaiting the arrival of our special guest Coach's Lobby Color Commentator, who was napping to better prepare for his rigorous duties.

He will not be happy when he learns his Miller Lite is warm.

. . . For those of you who have never been to a Final Four, much less the Coaches' Hotel, here's the scene in a nutshell:

Tall men, short men, thin men, hefty men - all wearing scool colors and gear, most of them in sweats and sneakers. The men mingle, shake hands, laugh and generally mill about. On-court enemies become in-lobby friends and in-lobby friends lobby for better jobs with bigger programs. You've got to remember, this is the National Association of Basketball Coaches annual convention as well, so there are all levels of basketball coaches in the mix.

We have enough trouble identifying DI coaches, so forgive us if we can't quite pick out the DII and DIII coaches in the crowd.

. . . John Thompson Jr., whose son JTIII will be leading his Hoyas against Ohio State on Saturday, just entered the "Le Cafe" in the Hilton with his other son, Ronny (the Ball State coach and they are sitting down for a quiet late-afternoon meal. Big John is in a Georgetown warm-up suit.

. . . Ex-Iona coach, Jeff Ruland just checked in from a nearby golf course and we're scheduled to meet the Big Man in the 6 p.m. hour and then perhaps join him for dinner

. . .Our special guest analyst is on his way from his nap. He won;t be happy that not only is his beer warm, but we've eaten all the peanuts that came in our Welcome to Atlanta bag.

Final Four: The Eagle Has Landed

ATLANTA - Hang Time is on the ground and in the Georgia Dome as we kick off our five-day live-blogging extravaganza from the 2007 Final Four.

We have secured our press credential which this year includes a picture of each bearer for the first time in Final Four history. (The practice is common at the Super Bowl.) This Hang Timer's picture would qualify as a "bad mug shot," and our hope is that it's the ONLY mugshot of the extended weekend.

We just wanted to check in and let you know that we're here and already working for you. We drove by the Coaches' Hotel on the way to the Media Hotel (the Hitlon and Marriott Marquis, respectively) and we've already espied Steve Alford (new of New Mexico), Al Skinner (BC), Dave Leitao (Virginia), Travis Ford (UMass) and Bobby Gonzalez (Seton Hall). That's five down and some 300-odd coaches left to ID.

We're going to head back to the Coaches' Hotel lobby where we expect to have a special guest as our Lobby Action analyst. To be sure, it's worth coming back to hear the hilarity of this prominent Northeast assistant coach.

. . . There's already word filtering out that despite the best efforts of Bobby Knight (and other high profile coaches) the candidacy of Dick Vitale for the Hall of Fame has been stymied again. We made our argument for Vitale's entrance when the nominations came out and we stand by those thoughts. But the pro-NBA Hall just doesn't appear ready to admit that Vitale has contributed to the game. Not sure on other Hall entrants, but the 1966 Texas Western Team is believed to be a lock for induction.

The official announcement comes on Monday morning at a Hall of Fame press conference which we will live blog (of course).
. . . Just a little bit more on coaching news before we get back on the shuttle: ESPN's Fran Fraschilla has reportedly taken himself out of consideration for South Florida and West Virginia's John Beilein is the current hot name for Michigan. The Iona search is just getting under way, now that the settlement has been reached with Jeff Ruland.

. . . For our Hangers-on in the Northeast region with Comcast as their cable provider, this Hang Timer will be a guest, live via satellite on CN8's 11 p.m. "Out of Bounds" show. We're trying to put off our first beer of the Final Four until AFTER that live hit, but the temptations are everywhere. Wish us luck.

March 28, 2007

Final Four: Georgetown Preview

ON THE VERGE - That's where we write this from. It's also known as home, but we've mostly been calling the road our home for the past month. The apartment is no more than a laundromat at this time of year.

And the dog? My dog, Percy or the Hoya dog of Georgetown?

Of course, how silly of us. The Hoya Dog.

(But just so you know, Percy the Dog is having extended stay at cousin Brady's house. Brady is a sweater-wearing mini-poodle and Percy is a stuffed-animal-eating major-black lab. You can only imagine the comedic value my sister, bro-in-law and niece and nephew are treated to with his two-week visit.)

As for the 'Dogs of John Thompson III - JTIII from here on out - well, they're having all sorts of their own fun. Except JTIII isn't rolling in the meadow grass quite yet.

"We still have a long way to go," he said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. "We're still a long way from where I want to be as a program. We don't want to be a cute, trendy team."

But in a Final Four devoid of the cute and trendy (as George Mason was last year in Indy), the Hoyas are playing the role quite well. Although they are a #2 seed like possible Monday night foe, UCLA, the Hoyas are riding what JTIII calls the "Son of" team theme and acting the underdog. (JTIII said at the end of the call, "I'm sitting here terrified of Ohio State.")

[For edification, my Top 4 storylines going into the Final 4, are: Donovan to Kentucky; Oden vs. Hibbert; Ewing/Thompson/Rivers Sons and Florida/UCLA re-match.]

So how 'bout it Son of Coach, looking forward to 14 feet of post play?

"A lot of big guys now are shying away from the post, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but we have two guys here that like the fact that they're low-post players," said JTIII.

Likewise, America will like these two behomeths who stand to make themselves each quite a bit of money if they can have an epic duel. (More after the Jump)

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Final Four: UCLA preview

- UCLA (30-5, No. 2 seed out of the West)

Versatility. Coaches love having that in a team. So you would expect Ben Howland to be smiling bigger those people in the Soundgarden video to "Black Hole Sun" right? Because his Bruins are the chameleons of this year's Final Four, able to play many different styles and many different tempos.

There is still one constant to any game they play - defense.

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Final Four: Florida Preview

The Gators come to Atlanta looking to defend their national championship of a year ago, and they bring a lot of weapons with them, which might be a problem getting through airport security.

Florida is difficult to defend because any of the starters are capable of carrying the team on any given night. Each of them has led the team in scoring in at least five different games this season and averages in double figures. A big reason for this is that they are a very unselfish team. Since they know that any of them is an offensive threat, they often make the extra pass for a better shot. The only starter averaging below 2 assists per game is Lee Humphrey and the only one with a negative assist-to-turnover ratio is Joakim Noah. Florida is also a very good rebounding team and is one of the best in the nation at defending the three-point line.

Still, as coach Billy Donovan likes to say, the Gators "are a flawed basketball team." Sometimes, that extra pass is really one too many. They have been sloppy with the basketball in their last three games, including an 18 turnover performance against Oregon. They are also not a particularly good free throw shooting team. Florida averages only 68% from the line, and nearly shot the Ducks back into the game the other night by going 18-28 down the stretch of that game. In the two previous games against Butler and Purdue, they were much better closing out at the line. They have also struggled coming out of the locker room in each half of this tournament except two - the second half against Jackson St and the second half against Oregon.

Another potential problem for Florida may be the distraction of the talk about Donovan going to Kentucky or to the Miami Heat or to anywhere-but-Florida. In St. Louis, Donovan was asked about the Kentucky job and gave us a dissertation for an answer that didn't contain the word "no." Donovan is one of those guys with a poor quantity-to-quality-of-words ratio. However, the Gators have done a reasonably good job this season of handling the distraction of being the team to beat, so maybe this distraction won't be much of an issue.

In short, if Florida plays its best, they'll be the first team to repeat since Duke did it in 1991-92. If they don't, they might go home Saturday.

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