This was one of the better sports weekends we’ve had so far in 2009. There was plenty of drama on Saturday night between the Pitt Panthers and Villanova Wildcats. Sunday’s NCAA Tournament games might not have been nearly as entertaining, but Tiger’s comeback at Bay Hill certainly made up for it. Here are four final thoughts to put a nice bow on a pretty darn good weekend.
The Final Four is set: Michigan State will play UCONN while North Carolina takes on Villanova next Saturday night in Detroit. Can you say there’s really a surprise among the bunch? MSU, UCONN, and UNC have been in the top ten all season long. Villanova hasn’t necessarily been a top ten team all season, but they certainly haven’t come out of nowhere to make it to college basketball’s biggest stage.
Think about the coaches that we will see his coming weekend as well. They are all stars. Tom Izzo’s resume speaks for itself. Jim Calhoun has won a couple of national titles. Roy Williams brought the pride back to Chapel Hill. And Jay Wright is considered one of the rising stars in the game.
Last season the selection committee got it right when all four of their number one seeds made the Final Four. They might not have gotten it right from that standpoint this year, but I don’t think anyone will complain.
Tiger wins: Tiger Woods made a big statement with yesterday’s win at Bay Hill. That statement – get that green jacket ready for me. Woods started the day five shots behind Sean O’Hair at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. O’Hair’s cushion wasn’t nearly enough. The youngster was clearly rattled by playing with Woods in the final group yesterday. And even though he managed to get himself back on track coming down the stretch, it wasn’t nearly enough.
That’s because we saw another Woods moment on 18 with daylight quickly fading. It wasn’t quite like the putt that Woods sank on that very same hole a year ago to beat Mark Bryant, but it was almost as dramatic. I’ll be honest. I wasn’t expecting Woods to make that putt. I figured we’d be going to extra holes, and that Tiger would get his victory then. Boy was I wrong.
Yesterday was just another example of what we are all getting to witness whenever Tiger walks up to the tee box. I never saw Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer in their primes. I have seen Tiger. And he simply is the best I’ve ever seen.
The folks in Augusta would be wise to get a Green Jacket in Tiger’s size ready. From the looks of things, he might very well add another one to his already sizable collection.
Bye Bye Billy: The University of Kentucky basketball program isn’t used to not making the NCAA Tournament. Not only didn’t the Wildcats make the tournament, they lost early on in the NIT. That all spelled doom for Billy Gillespie. He was fired late Friday afternoon.
Gillespie was a rising star in the college coaching ranks after supervising turnarounds at UTEP and Texas A&M. He wasn’t Kentucky’s first choice two years ago, but no one was upset with his hiring.
The only problem is that being the Kentucky basketball coach is more than just being the basketball coach. Coaching is not even half the job. In that position you have to be part coach and part politician. Gillespie just wanted to coach. He wanted no part of everything else that came along with coaching at Kentucky. That, as much as anything else, sunk Gillespie.
It wouldn’t be the first time a high profile coaching job ate someone up. It happens more often than you think in college sports. Just look at what happened to Tyrone Willingham at Notre Dame or Matt Doherty and North Carolina. They were good coaches who weren’t ready for those kind of jobs.
My hunch is Gillespie will get another chance somewhere else. Somewhere where he can just be the basketball coach. Somewhere he will succeed.
Let the carousel go round and round: Now that Gillespie is out at Kentucky, and Billy Donovan has decided against pursuing the job, who will be the man in Lexington?
My hunch tells me it will be John Calipari. Forget about the rumors that he wants to come back to the NBA. Calipari knows he’s a college guy. He knows that’s where he belongs. That’s something he’s told me on more than one occasion (I covered him when he was with the Nets). I doubt he’ll jump to the NBA.
But leaving Memphis isn’t out of the realm of possibility, especially for a job like Kentucky’s. Calipari would be a great fit. He can coach – there’s no doubting that whatsoever. He also loves being the politician. He will embrace the other parts of being the Kentucky basketball coach in a way Gillespie never did. Calipari loves the spotlight. The Kentucky job is tailor made for him.
Now, a guy calipari’s been compared to many times in the past, former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, could be on the move as well. There are rumors out there that Pitino might very well be on his way to Arizona to replace Lute Olson (Russ Pennel was only the interim coach).
I wouldn’t be shocked if Pitino does make the move. I would be if it was an NBA job, but not a college job. And Arizona is one of the best jobs out there (he’s never, EVER going back to Kentucky, so get that out of your mind now). Despite the coaching problems of the last two years, the Wildcats haven’t fallen off the map. This year’s run to the Sweet Sixteen shouldn’t have been a surprise. Arizona has always been able to get talent.
Granted Arizona will lose some players to the NBA this spring. But, Pitino has seen worse situations. Louisville was in sad shape when he got there earlier this decade. He turned things around fairly quickly there. If he goes to Arizona, my guess is he will have the Wildcats back at the top sooner rather than later.
Lousiville has history. But so does Arizona. Pitino wouldn’t be leaving for just any school. He’d be leaving for one of the better programs in the nation. And that’s why the rumor that he’s the guy they want in Tuscon shouldn’t be discounted.