Pints and Picks: Finally there were Four

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During college football season each week DPB’s Kyle Magin and Andrew J. Pridgen pour on the prose with Pints and Picks™. Who to wager and what to drink while doing it. Here, a very special PNP—Viva Las Tournament.

ajIVKM,

My plucky Pulitzer-winning publisher once told me, “There’s a fine line between taking a stand and grandstanding. It’s a newspaperman’s job to figure out which side public figures fall on.” This notion came back to me today as I read about Kevin Ollie’s boycott of the Final Four.

My knee-jerk was in lock-step with the rest of whomever’s left of the newspapermen out there that the Connecticut head coach did the right thing by skipping the tournament’s final weekend because of the host state’s recent passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The act could allow for businesses in Indiana to deny services to patrons based on sexual orientation and has about as much place as the Barbie whose boobs grew (<-or the creepy guy watching it here) in 2015.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Tuesday issued an executive order that banned state-funded travel to Indiana and though state and school officials left it up to the NCAA defending champs’ head coach whether to go, it seems the ultimate decision was made by Ollie’s employer.

“In support of Gov. Malloy’s travel ban to the state of Indiana, Kevin Ollie and other members of the UConn men’s basketball staff will not travel to Indianapolis for the NCAA Final Four and events surrounding it,” Connecticut President Susan Herbst said Tuesday. “UConn is a community that values all of our members and treats each person with the same degree of respect, regardless of their background and beliefs and we will not tolerate any other behavior.”

Connecticut AD Warde Manuel said he hoped Indiana lawmakers would repeal SB 101 before the women’s Final Four is hosted there next year and other ADs, including USC’s Pat Haden, will boycott this month’s College Football Playoff meetings in the Hoosier State as well.

But is this taking a stand, or grandstanding?

After more careful consideration, I believe it’s the latter. It’s not that SB 101 isn’t a terrible misstep by Indiana and it’s not that it shouldn’t be repealed, but events like the Final Four equal jobs and there are a lot of folks in the region, which routinely tops hardest-hit/slowest-to-recover from the Great Recession lists, that are reliant on marquee events not only to showcase their state, but to attempt to get back on their feet.

Indiana lawmakers are doing what lawmakers do and getting in the way of not only their state’s progress, but its recovery. In this case, the folks being punished aren’t necessarily the LGBT community, but the workers in the service industry who haven’t had the opportunity to be the beneficiaries of that necessary financial bump the national spotlight can bring in a long, long time.

A better stand by Ollie and his contemporaries would be to say, I’m going to Indiana and while there I’ll support only local businesses that gladly serve anyone: black, white, gay or straight; Christian, Jew, Islam…even Duke fans—we all deserve equal treatment.

That to me would say a lot more.

Speaking of equal treatment, over to you KM…

kyleIVAJ,

This is where you and I take differing views.

I’m of the firm belief that somebody needs to go upside Indiana’s head before more of these RFRAs pass. Indiana begged for grandstanding when it passed this law.

Listen, I understand that the convention business is a key driver behind the turnaround in downtown Indy. The city hosts everything now—Super Bowls, Final Fours, the Big Ten Tournament, and countless non-sports related events in their facilities. It would rightly suck to bone all those employees—you know many are not well-compensated—out of work with a boycott, stoppage in travel or delays and cancellations in projects.

But, I doubt it will get to that point.

The pressure that people like Ollie or Apple CEO Tim Cook or Salesforce are bringing to bear on Indianapolis has to be excruciating, unfortunately, for Hoosier State politicians. It has to send a message to every other backwoods legislature that passing one of these thinly-veiled freedom-to-discriminate laws (which is what this was, in part, if you learn about the lobbyists behind it) won’t fly. I know it’s a cold stance to take, but consequences on the bottom line are the only thing that’ll bring some of these nutcases to heel.

It looks like it won’t get to that point, which I’m thankful for, because as a former Rust Belter I agree with you that the region can’t afford to take too many hits.

Alright, AJ, who ya got?

ajIVKM,

I’m about to close this one out for $2,000 and you can hit me back with something on the turnaround, but I gotta understand one thing: For me, it’s atrocities upon atrocities here. I willingly watch, bet on and fawn over the NCAA Tournament with an evangelist’s high aspiration, forked tongue and double-sided face. I do this knowing full well the indentured servitude of the student-athlete and the literal sweat off their backs and their brows is fueling this kind of macabre three-week extravaganza that dictates not only this column but my weekends, free time and your pool time at Vdara.

So what, then, does it say about either one of us that we can write about the stuff all the way down to the homophobic and demonic Indiana legislature and still tune in Saturday with bulging cargo shorts, wringing slips with lousy point spreads and wearing logo gear stitched together by the Kali Ma slave children in Temple of Doom.

Maybe I learned a lesson with my NFL boycott last season: I don’t regret it but there is surely a way to ebb fanboy desire or ire while still writing objectively or at all about sport. I just feel I haven’t struck that balance yet, not completely.

Maybe the right thing to do is walk away…right after this weekend:

Michigan State +5 vs. Duke

Duke is the smart play here, the safe play here. History (Mike Krzyzewski 8-1 against Tom Izzo) says the Blue Devils will roll. The point spread keeps ticking a half a point a day in Duke’s favor and Michigan State has no business being in the Final Four in the first place.

That’s exactly why I like the Spartans.

Sure there’s Coach K’s super-senior Quinn Cook who can control the tempo. There’s Justise Winslow’s dialing from outside the arc better than anyone these last two weeks and Michigan State is probably three recruiting classes away from having the answer for Jahlil Okafor. And don’t forget Duke starts with a capital D. And they specialize in specialists. Duke held the Zags’ lethal point guard Kevin Pangos to four points and no assists and they look to neuter Travis Trice similarly.

But I still don’t buy it.

Michigan State is playing fast, uptempo, transition basketball, the exact kind you want to see in April. Too many pundits love to talk about what happened two months (or years) ago and not what they saw on the court last weekend. One needn’t go back further than Duke’s Sweet 16 victory over Utah to reveal its soft targets. While the Blue Devils eventually outclassed and outshined the Runnin’ Utes, it was Utah who had the answer, for the first 30 minutes.

Once Utah tired, or tried to slow down and put their super-frosh Jakob Poeltl toe-to-toe with Okafor on the blocks, it was over. If the Spartan’s dual-threat presence down low in Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello suddenly become the focal point of the game or get into foul trouble, the run for Earvin’s bunch will be over, quick. But Izzo won’t bite. More importantly, neither will Branden Dawson. The tournament’s MVP going into the last pair of games shows he’s the real Magic on the court and sometimes a little stardust is what it takes to make prognostications and Duke’s superior talent pool go the way of the superior-to-Duke Louisville Cardinal.

And the Spartans advance to the Big Dance.

kyleIVAJ,

That did my heart good. At this point I’m fighting a few feelings about my Spartans; one being that everything from here on out is gravy. These kids went through the wringer this year and as a fan I can tell you I’m definitely just happy for them to be here.

On the other hand, Coach Izzo has conditioned Spartan fans to expect nothing less than a title every year, and that every season ending as one of the 320 or so D1 teams not to raise that last banner is disappointing. With that in mind, I can’t honestly say how I’d react if Saturday doesn’t go the Spartans’ way. Before we get to that, though, the Cats and Badgers deserve a little attention…

Wisconsin +5 vs. Kentucky

If Notre Dame’s gut-punch 2-point loss last weekend taught us anything, it’s that Kentucky has two weaknesses: staying focused through an offensive set and maybe, maybe looking ahead. Enter Wisconsin. The Badgers are the most efficient offensive basketball team in the country and they can easily replicate and improve upon ND’s blueprint: Moving the ball. The Irish doubled up on Kentucky on assisted baskets, 16-8.

Part of that owes to Kentucky players being able to create more for themselves on the break and in transition. But the other part of it is the Cats young defenders getting lulled to sleep by the fourth or fifth pass of a set. It’s difficult to keep up with anyone that deep into the shot clock, nevermind someone like the Badgers’ Sam Dekker or Frank Kaminsky who are just as deadly from the post as they will be popping off of screens. The Cats still bomb away from deep—they hit 50 percent of their three-point tries against ND–and can use that to make some major separation. But if Wisconsin can consistently force Kentucky to defend deep into sets, they start wearing on the Cats’ focus on the offensive end. Nobody is running away with this one.

Alright, AJ, before I get to Saturday’s undercard, what are your thoughts on Game 2?

ajIVKM,

I’ve been more up and down about the Wisconsin/Kentucky tilt than Anna Nicole’s weight (and career). Part of me thinks the Wildcats have yet to play their best basketball of the season. And part of me thinks they never will.

Wisconsin +5 vs. Kentucky

Notre Dame was a better basketball team than Kentucky and, depending on whether Connaughton chooses baseball, features the same number of potential NBA all-stars (two) as the Wildcats.

That said, I think the genius in Calipari’s coaching this year is to make it look like he’s not coaching at all. As soon as he got done signing every McDonald’s All American and building a team that is 10-deep with next-level talent, it seems like all he’s worried about is tie selection and whether anyone notices his hand slide down Allie LaForce’s back before heading into the locker room.

But make no mistake, casual Cal is very calculated. As his Wildcats found themselves on the brink elimination against the Irish, it was coach’s tireless off-seasons spent schmoozing and grooming including frequent trips to the Dominican as mentor/coach that proved his savior. It was abroad he found and trained up go-to freshman Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns on the blocks and posting up ad nauseum is automatic: 25 points on 10-of-13 against the stingiest of Ds in Notre Dame; wonder what year in the ‘80s he was really born.

It’s time for the Wildcats to get serious after playing around like the Von Trapp children in old drapes for the first four rounds. And the Notre Dame scare was the equivalent to when you date down for a slump-buster and then she breaks up with you.

Bo Ryan’s offense is all the rage on the sportsblab but the drive-and-spin-and-dish-and-drive freneticism has been exposed like the read-option in the NFL. I believe Kentucky wins this game because Towns and Cauley-Stein stay home underneath and Booker and Harrison score in flourishes from outside; take next-gen athletes and install an old-school gameplan.

Ordinarily, the Wildcats cover and then some but for Frank Kaminsky, the one player left in the tournament who’s tougher for opponents to figure out than a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded. Kaminsky will help keep it a close, physical and one-possession game till the final buzzer.

Kentucky may not cover, but that won’t matter as they improve to 39-0.

All right KM, take us home with your boys in green.

kyleIVAJ,

I was originally going to play this like Kirk Herbstreit when he punts on picking whatever game he’s calling that night. Mine is for different reasons—I’ve watched this team through the peaks and valleys of this season and am not sure I can come up with an unbiased opinion.

But, because coming out like Coach Taylor with a Clear Eyes, Full Hearts breakdown where I’m still deliriously happy from last weekend and nothing can ruin that would be boring, I’m going to do this…

Duke -5 vs. Michigan State

Because Gotham got the hero it deserved, but not the one it needed right now. Because ARod won a ring. Because Jimmy Chitwood will never again get the love Jesus Shuttlesworth gets. Because the eight miles of pine trees and two shades of blue narrative is more celebrated than four guys from Flint.

Because sometimes the outcome everyone expects is exactly the one they get.

Either way you bet, either way it comes out, I’m going to be proud of this team.

See you all for Pac-May next month.

 

 

 

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