Ask the sportswriters

Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times  editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen, who is taking a break this week. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.

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•Question:  It’s Ohio State vs. Kansas and Kentucky vs. Louisville in the semifinals of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Final Four. What did you think of last week’s games? Which teams will advance to the title game and who emerges as national champion?

-Dorr: There were some great games, especially the Indiana-Kentucky game, especially the first half which ended 50-47 in favor of Kentucky. Not having seen Louisville play, or knowing much about that team, I was surprised to see Louisville advance to the Final Four. I was also surprised at how poorly Michigan State played in the one-sided loss to the Cardinals. Ohio State played up to expectations and I was a little surprised that Kansas beat North Carolina.  The one-point loss by Wisconsin to Syracuse was disappointing. Princeton’s Jared Berggren had a very good game, scoring 17 points and missing only one shot. I’ll never know why Badger coach Bo Ryan didn’t have Berggren on the floor for the final possession. It was obvious Syracuse wasn’t going to let Jordan Taylor get off a decent shot and Berggren would have provided a good option from medium range. I imagine that was discussed in the Madison paper. How can you pick against Kentucky in the finals against Ohio State?

-Larson:  Michigan State bowing out was a big surprise. Syracuse and North Carolina were hampered by the loss of a key player which was a big factor. There are no Cinderellas left in this tournament – the Final Four includes teams with winning basketball traditions. Saturday’s semifinals provide basketball fans with two great match-ups. Louisville coach Rick Pitino is doing everything he can to put his team firmly in the underdog/poor sister role against in-state rival Kentucky and the Cardinals may go into the game feeling much less pressure than the talented, but young, Wildcats. So far, Kentucky’s talent has been able to overcome all obstacles. The other semifinal pits Ohio State super big man Jared Sullinger against a strong Kansas front line.

It’s Kentucky over Louisville 72-60 and Ohio State over Kansas 60-55 Saturday. On Monday, it’s Kentucky over Ohio State 67-62.

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•Question:  The NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament is also nearing its finals. Who’s your pick to emerge as national champion April 3 in Denver?

-Dorr:  What’s amazing is that all the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds made it through to the finals in each region. As I write this Baylor and Stanford have earned their way into the Final Four, while the other two games are yet to be played. Without knowing those results from Tuesday night, I’ll take Baylor to win it all by beating Stanford and then any of the other four teams.

I don’t know how UConn, Kentucky, Maryland or Notre Dame can beat the Bears, although I have not seen any of those four teams play. If Baylor– which has a lot more than just star center Brittney Griner – loses, there should be an investigation.

-Larson:  How can teams counter 6-foot-8 Baylor center Brittney Griner? They can’t. Any double or triple teams on her just open the door for Baylor’s other talented players. I’ll go with Baylor over Maryland in the title game, 68-58.

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•Question:  Coach Tubby Smith’s University of Minnesota men’s basketball team has scratched out three victories in the National Invitational Tournament and reached the semifinals where the Gophers (22-14) were scheduled to meet Washington (24-10) in the semifinals Tuesday in New York’s Madison Garden. Has this young Gopher team impressed you?

-Dorr: It certainly has. The guard play has been very good and as I mentioned last week, the team seems to be playing better without center Ralph Sampson. Fill-in centers Elliot Eliason and Andre Ingram each had an outstanding game last week. About a month ago, as he began to play more, I told someone who follows basketball, and who thought I was off the mark, that I thought freshman Andre Hollins was going to be a good player. Then Hollins made the all-tournament team for the Big Ten, despite playing in only two games, and his play since then has been outstanding. If he’s as good as he has looked in the NIT, the Gophers – with Austin Hollins, Joe Coleman and Julian Welch in the mix – are set at guard for next year and years beyond, since Welch is the only junior. Maybe it’s that the other teams aren’t as good as Big Ten opponents but Rodney Williams has also been playing very well. He’s actually made some jump shots. If Williams has progressed to where many have predicted he should be, Minnesota should be better next year, especially if Trevor Mbakwe decides to come back.

-Larson:  I thought the Gophers would last one, maybe two games in the NIT, especially because they were on the road. But, the young team has been fun to watch and the added games should be a boost for next season. Freshman guard Andre Hollins looks like a star in the making and junior forward Rodney Williams is looking like the player Minnesota followers thought he would be. The team’s success should get Smith a contract extension.

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•Question:  The National Football League never seems to be out of the spotlight and last week was no exception. On Wednesday, March 21, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell penalized the New Orleans Saints for the team’s “bounty program “ of the last three seasons. Head coach Sean Payton was suspended without pay for the 2012 season, the team was fined $500,000 and will forfeit its second-round pick in the 2012 and 2013 college drafts, general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended without pay for the first eight games of the 2012 season and assistant coach Joe Vitt was suspended for the first six games of the 2012 season. Indications are that some Saints players will also be suspended. Were the penalties too harsh, appropriate or not harsh enough? 

-Dorr: I thought the penalties were appropriate and I give Goodell credit for having enough guts to take the stand that he did. The Timberwolves lost draft choices in the Joe Smith situation and that wasn’t as serious a violation as what the Saints did. I think losing draft choices was an appropriate response. I think the fact that the Saints at first denied the allegations, and then admitted to them, entered into Goodell’s decisions. I’m hearing today (Tuesday) that Goodell may allow the head coach to continue coaching while he appeals the suspension. I don’t like that.

-Larson:  Mike Greenberg of the ESPN radio and television show “Mike and Mike in the Morning,” called Goodell’s decision the “death penalty” for New Orleans and compared it to the penalty Southern Methodist University’s football program received from the NCAA when it was forced to disband its program in 1987 and 1988. That’s an exaggeration. Unless the anticipated game suspensions for individual players are extremely harsh, New Orleans should still be a playoff contender next season, especially if the team brings in a veteran coach like Bill Parcells for a year, as has been rumored.

Losing two second-round draft choices isn’t the end of the world and the $500,000 fine is pocket change for pro teams. The penalties were appropriate and Goodell made his point.

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•Question:  In other NFL news last week, veteran free agent quarterback Peyton Manning, released earlier by the Indianapolis Colts, signed with the Denver Broncos, who later in the week traded quarterback Tim Tebow to the New York Jets where he’s slated to be “back-up” to Mark Sanchez, who recently signed a three-year contract extension. 1. Did Manning’s choice surprise you?  2. What are your thoughts on Tebow heading to New York?

-Dorr:  I wasn’t paying any attention to what teams Manning was interviewing with so his choice of Denver was not a surprise. The Broncos do have a good receiving corps and I imagine that entered into his decision. Eric Decker of the U of M (and Rocori High School) is one of those receivers and his stats were a lot better with Kyle Orton as the quarterback than with Tebow. I imagine he is happy to see Manning on board. I have no idea why the Jets signed Tebow. Maybe it is just a publicity stunt, or maybe they think he can add a dimension to the offense that wasn’t there before.

-Larson:  The San Francisco 49ers looked like a better fit for Manning. But, he’s what former star quarterback and current Denver General Manager John Elway and coach John Fox were looking for – a classic drop-back passer. Neither Elway or Fox ever seemed thrilled with Tebow. Manning’s neck injury, which sidelined him in 2011, is a major concern and he will be playing home games indoors, which could be a big adjustment, especially in the Mile High City of Denver. Manning makes the Broncos a borderline playoff contender, even in a weak AFC West Division.

Tim Tebow and the New York Jets looks like a marriage made in he…(out of respect for Tebow we won’t spell that word out). I’m stunned Tebow didn’t opt for Jacksonville and his home state of Florida where he remains very popular. Reports say Jacksonville’s offer was better but Tebow chose the Big Apple.

Apparently Jets coach Rex Ryan, who has yet to match his bravado with results, thinks he can make Tebow a vital player in the Jets’ offense, if only for a few plays a game. A two-quarterback system only works when one of them isn’t a big name and Tebow and current starter Mark Sanchez are both big names. Looks like this will end in a train wreck.

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Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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