Charlie Neibergall, AP
SALT LAKE CITY — This is the time of year when we have more sports overlapping each other than any other time of the season.
Let’s see, we’ve got the Final Four in college basketball, the start of the Major League Baseball season, the winding down of the NBA and NHL seasons, the first major golf tournament of the year, not to mention gymnastics, Real Salt Lake, college spring football and the NFL Draft buildup.
So here are some random thoughts on the various sporting events going on in early April:
— First on the list is the Masters golf tournament, which will be played this week at Augusta National. I’ll be privileged to be at the tournament, which I still believe is the best sporting event a person can witness. The only local connection is Sandy resident Mike Weir, who has a lifetime pass to the event, thanks to his victory a decade ago. Weir has little chance of winning this year, but there are plenty of things to watch — can Tiger Woods win his first major since 2008? Will Bubba Watson defend his title? Can Rory McIlroy win his first Masters? Will Phil Mickelson win No. 4? How will 14-year-old Guan Tianlang of China fare?
— Let’s hope Monday night’s NCAA championship game between Michigan and Louisville lives up to the semifinal games, both of which were exciting games that went down to the final seconds. Overall it’s been one of the better NCAA tourneys with more parity, as evidenced by all the wins by double-digit seeds and early exits by high seeds with numerous exciting games and storylines along the way.
— Of course Jazz fans want to win every game, but as the regular-season winds to a close next week, the big question for many folks comes down to this: Is it better to make the playoffs as the eighth seed with a likely quick exit against San Antonio or Oklahoma City, or get the season over with, finish in the lottery and start planning for next year?
Personally I think making the playoffs is better, even with a probable early ouster, because it gives the young players the experience that could come in handy in the future. Plus the extra revenue helps the franchise. The long-shot chance for the No. 1 pick in the lottery isn’t a big deal this year with no No. 1-type picks out there. Also, the chance for the No. 13 or 14 pick to get No. 1 in the lottery is less than 1 percent.
— Only a few basketball teams can end their season with wins, and three local teams came very close this past week to ending their seasons with victories. The Weber State men and Utah women lost in the finals of the CIT and WNIT tournaments, respectively, each by three points, while BYU lost in the NIT semifinals to eventual champion Baylor. Don’t be surprised if all three teams, which have good squads coming back, are playing in the NCAA Tournament next year.
— The NFL Draft is coming up in a couple of weeks, and it’s looking like for the first time ever that a pair of local players could each be taken in the Top 10 of the first round. Utah’s defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and BYU’s defensive end Ziggy Ansah are both projected to go between the No. 6 and No. 10 overall picks. Some local fans are excited because Mel Kiper Jr. is projecting Ansah as the No. 2 overall pick. But don’t forget Kiper is the guy who early on projected BYU quarterback John Walsh as a possible No. 1 pick, and he ended up going in the 7th round.
— Even though there are only about five dozen schools in the country that have women’s gymnastics programs, the feat of the University of Utah team qualifying through the regionals Saturday to make it to the finals for the 38th straight year is astounding. While the Utes have won nine NCAA titles, they are looking for their first national title since 1995 next week in Los Angeles.
— One of the unpleasant sports stories of this past week was the revelations about the Rutgers basketball program with the abuse of players leading to the firing of the basketball coach and the athletic director, who didn’t take action against the coach months ago. The story hits home because of the similarities of the abusive swimming coach at the University of Utah who was recently fired and allegations that athletic director Chris Hill overlooked the misconduct. It also hit home because Hill, who, while having nothing to do with the current administration, is a graduate of Rutgers.
— Finally, I can’t forget the Frozen Four, the collegiate men’s ice hockey finals this week in Pittsburgh, which my father-in-law believes is the greatest sporting event outside of a Green Bay Packer game — even bigger than the Masters. If you’re wondering who is playing, it’s Yale vs. UMass-Lowell in the first game Thursday followed by St. Cloud State vs. Quinnipiac with the finals on Saturday. Should be thrilling.
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