In this week's edition of the Utah Sports Ruckus, Nate Gagon explains why the BYU men will lose to Oregon in the NCAA Tournament, analyzes whether the Utes or Cougs have bragging rights, offers his NCAA bracket and other predictions, and more.
Nate Gagon is a published sports, music, and creative writer. He is also a wholehearted father, grateful husband and ardent student of life. He shoots roughly 94% from the free throw line and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or @nategagon.
BYU’s reaction to receiving a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament was like what happened to me the first time I kissed a girl or ate a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
If you thought you were surprised by the seeding, you’ve got nothing on the Cougar players and coaches.
Judging by the reaction of the BYU players, you might have thought Kate Upton had announced she was getting baptized and moving to Provo to find her eternal companion or that BYU had decided to sell caffeinated sodas on campus.
Yeah, those Cougs were pretty excited about that No. 10 seed.
One could make an argument that they were a little too excited; like, why didn’t my parents shout for joy, jump around and hug each other when I brought home a 2.5 report card?
More importantly, the celebration also reminded me a little of BYU’s game versus Iowa State earlier this season. In that game, the Cougs jumped out to a 36-24 lead after Eric Mika finished a flurry of Cougar fast-breaks with a two-handed alley-oop dunk.
When the Cyclones called timeout after the dunk, the Cougars celebrated like the game had 25 seconds left instead of the 25 minutes it actually had, and I remember thinking, “BYU is not mentally prepared to win this game.” Following the timeout, the Cyclones promptly ended any thoughts of a Cougar mauling with an 18-7 run and ultimately held on to win as BYU made several mental errors to close the game.
Similarly, after I saw the Cougars’ celebration video following the NCAA Tournament announcement, as fun as it was to watch, I knew right then I wasn’t going to pick them to beat Oregon. That was not a “Wow, we just got a 10 seed after a crazy season, now let’s go make a run!” celebration. That was a “Holy crap, Grandma, we just won the national championship, now let’s go vandalize the city!” celebration.
In other words, the Cougs are happy just to be there. Actually, happy doesn’t seem like a strong enough word. They’ve already had their championship moment.
I think Oregon wants and needs the victory more and so, especially with Kyle Collinsworth being out for BYU, I think the Ducks will get it. This Oregon team wants to make a run and prove its doubters wrong. BYU feels it already did that.
Hopefully I’ll be the one proven wrong and the Cougs will advance. Tyler Haws certainly has an opportunity to prove me wrong about Collinsworth being the Cougars’ MVP this season, as I wrote last week, as well.
This is a tough one. The Utes and Cougs both have reasons to talk smack, and yet they both have reasons not to.
The Utes can say, “We blew you off the court when we played head-to-head this season, ha ha!”
The Cougs can say, “We made the NCAA Tournament as a top 40 team and you weren’t even in the top half of the NIT, oh snap!”
The Utes can say, “We played in the Pac-12 and beat the likes of UCLA, Arizona State, California and Colorado, while you played little boy basketball in the WCC and lost to teams like Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Portland and Pacific — so what now?”
The Cougs can say, “Well, we had a better overall strength of schedule than you and we beat the likes of Texas, Stanford and Gonzaga while you scored 46 points and lost to Washington State, lost to Stanford (who we beat), and finished in the bottom half of your conference — so you tell us what now!”
The Utes can say, “Well, like we said, what really matters is the head-to-head matchup and we crushed you. Period.”
The Cougs can say, “Actually, like we said, what really matters is making the NCAA Tournament. Conversation over.”
Both the Utes and Cougs were embarrassed in their conference tournaments once they ran into good teams. Both the Utes and Cougs have 11 losses. Both the Utes and Cougs collected some impressive individual honors.
There is one more thing the Cougars can say to the Utes that gives them bragging rights for now: “Oh, by the way, our women’s team is in the NCAA Tournament too. Wasn’t yours second-to-last in your conference?”
And there you have it.
Then again, on second thought, the Utes could pull out: “Wait a second — check the scoreboard. Our women’s team also beat yours head-to-head, just as all our teams seem to do these days.”
But let’s not start that again.
The fact is, bragging rights are still largely on the line between the Utes and Cougs for this season. If the Cougar teams flame out in the first round of the Big Dance, while the Utes win at least two games in the NIT, give the edge to the Utes.
If not, bragging rights go to the Cougs. Making the NCAA Tournament is ultimately a bigger accomplishment than winning one game head-to-head, even in a blowout.
My two cents is that the Utes are still the best men’s team in the state right now.
Real Salt Lake
RSL picked up a road point with a 3-3 draw versus the San Jose Earthquakes last Saturday. RSL led the match 3-1 in the 75th minute before San Jose’s Victor Bernardez scored two goals in the final 20 minutes, the last one coming in the 95th minute, 5 minutes after regulation time.
It was a disappointing ending for RSL, but as coach Jeff Cassar said after the game, “Four points in two road games — super pleased with that. It feels like a loss right now, but at the end of the day, it’s a point on the road against a very difficult team.”
RSL’s three goals were scored by Joao Plata (who also had an assist), Kyle Beckerman and Luke Mulholland.
On Feb. 26 the Jazz blasted the Phoenix Suns, 109-86. This came not long after a three-game winning streak that started with a takedown of Miami.
Since the Phoenix win, the Jazz have gone 1-10, the sole victory coming over the Philadelphia 76ers, who have lost 21 straight games.
The good news is that the Jazz are now tied with Boston for the fourth-worst record in the league with 14 games remaining. At this point it appears almost certain that the Jazz will, in order of draft selection, finish somewhere between No. 3 and No. 7.
Despite the many head-scratching decisions the Jazz have made this season, this offseason should still be very intriguing with the franchise having lots of options and flexibility. I’ll take a more detailed look at how their options are shaping up as the season continues to wind down.
The Wildcats won the Big Sky Tournament final easily over North Dakota after squeaking by Northern Colorado in overtime in the semifinals.
I was surprised to find out this will be the first time since 2007 the Wildcats have made the NCAA Tournament. I would have guessed they had made the tournament at least a couple times since then with Damian Lillard.
Congrats to coach Randy Rahe for being named Big Sky Coach of the Year, and good luck against Arizona, the team that just beat the Utes 71-39. Why not go out and pull the biggest upset in the history of the NCAA Tournament?
Cream of the crop
The top teams in the state: BYU’s rugby and men’s volleyball teams continued to roll last week, as did Utah’s women’s gymnastics team.
The fifth-ranked Ute gymnasts scored a huge victory over No. 6 Georgia, recording a season-best score of 198.025 to Georgia’s 197.600. It was the fifth-highest score in school history for the Utes, and was topped off with a perfect 10 on the floor routine from senior Nansy Damianova in front of a sold-out Huntsman Center crowd. The Utes enter the Pac-12 Tournament, which begins March 22, as the top seed.
National Player of the Year candidate Taylor Sander and the third-ranked BYU men’s volleyball team recorded 3-0 sweeps over No. 8 UC Irvine and UC San Diego last week. The Cougars have just one match this week versus Cal Baptist on Saturday.
Meanwhile, BYU’s defending national champion rugby squad routed the Idaho State Bengals in Idaho last Saturday, 62-10, to improve to 10-1 on the season.
Last week I went 13-4 on predictions with the BYU men and women letting me down after I picked them each to win their conference tournaments; the Jazz failing to beat the Hawks, as I had predicted; and Utah Valley failing to reach the title game of the WAC Tournament, where I had forecasted a loss to New Mexico State.
For the season I’m now at 57-17 on predictions and 11-0 on Utah men’s basketball results.
This week’s picks
NCAA Men’s Tournament
Round of 64 winners: Florida, Pittsburgh, VCU, UCLA, Ohio St, Syracuse, New Mexico, Kansas
Round of 32 winners: Florida, UCLA, Syracuse, Kansas
Sweet 16 winners: Florida, Kansas
Elite 8 winner: Florida
Round of 64 winners: Virginia, Memphis, Cincinnati, Michigan St, North Carolina, Iowa St, UCONN, Villanova
Round of 32 winners: Virginia, Michigan St, Iowa St, UCONN
Sweet 16 winners: Michigan St, Iowa St
Elite 8 winner: Iowa St
Round of 64 winners: Arizona, Oklahoma St, Oklahoma, San Diego St, Baylor, Creighton, Oregon, Wisconsin
Round of 32 winners: Arizona, San Diego St, Baylor, Oregon
Sweet 16 winners: Arizona, Baylor
Elite 8 winner: Arizona
Round of 64 winners: Wichita St, Kentucky, NC State, Louisville, UMASS, Duke, Arizona St, Michigan
Round of 32 winners: Wichita St, Louisville, UMASS, Michigan
Sweet 16 winners: Wichita St, Michigan
Elite 8 winner: Michigan
Final Four winners: Florida over Iowa St, Arizona over Michigan
National championship game: Arizona over Florida
BYU in the NCAA Women’s Tournament
BYU will beat NC State on Saturday to advance to the next round
Utah Utes and Utah Valley Wolverines in the NIT
Utah will beat Saint Mary’s and Minnesota to advance to the third round
Utah Valley will lose to California
The Jazz will lose at Memphis on Wednesday and at home to Orlando on Saturday (they are that bad right now)
It is difficult to find an NBA game worth predicting, or even watching, right now. There are so many bad/uninteresting teams that it is rare to find a game featuring two contenders.
In the Western Conference I would say there are six interesting teams and just two in the Eastern Conference.
It is also difficult to identify any real rivalries in the NBA these days. With rare exceptions, players now are pretty content to collect their enormous paychecks and live a great lifestyle.
Just on the Jazz, you have guys like John Lucas making $1.6 million this season (for what?), Richard Jefferson $11 million, Andris Biedrins $9 million, Marvin Williams $7.5 million and Brandon Rush $4 million.
Talk about having it good! These guys get to make millions of dollars regardless of whether they or their team plays well (or even if they contribute at all), play a great sport that keeps you in shape, travel in luxury all over the country and basically live in ways most people wouldn’t even bother dreaming about.
And you want these guys to care about what? Winning? Rivalries?
Good luck with that.
And yes, I am jealous. Duh.
Jimmer Fredette continues to not play even a single meaningful minute for his new team. Those Jimmer fans saying that the Bulls are preparing him to play a role in the playoffs (and there are a lot of you saying that), I just don’t see it.
You think the Bulls are going to establish a rotation for the rest of the season and then all of a sudden mess with that in the playoffs? That just seems far-fetched. The only way Jimmer will be seeing the court will continue to be in blowouts, or maybe in free-throw or desperation 3-pointer situations.
Hey Jazz management, would it really have been that bad to pick up Jimmer after he was let go by the Kings? Don’t you think your fans would have rather seen Jimmer bomb some threes in losing by 38 to the Rockets than watch John Lucas, Ian Clark and Brandon Rush play 30 combined minutes? Or Richard Jefferson play at all?
Yeah, I think so. Sometimes the obvious and the simple are actually the smart choices, too.
Richard Sherman and DeAngelo Hall
As a longtime Atlanta Falcons fan, I have endured a lot: Deion Sanders ditching us, Eugene Robinson getting busted for visiting a prostitute the night before the Super Bowl in ‘98, Jamal Anderson having his career cut short with injuries, our franchise quarterback going to jail for dog fighting, the Bobby Petrino fiasco, and having to listen to guys like Roddy White and DeAngelo Hall open their mouths (or their Twitter accounts) in wild attempts at “communication.”
Thankfully Hall is now Washington’s problem, but now and then I still see a highlight of him getting beat for a touchdown or hear about him still spouting off.
Well, the world was blessed last week with an “epic Twitter battle” between DeAngelo and Richard Sherman, two of the classiest dudes in not just the NFL, but probably the entire universe.
Take a look. Warning: If you read it, you will end up dumber for it.