Calm before the storm

Calm before the storm

February 20, 2019 3:01 AM
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A colleague told me he swung by a sportsbook the other day and reported it was deathly quiet.

He made a bet and as he chatted up the writer, he was told it was the calm before the storm.

This was before Las Vegas got hit with snow Sunday, so let’s not give the writer too much credit. Nostradamus he ain’t. Nor Al Roker for that matter.

The ticket writer was referring to the upcoming storm that is March Madness.

It has been quite a hangover since the Super Bowl and the calendar can’t turn fast enough for those who love college basketball and the excitement that the NCAA Tournament provides. And for the sharp guys who follow the game closely, the March Madness menu extends to the NIT, the CBI and the CIT. Yeah, it sounds like boxing but these smaller tournaments are great opportunities to make money, especially for those bettors who follow the mid-major conferences and the lower-level leagues as well.

For those of you who can’t wait for March to get involved with college hoops, you’re in luck. This week provides some great opportunities to bone up on the top teams and start getting an education so when the brackets come out on March 17, you’re not asking your 6-year-old daughter to pick the South Region based on what color uniform the team wears or how cute their nickname is (or isn’t).

It starts Wednesday with North Carolina heading across Tobacco Road to face No. 1 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils have the nation’s best player in freshman Zion Williamson, and if you haven’t watched this kid play, you should. He’s a heck of a talent and he is the apple of every lousy NBA team’s eye as the projected No. 1 pick in the draft come June.

This will be the first of what could potentially be four meetings between Duke and Carolina. The regular-season rematch is March 9 at Chapel Hill. Then there’s the possible matchup the following week in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Charlotte.

Finally, would anyone be shocked if these two teams met in Minneapolis at the Final Four in the first weekend of April?

When I saw Roy Williams’ team lose to Texas 92-89 at the Orleans Arena in November at the Las Vegas Invitational, I didn’t see it a bad thing. It gave ol’ Roy a gauge as to his team’s warts and what he needed to shore up.

The Tar Heels are 20-5, ranked No. 8 in the nation and they showed they have some spine the way they bounced back from a 21-point rout at the hands of Louisville at home on Jan. 12 with a 10-point road win in the rematch on Feb. 2.

So this will be a fun night. ESPN will be televising and if nothing else, tune in to watch Williamson, a 6-foot-7, 285-pound forward who has a little LeBron James, a bit of Michael Jordan and some Magic Johnson to his overall game. He is gifted and whatever NBA team gets him will truly have hit the lottery.

I also want to quickly touch on one other blue blood program — Kentucky.

The Wildcats knocked off then No. 1-ranked Tennessee 86-69 last Saturday at Rupp Arena in Lexington. John Calipari’s team is much improved since that season-opening drilling it took from Duke back on Nov. 6. Kentucky had won 11 of its last 12 heading into Tuesday’s game against Missouri and the loss, 73-71 to LSU, was filled with controversy on a buzzer-beater tip-in that the officials let stand.

They are playing improved basketball and as is usually the case with Calipari’s teams, they need time to find chemistry due to the annual turnover of the roster. The Wildcats could be peaking at the right time and I would not be shocked to see them in Minneapolis come April.

To be honest, I can see any of a dozen or more teams make it to the Final Four. That’s how competitive it is and every team, Duke included, has warts that can be exposed on a given day.

Virginia will not get beat by a 16 seed this time around, assuming the Cavaliers are a one seed come March 17. Gonzaga and Nevada will make strong runs thanks to their veteran rosters. Michigan doesn’t let people score.

Houston intrigues me. So does Marquette. And when the stars are aligned, LSU and Texas Tech appear capable of hanging with anyone in the country.

And since coaching matters in college basketball, especially when you are in the NCAA Tournament and you have just one day to prepare should you advance to the second round or from the Sweet 16 to the Elite Eight, beware of Kansas’ Bill Self, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Villanova’s Jay Wright.

So get ready. March will be here soon and the forecast is a storm chock-full of raining 3-pointers and slam dunks. Madness? Indeed.

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