By Tim Haddock
The NCAA men’s basketball Final Four is set and predicting the outcome has never been easier. The four teams remaining for the championship are Florida, Connecticut, Wisconsin and Kentucky.
Kentucky is the lowest seed remaining, No. 8 from its bracket. But, as everyone is realizing, Kentucky was no No. 8 seed. The Wildcats were at least a No. 4, probably should have been a No. 2.
Kentucky has been a bracket buster since round two. Wins over No. 1 Wichita State and No. 4 Louisville were impressive, but not exactly dominating.
They beat Wichita State by two and Louisville by five points. Even Kentucky’s win over No. 2 Michigan came on a last-second 3-pointer. Kentucky should feel lucky to be in the Final Four.
Wisconsin plays Kentucky for a spot in the NCAA championship game. Wisconsin is the No. 2 seed from the West bracket. The Badgers weren’t the Big 10 team most expected to reach this far in the tournament, but here they are.
They beat Oregon, Baylor and Arizona to reach the Final Four. All three teams tested Wisconsin.
While Kentucky will be another tough test, Wisconsin will prevail. The Badgers advance in another close game.
On the other side of the bracket, Connecticut has emerged as the surprise of the tournament.
The Huskies are the No. 7 seed out of the East bracket. They should not have advanced past the second round, but surprised No. 2 Villanova and won by 12 points.
They proceeded to knock out the No. 3 seed, Iowa State (grossly overseeded), and No. 4 Michigan State. Most impressive, but they are not a national championship contender yet. They will play Florida, the No. 1 seed out of the South bracket and the No. 1 team in the country.
Florida’s toughest test came against UCLA in the Sweet 16. But that’s not Florida’s fault. Blame Ohio State, Syracuse and Kansas for choking in the early rounds. Because of their early exits, Florida played Dayton, the No. 11 seed, in the Elite Eight.
Florida is well-rested and has a 30-game winning streak. It will be 31 after the game against Connecticut.
That leaves Florida vs. Wisconsin for the NCAA championship.
This is another easy pick. Florida wins handily. Wisconsin is good and should not be intimidated playing a No. 1 ranked Florida team.
Florida and Wisconsin played once already on Nov. 12. Wisconsin won that game, 59-53, when the Gators were ranked No. 11 in the nation.
Florida is not only markedly better in this game, but players will have a little revenge on their minds.
The Dodgers started the season in Australia and returned to the states with a two-game lead in the National League West standings.
But all is not well in Dodgerland.
Right fielder Yasiel Puig and manager Don Mattingly are already butting heads. Clayton Kershaw is on the disabled list. The Dodgers do not have a second baseman.
That trip to Australia might be a little more costly than jet lag.
Mattingly can adjust Puig’s attitude with a little bench time. When Matt Kemp returns, another glaring problem for the Dodgers, Mattingly will have four All-Star caliber outfielders, with only three spots.
If a player gives him any attitude, Mattingly can choose to give him a day off, otherwise known as a timeout to the 21st century parent.
As for Kershaw, Dodger fans can only hope that his back problems can be fixed with a little rest. Without Kershaw, the Dodgers won’t go very far.
Second base is a way bigger problem. Alex Guerrero isn’t working out. Mark Ellis is with the St. Louis Cardinals. That leaves Dee Gordon and Justin Turner to hold down second base for the Dodgers this year.
Gordon has bulked up, but he still can’t hit. Turner is a better offensive option, but he is a defensive liability. All of a sudden, the Dodgers are very weak defensively up the middle.
After Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the Padres, it’s easy to see the Dodgers will have to win their games with their offense.
It’s not impossible, but probably not what the Dodger brain trust had in mind when the season started.
High School Baseball
The Foothill League baseball season started last week with three notes of interest.
Hart is 4-0 and has become the favorite to win the Foothill League championship.
Saugus has some pretty good pitchers and will definitely be in contention for a playoff spot.
Valencia is in disarray after losing its coach and the first two games of the Foothill League season.
Let’s start with Hart.
Hart has won its games over Canyon, Valencia, West Ranch and Golden Valley. In addition to being undefeated in the Foothill League, they have yet to lose a game this season.
The Indians are 10-0-1, the tie coming against Poly from Sun Valley in the Easton Tournament. Pitching has been the strength of the Indians in recent games. They have given up five runs in their four league games.
Saugus started out hot in the Foothill League. The Centurions shut out Golden Valley and Canyon in their first two games. Then the Saugus bats went quiet in the next two league games. They lost 7-1 to West Ranch and 2-1 to Valencia.
Eric Little and Anthony Donatella have turned into a nice 1-2 pitching punch for Saugus. Little pitched a three-hitter against Golden Valley. He is 3-1 with a 2.55 ERA in four games. Donatella has a 0.32 ERA in four games. He was the winning pitcher in the game against Canyon.
Finally, Valencia had a rough start to the season. Jared Snyder, the team’s coach, was given a leave of absence and is being investigated by the school district after the first game of the Foothill League season. He was not allowed to coach the Vikings in their second game, a 3-1 loss to Hart. But Valencia has won its past two league games, 7-1 over Saugus and 2-0 over Canyon.
Perhaps Valencia can right the ship in time to make a playoff run.
Tim Haddock is the sports director at KHTS AM 1220. He writes for the SCV Beacon, the Ventura County Star, the Team USA website and covers auto racing for the K&N website. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thaddock.