NCAA Basketball

St. Louis Shines in NCAA Tournament Spotlight

Wow, it could have been a really crummy weekend on the St. Louis sports scene, but a great Sunday salvaged some happiness. Some takes on what happened:

Our city absolutely nailed our NCAA tournament action. The hosts from the St. Louis-based Missouri Valley Conference always do first-class work, and this weekend was no different. Thousands of fans from Kansas, Wichita State and Kentucky (and perhaps a thousand from Stanford) treated themselves to what St. Louis has to offer. On Friday, they arrived to enjoy their teams in the tournament. On Saturday, they filled the streets and restaurants of downtown, Soulard, The Hill and The Loop, enjoying the food and ambience of our neighborhoods. Of course, the folks at the Scottrade Center did their usual fantastic work, culminating in a crowd of more than 19,000 on Sunday for Stanford’s upset of Kansas and Kentucky’s win over Wichita State.

I know there were a lot of sad people making the trek home westbound on I-70, but aside from their Sunday games, I got the impression that everyone – even the folks from Kansas – enjoyed their stay in St. Louis. Hopefully we’ll get to a point that it’ll be easy to fly non-stop into Lambert, and the NCAA will find a stadium solution that it finds acceptable enough to give us another Final Four.

I’m continually intrigued by some Blues fans who say “all I want is a Stanley Cup,” and “I don’t care about the Blues winning the President’s Trophy,” then go nuts over a couple of regular-season losses.

The Blues weren’t going to win every game they played after the trade with Buffalo. They faced angry, desperate teams in their buildings in Chicago and Philadelphia. And, by the way, the Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champions and the Flyers have been one of the hottest teams in the league since the Olympics.

The fact of the matter is that if the Blues win their division, they’ll be in great shape. They don’t want to face Colorado or Chicago in the first round of the playoffs, which they would do if they finish second or third in the Central. With 11 games left in the regular season, Minnesota and Phoenix have the inside track to the wild-card spots, with Dallas vying for the last spot, too. If the Blues get any one of those teams in the first round, they’ll be prohibitive favorites, and then would face the Blackhawks or Avalanche in round two. One indisputable fact is that no team has ever won a Stanley Cup in March. Let’s not get too worked up over a two-game losing streak following an eight-game winning streak. Can the Blues beat a great team? Well, Pittsburgh is one of the best teams in the NHL, and the Blues went into the Pens’ arena and won 1-0 on Sunday, so I’d say they can.

Congratulations to Billiken seniors Dwayne Evans, Jordair Jett, Mike McCall Jr., Jake Barnett and Rob Loe on leading SLU to the most wins for a class in school history. The Bills were in the NCAA tournament for each of their last three seasons, and did overcome a lot of obstacles to get there.

As coach Jim Crews said, “One game certainly is not going to dictate one thing or another, and I certainly don’t want that to overshadow … it won’t overshadow in our program what these seniors have done. They’ve had an amazing career. They’re the winningest group in Saint Louis history. They won a couple championships, more than a couple, three championships in the last two years, the number of games they’ve won in the last three years, three NCAA tournaments, which is really hard to get into.

“They’ve been good, all of them are graduating this spring, they’ve been great ambassadors within the community and really the world. Dwayne went on a world trip and we’ve had a couple other guys go on world trips. Big picture, I couldn’t be more proud and salute these guys for having a wonderful, wonderful career.”

The Billikens won’t be picked to be great next year, but it’ll be fun to see another class of young men at Saint Louis University ascend under Crews and his staff. This is now a program, not just a group of players.

The same cannot be said of Mizzou. The Tigers’ basketball program seems to be a group of mismatched parts that have a great deal of difficulty functioning as a unit. It’s imperative for Frank Haith to mold a team next year. Missouri’s basketball team the last two years has been the opposite of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The parts don’t equal a whole, and until they stop playing individual ball, they’re going to continue to be inconsistent.

Some quick notes: Good, logical move by Mike Matheny and the Cardinals to go with Joe Kelly as a starter and make Carlos Martinez their eighth-inning guy … The Rams should pursue Mark Sanchez as Sam Bradford’s backup. He’s won as a starter in the league, knows Brian Schottenheimer’s system and needs some time out of the spotlight to resurrect his career … The Illini will be better next year. While Mizzou didn’t get better during the season, Illinois under John Groce showed late signs of life … I couldn’t agree more with Mark Cuban’s suggestion that the NFL is oversaturating the market.  “I’m just telling you, pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. And they’re getting hoggy. Just watch … when you’ve got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns on you. That’s rule number one of business.” Remember when the show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” came on, and after it became popular, ABC put it on four nights a week? We had enough, and within months it was gone.  Cuban is right. Keep ‘em asking for more … Max Scherzer turns down a six-year, $144 million offer from the Detroit Tigers. It’s going to be difficult to find a more lucrative deal, and he and agent Scott Boras know that. Does Scherzer want to pitch for his hometown team? Interesting question.