--UCLA won the Pac-10 Tournament and got the bracket it wanted, seeded first in the West and going through Anaheim and Phoenix. I filled out my brackets this morning and have UCLA winning the national championship. They have a very nice path to the Final Four.
In the first round, Mississippi Valley State doesn't belong in the tournament. In the second round, Texas A&M has really struggled down the stretch and BYU just doesn't have the horses to compete with the Bruins. UConn might be a tricky opponent in the Sweet 16 (admittedly, I haven't seen Drake this year), but this isn't your Emeka Okafor or Richard Hamilton UConn team. I think Duke is a very weak No. 2 seed, and Xavier is somewhat unpredictable as a No. 3. I see Texas coming out of the South Region, and even though the game would be in San Antonio, I think Ben Howland will make the proper adjustments with a healthy Darren Collison to win a rematch with the Longhorns. I have North Carolina beating Georgetown in the other Final Four game, and call it a hunch that UCLA would beat UNC for their first title since 1995. We shall see.
Still, UCLA has to be somewhat concerned about the health of both Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. This is another example of why conference tournaments are a bad idea, as two Bruins stars were injured in an effort to win a meaningless event. Love shouldn't miss a game, but UCLA better hope his back doesn't spasm. Mbah a Moute expects to miss the first round game against Mississippi Valley State, but claims he'll be better by round 2. In truth, UCLA can probably survive without him until the Sweet 16.
--USC got a No. 6 seed and a very tough first round matchup with Kansas State. CBS executives are probably licking their chops at the OJ Mayo-Michael Beasley matchup, and it should be an exciting game. Personally, I feel that Kansas State is better than an 11-seed, and it's not completely fair that this game is in Omaha, closer to the lower-seeded team. Still, I see USC prevailing. Kansas State has struggled down the stretch and Tim Floyd will probably devise an excellent defensive game plan to contain both Beasley and Bill Walker. I also suspect that OJ Mayo will be motivated to play one his best games.
In the second round, I think USC will get by Wisconsin (assuming they get by Cal State Fullerton). That may seem like a bold upset prediction, but the Big Ten had a terrible year and the Trojans can play the Badgers rough-and-tumble defensive style. I don't see USC getting past Georgetown in the Sweet 16, unless the Hoyas are shocked and upset in rounds 1 or 2.
In other Trojan basketball news, Tom Floyd reiterated his intent to stay at USC even though the LSU job is open. Maybe I'm naive, but I'd be shocked if Floyd left LA for Baton Rouge. While he is a Louisiana native, and he does have family nearby, LSU simply can't pay Floyd as much as USC can. LSU is a public school, and most of their coaching salary dollars are going to Les Miles. Additionally, Floyd sounds sincere in saying that he wants to keep his word to Mike Garrett. Expect VCU's Anthony Grant to be offered the LSU job soon.
--The Lakers lost to the Rockets 104-92 yesterday, and lost the top spot in the West as well. Mark my words here today: the Rockets will cool off soon without Yao Ming. Yes, they've won 22 in a row, but they won't win forever, and I'd still be surprised if they can win the West. They're going to need an inside presence to contend in the playoffs.
The Lakers are a different team without Pau Gasol, and it's unfortunate that a sprained ankle will keep him out for the remainder of this important road trip. Still, Gasol is said to be a fast-healer, and when he returns, all will be right in Lakerland. I wouldn't expect much out of Andrew Bynum the rest of the way though, as it's just going to take a ton of time and rehab to strengthen his knee and then get in game shape.
--The Dodgers played their last game in Dodgertown today, losing 12-10 to the Astros in Vero Beach. It's sad to see them leave their spring home for 50 years, but the reality is that it's right thing to do. They will be a stronger organization by training in a first-class facility in Arizona, closer to home and closer to their fans. It's been fun to see Tommy Lasorda manage again though.
Meanwhile, Joe Torre and the other half of the Dodgers were in Beijing this past weekend, playing a two-game set with the Padres. It's great that the Dodgers got to play in the first MLB game in China, and helped spread the sport abroad. But would it have killed someone in the MLB offices, the cable networks, or the teams to do something about the TV coverage? I cut my Friday night plans early to watch the game, only to find out through Josh Rawitch's blog that the game would not be televised as originally reported in the newspaper. Instead, I had to go to MLB.com to listen to the Padres announcers calling the game from a studio in San Diego off a video feed. The next day, Steve Lyons and Kevin Kennedy broadcast the game together on FSN Prime from a studio in LA by watching a similar video feed from Beijing. With all due respect to Lyons and Kennedy, couldn't FSN or the Dodgers have mixed in a play-by-play announcer? Originally, the first game was supposed to be a simulcast with Charley Steiner and Rick Monday actually on site. That would have been preferable. The pair did broadcast the game on KABC 790 AM.
I understand that these games were designed to promote the sport in China, and perhaps it didn't matter who watched in the US. But they were historic games, and they deserved to be televised in a professional way, even if there was a time difference. I don't know if MLB is responsible, or its broadcast partners in ESPN, TBS, or Fox are responsible, but I have to believe that there would have been a decent broadcast audience in the US for this series.
Now the Dodgers will finish up spring training in Phoenix at the Oakland A's facility. .
--The Angels pitching staff is in terrible shape after it was announced that John Lackey will be on the DL until at least Mid-May with a triceps strain. With Kelvim Escobar also out until May, the Angels will start the season without their two best starting pitchers. Add their misfortune to the putrid spring that Ervin Santana is having, and there is cause for serious concern in Anaheim. John Garland is a solid starting pitcher, but he's had his bouts with consistency. Jered Weaver is an excellent talent, but he's still young and developing. Young Joe Saunders will be in the rotation along with either Nick Adenhart or Dustin Moseley. The Angels may want to explore trading one of their surplus outfielders for another pitcher, but that's easier said than done. Reliable arms don't grow on trees, and few teams are willing to give them up. The Halos will need to rely on their offense and bullpen to carry them through the first part of the season.
--Loyola Marymount fired its men's basketball coach Rodney Tention after he went 30-61 in three years. It's disappointing to see the program fall so far since their remarkable run to the Elite 8 in 1990, when the Paul Westhead-coached Lions had a lineup of Bo Kimble and Jeff Fryer, and rallied together after the tragic death of Hank Gathers. Hopefully the next LMU coach can bring some magic back to Gersten Pavilion.