October 31st, 2018:
December 5th, 2018
Six burning questions
on the sports of our time
By KEITH GAVE
With so much happening in sports in our corner of the world these days, it doesn’t seem possible to concentrate on a single issue. And so we pose a few pertinent questions – and offer some lukewarm answers – or at least a point of view worth debating.
1. The first three – undefeated Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame – were easy. But did the College Football Playoff selection committee make the right call in taking Oklahoma over Georgie and Ohio State to complete the national semifinals pairings?
A. Absolutely, on every count. While a small but hard-core minority insist that Georgia is the only team capable of actually beating Alabama – the Bulldogs led most of the way in both games, but lost both – they couldn’t have been a serious contender for the fourth seed, requiring Alabama to beat them for a third time to get to the national title game. But they deserved to finish fifth in the final poll, ahead of Ohio State. Like and Oklahoma, the Buckeyes are conference champs. And while their easy win over Michigan was impressive, their lopsided loss to a six-loss Purdue team and narrow wins over Maryland and Penn State were impossible to overlook. Oklahoma, meantime, avenged its only loss of the season, a slender defeat to Texas, by beating the Longhorns impressively in the Big 12 championships game. By pitting Oklahoma and Alabama against one another, we’ll be treated to a dual of two great quarterbacks – and the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy. Nicely done.
2. Heading into Monday night’s game with visiting Oklahoma City, the Pistons had won five straight home games, including an impressive victory over Golden State on the second of back-to-back games at the Pizz-Arena. That put them in fourth place in the NBA’s feeble Eastern Conference. Just how good are these Pistons?
A. We’re about to find out, as they run through a gauntlet of several of the better teams in the NBA. Two nights after the win over Golden State, in their third game in four nights, the Pistons laid an egg against Oklahoma City, losing by 27 points. So far, at 13-8, the Pistons are playing above expectations. But now comes a trip to Milwaukee on Wednesday, followed by visits from Philadelphia on Friday and New Orleans on Sunday. Then it’s on the road again for a rematch with the 76ers followed by Charlotte two nights later. Let’s re-visit this question when these games are in the rear-view mirror.
3. After one victory in their first 10 games and languishing at or near the bottom of the NHL’s 31 teams for more than a month, the Red Wings stand even at 12-12-3, tied for 21st and just two
games back of Montreal for the second wildcard spot in the East. Can they sustain a serious shot at the playoffs over the remaining three quarters of the season?
A. At the risk of repeating ourselves, let’s hold off on this one, too. Like the Pistons, the Wings are running their own gauntlet. The won at Boston on Saturday, a signature win for the way they refused to back down and took the battle to the Bruins in their own building. A night later at home, against a very good Colorado team that sits fourth overall in the NHL standings, the Wings trailed 1-0 and were threatening to tie it in the closing seconds before an empty-net goal iced the game for the Avs. But again, the Wings defended their home ice admirably, dropping the gloves twice in a chippy contest reminiscent of every game these teams played from the mid-1990s to the turn of the century. Now comes NHL-leading Tampa Bay on Tuesday, and a visit to third overall Toronto on Thursday. These four games should be a good gauge for the young Wings, who probably aren’t good enough to seriously compete for a playoff spot – yet they’re much better than the bottom-feeding team they’ve been for the past two seasons.
4. Where do the hapless Detroit Lions – I know, I know, that’s redundant – go from here?
A. Silly question. South, of course. After more than six decades of futility, we’re pretty familiar with this act. How frustrating is it to see teams like Chicago rise from the bottom of the division standings for a few years and suddenly see them rise to the top in rather dominating fashion, like the Bears are doing this season? Seems to happen everywhere around the league. Except in Detroit. Disgraceful isn’t a strong-enough word.
5. What does Urban Meyer’s resignation at Ohio State mean for college football.
A. It’s doubtful that, as earlier speculated, if Meyer had made the announcement before Sunday it would have had any impact on the CFP selection committee. Would have been a nice parting gift, but not warranted – just like the College Football Coaches Poll giving retiring Nebraska coach Tom Osborne half of the national championship that Michigan deserved after an unbeaten 1997 season. But for one man, Meyer’s departure should be huge. I couldn’t say it any better than today’s headline in the Detroit Free Press: “Merry Christmas, Jim Harbaugh!”
6. Which team – Michigan or Michigan State – has the potential to go farther in the NCAA tournament next spring?
A. Talk about burying the lead. This might be the best question of the bunch. With close losses to then top-ranked Kansas and unranked Louisville, the Spartans are 7-2 and ranked 10th in the land. But they’ve have watched unbeaten Michigan (8-0) pass them in the rankings. Michigan, last season’s national runner-up, is ranked No. 5. Wolverines coach John Beilein is finally getting credit long overdue for being one of the great recruiters and coaches in America. And his “underdog” teams have made some impressive runs in the NCAA tournament in recent years. Spartans coach Tom Izzo’s reputation as “Mr. March” has taken some hits over the same period. Both
these teams are really good, and their head-to-head matchups should be must-see events. But if you put a gun to my head, I like Michigan’s chances for a long run in the tournament a bit better than I like the Michigan State’s.
Need a nifty gift for that sports nut in your life? Keith Gave’s book, “The Russian Five, A Story of Espionage, Defection, Bribery and Courage,” is available on Amazon.com or wherever books are sold.
Follow on twitter @KeithGave
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