Saturday March 29th, 2008

Five things we learned while feeling lame about taking our laptop into a sports bar:

We need a new comparison for Stephen Curry. We've been comparing Davidson's remarkable sharpshooter to Miami (Ohio)'s Wally Szczerbiak, circa 1999, but it's time to come up with a new one after Curry's latest outburst (33 points!) to blow away Big Ten champ Wisconsin. It's hard to imagine many years in which UCLA's Kevin Love wouldn't be the star of the tournament based on his production so far, but Curry has somehow found a way to do it. Can he keep it up against Kansas? Why not? If Curry can solve Wisconsin's elite defense he's certainly capable of doing the same against the Jayhawks' elite defense. In fact, maybe the best new comparison for Curry is a Jayhawk: Danny Manning, circa 1988.

All these unexpected blowouts are a major bummer. Let's hope the games get better in the regional finals, because the regional semis were almost as brutal as the games at the 2006 Final Four. Only Xavier-West Virginia's overtime thriller was close in the end; as for the rest of the games, that sound you heard was CBS viewers changing the channel. Davidson's blowout of Wisconsin excepted, the big scoring margins go a long way to validate the season-long notion that there's a bigger-than-usual gap between the nation's best teams and all the rest.

Memphis is not the most vulnerable No. 1 seed after all. The Tigers played the single most impressive stretch of basketball I've seen from any team in the tournament in the first half against Michigan State, embarrassing the proud Spartans on their way to a jaw-dropping 50-20 halftime lead. When it comes to team-wide explosiveness, only North Carolina has the horses to match up with Memphis when both teams are playing at their best. So let's face facts and say that UCLA is the most vulnerable No. 1 seed based on its play so far in the tournament. Unless the Bruins play their most complete 40 minutes of the tournament on Saturday, Xavier will beat them.

Having future pros matters. At the start of the season, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl asked me if it was possible to win a national title without having many (any?) future pros on your team. It may be possible, but it's awfully hard, as we (and Pearl) learned the last two nights. Example 1: Tennessee's loss to Louisville, in which the Vols had perhaps one NBA player (Tyler Smith) and the Cardinals had probably three (Earl Clark, Terrence Williams, David Padgett). Example 2: Michigan State's loss to Memphis, in which the Spartans were blown away by the Tigers' NBA-level talent (Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Robert Dozier, Joey Dorsey, etc.).

Tyler Hansbrough didn't celebrate his SI cover the way Rashad McCants did. We mentioned in a recent column that we'd love to do a story sometime on how Sports Illustrated cover subjects find out about (and respond to) their appearance on the magazine's cover. If it's anything like the way the band Stillwater responds in Almost Famous to making the cover of Rolling Stone, then I figure there are some pretty good stories out there.

So I asked North Carolina's Hansbrough today about how he responded when he made his first all-national SI cover earlier this month. "At first I didn't really tell anybody," he told me. "But then when it came out, all of the sudden I got tons of calls. It seemed like around 30 or 40 texts from all my friends and some people I hadn't even talked to in a long time. It's a big deal, but I don't think it's something you realize until you're actually on there."

Hansbrough's response was a bit different from the one McCants had when he made SI's national cover for our season-preview issue. "When Rashad was on the cover we were flying to Santa Clara, and we had to hit two airports because we flew commercial," says a UNC insider. "Rashad went into the newsstand and just stood there until the people next to him looked at him. Then at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley he comes downstairs and throws a copy of it on the coffee table in the lobby and then sat behind it on the couch until people walked by."

Classic McCants. (I still remember bumping into McCants on the floor in St. Louis after UNC won the 2005 title, and the first thing he said to me wasn't about the championship or his teammates or even his own performance. It was this: "Jay-Z's here tonight.")

Which brings us to the latest edition of...

Speaking of McCants, he's the first of the newest batch of links to some of our favorite stories that have now been revived from mothballs in the just-released SI Vault:

• McCants never liked the media much in his three-year Carolina career, which is why I'm still stunned that he was willing to spend nearly three hours talking to me at his off-campus apartment before the Tar Heels national championship season. That said, McCants remains one of the more fascinating, smart and, yes, self-contradictory interview subjects I've ever had.

• A few readers over the years have wondered if they could see my 2003 story on the spread of the Princeton offense. Finally you can.

• I could write a novella about the backstory behind the 2002 SI cover article on a high school junior from Akron, Ohio, named LeBron James. But one of favorite memories was how excited James was to welcome me to his apartment and show me his favorite movie, the Wayans brothers gang-movie spoof Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. People don't remember how controversial it was at the time to put a high-school junior on the cover of SI (especially during the 2002 Winter Olympics) when nobody was sure if he'd make it or not. Guess he turned out OK.

• I've been thinking a lot these days about Miami (Ohio) coach Charlie Coles, one of my favorite coaches in the game, who's going through some health issues. Coles was the subject of a 2002 story on the (often hilarious) coaching theory class he taught to regular students at Miami.

Enjoy the games!

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