Think the Dolphins have gone too long between titles? Check this list

 

Was starting to get a little down about the Miami Dolphins going 43 seasons without a Super Bowl title but then it hit me.

South Florida could be stuck like the Arizona Cardinals or the Lions or the Eagles. The clownish Cleveland Browns have won NFL titles more recently than those franchises.

By comparison, the Dolphins haven’t waited long at all. Why, there are 27 franchises in America’s major professional sports that have gone longer between championships.

Don Shula talks to Dan Marino during 1986 training camp. (Alan Zlotky/The Palm Beach Post)

Memorize this list and be prepared to recite it, loudly, the next time somebody tells you the Dolphins never win anything. (Note: this list does not include three years for the Browns when the franchise was dormant or else they’d be lower.)

Longest active title droughts in U.S. pro leagues

Arizona Cardinals, NFL           69 years

Cleveland Indians, MLB         68 years

Sacramento Kings, NBA         65 years

Detroit Lions, NFL                   59 years

Atlanta Hawks, NBA               58 years

Texas Rangers, MLB              56 years

Philadelphia Eagles, NFL       56 years

Houston Astros, MLB             55 years

Tennessee Titans, NFL           55 years

Los Angeles Chargers, NFL     53 years

Buffalo Bills, NFL                     51 years

Minnesota Vikings, NFL           51 years

Atlanta Falcons, NFL                 51 years

Cincinnati Bengals, NFL           49 years

Cleveland Browns, NFL             48 years

Milwaukee Brewers, MLB         48 years

San Diego Padres, MLB               48 years

Washington Nationals, MLB       48 years

Phoenix Suns, NBA                       48 years

Los Angeles Clippers, NBA         48 years

Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL         48 years

St. Louis Blues, NHL                     48 years

New York Jets, NFL                        48 years

Kansas City Chiefs, NFL                 47 years

Milwaukee Bucks, NBA                 45 years

Buffalo Sabres, NHL                       45 years

Vancouver Canucks, NHL             45 years

 

Off that list, there are only a handful of teams capable of winning a title this year. Let’s say the Indians, the Astros, the Nationals, the Chiefs and maybe the Arizona Cardinals.

[Westbrook is great but the Big O remains the standard for triple-doubles]

[NFL got what it deserved when Tom Brady’s jersey went missing]

[From franchise’s darkest history comes inspiration for today’s Heat]

Chances are the Dolphins will stay outside the 25 worst active droughts, but there are a couple other reasons to keep that chin up.

First, Miami made the playoffs last year.

Second, the Chicago Cubs are World Series champions, so absolutely anything goes.

 

 

 

Jim Furyk is captain of Ryder Cup team and general of a terrific program at Benoist Farms Elementary

 

Amazing how many charitable fundraisers go on around here with the help of the many PGA and LPGA Tour golfers who live in Palm Beach County and up the Treasure Coast.

Here’s one I didn’t know about involving a star player from outside our community, and a local club that’s thinking outside the box.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – Jim Furyk of the United States plays a tee shot in the World Golf Championships Mexico Championship on March 4, 2017. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Jim Furyk, a former U.S. Open champion and the captain of the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup team, is heavily involved in a program that each week sends a package of food home with students at Benoist Farms Elementary School in West Palm Beach.

Furyk and his family live near PGA Tour headquarters in the Jacksonville area, and that’s where most of the time and efforts of the ever-generous Jim & Tabitha Furyk Foundation are invested. So what’s the connection to Palm Beach County?

“We had a member with a connection to his agent,” said Cindy Lowdermilk, the general manager at West Palm Beach’s Banyan Golf Club, “so we reached out and told Jim we wanted to expand here.”

It was a very specific request. The members at Banyan wanted to help a school where most of the students were on free or reduced-cost lunch plans. Benoist Farms was the closest such school to the club.

Furyk agreed, and for the last three Decembers he has visited the club on Lyons Road to serve as host for a golf fundraiser. The format is familiar, with teams signing up to play golf and have brunch, and with Furyk jumping in to hit a few shots with each group. Members sell out the event every year, and there’s a waiting list, too.

The money raised goes toward boxes of food for all 565 students at Benoist Farms. They get one every Friday loaded with nutritious snacks like peanut butter and cereal and fruit to help get kids through the weekend. Special events bring special bonuses, too.

“Our members get together and do supplemental packings for over the holidays,” Lowdermilk said. “We just did Easter goodies for the kids, and we did hot chocolate and peppermint sticks for Christmas.”

[Westbrook is great, but the Big O remains the standard for triple-doubles]

[NFL got what it deserved when Tom Brady’s jersey went missing]

[No doubt Spo’s toughness as a player helped turn Heat season around]

Furyk will be back in December to do it again, joining with the Banyan Club in assisting a great many West Palm Beach families. It’s a long way from Jacksonville for Jim and Tabitha, but clearly close to their hearts.

 

 

Russell Westbrook is true stats machine, but nobody ever did it like the Big O

 

 

First, allow me to establish my credentials as an old stick in the mud who does not automatically agree that the latest thing is always the greatest thing.

Second, let me state that there will never be another Oscar Robertson, and that will be true even if Russell Westbrook matches the Big O’s landmark achievement of averaging a triple-double for an entire season, the only player ever to do that.

Westbrook is a wonder, no doubt. He leads the NBA in scoring at 31.4 points per game, ranks third in assists at 10.4 and 10th in rebounding at 10.5. That comes out to a triple-double more nights than not, and on some nights the mere stats alone don’t really do justice to Russ’ dominance.

On Monday night, for instance, he rallied Oklahoma City to a victory over Dallas even though the Thunder trailed by 13 points with 3:30 to play. Twelve of OKC’s final 14 points were scored by Westbrook, including the game-winning jumper with seven seconds to play.

Can’t tell you if Robertson ever did anything like that. The stats weren’t as precise or as faithfully recorded during his NBA career, which stretched from 1961-74. On top of that, you couldn’t catch every Cincinnati Royals or Milwaukee Bucks game on television back then.

What I can tell you is that the Big O didn’t have the luxury of the three-point shot, which was not yet adopted by the league. He also played in a nine-team NBA during his banner season of 1961-62, when he averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists, which means there would have been fewer players signed just to fill roster spots and thus tighter talent all around.

Here, though, is the real stunner. If you total up all the numbers, Robertson’s first five seasons in the league produced an overall triple-double average – 30.3 points, 10.4 rebound and 10.6 assists.

For Westbrook, on the other hand, it is only this season, his ninth in the league, that he is averaging double-digits in rebounds. The last two seasons he has averaged doubles in assists, but not before.

What’s more, it’s difficult for me to believe that a powerful and intimidating point guard like Robertson, so much stronger than his peers, would be a turnover machine. Westbrook has led the league in turnovers twice and may do it again this year.

Again, I’m not saying that Westbrook is overrated or anything. The guy is great. It’s just a matter of emphasizing Robertson’s legendary ability to do it all, and to do it for so long. Just because we didn’t see it on television doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

[NFL got what it deserved when Tom Brady’s jersey went missing]

[Look to Spo’s history as a player for toughness that turned Heat around]

[From franchise’s darkest history comes inspiration for Heat]

As an addendum, this season is the closest that LeBron James has ever come to averaging a double-double for an entire year. Through Monday’s games he was averaging 26.0 points, 8.8 assists and 8.4 rebounds.

The closest Michael Jordan ever came to a full season triple-double was 1988-89, when he averaged 32.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists. He was 25.

NFL got what it deserved when Tom Brady’s Super Bowl jersey went missing

The NFL got exactly what it deserved with the embarrassing story of a media member walking out of the Super Bowl locker room with Tom Brady’s jersey.

It’s been building up to something like this for years, with the league issuing credentials to all kinds of people from all kinds of places in an attempt to make American football a pop culture spectacle on every continent.

This photo released by MAGO on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 shows Tom Brady’s Super Bowl LI jersey after it was recovered by authorities in Mexico City. (MAGO via AP )

The men and women who cover the NFL regularly are not a priority in this quest. America already loves and follows the league more than any other professional sport, and follows it through conventional sources.

To have reporters come to the big game from, say, China or Egypt or Brazil or Turkey, that’s got potential for opening the eyes and ears and wallets of new customers worldwide.

I’ve been covering Super Bowls for a long time and the slow trend of granting access to outside and sometimes out-of-this-world “journalists” was a mere annoyance most of the time.

Late-night TV hosts always would send special correspondents to ask stupid questions and launch elaborate skits on Media Day, the event where both teams come to the stadium in uniform to be photographed and questioned and generally subjected to a mob scene.

Some of it was cute enough, like the grade-school kid supposedly reporting for “Weekly Reader” and getting passed up to talk with the quarterback on the podium. Some of it was clownish, like a beauty queen in a wedding dress asking players to marry her, or some blockhead bounding through the crowd on stilts.

For one morning each year everybody pretty much put up with it, because most of the interlopers were not granted access beyond Super Bowl Media Day itself.

At some point, however, and it probably was about the time the NFL Network came to be, the league decided to step it up a notch. Super Bowl Media Day became a prime-time event with a commercial sponsor and a live broadcast spread across three hours and three networks.

Can’t be surprised when something like that leads to anybody with a blog and a taxi fare to the stadium seeking a credential. The league gets all serious with photo I.D.’s and laminated credentials and scanning machines and metal detectors, but it’s pretty difficult to be utterly serious about some things and not about others.

The NFL, for instance, is determined to mine the Mexico City market. The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots will be sent there this season to play a regular-season game with the Oakland Raiders as a show of that commitment. With that decision comes a necessary promotional relationship with the Mexican media.

That’s how you wind up with a guy who works for Diario La Prensa, a newspaper in Mexico City, gaining credentials and access to the team locker rooms at the Super Bowl, even though that representative may never have spent any time doing legitimate reporting on NFL action.

Brady’s jersey was tracked to Mauricio Ortega in Mexico, who was listed as director of the publication and not as a reporter of sports or any other category. He also was known to have been spending his time during Super Bowl week gathering autographs and taking selfies with players, which should have gotten him red-flagged a lot earlier than Super Bowl Sunday.

It wasn’t Ortega’s first masquerade as a working journalist, either. He had attended previous Super Bowls and in his home was found a helmet that may have been stolen from a previous game.

So it is that one turkey out of 20,000 credentialed Super Bowl reporters showed himself to be a thief and an imposter. Or maybe we should say at least one out of 20,000. With media masses like that and an event this deliberately overblown, it’s impossible to be exact with sort of number.

[Only 3 Gator teams ever made it to Sweet 16 more easily than this one]

[Inaugural NCAA hoops title game was played in stuffy, campus gym]

[From franchise’s darkest moment comes inspiration for today’s Heat]

The NFL got what it finally deserved here, and it took the involvement of the FBI and the Houston police department and Mexican law enforcement authorities and even the Texas Rangers to clean up the mess. Of course, great gobs of taxpayer money went down the drain, too.

Will this pare down the Super Bowl credentialing list? Not enough to matter. There always will be groupies at any big show, and con men smart enough to slip through the cracks.

Look to Spo’s history as a player for the toughness that helped turn season around

From 11-30 to the NBA playoffs is an incredible journey that the Miami Heat still haven’t completed, but the question is the same no matter how this turns out.

How does a coach keep grinding the way Erik Spoelstra always does, whether his team seems bound for a world championship or the draft lottery?

MIAMI – Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra watches during the second half of a game against the Portland Trail Blazers on March 19. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

That’s one heck of a range when it comes to expectations and achievement and personal satisfaction, and it’s one that didn’t always hold Pat Riley’s attention quite as well during his coaching days.

Riley, of course, was a brilliant athlete in high school, good enough to have Adolph Rupp chasing him at Kentucky and brawny enough to be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys coming out of college. All he ever knew was winning when he got to the NBA, and he can’t stand to be away from it for long.

Spoelstra was just the opposite, scrapping for everything he got as a point guard who weighed just 98 pounds as a high school freshman. There’s an old USA Today story that tells of Spo taking 30,000 jump shots from three-point range one summer in order to stretch and improve his skills.

Yeah, that’s the kind of doggedness that comes in handy later when you’re 11-30.

Eventually Spoelstra earned a Div. I scholarship offer, but it wasn’t from UCLA or North Carolina. Instead he played at the small college in his Oregon hometown, the University of Portland.

Must have played pretty well, too, because he was named the Freshman of the Year in the West Coast Conference. Loyola-Marymount owned that league at the time, averaging 110 points per game, and Gonzaga, a No. 1 seed in the ongoing NCAA tournament, owns it today.

Problem is, the Portland Pilots weren’t very good overall. They started 0-13 in Spo’s first season there and wound up 2-26. It’s a real challenge not to quit on a team like that.

Stick with it, though, and 11-30 somewhere way down the line doesn’t rattle you as much as it might others.

Spo kept pounding away, starting 97 games in four years, which ranks ninth on Portland’s all-time list. He learned how to create scoring opportunities for teammates, ranking fifth on the school’s career list for assists, and how to make the most of his own chances, ranking fourth all-time at Portland with a free-throw percentage of .824.

That’s a lot of serious stat mileage for a player whose individual career numbers – 9.2 points, 4.4 assists and 2.4 rebounds – don’t exactly knock you out. Spo pushed every possible hot button, though, even though the Pilots never won more than 11 games during his four-year college career.

Is that the kind of guy you want coaching your team in the midst of an 11-30 nightmare? Well, sure, especially if he also has found great success, as in back-to-back NBA titles with the Big Three.

[Only 3 Gator teams ever made it to Sweet 16 more easily than this one]

[Most get in free for inaugural NCAA hoops title game in 1939]

[From franchise’s darkest history comes inspiration for today’s Heat]

There’s something here for everyone on the Heat roster, a coach who understands the psychological torture of losing, a coach who remembers what it’s like to be overlooked, and a coach who will accept only the highest standards no matter what anybody else thinks or says about his team.

What the team has achieved and what it continues to chase make more sense in this context. It tells you that the Heat couldn’t be in better hands.

It’s true now. It was true at 11-30.

 

Only three Gator teams ever made it to the Sweet 16 more easily than this one

 

No telling what will happen to the Florida Gators vs. Wisconsin on Friday night, but it’s been a shockingly easy ride so far.

With a total victory margin of 41 points in wins over East Tennessee State and Virginia, the Gators rank fourth in program history in terms of domination on the way to the Sweet 16 round.

ORLANDO, FL – Devin Robinson #1 and Justin Leon of the Florida Gators react in the first half against the Virginia Cavaliers during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at the Amway Center on March 18, 2017 in Orlando. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The 2012 Gators won their first two games in the NCAA tournament by a total of 60 points (plus-26 over Virginia and plus-34 over Norfolk State). That group, featuring Bradley Beal, Kenny Boynton and Patric Young, lost to Louisville in the Elite Eight.

Florida’s 2007 national championship team reached the Sweet 16 round with a total victory margin of 50 points (43 over Jackson State and seven over Purdue).

The Gators’ first national champions in 2006 had a 48-point edge over two opening opponents (26 over South Alabama and 22 over Wisconsin-Milwaukee).

Of course, it helps to have low-seeded teams as opponents in the opening rounds, but any NCAA tournament game is a potential face-plant. Mike White’s 2017 Gators don’t have a fistful of NBA players, like the championship teams of Billy Donovan. Also, this group had to beat a No. 5 seed on the way to the Sweet 16 round, which is more than was asked of those monster Gator teams listed above.

To this point, White’s only disappointment has been getting so little scoring from KeVaughn Allen, an All-SEC first-teamer, and Canyon Barry. They averaged 26 points per game as a pair during the regular season. In the NCAA tournament they are scoring less than half of that (5.5 points per game for Allen and 7.0 for Barry).

Get those two guys going against Wisconsin, plus the same overall defensive effort that has been a hallmark for the Gators this season, and there may still be another gear for Florida to hit.

The Badgers are tournament-tough, of course, and represent a major problem. Twice in the last three years Wisconsin reached the Final Four, including an appearance in the national title game against Duke in 2015. Florida has no experience to rival that, from the head coach on down.

[Most got in free for inaugural NCAA basketball championship in 1939]

[From the franchise’s darkest history comes inspiration for today’s Heat]

[Reliving Wilt’s 100-point game with two Palm Beach County eyewitnesses]

Every year is different, however, and every matchup. Try this mindless trivia on for size.

Wisconsin won the 1941 NCAA tournament with a 39-34 victory over Washington State in the championship game. Virginia scored 39 points in the second round of the 2017 tournament and lost by 26 points to the Gators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most got in free for college hoops’ inaugural title game, which was played in a stuffy, old campus gym

 

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is kind of a big deal.

This year’s Final Four, for instance, will be played in the same Arizona stadium where Super Bowls and national college football titles games have been played, and no tickets will be left over.

The thing wasn’t always so enormous, however, or so special.

In 1939, the first year of the NCAA tourney, eight teams were in the field and the championship game was played in what seems like a closet by today’s standards.

Northwestern University’s original Patten Gymnasium, since demolished and replaced, was the site of Oregon’s 46-33 win over Ohio State that inaugural year. According to an old Chicago Tribune article, a crowd of 5,500 attended the game, with many of them getting in free.

James Naismith, basketball’s inventor, attended the game that night in Evanston, Ill. Everything else about the affair was extremely low key, with Northwestern’s athletic director even advertising the need for four extra-long beds to accommodate the taller players on the visiting Oregon team.

TV coverage? Not a chance, not even locally.

The other teams in the tournament field that year were Texas, Oklahoma, Villanova, Utah State, Wake Forest and Brown. Pretty cool to think that Villanova was in the first NCAA tournament and enters the 2017 version, 78 years later, as the defending champion.

For some time the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden was better known than the NCAA, and usually had better teams. There even were cases where teams played in both events.

As a result, the following oddities jump out from NCAA tournament history.

San Francisco has won more NCAA championships (two) than Ohio State or Michigan or UNLV or Syracuse (one each).

Loyola-Chicago and CCNY and La Salle and Holy Cross have as many (one each) as Georgetown and Marquette and Arkansas (one each).

Oklahoma A&M has as many (two) as Florida and Michigan State and North Carolina State.

[Expecting it to be the Zagnuttiest NCAA tournament of them all]

[Let Lane Kiffin be your guide to a healthier, happier life]

[NCAA berths weren’t automatic for UM in Rick Barry’s golden era]

And Oregon? They took that first NCAA title and haven’t scored one since. They’re a No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region this week, however, with Iona and Creighton between the Ducks and the Sweet 16.

Anything can happen. Looking at the history of this quirky tournament, from its days on the back pages of the newpaper to billion-dollar TV contracts of today, just about everything already has.

From the franchise’s darkest history comes inspiration for today’s Heat

 

Here’s an irony for you. If Miami manages to earn the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, Heat fans can draw inspiration from one of the lowest moments in franchise history.

Not wanting to rub any more salt than necessary into an old wound, I won’t give you all the details. Just two words. Allan Houston.

MIAMI – New York’s Allan Houston reacts to his game-winning shot against the Heat at Miami Arena in Game 5 of the first round of NBA playoffs. PHOTO BY: RICHARD GRAULICH (Palm Beach Post)

We’re talking 1999, when the New York Knicks became the only No. 8 seed to reach the NBA Finals.

They defeated a No. 1 seed in the opening round (all right, it was Miami) and it was only a five-game series (not seven like today’s format) and it came at the end of a weird labor-lockout season (the Knicks’ regular-season record was 27-23).

Still, any way you slice it, a No. 8 seed got it going in the playoffs, which is Miami’s fondest dream now, well, after qualifying for the playoffs in the first place.

That year the Knicks beat Miami in five games, swept Atlanta in four, eliminated Indiana in six games and reached the NBA Finals against San Antonio, which did not end well but was more interesting than it should have been. The Spurs clinched the league championship in Game 5, by a score of 78-77.

Four other times a No. 8 seed has won a first-round playoff series against a No. 1.

If Miami gets in as a No. 8, that would mean knocking off the Cleveland Cavaliers, defending NBA champions. Tough sledding, but here’s how it has happened previously.

Denver beat top-seed Seattle 3-2 in 1994’s first round.

Golden State upset the No. 1 Dallas Mavericks 4-2 in the opening round of the 2007 playoffs.

Memphis beat the top-seeded Spurs 4-2 in 2011.

Then, the very next year, Philadelphia knocked off the No. 1 Chicago bulls 4-2.

In every case but the 1999 Knicks, the upstart 8-seed was eliminated in the second round.

All anybody wants is a shot, however, and that’s what Miami is fighting for now.

[Expecting it to be the Zagnuttiest NCAA tournament of them all]

[Let Lane Kiffin be your guide to a healthier, happier life]

[NCAA berths weren’t automatic for UM in Rick Barry’s golden era]

 

 

World Baseball Classic rolls on, and it’s bound to get rockier for Team USA

 

The World Baseball Classic was a monster success during first-round play at Marlins Park, with a total attendance of 163,878 for six games (the most ever for any first-round session at a U.S. site) and an average of 27,313 per game.

Still interested now that the tournament and Team USA have moved on to the second round?

Venezuela’s Miguel Cabrera celebrates with teammates after hitting a run against Italy during the ninth inning of a tie-breaker game at the World Baseball Classic in Guadalajara, Mexico, Monday, March 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Luis Gutierrez)

Here’s the deal. The U.S. plays Venezuela Wednesday night at San Diego’s Petco Park. The game starts at 9 p.m. on the MLB network and it won’t do for the American stars to lose it. The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are the other teams in this pool and only two can advance to the championship round at Dodger Stadium.

Venezuela barely survived first-round play in Mexico, needing a tiebreaker win over Italy to advance. Oh, and it took a three-run rally in the ninth inning to get by in that game.

It’s a big mistake, however, to think that Venezuela can’t be very good.

That dramatic Monday night rally against Italy featured a home run by Miguel Cabrera, the 2012 Triple Crown hitter and four-time American league batting champion. Also in the ninth, Rougned Odor of the Texas Rangers hit one off the wall to drive in a run and Alcides Escobar of the Kansas City Royals got another one home with a perfect squeeze bunt.

We haven’t even mentioned Martin Prado of the Miami Marlins yet. He’s hitting .438 for Venezuela and early in the tournament cranked out the first five-hit game in WBC history.

Tough competition, but it will get tougher for Team USA. Venezuela lost 11-0 to Puerto Rico in the opening round in a game that was called after seven innings due to the mercy rule.

[Expecting it to be the Zagnuttiest NCAA tournament of them all]

[Let Lane Kiffin be your guide to a healthier, happier life]

[NCAA berths didn’t come to UM during Rick Barry’s golden era]

You can stay up with all of this on the MLB network as Team USA continues play against Puerto Rico on Friday night and the Dominican Republic on Saturday night, or you can stick to spring training, which is missing a ton of its stars because of the WBC.

The following Houston Astros, for instance, are playing WBC games in San Diego this week. Jose Altuve for Venezuela, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Correa for Puerto Rico, and Alex Bregman and Luke Gregerson for Team USA.

 

 

Expecting it to be the Zagnuttiest NCAA tournament of them all

I like Gonzaga, Villanova, Louisville and Kentucky in the Final Four. Why?

Because I like the idea of the Zagnuts finally breaking through after making serious noise in the NCAA tournament for close to 20 years but never getting past the Elite Eight.

Because I also like Villanova having a shot at back-to-back national titles. Nobody has done that since Florida in 2006-07 and having the Wildcats in the Final Four would have all the analysts referencing the Gators, at least briefly, as an elite basketball program again. It’s about the only thing that could.

LAS VEGAS, NV – Przemek Karnowski of the Gonzaga Bulldogs carries the trophy off the court following the team’s 74-56 victory over the Saint Mary’s Gaels to win the championship game of the West Coast Conference Basketball Tournament on March 7. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Also because I like the idea of Louisville (potential Midwest champion) against Kentucky (potential South champion) in the national semifinals at Glendale, Ariz. The Wildcats have won their recent NCAA tournament matchups, including a national semifinal in 2012, but the Cardinals already have a 73-70 win over Kentucky this season.

But enough about me.

[Check out Matt Porter’s ‘go with my gut’ Final Four picks

Looking at this thing logically, which is what all the real experts try to do, North Carolina should make the Final Four. Duke and West Virginia are strong choices to fight their way in, too, and Kansas didn’t get a No. 1 seed for nothing.

There are long-time trends in this tournament to pile on top of that.

John Calipari, for instance, starts each season whining about the inexperience of his four or five new freshman All-Americas and by March has them on a run, like the 11-game win streak Kentucky is on right now. Included in that are a couple of get-it-right games, beating Florida and Tennessee easily after losing to both teams earlier.

[Let Lane Kiffin be your guide to healthier, happier living]

[No reason the Heat should be doing what they’re doing]

[UM didn’t get NCAA berths during Rick Barry’s golden era]

As for Villanova, the Wildcats and other Big East teams rarely are featured on the ESPN networks, which is where most of us watch college basketball. Consequently, Jay Wright’s teams tend to fly under the radar just a bit, which is amazing for so consistently strong a program. Villanova’s only lost three games this season and two of those were to Butler, a No. 4 seed in this tournament.

Hey, you can drive yourself crazy with all of this stuff but in the end it comes down to an educated guess and mine is Gonzaga over Kentucky for the national title, if only because nobody else has a 7-foot-1, 300-pound athlete named Przemek Karnowski, which in English translates to Get Out of the Way.