SHANE SHACKLEFORD: Spring Sports Are In Full Tilt
Well, sporting fans, as the spring weather turns warmer and my lovely wife starts to renovate the inside of our cottage, let’s take a gander at where we are now in the sports world and what we have to look forward to in the coming months.
The men’s and women’s Final Fours are now history. On the ladies’ side of the ledger, Notre Dame hit a extremely last second three to beat Mississippi State 61-58 in a barn burner in Columbus. Listen, if you don’t watch women’s college hoops, you are truly missing out. Most fans think that the only school worth a flip is UConn. You’d be bad wrong. There are so many good programs out there and beyond that the quality of play across the board is only improving. Good stuff.
The men’s national final in San Antonio pitted the hottest team in college basketball in Michigan and the best team in America in Villanova. It was a classic offense (Nova) versus defense (Michigan) matchup. In the end though, the Wildcats offensive prowess won out and had enough gas in the tank to defeat the Wolverines 79-62 in the championship. Both teams were exquisite to watch in their execution on both ends. Hats off to Michigan for their run. To be fair, I sure would have liked to have seen Loyola-Chicago make the finals, but in the end the right two programs were playing for the big trophy. Congrats to Nova Nation.
In the NBA, the regular season is winding up with the playoffs right around the corner. As the playoffs open up, the two big big questions are: 1) Can the Houston Rockets dethrone the Golden State Warriors in the west? 2) Can any team in the east stop the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James? Well, here are the short answers. The Rockets have been the best team in the league all year. Behind MVP candidate James Harden and the play of point guard Chris Paul and other solid contributions from others, Houston has shown they have the capabilities of dethroning GState. The Warriors have looked surprisingly human this year, but they have the best foursome in the league in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant. If Curry can shake a nagging ankle injury and get healthy, my money is on the Warriors coming out of the west.
In the east, I really can’t see a team taking King James and his Cavs out. Toronto behind guard DeMar DeRozan has been really good all season without question. Boston has also been really good all season behind All-Star point guard Kyrie Erving. But Cleveland has some really nice pieces, are relatively healthy, and have the best player going in LeBron. While I’m here, I will say that LeBron in my opinion is the best basketball player ever not named Michael Jeffrey Jordan. He simply can do everything on the floor on both ends. He has the records and he has won championships. Say what you will, but James has abilities that transcend the game. There have been some great players through the years, but LeBron does so much on the court it’s hard to deny how special he is.
Enough about basketball, let’s talk about baseball. Opening day was last week for MLB, and with that my beloved Cincinnati Reds took the field...and promptly got swept by Washington. The Reds picked up their first win of the young season Monday 1-0 over the Chicago Cubs, so I’m relatively happy. But to be honest I kind of expected a tough season this year though. The Reds are really young and our pitching is suspect at best. Two things no fan wants to admit about their team. I think brighter days are ahead in the Queen City, though. The Reds minor league teams are stocked with some really good players like infielder Nick Senzel (the No. 7 player in the minor league Top 100 prospects) and pitcher Hunter Greene (No. 21 in the Top 100.) Plus the Redlegs have Joey Votto, for my money the best first baseman in baseball. Don’t judge me either.
On the college front, the SEC has really got it going this season. According to Baseball America, the conference has a robust nine teams in the Top 25, including Florida at No. 1. Kentucky is No. 13 in the poll this week. The Bat Cats are 19-9 and are chasing some consistency right now. The Cats have some nice wins, including a series win over Auburn, but are coming off a series loss to Alabama. UK hopes to get the ball rolling again with games against arch rival Louisville and a series with South Carolina in Lexington.
So there you have it, basketball wrapping up, baseball getting going and not to mention NASCAR and fishing picking up! What a time to be alive!
Shane Shackleford is a sportswriter from Speedwell, Tenn. Shane’s columns are featured regionally via print and online editions. You can reach Shane via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook, orTwitter @shack_daddy_1.