Without undefeated Kentucky, this year's title game won't be historic. But it's still loaded with intrigue
At the start of the 2014-15 college basketball season, 351 Division I teams had a chance to win the national championship. Going into this weekend, four teams remained: undefeated Kentucky and Wisconsin on one side of the bracket, Duke and Michigan State on the other. Let’s face it: Duke-Kentucky would have been a dandy final. Both programs have a national imprint. Dynastic Duke is the New York Yankees, or Dallas Cowboys, of college hoops. Kentucky is not only a blue blood program, but more recently it’s a factory of future NBA talent led by a divisive coach, master salesman John Calipari. The NCAA had already nullified two Final Four appearances of his prior teams, UMass and Memphis.
Imagine Calipari’s Cats just needing to get by the venerable Coach K, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, to complete the first perfect season in major men’s college basketball since 1976. The good vs. evil narrative, trite as it is, would write itself. The cunning Calipari, the man whose system of shuttling players to the NBA after a year of college is a supposed affront to higher education, on one side, against Coach K, molder of student-athletes at prestigious Duke. That match-up guaranteed a monster TV rating.
Well, it’s not happening. Duke held up its end, as the Blue Devils trounced Michigan State, 81-61. However, Wisconsin gutted out a thrilling 71-64 victory over Kentucky to squash the Wildcats’ dreams of perfection. Plus, the Calipari/Krzyzewski clash is hogwash. If anything, Krzyzewski has copycatted Calipari’s strategy of recruiting NBA-ready players who are only in college because NBA rules require that they spend a year in school before they’re drafted. Kyrie Irving, Austin Rivers and Jabari Parker left Duke after just one year in 2011, 2012 and 2014, respectively; this year, Duke freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow are locks to be high first-round picks. Freshman guard Tyrus Jones could also go pro. So who’s one-and-done U here?
According to the ol’ eye test, the Blue Devils were just too good for Michigan State on Saturday night. They should swarm Wisconsin too. In the first half against Kentucky, the Badgers needed a few crazy shots to go in to stay ahead. In the end, the skills of Wisconsin stars Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker—combined with some sloppy execution by Kentucky, which relied too much on guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison to create scoring chances, rather than give the ball to the big men—made the difference.
On Sunday, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said he got numerous texts from people reminding him that when the Team USA hockey team beat the Soviet Union to complete the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympics, the U.S. still had to defeat Finland in the gold medal game. It’s cute to compare Wisconsin’s win over Kentucky to the Miracle on Ice, or even to Duke’s upset of the undefeated UNLV team in the 1991 national semis, but both comparisons are off. That Soviet team was unbeatable, and on paper a bunch of American amateurs had no conceivable shot to win. That UNLV team was not only undefeated, but it crushed everyone all year and had the same nucleus as the team that won the national title in 1990. Kentucky had a few close calls this season, including one just last week against Notre Dame in the regional final. The Wildcats had a perfect season going, but they weren’t a perfect team. It’s not entirely stunning that they lost.
And Duke, I suspect, poses a bigger challenge than the Fins—relatively speaking. If the Badgers are to beat Duke on Monday night, they’ll have to pull off the same feat they did against the Wildcats: make tough shots against a bunch of future pros. That’s difficult to do for two straight games.
One observer’s prognosis: one-and-done U will win the title. Just not the one most people expected.
How to liven up a hoops party -- responsibly
TIME introduced its inaugural Final Four drinking game last year, and our second installment is back by popular demand—just in time for Saturday’s match-ups from Indianapolis. Duke plays Michigan State at 6:09 p.m. E.T., while Wisconsin and Kentucky tip off at 8:49 p.m. TBS will broadcast both games.
As always, please play responsibly. Follow local laws, don’t overindulge and please take a cab home if need be.
With that, here are this year’s rules:
Drink When Raf Calls “Man-to-Man”
Announcer Bill Raftery, the avuncular, white-haired former coach who has popularized phrases like “with a kiss” for a player who makes a bank shot, will finally call a Final Four on television. This honor is long overdue, and the arrest of former top analyst Greg Anthony in January for allegedly soliciting a prostitute created a spot for Raftery. Listen for the sweetest sound in March: at the beginning of each game, soon after the tip, Raftery will chirp that the defense is in “man-to-man!” He’s pumped, so you’re pumped. Who wouldn’t drink to that?
Raise Your Glass When TBS Airs Gordon Hayward’s Missed Half Court Shot
This is the first Final Four in Indianapolis since 2010, when the Blue Devils cut down the nets at Lucas Oil Stadium after defeating Butler in the championship game, 61-59. Butler’s Gordon Hayward, who now plays for the Utah Jazz, barely missed a half-court shot at the buzzer that would have given the hometown Bulldogs the win. TBS producers surely have that clip cued up for Saturday.
When You See a Slap, Hit the Tap
Take a Sip When Announcers Play Up Michigan State’s Hometown Friends
Michigan State players Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes grew up together in Lansing, Michigan, a jump shot away from Michigan State’s campus in East Lansing. They’d down Capri Suns from Valentine’s fridge and were high school teammates. The announcers will start yapping about the Lansing connection, and you’ll know what to do.
Drink When Frank the Tank Makes an Improbable Shot
Wisconsin’s Frank “the Tank” Kaminsky, arguably the country’s best college player, is effective because he can score in all sorts of different ways. Drink up every time Tank makes a goofy, off-balance shot that has no business going in.
Finish Your Beer When Dekker Hits a Three
Sharpshooter Sam Dekker torched Arizona in the West region final, scoring 27 points in Wisconsin’s 85-78 win. In the second half, Dekker didn’t miss a shot, going 6-6 from the field and 3-3 from the foul line. His three off the dribble in the waning seconds sealed the win, and made Aaron Rodgers real happy. “Sam Dekker pretty much crushed our dreams,” Arizona’s T.J. McConnell said after the game. But he may even liven up your party, if you sip when Dekker hits a three.
Down a Drink When the Announcers Name Drop the Harrison Twins
In last year’s Kentucky-Wisconsin national semifinal, Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison hit the game-winning three pointer with less than 6 seconds left. He hit another big one down the stretch in Kentucky’s thrilling 68-66 victory over Notre Dame in the regional last Saturday, and in that game, his twin brother Andrew made the deciding free throws. In last year’s title game, however, UConn’s guards outplayed Kentucky’s brotherly backcourt, a key factor in UConn’s win.
Toast to Ashley Judd Hitting the Jumbotron
Bottoms Up When Announcers Predict First-Draft Picks
If you prefer pro hoops to the college version, you should still tune into this year’s Final Four, for no other reason than you’ll see plenty of future NBA talent. One writer predicts that as many as eight top prospects may be selected by NBA teams that participate in the annual draft lottery, where the luck of the ping-pong ball determines a bad team’s draft position.
Cheers to a Potentially Perfect Season
The biggest storyline going into this year’s Final Four: Kentucky’s quest for perfection. The Wildcats are 38-0, and two more wins would give them the first perfect season in major men’s college basketball since 1975-1976, when the Indiana Hoosiers of Kent Benson, Quinn Buckner and Scott May ran the table. So raise a glass every time you hear “1976 Indiana Hoosiers.” We’ll drink to history.
There's more to the state than one terrible law
Indiana has elicited some serious hate thanks to the so-called religious freedom bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Mike Pence that allows businesses to deny service to same-sex couples. The hashtag #boycottindiana has been making the rounds on Twitter and been promoted by the likes of Star Trek’s George Takei, who asked his 1.6 million followers to boycott the heart of the Midwest.
On behalf of my home state, I would like to offer a defense. Not of the religious freedom bill, which I would never defend. But of the state itself, one with fine folks, fine sporting traditions and, well, a delicious pork tenderloin.
- Indiana is basketball’s beating heart. Basketball is everywhere. The red barns with battered hoops. The city playgrounds with rims so overused its nets have long since parted. If it wasn’t for actual religion, the sport would be the state’s true faith. Indiana is home to two of the historically great basketball programs: 5-time national champions Indiana University (Let’s overlook the last decade or so. Please.); and perennial underdog Butler, which made it to back-to-back national championship games in 2010 and 2011. Butler also plays in historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, the site of one of the great underdog stories in all of sports: the 1954 Milan team, a tiny school that won the state championship in Hinkle and inspired the movie Hoosiers.
- Corn. Listen: There’s a lot of it, and it’s delicious.
- The breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. It’s perhaps the only true fare that Indiana can claim. You take a pork tenderloin, you smash until it’s practically paper thin, and then you fry it up. Also, delicious.
- Hoosier Hospitality. Knock on anyone’s door and it’s mandated by law that they give you shelter for the night. People in Indiana are that nice. Try it. Tell them Josh sent you.
- Gary. Wait, no, not Gary. Sorry. Moving on.
- The Jackson 5. Their formative years were spent in the state before making it big and before Michael Jackson completely transformed pop music. Come to think of it, they’re from Gary.
- Gary. Sorry, no. Still not Gary.
- The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. The Indianapolis 500 is still one of the most incredible sporting events to see live. The 2.5-mile track is like the Grand Canyon of sports. Although I still don’t understand why the winner drinks milk at the end. Which reminds me:
- Rolling farmland. Parts of the state (particularly southern Indiana where I’m from, but I’m biased) are truly beautiful with gently rolling hills, wooden barns and silos in the distance. The appeal is in the subtlety.
- Johnny Appleseed. Are you eating an apple right now? Thank Johnny Appleseed, who spent much of his time in the state. He probably planted the tree that grew that apple. Or at least that’s what Mrs. Newman in fourth grade told me.
- Lincoln’s Boyhood Home. Our greatest president spent his youth in southern Indiana and thank God, because then we would’ve only been able to claim Benjamin Harrison and his grandfather, who was president for a month before he died of pneumonia. Just grab a coat, William Henry!
- It’s not Kentucky. Because, seriously, who would want to be from that state?
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Sure, the No. 13 seed in the West is a long shot. But our March Madness bracket favors colleges that produce alumni who win the financial tournament of life.
For the three weeks known as March Madness, college basketball fans focus on stats like field goal percentages or player efficiency. But we here at MONEY try to stay sane and pay attention to the numbers that matter over the long term.
So when we filled out this year’s NCAA men’s tournament bracket, we picked teams based on our Best Colleges rankings, which look at which schools do best in terms of affordability, quality of education, and graduating students into good-paying jobs. In other words, if we gathered these players and their classmates together again in, say, 25 or 50 years, who would likely be on the best financial footing?
This gave us an unorthodox final four of Harvard (6th in our value rankings, while a 13th seed in the tournament), Notre Dame (20th), Virginia (16th), and UCLA (31st), with Harvard besting Virginia in Indianapolis on April 6.
That Harvard is the overall winner is not exactly surprisingly: 97% of students graduate, there have been no recent defaulters on student loans, and the average recent graduate is earning about $55,000 a year these days, according to data from Payscale.com. But the elite private colleges don’t dominate in this bracket or in life. Two of our final four are public universities–Virginia and UCLA–which also have graduation rates above 90% and whose recent alumni typically earn about $50,000 a year.
Looking for this year’s Cinderella story? Manhattan (40th), the rightful winner of the play-in game against Hampton under our system, is predicted to oust undefeated Kentucky (389th) in the first round and go all the way to the Elite Eight. Another sixteen seed makes history in our bracket, as Lafayette College (28th) knocks off Villanova (114th) in the first round and hangs on until the Elite Eight as well.
There are some squeakers along the way. Schools within 20 places of each other in our ranking are roughly equivalent. But, strictly by our numbers, pricey, exclusive Lafayette edges out public and relatively affordable UC Irvine (32nd) in the Sweet 16 round. Lafayette Leopards tend to graduate into higher-paying jobs than do Irvine Anteaters (a difference of about $8,000 a year, according to Payscale), but they pay much more for their degrees. The average Leopard pays a total of $178,000 (after college scholarships are subtracted) for a bachelor’s degree, versus the Anteaters’ total bill of about $123,000.
Under our college value selection system, Brigham Young (9th) not only makes the roster of 64 teams but goes all the way to the Elite Eight before running up against unstoppable Harvard. Other notables in our bracket: Perennial basketball powerhouse Duke (32nd) barely makes it past Georgetown (37th) in the Sweet 16 before falling to UCLA. But high seeds like Gonzaga (177), Arizona (99), and Kansas (248) stumble early in the tournament.
To see how your college ranks in the competition of life, check out our full college rankings. Dig into our full NCAA bracket below (click the image to see a larger version).
Attendance and ratings are down. Scoring is at historic lows. Arenas are antiseptic. Why is the sport so troubled?
What are we doing here?
It’s Friday afternoon in Brooklyn, just days before the annual “Selection Sunday” that will decide the layout of the NCAA tournament. The Barclays Center, home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, is hosting the conference tournament quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10, a hoop-centric group of schools whose core geographical imprint stretches from Philadelphia, through Washington, D.C. down to Richmond, Virginia, while hitting a few places in the midwest: Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Dayton. Yet the Atlantic 10 hosts its conference tournament in New York City, home to Fordham University—one of the league’s northern outliers and worst basketball teams.
Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and the University of Richmond, two schools separated by five miles in the Virginia capital, are playing a tight, tough game, which VCU will eventually win, 70-67. But the whole thing still feels a bit out of place. The Atlantic 10 moved its tournament to Brooklyn back in 2013 because, more than anything, college athletic conferences have become marketing entities. Let’s bring the show to the big city, baby, no matter the convenience for the “student-athletes,” whose time spent traveling extra miles could be spent, you know, studying.
This rivalry game sparked some electricity. Fans of VCU, which made a surprising run to the Final Four back in 2011, travel well, and as VCU finishes off the Spiders, the place is loud and moderately rocking. Still, the building is only a little more than a third full, according to the official attendance figures. Empty seats dot prime areas behind the basket. Most of the fans are wearing yellow (for VCU) or red (for Richmond), but very few locals seem to be there. The Big Apple hasn’t exactly caught A-10 fever.
Which comes as no shock. Across the country, people seem to be falling out of love with college basketball. Attendance for Division I men’s games has fallen for seven straight seasons, according to the Associated Press. TV ratings for CBS and ESPN are down.
A well-documented drop in scoring, which is near historically low levels, has been blamed for college basketball’s struggles. Ugly play has certainly contributed. Controlling coaches drain the fun and flow out of the game. Players are stronger—and more physical, which tends to hurt, more than help, offense. Technology has made scouting an opponent’s tendencies easier. When you know what your foe is about to do, he’s easier to defend.
These trends have surely contributed to college basketball’s struggles. So have some forces beyond the sport’s control. More than ever, Americans want appointment television, whether it’s a must-see football game or even an international soccer game we can all chirp about on Twitter, or a favorite show on the DVR. We have so many entertainment options: Our investment in a two-hour regular season college basketball game better pay off. Too often, it doesn’t.
In football, the regular season games really matter. In baseball, a fraction of the teams make the post-season, so even the early April games have something at stake. In college basketball, if teams struggle in the regular season, they can earn a March Madness spot by doing well in a conference tournament. Does any one regular season game really matter that much?
True, you can say the same thing about NBA regular season games. But if you like basketball, and can choose between watching the best players in the world in the NBA, or a bunch of college kids throwing up bricks and college coaches calling a million timeouts, and calling for a million fouls at the end of close games… it’s an easy call.
When pitted against football, college hoops is almost helpless. College football is a juggernaut, and college basketball starts its season in mid-November—just as the playoff and bowl chases are coming down the stretch. Into December and through the Super Bowl, the NFL is going strong. Even the NFL off-season overshadows college hoops. This past week, major free agent moves—and in particular, coach Chip Kelly’s casino gambling with the future of the Philadelphia Eagles—stole tons of attention from conference basketball tournaments.
College basketball is in danger of becoming a one-month sport, capturing buzz only during March Madness. The sport’s relevance problem even sparked Pac-12 deputy commissioner Jamie Zaninovich to propose on SI.com that the start of the regular season be pushed back to mid-December, and the Final Four to take place in early May—to help college basketball escape football’s shadow.
Officials can tinker with the game. But some of the optics of this week’s conference tournaments also suggest that, because schools have been chasing the lushest revenue streams, the sport has also just lost its way. On Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City, for example, Butler, from Indianapolis, and Xavier, from Cincinnati, met in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament. Why are schools from two Midwestern cities, connected by I-74 through Indiana, playing in New York? As part of something with “East” in the name?
All the conference reshuffling of the past few years destroyed many regional rivalries. Out of this rubble rose a new entity called American Athletic Conference (AAC). ESPN showed highlights from an exciting AAC quarterfinal game between East Carolina and the University of Central Florida that went into overtime. East Carolina won 81-80. The game was played in Hartford, Conn. On TV, the stands looked empty.
College hoops is still thriving in many places. And as we gear up for Sunday night’s selection show, a drab regular season will be forgotten. We’ll fill out our March Madness brackets, root for Cinderella, see if Kentucky can become the first team to finish undefeated in almost 40 years. It’ll be a blast.
But the question is still worth asking: What are we doing here?
Read next: The Case for Sports Gambling in America
The lengths people go to for a sip of good bourbon
Kentucky police have recovered five barrels of stolen Wild Turkey bourbon from a man’s backyard.
After responding to a tip-off on Wednesday, Franklin County sheriff’s deputies found the barrels of the popular whiskey behind a shed, each with a value of between $3,700 and $6,000. About 25 firearms were also found, NBC reports.
The bourbon was produced in a Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg and was still aging.
One man has been arrested and authorities are still following up on leads.
Sheriff Pat Melton couldn’t say yet whether the heist was connected to an unsolved 2013 theft of rare Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, worth more than $25,000.
Wild Turkey is testing samples of the bourbon and is conducting its own investigation.
About 95% of the world’s bourbon is produced in Kentucky.
Plucky Bostonians are saying bring it on, we want the record!+ READ ARTICLE
Millions of people in 28 states faced winter weather on Thursday as a late-season storm swept across North America.
Drivers in Kentucky were left stranded on the road as snow piled around them on Interstate 65. A snowy runway at New York’s LaGuardia Airport caused an airplane to skid off the road and the city of Washington was effectively a ghost town, thanks to piles of snow that shuttered federal government operations.
Temperatures were significantly colder than average — anywhere from 10 to 30°F — across the region.
The governors of Alabama, Mississippi, West Virginia and New Jersey all declared states of emergency on Thursday, the Associated Press reports. But at long last, one of the worst winters in recent memory may be relenting, according to Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center.
He told the Associated Press the storm “might be winter’s last hurrah.”
But in Boston, a city two inches away from breaking its all-time snow record, some residents said bring it on.
“I want the record. We earned the record,” said Erin O’Brien, professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.
"Suspect is a blonde female last seen wearing a long blue dress and is known to burst into song 'Let it Go!'"
Cold weather hasn’t stopped a Kentucky police department from showing its sense of humor.
The Harlan City Police Department posted on its Facebook page Wednesday that it blamed poor weather on Elsa from Frozen, and that it had taken out a warrant for the snow princess’ arrest.
For the uninitiated, Elsa possesses the magical power to create snow and ice.
Shortly after, the Harlan police posted another message warning residents that, joking aside, the weather was still serious business.
While we might not be able to blame Elsa for the weather, how about issuing an arrest warrant for getting “Let It Go” stuck in our heads for the past year and a half?
But measure unlikely to become law
Kentucky lawmakers voted Friday to ban smoking in all public buildings and workplaces, but the measure faces a steep uphill battle to become law.
The vote was seen as a landmark move in Kentucky, which ranks among the states with highest tobacco yield. The sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Susan Westrom, said secondhand smoke kills about 950 Kentuckians each year.
The bill passed 51-46 in the Democratic-controlled state House of Representatives, WLWT reports, but will face harsher odds in the Republican-controlled state Senate.