VETTEL: Final Four Thoughts; Scrimmage Outlook

Having followed Florida to a pair of final four appearances I must admit my interest will never again be the same when UF is not involved. Still the NCAA's signature event is one of the highlight sports events of the year and this one is no exception. There are plenty of story lines to get engaged with and there are good reasons to root for or against any team in St Louis. Here's a look at the stories that stand out with each.

LOUISVILLE---- Rick Pitino tries to become the first coach to win national titles at two schools. Remarkably two schools in the same state which are major rivals. Francisco Garcia impressed many with playing through the tragedy of his brother's murder last year. Taquan Dean gutted it out in the regional final. Plus the team was grossly under-seeded by the NCAA selection committee.

MICHIGAN STATE--- Tom Izzo is the least-hyped great coach in college basketball with four final four appearances in the last seven years. Now he goes for his second crown. Add in the Big Ten being dismissed as a lousy conference all year long only to get three teams to the elite eight and two to the final four.

ILLINOIS----- The Illini have never won it all. They were unbeaten for the majority of the season and are the oldest of the teams in that they may be the least likely to have a chance to be back next year. Coach Bruce Webber seems like a guy to root for after losing his mother two weeks ago.

NORTH CAROLINA----- One of the blue-blood programs of college basketball has not won it all since '93. Since then Carolina has made four Final Four trips without reaching the title game. Roy Williams is in his fifth Final Four himself, losing twice in the semis and twice in the finals at Kansas.

So How Might it Play Out?

I picked Illinois and Carolina to play in the final at the start of the tournament so I'm not going to change now. I also picked Louisville to reach the final four… so lets not talk about my picking Michigan State to lose in the first round.

Louisville/Illinois should be a thoroughly entertaining game between two explosive teams that love to score. Illinois is better defensively and deeper and I think that should make the difference. Both teams had remarkable comebacks to get this far, so don't overreact if one shoots out to a big lead.

Michigan State/North Carolina will be a more controlled game… but only slightly. The Spartans have to make this a half court game because nobody scores in transition better than Carolina. The battle inside between Paul Davis and Sean May is worth the price of admission by itself. Carolina's big advantage is at point guard where Raymond Felton should school Spartan freshman Drew Neitzel. A couple of Rajon Rondo mistakes were the difference in Kentucky not advancing. Felton won't make those mistakes.

As for the final? Ask me on Monday

Saturday Scrimmage Outlook

The second of three major scrimmages for the Gator football team is set for tomorrow and I am looking for several guys to have big days.

Derrick Harvey---- the young defensive end is showing signs of coming on as the top pass rushing threat on the outside. Here's his first chance to do it on a big stage.

Tony Joiner---- I had him just a notch below Kyle Jackson at the start of last fall and like what I've seen of him this spring. As his man coverage skills increase he has a great chance to be the first DB into nickel packages.

Eddie Haupt---- I don't remember a true freshman lineman coming in and making am impression in the spring before, but I see great potential in this guy. He could well be the backup center, freeing Rissler to return to the guard competition.

Andre Caldwell---- "Bubba" has been challenged to increase his productivity and consistency and this is a great time to do just that. Chad Jackson has outperformed him this spring, and Florida coaches want to see two guys playing at that highest level

DeShawn Wynn---- He and Skyler Thornton have been pretty consistent this spring but it's time for someone to have a big day. Wynn's commitment appears to have caught up with his talent. If that continues on a daily basis he'll win the starting job.

Josh Portis---- I'm not predicting a big day for the freshman QB but I think he needs a good one. After an impressive beginning, the speed of the game at this level appears to have thrown Portis off. How quickly can he adjust? Saturday will give us our first idea.

Freshman Locke(s) Down Noles

Florida State Baseball Coach Mike Martin chose to use one of his top starters, Hunter Jones in the Wednesday game with the Gators. Florida Coach Pat McMahon didn't. Or did he? McMahon sent freshman lefty Stephen Locke to the mound in front of more than 56-hundred mostly hostile fans at Dick Howser Stadium.

And the rookie from Tampa King High School done good.

Locke made his case for a crucial spot in Florida's pitching plans by holding FSU without an earned run over five-and-two-thirds innings. It was Locke's fourth start of the season and seventh appearance overall. He is now 4-and-0 with a 2.10 ERA. He's an aggressive pitcher who has walked just three batters in 30 innings of work. Don't be surprised to see Locke starting in SEC weekend series before the season is out.

Opening Day is Here

The Major League Baseball season begins Sunday night with yet another Yankees/Red Sox game. Now I'm a lifelong Yankees fan going back to the dark days of the late 60's, but aren't we all sick of the Yanks/Sox hype? A great rivalry is becoming pretty damn boring with them playing 26 times each of the last two years.

I'm curious to see if the Marlins can unseat the Braves in the NL East. I want to see the Tampa Bay Devils Rays use their speed and young arms to get better and win more game. Although contention is out of the question when you try and compete in the AL Nuclear division. I want to see Brad Wilkerson build on his 32-homer season of last year while cutting down on his 150-plus strikeouts. One thing that should help Wilkerson and the other members of the Nationals is no longer having to play 22 "home" games in Puerto Rico. Actually having fans might help too now that Washington D.C. not Montreal is their home. I want to see David Eckstein scrapping along with the St. Louis Cardinals and Josh Fogg go after his fourth straight double-digit win season in Pittsburgh.

And I want to see Barry Bonds stay on the sidelines… plotting another way to exploit his children to deflect attention from his juiced-up statistics.


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