The day the brackets died

705582.jpg

The day the brackets died

OMAHA, Neb. -- College basketball is a cruel bastard when nobody can win the office pool.Or when you learn that you cant.For all the kvetching about free throw lane violations, bad seeds and crap shooting from three-point range, the salient facts are these: You spent hours trying to win your pool.
You cant win it.

For this, you may thank the delightful collection of players at Norfolk State and Lehigh, at Ohio and North Carolina State and South Florida and Virginia Commonwealth, too.Indeed, only one regional, the East, is still intact, and priming and taping one regional doesnt get the garage painted. Face it, youre out.
But now comes the harder part. Can you marry yourselves to the Norfolks and Lehighs and Ohios and VCUs and The Wrong USFs through the brutal second round, where all surviving 15s and 14s and almost all 12s go to die? Can you carry yourself to a second weekend when your teams are mostly gone?The answer, oddly, is that you ought to.PLAY! CSN's Bracket Challenge -- round by round game
College basketball has desperately needed Friday for years now. The tournament has become so top-heavy and so weighted toward to the elitest elites that there is no real drama after the round of 64 is done.I mean, you may have lost half your two-seeds, but if you were lazy enough to go straight chalk, you still have your Kentucky and your North Carolina and your Michigan State. We dont like your Syracuse so much, but you can cling to Jim Boeheims irrepressible stubbornness in the face of perennial scorn and a year ordered direct from the Hell.com catalog.That remains the final frontier the 16 that cheats fate. Still perfectly vaporized after 108 tries, the 16s can now pretend that they can be next years Norfolk or Drexel, because most of the time they are the same teams.But the good news even if the plucky longshots are plucked themselves tomorrow is that the NCAA Tournament Committee must now do more than their usual cursory job of vetting those 12s through 16s. I mean, if theyre going to go to the trouble of becoming live underdogs rather than competitive meat with eyes, they must be analyzed with more than the usual You seen em? I havent seen em. Make em a 15 and lets order another bottle of the Rag Top Red.No, it isnt that simple, of course, but until Friday it certainly did. Friday was the day the brackets died and the committee had to face the fact that its job is now harder. The second level teams are now not as good as they used to be, and the teams at the bottom now have legitimacy.And college athletics hates when that happens.But while were here, lets move on to the subtext of the day free throw violations.Officials are hated because, well, because Pavlov said it should be so. But two games were affected by late-game lane violations that threw the Internet into a tizz-let. This of course caused everyone to blame the officials yet again for carrying the bricks given them by the officiating supervisors who drop yearly points of emphasis in the officials preparation packets.This years clearly included lane violations, and because most Internet arguments start with Ive never seen that, therefore it must be bogus, the rage was palpable.But the rage was directed at the poor schmoes who made the calls the ones who would not advance to the next round if they ignored the violations.So hate the call. Of course you do. But dont hate the caller hate the system.A lane violation is one of those calls officials would rather get early in a game, to let the players know theyre watching. Theyre like hand checks and walks and cheap grabs off the ball and the over-the-backs that when called judiciously can shape the game in subtle ways that are all to the good.But the notion that officials shouldnt decide a game in general is false, because they decide them all to one extent or another. Moreover, the idea that they shouldnt decide them with a lane violation denies the fact that you get what you get when you get it, and you call it when it comes.The problem with the call being a lane violation is that it means the officials either didnt tell the players enough times to watch when you break the plane, and were not kidding, or the players ignored them. If the supervisors want lane violations called, then it is part of the officials job to call them, or to do their damnedest to make sure players know that theyre going to do so. Ignoring them isnt an option, not in this system. Do we know if that level of preventing officiating happened? No, because nobody pays attention to most of what an official does. If it didnt happen, then the purpose of a point of emphasis is wasted. If it did, well, the complainers are just going to have to eat it on that one.But they wont linger long on it. In fact, theyve already moved on to Saturdays games, which are all about chalk, and Sundays, which are all about madness. Your bracket is shredded; give up.But if you can watch the games even with no chance to win, then you are a better person than most.

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

INDIANAPOLIS -- More and more college coaches are putting their starters and even their stars on special teams as they seek to pile up every possible point in an era of pedal-to-the-metal shootouts and never-safe leads.

Fading fast are the days when superstars would catch their breath on the sideline when the kicker or punter trotted onto the field with the scrubs.

NFL teams love it.

Watching how players handle themselves as a blocker, gunner or returner provides a glimpse into a prospect's range, selflessness and versatility. It also delivers a sneak peek into how coachable he'll be, says Phil Savage, the SiriusXM NFL Radio host who spent two decades as an NFL coach, scout and executive and now oversees the Senior Bowl.

"I think because of the landscape of college football where scoring is at a premium, you've got to figure out a way to put points on the board not only on offense but through your special teams and defensively, as well," Savage says. "These coaches want to get these young players on the field as soon as possible, and a way to do that is utilize them on special teams."

These tapes provide a bonus to pro scouts.

"Now you have a vision of what that player might forecast to in the NFL as a young player and, specifically, as a rookie," Savage said.

Offensive and defensive coaches have a better idea of the types of players they're integrating into their schemes, and special teams coaches no longer get blank stares and blank canvases from the rookie class.

"Not only do you like the fact that they come in and have experience doing it, but you love the mentality if you're a coach and a decision maker that this guy isn't a diva, he's got no ego about it, he understands the team and puts team before self," says ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.

"And he comes in with the mindset of 'What can I do to help the team and how can I contribute?' Those are the guys that seem to make it and last longer in the league because they're just willing to do different things and whatever it takes."

The prime example in this year's draft class is Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey , a "dynamic player than can do it all," according to Broncos GM John Elway.

McCaffrey gained more than 5,000 yards from scrimmage in his college career and added almost 2,000 more as a returner.

"There's just a lot of big plays open in the return game," McCaffrey says. "You see special teams have such an impact on the game today. Any time I can have the ball in my hands, I feel like I can do something dangerous, and that's really why I love the return game."

Other highly touted draft prospects who polished their resumes on special teams include Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Washington wide receiver John Ross, and USC cornerback Adroee' Jackson, all of whom are projected as high selections.

McShay says "we're seeing more and more programs put an emphasis on special teams and having their key players contribute in one or more areas on special teams."

He pointed to Ohio State, where Urban Myers coaches special teams himself.

"It's a major emphasis there, and so you'll see some more guys typically lined up and contributing that are starters and stars," McShay says. "It's an honor to be on special teams."

Not a burden.

"It is not uncommon now to see people that are going to be picked in the first round having 100-plus special teams plays," suggests NFL draft consultant and former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt.

He pointed to the University of Florida, where Gators defensive backs cover kickoffs as well as they do receivers.

"Everyone's always trying to get their best guys on the field," Brandt says.

That's a change from years past when coaches feared exposing their star players to the extra hits.

The added value benefits the players, whose multiple talents allow NFL general managers to address many needs.

"We're seeing more emphasis on it in college, and I think NFL teams love to see it because if just means you're getting a bit more for your buck," McShay says.

Top talents who bolstered their value by playing special teams:

CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY , RB, STANFORD: He shined at the combine working out with the running backs and was as impressive running routes. Asked if there was anything he couldn't do, the son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey said then: "I can't sing."

JABRILL PEPPERS , S, MICHIGAN: He worked out with safeties and linebackers at the combine, where teams talked of him playing RB and WR in addition to returning kicks. "The bottom line is I'm a ballplayer and I'm a hell of a ballplayer," Peppers said.

JOHN ROSS , WR, WASHINGTON: He caught 81 passes with 17 TDs last season but actually posted more return yards (2,069) than scrimmage yards (1,924) in his college career.

ADOREE' JACKSON , CB, USC: One of the best special teams coverage players in the NCAA, Jackson also scored eight TDs on punt and kick returns in college. His punt return averages rose from 6.0 yards to 10.5 and 15.8.

JAMAL ADAMS , S, LSU: Another star in coverage, Adams' defensive mentality extends to special teams. "I love being on the field and just playing football," said Adams, whose father, George, was a first-round pick by the Giants in 1985.

ALVIN KAMARA , RB, TENNESSEE: In a deep running back group, Kamara separates himself with his special teams acumen. "A lot of teams have been bringing up special teams," Kamara said.

DESMOND KING , CB, IOWA: He had eight interceptions as a junior and three as a senior. "I had a really good special teams season," King said. "Not being targeted as much, I still went out there and competed the best I could and was still making plays."

CHRIS WORMLEY , DE, MICHIGAN: Wormley touts playing for Jim Harbaugh as one of his attributes. "Coach Harbaugh came in and ran our program like an NFL program, like he had with the 49ers," said Wormley, who blocked three kicks his senior season.

ZAY JONES , WR, EAST CAROLINA: Like McCaffrey, he has good NFL bloodlines (son of Robert Jones, brother of Cayleb Jones). He caught 158 passes as a senior, but spent his first two seasons in college also making his mark as a returner.

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

josh-jackson-kansas-ap.jpg

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Josh Jackson declared for the NBA draft on Monday after one of the best freshman seasons in Kansas history, one marked by plenty of highlights on the floor and a few distractions off it.

The 6-foot-8 swingman, who is considered a certain lottery pick, was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and its 13th straight regular season Big 12 title before losing to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Jackson signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group.

"After thoroughly consulting with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball," Jackson said in a statement Monday.

"I am very thankful for all of the support I have received from my coaches and teammates at Kansas," he said, "and I look forward to starting my career in the NBA."

Jackson was the nation's No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Prolific Prep Academy in California. He immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, teaming with national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to form one of the nation's top backcourts.

With natural athleticism and ability to slash to the basket - not to mention defensive chops that are rare among freshmen - Jackson quickly established himself as one of the nation's top draft prospects.

His importance was never more evident than in the Big 12 Tournament, when he was suspended by coach Bill Self following a series of off-the-court issues. The top-seeded Jayhawks stumbled in a quarterfinal loss to TCU, ending their run at the conference tournament before it really began.

He returned for the NCAA Tournament and played well in wins over UC Davis, Michigan State and Purdue, but was hamstrung by foul trouble and managed just 10 points in a season-ending loss to the Ducks.

Jackson's suspension came following an incident outside a Lawrence bar in December, when a member of the Kansas women's basketball team got into an altercation with Jackson's teammate, Lagerald Vick.

Jackson followed the woman to the parking lot and the woman said he kicked her car and caused hundreds of dollars in damage. He pleaded not guilty last week in Douglas County District Court to one misdemeanor count of criminal damage to property and a trial is scheduled for May 24.

His attorney, Hatem Chahine, said he was planning to file for diversion.

Jackson also was ticketed in February after he struck a parked car and fled the scene, and that drew Self's ire when he didn't tell his coach about the incident until several weeks later.

His decision to declare for the draft came a week after teammate Svi Mykhailiuk announced he would skip his senior season. But unlike Jackson, the 6-8 sharpshooter has not hired an agent and could withdraw his name by May 24 and return to the Jayhawks.