Meadville Tribune

April 2, 2013

WALK TALK: April Fools ... I had Louisville in the Final 4 all along

By Dan Walk
Meadville Tribune

— 1 Can a guy admit when he was wrong in an attempt to gather back some of his dignity? Just two short weeks ago, I said that top seed Louisville would not win the NCAA men’s basketball championship. I even said an Elite Eight appearance may not even be in the cards for the Cards. Let’s just say those incorrect prognostications were an early April Fools joke. Instead, Louisville appears to be on a collision course with this year’s title after blowing away Duke on Sunday. The Cardinals’ 13-2 run when the game was tied at 42 is a surge that will be remembered vividly when Louisville hoists the championship trophy on Monday.

2 For the first time since I can remember, I didn’t correctly pick one Final Four team. I didn’t heed my own warning that the unexpected will occur this year, though the Cardinals haven’t seemed interested in all this “upset” talk. So now here come my famous last words: Wichita State has absolutely no chance in its Final Four game against Louisville. None. The ninth-seeded Shockers won’t get out to a great start like they did against Ohio State. Led by Russ Smith, Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng, Louisville is just too good to not reach the final.

3 Gruesome is the only way to describe the leg injury suffered by Louisville’s Kevin Ware on Saturday, but the good news is that he’s already up and walking after surgery. He’s expected to be released from the hospital today if no complications arise. His consolation prize at the moment is being the sole protector of the Midwest Regional championship trophy. He’s also expected to be on hand when Louisville competes in Atlanta this weekend. Is it possible for the top-ranked squad to be the team of destiny? A number of people are rooting for Ware and the Cardinals after the shock-and-awe that came from the snapping of his right leg on live TV.

4 Just for fun, we’ll take a look at Michigan versus Syracuse, who will battle on Saturday before losing to Louisville two days later. (Once again, famous last words.) It’s the first time two No. 4 seeds will meet. Both teams reached the Final Four after dethroning the No. 1 and 3 seeds this past weekend. Syracuse used defense and a hard-to-watch 55-39 win over Marquette, while Michigan blitzed Florida with a 13-0 start and a lead that never fell to single digits after that. It’s the ultimate offense versus defense matchup. It just depends which team can impose its will — can Michigan make this a fast, turnover-free game or can Syracuse drag this one out and keep it in the 40s or 50s? I’ll take Trey Burke’s Wolverines.

5 I wasn’t the only person on Earth who was watching the end of the Baylor versus Louisville women’s basketball game at 9 p.m. Sunday night, was I? With the season finale of The Walking Dead and the season premiere of Game of Thrones starting at 9, there were plenty of reasons to push basketball aside. But I set The Walking Dead up on my DVR and witnessed history on ESPN2. Louisville pulled off the biggest upset in the history of the women’s college basketball tournament. And the winning play was set off by a foul committed by Brittney Griner, who may be the greatest women’s college basketball player ever. Louisville was a 24-1 underdog. What a day it was for Louisville basketball.

6 Professional sports teams are throwing $100 million deals around like they’re nothing lately. The most egregious of these signings is that of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who is set to earn $108 million over the next six seasons — that is, if he isn’t cut within the first few years. Dallas has no reason to have faith in Romo, who has one career playoff victory and lost a Week 17 game during each of the last two seasons that would have propelled the Cowboys into the playoffs. If Dallas is fine with remaining mediocre, then so be it.

7 I gave my National League previews last week, so it’s time to officially kick-start the MLB season with American League previews. But before I get there, let us take a moment to talk about the Cleveland Indians, who start their season tonight in Toronto. The Tribe was more aggressive than normal in the offseason, adding Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Brett Myers, Mark Reynolds and others. The offense should be above average and the bullpen is expected to be solid. But unless Justin Masterson returns to his 2011 form (3.21 ERA) and Ubaldo Jimenez gets back to his 2010 self (2.88 ERA), the Indians won’t win more than 80 games. The duo combined for 32 losses and 183 walks last year, and they’re the ones expected to lead this team to a division title? I have hope that Cleveland will contend, but those chances will rest on Masterson and Jimenez.

8 It’s no secret that the Tigers are the AL Central favorite after reaching the World Series last year. Detroit adds a healthy Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter to an already potent offense. And the rotation will still be led by Justin Verlander, who will remain in Detroit for a long time. The fact that many are predicting the Indians to finish second in his division goes to show how weak the division really is. The White Sox usually find a way to compete, while the Royals’ rotation gives them a chance to compete for the first time in what feels like forever. But unless Detroit regresses, the Tigers could win this division by 10-plus games.

9 The AL East is totally different. A solid case could be argued for many teams in this division, and there’s no clear front-runner. The Yankees are always good, but they are also old and injured at the moment. Baltimore reached the ALDS last year and is a more experienced bunch. Tampa Bay always defies the odds with a low payroll, but its rotation is still solid, even if James Shields is playing in Kansas City now. But the team everyone has an eye on are the Blue Jays, who added R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera, among others. It’s the 2013 version of last year’s Miami Marlins. Or it’s the 2013 version of the 2013 Dodgers. And even Boston won’t lose 93 games again. The most complete rotation and a possible MVP season out of Evan Longoria — if he stays healthy — is enough for the Rays to win this division.

10 It’s hard to not gravitate to the Angels when speaking of AL West favorites. Before Mike Trout even exploded on to the scene last year, they were a well-regarded team — mostly because Albert Pujols was on board. Los Angeles added Josh Hamilton to the middle of that order this offseason and will score many runs, but will Jered Weaver get much help in the rotation? Though they may not be as sexy of picks, the Angels will have to surpass Oakland and Texas to win this division. The A’s maintain a solid young core, while Texas still has a great lineup without Hamilton. I’m sticking with the Angels, though. I can’t imagine two-time World Series champion Pujols missing out on the playoffs again.

The preceding was Walk Talk, which runs in the Tribune's sports section every Tuesday. Assistant news editor Dan Walk can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at dwalk@meadvilletribune.com.