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Thanksgiving was a sports Feast Week indeed

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By Greg Woods

 

Last week was Feast Week on the ESPN family of networks and I must say I overindulged to a greater extent than usual. If watching a smorgasbord of sports added calories to your diet like Thanksgiving dinner does, I would have gained about 20 pounds.

I watched a plethora of college basketball, football and English Premier League soccer during the holiday week and by Sunday afternoon I was so stuffed with sports that I had to finally turn off the television and take a walk.

My wife and kids at one point mused about whether my backside might need to be surgically removed from my recliner. I have probably undone all the hard work I put into staying in shape for the past several months. All the cycling and running just went out the door as I practiced the sedentary lifestyle that leads to a paunchy belly and shortness of breath as I walk back up the short hill from taking the garbage can to end of our driveway.

But it was worth it… I think… because I enjoyed the games immensely. There were several games in the holiday tournament season that had the feel of March Madness.

There were buzzer beaters and drama galore.

The game that took the cake was Minnesota’s improbable win over Stanford in the fifth place game of the Battle for Atlantis tournament, which also featured a hard fought loss in the championship by the Louisville Cardinals to those bad old Dukies. The Blue Devils have now ruined it for all Kentucky basketball fans, whether they bleed red or blue.

But back to the Minnesota game. Andre Hollins, who put on a scoring show the night before in a loser’s bracket game against Memphis was fouled as he heaved a desperation 3-pointer from half-court. Hollins calmly sank all three free throws with .4 seconds remaining to give Tubby Smith’s Gloden Golphers their second big win in as many nights.

The foul that resulted in the free throws reminded me of why so many coaches go prematurely gray. I’m sure Stanford coach (and former Dukie) Johnny Dawkins wondered about his career choice as he watched the needless foul occur.

I was an assistant coach at Grant County when a similar thing happened during an HCIT game in the mid-80’s. Luckily, our team was on the receiving end of the foul and we won on free throws with no time on the clock.

Watching so many games made some things clear about the rest of the college basketball season.

First, the Big Ten which should now be renamed the Big 14 is going to be a very tough conference. Minnesota is considered a middle-of-the-pack team, at best, in the conference and they looked pretty darn tough to me. Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State all came out of Feast Week looking like title contenders.

Second, the Louisville Cardinals lofty goals now rest on how quickly Gorgui Dieng can recover from his broken wrist. The Cardinals hung tough against the Blue Devils despite playing without Dieng, their great shot blocker and rebounder. Stephen Van Treese and Zach Price combined for 12 points and 11 rebounds while filling in for Dieng but were no match defensively for Duke’s big men. Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly combined for 30 points and 13 rebounds. Hopefully Dieng will be back for the Kentucky civil war scheduled for Dec. 29. If he is, it will be a great team playing a great team. If not, it will be a great team playing a very good team.

Third, it was disappointing that UK coach John Caliperi chose to soften his schedule and missed out on all the great tournament action over the weekend.

The man just led the Cats to a national championship so it’s hard to doubt his coaching wisdom. With so many young players, I’m sure he felt the need to go light on the early season schedule, but it would have been nice to see the Cats in action against an opponent that was better than their own second team. Sorry, LIU-Brooklyn fans but sometimes the truth hurts.

Finally, it is clear that for this old coach, there is no such thing as overindulging when it comes to sports viewing. After taking Sunday afternoon off, I look forward to the start of the high school basketball season, which got under way for local teams this week.

Bring on the next course!