Jim O'Donnell: Spirits past and fresh money playing into the last furlongs of the 2024 Final Four

GHOSTS TO THE LEFT, ghosts to the right and it's the only NCAA men's basketball tournament in town.

By dusk tonight, the mad college money mixers of March will have a Final Four.

The final two slots are up for snabs with Purdue (-3) and Tennessee (1:20 p.m., CBS, slumping Andrew Catalon and Steve Lappas) followed by Duke (-6) vs. North Carolina State (about 4:05 p.m., CBS, properly animated Ian Eagle, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill).

Illinois-UConn Saturday night was all about anticipation and histories.

Danny Hurley and the back pages of UC basketball were replete with successes. Brad Underwood and Terrence Shannon Jr. were upstreaming to match the flying vibrations of past Illini Final Four groups including those of Harry Combes (1949, 1951-52), Lou Henson (1989) and Bruce Weber (2005).

And then whoosh — there it was.

TODAY, MATT PAINTER, ZACH EDEY and Purdue can feel the Final Four hoop steps of Rick Mount (1969) and Joe Barry Carroll (1980).

The Boilermakers, like the Illini, have never won an NCAA men's title.

North Carolina State — the longshot in this year's Final Six — has three. Media are tripping all over themselves comparing round mound D.J. Burns Jr. and mates to Jim Valvano's improbable 1983 champions.

BUT THE CURRENT TOURNAMENT has spotlighted the new moral elasticity surrounding it. NIL money, the transfer portal and even the massive legalized sports betting on Main Street U.S.A. has underscored the event's intensified mercenary bones.

Still, ghosts linger.

And there is a feeling that any one shining moments forward is merely a reflection off of the cascading silver dollars.


The White Sox announced attendance of 33,420 for their home opener vs. the Tigers Thursday drew only snickers. Or proved that any time Garrett Crochet is facing off against DET's Tarik Skubal, make sure the phantom turnstiles are well-oiled. Anyone who would pay a penny toward the cynical operational threats of a once-revered Chicago sports operation is showing a profound lack of self respect. …

Speaking of no respect, the Vegas over/under totals on the Cubs and the Fail Hose suggest long, uphill summers. Cody Bellinger and the North Side profiteers are 84½; Pedro Grifol and the pathetic Sox are 61½. Jerry Reinsdorf could juice things in June by swapping Ozzie Guillen out of the TV studio to try and nudge the inertia and moving Grifol on to the couch. (A maneuver that the late P.K. Wrigley inspired with WGN's Lou Boudreau and Charlie Grimm back in May 1960; it failed.) …

Any mock NFL draft that has Marvin Harrison Jr. falling to the Bears at No. 9 should produce only vertical visions of artistry and triumph. The brilliant Ohio State WR has been called “comically talented” and who wants to argue the other side? …

Initial o/u on the '24 Bears at DraftKings is 8½. The learned Wresley Rush Jr. says that is a brilliant opening number. Green Bay and Detroit are 10½; the Vikings are 6½. …

The death of Lou Gossett Jr. reminds that he was the original choice to play Gale Sayers in the 1971 TV classic “Brian's Song.” But he tore a tendon “in training” for the role and Billy Dee Williams was the quick substitute. Associate producer Tony Thomas — the son of Danny Thomas — told the TV Academy that Burt Reynolds was the initial pick for Brian Piccolo. But Reynolds was eventually discarded because his growing fame was considered “too distracting” for the role. …

Very sad to hear Notre Dame's Hannah Hidalgo was upset about having to remove her nose ring during the Irish-Oregon State Sweet Sixteener Friday. (Knute Rockne never had that sort of problem with The Four Horsemen.). Hidalgo and coach Niele Ivey do have a valid point — if NCAA rules prohibit the wearing of jewelry during games, the freshman All-America shouldn't have been allowed to wear the schnozz sweetener all season long. (ND was eliminated by OSU, 70-65.) …

Dave Hoekstra did one season (1990-91) as a Bulls beat writer at the Sun-Times and then returned to his power alley as one of the great pop cultural writers in the region. He summons those roots with a terrific piece about the ill-starred show band leader Dave Major — front man of the Minors - in the current edition of New City ( ). Both Ed O'Bradovich and fabled Arlington Park bugler Joe Kelly pop up in the lengthy feature. …

And Frankie Freeman, on the fact that the NBA's play-in tournament is less than three weeks way: “Is it too soon to be planning don't-watch parties?”

Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears each week on Sunday and Wednesday. Reach him at All communications may be considered for publication.

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