Jim O'Donnell: Sampson and Houston vs. Alabama for the NCAA title would sour the Sweet

ONE OF THE BEST THINGS about the NCAA men's Sweet Sixteen is that it's not the World Baseball Classic or yet another mock NFL draft.

Two of the worst are that Kelvin Sampson and his urban cowboys from Houston are still riding high and alive in the tourney as is the murder-stained program representing empty-shell Alabama.

Sampson, for the uninformed, was run out of the top job at Indiana in 2008 due to a flurry of high-scope infractions. He was dealt a five-year "show-cause" exile by the NCAA, essentially banning him from the organization's big courts for that period.

He sought refuge in the NBA. His first stop, thanks to the benevolence of John Hammond and Scott Skiles, was as an assistant with the Bucks (2008-2011). He then moved to the Rockets for three seasons.

IN 2014, THE EXTREMELY deep-pocketed Tilman Fertitta brought him across town to the University of Houston. Sampson is said to have "won" the interview by telling the billionaire, "We can win a national championship here."

Fertitta, 64, owns the Rockets and reportedly has given at least $150M to the basketball program at the University of Houston. He made his lucre - estimated by Forbes to be close to $7.6B - primarily through restaurants, hotels and casinos.

The fact that this season's Final Four will be at Houston's NRG Stadium isn't lost on anyone around the narrative.

THE FACT THAT the national championship game on Monday night, April 3, could feature the slide-and-hide programs of Houston and Alabama isn't either. That would not be recommended family viewing on CBS.

If that event comes to be, it could make many long for the Tuesday night when Shohei Otani fanned Mike Trout for the final out in the WBC.

And Japan scored its biggest nonautomotive win in the United States since the introduction of sushi.

But at least that victory wasn't pock-marked.


NOW, ABOUT THAT SWEET SIXTEEN, which begins its blink-blink two-night run Thursday with Michigan State (-2) vs. Kansas State (TBS, 5:30 p.m.):

While dilettantes blather on about last weekend's "unpredictability," the fact is that the seeding mathematics of the field so far are the most accurate since 2019.

The average seed of the 2023 Sweet Sixteen is 4.8. That's better than 2022 (5.3) or 2021 (5.8). But it's nowhere near the brilliant 3.1 of 2019. (An average of 2.5 would be perfection.)

Also, Princeton and its Bill Bradley wokers are the third consecutive 15-seed to make the Sweet Sixteen. They follow St. Peter's (2022) and Oral Roberts (2021).

So longshots are nice storylines, but hardly unique.

For Daily Herald regionalists, the Tigers are a gold-circle bunch because of starting freshman Caden Pierce. The 6-6 Ivy League Rookie of the Year led Glenbard West to the IHSA 4A championship last March and is just carrying on a family tradition of athletic excellence.

Princeton (+10) continues its idealistic quest Friday against Creighton (TBS, 8 p.m.)


SINCE ONLY THE MOST KEENLY TUNED-IN ASK, how is that MODage system holding up?

So far, scary good.

Kansas and Duke, as dictated, are already gone. Ken Pomeroy gets a doff o' the cap for calling the exits of Purdue and Marquette.

For MODage to hold to another Final Four, the following must happen this weekend:

• Alabama and/or Houston must advance;

• Connecticut, Tennessee and Princeton must not;

• Three out of the cluster of Alabama, Houston, Kansas State, Texas, Xavier, UCLA and Gonzaga must make it to the Final Four. (There are some impossible regional overlaps in that grouping.); and,

• One from the scroll of Michigan State, Creighton, Miami (Fla.) and Arkansas has to make it to the last weekend. Two wins by either San Diego State or Florida Atlantic would command a 2018 Loyola asterisk because of conference affiliation.

And MODage may wind up as a principal intellectual property of the new Arlington Stats and Info.


An informed radio industry analyst reported that struggling Audacy and its Chicago cluster lost $2-3M broadcasting Bears games last season. Optimistic Craig Karmazin and his penny-pinching WMVP-AM (1000) can only hope to cut that figure this year. ...

The passing of the great Willis Reed reminds of when his name was being bandied about as HC of the Bulls. When new managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf announced his intention to pursue "Red Holzman-style basketball" upon taking over in March 1985, only two championship Knicks were in the coaching game - Reed at Creighton and Phil Jackson with the Albany Patroons of the classic CBA. ...

Bill Robinette is being remembered as a ring announcer for Windy City Wrestling, "White House Santa" to President Barack Obama for four holiday seasons and, perhaps most importantly, the manager of The Stay Out Disco back in the hey-dawn of all-night-longs in west suburban Stone Park. "Mr. Bill" died Tuesday. ...

And harsh Jim Cullen, on the bleak March maddening of Matt Painter and Brad Underwood: "Put 'em together at an annual darkness retreat and they could probably combine for a consistent Round of 32 contender."

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears Sunday and Thursday. Reach him at All communications may be considered for publication.

Alabama forward Brandon Miller (24) blocks the shot of Maryland guard Jahmir Young (1) during the second half of a second-round college basketball game in the men's .Tournament in Birmingham, Ala., Saturday Associated Press
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