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Hard to pick against Kemba and UConn

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Sunday is always a quiet day at the Final Four and this year was no exception. The coaches meetings end on Saturday, and many leave town having little interest in the final game. For example, Gib Arnold left yesterday.

It’s a day for many of the fans of the two losing teams to go home while fans of the two winning teams make the long drive to Houston. In Houston, there was a free concert featuring Kenny Chesney, among others, but my friend Steve Goodenow and I headed out to Galveston and then to the Johnson Space Center. Quite an interesting tour seeing mission control.

As we were leaving from dinner last night at one of Houston’s best restaurants, we ran into Jamie Dixon, who was attending a private dinner party hosted by the Pump brothers. Many of you may know the name, as the Pumps are involved in college basketball. In fact, the Pumps and Riley Wallace go way back, and the Pumps helped Gib in getting the Hawaii job.

Also at the dinner were Ralph Sampson, UCLA coach Ben Howland, former Oklahoma coach Eddie Sutton and many others.

Is there a better coach in college basketball and a better person than Jamie? He is certainly in my top five. We spent time talking about his memories of Hawaii and his current job at Pitt. It was really interesting talking to him about Pitt’s unbelievable loss to Butler and the criticism he received in Pittsburgh. But as Jamie put it, when you are the No. 1 seed and the Big East champs, it comes with the territory. By the way, Jamie told me Pitt is going to be very good again next year.

So now it is time to play the game. My heart says Butler, but my brain says how can you pick against Kemba Walker? Every few years, a single player carries his team to the national championship, and I think this is one of those years. What Walker has done during the postseason is unbelievable.

On the other hand, we have the Butler Bulldogs, everyone’s darlings. Coach Brad Stevens has more wins in his first four years of coaching in Division I than anyone else, and in Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard they have the kind of inside-outside game that could give UConn trouble. The oddsmakers have made UConn a 31/2-point favorite, and I think that is just about right.

There is a quiet subset to the game tonight. As previously reported, UConn and coach Jim Calhoun are the subjects of a serious NCAA investigation that could lead to additional sanctions. If it was to happen, it would give college basketball another black eye. But imagine all the feel-goodness (is there such a word?) if Butler were to win the big prize. By the way, on Saturday night, President Bush (the younger) sat behind the Butler bench and made little secret of who he was rooting for.

Last year, the Bulldogs went up against my alma mater, Duke. Most of the folks in Butler’s hometown of Indianapolis were rooting for the Bulldogs. Not me. But this is another year and no Duke. My guess is that 80 percent of the 70,000 in the stands will be cheering for Butler. Make that 70,000 and one.

Follow Jeff Portnoy’s blog, "Hoops Talk," at


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