OFF THE TOP OF MY BALD HEAD

Barry Warner: On the NCAAs, NFL free agents and more

Barry Warner weighs in on a variety of subjects. Barry Warner

Here’s a quick history of the growth that has turned into a humongous revenue generator for schools, Vegas and folks who gamble with several high dollar pools:

In 1963, the first of John Wooden’s magical run of 10 championships during a 12-year run, the NCAA Tournament field was 25 teams. In 1975, it became 32 teams

In 1979, the NCAA added eight more to make it a 40-team field.  The next season eight more teams were added, making it 48. Five years later it became 64. From 2001-2010 it was 65, and in 2011 it expanded to its current 68.  And coaches are still screaming that is not enough.

That is the reason why the hypocrites and the NCAA has millions of reasons to look the other way about the manner in which “student-athletes” are treated. The suits -- Who are they trying to kid? These guys are semi pros, getting money under the table from both agents and sneaker companies.

The suits made a profit of $105 million in 2017. Television rights packages with CBS and Turner accounted for more than $800 million of its revenue, so do not expect Jim Nantz, Charles Barkley or their broadcast colleagues dispatched to the tournament sites over the next three weeks to harp on how college basketball isn’t perfect. The networks have agreed to pay $8.8 billion to be the mouthpiece of the Division I men’s basketball tournament through 2032.

That buys silence.

But it gives non-sports fans three weeks of excitement and passion.

 It’s always challenging during the three weeks of March Madness, with everyone giddy over Cinderella teams, picking their brackets, the Big Dance, diaper dandies and buzzer beaters.

Then the announcers try to make the kid who hit the buzzer beater the same as the kid playing the trumpet in the school’s band.

 I spoke with Jim Nantz Friday night. After catching up on family, I asked my longtime friend how they were going to handle the crap about the Feds and semi-pro programs. “It’s a studio show topic,” he said. “We might mention it once in a game, should it involve a coach whose team is on the court.”  Jim confided that he was more nervous about the UH-Wichita State game than usual. “Hard to believe, but in my entire career I have never called a game involving my alma mater.”

TEXANS

Even though the Texans need a tight end, they will not make an attempt to sign Jimmy Graham.  His productivity has declined along with lack of blocking. But they will open the checkbook and probably overpay for the Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, a 6-8, 320 pounder. Same with his teammate corner Malcom Butler...

Once free agency starts tomorrow at 3 p.m. it will be interesting to see where Kirk Cousins signs.  After that the rest of the quarterback dominoes will fall into place.

NFL  TRADES

Alief’s Michael Bennett being traded to Eagles adds more versatility for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.  It also puts pressure on the Giants, whose offensive line is like the Texans, to draft a tackle high...

Wade Phillips has become the Father Flannigan of coordinators. The trade for uber talented but at times knucklehead Marcus Peters  may put the kid in the Pro Bowl. That was followed by the Aquib Talib deal with the Broncos. It clears space for the Broncos to be a player for overrated Kirk Cousins...

Props to controversial corner Richard Sherman for cutting a free agent deal without an agent. He saved himself $210,000 on the guaranteed $7 million dollar first-year deal.  That will go higher if both he and the Niners achieve incentives. Why don’t more guys represent themselves? It’s not that complicated, especially with players being privy to all deals.

It perpetuates the “dumb jock” theory.

ASTROS  

Astros made the traditional White House visit.  Even though the First Tweeter (and in my mind a complete buffoon), showed how loosely he plays with the facts.

President Donald Trump once again showed his ignorance by referring to Game 7 ‘’as one of the greatest baseball games ever seen.”

You can’t make this stuff up!

A pair of the Astros did not make the trip.  Both Carlos Correa and Ken Giles had family obligations, according to the team.  Read into that whatever you want. They certainly have the right to make their individual silent protests. Call me a cynic but my guess is that like Carlos Beltran there was more to the story.

Right after the series, Beltran said skipping the White House has nothing to do with Trump. The veteran has been unhappy with the administration’s response to his native Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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