HARRIS COUNTY-HOUSTON SPORTS AUTHORITY INSIDER

Once again, Houston is in the mix to host the Final Four

Houston hopes to host the Final Four again. Courtesy photo

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Three Super Bowls. Two Final Fours. Three NCAA Regionals.

Any questions?

We may not have any, but the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee does have a few which is why two members of the committee and other NCAA officials are in town for one final site visit before the group meets to decide the venues for the 2023-2026 Men’s Final Fours.

There’s no arguing that the Bayou City knows how to throw a mega sports event, but Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhardt and Duke AD Kevin White flew into Houston Thursday to take it all in one more time.

They’re here to ask questions, spend time with organizers, look over venues, hotels and, Houston hopes, choose the Bayou City to host its  third Final Four.

Houston is one of seven finalists for one of those coveted four years up for bid, and the decision will be made by the 10-person committee in mid-July in Boston.

“You get a real sense of Houston that it has become a championship city. That may sound a little Pollyana,’’ said White, referring to the Disney character who always looks on the bright side, “but it’s not . . . .

“This is a city that knows how to put on, how to host major events. There’s a real track record of success. And now we find out it has (the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo) that goes on for a couple of weeks. This community knows how to support major events and that will be pretty impactful when the committee meets.’’

Just how impactful? Every little bit helps when you’re up against North Texas and AT&T Stadium, San Antonio, Detroit, Indianapolis and Los Angeles. All but Los Angeles has hosted a Final Four and LA is building a facility in Inglewood.

Houston’s bid was on stage Thursday at NRG when Barnhart, White and the NCAA toured the facility and attended a welcome reception at the stadium.

“Our campaign is Three for the Win,’’ said Janis Burke, CEO of the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority. “We’re excited to be among the finalists and we look forward to showing off what we feel is a tremendous host city one more time for the committee.’’

Barnhardt and White both noted that they’ll be looking at the new hotels and upgrades since the last time the Final Four was here in 2016. The use of Discovery Green and much of the downtown campus during Super Bowl LI have also caught the committee’s eyes.

“All the pieces of the puzzle have been here,’’ White said. “Now they’re enhanced . . . There is some very strong competition – let’s be very frank and honest about that. But I cannot imagine that Houston, by the end of the day, will not be seriously in the mix. “

Barnhardt, who was here with Kentucky in 2011, said the fan-friendly atmosphere plays a role in the city bids too.

“First and foremost, it’s about the athletes and the players being able to enjoy and have a really quality experience,’’ he said. “Secondly, the fans. We want them to have an opportunity to feel the life of the city, to enjoy themselves and experience some great basketball and have a really, really cool experience.’’

White and Barnhardt will take their findings to the committee and the seven finalist cities will have one more chance to sell their bid and answer any final questions.

“Then,’’ White said, “as, within the Catholic community, we’ll see white smoke.’’

Houston will host a 2020 NCAA Regional and the city was recently awarded the  2024 College Football Playoff National Championship game. The city is also one of the eight finalists for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Fours from 2020-2024, which will be awarded later this year.






 

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Framber Valdez injured his ring finger on Tuesday. Composite image by Jack Brame.

That sure escalated quickly. The news on Framber Valdez went from bad to vastly worse for the Astros with the fractured ring finger on his pitching hand concerning enough that season ending surgery is on the radar. Valdez is/was no sure thing to have been a first time quality full season starting pitcher, but seemed a decent bet after his maturity-driven albeit short season breakout 2020.

37-year-old Zack Greinke is the only member of the Astros' starting rotation to have thrown even 130 innings in a big league season. Greinke showed notable slippage in 2020. A by-product of the funky short season, or Father Time making a move? If Greinke further erodes, uh oh. It's all question marks behind him.

Lance McCullers got to the big leagues in 2015. Six years later McCullers has zero seasons under his belt in which he both pitched well and stayed healthy. If he hits that exacta in 2021 it's great for the Astros of course, greater for McCullers with free agency arriving at season's end. Particularly confounding with McCullers is that over his career he's been outstanding at Minute Maid Park, and basically sucked on the road. Career earned run average at MMP: 2.51. Career ERA everywhere else: 4.99. That's absurd. It's certainly not as if MMP is some great pitchers' park.

"Crafty" is typically applied to left-handed pitchers. Jose Urquidy seems a crafty right-hander. But since missing the 2017 season recovering from Tommy John surgery Urquidy has topped 100 innings worked once. Cristian Javier has some electric stuff and showed very well as a rookie. Javier has never thrown 115 innings in a professional season.

The odds are long against McCullers, Urquidy, and Javier all pitching well and staying healthy all season. Valdez didn't come close to making it to Opening Day. The best internal candidates to replace Framber (or anyone else) are Luis Garcia and the extremely-hyped thus far dud but still just 23 years old Forrest Whitley.

Woeful Rockets

It certainly isn't paying homage to James Harden that has the Rockets on a 13 game losing streak as they mercifully take their All-Star break. They're just that bad. Watching them is like watching a helpless fly tossed into a spider web game after game. Out of the break the Rockets play at Sacramento Thursday. The Kings are no good, but the Rockets are worse. A loss there all but guarantees matching the Houston Rockets' longest ever losing streak of 15 since the following night they play at Utah. If you care about them the Rockets are painful to watch. Hapless, helpless, hopeless. Their best shot at accelerating what might be a years long path back to relevance is to keep on stinking. The Rockets have the third worst record in the NBA. The three worst teams have equal chances at getting picks one through four in the draft. It's a 14 percent shot at number one, a 52 percent shot of being in the top four. The fourth worst team has a 48 percent chance of picking in the top four. If the Rockets are not in the top four, they lose their pick to Oklahoma City as a payoff of the awful Chris Paul-Russell Westbrook trade.

Watt signs with Cardinals

J.J. Watt could have least acknowledged "Of course the money the Cardinals offered had plenty to do with me picking them!" Off an 8-8 season in which they faded down the stretch the Cards have an interesting squad with some serious upside, especially if Kyler Murray makes a leap in his third season at quarterback. But no way are the Cardinals presently a first tier Super Bowl contender. We don't know for certain who Watt's other "finalists" were and what they offered. Seems a lock that none of them offered 23 million dollars guaranteed or two years 31 million total. Money is another scoreboard and J.J. is a huge winner on it. No one should ever blame a player for going for every dollar he can get. But Watt can't honestly say the best shot at a Super Bowl was his top priority then sign with a team which last had a winning season in 2015 and in Kliff Kingsbury has a guy who has accomplished nothing meaningful as a Head Coach at either Texas Tech or Arizona. Doesn't mean it can't happen in the desert, but there had to be better teams interested if a ring shot was of paramount importance.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Les Miles, what a slimeball. LSU, what a slimy institution in its handling of serial sexual misconduct in its football program

2. NBA All-Star Game Sunday. In 1993 more than 22 million people watched. Last year, 6.8 million. Not sure 5 mil watch Sunday.

3. Greatest ever NFL free agent signings: Bronze-Packers, Reggie White Silver-Buccaneers, Tom Brady Gold-Saints, Drew Brees

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