Friday, 2/16 Quick Hitters: On UofA-ASU, Ayton’s dominance, Fitz returns, and picking the Daytona 500!

I’ve never been more happy to be wrong. I predicted a 10 point ASU victory over Arizona in Thursday’s college basketball matchup from Tempe. UofA’s 77-70 win was just the opposite and hallelujah!

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-First of all, Thursday night’s crowd at Wells Fargo Arena was arguably the loudest in the stadium’s history. Props to ASU fans for filling the joint. And bringing notable announcer Michael Buffer to announce ASU’s starting lineup before his signature “LET’S GET READY TO RUMMMMBLLLLEEEE” line was pretty darn cool.

-The Wildcats dominated in the early going as they were shooting north of 80%. In the first 10 minutes they looked as if they were finally living up to the Final Four-caliber team plenty of pundits (including me) picked at the start of the season. Once ASU switched to a small ball lineup they cut the deficit from 16 to 1 at halftime. I was very worried.

-When the Sun Devils jumped out to a 7 point lead to open the second half, I felt like Nostradomus. Here was the run I had expected. But the Wildcats hung in there, in a hostile environment and closed the game was supreme efficiency. It wasn’t easy but it was a major gut check and showed me that maybe this team has a real chance to fulfill its promise from October-November. Anything short of a Final Four is a letdown.

-Yes Sun Devils fans, I know the Wildcats shot 15 more free throws. I get it. The officiating wasn’t great. But that’s what size does for you. It draws fouls and when used properly, it allows teams to dominate games on the glass.

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-DeAndre Ayton is the best freshman to ever play at Arizona. He should win the Wooden Award as college basketball’s best player. He also should go #1 in the NBA draft. Oh yeah, and the star originally from the Bahamas should go on to be the best Wildcats NBA player thus far in history.

-Ayton posted 16 points and 14 rebounds in the second half. For the game he had 25 and 16 respectively. Absolutely dominant and when it mattered, the Sun Devils had absolutely no answers. Enjoy the final 5 regular season games of his college career, Arizona fans. If we’re lucky he’ll have 14 more games in a Wildcats uniform, including 9 in the postseason (Pac-12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament).

-One more note – don’t underestimate the importance of this win. ASU is a legitimately good team and as long as it avoids teams with major size advantages in the Big Dance, I’d give the Devils a reasonable shot to win those games.

-It was announced on Thursday morning that future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald will return for his 15th NFL season, all with the Cardinals, in 2018. He needs a little under 400 yards to pass Terrell Owens for second place on the all-time league receiving yardage leaders and should easily accomplish that feat next season. My gut feeling though: don’t be surprised, assuming that the Cardinals make proper decisions at the QB position, if next season IS NOT the final one for all-time greatest Cardinals player.


-I’m stunned, honestly, that the Cubs were able to get a deal done with free agent starting pitcher Yu Darvish. I said after his abysmal performance in the World Series that if he were to sign in Chicago this offseason, I’d be sick. I’ve changed my tune somewhat. While I’m not jumping for joy about the Japanese pitcher’s six-year contract with the Cubbies, he does significantly bolster the starting rotation also featuring Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks, and fellow offseason signee Tyler Chatwood. It’s a deep starting staff, as good top to bottom as any other team’s in the National League. So now it’s fair to think that the Cubs are once again the favorites to win the NL Pennant. With that said, there’s no way I’m trusting Darvish in the postseason based on his 2017 World Series awfulness.

MLB: Chicago Cubs-Workouts

-Since my 1580 The Fanatic colleagues Roc, Crespin, and Bauer have been hanging out in Daytona all week in advance of Sunday’s Daytona 500 – here are a few picks for the “Super Bowl of Racing”…

WINNER: Kyle Busch (#18) (12-1 odds to win). His brother Kurt won the race for the first time last season and in my opinion, Kyle is among the two or three most talented drivers in the sport. He’s long overdue to win this title and with help from his teammates Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, he finally gets it done in 2018.


SURPRISE TOP-5 PICK: Austin Dillon (#3) (50-1 odds to win). Seventeen years ago, on 2/18/01, the driver of the #3 car, the legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed in a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500. Something tells me that in a weird twist of fate, the young Dillon, grandson of long time team owner Richard Childress, makes a run at the title this Sunday.


-This week’s picks of who will make the finals in what I consider the six most popular sports (new teams from last week in CAPS):
NBA: Golden State vs. CLEVELAND
College Basketball: Villanova vs. Michigan State
NHL: Boston vs. Dallas
NFL (2019): Pittsburgh vs. New Orleans
College Football (2019): Alabama vs. Michigan

-Finally, we often view athletic achievements as heroic, though in reality everyday people like Aaron Feis are the true heroes.

R.I.P. to Mr. Feis and the other victims of Wednesday’s tragic Florida high school shooting.


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