I expect the Florida Gators and Kentucky Wildcats to collide in the NCAA men’s basketball championship game Monday night in Arlington, Tex. But it is far from a sure thing. Connecticut and Wisconsin aren’t pushovers. In fact, the Wildcats are 1 1/2-point favorites to beat the Badgers.


Saturday’s Final Four matchups:


Connecticut vs. Florida (6:09 p.m.)  – The Huskies (a 7 seed with a 30-8 record) probably had the best backcourt in the nation entering the tournament and Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright haven’t disappointed. They need a big game from forward  DeAndre Daniels and they’d love to get into a free-throw shooting contest down the stretch. … Top-ranked Florida is on a 30-game winning streak. The only two losses this season were at Wisconsin and at Connecticut…The Gators are experienced (four senior starters) and play exceptional team basketball on both ends of the court. I believe the difference will be Florida’s size and strength up front with seniors Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete. Freshman Chris Walker is a dynamic sub…My pick: Florida 75, Connecticut 65.


Wisconsin vs. Kentucky (8:49 p.m.) – The Badgers (a 2 seed with a 30-7 record) are an exceptional defensive team and have a balanced offense. They led the nation with only 8.1 turnovers per game. Seven-foot Center Frank Kaminsky has been terrific in this tournament and needs another big game against Kentucky. Can he hit a few more clutch bombs from 3-point range? Sure, he could, but can you count on it?…The Wildcats (an 8 seed and 28-10) start five freshmen and they’re clicking after an understandably slow start.  They aren’t lacking for confidence coming off victories over Kansas State, Wichita State, defending champion Louisville and Michigan. They have the most raw talent. It’s a shame the six McDonald’s All-Americans on the team aren’t allowed to make a commercial for the fast-food chain. Do they have the poise to beat the more experienced Badgers? That’s the big test…My pick: Kentucky 77, Wisconsin 72.




I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that performance enhancing drug cheater extraordinare Ryan Braun was cheered on Opening Day in Milwaukee and the cheers drowned out the boos for Barry Bonds during ceremonies in Pittsburgh.


Braun still is Milwaukee’s best player and the majority of home fans either have forgiven him for cheating and lying or never particularly cared. Bonds was a great Pirate and league MVP before leaving for San Francisco and bulking up to go from superstar to superduperstar.


I believe the fans in Milwaukee and Pittsburgh were sending a message to Hall of Fame voters – we don’t care if players were users in the Steroid Era and you shouldn’t either.


Major League Baseball should recognize the Steroid Age as a legitimate part of the sport’s history. The games were played. The stats were recorded. World Series were won and lost.


Who knows which players cheated and who was clean? We’ll never know.


It isn’t fair to single out the ones who were caught or confessed.


I believe a healthy majority of fans – especially the younger ones -- have accepted the inflated stats of the Steroid Era and would prefer that players of that period be considered for the Hall of Fame based on their numbers.


 I think most fair-minded, realistic baseball fans realize that the only reason stars of the past did not use steroids is that the stuff wasn’t available. Would Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, etc., have used performance enhancing drugs if they were available? My guess is maybe. They’d surely have been tempted.


There are more than a few Hall of Famers who had character flaws worse than PED users. For example, Ruth, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Hack Wilson and Gaylord Perry, for starters.


I believe the Hall of Fame voters who have snubbed the suspected users have made their point. Now let’s make the Hall of Fame complete and give the greatest players of the Steroid Era the plaques they earned on the field.




Sportscasters and sports writers aren’t supposed to have favorite pro teams. We’re supposed to be impartial.


I usually subscribe to that unwritten, but every now and then, I find a team I can’t help but root for. Not often, but it happens.


The latest addition to my short list of favorite teams is the Los Angeles Clippers.


One reason I like the Clippers is that they’re not the Lakers. But mostly I like the players on the Clippers. They’re an interesting group, to say the least, and they seem to have great chemistry. They look like they’re having fun whenever they play.


Chris Paul clearly is the NBA’s best point guard. He thinks pass first and shoot second, but when the Clippers need a scoring boost, he usually takes over. He averages 19 points but I believe he could easily average 25-plus if he wasn’t so unselfish. He is an amazing dribbler and passer.


I wasn’t a huge fan of power forward Blake Griffin before this season. I thought he relied too much on his patented dunks and neglected to work on other parts of his game. He has proved me wrong. I think he deserves support for Most Improved Player. He has become a much better shooter from the field and the foul line. He can pass and handle the ball. He’ll be First- or Second Team All-NBA.


Center DeAndre Jordan is a favorite. He is an amazing athlete with exceptional hops. He’s an excellent rebounder and shot blocker. He runs the floor. He knows his offensive limitations. Most of his 10.3 points per game come on dunks. His .669 field-goal percentage leads the NBA. The only thing he can’t do is shoot foul shots (.450).


Jamal Crawford is one of the most exciting shooters in the NBA with his rainbows from 3-point land. J.J. Redick is another deadly shooter. He had missed 25 games with a bulging disk in his back before returning for Thursday night’s game against Dallas.


Backup point guard Darren Collison is one of the NBA’s quickest players and another Clipper who can score in a hurry.


The Clippers might be the only NBA team to challenge San Antonio for quality depth. Other solid Clippers include hard-nosed forward Matt Barnes and savvy veterans Danny Granger, Jared Dudley, Willie Green, Hedo Turkuglu and Glen “Big Baby” Davis.


Doc Rivers is an excellent coach. He loved Boston but knew what he was doing when he wound up with the Clippers.


The Clippers entered Friday night with the third-best record in the NBA (54-23), behind only San Antonio (59-17) and Oklahoma City (55-19).


I believe the Clippers, at full strength (including Redick), have the talent, depth and mix of youth and veterans to beat any team in a best-of-seven playoff series.


If you haven’t seen the Clippers play often this season, check them out or be prepared for a surprise in the playoffs. They could go all the way.




Overall better than average special teams performance is one reason the Amerks still have a decent shot to make the Calder Cup playoffs. They rank 10th in the 30-team American Hockey League in power play percentage (19.7; 61-for-310; with 8 shorthanded goals against) and 16th in penalty killing (82.5 percent; 264-for-320; 4 shorthanded goals for).


The Amerks have been the AHL’s least successful team in overtime: 14 OT games…2 wins in OT…8 losses in OT…2 shootout wins…4 shootout losses…In contrast, the Binghamton Senators are 8-1 in overtime and the Worcester Sharks are 10-1 in shootouts.


Rochester is 15th in average paid home attendance at 5,291 (185,168 total paid). The AHL average is 5,334




I’ve always enjoyed watching sluggers in the International Leaguer. It is the most fun when they’ve been Red Wings – guys like Luke Easter, Mike Epstein, Jim Fuller and Jeff Manto.


Free-swinging, low-average sluggers seldom have long careers in the IL these days. If they don’t make the majors in a year or two, they usually see the light and retire or attempt to prolong their careers in Japan or Korea.


Mike Hessman is an exception. He has played in the IL off and on – mainly on -- since 2002…for Richmond, Toledo, Buffalo and Louisville.


The big right-handed hitter didn’t have much success in a few brief stints in Major League Baseball: 109 games; .188 (42-for-223); 8 doubles; 1 triple; 14 HRs; 33 RBI. His highlight was 5 HRs and 7 RBI in 12 games with Detroit in 2008.


Hessman, who turned 36 on March 5, signed with Detroit as a free agent for this season.It was a favor for Triple-A affiliate Toledo.  He hit a franchise-record 140 home runs for the Mud Hens from 2005 through 2009. In 2006, he hit 24 HRs and batted .165. In 2007, he led the IL with 31 HRs and 110 RBI and was voted IL MVP.


He tried Japan in 2011. In 48 games with the Orix Buffaloes, he hit .192 with 6 HRs and 14 RBI.


Last season, with Louisville (IL), he hit .240 with 25 HRs and 56 RBI in 121 games.


Hessman has 244 career HRs in the International League (140 with Toledo, 61 with Richmond, 25 with Louisville and 18 with Buffalo). The IL record is 258 HRs, set by Buffalo legend Ollie Carnegie a long time ago.


Hessman needs 15 HRs to become the IL’s all-time HR king. It obviously means a lot to him. He’s still hanging in there.  I’ll be rooting for him.




From USA Today Sports Weekly: Of the more than 11 million entries in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, only 612 people picked the exact Final Four.


Did you see NBA referee Dick Bavetta honored before he worked Wednesday night’s Knicks-Nets game? He was honored for working his 2,633rd consecutive regular season game. He was presented with a commemorative plaque and basketball for topping Cal Ripken Jr.’s baseball-record 2,632 consecutive games. I’m more amazed by Bavetta’s streak than Ripken’s streak. Bavetta has worked no home games or homestands. He’s been responsible for his own travel arrangements and lodging. He has made it to every game despite some severe weather challenges. And he has kept up with the world’s greatest athletes (NBA players) for a long time. Most amazing of all, Bavetta is 74 years old.


Miguel Cabrera’s new contract with the Detroit Tigers ($248 million guaranteed through 2025) is becoming more ridiculous with each detail revealed: $2 million for each league MVP award and $1 million for each Triple Crown. Why the bonus clauses?


The Buffalo Sabres will finish this season with the worst record in the NHL for the first time since the 1986-87 season. There is no doubt that the current Sabres (21-46-9; 51 of 152 possible points in the standings, .336; outscored by 80 goals; 146 GF, 226 GA) are worse than the 1986-87 team (28-44-8; 64 of 160 possible points in the standings, .400; outscored by 29 goals; 280 GF, 308 GA)…For the record, the 1986-87 Sabres tied for the worst record with New Jersey(29-45-6 record; also 64 points) and the Devils probably were a worse team (outscored by 75 goals, 293 GF, 368 GA).


We’ll find out how much Tiger Woods still means to the PGA Tour when the TV ratings are released for next week’s Masters. He won’t be playing for the first time since 1995…Here is how Tiger has  finished in the Masters in chronological order: 41stt…missed cut…won…8th…18th…5th…won…won…15th…22nd…won…3rd…2nd…2nd…6th…4th…4th…40th…4th.