April 12, 2015

All but done. Heat playoff chances now 1.7%; plus the new Hot Button Top 10 with Heat, zombie Marlins, Masters, Fins, Cuba, Cats, Canes, FIU & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND.

1) It is MONDAY, APRIL 13. Random Evidence, the Sunday notes column, took the day off but will return next week. 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Heat's plunging playoff fortunes, LeBron sabotaging Heat poll, Branden Albert boxing, NBA/Cuba verdict, Marlins off schneid, Kardashian-Free Zone & more. 3) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

Historical SadFact: With the Heat facing elimination today from contention for the NBA playoffs, this would be only the fifth time in 21 shared seasons that both Heat and NHL Panthers sat out the postseason. Previous occurrences were in 2008, 2003, 2002 and 1995.

PLAYOFF CHASE: MIAMI (ALL BUT) ELIMINATED: The latest home 1aa1adwadeloss, 107-104 to Toronto, was Miami's ninth in the past 12 games and pushed Heat to very edge of elimination from NBA playoff race. Dwyane Wade (pictured), who scored 30, displays an expression fitting the frustration of how Miami has blown it the past few weeks. Heat must now win its final two games and hope Brooklyn and Indiana both end 0-2, after Boston beat the LeBron-less Cavs yesterday to (all but) eliminate the Heat. Four teams were jockeying on the home stretch for the Nos. 7 and 8 East seeds. Playoff-likelihood percents are updated to reflect yesterday's developments. How it looks entering Monday's NBA action:

7. Boston: 38-42, W4. Playoff likelihood: 98.3% (up 10.7) per Hollinger/ESPN. Next: Tuesday vs. TOR, Wednesday @ MIL. Note: All but clinched.

8. Brooklyn: 37-43, L1. Playoff likelihood: 76.4% (down 12.5). Next: Tonight vs. CHI, Wednesday vs. ORL. Note: Last two games being at home helps cause.

9. Indiana: 37-43, W5. Playoff likelihood: 23.6 (up 2.8). Next: Tonight vs. WAS, Wednesday @ MEM. Note: Pacers own tiebreaker over Heat.

10. Miami: 35-45, L2. Playoff likelihood: 1.7% (down 1.1). Next: Tonight vs. ORL, Wednesday @ PHI. Note: Heat makes playoffs only if it finishes 2-0 and Brooklyn and Indiana both finish 0-2.

HOT BUTTON APR. 12: TOP 10 THINGS SOUTH FLORIDA SPORTS FANS ARE TALKING ABOUT: Our blog-exclusive Sunday feature. Hot Button means what's on our minds, locally and nationally, as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead:

1aa1ahotbutton1. HEAT: Miami playoff hopes now all but over: To make the playoffs now, Miami must finish 2-0 (starting tonight vs. Orlando in home finale) and hope Brooklyn and Indiana both end 0-2. That could happen. Yes, and I could hit the Lotto on the way to my blind date with Olivia Munn.

2. MARLINS: Fish staggering at 1-5 start: Team finally won Friday on a "Zombie Night" promotion as many fans arrived dressed as the living dead -- emulating their team's bats during the punchless five losses including yesterday's. More ominous yet: Henderson Alvarez may be out as Fish begin 10-game road trip.

3. GOLF: The Masters under Spieth's spell: Jordan Spieth, 21, became the second-youngest Masters winner (after Tiger Woods in 1997) in dominating Augusta. Tiger was a big story for playing credibly, which tells you how far his career has sunk.

4. DOLPHINS: Pouncey signs long-term deal: No rest. Team signs center Mike Pouncey long-term, auditions but doesn't sign WRs Wes Welker, Greg Jennings and Michael Crabtree, and prepares (17 days and counting) for the NFL Draft.

5. NBA: League to hold camp in Cuba: League blindsided and angered Heat by unilaterally announcing an April 23-26 developmental camp in Cuba. A heads-up might have been logical and nice for the one franchise affected by any relationship with the island.

6. PANTHERS: Hockey season quietly expires: Much improvement and lots to like under first-year coach Gerard Gallant, team MVP Roberto Luongo and late-arrival JaromirJagr in season that ended with Saturday win over Jersey. Bottom line, though: For 17th time in 21 franchise seasons, no playoffs.

7. HURRICANES: 10 more inducted in UM sports hall: I don't wanna say its inducts too many people each year, but if it were a country, the UM Sports Hall of Fame would be the 43rd most populous nation on Earth.

8. COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Duke men, UConn women reign: Now if we can just get the two champions to play each other for the ultimate crown. Sure, it'd be ridiculous. But you'd watch, wouldn't you?

9. TENNIS: Novak, Serena win Miami Open: Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams won titles on Key Biscayne last weekend. Or, given tennis' predictability ... did that go without saying?

10. FIU BASKETBALL: FIU hires new hoops coach: FIU introduced former Maryland assistant Marlin Chinn as head coach of its women's team. Which makes him the newest Miami Marlin, right?

Poll result: Most don't think LeBron is intentionally hurting Heat: We asked if you thought LeBron James resting or sitting out two straight games vs. Celtics might be to intentionally hurt Miami's playoff chances, and it was 51.4 percent no, 38.1% yes and 10.5% maybe/undecided.

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April 09, 2015

Blew it! Heat waste huge lead, put playoff hopes in grave peril; plus Heat, NBA at odds over Cuba (with poll); also Kiper's latest draft guess for Dolphins, Fins preseason schedule, MLB video starring Stanton, The Masters & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND.


1aa1awesw1) It is THURSDAY, APRIL 9. Happy birthday, Mom! 2) Wes Welker (pictured), almost 34 and addled by concussions, visited the Dolphins. Gawd. He doesn't need to be signed. He needs to be told to retire. 3) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Marlins Opening Day poll, Heat swoon, Duke-Wisconsin pick, well-dressed animals & more. 4) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

NBA blindsides, angers Heat with new Cuba initiative: My latest column, online and shipped to Thursday's paper. Click on Unilateral Decision to read.

Marlins now 0-3, suffer Sleeping Bat Syndrome: Visiting Braves sweep Marlins with last night's 2-0 game, meaning Miami scored three runs in three games. The bright side? Two solid pitching performances. The dim side? Everything else. Nightmare start to the season for Miami. (Click on Another Oddball Opening Day for my column from Game 1). Perspective helps, of course. Still only three games of 162. Still, a fast buzzkill on all that hope and optimism. Up to Fish to win it back.

PLAYOFF CHASE: HEAT SUFFER CRUSHING LOSS TO BULLS: Miami blew a 19-point lead at home tonight to Chicago and lost 89-78 -- a crushing defeat that seriously imperils playoff hopes. Dwyane Wade (4-20, 9 points) was awful. An embarrassing 33-8 third quarter ruined the Heat's chances. Four teams are jockeying on the home stretch for the Nos. 7 and 8 East seeds. How it looks from here afgter tonight's huge Heat loss (note playoff-likelihood percentages are not yet updated to reflect Miami's latest loss. Expect the Heat's number to plummet):

7. Boston: 36-41, W2. Playoff likelihood: 59.3% (up 21.5) per Hollinger/ESPN. Next: Friday @ CLE, then vs. CLE, vs. TOR and @ MIL. Note: Tough closing schedule with two straight vs. LeBron.

8. Brooklyn: 36-42, L1. Playoff likelihood: 58.7 (down 16.3). Next: Friday vs. WAS, then @ MIL, vs. CHI and vs. ORL. Note: Three remaining home games boost Nets' chances.

9. Indiana: 36-43, W4. Playoff likelihood: 30.4 (down 0.9). Next: Friday @ DET, then vs. OKC, vs. WAS and @ MEM. Note: Pacers own tiebreaker over Heat, which is potentially big.

10. Miami: 35-44, L1. Playoff likelihood: 51.7 (down 3.2). Next: Saturday vs. TOR, then vs. ORL and @ PHI. Note: Heat own tiebreaker over Celtics and Nets, but may need 3-0 finish from here to make it.

NEW POLL: HEAT FACE DILEMMA WITH NBA'S CUBA INITIATIVE. WHAT TO DO?: [Link to my latest column is above]. For 29 of 30 NBA franchises and markets, this is not an issue. For 29 teams and their fans, U.S.-Cuba relations is a 1aa1acuba2subject closer to who-cares than hot-button. For one team only, the Miami Heat, it's important. The dilemma is that being involved in the league's evolving, warming relationship with Cuba might prove smart in the long-term from a business standpoint, but might prove costly in the short-term from a public relations standpoint. After all, many, especially older, Miami Cuban exiles still want nothing to do with a Castro-led Cuba and feel passionately. They objected when President Barack Obama in December announced steps toward normalizing relations with Cuba -- which led to the NBA this week announcing it would hold a four-game camp in Cuba April 23-26. Many Miami fans might feel betrayed if their team involved itself in any way on the island. Curious how you'd steer the Heat's involvement in the NBA's gradual reach into Cuba? Take a dip in our poll and say why.

KIPER'S LATEST DRAFT GUESS PREDICTION FOR DOLPHINS: Mel Kiper's Mock Draft 4.0 newly out on ESPN.com now has Miami selecting Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton (6-2, 339; pictured) 14th overall. Saying Kiper: 

1aa1adannys"The Dolphins added Ndamukong Suh, but the depth chart for the interior of their defensive line is basically "Suh and that's about it." Shelton is a different kind of player than Suh, with a far more limited ability to rush the passer, but if they're on the field at the same time it could free Suh up to be the kind of disruptor the Dolphins are paying for, which is what took place in Detroit, where the Lions had a good rotation along the interior. Shelton isn't just insurance for Suh, he's a nice complement. He's not as disruptive as sack and TFL totals indicate, but he can eat up double-teams at the point of attack and make others around him better. He has great awareness and will occasionally simply discard blocks and make the tackle himself." My thought: A possibility, but doubt Fins go for a DT.

Dolphins preseason schedule: Via the NFL today, it's Dolphins at Chicago Aug. 13-17, at Carolina Aug. 20-24, vs. Atlanta Aug. 27-30 and vs. Tampa Bay Sept. 3-4.

THE GROWING STARDOM OF GIANCARLO STANTON, CONTINUED: Money = fame in America, and so Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins' $325 Million Man, is a bigger star than ever before he hits his first home run this season. The latest example: This new MLB video starring Stanton, set to what sounds like a rapid heartbeat. Good stuff:

 

Poll result: Most believe Marlins are a playoff team: We asked in the previous blogpost (you may still vote) and 69.1 percent said, yes, the Marlins will be a playoff team this year, while 30.9% said no. The yes vote was running nearer the 75-80 range early but dipped after the Opening Day loss.

Big Opening Night on TV for baseball: ESPN2's Opening Night game Sunday (Cardinals-Cubs) drew 3.35 million viewers, a 47 percent increase over last year. It was biggest audience for ESPN or ESPN2 Opening Night since 2008, and best for any regular-season game since Yanks-Red Sox Aug. 7, 2011.

'16 NCAA odds: Bovada sets North Carolina as the favorite at 6-1 for next year's men's NCAA Tournament title, followed by Kentucky 8-1, Maryland and Virginia both 12-1, and champ Duke and Kansas both 16-1. Miami Hurricanes are 40-1 (tied for 19th), ahead of Florida and FSU, both 50-1.

Masters odds: Rory McIlroy is favored to win The Masters this week at 11-2 odds, via Bovada, followed by Jordan Spieth at 8-1, Bubba Watson at 10-1 and Jason Day at 14-1. Tiger Woods? He's tied for 11th at 33-1. Check out WalletHub.com for an interesting, fact-stuffed Masters By The Numbers.

Burger-King wedding: Joel Burger is marrying Ashley King. This is a blog. So you know it's the truth. Story here.

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April 06, 2015

Another calamitous Opening Day for Marlins in rained-on loss; plus are Marlins a playoff team? New poll. Vote now; also Heat down in flames, why Duke wins, nattily dressed animals & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND.

1) It is MONDAY, APRIL 6. Hope y'all had a Happy Easter in celebrartion of the original comeback king, Jesus. 2) Click on Random Evidence for our latest Sunday notes-column package, leading with Marlins. 3) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Hut Button Top 10, Duke-Wisconsin poll, Heat/Panthers playoff update & more. 4) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

Marlins and Jeffrey Loria: I visited with the controversial team owner for my column in Sunday's season-preview section. Many still dislike Loria, but will a big-spending offseason help his image? Click on Judging Jeffrey to read.

PLAYOFF CHASE: Reeling Heat lose yet again. Outlook entering MondayA daily blog feature as one team fights to finish in top eight in Eastern Conference. HEAT--Trending down in 10th place at 34-43 (L4) after last night's 112-89 loss at Indiana, 1 game from 8th, 0 games (tiebreaker) from 9th with 5 games left (next Tuesday vs. Charlotte). Heat playoff likelihood: 49.2% (down 11.3) per Hollinger/ESPN. PANTHERS--Eliminated. 2 games left (next Thursday vs. Boston).

Check us out on Twitter, Instagram and Vine for new pix and vids from today's Marlins Opening Day. 

OPENING DAY! MARLINS UNFURL 2015 SEASON: Update: Marlins lose opener 2-1 to Braves this evening. More calamity. Field rained on when retractable roof doesn't close in time, and soggy field partly blamed for loss. Watch for my column from Marlins Park posting online very soon. Original post: There are a few things the National Pastime still does better than the almighty NFL. The all-star game is one. Another is Opening Day. The start of football never seems special the way to opening of baseball does. So the red, white and blue bunting 1aa1agstanton 1aa1adayopeningwill be out at Marlins Park late this afternoon as the new-look, high-hope Marlins host the Braves. Miami has made the playoffs only two of 22 previous franchise seasons (albeit winning the World Sereis both times), yet optimism helps welcome this season. Countering that: Baseball remains the toughest playoff ticket in American sports, even with the addition of the wild-card games. Can the Marlins hang close enough to contention until Jose Fernandez's summer return from surgery? While we wait to see, at-bats by Giancarlo Stanton (pictured) will continue to be some of the best minute or two in all of sports. I'll be at the park today, on one of those days I like my job. Meantime, take in a dip in our poll and help set expectations for this Marlins season. Remember, not asking what you hope will happen, but what you honestly expect will. Vote and say why.

ILL-TIMED HEAT SWOON: Four straight losses now and seven of the past nine after last night's embarrassed showing at Indiana have the Heat now struggling to make the postseason (see Playoff Chase above). Miami may need a 4-1 finish to do it and has four home games left to feather the cause. That would be a a win Tuesday vs. playoff-chase rival Charlotte, a split of the following games vs. playoff-qualified Chicago and Toronto, then a regular-season-ending sweep of East bottom feeders Orlando and (at) Philadelphia. Little margin of error now. Want the playoffs, Heat? Act like it.

1aa1adukewisDUKE, WISCONSIN: GREAT CONTRASTS. COIN, PLEASE?: The unexpected elimination of toppled unbeaten Kentucky has left tonight's NCAA Tournament men's championship game without a clear or even agreed-upon favorite. Some etting odds have Wisconsin favored by one point, most have it dead-even. Duke seeks its fifth national title, following 1991, '92, 2001 and '10. Wisconsin's only previous national championship was in early-days 1941. Tonight's event misses the cheering for, or against, Kentucky to go 40-0, but it leaves us an intriguing contrast of a matchup. Duke's searing defense vs. Wisconsin's big-scoring O. Young Blue Devils led by freshman Jahlil Okafor vs. veteran Badgers led by senior Frank Kaminsky. Buttoned-down Duke vs. free-spirited Wisconsin. Badgers may have the greater incentive, aiming for a first modern-era title and losing to Duke at home in December and also in last year's NCAA semifinals. But give me Mike Krzyzewski and his terrific defense tonight.

Playoff result: Duke by narrowest of margins: We asked, and you voted 50.7 percent for a Duke championship and 49.3% for Wisconsin.

1aa1aanimals
"DEAR GREG...":
"Your blog's OK but would be even better if occasionally you would show a picture of what the world might look like if animals were of supreme intelligence, walked upright, and dressed even better than we humans do. Thank you." Dear Reader: What an oddball request!

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April 05, 2015

The new Hot Button Top 10: Flying Fish, Kentucky's loss, reeling Heat, 7 others; plus who'll win NCAA final? New poll. Vote now!; also Loria, Serena & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND.


1aa1aeaster1) It is SUNDAY, APRIL 5. Happy Easter, believers, and congratulations, Jesus! 2) Click on Random Evidence for today's latest Sunday notes-column package, leading with Marlins. 3) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Final Four, UM/NIT, Jordan tops poll, Heat/Panthers playoff chase, Josh Freeman, Cuban baseball, John Wolin & more. 4) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

Marlins' Jeffrey Loria: I visit with the team owner for my column in today's season-preview section. Many don't like Loria, but will a big-spending offseason help his image? Click on Judging Jeffrey to read.

Serena's dominance: Serena Williams is The Tennis Terminator. She proved it again yesterday at the Miami Open. Click on Queen Serena for my column on Williams and her place in tennis history.

PLAYOFF CHASE: Double doom! Heat drop off pace, Panthers eliminated. Update entering SundayA daily blog feature as two teams fight to finish in top eight in their Eastern Conference. HEAT--Trending down in 9th place at 34-42 (L3) after last night's 99-98 loss at Detroit, 1/2 game from 8th, 1 game ahead of 10th with 6 games left (next tonight at Indiana). Heat playoff likelihood: 60.5% (down 9.8) per Hollinger/ESPN. PANTHERS--Trending down (eliminated) in 10th place at 36-43 (L1) after last night's 4-0 loss vs. Tampa Bay, 8 points from 8th with 4 games left (next today vs. Montreal). Cats playoff likelihood: 0.0% (down 0.2) per sportsclubstats.com.

HOT BUTTON APR. 5: TOP 10 THINGS SOUTH FLORIDA SPORTS FANS ARE TALKING ABOUT: Our blog-exclusive Sunday feature. Hot Button means what's on our minds, locally and nationally, as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead:

1aa1ahotbutton1. MARLINS: Opening Day! High hopes as Fish debut Monday: Major League Baseball opens its season with Cardinals at Cubs tonight, but all other teams take the field Monday. Here is your pump-up music, South Florida: Only the Yankees, Red Sox and Giants have won more World Series since 1997 than the Marlins’ two.

2. COLLEGE BASKETBALL: It's Duke-Wisconsin for NCAA championship: Kentucky and Duke were five-point betting picks in Saturday’s Final Four semifinals but only one of them did their job. For the previously unbeaten Wildcats of John Calipari, that meant yesterday was one and done.

3. HEAT: Loss at Detroit knocks Miami off playoff pace: The blown-lead 99-98 loss at Detroit last night toppled Heat into ninth place in East with six games to play resuming tonight at Indiana. Miami has now lost three straight and six of past eight in a season that has proved to be exciting like hanging on to the edge of a cliff is exciting.

4. TENNIS: Serena wins, men on deck at Miami Open: Two weeks of tennis nirvana in Key Biscayne end with today's Novak Djokovic-Andy Murray men's final, after Serena Williams won Saturday's women's crown with such ease that we won't even mention her poor opponent's name.

5. PANTHERS: Cats eliminated from NHL playoff contention: Last night's 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay officially eliminated Florida from race. Panthers may have been most improved team in league this season. Unfortunately, Lord Stanley doesn't believe that close counts.

6. UM BASKETBALL: Canes lose heartbreaker in NIT title game: The bad news? UM, with two starters out injured, lost to Stanford 66-64 in overtime in the final of the NIT. The good news? We avoid having to cringe with a condescending smile while listening to coach Jim Larrañaga claim straight-faced that his team just won a national championship.

7. GOLF: Masters on deck with Tiger in it: Rory McIlroy is the betting favorite at The Masters this week at Augusta, but as much attention was being paid to Tiger Woods on whether he would play. He will. But it speaks to the shaky state of his game -- battling health issues, and after a long layoff -- that even his fans sort of wished he hadn't.

8. NFL DRAFT: UM Pro Day showcases Canes: NFL scouts raved about the Hurricanes’ talent at UM’s annual Pro Day, notably Phillip Dorsett, who ran a 4.25 40. I don’t wanna says he’s fast, but when Dorsett flips off the light switch in his bedroom he’s under the covers before the room goes dark. Seems the Canes will have a sizable impact on the NFL Draft’s early rounds. That sound you hear is one more excuse for a 6-7 season running away from Al Golden. 

9. DOLPHINS: Fins sign quarterback Josh Freeman: That was after the team gained a court order to exhume the remains of Freeman's career and conduct an autopsy for signs of life.

10. HORSES: Show-jumping competition ends on Miami Beach: A major show-jumping competition concluded Saturday on the sands of Miami Beach. I don’t wanna say those horses are pampered, but an "equine psychotherapist" was on hand. Seriously. Am picturing a typical session. Sad horse sighs as it lays on couch. Psychotherapist: “Why the long face?”

Poll result: You want different, better NCAA Tournament format: This surprised me a bit. I'd have guessed you'd go for the status quo. Instead, 70.3 percent said they'd prefer a tournament with the 64 best teams and no automatic bids for small-conference winners. Only 29.7% preferred it as is.

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April 03, 2015

It's Final Four Saturday! But should NCAA Tournament change its format? Poll. Vote now!; plus unlucky Canes, Cuban baseball, Josh Freeman, Heat/Panthers playoff update, John Wolin & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND. 

1aa1aserenawms
1) It is SATURDAY, APRIL 4. I'm down on Key Biscayne today to columnize off Serena Williams' presumed crushing of her hopeless opponent in the Miami Open women's final. 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Top 20 athletes poll, Heat/Panthers playoff update, Canes/NIT. dead Cats, Ricky Williams sings, Marlins, Dolphins cheerleaders & more. 3) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

1aa1ajoshfExcavation: Dolphins exhume human remains of quarterback Josh Freeman's career. If he surprises everybody, he might be Miami's third-string QB. If he's the Josh Freeman of the past couple of years, he'll quietly disappear by August. This signing is a low risk hit-or-miss by GM Dennis Hickey, who, while with Tampa Bay, had a big paw in the Bucs dubiously drafting Freeman in first round (17th overall) in 2009.

Cuban baseball and MLB: ESPN's Outside The Lines has a topic premiering on Sunday (9 a.m.) that may be of special interest in Miami. "Cuba On Deck?" explores the increased footprint of Cuban players in MLB and how continued defections along with warming U.S. relations will only increase their number. Click here for a 1-minute video preview.

PLAYOFF CHASE: Heat hanging on, Cats about done. Update entering SaturdayA daily blog feature as two teams fight to finish in top eight in their Eastern Conference. HEAT--Trending even in 8th place at 34-41 (L2), 1 game from 7th, 1/2 game ahead of 9th with 7 games left (next tonight at Detroit). Heat playoff likelihood: 70.3% (down 0.3) per Hollinger/ESPN. PANTHERS--Trending even in 10th place at 36-42 (W1), 3 points from 9th and 6 from 8th with 4 games left (next tonight vs. Tampa Bay). Cats playoff likelihood: 0.2% (unchanged) per sportsclubstats.com.

FINAL FOUR SATURDAY, UNLUCKY CANES FALL IN N.I.T.; TIME FOR CHANGE IN NCAA POSTSEASON?: Finally, the Final Four! Tonight it's 7-Michigan State vs. 1-Duke and 1-Wisconsin vs. 1-Kentucky, and it sure feels like the Duke-Kentucky finale everybody expects. Meanwhile, three thoughts watching Miami's men's basketball team fall 66-64 to Stanford in overtime Thursday for the NIT championship. 1) 1aa1acanesnitNobody, ever again, question whether Michael Irvin's blood runs the greenest and orange-est of any alum ever. Man he was into it. 2) Canes got unlucky, big time. First having to play without injured center Tonye Jekiri and point guard Angel Rodriguez, two big losses. And also that big, dubious call against UM with 3.4 seconds left. I thought Miami was the better team, best in the NIT. Which brings us to ... 3) The NCAA should consider retooling its hoops postseason format so that the NCAA Tournament invites the 64 best teams in the country, period, without automatic bids for small-conference winners. Let the Grade 2 and 3 conferences have their own tournament or meld into the NIT. Hampton at 16-17 gets in the Big Tournament but Miami does not? Anybody outside of Hampton think that makes much sense? With my suggested format there still would be Cinderellas -- somebody gotta be seeded 16th -- except Cinderella would be bigger, and better, and the No. 1s would have a challenge from the start, and in every round. Curious what you think. Take a dip in our poll and say why?

Poll result: Jordan top athlete of past 20 years, but runnerup a surprise: We invited you to name your top five athletes from ESPN's list of the 20 greatest of the past 20 years (that means the maximum vote for any individual was 20 percent), and predictably Micheal Jordan won. But your runnerup, Michael Phelps, was a surprise at least to me. Your results, with ESPN rank in parentheses:

1aa1amj1. Michael Jordan 15.7% (1); 2. Michael Phelps 10.5% (9); 3. LeBron James 10.2% (2); 4. Tiger Woods 10.0% (3); 5. Usain Bolt 6.4% (16); 6. Tom Brady 6.3% (4); 7. Serena Williams 5.9% (6); 8. Roger Federer 5.7% (5); 9. Lionel Messi 4.6% (12); 10. Derek Jeter 4.1% (10).

11. Floyd Mayweather 3.7% (17); 12. Peyton Manning 3.3% (7); 13. Tim Duncan 3.0% (14); 14. Kobe Bryant 2.3% (8); 15. Lance Armstrong 1.9% (15); T16. Barry Bonds 1.6% (19); T16. Brett Favre 1.6% (15); T18. Sidney Crosby 1.3% (20); T18. Shaquille O'Neal 1.3% (11); 20. Mia Hamm 0.9% (18).

My vote? In order, it was Jordon, James, Woods, Williams and Jeter.

FOR THE LOVE OF JOHN WOLIN: One of my career mentors and best friends was John Wolin (pictured), a Miami Herald editor, reporter and beloved curmudgeon for 21 years. He died in 2004 after a life 1aa1ajwolinremarkable only partly because John was born with achondroplastic dwarfism that led to gradually increasing paralysis. Long before it became politically correct to refer to dwarfs as "little people," Wolin cut to the chase and disarmingly called himself "a bald, crippled midget." He was one of a kind. He would make you laugh and break your heart. He was one of the most passionate journalists I have ever known. When we moved into our new house John gave me an elaborate set of wrenches that I still have. His beautiful now-grown daughter is my godchild. John lives on unforgettably in the memory of those he knew but also in a scholarship fund in his name at Florida International University, benefiting aspiring journalists. The fund is now accepting donations at GoFundMe/JohnWolin. Those interested in additional information may also visit FIU's Wolin scholarship page here, or call the university's School of Journalism & Mass Communication at (305) 919-5625. The man was extraordinary. May readers blessed with generosity consider finding the cause worthy.

WHY? BECAUSE IT WAS FRIDAY THAT'S WHY!:

 

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March 30, 2015

Finally, the Four! Who'll win NCAA semifinals? Two polls. Vote now!; plus Bieber roast, Larranaga from NIT, Dolphins draft, ageless wonders Wade, Jagr carry Heat, Panthers & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND. 

No radio today: My usual Tuesday in-studio gig on the Dan LeBatard Show will be Thursday this week.

1aa1abloodymary1) It is TUESDAY, MARCH 31. Pictured right, a bloody mary you can buy at Minnesota Twins games that includes a slice of cold pepperoni pizza in it. Just because. 2) Click on Materiality's Burden for my latest column, from Saturday's Florida Derby. 3) Click on Random Evidence for our latest Sunday notes-column package. 4) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Hot Button Top 10, more Madness, Florida Derby & more. 5) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

Terrific TV Tuesday:

  • Hurricanes men vs. Temple, NIT semifinal, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Panthers at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m. (FSFL)
  • San Antonio Spurs at Heat, 8 p.m. (TNT)

PLAYOFF CHASE: Heat, Cats face huge games tonight. Update entering TuesdayA daily blog feature as two teams fight to finish in top eight in their Eastern Conference. HEAT--Trending even in 7th place at 34-39 (W1), 1 1/2 games from 6th with 9 games left (next tonight vs. San Antonio). Heat playoff likelihood: 79.6% (up 1.8) per Hollinger/ESPN. PANTHERS--Trending even in 10th place at 35-41 (W1), 1 point from 9th and 4 points from 8th with 6 games left (next tonight at Boston). Cats playoff likelihood: 6.4% (up 0.1) per sportsclubstats.com.

FINALLY, THE FOUR! WHO WINS THE NCAA TOURNAMENT SEMIFINALS?: It's No. 1 Kentucky  vs. No. 1 Wisconsin and No. 1 Duke vs. No. 7 Michigan State this coming Saturday in the men's NCAA Tournament 1aa1afinalfourFinal Four. Kentucky and Duke both are 5-point early favorites. Kentucky is now a prohibitive 5-6 favorite to win it all, with Duke and Wisconsin both 7-2 and Michigan State 7-1. This is the 17th Final Four for Kentcucky, 15th for Duke, ninth for Michigan State and third for Wisconsin. It's a heavyweight Final Four. There are no Cinderellas here, not with Michigan State's pedigree, despite its seeding. (By the way, an oddsmaker friend tells me that, if the semis go as expected, Kentucky would likely open as a 4 1/2-point pick over Duke in the title match. But that's getting ahead of ourselves). Who do you predict will win the two semifinal games? Not who you want to win, but who you'd bet to win if you had $100 to place straight-up on either game. Vote and say why.

AGELESS WONDERS WADE, JAGR LIFT HEAT, PANTHERS: Was a big Sunday for our two teams angling for the postseason (see Playoff Chase above for more), thanks to 40 points from Heat's Dwyane Wade in 1aa1adwade 1aa1ajjagrthe 109-102 win over Detroit and two goals from Panthers' Jaromir Jagr in the 4-2 win at Ottawa. Wade, at 33, in his 12th NBA and Miami season, continues to verify he still is in his prime, albeit the far side of it. Jagr, 43, in his 21st NHL season, has proven an excellent playoff-push spark since Florida signed him in late February. The Heat, a current seventh seed, tries to climb to No. 6 in the East for a more favorable first-round matchup  vs. (likely) Chicago. Miami would draw LeBron and Cleveland by staying seventh or top-seeded Atlanta by slipping to eighth. The Panthers still must make up four points to the Bruins to climb up  to eighth. Tonight's game at Boston is must-win in most every sense; Florida needs a two-point victory to give itself a realistic chance. Heat also face a big test tonight, here, vs. San Antonio.

LATEST MOCK-DRAFT GUESS FOR DOLPHINS: Wide receiver certainly is emerging as the position of choice for Miami by most notable mock drafters. The new Mock 4.0 by ESPN's Todd McShay has Fins 1aa1abreshadpselecting Central Florida WR Breshad Perriman (pictured), 6-2 and 212 pounds, the son of longtime NFL wideout and former UM Hurricane Brett Perriman. Here is McShay's analysis: "We haven't had Perriman going this early in our previous mocks, but we've seen two promising signs from him as we've gone through the evaluation process. 1) His ball skills, which were something of a concern on his early-season tape, appeared to get better as the year wore on. His performance in UCF's bowl game against NC State was the best we've seen from him in terms of catching the ball. 2) He verified the speed he flashes on tape with 4.24 and 4.27 40 times at his pro day last week. Miami could use him to replace Mike Wallace as its deep threat opposite fellow newcomers Kenny Stills and Jordan Cameron, giving QB Ryan Tannehill some talented weapons to work with." Perriman is the fourth wideout going in McShay's latest mock. He has Louisville's DaVante Parker, a popular choice for Miami at 14th overall, going 10th to St. Louis.

LARRANAGA FROM THE N.I.T. AS CANESPLAY TONIGHT: A complete (minimally edited) transcript of Miami Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga from yesterday's NIT press conference as UM prepared to face Temple in Tuesday's/tonight's semifinal game at Madison Square Garden:

"The first question I was asked by the media after we beat Richmond was, 'You know you're going back to New York. What's your favorite restaurant?' I said there is only two places I absolutely go to eat when I'm in New York. The first is I get a dirty-water dog off the street vendor and I get a slice of pizza. So if you haven't done either of those you need to do that because that's the best eating you're going to find. This is a thrill for me. My first experience in the NIT was actually when I was 9 or 10 years old. My brother Bob played at St. John's University. He was a scholarship athlete, played for Joe Lapchick and he brought me to Madison Square Garden for the Holiday Festival. I had a chance to watch St. John’s play and he took me down to the lockerroom afterward and I met the St. John's players and from that moment, I wanted to be a college basketball player. I wanted to play in Madison Square Garden. It’ s a little different now because that was the old Garden and it was smoke filled. You guys remember what it was like? I didn’t know, I thought that was what Madison Square Garden looked like. So, when they built a new Garden, I said, 'Where’s all the smoke?'."

"In New York is there's no place you want to play other than Madison Square Garden. My first experience as a player was in 1969. Joe Mullaney brought our Providence College team to the Holiday Festival. We played against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his UCLA team. I thought we outplayed them, really, but they snuck away with the victory. Then eventually in my my senior year we did lose to the great Carolina team under Dean Smith and they won the NIT 1971."

"So I have great memories of New York City, the NIT and Madison Square Garden. And in particular my last experience in the NIT and in Madison Square Garden was with Jeff Jones who absolutely destroyed a great UNLV team in the semifinals. I don't remember all the number of assists. I'm guessing he does. It was like 14 or 15 assists. He led our team to the NIT championship, and he carried Ralph Sampson and Jeff Lamp along with him."

"I'm very fortunate to be here. We were down 18 against Richmond and I have no idea how we came back and won that game but we're very excited. My players are very excited to be in New York, my wife is very excited to be here in New York. She made me promise to take her to New York before the Richmond game and I said you have to talk to my players about that. I talked to my players about that and sure enough they delivered."

"This is a great group of guys. I recruited Johnny Dawkins. I tried to coach Jeff Jones. He was really uncoachable at that time. And Fran and I are contemporaries. We were both guards who never passed the ball. But I will say this about our game tomorrow night against Temple. John Chaney wrote the book on how to not turn the ball over, play great defense and have your guards just dominate a game and Fran and his team are doing the same thing. [They are an] absolutely incredible defensive team. They don't turn the ball over. I think it's going to be a great ball game."

"I hope our players realize the opportunity they have because whoever cuts down the nets on Thursday night, it's going to be winning a national championship. A memory they will have for lifetime. So thank you very much."

ON THE JUSTIN BIEBER ROAST: With no sports on TV that interested me and because making fun of the 1aa1abieberexceedingly mockable subject seemed like such a natural idea, I watched Comedy Central's The Roast Of Justin Bieber last night. A few random thoughts. It was funny, worth watching. (Click here if you missed it). Bieber was a good sport. Host Kevin Hart, at his career apex, was great. Still not sure who Jeff Ross is. Or why Martha Stewart was there, aside form the prison jokes. Also, can Hannibal Buress please fade immediately from public attention and never return? Favorite throwaway line: "Snoop Dogg looks like Shaq's skeleton."

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March 29, 2015

The new Hot Button Top 10: Kentucky, Heat, Materiality, Canes, Cats, tennis, Fish, Fins, cricket & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND. 

1) It is SUNDAY, MARCH 29. Click on Random Evidence for today's latest Random Evidence notes-column package. 2) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Super Saturday, Heat in good hands, NCAAs, Miami Open, Cats alive, Miami-izing of ESPN Radio & more. 3) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine (with new stuff from yesterday's Florida Derby).

Florida Derby: A close, controversial finish, a record betting handle -- the 64th Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park had it all. But did it have a special winner in Materiality? A horse that can challenge the Triple Crown drought? Click on Materiality's Burden for my column from the track. 

PLAYOFF CHASE: Heat steady, Cats lose. Update entering SaturdayA daily blog feature as two teams fight to finish in top eight in their Eastern Conference. HEAT--Trending even in 7th place at 33-39 (L1), 2 1/2 games from 6th with 10 games left (next tonight vs. Detroit). Heat playoff likelihood: 69.2% (down 3.8) per Hollinger/ESPN. PANTHERS--Trending down in 10th place at 34-41 (L1) after last night's 4-3 OT loss at Montreal, 3 points from 9th and 4 points from 8th with 7 games left (next tonight at Ottawa). Cats playoff likelihood: 3.6% (down 0.8) per sportsclubstats.com.

HOT BUTTON MAR. 29: TOP 10 THINGS SOUTH FLORIDA SPORTS FANS ARE TALKING ABOUT: Our blog-exclusive Sunday feature. Hot Button means what's on our minds, locally and nationally, as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead:

1aa1ahotbutton1. COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Kentucky escapes as Elite Eight moves toward Final Four: No. 1 overall NCAA Tournament seed Kentucky survived Notre Dame last night (barely) and Wisconsin also advanced to Final Four. Now Louisville-Michigan State and Duke-Gonzaga take stage tonight. Irish didn't prove Kentucky can be beaten because close doesn't count. Quoting John Calipari, "We're unbeaten, not perfect."

2. HEAT: Team returns home as playoffs draw near: Miami, hosting Detroit this evening, seems a likely No. 7 playoff with 10 games left, which would mean facing LeBron James in first round. Meantime an ESPN panel ranked Heat second in NBA ownership, third in front office and sixth in coaching. San Antonio swept all three categories. Evidently that ESPN panel consisted entirely of Spurs fans.

3. HORSE RACING: Materiality wins Florida Derby: Huge crowd and a record betting handle festooned Saturday's 64th Florida Derby at Gulfstream, won by Materiality. This is when we begin to wonder if Materiality, starting May 2 in Kentucky Derby, can end the Triple Crown drought (and think sadly to ourselves, "Nah.") 

4. HURRICANES BASKETBALL: UM in NIT semifinals Tuesday: Miami faces Temple Tuesday night in an NIT semifinal, so at least Canes are making most out of missing the NCAAs. Game is at Madison Square Garden, which of course is nicknamed, "The World's Most Famous Arena Despite the Knicks."

5. PANTHERS: Next two games to define playoff hopes: Panthers, minus injured top scorer Nick Bjugstad, play tonight at Ottawa and Tuesday here vs. Boston -- the two teams Cats are chasing for final NHL playoff spot. Win both, and Cats have a shot. Lose either, and probably not. Playoff pressure doesn't always wait for the playoffs.

6. TENNIS: Miami Open at midpoint: Tennis’ "fifth major' runs through next weekend. The unexpected early ouster of No. 2 seed Maria Sharapova has been tournament’s biggest headline so far. Sharapova normally loses in the semifinals or final to career nemesis Serena Williams but apparently wanted to beat the rush this year and fast-track her inevitable elimination.

7. MARLINS: Cosart investigated for gambling: As Marlins wind down spring training with the season eight days away, pitcher Jarred Cosart is being investigated by MLB for gambling. Here's another gamble: Miami, despite high hopes, making the playoffs. 

8. UM FOOTBALL: Defense dominates Spring Game: Defense had four interceptions to lead UM's annual Spring Game but anybody saying "uh oh" about Brad Kaaya as result is a lunatic. Little in all of sports is a more pointless waste of money than college football teams practicing in March. Seriously.  

9. DOLPHINS: Free-agency season segues to pre-draft talk: Coach Joe Philbin this week said he hopes the team's transition to a new receiving corps "won't be too painful." Man that guy really knows how to rally the troops doesn't he!?:

10. CRICKET: Aussies win Cricket World Cup: One word. Crikey!

MADNESS: KENTUCKY SURVIVES; SIX GOES TO FOUR TONIGHT: No, I don't regret the previous headline, "Can we please stop pretending anybody can beat Kentucky?" Notre Dame almost did, last night, but when last I checked (sorry, Irish) almost didn't count. Both higher seeds (Wisconsin, too) won last night in the Elite Eight, so the March Madness Upset-o-Meter is now at 19.0 percent, with 11 upsets (based on seeds) in 58 games thus far. Tonight as we reach the Final Four, 1-Duke is a narrow favorite over 2-Gonzaga, but 7-Michigan State is a slight betting pick over 4-Louisville for the seed upset.

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March 28, 2015

It's a Super Sports Saturday in South Florida!; plus Heat in good hands, unbeatable Kentucky, Heat/Panthers playoff update, Miami Open, Cats alive, Miami-izing of ESPN Radio & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND. 

1) It is SATURDAY, MARCH 28. In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Canes in NIT semis with poll, Heat/Panthers playoff update, Jarred Cosart, Marlins odds, Dolphins draft, MLS/Miami, Haiku Challenge winner, Mavis Staples & more. 2) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

Turning awful into good: That racist fraternity video at the University of Oklahoma was awful, but the positive response of the Sooners football team reminds us of sports' power to involve itself in issues that matter. Click on Bigger Than Games for my latest column.

PLAYOFF CHASE: Heat fall, Cats still alive. Update entering SaturdayA daily blog feature as two teams fight to finish in top eight in their Eastern Conference. HEAT--Trending even in 7th place at 33-39 (L1) after last night's 99-86 loss at Atlanta, 3 games from 6th with 10 games left (next Sunday vs. Detroit). Heat playoff likelihood: 73.0% (down 4.8) per Hollinger/ESPN. PANTHERS--Trending even in 10th place at 34-40 (W1), 3 points from 9th and 3 points from 8th with 8 games left (next tonight at Montreal). Cats playoff likelihood: 4.4% (unchanged) per sportsclubstats.com.

1aa1asupersatWELCOME TO SUPER SATURDAY: It's a Super Sports Saturday in South Florida. We have the 64th Florida Derby at Gulfstream (I'll be there columnizing). UM's football Spring Game is up at Lockhart Stadium. The Miami Open continues down on Key Biscayne, including Serena Williams' match delayed from Friday. The spring Marlins host Astros up in Jupiter. Panthers try to keep NHL playoff hope alive at Montreal. Oh, and the NCAA Tournament begins its Elite Eight with 1's Kentucky and Wisconsin both in play. That enough for you?

1aa1aheatbig3NBA EXPERTS VERIFY HEAT IN (VERY) GOOD HANDS: The Heat may have a losing record post-LeBron and looking like a playoff seventh-seed, but regard for the people running the franchise remains high.
An ESPN experts panel this week lists NBA owners, front office executives and head coaches, first to last, plus an overall ranking, and Miami shines. Heat is ranked second in ownership (Micky Arison), third in front office (Pat Riley), sixth in coach (Erik Spoelstra) and No. 3 overall, trailing only San Antonio and Golden State. (The Spurs swept all four categories). Riley, Arison and Spoelstra are pictured left to right, immortalized on canvas -- the Heat's real Big 3. 

CAN WE PLEASE STOP PRETENDING ANYBODY CAN BEAT KENTUCKY?: I cannot remember seeing a more lopsided game this deep into an NCAA Tournament than the 78-39 Kentucky rout of West 1aa1asweet16Virginia in the Sweet 16. The Mountaineers were awful, can't shoot straight, but it was KY's defense and size that preened. You hear analysts still speculating about who can beat Kentucky and how, but it's just an injection of false drama against the growing inevitability of John Calipari's Wildcats finishing as the sport's first unbeaten national champs since 1976. By the way all seven of eight higher-seeded teams won in the Sweet 16 round (all but Oklahoma), so the March Madness Upset-o-Meter is now at 19.6 percent, with 11 upsets (based on seeds) in 56 games thus far. (By the way, CBS and Turner report that TV ratings have been the highest for a Sweet 16 since 1991, and up 30 percent over last year. So Kentucky as flagship seems to be helping, not hurting). 

Poll result: UM in NIT semifinal is big deal, sort of: We asked if the Miami Hurricanes men's basketball team reaching the NIT semifinals (Canes face Temple on Tuesday) is a big, medium or minor deal. You voted big 42.7 percent, medium 40.2% and minor 17.1%.

MIAMI OPEN: SHARAPOVA FAST-TRACKS INEVITABLE ELIMINATION: No. 2-seed Maria Sharapova (pictured) losing to little-known Daria Gavrilova in the Battle of the Russian 'Ovas' became the 1aa1amariasfirst notable big news of the Miami Open on Key Biscayne. Typically Sharapova reaches the women's semifinals or even the finals before getting steamrolled by her career nemesis, Serena Williams. This year, it was as if she chose to concede early to that inevitable fate. Sharapova's unexpected early ouster and the fact Roger Federer isn't playing on the men's side robs the Miami Open of some luster.

CATS ALIVE! PANTHERS WITHIN THREE POINTS OF NHL PLAYOFF RANGE: Don't kick the Cats to the 1aa1abrandonpirricurb yet. Florida's 4-1 win at Toronto on Thursday led by two goals from Brandon Pirri (pictured) moved the Panthers within three points of Ottawa and fading Boston for the final Eastern playoff spot. Odds are still long but made better by the fact three of the team's eight remaining games are against the two teams they're chasing: Sunday at Ottawa, Tuesday at Boston, then April 9 against the Bruins here. May take a sweep of those three to get it done.

THE MIAMI-IZATION OF ESPN RADIO: Mr. Miami Dan LeBatard captains ESPN Radio's 4-7 p.m. national ship, and now the nighttime airwaves are going Miami, too. Starting this coming Monday, March 30, the reconfigured new 1aa1aespnradio
1aa1abomaninational lineup will feature "The Sedano Show" from 7-9 p.m., with Miami-raised Jorge Sedano, and then "The Right Time With Bomani Jones" (pictured) from 9-11, featuring the South Beach-living LeBatard protege who had been Dan's co-host on Wednesdays. (The LeBatard Show will audition several people to possibly replace Jones on Wednesdays). ESPN described Bomani's new show as "evocative." I think they probably meant "provocative," but let's not nitpick. David Roberts, ESPN Audio Network VP, rightly notes the lineup's diversity. LeBatard and Sedano are Hispanic; Jones and Freddie Coleman (on after Bomani) are black.

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March 25, 2015

Hurricanes in NIT semis is how big a deal? Poll. Vote now!; plus Dolphins' perfect draft fit, Heat/Panthers playoff update, MLS/Miami, Marlins/gambling, Haiku Challenge winner, Mavis Staples & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND. 

1) It is THURSDAY, MARCH 26. Happy 68th birthday yesterday to one of my musical heroes, Elton John. 2) Click here to hear 30 minutes of Alonzo Mourning talk about his life and March Madness in an AOL event. 3) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Hot Button Top 10, March Madness at break, Haiku Challenge, Marlins' OF, Wade is king & more. 4) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

Marlins individual betting over/unders: Via Bovada, for Giancarlo Stanton it's a .285 average, 37.5 homers and 105.5 RBIs for the regular season. Select others: Marcell Ozuna 20.5 homers; Dee Gordon 50.5 stolen bases; Michael Morse 17.5 homers; Mat Latos 12 wins; Henderson Alvarez 12.5 wins; and Steve Cishek 35.5 saves.

How can anybody claim to have figured out a Heat team that blows a 16-point lead in a loss at Milwaukee but the very next night wins impressively at Boston without Dwyane Wade or Hassan Whiteside?

PLAYOFF CHASE: Heat beat Celtics, Cats in prayer mode. Update entering ThursdayA daily blog feature as two teams fight to finish in top eight in Eastern Conference. HEAT--Trending up in 7th place at 33-38 (W1) after last night's 93-86 win at Boston, 2 games from 6th with 11 games left (next Friday at Atlanta). Heat playoff likelihood: 76.9% (up 13.0) per Hollinger/ESPN. PANTHERS--Trending even in 10th place at 33-40 (L1), 4 points from 9th and 5 points from 8th with 9 games left (next tonight at Toronto). Cats playoff likelihood: 1.7% (unchanged) per sportsclubstats.com.

IS REACHING THE N.I.T. SEMIS ANYTHING SPECIAL?: I'm not asking because I think it isn't. I'm just wondering. Jim Larranaga's Miami Hurricanes men (the coach is pictured) were denied an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament 1aa1ajimlum 1aa1anit-- a "bubble" team some thought should have gotten in -- but they've made the most of the hand dealt them by reaching the NIT semifinals. (UM will face Temple next Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. The other semi will be Stanford vs. Old Dominion). Clearly the NIT is the "other" tournament, the shadowed periphery of March Madness. It's where few teams actually want to be; some even decline the invitation. Does anybody fill out an NIT bracket? I would posit that even winning the NIT is not as much an accomplishment as getting to and winning one game in the NCAAs. In any case Miami is making the most of the NIT as a glass-half-full consolation prize. In fact last night the team was honored at Mark Light Stadium by throwing out the first pitch before UM's baseball game. Hmm. I wonder if Canes fans are excited and think it's a big deal or not. Perhaps this poll result will tell us.

DOLPHINS' PERFECT DRAFT FIT: ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., who has fashioned a lucrative career from the guesswork of the NFL Draft, has a new story listing 11 perfect fits for the first round, or what he calls in 1aa1adevantepMel-speak, "optimal player-team marriages." One of them is Louisville receiver DeVante Parker (pictured) to Miami. From Kiper: "The fit: The Dolphins have some dependable receivers in Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills, but nobody is going to mistake either of those guys as stretch-the-field types. The departure of Mike Wallace creates a void for a true deep threat and the type of player who can consistently win in the air on contested balls. The chances: I think it's slightly less than a 50 percent chance right now. It's at least conceivable that Parker could be in play at any slot in the Nos. 9-13 range, and Miami picks at No. 14. If he's there, I'd grab him." My take: I'd grab him, too. Parker is 6-3, 209 pounds and averaged 17.7 yards per catch with 33 TDs in 39 college starts. But his stock is rising. The bet is he's gone by 14.

MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER, EXPANSION AND MIAMI: MLS commissioner Don Garber said he wants 24 teams by 2020. Well, then, it's on Miami and David Beckham now. Orlando and New York City joined this 1aa1amiaviceseason to make it 20 teams. Atlanta and Los Angeles are set to start in 2017 to make it 22. Minneapolis today was affirmed to start in in 2018 to make it 23. The 24th slot is being held for Beckham and Miami ... but for how much longer if Becks' efforts at a waterfront or at least downtown stadium site continue to hit roadblocks? A site next to Marlins Park now looms as plausible. The pressure is on, with Sacramento, San Antonio and St. Louis all seeking a team and poised to poach Miami's spot. We hear Garber will return to South Florida in the coming weeks to kick up dust, discuss the Marlins Park site and push Beckham's agenda. Pictured is a proposed logo and nickname for the new team. How about we go in this order: stadium, team and then logo and nickname? 

MARLINS' COSART LINKED TO GAMBLING?: Marlins pitcher Jarred Cosart is involved in a weird, Twitter- 1aa1acosartbased implication of gambling, and MLB is investigating, according to Miami New Times. (Full story here, and the obligatory Deadspin regurgitation here). Cosart has since deleted his Twitter account. The guy with whom he supposedly was communicating is a self-proclaimed gambling expert. Cosart is only in trouble if it is proved he bet on baseball. A new Twitter account purporting to be Cosart Tweeted, "I have not, nor will I ever, bet on the game of baseball." I predict this will prove to be too much ado about hardly anything and that zero will come of the MLB probe. But until then, it's an unwelcome little distraction two weeks from start of the season.

Marlins' franchise value: Forbes' annual list newly out has Miami Marlins valued at $650 million, ranking 29th of 30 MLB teams ahead of only Tampa Bay at $625M. Yankees lead at $3.2 billion; the average is $1.2B. Miami ranks 28th in revenue at $188 million and 21st in operating income at $15.4M.

KACIE LIEBMAN WINS HAIKU CHALLENGE!: It's official. Congratulations to reader Kacie Liebman (pictured) for winning our blog's 10th March Madness Haiku Challenge, an annual spring exercise that is 1aa1akaciel 1aa1ahaikuwinnot particularly popular and yet stubbornly we continue to do it. We'll update you later on the
prize Kacie selects. More than 100 haikus were submitted via blog Comments or (predominantly) emails to me. Sadly but predictably almost half did not qualify because they were not precisely 17 syllables in the mandatory haiku tradition -- c'mon, people! -- but 57 entries were certified as prize-eligible and considered. The top three:

Champion Kacie Liebman: "Hoop dreams or nightmares * Dribble swoosh crowd goes crazy * More busted brackets"

Runnerup Rob Morris: "Woe in the sunshine * No Gators nor Canes nor Noles * With ospreys we ride?" Third-place Tracy Towle Humphrey: "March Madness is here * Inflated balls are ready * Kentucky wins it!" Also thanks to Shad Ewart, Tony Figueroa, John Flannery, Frydad4, Jay Krupa and everybody else who played along (even those who couldn't quite grasp the 17-syllable thing...).

MY 40-YEAR LOVE AFFAIR WITH MAVIS: Since high-school I have been a fan of the Staple Singers and especially the family group's lead singer, Mavis Staples, who continues today as a solo artist at age 75. I run into few people who remember the Staples or know Mavis still records, but, no matter. The family,
1aa1amavisrooted in gospel but commercially successful on the pop side in the '70s,
1aa1aritzjaxstopped recording with patriarch Roebuck "Pops" Staples' death in 2000, but Mavis has enjoyed a career renaissance thanks largely to Wilco
frontman Jeff Tweedy, who began producing her albums. She performed over the recent weekend in Jacksonville and we drove there to see her at the historic Ritz Theatre. It's a small venue, seats around 450, and was sold out. We had front-row seats because I'd bought the tickets in January and also because the show wasn't big enough for the ticket congolmerates and vendors to buy up the best seats for resale. It was the first time I had seen Mavis live, and what a show! She performs for only about an hour, around a dozen songs, a deference to age, but nobody leaves feeling cheated. The playlist ran the gamut from the early Civil Rights-era anthem "Freedom Highway" to commercial hits like "I'll Take You There" to more recent stuff like "You're Not Alone." I could have listened for hours longer. The woman is an American treasure. Her family used to perform as a de facto opening act for Dr. Martin Luther King. At one point Mavis leaned down from the stage to shake a few hands in the front row. Mine was one. He hand was cold, her grip surprisingly strong. I'll never forget the night. I have a Twitter site @Mavis_Staples if you'd care to follow. (Below is an old spiritual called "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around." The video is from 2012, also she also performed the song Saturday night).

 

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March 24, 2015

Deadline today for March Madness Haiku Challenge. Enter here, now!; plus Hot Button Top 10, Marlins' OF, Wade voted SoFla's biggest sports star, Heat/Panthers playoff update & more

GREG COTE'S RANDOM EVIDENCE BLOG: MIAMI. SPORTS. AND BEYOND. 

It's Radio Tuesday!: I'm back in-studio with the Dan LeBatard Show today, 3-7 on The Ticket Miami, 4-7 on ESPN Radio. Ears welcome.

1) It is TUESDAY, MARCH 24. "Hello. I'm Ted Cruz and I'm running for president of the United States even though I have as much chance to win as the homeless guy with the cardboard sign." 2) Click here to watch heroic ponies save a French couple from a wild boar attack. 3) Click on Random Evidence for our latest Sunday notes-column package. 4) In The Previous Blogpost (ITPB): Miami's biggest sports star poll, NCAAs, Heat/Panthers playoff race, Haiku Challenge, expectations on Stanton, LeBatard show & more. 5) Follow us on Twitter @gregcote. Also on Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

PLAYOFF CHASE: Heat in good shape, Cats in must-win mode. Update entering TuesdayA daily blog feature as two teams fight to finish in top eight in Eastern Conference. HEAT--Trending even in 7th place at 32-37 (L1), 1 1/2 games from 6th with 13 games left (next tonight at Milwaukee). Heat playoff likelihood: 68.1% (up 2.6) per Hollinger/ESPN. PANTHERS--Trending down in 10th place at 33-39 (W2), 4 points from 9th and 5 points from 8th with 10 games left (next tonight at Tampa Bay). Cats playoff likelihood: 3.2% (down 1.0) per sportsclubstats.com.

HAIKU CHALLENGE CONTEST UPDATE: TODAY IS LAST CHANCE TO ENTER!: Entry window bangs shut tonight at midnight on our annual March Madness Haiku Challenge, so get your 17-syllable poems in 1aa1ahaikutue 1aa1ahaikutue2today. We'll announce the winner on Wednesday. Three simple rules: 1. If your poem is 17 syllables exactly and it's about the NCAA Tournament/March Madness/college hoops, it'll be considered. 2. You may submit entries two ways: Here in the blog's 'Comments' section below OR by email to gcote@miamiherald.com. 3. You may enter as many haikus as you wish. Contest prize? Grand prize will be the glory of victory, of course, but we'll have offer other choices. Maybe a Dolphins or Heat media guide? Maybe a chance to visit the Dan LeBatard Show on a Tuesday we're in-studio? In any case, rev up your creative mind now. Last chance. Ready, set ... haiku!

MARCH MADNESS AT THE BREAK: UPSET-O-METER, MY BRACKET: The men's NCAA Tournament has whittled from 64 teams (I don't count the play-ins, sorry) to the Sweet 16. Now, starting Thursday, it gets good. No, it gets great. Let's take stock. The Upset-o-Meter is running at 20.83 percent, with 10 upsets (based on seeds) in 48 games thus far. No. 1 Villanova and a pair of 2's (Virginia and Kansas) are bounced. The top three upsets based on seed differential: 14-UAB d. 3-Iowa State, 14-Georgia State d. 3-Baylor, and 8-North Carolina State d. 1-Villanova. How's your bracket doing? Mine (I'm only in one pool) is in surprisingly decent shape. I am tied for eighth place among 42 teams entering the Sweet 16 -- not counting my money (*), but certainly not out of it. (*-I use the word "money" figuratively, of course. Under no circumstance would I ever be involved in an illegal pool that featured an illicit pot!).

Click on Cinderella Has Left The Building for today's latest column by me, on how this Sweet 16 has everything but a true, classic underdog.

IT'S (SORT OF) OFFICIAL: MARLINS HAVE BEST OUTFIELD IN BASEBALL: ESPN's Baseball Tonight is ranking the 10 best players at every position, began with the three outfield positions, and the Marlins place all three in the top 10: Christian Yelich No. 6 in LF, Marcell Ozuna No. 7 in CF and Giancarlo Stanton No. 1 in RF. The only other team with all three is San Diego, ranked 3-9-9 left to right. Marlins average OF rank of 4.7 beats Padres' average of 7.0. Six teams place two guys in the OF top 10s.

HOT BUTTON MAR. 22: TOP 10 THINGS SOUTH FLORIDA SPORTS FANS ARE TALKING ABOUT: Our blog-exclusive Sunday (this week, Monday) feature. Hot Button means what's on our minds, locally and nationally, as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead:

1aa1ahotbutton1. COLLEGE BASKETBALL: March Madness pauses, prepares for Sweet 16: America’s annual spring obsession with brackets and office pools is at its break point, with a 64-team field whittled to the Sweet 16. Meanwhile, in Miami, UM's women are out of the NCAA Tournament after two games but the Canes men are still alive in the NIT, visiting Richmond in a quarterfinal game Tuesday night. Thinking that makes it a little closer to March Mildness this year for Hurricanes fans.

2. HEAT: Rejuvenated, vintage Wade leading playoff push: Though Miami lost Sunday at Oklahoma City, Dwyane Wade had scored 25 or more points in seven straight games entering the weekend (his best stretch since 2010) and led big home wins over LeBron James’ Cleveland and Portland that lifted Miami from ninth to seventh in the NBA playoff chase. What was that you were saying about “past his prime?”

3. MARLINS: Big spending Fish extend Yelich’s deal: For years we made fun of Jeffrey Loria’s infamous cheapness. Now the Marlins owner is making it rain and buying everyone drinks. Latest example: the 7-year, $49.5 million contract extension for young outfielder Christian Yelich. The only complaints you hear these days are from Loria haters are how tough they have it now.

4. PANTHERS: Win over Boston keeps Cats alive: Florida' big home win over the Bruins Saturday moved the Cats within four points of Boston for the final NHL playoff spot, with 10 game left in regular season. Still don't like their chances, but, now, at least there is a chance.

5. DOLPHINS: Fins let Clay go, audition receivers: Tight end Charles Clay left for Buffalo as Miami signed center J.D. Walton, invited receiver Michael Crabtree in for a visit and pondered adding WR Greg Jennings. Once the news got to career backup QB Tarvaris Jackson also being in for a look, it was official: The big Ndamukong Suh-led wave is done. Excitement's over. Free agency beginning to wane.

6. TENNIS: Key Biscayne welcomes top men, women: The two-week pro tennis tournament in Key Biscayne, often called the sport’s “fifth major,” begins its annual run Monday. One problem: Predictability. Put it this way: Give me Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic and you can have everybody else. I like my chances.

7. HURRICANES: UM spring football set to wrap up: The Canes' annual football Spring Game is coming up Saturday. It isn’t the season, so instead of a plane pulling a “Fire Al Golden” banner, it will be a small drone carrying a cardboard sign.

8. HORSE RACING: 64th Florida Derby runs at Gulfstream on Saturday: This is where we get excited and imagine the winning horse might finally be the one to end the sport’s 37-year Triple Crown drought, even though we sort of all know better.

9. NFL: League considers tweak in scoring: NFL is considering 23 rules changes at its league meetings, including one proposed by the Colts that would give teams a “bonus point” if, after making a two-point conversion, they then converted a 50-yard field goal. The only reasonable explanation for this proposal: The Colts were either kidding or drunk.

10. BASEBALL: Rose officially seeks reinstatement: Pete Rose, lifetime-banned for gambling, officially petitioned baseball and new commissioner Rob Manfred for reinstatement. I wouldn’t bet on his chances. “I would!” said Rose.

1aa1adwade 1aa1anumber1NO SURPRISE: HEAT'S WADE CROWNED AS MIAMI'S BIGGEST SPORTS STAR: We had a major poll here in the blog inviting you to name South Florida's biggest current professional team-sport star. We gave you 10 choices and three votes, and

the results showed a clear top-five: 1. Heat's Dwyane Wade with 36.7 percent, 2. Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton with 21.0%, 3. Dolphins' Ndamukong Suh with 17.3%, 4. Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill with 8.1%, and 5. Heat's Chris Bosh with 6.9%. (Marlins' Jose Fernandez led the others at 3.5% followed by Dolphins' Cam Wake at 2.9%. Lesser support rolled in for the Panthers' Jaromir Jagr and Marlins' Ichiro, both 1.3%, and Panthers' Roberto Luongo, 1.2%). Wade winning comfortably was no surprise, and Stanton merited the runnerup spot. A mild surprise, at least to me, was how the recently signed Suh barreled in to quickly swamp Tannehill as the Fins' top vote-getter. Thanks to all.

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