Case of the Mondays: Dark days at Auburn

Weird sports weekend. A Triple Crown candidate gets pulled as a late scratch from the Belmont Stakes. The Mariners of all people get one of those strange combined no-hitters. Manny Pacquiao is a Celtics fan.

But we start with a situation that added to the overall bizarre tenor of the weekend, albeit in a very tragic way.

1. The shooting deaths of former Auburn players Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips at an off-campus party represent the kind of senseless acts of violence that would boggle the mind if not for the fact that they just seem far too common in society today.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Auburn community and, most importantly, to the families and loved ones of the deceased.

2. If you haven’t read Brad Wolverton’s piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education on ex-Memphis football player Dasmine Cathey’s journey through school, stop right now and do so (then come back here).

Wolverton’s article painstakingly details Cathey’s experiences as a college student who was essentially illiterate when he arrived on campus and the lengths gone to during his time on campus to stay eligible. It’s compelling look at the struggles of athletes who are woefully unprepared for college academics and wouldn’t be anywhere near a campus if not for their skills on the field of play.

Maybe Cathey is an isolated case, but how can anyone read that and not wonder about the true value of the education many athletes receive?

3. Another must-do if you haven’t already – and, yes, this is a case of shameless self-promotion – is to listen to our roundtable podcast last week on the effects of conference expansion in the long run on the sports of college football. We managed to get a number of fantastic college football minds to chime in, and the quality of the dialogue didn’t disappoint.

The overwhelming sense of resignation that we’re careening on a path towards something akin to the NFL-ization of college football struck me hardest during the discussion. That’s a future that I’d rather not contemplate, no matter how imminent it may be.

4. One of the roundtable participants, Senator Blutarsky of Georgia blog Get the Picture, has produced some resoundingly astute criticism of the SEC’s latest round of expansion. His latest gem came Sunday morning, in which he blasted the conference presidents for foisting two new members on the league in the name of classing up the joint.

Obviously, I’ve got no qualms with universities trying to boost the quality of the education they can afford to their students. However, if the presidents of schools like Georgia or Mississippi St. honestly believe that merely being in a conference with Texas A&M and Missouri offers some sort of flow-through academic benefits, I’ve got a Houston Nutt playbook that I’d like to sell them.

5. This is the start of “Coaches on the Hot Seat” week here at CBR. Hot seat talks always make me wonder just how long college coaches should get before the questions come up about job status.

Back in the mid-2000s, for example, Notre Dame axed Ty Willingham after just three years, which struck me as a very quick hook at the time. (It seems even quicker when you consider that Charlie Weis got five.) Then, Kansas canned Turner Gill after two dismal years in Lawrence. (Ironically, KU hired Weis, too.)

Was the Gill debacle evidence of a further acceleration of the timeline? There’s talk now that Mr. Personality, Randy Edsall, could be in trouble at Maryland if he doesn’t turn it around immediately.

Don’t be shocked if some overzealous boosters eventually set the bar at an NFL-like one year.

6. Apparently, the new rage in college football blogging involves using Chick-fil-A as some kind of literary device to argue about the truculence of Southern football fans. I don’t want to get left behind, so allow me to weigh in.

For starters, I’m not big on pickles, so adding them to a sandwich is really a net negative in my mind. I’ve ordered the chicken sandwich before without the pickles, and I’ve found the hit rate on leaving them off is somewhere around 50 percent. The problem is that once you put pickles on anything, that flavor is there for good. Picking them off isn’t really an effective solution, especially if you get it to go.

Overall, though, I’d say Chick-fil-A is pretty darn tasty. If you just go with the strips or nuggets, you really can’t go wrong. The wraps are surprisingly strong as well. Honestly, I think the shakes might be the best item on the menu – even superior to the chicken.

Hopefully, that clarifies my position.

7. I nailed my prediction that the Spurs wouldn’t lose more than four games this year in the playoffs, huh? Seriously, though, can anyone remember a playoff turnaround, nee a collapse, more dramatic than that? A team that had won 20 straight games and had a 2-0 series lead dropping four in a row just seems unthinkable to me.

I’ve hammered Scott Brooks in the past, but he does get props for his defensive adjustments from the second game on. The Thunder closed down the paint on the drive using bigger defenders, which really seemed to hinder Tony Parker. Offensively, Brooks’ team remains horrendous in the half court. Having scorers like Kevin Durant can bail you out with some hero ball, but in the long run, that’s rolling the dice. The Thunder also enjoy one of the NBA’s few legitimate home court advantages.

Still, as well as the Thunder played in the final four games of the series, though, I’m still shocked that San Antonio – particularly Gregg Popovich – couldn’t put anything together late.

8. Final thought on San Antonio: Remember the third game of the Clippers series, when the Spurs came back from that huge deficit in the first half to win? Would Popovich have been better off tanking there?

9. I initially thought Oklahoma City would knock out the Heat in six games, but after seeing how Miami closed on Saturday night, I’m having second thoughts.

The Heat’s play in the second half of Game 7 versus Boston finally looked like what I had expected when they assembled their Big Three back in 2010. I’ve been skeptical that three stars and a bunch of spare parts would ever produce the kind of dominance that seems to have become expected of Miami. Yet, that certainly doesn’t preclude a championship or two.

The Heat are going to have the two best players on the floor about 97 percent of the time they tip off. Given that both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James can dominate in the fourth quarter, that’s a big edge for Miami. LeBron absolutely looked like one of the all-time greats to me in the second half against the Celtics. If he can continue to play at that level, I certainly think the Heat can take the series.

10. I’m sticking with the Thunder in six games, but with trepidation. A lot in this series depends on the health of Chris Bosh. Can he get through six or seven grinding playoff games?

Whatever happens, this is one match-up that I’m truly excited to see.