No teams from Pittsburgh made (or deserved to make) the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Local interest is dialed down accordingly (except for bracket pools and skipping work). Duke’s first two games are at PPG Paints Arena. That’s like royalty visiting. Villanova also plays in Pittsburgh.

There are too many teams in the tournament that can’t win. (Some insist that’s part of the charm of March Madness.)

The lowest seed to win the NCAA tournament is a No. 8: Villanova in 1985. It can rightly be concluded that only the top 32 teams have a legit chance.

Why not take the top 32 teams, and have eight divisions of four teams? (That still allows for the televised spectacle of seeding.) Each division plays a round-robin, and the division winners go to the Elite Eight. Single-elimination to a winner.

That would make for 55 games. The current tournament  has 68.

If TV wants a few more games, have play-in games for the last spot in each division. That would take the total to 63 games.

If TV wants more games still, have the top two teams in each division qualify for the Sweet 16. That would keep the format/timetable intact for the tournament’s final two weeks, and bump the games up to 71.

My format would mean better basketball and produce a truer national champ.

But the NCAA doesn’t care about that. It’s laughable when people say, “It’s all about the money these days.” Wake up. It’s always been all about the money. The method has just become more refined.



Evgeni Malkin was the NHL’s No. 1 star for the month of January.

Malkin was the NHL’s No. 2 star for the month of February.

Uh-oh. Malkin is trending downward.

Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov leads the NHL in scoring and is front-runner in the MVP race. Malkin trails Kucherov by six points (but has three more goals).

Kucherov is out. He’s currently nursing an upper-body injury. So Malkin has a chance to close the scoring gap, and the perception gap when it comes to MVP.

Malkin has undoubtedly been NHL MVP since the New Year. He netted 12 goals in January, 10 more in February. It might not be possible to be more valuable.

Dan Rosen of NHL.com does a quarterly poll of those at the league’s official web site. In Rosen’s most recent survey, Kucherov topped the MVP voting. That’s no surprise.

But Boston’s Patrice Bergeron was second despite 22 fewer points than Malkin. That’s silly. Bergeron’s intangibles don’t compare to Malkin’s tangibles. Malkin was tied for third with Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler (three less points than Malkin).

As a great man once said, “I judge myself by Stanley Cups and scoring titles, because no one votes on those.” One more of each for No. 71, please.


With Patric Hornqvist practicing again, the Penguins lines look like this:

Simon – Crosby – Rust
Hagelin – Malkin – Hornqvist
Guentzel – Sheahan – Kessel
Aston-Reese – Rowney – Sheary/Reaves

Kuhnhackl is still injured.

The Malkin line is a proven commodity, and has made Malkin more often create his own shot. Nineteen goals in his last 19 games = self-explanatory.

I got no problem with the Sheahan line, though Kessel is slumping (one assist in six games) and Guentzel should eventually skate with Crosby again.

I dislike Crosby’s line. Why is Simon (no goals in his last 10 games) skating with Crosby? I also dislike Aston-Reese (four goals in eight games) on the fourth line.

Simon has more speed than Aston-Reese. Crosby prefers playing with speed. I get that.

But Crosby doesn’t have ample talent on his line. That’s a recurring theme. Crosby is too often asked to polish excrement.

That’s another reason to get winger Michael Grabner from the New York Rangers: Blazing pace and 25 goals (24 at even strength).



3B David Freese of the Pirates spoke to the media. He said that when he came into the clubhouse the last two years, the “demand to win” wasn’t there.

Perhaps rapidly dismantling 2015’s 98-win team by way of making still more money had something to do with that.

Freese’s theories are easily believed. Pirates ownership thinks profit is more important than winning. That’s obviously got to trickle down.

The irony: If the “demand to win” was present in the organization, Freese might not have a job with the Pirates. Or at least wouldn’t have had 863 at-bats over the past two seasons. Fading talents like Freese are regulars on crap teams.

So, what Freese said isn’t revelatory. It’s always been evident that the Pirates organization places little priority on winning. When it happens, it’s a happy accident. Doing the best they can with what they’re willing to spend.

Then you’ve got manager Clint Hurdle saying, “The place is going to explode when we win it all.” How very Jake Taylor. Except this isn’t a movie. Hurdle’s pie-in-the-sky is in sharp, silly contrast to Freese’s dour offerings.

Freese also lamented the Pirates “losing 10-2 in the pouring rain…and you’re laughing.” But chicken droppings know they can’t be chicken salad. If you don’t laugh, you cry.

The reality: Freese can complain. The clubhouse can complain. The media can complain. The fans can complain.

But nothing will deter owner Bob Nutting from trying to maximize profit at the expense of all else. The story may have twists and turns. But its conclusion will always be the same.


87 + 59, 71 + 81, CALL UP SPRONG

Patric Hornqvist and Conor Sheary are injured. Tom Kuhnhackl and Carter Rowney got hurt last night in the Penguins’ 5-4 home win over Vegas.

That’s a lot of forwards sidelined simultaneously.

Coach Mike Sullivan has to keep doing what he did last night when the Penguins trailed 2-0: Consolidate use of his most talented attackers.

Despite his preference, Sullivan can’t use Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin on different lines. Malkin should center Kessel. Crosby should center Jake Guentzel.

The Penguins also need to summon RW Daniel Sprong from their Wilkes-Barre/Scranton farm team.

Sprong should already be with the Penguins. Hornqvist and Sheary are right wings. They got hurt. But the Penguins inexplicably called up a left wing, Zach Aston-Reese. Sullivan also inexplicably moved Kuhnhackl from left wing to right wing and from the fourth line to Malkin’s line.

That’s absurd. Kuhnhackl is a good fourth-line guy. He’s sharp on the PK. But he wouldn’t be a top-six forward in Wheeling.

I’m weary of hearing what the coaches don’t like about Sprong. Coach him up. Make Sprong play how you want him to.

Sprong can score. That makes up for a lot of sins.

The coaches like Dominik Simon. But he stunk last night. Two lazy penalties. He seems to have hit his expiration date.



Sidney Crosby has gone six games without a goal.

That’s no big deal.

Crosby is on fire. He’s racking up assists like crazy. He’s on an 10-game points streak. In those 11 games, Crosby has three goals and 17 assists.

But Crosby is just one goal away from 400 on his NHL career.

Let’s get that over with Friday at home against Washington and Alexander Ovechkin.

Last night, with a 4-2 lead and San Jose’s net empty, Crosby was going for No. 400 and Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust were both trying for hat tricks.

Crosby passed up the empty net to give Rust a chance at the hat trick, but Rust hit the crossbar. (Why would you go high on an empty net?)

Just moments prior, Crosby took a shot at the empty net from below his own goal line.

Crosby would likely prefer to not dump a milestone goal into an empty net.

But Mario Lemieux scored career goal No. 6oo into an empty net. When asked if that disappointed him, Lemieux smiled and said, “Not at all. That’s how I got to 600.”

Lemieux’s eyes gleamed when the net was vacant: He scored 31 career ENGs.

Lemieux would not have hit the crossbar last night.



RB Le’Veon Bell says Coach Mike Tomlin knew he was going to be late to the walk-through the day before the Steelers’ playoff game against Jacksonville. Bell says he had a prior excuse that Tomlin had cleared.

I don’t believe it.

What NFL coach would accept any reason for a player being late to the walk-through the day before a playoff game? (If any would, it’s probably Tomlin.)

What excuse could Bell have? Did he have to meet his record producer? His dealer?

Bell also says he and the Steelers are closer on a long-term contract.

I don’t believe that, either. Not unless Bell has significantly lowered his demands. No way the Steelers will ever pay Bell $15m per over a long-term deal.

But Bell was on time for practice at the Pro Bowl. HE’S A CHANGED MAN!



Give full credit to WR Antonio Brown despite the Steelers’ 45-42 playoff loss to Jacksonville.

Brown was covered man-to-man by either Jalen Ramsey or A.J. Bouye, the best cornerback tandem in football, and made both look ordinary. Brown had seven catches, 132 yards, an 18.9-yard average and two touchdowns.

Brown is a truly elite receiver, a Pro Football Hall-of-Famer right now. Given chance, Brown almost always proves that.

Brown and QB Ben Roethlisberger were the only reasons the Steelers got back in the game after trailing 21-0.

Roethlisberger made some damaging mistakes early. But he threw for 469 yards and five touchdowns. Roethlisberger made up for his errors.

The Steelers’ defense didn’t. The defense just kept getting gashed.

The Steelers are afraid to put Roethlisberger at risk by letting him do a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1, but he appeared to be running the option in the fourth quarter when the Steelers got desperate.

Those who blame Roethlisberger are just predisposed to do so every time the Steelers lose.

I’m glad to hear Roethlisberger announced that he would play in 2018. I enjoy watching him.

But a lot of you jerks don’t deserve another season of Roethlisberger. Wait until Landry Jones takes the reins and the Steelers go 5-11.



Let’s get two things clear about the Penguins’ goaltending:

*Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t coming back.

*Matt Murray is the No. 1 goalie.

I hope that’s understood.

Murray is healthy, but Tristan Jarry is nonetheless starting a second straight game tonight at home against Boston. Jarry made 31 saves in a 4-0 shutout at Brooklyn Friday, so Coach Mike Sullivan will ride the hot hand.

But that doesn’t mean the goaltending job is up for grabs. It merely gives Murray a longer reset point as the Penguins head into the bye week.

Fleury was/is very popular in Pittsburgh. Murray detractors are merely Fleury supporters in disguise.

Murray hasn’t played up to the standard he previously set. (Few Penguins have.)

But Murray won Stanley Cups in his first two NHL campaigns. He’s cheaper than Fleury. Murray is 23. Fleury is 33.

There was no logical way to keep Fleury and dump Murray. There is currently no logical way to think Jarry should push Murray for the No. 1 job.

Jarry, 22, is a quality goaltender. You need two, as everyone should have learned by now.

Murray at No. 1 and Jarry at No. 2 will give the Penguins quality netminding for many seasons to come.

But that’s the depth chart, and it’s set in stone. A half-season of Murray stumbling a bit and a fistful of good games by Jarry doesn’t change that.



A scenario:

In 2016, the Steelers rested LB James Harrison for the first half of the season. Then Harrison got on the field, played well, and the Steelers went from 4-5 to 11-5.

I bet the same plan was in place for 2017.

But the Steelers’ first-round draft choice, T.J. Watt, played well at Harrison’s spot. Watt’s versatility allowed that position to be more about pass coverage than Harrison is able to contribute.

Most important, the Steelers were in the middle of an eight-game winning streak at mid-season. So there was no logical reason to take snaps from Watt and give them to a 39-year-old.

Harrison got mad, expressed dissent, got cut, and is now a New England Patriot. That’s equal parts job opportunity and betrayal.

The Steelers are 12-3. Being 12-3 justifies just about any decision made en route.

Harrison played 40 snaps for the Steelers this season, taking part in only five of 15 games. The Steelers know he’s washed up. If they thought Harrison could help New England, they wouldn’t have cut him.

Harrison’s high-profile switch is about drama, not impact. All hat, no cattle.