Play it Forward: March 25-31 — With big-time dancing at Staples Center, everyone else must leave, except the Dodgers and Angels can return from Arizona

Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET:

Wichita State’s mascot is named Wushock — not SpongeBob ShockerPants — as we’ll soon see at Staples Center this weekend. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NCAA MEN’S TOURNAMENT WEST REGIONAL:
Arizona vs. Ohio State, 4:47 p.m.
Wichita State vs. LaSalle, approx. 7 p.m.
Thursday, Staples Center, both on TBS
Final is Saturday, TBA.

Our bracket has been perfect to date. A perfect mess.

For some reason, Leonardo DiCaprio wore a Wichita State baseball cap to a Lakers’ finals game in 2009. Even Tobey Maguire can’t figure it out.

We shouldn’t be shocked by now, because nowhere is it messier than in the wild, wild West Region. Expect more zigging and less Zag-ing with the four survivors who have a fortuitous meeting at Staples Center as part of the Sweet 16.
After the round of 32, left by the wayside are West Regional seeds 1 (Gonzaga), 3 (New Mexico), 4 (Kansas State), 5 (Wisconsin), 7 (Notre Dame) and 8 (Pittsburgh). The last five of them went out after the first full day. Now it’s a “Who’s What?” coming to L.A. Where’s the star power? Arizona (27-7), who lost three times to UCLA during the season and couldn’t get a sniff of the Pac-12 title, is our most recognizable suspect in this survival pool with senior Solomon Hill (Fairfax High) and junior Jordin Mayes (Westchester), who helped figure out the best way to outsmart Harvard in the third round. Wichita State (28-8) may have seemingly the easiest path to an Elite Eight, but they’ll likely get a road block by the winner of Arizona-Ohio State in Saturday West Regional final.
How will this end up? We’re likely to get better answers if we sent that AT&T guy to sit at the tiny round table with kindergarten students and ask them if a higher seed is better than having a low seed at this point in the Big Dance.
Elsewhere, with UCLA, Colorado and Cal already punched out, there’s a shot that Pac-12 tournament champ Oregon, a ridiculously low 12 seed, can conquer Midwest No. 1 seed and overall favorite Louisville on Friday (4:15 p.m., Channel 2).
The rest of the games:
Thursday:
Marquette vs. Miami in Washington D.C., 4:15 p.m., Channel 2
Syracuse vs. Indiana in Washington D.C., approx. 6:45 p.m., Channel 2
Friday:
Kansas vs. Michigan in North Texas, 4:37 p.m., TBS
Michigan State vs. Duke in Indianapolis, approx. 7 p.m., Channel 2
Florida Gulf Coast vs. Florida in North Texas, approx. 7:15 p.m., TBS

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Q and A: Danica Patrick, on why she’s not fit for “DWTS,” fried pork rinds or racing a car at 62 … but is just fine with prime-time slime, if the kids are doin’ it

Danica Patrick, center, walks to her car with publicists Wendy Belk and Haley Moore before qualifying Friday for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Fontana. Patrick starts in the 40th spot for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 — far from the pole spot she had at the Daytona 500.(AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

STORY POSTED: 2:30 p.m.
STORY UPDATED: 8 p.m.:

Danica Patrick seems to embrace the idea that, if she doesn’t win Sunday’s Auto Club 400 in Fontana, she’s got a decent chance of getting slimed Saturday night.
That comes with being nominated for the annual Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards.
“Does everyone get slimed?” she asked Friday afternoon while sitting on the back of a golf cart on the Auto Club Speedway infield, chilling out near her tour bus just before qualifying in the 40th position for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race.
“If it happens, it’ll be for all the right reasons. I hope.”

www.people.com

After today’s practice run, she’ll race up Interstate 10 — not on a helicopter, mind you — toward USC’s Galen Center for the 5 p.m. live show that the kids’ network puts on each year. No word if she’ll be joined by current boyfriend and fellow NASCAR competitor, Ricky Steinhouse Jr. — he starts 31st in Sunday’s race. But we know who he’d vote for in the category of “Favorite Female Athlete,” with Patrick up against both Serena and Venus Williams, plus Gabby Douglas.
(UPDATE: Patrick won the award — presented by Dwight Howard – and did not have green gooey goop dropped on her. Although she said after giving away a handful of high-fives to kids along the stage as she came up to accept the award: “I always wanted to get slimed, and it sure felt like it coming up here.” Howard then got slimed moments later.)
We noticed that the ballot listing Patrick’s qualifications specifies she is “a spokeswoman, a model and a race car driver! … She’s a champion who deserves a whole lot of praise! Get this babe a blimp!”
Funny, but when we checked Patrick’s Wikipedia page, it seemed like something was backwards.
So we went to the source. Patrick, who celebrates a birthday Monday, was ready for the usual age-old questions:

Q: It says right there on your Wikipedia page that you’re “an American auto racing driver, model and advertising spokeswoman.” Sound pretty accurate, in order of importance?
A:
Isn’t model and ‘advertising spokeswoman’ kinda similar?
Q: No, not at all. We’ve seen pictures of you as a model. You’re selling different things there. Continue reading

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Wait, Danica Patrick can only handle half a Martinsville hot dog?

The Jesse Jones frank with chili, slaw and onions, is a “must have” on any visit to Martinsville Speedway, according to a piece recently on www.aroundthetrackonline.com. Dale Earnhardt Jr. once told ESPN’s Terry Blout: “Yeah, I eat about three or four a day.”

When the reigning queen of NASCAR held a press gathering at the Auto Club Speedway this morning, prior to the first practice and qualifying for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, the subject of hot dogs came up.

Danica Patrick says she can only do a half Martinsville dog. No matter how good it might be. Just because that’s how she rolls.

We talked to her following practice for a Q-and-A that will run in Sunday’s editions, quizzing her more on her chances of making the “Dancing With the Stars” field rather than the final 43 in any left-turn event this season.

Before she went out and qualified 40th today, Patrick answered things about how unhappy she was with the Fontana Speedway’s surface, her performance after four NASCAR races so far, and other stuff — all leading up to that frank question about her distaste for certain wieners:

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Weekly media column version 03.22.13: Cousin Sal’s L.A. Marathon video, more RJ Bell bracket advice, and ESPN’s new soccer analyst

What made it into this week’s media column: What are the odds that the broadcast team — in this case, Tim Brando and Mike Gminski, with reporter Otis Livingston — mentions that UCLA is a three-point underdog against Minnesota in tonight’s NCAA tournament game (truTV, approx. 7 p.m.)? In a version of the previous blog post we had up Thursday, we’ve asked some gambling “experts” why there still seems to be an elephant in the room when it comes to Vegas-related information. We also have more on the Auto Club 400 coverage on Sunday and an NFL Network special about player safety coming up Monday.

What didn’t make it into the column:

== The video above best illustrates how “Cousin Sal” Iacono duped participants in Sunday’s L.A. Marathon with the old glued-down water bottle trick, the results of which airs on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” earlier this week. Shouldn’t the runners know by now when they see him on the course that something’s up? Especially when he’s at Mile 11 — right in front of the “JKL” studios on Hollywood Blvd.
“I’ve been lucky enough not to get punched,” said Iacono. “But we’re not total villains here — they were giving out real water about 40 yards down the street. I don’t have any body guards to help me — just a couple of 19-year-old PAs if anyone wants to take a run at me.”
In past years, Iacono’s stunts have included asking runners to participate in a limbo contest, fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket, or take money from him if they promise to quit at that point because “they aren’t going to win anyway.” Continue reading

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Why so much a fine line about the NCAA Tournament games’ betting lines? Why be part of the ‘hypocrisy’ when talking UCLA-Minnesota?

Want an upset pick during the first weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament? It’ll come when one of the broadcasting teams happens to reveal a point spread during a game you’re watching.

Don’t wait for it.

The fact that sixth-seeded UCLA started off in Vegas sports books as a brow-raising 2 ½-point underdog against No. 11 seed Minnesota in Friday’s second-round game in Austin, Tex. — and then the line was then pushed to a 3 once bettors started laying money — has become an intriguing angle to this contest.

Those watching on TV, with an office pool bracket in front of them full of red marks following Thursday’s first full day of contests, will likely be aware of what’s going on in relation to a key injury suffered by UCLA’s Jordan Adams during the Pac-12 tournament last Friday.

But try tying that into why the Bruins have become a real gamble among Vegas bettors, and the odds are real that someone at the NCAA, or an advertiser, or at the very least a network exec will become the ones most upset.

With all the high-speed media technology available to find info like that – except during the course of the live televised game itself – does it seem we reached a point where we can stop pretending this point-spread elephant in the room doesn’t exist, even if you’re treading into quasi-amateur college sports territory littered with NCAA-sponsored anti-gambling PSAs?

“I can see why they don’t want that information out there, but it’s hypocrisy for the NCAA, especially since it doesn’t cost them any money,” said Pregame.com’s RJ Bell, the popular media go-to Vegas-based betting expert. Continue reading

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Prep hoop state tournament games, as you wish

Here’s the TV schedule, with Time Warner Cable Channel 700 as the local channel for the games.
Note: Barry Tompkins and Steve Quis share play-by-play duties with analysts Tracy Warren and Jon Crispin.

Friday:
10 a.m.: Division V Girls – Pinewood vs. Sierra Canyon, TWC SportsNet
Noon: Division V Boys – St. Joseph ND vs. Horizon, TWC SportsNet
2 p.m.: Division III Girls – Sacred Heart Cathedral vs. Alemany, TWC SportsNet
4 p.m.: Division III Boys – Sacred Heart Cathedral vs. St. Augustine, TWC SportsNet
6 p.m.: Division I Girls – Berkeley vs Long Beach Poly, TWC Channel 700/890
8 p.m.: Division I Boys – Pleasant Grove vs. Santa Monica, TWC Channel 700/890 (replay on TWC SportsNet, Sunday at 11 a.m.)

Saturday:
10 a.m.: Division IV Girls – Salesian vs. Serra, TWC SportsNet
Noon: Division IV Boys – Cardinal Newman vs. Pacific Hills, TWC SportsNet
2 p.m.: Division II Girls – St. Francis vs. Lynwood, TWC SportsNet
4 p.m.: Division II Boys – College Park vs. Redondo, TWC SportsNet
6 p.m.: Open Division Girls – Bishop O’Dowd vs Windward, TWC Channel 700/890
8 p.m.: Open Division Boys – Archbishop Mitty vs. Mater De, TWC Channel 700/890 (replay on TWC SportsNet on Sunday at 1 p.m.)

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Another view of the madness that is Duke-Carolina … demand it

If you’re looking for even more NCAA Tournament related madness, a documentary called “Duke-Carolina: The Blue Blood Rivalry” by L.A.-based filmmaker Jason Rem has found its way to On Demand cable services.

Rem, who grew up in Diamond Bar and was a long jumper at San Diego State, produced and wrote the 94-minute film with an interesting device: It’s from a fan-based perspective that uses a ticking clock as it counts down to a game between the Blue Devils and Tar Heels.

Interview subjects include those closest to it — Mike Krzyzewski,  Roy Williams, Phil Ford, Jay Bilas, Mitch Kupchak, Eric Montross, Chris Duhon, Antawn Jamison, Seth Curry, P.J. Hairston — as well as broadcasters such as  Dick Vitale, Dan Schulman and Tim Brando.

More on the film:
== A story in the Raleigh News Observer.
== An interview Fox’s Jay Mohr did with Rem

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Play It Forward: March 18-24 on your sports calendar: tru(TV) story — Bruins already an underdog against the Gophers in NCAA tourney opener

Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET:

COLLEGE BASKETBALL:
NCAA Men’s Tournament, second round:
UCLA vs. Minnesota, in Austin, Tex., 7 p.m. Friday, truTV:
We were just getting used to the idea that the 25-9 Bruins would be opening the tournament as a sixth seed playing against Wichita State in Kansas City as part of the Midwest Regional – thanks Lunardi (who actually had them as a fifth seed earlier Sunday before making more adjustments). Instead, a sixth seed in the South bracket going up against a 20-12 Golden Gophers bunch that lost its first-round game in the Big Ten tournament might be an even more fortuitous draw for Ben Howland’s team that comes into the Big Dance limping noticeably. Don’t count on it. RJ Bell of Pregame.com already has the Bruins as a 3-point underdog, making 11-seeded Minnesota one of two lower seeds favored over a higher seed in the first round (the other is nine-seed Missouri a 3-point favorite against eight seed Colorado State). No wonder it’s not even a game CBS, TNT or TBS wanted to take with the possession arrow.
As for the 16 teams who’ve been sent to play in the West Regional that funnels into the Staples Center on March 28-30: The TV talking heads seemed to imply that it was the weakest of the four, especially with Gonzaga holding down the No. 1 seed. The few who are on board with Mark Few’s Zags aren’t listening to those who predict undervalued, third-seeded and 29-5 New Mexico Lobos to have enough juice to get to the Final Four after their performance in the competitive Mountain West tournament. The MWC, by the way, had a No. 2 RPI rating as a league, with UNM a No. 2 RPI rating as a team, behind Duke. “I’ll put our starting five up against anybody,” said Lobos coach Steve Alford. “The tournament is about seeds and it’s about matchups. We’re prepared, we’re healthy, we’re confident and we’re playing our best basketball of the year.” The tournament begins Tuesday and Wednesday with the so-called “First Four,” then the second and third rounds on Thursday and Friday.

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Play It Forward: March 11-17 — the Pac-12 tries to avoid a Vegas hangover; the L.A. Marathon and Dwight returns to Orlando

Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET:

MEN’S COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Pac-12 Tournament
MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas:
UCLA vs. Stanford or Arizona State, noon Thursday, Pac-12 Network
USC vs. Utah, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Pac-12 Network:
Without any hocus pocus, “The Incredible Shabazz Muhammad” takes center stage off the Las Vegas Strip — in the UCLA freshman’s hometown, mind you — as the Pac-12 looks for a little smoke and mirrors in trying to qualify more than a couple teams for the NCAA Tournament. Certified bubble-tologists insist that the teams finishing 1-through-5 in the regular season — UCLA, Arizona, Oregon, Cal and Colorado — have the strongest cases to advance past this inaugural Cirque de Larry Scott act. No one can really tell – not even Penn & Teller – if that number will hold up after the four days of games at the MGM. Tell that to No. 7 seed USC.
The problem here is that the Pac-12 marketing department has created a hook for this event: “What happens here, makes the highlight reel.” We see what you did there. How will that affect the way the freshman Muhammad decides to push the top-seeded Bruins into the Big Dance without compromising his own highlights? It was pointed out during UCLA’s win over Washington in the regular-season finale that Muhammad had a total of 24 assists in the 28 games he played in – this on a team that was sixth in the nation with an average of 17 a game. He also took a team-high 381 shots in 825 minutes – almost one every 30 seconds. “So he’s a tad selfish,” said CBS game analyst Doug Gottlieb, who led the NCAA in assists during his junior  year at Oklahoma State, “but guess what? He’s also super smart. . . This guy knows how to score buckets. He understands how to read the defense and he reacts accordingly.”
Other opening round games Wednesday:
=Stanford vs. Arizona State, noon, Pac-12 Net
=Colorado vs. Oregon State, 2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Net
=Washington vs. Washington St., 8:30 p.m., Prime Ticket
Other second-round games Thursday:
=Arizona vs. Colorado/Oregon State, 2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Net
=Cal vs. USC/Utah, 2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Net
=Oregon vs. Washington/WSU, 8:30 p.m., ESPNU
Friday’s semifinals: 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Net) and 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Saturday’s final: 8 p.m., ESPN (not in the afternoon on CBS as it has been in the past).
If all funnels into:
MEN’S COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NCAA Selection Show, Sunday at 3 p.m., Channel 2:
The road to the Georgia Dome for the 75th edition of this national title dance starts here. Harvard, Florida Gulf Coast, Liberty, Creighton and Belmont have already taken five of the 68 spots, so it won’t have to worry about scrambling to get into the 76th NIT (it starts with 32 teams on Tuesday), the College Basketball Invitational (with 16 teams) and the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (with 24 more teams). Can Cal State Northridge get into one of ‘em, or are the Mats even bowl eligible?

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