The Sports Section

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College Hoops

It’s the stretch run heading into the conference tournaments. On Wednesday night, #1Villanova got a chance to prove they deserve to be the #1 team in the country by finally playing a ranked team when they went on the road to play #5 Xavier in a Big East showdown between the two top teams in the conference. Xavier was off the best start in school history, but the Musketeers had never beaten the Wildcats and have never won Big East title, but on Wednesday night they moved a notch closer to that goal by upsetting Nova 83-90, which will result in a new number one team next week. The game marked the first time a top ranked team visited the Cintas Center since it opened in 2000. Although Nova and Xavier are the only ranked teams in the conference at this point in the season, the Big East will be represented by at least 4 teams.

In the Big 12, #2 Kansas kept rolling as they held off #19 Baylor. However in the ACC, after being crushed by the leader in the conference (#7 North Carolina) #12 Miami came back with an impressive showing over #3 Virginia. The Hurricanes took over sole possession of second place with a convincing 65-49 victory over the Cavaliers on Monday. Snapping a 3-game losing streak over the Cavs, the Hurricanes improved to a 4-2 record against top 25 teams. It is odd that Virginia is the #3 team in the country, but they are fourth in their own conference. It’s a head scratcher. As for Miami, they could end up with a #2 seed come tourney time.

It is a little strange but Oklahoma is ALSO ranked #3 in the AP top 25 along with Virginia, and even stranger that Virginia remains in the top 5 after the loss to Miami. Maybe they should take a page from the Democrats and flip a coin to see who gets to be third. It could be the voters couldn’t decide because neither team is exactly mowing opponents down. I’ll break the tie; Virginia shouldn’t and won’t be in the top 5 next week. The Sooners did beat a good West Virginia team on Saturday, but had lost the two previous games. Out of the top 5 teams, Kansas seems to be the only legitimate Final Four team in the mix.

In the Big Ten, #18 Indiana moved up in the rankings by defeating #20 Purdue in one of the biggest rivalry games in college basketball. Once again, although the Hoosiers lead their conference, (8)Iowa, (10) Maryland and (6) Michigan St. are ranked higher in the AP Poll. Things could get interesting as Indiana’s final two games are against Iowa and Maryland. If the Hoosiers run the table, they could get a #2 seed in the “big dance.”

NASCAR

“What a finish!” That is what everyone was saying after the Daytona 500. Martin Truex Jr. will be hearing about this one for the rest of his career (or life): “The one that got away.” Denny Hamlin beat out Truex by inches in the closest finish in race’s history (0.010 seconds). It beat out Mark Martin’s loss to Kevin Harvick in 2007 (0.020 seconds). Truex said that he remembered when it happened to “the poor guy” and that a picture of the finish in ’07 is in the tunnel when you come in turn 1. Truex isn’t looking forward to his finish being as “famous.” Hamlin, however, welcomes the attention to his amazingly close victory.

Matt Kenseth was leading on the final lap when Hamlin, who was running fourth, jumped out of line and slid to the outside. He got a push from Kevin Harvick and even though Kenseth tried to block him, Hamlin caught him. Hamlin positioned himself between Kenseth and Truex. Kenseth got a little wild and had to let off the gas dropping him from the run for the victory. Running side-by-side, Hamlin and Truex raced for the checkered flag. It was the first time Toyota put a car in Victory Lane. The 3rd place Joe Gibbs driver, Kyle Busch, gave Toyota their first NASCAR Sprint Cup title last season and completed the sweep for the team in this year’s race.

There were some key crashes in the season’s opening race. Rookie Chase Elliot, son of twice Daytona 500 winner and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliot flashed some early success by becoming the youngest ever Daytona pole sitter, but he brought out the races first caution of the day on lap 20 when he lost control and spun into the infield, ripping the nose off the car. With 30 laps left to go, Dale Earnhardt Jr. slammed hard into the infield wall for the fifth caution of the day. It was a disappointing day for sure for the pre-race favorite (Earnhardt) and the Daytona 500’s youngest pole sitter (Elliot).

            Jimmie Johnson will try to improve on his 16th place finish in the Daytona 500 by repeating as winner at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 in Hampton, GA is Sunday at 1:16pm.

 Mike Yost

 

NASCAR SPRINT CUP

  1. Denny Hamlin (11) 45/5
  2. Martin Truex Jr. (78) 40/1
  3. Kyle Busch (18) 39/1
  4. Kevin Harvick (4) 37
  5. Carl Edwards (19) 36
  6. Joey Logano (22) 35
  7. Kyle Larson (42) 34
  8. Regan Smith (7) 33
  9. Austin Dillon (3) 33
  10. Kurt Busch (41) 31