Why Villanova’s win was good for college basketball


Words can’t really do justice to the end of Monday’s NCAA title game so let’s begin with non-words “whoa,” “whew” and that old Ralph Kramden favorite: ‘homina, homina, homina.”

Villanova over North Carolina was as good as it gets at a time when college hoops needed a champagne supernova.  The first title game on cable television provided a dynamite ending on a family of channels  that includes TNT.

bigeastIt was a huge, heroic, in-your-face win for the Big East, which was decimated by cut-throat expansion instigated by the predatory ACC, which big-footed six teams into the Sweet 16 but couldn’t cut down the final net.

One theory postulated is that a very powerful ACC coach, who recently irritated Oregon and had knee replacement surgery, didn’t like how big the Big East had grown in basketball. So, he covertly led the charge to lure Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville to the fold.

The Big East was wiped out in football and reduced to small potatoes in basketball.

Well, ACC, how do you like them potatoes?

Monday night proved again why major sports on television remain bullet-proof. You can’t even risk taping the game to skip the commercials for fear of missing something in real Twitter time. There is simply no reality-show replacement for this kind of unscripted drama.

No other television event can make a grown man scream at the boob tube the way I did as Villanova was trying to protect a three-point lead in the final seconds.

Rankman was court side for the 2008 title game at San Antonio, when Memphis couldn’t protect a three-point lead against Kansas. While others may respectfully disagree, the rule in my rule house is you NEVER allow the opponent a chance to tie the game with a three pointer. You ALWAYS foul, within reason, to put the other team on the free-throw line. This almost assures you will get possession back with the lead.

Memphis didn’t foul against Kansas and watched Mario Chalmers hit the game-tying three at the buzzer. Kansas won in overtime.

“Foul them, foul them, foul them!” I screamed at Villanova in Monday’s waning seconds.

It wasn’t that I necessarily cared who won-there were principles and axioms on the line!

Villanova, however, gave guard Marcus Paige the chance to make his preposterous, gravity-defying three with 4.7 seconds left. Villanova was only lucky it had enough time left for Kris Jenkins to put a Philly cheese stake into the Tar Heels’ heart.

College basketball needed this game after the debacle of the lopsided semifinals, which were decided by 61 total points.

College hoops needed Villanova because it was the most well-scrubbed and “hug-worthy” of the entrants.  The other schools came to Houston with an entourage of NCAA baggage. North Carolina over Syracuse in one semi featured a team facing major infractions against another team already serving them out.

Oklahoma hasn’t done anything unscrupulous lately, yet it wasn’t that long ago that Kelvin Sampson coached there. This is also a program that ranks tied for fourth on the all-time NCAA probation list.

Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim, the North Carolina and Syracuse coaches, had become insufferable and sanctimonious in defense of their programs.

Boeheim lectured the press about the difference between cheating and breaking the rules, while Williams whined in the face of legitimate questions regarding pending sanctions related to, potentially, one of the worst academic scandals in the history of higher education.

It’s true players on these teams deserved the lion’s share of the spotlight, yet it’s also fair to query coaches who were both around in the time frame of the alleged infractions.

Even NCAA President Mark Emmert acknowledged things didn’t look good.

“Yeah, sure, I understand why optically people have a lot of questions around all that,” he said last week at his annual Final Four press conference. “It makes perfect sense that they might.”

In that sense, the “right” team won Monday.  Emmert had to be thrilled with the outcome because it relieves his office of potentially handing down major sanctions against a reigning national champion.

Thank you, Villanova, for taking some of the stench out of the air.

Now we wait for the hammer to drop, or not, on North Carolina.

“Obviously a very complex circumstance,” Emmert said last week.  “It’s been moving along very well.”

Not well enough, of course, that it would ever be resolved before the NCAA’s Final Four spring fling in Houston.

Thank you, Villanova, for providing some joy before the ugliness.

Emmert said his staff is nearing a point where it can “issue allegations, or notice of allegations, in the very near future.”

Rest assured, that won’t be “one shining moment.”






Catching up with Tommy Bonk: the man behind Phi Slama Jama

Phi slama

Houston Cougars: greatest team that didn’t win the NCAA title


tommy (2)

Tommy Bonk

SAN FRANCISCO–Sometimes you do your best work under  pressure. Take my friend and longtime Los Angeles Times colleague Tommy Bonk, who coined the greatest team nickname in sporting history.

On a Sunday afternoon in early January, 1983, Bonk was assigned to chronicle a column for the Houston Post, which is different than posting a column for the Houston Chronicle.

He had just watched the Houston Cougars’ basketball team do a big number on the University of Pacific.

“The final score was 112-56,” Bonk recently recalled over a hamburger he ordered so raw he suggested for it to still be “mooing” when it reached the table. “And I said ‘what the hell can I say about this shit?’ I mean, really. And they were dunking. These guys were really good.”

Bonk wasn’t writing for the Monday paper but was under his own gunpoint pressure.

“It was deadline for me because I didn’t want to work Monday,” Bonk said.

Bonk had become smitten with the Cougars, coached by Guy Lewis and led by the high-flying likes of Akeem (later Hakeem) Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

This week’s Final Four is in Houston, but who really needs a reason to sit down with Tommy Bonk and commemorate the nastiest throw-down college team ever?

Bonk said he stared at his computer screen that Sunday and tried to synthesize what he had just seen, which was young men flying through the air with the greatest of ease.  The NCAA had, thank God in hoop heaven,  reinstated the “slam dunk” after years of draconian darkness caused by Lew Alcindor’s dominance at UCLA. Remember the silliness of Bill Walton laying the ball over the rim like a baby into a bassinet?

So the game is over and Bonk is thinking: “Ok, it’s college, so if you had a college fraternity, what would a dunking fraternity be named? So I thought of a bunch of stuff and came up with Phi Slama Jama. And it worked. It appeared on Tuesday.”

Bonk’s column lede of Jan. 3, 1983, appeared as such: “As members of the exclusive college roundball fraternity Phi Slama Jama, the Houston chapter has learned proper parliamentary procedure.”

All Houston hell broke loose. “Phi Slama Jama” took off faster than Houston players launching off the rubberized court at Hofheinz Pavilion. Bonk’s phrase captured a movement and a moment. It hit home in the talent-rich NCAA era before “one-and-done” stripped the game of its front-line depth.
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This just in: February still stinks

febAll Chino Hills precincts have reported making it official: February has once again finished 12th on Rankman’s annual ranking of months.

Order of merit:

  1. April (Masters\Rankman’s birthday\Hitler offed self)
  2. June (also Alice Cooper’s favorite month because, you know, school’s out)
  3. July (trashy novels at beach while sipping umbrella drinks under an  umbrella)
  4. May (merry month and, unlike February, easy to say and spell)
  5. March (NCAA Tournament, favorite month for dimes)
  6. November (college football rivalries trump Kennedy assassination)
  7. January (naive hope of better times to come)
  8. December (Boxing Day, college bowl picks, Charlie Brown Christmas Special)
  9. August (too many nightmares involving Pop Warner practice, Hiroshima and Manson Family)
  10. October (um, Columbus didn’t discover America)
  11. September (back to school…February’s bastard child)
  12. February (shortest\longest month)

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Haden announces retirement to ungrateful Trojan faithful


My Twitter feed since 2010 says Pat Haden was a lousy athletic director who fumbled more times at USC than he did as quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams.

Haden was the AD who failed to overturn the outrageous NCAA sanctions he inherited from the equally outrageous Mike Garrett.  Haden pussy-footed his way around the NCAA when a real Trojan would have busted down the door and demanded a “mea culpa” from president Mark Emmert.
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Auto reply: Out of Office until Signing Day is Over


Sorry to report Rankman can’t weigh in on college football National Signing Day because he long ago committed to a list of previously-scheduled appointments for Feb. 3.

1. Meet old friend from high school who really, really loved Peter Frampton and wants to pick-up on a conversation I walked away from in 1976.
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This Old Timer Is Starting to Sound Like A Broken Record

A_young_Jerry_WestDisingenuous congratulations to the Carolina Panthers and Golden State Warriors for their fabulous so-far seasons.

No, seriously, some of us wished you nothing but the worst.

The guy who said records were meant to be broken would have been in a headlock sitting next to me Dec. 11 as I put historical rancor aside to root for Boston to chuck the Warriors off the Golden State bridge.

It took a lot for a born-and-bred Lakers fan to root for the Soylent Green, but sometimes in life you have no choice.

(Spoiler alert: never count on Boston for anything except decent fish soup)
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