Balls: Say cheese! Let us be first to pick Wisconsin over scary Calipari 

click to enlarge John Calipari
  • Tony Dejak/AP File Photo
  • Kentucky head coach John Calipari looked a little disheveled during the Wildcats' narrow win over Notre Dame on Saturday.
Balls likes Kentucky to beat Wisconsin in a best-of-seven, a best-of-five or even a best-of-three series. But in the best-of-one rematch Saturday, gimme the Badgers.

There’s something about the Wildcats that I don’t like at the moment, and it’s not Karl-Anthony Towns or the Harrison twins. It’s their coach.

All season long, John Calipari has preached fun, fun, fun to his players on this journey of theirs. Except that, before their biggest game of the season against Notre Dame on Saturday, scary Calipari looked more concerned than a guy who was double-parked outside city hall. He had a pale, concerned look about him, almost as if he sensed trouble ahead. Sure enough, No. 1 played like No. 2 for much of the game, if you catch my drift.

I sense a different vibe with Bo Ryan and the Badgers. I covered the Big Ten Conference Tournament, where they were looser than a tank top. Ryan even benched Frank Kaminsky after the Big Ten’s Player of the Year bricked a few point-blank shots. Wisconsin trailed by double figures against a good Michigan State team late in the second half before Ryan called a timeout. Three minutes later, his team had the lead again. Afterward, the 67-year-old Ryan cracked a few one-liners and referred to me as Kaminsky’s uncle. Does that sound like a panic-stricken bunch to you?

While it wouldn’t be a good idea for Wisconsin to fall behind by double figures late in the second half again, it has what it takes to even the score this time. The Badgers have one of the most efficient offenses in the country, not to mention lots of tournament experience. It also has the folksy head coach who spent 15 years at nearby UW-Platteville and couldn’t care less if the NBA is mentioned on his résumé.

Kentucky beat Wisconsin by one point in the Final Four last year. Make it the Badgers by one this time.

ESPN BRICKS ANOTHER ONE: While the rest of the country watched one of the best college basketball games in recent years, ESPN missed it, apparently. Scant hours after Kentucky outlasted Notre Dame, the lead story on its website had something to do with the Cricket World Cup. Or maybe it was Major League Lacrosse, I forget.

Who didn’t televise the Notre Dame-Kentucky game? The Worldwide Leader in Sports, of course. Who bought into the Cricket World Cup by selling access through an online subscription service? That’s right.

Now compare this to ESPN’s shameless, nonstop coverage of the college football playoffs, which it paid $7.3 billion to telecast for 12 years.

The Worldwide Leader in Self-promotion is more like it, if you ask me.

HAIL THE DONS: To see mighty Kentucky struggle in the second round should make us appreciate the unbeaten 1956 USF team even more. True, the Dons played in an era that was much different than the corrupt, money-driven one of today. They also required fewer games (29) to become the first unbeaten champion in NCAA hoops history.

At the same time, Phil Woolpert’s team was able to pull it off without star guard K.C. Jones — athletes in their fifth year were ineligible for the tournament — and 28 of its victories were by 10 points or more. Only Cal was able to pose the mildest of threats, 33-28, and then only because coach Pete Newell went to a four-corner offense to limit ball possessions.

LONG ODDS FOR MULLIN: Former Warriors star Chris Mullin shot 38 percent from 3-point range in his NBA career. Or about the same chance that Balls gives him to succeed as St. John’s coach if he returns to his alma mater, which may happen as early as today, we’re told.

As Steve Lavin was the last to discover, the St. John’s program hasn’t been the same since Mullin left three decades ago. He has name recognition but no previous head-coach experience. Of course, the Warriors’ Steve Kerr didn’t, either, but at least he had Stephen Curry on the roster.

College ball may to be be a halfcourt shot for Mullin, who will turn 52 shortly, but the guy has never seen one that he can’t make.

ISN’T BILL ROMANOWSKI AVAILABLE?: How desperate are the 49ers these days? So desperate that they plan to bring in 34-year-old linebacker Lance Briggs for a visit today.

This is the same Lance Briggs who played in all of eight games for the Chicago Bears last season, only one year older. By the way, the Bears ranked 30th (third to last) in yards allowed and 31st in points allowed in the league.

I mean, the least Briggs can do is bring Brian Urlacher with him.

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