IMAGINE IF UCLAcenter Kevin Love had come to Bruins' coach Ben Howland midway through thisseason and said, "Coach, it's been great, but I've got an offer to jump tothe NBA, and I'm going to take it. Today." Preposterous? In basketballperhaps, but hockey plays by different rules. Sophomore Kyle Okposo, a starforward at Minnesota, made exactly that kind of sudden and (to his collegeteam) disruptive leap when he signed with the Islanders in December.
Okposo is one ofseveral college hockey players who have turned pro this season and whoseabsence impacts the NCAA Division I tournament that begins this weekend. Lastmonth Denver's leading scorer, sophomore Brock Trotter, signed with theCanadiens, then went to play for its AHL team in Hamilton, Ont.; Niagara centerLes Reaney, a junior, left for the Oilers' organization. Says Denver coachGeorge Gwozdecky, "Now we have to play differently because we aren't asoffensively potent as we were." Denver enters the 16-team tournament as aNo. 2 seed, Niagara's a No. 4, and Minnesota's a No. 3.
NHL prospects arefrequently drafted before attending school, and their rights are held by thepro team for years. Although the NHL, unlike the NBA, does not requireprospects to wait a year after their scheduled high school graduation to turnpro, hockey players typically complete several college seasons, if not allfour, before signing. But the NHL's 2005 collective bargaining agreementlowered entry-level salaries and signing bonuses, and for the newlysalary-capped teams, getting prospects into their system earlier became alow-risk, potentially high-reward investment. After the 2002--03 season 10underclassmen signed with NHL clubs. Last year that number tripled.
The Islanders havesaid they signed Okposo in midyear partly out of concern that he wasn'tdeveloping swiftly enough. It may be a precedent many will follow: Okposo madehis NHL debut last week. In his next game, against the Devils, he scored thegame-winner.
Everybody in the Pool
THEY MAY get into some nasty scrapes, but the threemain presidential contenders are of one mind when it comes to MarchMadness—North Carolina is the team to beat. The Tar Heels enjoyed strongbipartisan support in the pols' NCAA tournament brackets: Senators John McCainand Barack Obama have Carolina going all the way. Hillary Clinton, who didn'trelease a bracket, said she was deferring to her husband, who tabbed NorthCarolina or Memphis to win it all. (Bill picked only a Final Four, and itincluded his alma mater, Georgetown.)
For a guy whose degree of conservatism has come underquestion from the right, McCain certainly played it close to the vest whenfilling out his bracket. The presumptive Republican nominee went with the chalkpick in 25 of the 32 first-round games—and one of the higher seeds that hepicked was a pork-barrel job (No. 10 Arizona over West Virginia, which didn'tpan out). He hit three upsets (two 8--9 games and 12th-seeded Villanova overClemson). Obama's picks also reflected a distinct distaste for change in thebasketball world. The Illinois senator tabbed six underdogs and nailed just two(ninth-seeded Texas A&M over BYU and No. 10 Davidson over Gonzaga).
Using the standard seed-times-round scoring, Obamaholds a slim 133--132 lead. But, like the larger presidential race, thiscontest is still too close to call.
548 Games former Cleveland center Brad Daugherty neededto score 10,389 points, which stood as the team's career record until lastweek.
380 Games LeBron James needed to break Daugherty'smark.
11 Consecutive wins for the Canadiens against theBruins, the Habs' longest winning streak against Boston in the teams' 84-yearrivalry.
12 Inches by which the NCAA will move the three-pointline back next season, from 19'9" to 20'9".
$25 Per-game salary offered to Roger Clemens by theHuntsville Stars to work as Rocket, one of the Double A team's mascots.
1ST ROUND: 23/32
2ND ROUND: 8/16
FINAL FOUR: UNC, KANSAS, MEMPHIS, UCONN
CHAMP: UNC OVER UCONN
1ST ROUND: N/A
2ND ROUND: N/A
FINAL FOUR: UNC, GEORGETOWN, MEMPHIS, UCLA
CHAMP: UNC OR MEMPHIS
1ST ROUND: 22/32
2ND ROUND: 10/16
FINAL FOUR: UNC, KANSAS, PITT, UCLA
CHAMP: UNC OVER UCLA
SCOTT A. SCHNEIDER/GETTY IMAGES (OCTOBER OKPOSO)
PRO BENE Okposo's midseason departure hurt the Golden Gophers but led to his NHL heroics.
BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES (MARCH OKPOSO)
[See caption above]
RICK FRIEDMAN/CORBIS (CLINTON)
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY SI IMAGING
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY CHARLES REX ARBOGAST/AP (OBAMA)
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY GINA HOUSEMAN (FOAM FINGER)
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY TIM SLOAN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES (MCCAIN)
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY HARAZ N. GHANBARI/AP (POM-POM)