Last Saturdayâ€™s unexpected draw with Iceland has left Sampaoliâ€™s men with much to do ahead of what looks to be their toughest assignment in the section. A win is vital if they are to avoid a nerve-wracking final match. Yet if there is one thing that Argentina proved on their tortuous journey to Russia it is that they can respond when under pressure.Sampaoli is expected to ring the changes, both in terms of tactics and personnel against Croatia. His aim is to fashion a starting line-up that remains competitive but which can also play better football and penetrate the opposition defence down the flanks.Speed of response and the ability to keep their shape will also be crucial for the Argentines at the back, as will the need to sharpen their finishing.After making their best start to a World Cup in 20 years with the defeat of Nigeria, Croatia on the other hand is in a relaxed mood ahead of this meeting with Argentina.Any kind of result against Argentina will allow the Vatreni to take a big step towards the Round of 16.Speaking after the Nigeria game, Mario Mandzukic said Croatia’s objective was to perform well and, if they could, emulate the nationâ€™s run at France 1998, the only occasion on which they advanced beyond the group phase in their previous four world finals appearances.Judging by Croatiaâ€™s last few training sessions, coach Zlatko Dalic will be making some changes.After deploying four midfielders against the Nigerians, he is said to be considering whether to field fewer against the Argentines or to put the emphasis on keeping possession by sending out more creative players. The Vatreni are unlikely, however, to adopt the same defensive strategy pursued by Iceland.POSSIBLE LINE-UPS:ARGENTINA: Caballero; Mercado, Otamendi, Tagliafico; Salvio, Mascherano, Meza, Acuna; Messi, Aguero, Pavon.CROATIA: Subasic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic; Rakitic, Badelj; Brozovic, Modric, Perisic; Mandzukicâ€‹.Share this:FacebookRedditTwitterPrintPinterestEmailWhatsAppSkypeLinkedInTumblrPocketTelegram These are not, indeed, the best of times for Argentina coach, Jorge Sampaoli. After starting the 2018 World Cup Group D opening round with a draw against debutant Iceland last Saturday, pressure mounts on the gaffer as the Albiceleste takes on Croatia that defeated Nigeria 2-0 to lead the group this night in Novgorod.Already, Argentinaâ€™s football legend, Diego Armando Maradona, has spoken the minds of the football loving South American nation, warning that inability of Sampaoli to qualify the 2014 runners-up in Brazil from the group will not be a welcome development.And the statistics of Argentinaâ€™s last three games at the Mundial have not been good. Albicelesteâ€™s last win four years ago was the 1-0 quarter-final defeat of Belgium. This was followed by the penalty shootout victory over The Netherlands in the semi-finals. Can La Albiceleste break the sequence as they take on the Croatians who have been bolstered by the win over Nigeria?
If college basketball season contracts because of COVID, one-time NCAA Tournament expansion might be needed
If they follow even the most promising path that seems available to their college football brethren at this point, it is quite possible that the men of NCAA basketball could be missing out this season on the Gavitt Games, the Maui Invitational, the Battle 4 Atlantis and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.It is those events and so many other non-conference games that annually establish which high-major conferences are most powerful in a given season and which mid-major teams are punching above their weight class and thus which might belong in the NCAA Tournament if they succeed in league play. All of this would remove much of the drama from the regular season. That’s the second-best outcome from not the NCAA not making the move a decade ago. But in a truncated regular season with few methods beyond the eye test to evaluate teams from different conferences, it might be the fairest approach.“If we’re not going to have a full non-conference season given the circumstances of the virus, it would be really fun to expand the tournament for a year on the back end, so we could make up for the loss of some tremendous games in November and December,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla told Sporting News. “I would hope it’s a one-time deal. But I think there are going to be two or three teams in the Atlantic 10 that wouldn’t have a chance at the sort of non-conference success Dayton did last season. If it means Davidson or Rhode Island gets in, I think it’s great. Because those are the type of teams that win games in November and December that look good on the resume in March.”The best idea is a complete regular season that begins with the Champions Classic and ends at Lucas Oil Stadium with the two surviving teams from a 68-team NCAA Tournament. We did not get to see that reach fruition in the 2019-20 season, and we may be prevented from seeing the 2020-21 season launch as planned. If that is to be the case, a temporary expansion may be the only just option. If all of that goes away for the 2020-21 season and only league games are contested for the sake of time or safety or both, Tulsa coach Frank Haith suggested to Sporting News that consideration should be given to expanding the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams — just this once — because of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on intercollegiate athletics.MORE: NCAA selection committee would face huge challenge with league-only scheduleAs someone who expressed vehement opposition to such an expansion when it was considered in 2010 as part of the negotiation for a new March Madness television contract — I called it a “horrible idea” and potential “disaster” — I’d agree that this would be a reasonable approach to assure deserving teams are not excluded.So long as there was some sort of contract, signed in blood, guaranteeing it would be a one-time exemption.The Big Ten and Pac-12 already have declared that they will contest only conference games in football this autumn. The SEC, Big 12 and ACC have delayed announcements on the matter but quite likely will make the same decision. And there is fear that they might not have a season at all.NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt told SN that he is hopeful men’s basketball will be able to start the season on time, Nov. 10. But he acknowledged that if the non-conference season were to be eliminated, the NCAA has been told by Google, which helped develop the NET metric now at the core of the selection process, the integrity of the ratings could be compromised.“That kind of cross-pollination is vital to the accuracy of the NET,” Gavitt said.A larger field would reduce the pressure on the selection committee to decide among teams whose records are abbreviated and parochial.The NCAA flirted with a 96-team tournament in 2010 because members had come to depend on its lucrative television contract with CBS, and that deal was soon to expire. CBS did not wish to write a check that was in the neighborhood of $700 million annually; a source close to the negotiation told SN that ESPN was willing to meet or exceed that price, but only if there was a corresponding expansion of inventory. In TV speak, that means more games.I used the word “folly” to describe it at that year’s Final Four.It was Turner’s willingness to do a partnership deal with CBS that preserved the core of the tournament at 64 teams, with a gentle expansion of the opening round to the “First Four” concept that increased the field to 68.That has led us to such magical moments over the past decade as No. 15 seed Lehigh beating Duke in 2012, Florida Gulf Coast over Georgetown in 2013 and, most remarkable of all, 16 seed UMBC’s upset of No. 1 Virginia in 2018.A 96-team tournament likely would remove the possibility of such games occurring in 2021, depending on how it is structured.The field could be seeded 1-96, with those ranked 33-96 playing against one another for the opportunity to be a part of the remaining 64. In a 96-team bracket with four regions, the teams seeded 9 would play those seeded 24, No. 10 would play No. 23, and so on. The winner of the 9 vs. 24 game would play the No. 8 seed in the round of 64, the 10-23 winner would play the No. 7 seed, etc.All 32 automatic qualifiers could be seeded into a 64-team field as they normally would. Those that ordinarily would be 15 seeds — say, 2019 Colgate — would be 15 seeds. The 13 seeds would be 13 seeds. Then all the at-large selections could play for the opportunity to enter that bracket and be seeded according to their regular-season accomplishment. A team like 2019 Michigan would be seeded No. 2 in its region so long as it survived an opening-round game.
In this photo taken on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, Brooklyn Nets head coach Jason Kidd, center right, watches as attendants clean up a spilled drink beside the Nets bench in the second half of an NBA basketball game at the Barclays Center in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)Mike Tomlin’s sideline stroll was an expensive one, costing him $100,000 and possibly costing the Pittsburgh Steelers even more.Jason Kidd had to dig into his wallet to pay $50,000 for spilling a soda, arguably the priciest spilled drink in sports history.It’s been 35 years since Woody Hayes punched a Clemson player in the Gator Bowl, and almost that long since Bobby Knight threw a chair across the court to protest a call that went against his Indiana team. One thing hasn’t changed in all those years: Coaches aren’t behaving any better than they once did.Chalk some of that up to a lack of self-control by people who generally top the category of control freaks. But sometimes it’s a simple matter of trying to gain an edge or intimidate an opponent.That was the case when Kidd tried to buy some time for his beleaguered Brooklyn Nets by bumping into reserve Tyshawn Taylor with 8.3 seconds left against the Lakers, causing his drink to spill. Watch a video of the play and it shows Kidd seeming to ask Taylor to “hit me” as he walked toward the bench.While workers cleaned up the mess, Kidd drew up a play for his team. It didn’t help, as the hapless Nets still lost.What Tomlin’s intentions were will be debated long after he and the Steelers part ways. He claimed he was “mesmerized” by watching on a giant stadium video screen as Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones returned a kickoff in his direction, swerving to avoid the coach in a move that possibly cost him a touchdown.NFL commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t buy that, levying the second biggest fine against an NFL coach ever (Bill Belichick got the biggest, a $500,000 hit for Spygate) and warning that the Steelers just might lose a draft pick, too.Tomlin apologized and said his actions were embarrassing to the Steelers, then said he didn’t plan to discuss it any more. With good reason, because while he’s a Super Bowl winning coach with a .630 winning percentage, his legacy may forever be tied through video to the two-step he did on the sideline with his back turned to the play.“What Tomlin did, that was just rude, let’s be honest. You stepped on the field. You’re lucky,” San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Alex Boone said. “I was kind of hoping Jacoby would run right in the back of him and forearm him in the back of the head. Stuff like that, that’s uncalled for.”So was the punch thrown by Hayes, who won three national championships at Ohio State but is remembered more today in YouTube videos showing him hitting Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman after he intercepted a pass to cinch a 17-15 win in the 1978 Gator Bowl. And as much as Knight would like to be remembered as the tough but fair coach who won 902 games and three national titles at Indiana, he will always be the out of control coach who threw a chair and later choked a player during a practice.They both also lost prime jobs because of their tempers, with Hayes getting fired the next day after the Gator Bowl and Knight lasting just a bit longer after a video surfaced of him choking a player in practice in 1997.“Just a two-second choke,” Knight said in a 2002 book, unrepentant to the end.One other thing the two coaches had in common was that cameras were rolling, and it’s hard to defend what is caught on tape.Rutgers coach Mike Rice found that out when his career at the university came to a sudden end after he was caught on video screaming homophobic slurs at players in practice and throwing basketballs at them. The video was so disturbing that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Rice an “animal” after viewing it, and he was quickly dismissed.The unrelenting pressure of being a head coach, of course, can take a toll. Fans, alumni, and boosters demand wins and anyone making millions of dollars a year is a big target.Sometimes, though, the moment in a game simply becomes too much, like when Barry Switzer became so enraged after a call in the 1995 NFC Championship game that he may have cost the Dallas Cowboys a third straight trip to the Super Bowl.The Cowboys were trailing San Francisco 38-28 midway through the fourth quarter when Deion Sanders clearly interfered with a deep throw to Michael Irvin and no flag was thrown. A livid Switzer decided a demonstration was in order and went up and threw his hip into the head linesman the way Sanders did to Irvin, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that caused the drive to flounder.“I contributed to us getting beat — no question,” Switzer said afterward. “It’s damn frustrating.”And then there was the 2010 incident when cameras caught New York Jets strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi tripping a Miami player on the sideline. Alosi was suspended by the Jets and eventually resigned after the season, while the team was fined $100,000.In Tomlin’s case, the coach claimed it was inadvertent, that he was lost in the moment with his back turned to the play and simply wandered too far. Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said that can happen to coaches immersed in what they’re hearing on headphones and concentrating more on the next play than the one that perhaps they should be watching.Pagano said most teams have a person designated to keep the coach off the field if he gets too close.“There’s a guy that has got the title of ‘get-back coach’ on the sideline,” Pagano said. “In college, when you wore the headset with the cords, they’d just pull you by the cord. Now you’re wireless so they grab you by the hoodie or the back of the belt.“It happens.”That can work, but sometimes the coaches don’t have headsets on at all. That happened in Detroit two years ago in a postgame handshake between two volatile coaches that almost turned into a brawl.San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh seemed to push the Lions Jim Schwartz over the edge with something he did or said — or both. Harbaugh ran across the field after the game and lifted his shirt, exposing his belly to attempt a victory chest bump and handshake that the Detroit coach wanted no part of.A livid Schwartz charged after Harbaugh as the two teams left the field before the two were separated by their respective sides.“I was really revved up. That was on me a little, too hard a handshake there.” Harbaugh said in what was as close to an apology as Schwartz would get.Didn’t matter. The game was over.For once it was a case of no harm, no foul.__AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley, Michael Marot, Arnie Stapleton and Larry Lage contributed to this story.