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Penguins, Canadiens Neck and Neck in NHL Northeast

By Bo Light
Associate Sports Editor

Hey, have you seen all the hype for the Mike Tyson -- Buster Mathis boxing match on FOX tomorrow night? It's on free TV, guaranteeing that more people will watch the Tyson fight than the also much-hyped Bowe Holyfield III, which costs $39.95 on pay-per-view. Throw in the Tyson mystique, and you've got one of the most-watched fights in years. There's just one catch: The bout sold less than 2,000 tickets, and on Monday, Iron Mike hurt his thumb and pulled out of the fight. Is he faking the injury? Probably not. Could he fight anyway? Definitely.

Peter McNeeley has a fighting chance against Buster Mathis. It seems obvious that the pullout was staged by Tyson promoter Don King, in an attempt to avoid the public-relations embarrassment of a fight in a nearly empty arena. King and the rest of the Tyson camp have missed the point. Sure, having only 2,000 people at the event is kind of embarrassing, but why do you think they weren't buying tickets? Because they could see the fight on TV for free.

The point of this match was not to make gross amounts of money on tickets and pay-per-view sales, it was to bring boxing back to free TV, thus drumming up interest in a sport whose popularity is fading. Now, FOX is waffling on its scheduled Saturday Night Fight series for 1996, and King has made boxing look bad. Maybe a few more episodes like this will cause people to finally get tired of watching grown men beat each other up.

Gridiron Report

Oops! It seems that last week's report on the Ohio State -- Northwestern Rose Bowl battle was slightly flawed in its logic.

In the last few years, the Big Ten has adopted a rule that, if two teams tie for the best conference record, the first tiebreaker goes to the team with the better overall winning percentage in the 11 regular season games ("preseason games"such as the Kickoff Classic or Pigskin Classic are not included in determining the overall winning percentage). Thus, if both teams were to win the rest of their games, the undefeated Buckeyes would head to Pasadena.

Of course, if Ohio State were to lose a game, Northwestern would go to the Rose Bowl -- the second tiebreaker goes to the team that hasn't been there in the longest time -- but then OSU would no longer be playing for the national championship, so the point is moot. Sorry to get people's hopes up. Thanks to Catherine E. Preston G and Robert F. Padera G for pointing out this error.

On the Ice

Hey Nintendo fans, Super Mario lives, and he plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Mario Lemieux put on a clinic at the expense of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, scoring seven points (one goal, six assists) in a 10--0 Pittsburgh victory. Lemieux, who plays a limited schedule (and didn't play at all last year) due to Hodgkin's disease, once again leads the scoring race, with 27 points in eight games. If he can keep this up, the Pens won't need a defense.

Speaking of the Penguins, this week EA Sports begins its NHL review, starting with the Northeast division, where Pittsburgh is tied for first with the resurgent Montreal Canadiens. In fact, "resurgent" could describe half the teams in this division; even lowly Ottawa is playing .500 hockey. With so much good play in the Northeast, it's hard to pick a team that won't do well, but someone has to finish first, and Pittsburgh, with its dominating offense, is still the cream of the crop.

The Hartford Whalers, one of the Northeast's surprise teams this year, should cruise into the playoffs, and the Bruins and the Buffalo Sabres will be able to overcome their early chemistry problems and climb out of the basement. The outlook isn't so good for the Canadiens, who have been playing on adrenaline since coach Jacques Demers was finally fired. Look for the Habs (and the Ottawa Senators) to fade gently out of the playoff picture. Next week: the Atlantic division.

Hoops Update

Here it is, the moment you've all been waiting for, the first half of the official EA Sports NBA Preview. Who is the best team in the NBA this year? Without a doubt, the Chicago Bulls have returned to the top of the league. With a full season from the un-retired, in-shape Michael Jordan, and the addition of Weirdo of the Year Dennis Rodman, the Bulls are the team to beat in the East. Chicago has plenty of weapons: Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Toni Kukoc can score from anywhere, and Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman are three of the best defenders in the league. Sure, they have no center, but who needs a center when you have the best offensive threat in the league and the best rebounder in the league? And as far as chemistry problems go, if anyone can handle the egos in Chicago, it's Chuck Daly. However, in Daly's absence, Phil Jackson is the man for the job. Yes indeed, the league will once again be chasing Chicago. That said, let's look at the conferences. This week, we check out the East.

Atlantic Division

"What about Orlando?" I hear you cry. The Magic are a talented team, certainly talented enough to take the weak East, but come playoff time, the Bulls will have just a little too much firepower. Besides, how can you respect a team whose current starting center is Jon Koncak? Get well soon, Shaq. Below Orlando, the Bullets should overcome years of mediocrity on their way to a 50-win season. The addition of Mark Price is a big plus, but Price and Chris Webber need to stay healthy, and Rasheed Wallace needs to step up. The Knicks are still a playoff team, but like Boston, Detroit, and the Lakers in recent years, they have let their core group of players get too old without finding good replacements for them. Pat Riley should help Miami, but the Heat needs more good players in order to take the next step. Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Boston should round out the bottom of the league.

Central Division

I said it before and I'll say it again, the Bulls are the team to beat this year. Coming in behind the Bulls are everyone's favorite bridesmaids, the Indiana Pacers. Indiana has added key veterans to their roster, but like the Knicks, the key factor in Indiana is age. Adding aging veterans didn't work for the Celtics, and it won't work here either. Charlotte's finish depends largely on whether or not Alonzo Mourning is still in a Hornets uniform a month into the season. With `Zo, they're a playoff team; without him, they're an expansion team. Milwaukee and Detroit will be battling all year for the fourth place spot. Glenn Robinson may be a little better than Grant Hill, but in the end, the rest of the Pistons will be a little better than the rest of the Bucks. Atlanta and Cleveland are still good teams, but they play in the toughest division in the league (with all due respect to Houston, San Antonio, and Utah). And Toronto, well, don't worry, Raptor fans, expansion teams are supposed to be bad.

Eastern Conference playoff teams: Chicago, Orlando, Indiana, Washington, New York, Charlotte, Detroit, Milwaukee. Conference finalists: Chicago and Orlando. Conference champ: Chicago. Next week: the Western conference.

Trivia Question

The last four teams to win NBA Championships (Houston, Chicago, Detroit, and the L.A. Lakers) all repeated as champs, beginning with the Lakers in 1987 and 1988. Before 1987, who was the last team to repeat as champions? Send your answers and comments to Answer to last week's question: The Northwestern Wildcats defeated the University of California-Berkeley, 20--14, to win its only Rose Bowl appearance in 1949. Correct answers were sent in by Mark M. Hytros G, Robert F. Padera G, James J. Shin G, Walter Sun G, and Catherine E. Preston G.