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The best and worst from day 1 of March Madness
The best Thursday of the year has arrived, sports fans. March Madness is back. The first Thursday of the NCAA tournament is always one of the best days on the sports calendar. When you have the opportunity to kick back and watch 12 hours of non-stop college basketball involving 32 of the best teams in the country, it’s impossible to have a bad time. With that being said, if we’re viewing things relative to the ghosts of March Madness past, the opening Thursday of the 2019 NCAA tournament was ... a little lacking. There were a couple of tremendous individual performances by a pair of mid-major stars, but not enough competitive games, not enough memorable moments, and really no terrific finishes. And yet there’s still so much to talk about. How could there not be? We just rolled through 16 games without taking a breather. Let’s examine all the best and the worst from the process of trimming 64 teams down to 48. The 3 Best Day 1 Games 1. (6) Maryland 79, (11) Belmont 77 (East) Thursday’s most competitive game came in the East Region, where Maryland and Belmont went back-and-forth before one final defensive stop by the Terrapins ended the Bruins’ hopes of dancing deeper into the tournament. Down one and with under 30 seconds to play, Belmont tried to run the same “Panic” backdoor play they used in the exact same situation to notch a win over UCLA earlier this season. Unfortunately for Rick Byrd’s team, Maryland appeared prepared. Eric Ayala deflected a pass intended for a cutting Dylan Windler, and the Terrapins were escape with their first win in the Big Dance. 2. (5) Auburn 78, (12) New Mexico State 77 (Midwest) Though the score was close enough for most of the afternoon, this game was never a work of art, especially in the final minutes — but we’ll get into that more later in the post. Still, on a day where tight games were at a premium, this gets the nod for the No. 2 spot. Both New Mexico State and Auburn entered the tournament ranking in the top 10 nationally in attempted three-pointers, but neither shot it particularly well on this day. The Tigers’ netting 12 treys to NMSU’s seven helped negate the litany of errors Bruce Pearl’s team made down the stretch and helped them avoid becoming the first major upset of the 2019 tournament. 3. (9) Baylor 78, (8) Syracuse 69 (West) You know it wasn’t a particularly compelling opening Thursday when this score is occupying the No. 3 spot on the best games list. But for 36 minutes or so, Baylor and Syracuse played a highly entertaining game that most of America was ignoring while it watched Wofford and Seton Hall — who would have claimed this spot had the Terriers not pulled away so thoroughly at the end — shoot it out on CBS. People talk about teams that play predominantly zone not liking to play against other teams that play predominantly zone, but there didn’t appear to be any truth to that old adage in this game. Syracuse buried 12-of-29 from three, only to be outgunned by a Baylor squad that was a scorching 16-of-34 from deep. The game was tied at 57 with just under 10 minutes to go when Syracuse started a field goal drought that lasted nearly five minutes. That was more than enough of an opening for Baylor to seize control and ultimately cruise to its first tournament win over a single digit seed since 2014. The 3 Teams That Won It The Best 1. Murray State Murray State toppling Marquette was the trendiest double-digit upset pick heading into the tournament, and the Racers made their strong contingent of believers look very, very smart on Thursday afternoon. Ja Morant (more on him coming) and company controlled the action from start to finish and ran away with an 83-64 win that never really felt in doubt. The 19-point margin of victory by Murray State was the second-largest ever for a 12-seed over a 5. In 1991, Eastern Michigan defeated Mississippi State by 20. 2. Kansas Kansas is seeded worse than first or second in the tournament for the first time in over a decade. Maybe they should try it out more often. The Jayhawks shot 55.7 percent from the field and got monster games from Dedric Lawson (25 points, 11 rebounds) and Devon Dotson (18 points) on their way to a dominant 87-53 win over Northeastern. 3. Minnesota The Golden Gophers entered the NCAA tournament as the worst three-point shooting team from a major conference, averaging just 5.2 made threes per game. Of the 353 teams in Division-I, only three got a fewer percentage of their points from the three-point shot. You wouldn’t have thought it if you’d watched Minnesota on Thursday. The Gophs dropped 11 three-pointers and shot 50.0 percent from the field in an 86-76 upset of 7-seed Louisville. The win had to feel especially sweet for Richard Pitino, who, according to various media reports, had a family member who used to be the head coach of the Cardinals. The 3 Biggest Disappointments 1. Nevada On one hand, it feels unfair to punish Nevada for being more or less the same team we’ve seen all season long. On the other, the tournament was the perfect opportunity for the Wolf Pack to finally wake up and play to their potential. That didn’t happen. Nevada continued its season-long trend of listless starts, bizarre decision-making on offense, and overall underwhelming play in a 70-61 upset loss to Florida. Despite all that returning and new talent, a team that began the season ranked No. 7 and spent much of the year ranked in the top 10, ended its 2018-19 campaign without ever making any real impact on the season. They were just sort of “there,” and now that’s how they’ll always be remembered. At least by those who remember them at all. 2. Northeastern A seemingly vulnerable Kansas team facing a 13-seed that takes 48 percent of its shots from beyond the arc and makes just under 40 percent of those triples made Northeastern something of a wise guy upset pick entering Thursday. The Huskies couldn’t come close to making that happen. They struggled all day to keep Kansas’ guards from getting into the lane, and clanged 22 of their 28 three-point attempts on the other end of the floor. The result was a 34-point stomping that was more reminiscent of some of Kansas’ recent 1 vs. 16 tilts. 3. Fairleigh Dickinson They lost to Gonzaga by a billion points, but the real reason they’re here is just so I can make this joke one last time while I still have the chance. Until next year, Dickinson joke. You’ll be missed. 5 Day 1 Jeers 1. The last minute of Auburn-New Mexico State A double-digit seed coming within a shot of knocking off a power conference champion is supposed to provide the type of excitement that defines the tournament’s opening weekend. Anyone who watched the waning moments of Auburn’s 78-77 win over New Mexico State knows that particular game didn’t fit that narrative. Auburn did everything possible down the stretch — missing free-throws, fouling wayyy too early, leaving three-point shooters wide open — to hand the game to New Mexico State, but the Aggies weren’t particularly interested in accepting. The game ended with Auburn missing a free-throw to give New Mexico State a chance to tie or take the lead, Aggie guard A.J. Harris racing down the court and then inexplicably passing up a wide-open layup to kick the ball out to teammate Terrell Brown, Brown missing a game-winning three-pointer but getting fouled, Brown missing two of the three-free-throws but NMSU getting the ball back after Auburn lost the rebound out-of-bounds, and then finally, Trevelin Queen somehow getting a wide-open look for the potential game-winner, but badly air-balling it. Phew. Auburn survives a WILD finish. pic.twitter.com/KAU23NUAlP— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 21, 2019 Ricky O’Donnell has an even more in-depth look at everything that went wrong for both teams down the stretch. 2. Bruno Fernando’s botched dunk attempt I guess sometimes being wide open and also built like a super hero can be a bad combination. #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/9olTjxp66c— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 21, 2019 It’s ok, the Maryland star still finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and four assists in the Terrapin victory over Belmont. 3. 6:37 p.m. to 6:50 p.m. (EST) For 13 entire minutes, we were left without any basketball to watch on Thursday. That’s unacceptable. This is exactly why we started staggering the tip times. You know what happened in those 13 minutes? My mind started to wander. I started wondering if my current lifestyle was so unhealthy that it was going to be a problem when I return to the real world after the tournament. I started wondering if there was a family member I needed to call and check in on. I started to think about how much my wife secretly resents me for not being able to help out with literally anything at the moment. I don’t need these thoughts right now. That’s why these gaps are unacceptable. Don’t let it happen again. 4. Tom Izzo For years, Tom Izzo has had the type of relationship with his players where he’s been able to get in their faces a little bit without it seeming overly confrontational. His back-and-forth with Aaron Henry on Thursday, however, was more heated than anything we’ve seen before. Tom Izzo goes after Aaron Henry pretty hard. pic.twitter.com/A4KUMT6XWa— Jordan Heck (@JordanHeckFF) March 21, 2019 Chill out, dude. Izzo was also testy when he was asked about the exchange during his postgame press conference. Tom Izzo was asked about getting after Aaron Henry."I don't know what kind of business you're in, but I tell ya what, if I was a head of a newspaper, and you didn't do your job, you'd be held accountable." pic.twitter.com/kqcWykUY6X— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) March 21, 2019 Yeah, maybe not the best analogy to use when trying to justify your behavior in this specific situation. In recent years we’ve seen Izzo make something of a transition from lovable “does things the right way” coach to a gruff, more abrasive leader who on multiple occasions has been forced to justify his actions. Maybe it’s just the memories of all the recent first weekend losses that had him seeming a little unhinged on Thursday. Michigan State woke up late to dispatch of 15th-seeded Bradley, 76-65. 5. No quality finishes We didn’t need three buzzer-beaters or anything to qualify this as a quality day, but come on, you’ve gotta give us something. The only two games on Thursday that came down to the final possession ended with a turnover and a wide-open three that was airballed by approximately 17 feet. Do better, Friday. 5 Day 1 Cheers 1. Ja Morant Anyone who still wasn’t aware of Ja Morant’s existence before Thursday no longer has an excuse. The soon to be multi-millionaire put on an absolute show in Murray State’s 83-64 route of Marquette, finishing with 16 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds. Morant became just the eighth player ever to produce a triple-double in the NCAA tournament, and the first since Draymond Green in 2012. Ja Morant has become the 8th player to record a triple-double in the tournament since assists became an official stat in 1983-84. He joins:Draymond Green (2x)Cole AldrichDwyane WadeAndre MillerDavid CainShaquille O'NealGary Grant pic.twitter.com/as8wmS2uE9— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 21, 2019 Morant scored or assisted on 55 of Murray State’s 83 points, the most points created by a player in a single game over the last decade (via @ESPNStatsInfo). He will face the toughest test of his college career to date on Saturday when the Racers go up against the supremely large and athletic fourth-seeded Seminoles of Florida State. 2. Fletcher Magee’s record-setting day With seven made treys in Wofford’s 84-68 win over Seton Hall, Fletcher Magee passed former Oakland sharp-shooter Travis Bader to become the NCAA’s all-time leader in career made three-pointers. Fletcher Magee now holds the record for most threes in Division I history!Here's the shot that got him this milestone: @CBSSportspic.twitter.com/YOstu1Mzk9— SB Nation (@SBNation) March 22, 2019 It’s been a season full of history for Magee, who back in January broke Steph Curry’s Southern Conference record for made three-pointers in a career. Now he’s the biggest reason why the Terriers are moving on to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history. 3. LSU Is this ok? Is this something we should be cheering? I don’t even know. Who cares? A 3-seed playing without its head coach at the start of a tournament run that’s almost certainly going to be vacated by the NCAA is sort of uncharted territory, but maybe that’s what makes it ... fun? Again, this is weird. LSU led 14-seed Yale comfortably for most of the afternoon in Jacksonville, but a late flurry from the Bulldogs that included four three-pointers in the game’s final minute created some anxious moments for the Tigers at the free-throw line. Skyler Mays stepped up to the occasion and sank all his freebies to lock up a 79-74 win, LSU’s first NCAA tournament win in a decade. Let me know if this isn’t ok. 4. Ja Morant’s dad Zion Williamson is going to be taken No. 1 in this summer’s NBA Draft, but that’s ok with Papa Morant, who thinks his son needs to be selected with pick zero. I asked Ja Morant’s dad where he should go in the NBA Draft after this performance:“Is there anything before one?” pic.twitter.com/4IB0qELWcB— Master (@MasterTes) March 21, 2019 The entire Morant family can do no wrong in my eyes. 5. Kentucky’s Wildcats vs. Wildcats trend continues With their 79-44 rout of Abilene Christian now in the books, three of Kentucky’s last four NCAA tournament games have come against teams that are also nicknamed the Wildcats. What’s weirder is the only reason why that streak isn’t four straight is because Buffalo upset the Arizona Wildcats in the first round of last year’s tournament to face UK in round two. Look, I know this cheer isn’t great, but you have to at least say something about Kentucky in these things or all hell breaks loose. You deal with this subpar cheer so I don’t have to deal with the emails. That’s the deal we’re making here. Kentucky goes from Wildcats to Terriers (Wofford) on Saturday. 3 Best Day 1 Dunks 1. Jalen Smith, Maryland Not only was this dunk the most vicious of day one, it also served as arguably the biggest moment in the final minutes of Maryland’s 79-77 win over Belmont. POSTER ALERT #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/QEyHseEVbH— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 21, 2019 2. Ja Morant, Murray State The top highlight of a performance chock full of them. JA JAM! #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/aNiZCNwFah— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 21, 2019 3. Elijah Childs, Bradley Bradley put the fear of Middle Tennessee into Tom Izzo and company for about 35 minutes. This cram near the start of the second half was the first sign that the Braves weren’t going to go quietly. JACKHAMMER TIME! pic.twitter.com/nquIrr7ydV— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 21, 2019 3 Best Day 1 Images 1. Find some teammates (and fans) who are as in sync as Ja Morant’s Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images 2. The Getty gallery from the Murray State-Marquette game has a ton of beautiful shots of Morant in action ... and also this one of poor Devin Gilmore Getty Images 3. Maryland’s Jalen Smith with the dunk of the day Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images 3 Notable Quotes From Day 1: 1. “Teams should be scared to play us.” —Murray State G Brion Whitley 2. “This was the best year of my life. The fact that this team is no more — they’ll have another team next year and they’ll be really good — but it won’t be this team, it won’t be this group of the guys, that’s probably the hardest part.” —Louisville senior PG Christen Cunningham on the brutal side of March 3. “I played them seven times at Albany. I’m very familiar with them, they’re familiar with me. They definitely had the upper hand in my last school, so it felt good to beat them with the help of these guys around me.” —Florida State’s David Nichols, who beat Vermont after having lost five straight games to the Catamounts during his time at Albany Full Friday Schedule Fingers crossed for a madder Friday (all times EST). Friday, March 22 South: No. 7 Cincinnati vs. No. 10 Iowa, 12:15 p.m. (CBS) South: No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 9 Oklahoma, 12:40 p.m. (truTV) West: No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 14 Northern Kentucky, 1:30 p.m. (TNT) South: No. 4 Kansas State vs. No. 13 UC Irvine, 2 p.m. (TBS) South: No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 15 Colgate, 2:45 p.m.* (CBS) South: No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Gardner Webb, 3:10 p.m.* (truTV) West: No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 11 Arizona State/St. John’s, 4 p.m.* (TNT) South: No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 Oregon, 4:30 p.m.* (TBS) Midwest: No. 8 Utah State vs. No. 9 Washington, 6:50 p.m. (TNT) East: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 North Carolina Central/North Dakota State, 7:10 p.m. (CBS) Midwest: No. 3 Houston vs. No. 14 Georgia State, 7:20 p.m. (TBS) East: No. 5 Mississippi State vs. No. 12 Liberty, 7:27 p.m. (truTV) Midwest: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 16 Iona, 9:20 p.m.* (TNT) East: No. 8 VCU vs. No. 9 UCF, 9:40 p.m.* (CBS) Midwest: No. 6 Iowa State vs. No. 11 Ohio State, 9:50 p.m.* (TBS) East: No. 4 Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 St. Louis, 9:57 p.m. (truTV) *start times estimated, after first game ends
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Second round NCAA Tournament TV times
Television assignments and start times have been announce for Saturday’s second round of the NCAA Tournament. Eight games are on the docket on Saturday, featuring all of Thursday’s winners, including upset victors Murray State, Minnesota and Florida, all seeded 10 or higher. Murray State, seeded 12th out west, vanquished Marquette thanks to a sublime performance from Ja Morant, who registered a triple double. Morant dominated the game despite shooting only nine field goals, scoring 17 points with 16 assists and 11 rebounds. The Racers on Saturday will battle No. 4 Florida State (TNT, 6:10 p.m. ET). Television on Saturday will be split across CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV, with games taking place in Hartford, Conn., Des Moines, Iowa, Jacksonville, Fla., and Salt Lake City, Utah. Online streaming of the NCAA Tournament is available through March Madness Live and fuboTV. Saturday, March 23 All times ET East: No. 3 LSU vs. No. 6 Maryland, 12:10 p.m. (CBS) Midwest: No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 7 Wofford, 2:40 p.m.* (CBS) West: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 10 Florida, 5:15 p.m. (CBS) West: No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 12 Murray State, 6:10 p.m. (TNT) West: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Baylor, 7:10 p.m. (TBS) East: No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Minnesota, 7:45 p.m.* (CBS) South: No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 6 Villanova, 8:40 p.m.* (TNT) Midwest: No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 5 Auburn, 9:40 p.m.* (TBS) *game time approximated
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Tom Izzo defended berating a player by saying he wasn’t doing his ‘job’
There’s one problem with Izzo’s defense of screaming at his player Tom Izzo lost his cool during Michigan State’s tight 76-65 victory over Bradley on Thursday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. With the game close late in the second half, the Spartans coach berated freshman wing Aaron Henry so harshly during a timeout that other players separated them multiple times. It began with Henry heading back to the bench during a timeout with Izzo approaching him and sticking his finger in the player’s face while yelling at him until teammates interceded. Once the team was huddled at the bench, players again held back Izzo after he got out of his seat to continue singling out Henry. Tom Izzo goes after Aaron Henry pretty hard. pic.twitter.com/A4KUMT6XWa— Jordan Heck (@JordanHeckFF) March 21, 2019 Izzo’s outburst made for an uncomfortable few moments of television. Henry probably didn’t feel too great getting chewed out in front of the entire country, either. When asked about it after the game, Izzo doubled down. “I don’t know what kind of business you’re in,” Izzo said. “But I tell ya what, if I was a head of a newspaper, and you didn’t do your job, you’d be held accountable.” Tom Izzo was asked about getting after Aaron Henry."I don't know what kind of business you're in, but I tell ya what, if I was a head of a newspaper, and you didn't do your job, you'd be held accountable." pic.twitter.com/kqcWykUY6X— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) March 21, 2019 Where my thinking face emoji? There is exactly one problem with Tom Izzo analogy Aaron Henry isn’t his employee. He is a “student-athlete” and receives little more than a scholarship for helping Michigan State advance as a No. 2 in this tournament. This tournament, by the way, is being shown on television because of an 8-year, $8.8 billion contract. The Big Ten is cashing extra checks with eight teams in the tournament, earning big bucks for conference “units” that were worth $273K last season, and are paid out over multiple season. Izzo, meanwhile, is among the highest paid public employees in the state of Michigan, earning $3.5 million per season. Aaron Henry is no employee. He’s a student. If a math teacher at Michigan State did this to a teenager who failed to correctly answer a calculus equation, he would probably be fired. In college sports, we laud these coaches for their ability to motivate. Michigan State plays Minnesota on Saturday. Aaron Henry better be ready.
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Murray State is a March Madness bracket buster because they’re more than Ja Morant
It’s time to fall in love with the Racers. The Murray State Racers are your first March Madness darling of 2019. Murray State, a No. 12 seed in the West region, ran fifth-seeded Marquette off the floor in their opening round matchup of the NCAA tournament, advancing with a 83-64 win. The Racers are led by Ja Morant, the superstar sophomore point guard projected to be a top-three pick in the June’s NBA draft. All Morant did against Marquette was record the eighth triple-double in tournament history, finishing with 17 points, 16 assists, and 11 rebounds in the victory. Morant’s draft stock was secure even before Murray State punched its ticket to March Madness. What’s wild to think about is that Racers likely would have been overlooked for an at-large bid had they not claimed the Ohio Valley tournament title with a tight win over Belmont in the championship game. Now Murray State faces Florida State in round two on Saturday after the Seminoles outlasted Vermont in round one. FSU shouldn’t take the Racers lightly. This is a team with all the makings of a Cinderella. Ja Morant is a top-3 NBA draft pick for a reason It’s possible that only Duke superhuman Zion Williamson gets taken ahead of Morant in the NBA draft. He didn’t just live up to the hype against Marquette — he exceeded it. Morant dominated a game in which he only took nine shots. While his high-flying dunks get all the attention .... JA JAM! #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/aNiZCNwFah— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 21, 2019 ... Morant’s best skill is his passing ability. He plays with an impressive mixture of patience and awareness as a lead ball handler, knowing where his teammates are going to be before they even get there. Some of the dimes he had to open the game were just absurd: 5 quick assists for Ja Morant! Murray State is up 18-10!#MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/Z3qOzQ41FT— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 21, 2019 Morant led the country in assist rate and finished top-10 in scoring at nearly 24 points per game. There isn’t a point guard in this tournament as dynamic as him. Knocking out Markus Howard — a top five player in the field — just proved it. With Morant in charge, Murray State already has a talent advantage against any power conference team at arguably the most important position on the court. Murray State also has size inside While Morant was the clear star of the day for the Racers, a couple of his teammates also opened some eyes. Namely: big men KJ Williams and Darnell Cowart. Williams finished with 16 points and four rebounds on 8-of-10 shooting, mostly off dimes from Morant. Cowart had nine points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block. Despite being Murray State’s lowest-scoring starter, there were times when Cowart felt like the second best player on the team because of his all-around game. Williams, a freshman, is 6’9, 240 pounds. Cowart, a junior, is 6’8 and close to 300 pounds. That type of size is a rarity for mid-major teams. With big bodies up front, the Racers won’t be overmatched against anyone. The Racers challenge every shot The Racers only rank No. 80 in the country in defensive efficiency, but they do a few things well. Mostly, Murray State excels at contesting shots. They held opponents to a 46.4 effective field goal percentage this season, which ranked No. 20 in the country. Teams only shot 28.5 percent from three against them, which was No. 4 in America. Murray State gives up too many offensive rebounds typically, which is their downfall defensively. Well, Marquette won the offensive rebound battle 18-8 and still got smoked. The Racers are always looking for the runout in transition, which helps pace their electric offense. Morant is one of the great mid-major stars of the decade, right up there with Jimmer Fredette, only with so much more athleticism. His supporting cast has size and doesn’t give up open looks. The Racers are very much a threat to break into the second weekend. March Madness is all about teams like Murray State and stars like Morant. Get on the bandwagon while there’s still room.
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It’s the day of the dog — against the spread!
The dogs are barking early in the NCAA tournament The NCAA tournament is halfway through its first day, and it’s been all about the underdogs. Eight games have gone final, and while six of the favorites have advanced, seven of the underdogs have covered the spread. And frankly, winning money is more important than a bracket any day! The Kansas Jayhawks were the lone favorite to cover their spread, and that did it in a big way. They were 6.5-point favorites over the Northeastern Huskies, and the public was siding with them at a pretty sizable clip — 61 percent of money wagered at William Hill sportsbooks and 55 percent of offshore money, per OddsShark, was on Northeastern. Kansas proceeded to roll Northeastern by a final score of 87-53. The No. 1 seeds have yet to hit the floor, but for the time being that could end up the high deficit of the tournament. It was fitting that the first half of Thursday’s action closed with the underdog Murray State Racers boat-racing the Marquette Golden Eagles. Murray State closed as a 3.5-point underdog but beat Marquette by a final score of XX-XX. Tevin Brown led the Racers with 19 points, but Ja Morant was the star, putting together a triple double including 15 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds. Here are the results from the AM, with seven covers and two outright underdog wins. Nevada and Florida have tipped off the evening, which includes No. 1 seeded Gonzaga and a pair of No. 2 seeds in Kentucky and Michigan. We’ll see if the day of the dog continues! Minnesota 86, Louisville 76 — Minnesota covers +5.5Auburn 78, New Mexico State 77 — New Mexico State covers +5.5LSU 79, Yale 74 — Yale covers +6.5Florida State 76, Vermont 69 — Vermont covers +8.5Maryland 79, Belmont 77 — Belmont covers +3Michigan State 76, Bradley 65 — Bradley covers +18.5Kansas 87, Northeastern 53 — Kansas covers -6.5Murray State 83, Marquette 64 — Murray State covers +3.5
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Ja Morant against college kids seems unfair
Ja is giving Zion Williamson competition for the most exciting player of the tournament. Ja Morant is the early breakout star of the NCAA Tournament, just as we all expected. The Murray State sophomore is the leader in assists in the country, a top-tier scorer and the stud point guard heading into the NBA draft. He’s the total package, and he showed us why in the Racers’ 83-64 upset win over Marquette. Morant, a potential No. 2 pick in June, scored 17 points with 16 assists and 11 rebounds. He only took nine shots the entire night (5-of-9 shooting), and he notched the rare tournament triple-double! He played with the perfect amount of cockiness and finesse, and introduced himself to a whole new wave of first-time watchers joining the college game for the tournament. It was a signature Morant event. Here were some of his best moments. It took all of two minutes and thirty seconds for him to pull up from DEEP Ja Morant just casually pulling up from deep in his first NCAA Tournament pic.twitter.com/R3dOKkXUaT— Chris Montano (@gswchris) March 21, 2019 His first shot of the dang tournament was a BOMB. This kid was fearless, and that emotion persisted throughout. Ja crossed up a defender and made a ridiculous pass Ja Morant with the filthy crossover and beautiful dime, man... pic.twitter.com/4pyvlwOowx— Chris Montano (@gswchris) March 21, 2019 What makes Ja so special is that he isn’t always looking to score. He can cross someone up so badly, and not want to take a shot just to make the highlight. He really wrapped around the entire defense to find a shooter instead! Ja was so good that literally EVERYONE defended him at once Look at the gravity Ja Morant has, he drew all five of Marquette's defenders and somehow got the pass off, he's amazing pic.twitter.com/wdsJuL75qv— Chris Montano (@gswchris) March 21, 2019 It got to the point where Marquette’s entire defensive plan was to Stop Ja. Being Ja’s teammate must be SO fun. His step-back jumper was NASTY JA MORANT, MARCH MADNESS pic.twitter.com/VnCs9u6MXf— Chris Montano (@gswchris) March 21, 2019 Look at the space he covered there. DANG. That’s the sort of move James Harden has made his signature. When Ja caught rebounds, he took OFF Ja Morant inhales the rebound, dribbles down in transition and dimes his teammate. Very Westbrook-like pic.twitter.com/cvgetNw9F6— Chris Montano (@gswchris) March 21, 2019 Morant went coast-to-coast regularly in the win. He was so clearly the fastest, and best athlete on the floor. Nobody stood a chance to stop him in transition. Morant was even making incredible passes with his off-hand This left-handed Ja Morant pass... SHEESH pic.twitter.com/ugXdwKZbvF— Chris Montano (@gswchris) March 21, 2019 Left-handed, right-handed, it didn’t matter for Ja. He’s too good to be held defensively in one particular way, and Marquette found that out the hard way. Ja threw down a POSTER, too JA MORANT POSTER, HE'S READY pic.twitter.com/Y3PxdpPqc7— Chris Montano (@gswchris) March 21, 2019 Murray State is going to go as far as Ja takes them, but even if his run ends sooner than we want it too, he’s platformed himself as one of the game’s greatest in college hoops. This won’t be the last of him.
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Florida State-Vermont provides the first bad beat of 2019 March Madness
FSU held off Vermont, but they didn’t help their own backers. Florida State held off a late Vermont run to advance in the 2019 NCAA tournament, and while they won by seven, bettors were left chewing their nails until the final seconds ticked away. The Catamounts closed as an 8.5-point underdog, and they just barely covered in a 76-69 loss. Vermont hung close through the first three-quarters of the game, but FSU went on a run to take a 13-point lead with 1:10 to go. Vermont had gone relatively cold, and fouls would seemingly push the game out of reach. However, the Catamounts got hot at just the right time for bettors. A 9-3 run cut the lead to seven, and then the two sides exchange two points with 14 seconds remaining. There seemed to be plenty of time remaining in this elimination game. Instead, Vermont did not foul and FSU elected to run out the clock rather than get an easy layup or dunk. A majority of bettors were on Florida State in this one, and they suffered for it. Bettors at the Westgate SuperBook would appear to have been evenly split. In this video, we hear the Vermont fans going nuts, but if you look closely, you can see plenty of bettors with the classic hands on the head, “what the hell just happened?” look. There’s never a more sure indication of a bad beat. Florida State is an 8.5 point favorite. Up 7. Open layup at the end to finish as a 9 point win. Player dribbles it out. Vermont covers! pic.twitter.com/tvfSWuROEy— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) March 21, 2019
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A complete breakdown of the most absurd March Madness ending (so far)
New Mexico State and Auburn gave us the silliest ending of March Madness 2019 so far. Auburn looked like it was on its way to a comfortable victory against No. 12 seed New Mexico State midway through the second half in its opening round matchup of the NCAA tournament on Thursday. Then things got weird. They always do in a 5-12 game. The Tigers led by seven with under a minute left when NMSU’s A.J. Harris hit a layup to slash to the deficit to five. This is what happened next: The Aggies trapped the inbounds pass, with Auburn point guard Jared Harper catching the ball in the corner and falling down. Turnover Tigers, New Mexico State ball. NMSU was fouled and split the free throws. They trapped the inbounder again and forced another turnover. That’s when junior guard Trevelin Queen hit a deeeeeep three to cut the Auburn lead to just one with 29 seconds left. NMSU HAS NO QUIT, TREVELIN QUEEN!!! pic.twitter.com/0WjP8j3ldT— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) March 21, 2019 New Mexico State tried to force a turnover rather than immediately foul. It didn’t work and the clocked ticked down to 15 seconds before finally fouled Auburn’s Chuma Okeke, who made both free throws. Auburn now leads by three with 15 seconds left. For some reason, Auburn’s Jared Harper immediately fouls New Mexico State. Harper, Auburn’s best player and best free throw shooter, fouls out. Harris goes to the line for NMSU and makes the first free throw but misses the second. Somehow, he grabs his own rebound, but there’s a foul on teammate Shunn Buchanan. Auburn goes to the line and makes two free throws. Tigers lead 77-73 with 12 seconds left. This game is over, right? Not quite. New Mexico State answers four seconds later with a deep three by JoJo Zamora. One point game again. #WAChoops Jojo Zamora hits a huuuuuugggee three!pic.twitter.com/XDMzGhVxOL— WACsports (@WACsports) March 21, 2019 The Aggies foul and Samir Doughty misses the first freebie for Auburn but makes the second. Two-point Auburn lead, New Mexico State has to go the full length of the floor. Now things get really weird: Aggies point guard A.J. Harris beats the Auburn defense down court and appears to have a wide open layup, but instead kicks it out to teammate Terrell Brown for a three. Brown misses, but Auburn fouls him. WHAT is happening?! pic.twitter.com/wXIkIBarE1— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 21, 2019 Could Harris have put the ball in to tie the game? Or would he have been swatted from behind? Remember, Harris is generously listed at 5’9 It looks like he might have been swatted: To recap: New Mexico State passed up a wide open layup to tie the game, but it might have been the right decision because now they’re shooting three free throws for the win. Only one problem: Brown missed the first shot. No worries, two left to tie. He makes the second free throw, but then misses the third. Of course, NMSU grabs the offensive rebound, setting up one last play. All NMSU got on this look was a WIDE OPEN CORNER THREE FOR THE WIN: Auburn survives a WILD finish. pic.twitter.com/KAU23NUAlP— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 21, 2019 Sadly, it was an air ball. Auburn survives. You can’t say a 5-12 game is ever boring. March Madness will give us better games, but it may not provide a dumber final minute.
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Vermont’s Duncan brothers become first family to have 3 players on the court in March Madness game
First time in history! The opening day of the men’s NCAA Tournament gave us a historical moment. Vermont put three brothers onto the court at the same time, with Ernie Duncan, Everett Duncan and Robin Duncan all appearing. It didn’t take long for the trio to work together, immediately hooking up on a play that went down as the books as: Robin Duncan to Everett Duncan to Ernie Duncan for three. Our favorite kind of pass!Duncan ➡️ Duncan ➡️ Duncan for THREE! @UVMmbb #NCAAVCats #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/Q1N9XQwxp3— #AEHoops (@AEHoopsNews) March 21, 2019 So neat.
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Why each NCAA tournament team will cover the spread in their Friday first-round game
Want to bet underdogs? Want to bet favorites? We’ve got you covered. The 2019 NCAA basketball tournament is underway, opening with a small upset as No. 10-seeded Minnesota had little trouble dispatching No. 7-seeded Louisville. That was followed by a fun close LSU win over BYU. The tournament wraps up three weeks from now on Monday, April 8, with the national championship game. There will be plenty of Cinderella stories to keep us entertained, but even when Cinderella comes up just short, she can still win you money against the spread. So, it’s time to start figuring out where we’ll see upsets. We took a look at all 16 point spreads for Thursday’s matchups, and today we’re back with a look at all 16 of Friday’s matchups. We chatted with our network of team brand managers to figure out why each team might cover the spread. Everybody has their own philosophy, but getting insight from folks who are particularly dialed in can help get you a necessary edge to turn this March into a profitable one. East region 1) Duke vs. 16) North Dakota State Spread: Duke -27 Why Duke will cover: Zion Williamson isn’t just the best player in the country — he also sets the tone for Duke on both ends of the floor. Williamson gives Duke can edge they missed last year defensively, when Mike Krzyzewski’s team resorted to zone to hide their superstars on the defensive end. Williamson leads a capable man-to-man defense this year that doesn’t take plays off. You can bet Duke will play until the final buzzer regardless of the score. — Ricky O’Donnell Why North Dakota State will cover: The most likely chance for the East’s 16-seed will be for the blowout to be well and truly on in the second half, leading to Krzyzewski resting Duke’s key performers, particularly with Williamson recently back from injury and Marques Bolden potentially returning for the NCAAs. — Chris Dobbertean, Blogging the Bracket 4) Virginia Tech vs. 13) Saint Louis Spread: Virginia Tech -10 Why Virginia Tech will cover: The Hokies have all the markers of a sleeper team, finishing in the top-25 of both offensive and defensive efficiency and entering the tournament at No. 11 overall in KenPom’s rankings despite carrying a four-seed. With Justin Robinson expected to be back, VT should cover. — Ricky O’Donnell Why Saint Louis will cover: While Saint Louis struggled in Atlantic 10 play, the Billikens are arguably the league’s most talented team. They also defeated three major conference teams in November and December and played Houston, a three seed, to a four-point decision on the road. — Chris Dobbertean, Blogging the Bracket 5) Mississippi State vs. 12) Liberty Spread: Mississippi State -7.5 Why Mississippi State will cover: The Bulldogs can really score, entering the tournament a one of the top-15 teams in the country in offensive efficiency. With a productive, experienced backcourt and to go with size up front, Mississippi State could overwhelm Liberty from the tip. Does Liberty have enough firepower to come back? With the second slowest offense in DI, don’t count on it. — Ricky O’Donnell Why Liberty will cover: Ritchie McKay’s Liberty squad is another one that can really slow things down, as they’re 350th in adjusted tempo in KenPom, averaging fewer than 62 possessions per game. Mississippi State has played seven games with 63 possessions or fewer this season — with just two of those decided by more than four points. — Chris Dobbertean, Blogging the Bracket 8) VCU vs. 9) UCF Spread: VCU -1.5 Why VCU will cover: VCU ranks in the top 10 nationally in a variety of defensive categories in KenPom, including adjusted defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage and turnover percentage. That means the Rams will be perfectly capable of forcing UCF into unforced errors. — Chris Dobbertean, Blogging the Bracket Why UCF will cover: Strange as it may seem, given how UCF has played in the last month, it still doesn’t quite feel as though they’ve put it all together for a real stretch. Even in the win at No. 8 Houston, B.J. Taylor was just 1-for-6 from the field. The Knights are the 9-seed in the matchup with 8-seed VCU, the A-10 regular-season champ, and both squads are coming off lengthy rests after bombing out in the quarters of their respective conference tournaments. But VCU’s top scorer Marcus Evans left their A-10 Quarterfinal loss with a knee injury. There’s no structural damage, per recent reports, but the bottom line is he’s not healthy, and UCF is. The Knights obviously have a clear size advantage in the paint (see: Fall, Tacko), and Taylor should have a field day getting to the rim against the banged-up Evans. And if he doesn’t, Aubrey Dawkins and/or Terrell Allen should. With the line at VCU -1.5, picking UCF to cover essentially means picking UCF outright. — Jeff Sharon, Black and Gold Banneret South region 1) Virginia vs. 16) Gardner-Webb Spread: Virginia -24 Why Virginia will cover: Throw out last season. This Virginia squad is No. 2 on KenPom in offensive efficiency and has a trio of stars that can shoot the heck out of the ball in De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy, and Ty Jerome. Hunter, who missed last year’s UMBC fiasco with a broken wrist, is a lottery pick and is shooting 46 percent from three and has an eFG% of 59 percent. Throw in Guy’s 47 percent three-point shooting and Virginia’s No. 5 defense, and things could get out of hand quickly. — Caroline Darney, Streaking the Lawn Why Gardner-Webb will cover: Gardner-Webb have several good perimeter shooters, and if the Bulldogs can get the threes to drop, they’ll keep the margin respectable. The Running Bulldogs already have wins over two ACC squads this season (Wake Forest and Georgia Tech), and against the Demon Deacons, getting to the line was key (they shot 40 free throws). DJ Laster is an efficient scorer, and David Efianayi will keep the Hoos honest beyond the arc (41%). — Caroline Darney, Streaking the Lawn 2) Tennessee vs. 15) Colgate Spread: Tennessee -17.5 Why Tennessee will cover: Colgate features a balanced offensive attack with a legitimate trio of scorers, but their downfall will come on the defensive end of the floor. Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone power Tennessee’s offense and should have a field day with the Raiders’ defense, which ranks in the 200s in terms of efficiency. Colgate faced four schools from power conferences this season — Penn State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and South Florida — each time losing by 10 points or more. This veteran Tennessee team should come out hungry and refocused after an eye-opening loss to Auburn in the SEC championship. Look for Colgate to make plenty of shots, but Tennessee will be attacking the rim from the opening tip. Only a handful of teams can match Tennessee’s physicality for 40 minutes. The Vols should wear down the Raiders and cruise late. — Terry Lambert, Rocky Top Talk Why Colgate will cover: Colgate can really score, which allows them to stick around in most games. Even though the Raiders lost all four games they played against power conference opponents this season, only their defeat at Syracuse came by more than 11 points (21). — Chris Dobbertean, Blogging the Bracket 4) Kansas State vs. 13) UC Irvine Spread: Kansas State -5.5 Why Kansas State will cover: Picking UC Irvine almost feels a little too trendy, doesn’t it? Don’t forget that this Kansas State team won the Big 12 outright in the regular season, ending Kansas’ 14-year grappling hold on that title. The Wildcats defend like crazy, finishing No. 4 in the country in defensive efficiency. It will be hard if star forward Dean Wade can’t go, but KSU still has enough juice to cover. — Ricky O’Donnell Why UC Irvine will cover: UC Irvine has won 29 games over Division I opposition, including 16 straight. While Kansas State is a step up in competition for the Anteaters, the likely absence of Wade for the Wildcats changes the matchup, particularly on the interior. UC Irvine is already the nation’s top-ranked team in two-point field goal percentage defense, per KenPom, so they may be able to limit Kansas State’s chances inside. — Chris Dobbertean, Blogging the Bracket 5) Wisconsin vs. 12) Oregon Spread: Wisconsin -1.5 Why Wisconsin will cover: Recency bias favors the Ducks, but the contrarian betting approach favors Wisconsin. The Ducks are currently getting 58 percent of the bets offshore. With a projected line of 5.5 in favor of Wisconsin, this screams for an opportunity to buy low on the Badgers as the public sides with the hot team in Oregon. Wisconsin finished fourth in arguably the toughest conference top to bottom, while Oregon struggled to stay above .500 in a very weak power five conference. Sure they battled injuries along the way, but so does everyone in college basketball. Ultimately, this game will come down to each team’s ability to make shots consistently. Both teams are prone to long stretches of poor offense, and with both teams playing stifling defense this game will come down to who can negate the scoreless stretches. The Badgers will run their offense through Ethan Happ, and his abilities as a top-tier passer should help Wisconsin find gaps against the Oregon defense should they decide to play their zone look. With more perimeter shooters, this should help Wisconsin on the offensive end. While Oregon is the trendy pick, I side with the consistency of Wisconsin, who has gone 22-13-3 against the spread in tournament games since 2005, according to the Action Network. — Tyler Hunt, Bucky’s 5th Quarter Why Oregon will cover: The reason why Oregon will cover the spread and possibly win over Wisconsin is they are arguably the hottest team in college basketball, winning eight straight. They had to play their way into the Big Dance by winning the Pac-12 Tournament. The advanced stats show that Oregon has a balanced offensive attack while the Badgers rely heavily on one player in Happ. The Ducks will pull off the 5-seed vs. 12-seed upset. — Joseph Yun, Addicted to Quack 7) Cincinnati vs. 10) Iowa Spread: Cincinnati -4 Why Cincinnati will cover: This is a classic Cincinnati team, which is to say the Bearcats fight like hell on defense and play a methodical pace offensively. Cincy is top-50 in efficiency on both ends of the floor and just feels like the tougher, more disciplined team. Four points shouldn’t be an issue. — Ricky O’Donnell Why Iowa will cover: The Iowa Hawkeyes will cover the spread against Cincinnati because they have the firepower to beat the Bearcats. Iowa’s offense is finally unshackled from the chains of Big Ten refereeing and will receive the benefit of the whistle, which will surely anger the pro-Cincinnati crowd. Early foul trouble forces Mick Cronin’s hand in defending Luka Garza and Tyler Cook as the Hawkeyes are able to build an early lead. Clutch shooting by Jordan Bohannon allows Iowa to, at minimum, keep the game within a basket down the stretch. Worst case for a Hawkeyes cover is an irrelevant three from Connor McCaffery as time expires. — Harrison Starr, Black Heart Gold Pants 8) Ole Miss vs. 9) Oklahoma Spread: Ole Miss -2 Why Ole Miss will cover: Ole Miss doesn’t have the best defense in the world, but they’re No. 65 on KenPom and can make things tough for Oklahoma on that end of the court. Ole Miss makes threes at a respectable clip (36 percent), and although this will be a close one, I like Breein Tyree and Terence Davis to make the difference here. — Caroline Darney Why Oklahoma will cover: There’s little reason to be confident in this Oklahoma team in its first-round matchup, as this group seems to lack the confidence or cohesion to get the job done in the Big Dance. Additionally, Ole Miss is 23-9 against the spread. Having said that, OU is 19-10-3 ATS in 2018-19 and is also responsible for one of the worst beats in the history of beatdom. Just to be clear, I don’t believe you should take Oklahoma at +2, but don’t sleep on that Sooner Magic (incompetent late-game officiating, in this case) when a bad beat is in play. — Jack Shields, Crimson and Cream Machine Midwest region 1) North Carolina vs. 16) Iona Spread: North Carolina -25 Why North Carolina will cover: As a No. 1 seed under Roy Williams, Carolina has an average margin of victory of 29 against No. 16 seeds. Iona ranks 45th in the nation in adjusted tempo, per Ken Pomeroy, and the Tar Heels have historically feasted on teams that try to “run” with them. Their tempo and talent advantages overwhelm opposing teams. With Iona’s adjusted defensive efficiency of 275th, third-worst among all tournament teams, UNC simply has to hold the Gaels under 80 points to cover. That shouldn’t be an issue for the Heels’ top-15 defense. — Tanya Bondurant, Tar Heel Blog Why Iona will cover: Both Iona and UNC play fast, so if the Tar Heels turn this into a blowout early, it might be another opportunity for a No. 1 seed to rest its regulars with plenty of time left. The Gaels then might be able to play catch-up against Carolina’s backups. — Chris Dobbertean, Blogging the Bracket 3) Houston vs. 14) Georgia State Spread: Houston -12 Why Houston will cover: Few expected to the Cougars to be this good after losing star Rob Gray to graduation, but Kelvin Sampson’s team has come back even stronger thanks to great balance on both ends. Houston is ranks in the top 25 in the country in both offensive and defensive efficiency, running up a 31-3 record because it plays selfless basketball. Spotting Georgia State 12 is a lot, but Houston can handle it. — Ricky O’Donnell Why Georgia State will cover: Georgia State returns much of the team that played last season’s American Athletic champion, Cincinnati, in the NCAAs. And while the Panthers lost that one by 15, that was largely the result of a poor final 10 minutes. That experience could prevent a repeat performance by Ron Hunter’s squad. — Chris Dobbertean, Blogging the Bracket 6) Iowa State vs. 11) Ohio State Spread: Iowa State -6 Why Iowa State will cover: Iowa State’s going to cover because the Cyclones are a vastly more complete offensive team than Ohio State, with at least four guys capable of scoring (and already have) 20-25 points or more, including one of the most underrated scorers in the country in Marial Shayok. The Cyclones are also finally of out of the horrific slump at the end of the regular season, and are playing arguably their best basketball at just the right time. Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson is a solid big man who takes a huge portion of their shots, but he isn’t any better than Kansas’ Dedric Lawson or Texas’ Jaxson Hayes, guys that Iowa State has largely shut down on multiple occasions. Nobody is going to mistake Iowa State for a defensive juggernaut, but when they defend and rebound even at an average level and shots are going in, the ‘Clones are really hard to beat. — Levi Stevenson, Wide Right Natty Light Why Ohio State will cover: Iowa State comes into the NCAA tournament with tons of momentum having won the Big XII Tournament; Ohio State comes in with absolutely zero momentum. However, this is a fresh start for the Buckeyes, who absolutely need it. This team with no consistent outside scorer and no reliable leadership made the NCAA tournament; everything else is gravy. While Kaleb Wesson was suspended for three games to end the regular season, a number of other players (Keyshawn Woods, C.J. Jackson, Andre Wesson) stepped up. If they can balance the scoring throughout the entire 40 minutes of play, they have a chance to not only cover, but win. Also, they (hopefully) won’t be playing with Big Ten refs, which is always a good thing. — Matt Tamanini, Land Grant Holy Land 8) Utah State vs. 9) Washington Spread: Utah State -3.5 Why Utah State will cover: Utah State has some bigger guards in Abel Porter and Sam Merrill who should be able to trouble Washington’s backcourt, while 6’11 Neemias Queta could create issues inside. And with the Huskies being turnover prone and the Aggies excellent in transition, Utah State should have plenty of opportunities to get easy baskets and make Washington’s zone a non-factor. — Chris Dobbertean, Blogging the Bracket Why Washington will cover: Washington definitely stumbled near the end of the season but they already held a four game lead in the Pac-12 standings with just eight conference games to play so it wasn’t surprising they lost their focus a bit. Utah State had a great season but even in a down Pac-12 the Huskies played a much tougher schedule. The Aggies’ 17-1 stretch to end the year included just three games against teams in KenPom’s top 120 and they finished with just six such wins compared to Washington’s 15. USU’s defense is predicated around their shot blocking stud Neemias Queta, but Washington’s Noah Dickerson finished second nationally in fouls drawn. If the anchor of the Utah State defense is out with foul trouble, then the Huskies and Pac-12 POY Jaylen Nowell will be able to get the rim. Meanwhile, their zone, led by the best defender in the nation Matisse Thybulle, will be able to hold Utah State’s offense in check enough to at least have it come down to a final shot. Washington’s a three-point underdog, which would make that a cover. — Max Vrooman, UW Dawg Pound West region 3) Texas Tech vs. 14) Northern Kentucky Spread: Texas Tech -15 Why Texas Tech will cover: I think this answer boils down to defense. Tech is the more talented team, that’s undisputed, and they should have the better athletes. So on the offensive end, I expect Tech to be able to get into the paint and avoid the problems with the midrange game they’ve had at times. Even then, Tech has found their stride on offense. I’m on record saying 70-plus in the tourney is essentially a guaranteed win and I’d bet Tech hits 80 in this matchup. More importantly, Tech is the best defense in the nation, going up against an efficient, but not world-beating, offense that relies heavily on their big men. Owens and Odiade neutralize the paint extremely well and Culver’s length combined with Mooney’s hands create havoc for opposing guards. Lock down defense combined with a mismatch on the offense end should allow Tech to really pull away late first half. I expect Tech to cover big time, though I am surprised the line wasn’t down more toward the -12 range. — Macon, Viva the Matadors Why Northern Kentucky will cover: Even though Northern Kentucky is a good offensive team, the Norse haven’t yet encountered a defense that’s as strong as Texas Tech’s. In other words, this game has real blowout potential. However, if this one gets out of hand early, the Norse are another team that could have an opportunity to keep things close against the Red Raiders’ bench in the contest’s latter stages. — Chris Dobbertean, Blogging the Bracket 6) Buffalo vs. 11) Arizona State Spread: Buffalo -5 Why Buffalo will cover: The Bulls were one of the Cinderella teams last year, but don’t underestimate them this season. They’re good. CJ Massinburg is a hell of a player, rocking an eFG% of 57 percent and a 40-percent mark from beyond the arc. The Bulls are No. 20 in offensive efficiency and No. 29 in defensive efficiency. Throw in the fact they’re facing a play-in team that’s already played a game ... I like the Bulls here. — Caroline Darney Why Arizona State/St. Johns will cover: As we’ve learned with this mesmerizing Arizona State team, they can win just about any night and lose just about any night. Bobby Hurley’s former school will probably struggle with the athleticism of Zylan Cheatham and his ability to out rebound anybody. The key factors for ASU making any type of run this March is the health of Remy Martin and if Rob Edwards can catch fire. Martin was labeled as 60-75 percent after ASU’s loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 semifinal loss. He is the motor that runs the Sun Devils when they’re playing well, so, if he’s healthy, the Sun Devils should be fine. For Edwards, he’s been the only consistent outside shooting presence for ASU, if he finds his stroke against the Bulls, ASU will do more than just cover. — Brady Vernon, House of Sparky
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LSU’s Emmitt Williams destroyed an innocent Coke Zero while crashing into the scorer’s table
Someone think of the soda. It was a tragic day for court-side beverages on Thursday when LSU’s Emmitt Williams crashed over the scorer’s table and obliterated a soda — and it was even more amazing in slow motion. RIP this guy's Coke Zero #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/dtAOHbgiCY— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) March 21, 2019 I’ve got to applaud the effort of the crashee here to try and do the “pinch cup and hope it doesn’t spill” technique, but it went badly anyway. There was the first spill, then the second explosion that drenched everyone in the radius of the soda. Thankfully everyone was okay — except for LSU who had a late-game scare by a Yale comeback.
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Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid end their collusion case against the NFL
Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid have reached a settlement with the league. In a somewhat surprising turn of events, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Panthers safety Eric Reid have withdrawn their collusion lawsuit against the NFL and have reached a settlement. Mark Geragos, the lawyer representing Kaepernick and Reid in their cases, released the following joint statement with the NFL: For the past several months, counsel for Mr. Kaepernick and Mr. Reid have engaged in an ongoing dialogue with representatives of the NFL. As a result of those discussions, the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances. The resolution of this matter is subject to a confidentiality agreement so there will be no further comment by any party. The NFL Players Association responded as well: pic.twitter.com/sTpsKOzzKP— NFLPA (@NFLPA) February 15, 2019 Kaepernick has been out of the league over the past two seasons. This all started in 2016 when Kaepernick and Reid decided to kneel together during the pregame national anthem as a way to protest systemic racial injustices. Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers when head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch took over the team following the 2016 season. Reid remained with the team for the 2017 season, but the team didn’t renew his contract after the season. Kaepernick filed his collusion case against the NFL in November of 2017. Reid followed Kaepernick by filing his collusion case in May 2018. Reid, a former Pro Bowl safety, was unable to sign with a team until the Carolina Panthers gave him a one-year contract three games into the 2018 season. Reid played well enough for the Panthers that they gave him a three-year deal. Even with Reid’s three-year deal in Carolina — which he signed while his collusion lawsuit was still active — Reid was pessimistic that Kaepernick would ever be able to sign a deal. Eric Reid on whether he's hopeful Colin Kaepernick is signed this offseason: "Knowing what I know, my hope tank is on E."— Joe Person (@josephperson) February 11, 2019 Why did the NFL agree to settle with Kaepernick and Reid? The NFL likely agreed to settle with Kaepernick and Reid because there was probably enough evidence for the league to look bad in court. Emails and other forms of communication between owners could have been made public if the case had proceeded. That won’t be happening now that the settlement has been announced. Collusion is extremely hard to prove. Here’s what the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement says about proving the act of collusion: The complaining party shall bear the burden of demonstrating by a clear preponderance of the evidence that (1) the challenged conduct was or is in violation of Section 1 of this Article (No Club, its employees or agents shall enter into any agreement, express or implied, with the NFL or any other Club, its employees or agents to restrict or limit individual Club decision-making) and (2) caused any economic injury to such player(s). The settlement doesn’t definitively mean that Kaepernick and Reid were able to prove collusion, nor does it mean that the NFL was able to completely disprove Kaepernick’s and Reid’s claims. This gives Kaepernick and Reid the chance to recover on lost wages during their unemployment. Kaepernick should get a large sum of money as the result of his prolonged unemployment. According to Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, NFL officials are guessing that Kaepernick got at least $60 million. The Wall Street Journal reported it was much less — around $10 million: Number NFL team officials are speculating to me is the NFL paid Kaepernick in the $60 to $80 million range.— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) February 15, 2019 NFL paid under $10 million to settle Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid's grievance that claimed the players were blackballed over anthem protests https://t.co/X96j5ahs0Q— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) March 21, 2019 However, the confidentiality agreement means we don’t know the official number. What’s next for Kaepernick and Reid? Even with the collusion case settled, Kaepernick likely won’t be playing in the NFL. He’s been waiting for an opportunity for two years now — and he was good enough to play when he and the 49ers split. If it hasn’t happened yet, it won’t be happening anytime soon. Kaepernick’s activism won’t stop now that the settlement has been completed. He continued to donate his money to causes that he supported even while he was unemployed. Reid will continue playing with the Panthers. His settlement with the NFL doesn’t change his contractual status with his new team. Now he has the opportunity to put this behind him and focus on being one of the better safeties in the game. Reid continued to kneel all throughout the season with the Panthers — former Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers said Reid’s actions were not a distraction to the team in anyway. Julius Peppers says Eric Reid is not a distraction. “Not at all. He nearly won the game.”— Joe Person (@josephperson) October 21, 2018 One interesting aspect to keep note of next season will be the issue surrounding Eric Reid and the abnormal amount of “random” drug tests that he was given after joining the Panthers. Reid received seven drug tests in his first 11 weeks of being with the Panthers. Number 7... ”Random” pic.twitter.com/6HkxXCZhQP— Eric Reid (@E_Reid35) December 18, 2018 The NFL and NFLPA released a joint statement after the season saying that they did not find any wrongdoing revolving around the amount of tests that Reid was given. Although this is speculation, it’s possible the league said that Reid pursue grievances about the drug tests as part of the settlement. Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid may have settled their collusion case, but the impact of their lawsuit — and the work that they’re doing in the communities — will be long lasting.
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Wofford is too good to be a true Cinderella in March Madness
The Terriers have been incredible all year. Wofford entered the championship game in the Southern Conference tournament with a peace of mind no team in the history of the league has ever had before. Regardless of whether or not the Terriers beat UNC-Greensboro, they would be in the field of 68 when it was announced on Selection Sunday. The Southern has never had multiple bids to the big dance before, but Wofford would have been a been a lock for an at-large. Of course, Wofford won anyway, because that’s the only thing Wofford knows how to do. Wofford has not lost since Dec. 19, when it fell to a then-ranked Mississippi State team. Wofford did not lose in the Southern the entire season, finishing a perfect 21-0 after running through the conference tournament. This is the fifth time in the last 10 years Wofford is going dancing, but there’s something different about this run. The Terriers start this tournament in a rare position for a mid-major: as the No. 7 seed in the Midwest, Wofford is a 2.5-point favorite against Seton Hall in their opening round game. If they win, the Terriers have a chance to shock the world in the second round against Kentucky. Wofford has all the markings of a perfect Cinderella with one major exception: they’re way too good for the distinction. To think of Wofford as such is to admit you haven’t seen them play. Wofford passes every resumé test The Terriers are one of college basketball’s best teams by every conceivable metric: they’re No. 13 overall in the NET rankings and No. 21 on KenPom. The RPI is out as a tool for the selection committee, but Wofford is a top-15 in that, too. Wofford’s is currently sitting at 29-4 overall with all four losses coming to power conference teams that have spent time ranked in the top-25. That includes a season-opening defeat to North Carolina, and road losses against Oklahoma, Kansas, and Mississippi State. Wofford will enter the tournament 3-4 against Quad 1 opponents and unbeaten against everyone else, including 6-0 in Quad 2 games. They’ve done it by building one of the best offenses in the country. Wofford can score with anyone The Terriers are a true offensive juggernaut. They’re ranked No. 13 in the country in offensive efficiency, scoring 118.6 points per 100 possessions. Wofford thrives by launching threes. Three-pointers make up 43.5 percent of their field goal attempts, which ranks top-60 in the country. When they shoot, they rarely miss: as a team, Wofford shoots 41.6 percent from behind the arc, the second best mark in America. When Wofford does miss, they can crash the glass, top-60 in offensive rebound rate and No. 30 in defensive rebounding. With fifth-year big man Cameron Jackson (6’8, 250 lbs) and front court mate Keve Aluma (6’9, 230 lbs), the Terriers have more size inside than most mid-major teams. Jackson in particular has been brilliant, averaging 14.6 points per game and providing a necessary inside scoring complement to the Terriers’ three-point attack. Don’t jump with him: #SCTOP10 CAMERON JACKSON OH MY GOODNESS@SportsCenter pic.twitter.com/t4eKgp2Kl9— Wofford Basketball (@WoffordMBB) January 4, 2019 Jackson’s emergence this season has given Wofford an interior complement to their three-point barrage. For as brilliant as he’s been this season, the Terriers have another star who steals the show. Fletcher Magee is a true superstar With apologies to Marquette’s Markus Howard, the best shooter in college basketball plays in the Southern Conference. That would be Fletcher Magee, the senior guard who is poised to break the DI record for three-point makes in the NCAA tournament. Magee is two three-pointers behind former Oakland guard Travis Bader for the all-time record. Magee shoots 43.8 percent for his career. He is known for knocking down off-balance threes, darting around screens and hopping into his shooting motion while still being able to drain shots with deep range while falling away from the basket. He is poised to be one of March Madness’ breakout stars. Wofford tested the NBA draft waters last season, but ultimately returned after a handful of private workouts. All he did this year was win conference player of the year for the second straight season and continue to build an argument he’s the greatest three-point shooter in the history of college basketball. Don’t hold his conference against him. Remember, a guy named Stephen Curry once played in the Southern, too. The Southern was legit all year Only five years ago, the Southern ranked No. 30 out of 32 DI conferences according to KenPom. Then Davidson, College of Charleston, Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Elon all departed for greener pastures. The SoCo could have sunk to the depths of a low-major league, but a big investment from the league’s schools helped turn things around. This season, the Southern ranked as the 11th best conference, around of the Atlantic 10, Conference USA, Missouri Valley, and more. Wofford didn’t just run through a weak conference slate, they went undefeated against a tough schedule that included multiple other teams that have a case for an at-large bid. Furman, who finished 24-6, had non-conference wins against Villanova and Loyola-Chicago. UNC Greensboro (26-5) was named a No. 1 seed in the NIT after losing the conference title game to Wofford. We can’t wait to watch Wofford in the NCAA tournament Magee’s shooting ability could make him a March Madness folk hero. Jackson is a rarity for mid-major, a legitimate big man with size and athleticism who can finish above the rim and clean the glass. There’s also a solid cast of three-and-D players around them. Wofford has every ingredient to become a March Madness darling. Just don’t call them a Cinderella.
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1 thought about all 64 March Madness schools from someone who doesn’t know college basketball
AKA you ... Duke. It is okay to root for otherwise malignant Duke because everyone loves watching Zion Williamson romp over and through lesser humans. I’m not fully okay with this either, but I’m also not okay with seeing less of something that startling on a basketball court against people who will be working at rental car offices in three years. Virginia. Don’t. No one has to watch Virginia basketball, not even Virginia students. It’s not required in any way by anyone, and don’t let anyone tell you it is. North Carolina. Luke Maye is peak state of North Carolina college basketball player because grown men three times his age inexplicably love him or hate him, and also because he will not play in the NBA for longer than 10 minutes. Will probably play Duke in the final, and no one in college basketball can ever complain about college football’s shallow pool of contenders again. Gonzaga. I’m struggling to find anything to say about Gonzaga that makes it cool or hard or even remotely metal. But! Adam Morrison is probably Gonzaga’s greatest player. Morrison played in professional basketball only briefly, but did manage to play for two of the hardest franchises in sport: Beskitas, Istanbul’s resident anarchist club, and Red Star Belgrade, which is named RED STAR BELGRADE.” They also have a Japanese player, Rui Hachimara! These are the only interesting things about Gonzaga. They seem fine. Tennessee. Ooh, my favorite: The football school struggling with the confusion of having a good men’s basketball team. They want to be artists, but are suddenly good at accounting! Tennessee is having a quarter-life crisis in front of the whole country and will either go deep into the tourney or apply to law school. Michigan State. No? No. Kentucky. Run by a man who nakedly wants to put amateur athletics out of business. God, with a pistol to my head, could not get me to say a single negative word about John Calipari. Michigan. If you want to pull for a smart school while still keeping state school cred, though just barely. Houston. Houston wears red, teams that wear red as a primary color never win championships in American sports, otherwise fine. (Don’t say Alabama unless you want a thousand random strangers with “HUSBAND FATHER FOLLOWER OF CHRIST” in their bio emailing and @-ing you yelling about how “It’s not red it’s Crimson Roll Tide, who lets you publish this “journalism.”) Texas Tech. For those who wish in their hearts there really was a team from the Moon: Lubbock will have to do. LSU. Coach is on tape making a “strong-ass offer” to a recruit in cash in a federal investigation of college basketball. Pull for them to win the entire thing, and pull hard. Purdue. They got Drew Brees and Neil Armstrong, everything past that is greed, including success in the NCAA tourney. Kansas. I like everyone I know from Kansas, but also feel like their basketball team deserves no support from anyone outside Kansas, either. Calling their arena “Allen Fieldhouse” is sort of precious, isn’t it? Like it should have a sliding barn door and shiplap on it. I just Fixer Upper’d Kansas basketball, and I’m sorry for that. Florida State. There is no reason to root for Florida State at all. Kansas State. The farm version of Kansas, which just seems excessive considering the base level of farm-ness is “Kansas” here. Virginia Tech. Somewhere between hilljack Virginia and the New Jersey expats who go there, there is the soul of Virginia Tech, a person who can do calculus but also field dress a possum if necessary. This is free, Virginia Tech brochure writers. Take it at no cost and be blessed. (Virginia Tech: “Smart people, but also possums.”) Marquette. An easy way to tell if someone went to Marquette: They know where Marquette is, and what it is, and will tell you without being asked either. Auburn. Bruce Pearl is Sexy Discount John Calipari. This is meant to be a compliment. Wisconsin. Still stuck on the idea that Minnesota and Wisconsin are brothers. One is the hard-partying but lovable dude who dies at 55 from what the doctor calls “everything”, and the other is Minnesota, who dies at 88 wealthy and well-respected, but later is discovered to be a serial killer. Don’t watch either’s basketball team unless forced. Mississippi State. The Kansas State of Mississippi, if such a thing is possible. The most trucks I have ever seen on a campus, and that includes anywhere in Texas, to the point where “are trucks enrolled as students in Starkville” is a legitimate question to ask. Villanova. “A good basketball school” which also equals “no one outside Philly can find it on a map”. This isn’t an insult, it’s just a reminder that March Madness keeps lovable, weird-ass college basketball alive by giving Villanova and Kansas State literally the only thing they will ever have in common in the form of the tourney. Maryland. One of America’s most baffling places both in accent and in identity. Proof: They rally around a.) a perfectly fine but unspectacular seafood seasoning blend and b.) rioting. That’s a helluva Venn Diagram right there. Buffalo. Rooting for Buffalo in anything: A sentimental charity and a fool’s investment are the same thing. Iowa State. Mascot is a bird with teeth. Pass. Louisville. Another bird with teeth. Again, pass. Nevada. Decades of watching Reno: 911 have made me incapable of pulling for anyone against Nevada. They’re so Western they came up with a football offense and named it the Pistol! YEEHAWW AND ARROOOOOOOOOO, brother. Cincinnati. Cincinnati is America’s most lukewarm place, and their pro team just cut Vontaze Burfict. A Noble Gas of a city and by extension, a college. Wofford. The Terriers are one of a thousand strange, tiny private schools in the Carolinas. I could tell you anything about any of them and it would seem believable, because no one knows them all. Mars Hill is actually a bingo hall that operates tax-free as a college, Davidson only uses a North Carolina mailing address for accounting purposes and is actually located in Ohio, and Wofford was founded by a wealthy salamander with a terrible temper named Admiral Johnston. None of these things are falsifiable. VCU. Virginia Commonwealth University, which is kind of repetitive because Virginia is by definition a commonwealth. It’s calling it Virginia State State University. VSSU is the new brand, get with it before we copyright it and make this expensive for you, VCU. Syracuse. As always, enrage Syracuse grads by asking if Syracuse is part of the SUNY system. They love that. Ole Miss. The nihilist’s choice because the chances of any wins or losses being on the NCAA’s books in three years once the investigations clear is 50/50 at best. Utah State. Like most top-tier schools, is located within easy driving distance of a ski resort and several places named after bears and beavers. In a just world, they would win everything. Washington. The University of Michigan’s twin brother who moved to the West Coast and started smoking weed. Like Michigan, is smart and will not win anything. UCF. Huge state-funded skate park with excellent athletics. Baylor. Baylor in all things is never necessary, but usually present. Oklahoma. Has Blake Griffin ever hung out with The Flaming Lips? Please say this has happened more than once. Iowa. As in all things, Iowa is respectable, unspectacular, and will get mad if anyone points out these things at the same time. Seton Hall. Villanova, but over there on the other side of the river. Dick Vitale and Bob Ley went here, in case you doubted the place’s range. See: It makes two completely opposite kinds of older white men who work for ESPN. Minnesota. One time I went fishing with a guide in Northern Minnesota and peed off the side of the canoe in full view of five people and yelled “It’s raining, assholes!” I don’t think either calling the fish a bad word or the public nudity was necessary, but it was the most relaxed and honest I’ve ever seen someone from Minnesota be. They’re fine. Florida. Barely squeaked into the tournament, something most Florida fans will realize only after finding out they crashed out of the first round two months from now. Football school life is great. Ohio State. The biggest donor to Ohio State athletics is the founder of Abercrombie and Fitch. Sometimes the universe is 100% in tune with itself. Belmont. A charming and atom-sized private school in Nashville specializing mostly in cranking out country music producers responsible for bro-country like Jason Aldean. Therefore: Probably guilty of war crimes under international law. Saint Mary’s (Calif.). Mahershala Ali played guard for them, which I just work into the bio of Juan, the character he plays in Moonlight. He could have made the league! Now it’s all so much sadder, y’all. Arizona State. Root for Arizona State in all things or suffer the Sun Devils Curse and find your children out of school, your wife under indictment by the feds, and your bad t-shirts no longer on sale at Target. Murray State. Legit the first school I had to look up here. It’s in Kentucky! We all learned something today. Oregon. Why didn’t you go to Oregon? Did you ever think about that? It’s beautiful, not too hard, and located close to all kinds of accessible outdoor recreation spots, and it has a Duck for a mascot. Because this is a Pac-12 team, they even transcend the need to be competitive at sports anymore, because...well, what are you really competing against, man? New Mexico State. The school’s reputation rests mostly on running that rocket-powered sled they annihilated stuff with on Mythbusters. That’s enough in our minds. Liberty. They hired Hugh Freeze and are run by a televangelist’s son. Next! UC Irvine. An Orange County edition of the California system so I assume it’s like going to school inside a really nice chain restaurant. The Carrabbas of the UC system, I’d guess. Vermont. I went to Vermont for the first time this past summer and it’s so nice it has to be hiding something. DON’T TRUST THESE ORGANIC FARMERS AND THEIR SMILING FACES! LIES AND A SORTA BORING PRINCETON OFFENSE ARE WAITING IN THE WINGS! Saint Louis. Their wiki says they have a campus in Madrid and goodness do we want to see the faces of the Spanish exchange students when they get off the plane, see St. Louis, and are then offered pizza made from ketchup and weird cheese on crackers. Northeastern. Pulling for them because if there is one thing Boston needs it is a successful sports team at last. Yale. No! Old Dominion. Beat Virginia Tech in football in the past year already, seems like they’re full on success already. Georgia State. The best university in Georgia based on graduates and output, and by that I mean “Ludacris, and I don’t need anyone else to make this argument.” Northern Kentucky. Kentucky has far too many directional schools for Kentucky. Consolidate a few and we’ll come back to this. Montana. They have an Aussie on the roster, 6’10” Ben Carter. His pedigree of “Australian living in Montana” means he’s pretty much already a licensed bounty hunter in 48 of our 50 states. Colgate. No one knows what Colgate is, but as far as we know they don’t try to ban reporters for not supporting their “brand.” Bradley. No one knows what Bradley is, and this still didn’t stop them from thinking they had enough of a “brand” to ban certain reporters from press conferences. Abilene Christian. A school, and also a really specific lifestyle brand and men’s blue jean? Gardner-Webb. See: “One of a thousand small NC private schools we could tell you lies about that no one could or would refute all day.” Iona. See: “Colgate, but closer to New York?” Fairleigh Dickinson. The writers are running out of material at this point, this is just Iona but relocated to New Jersey. North Dakota State. THE MIGHTY BISON. There are only 500 people in Fargo but all of them will kill you for disrespecting this team. Therefore, we respect them immensely, and you should too.
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Jimmy Butler will earn his next max contract in the playoffs
Butler shows up when it’s money time. For him, money time is when the game’s on the line. Jimmy Butler hit the game-winning shot, crouched down, then stared at the rim in awe of what he’d just done. Butler had just sealed Philadelphia’s 118-115 comeback victory over Boston on Wednesday. In actuality, he reminded the world exactly why the 76ers traded for him months ago. Butler’s game winner was the cap to a larger fourth quarter explosion where he’d scored 15 of his 22 points. After he seemingly coasted through the first three periods, the Sixers’ star came alive right on time — money time. #HereTheyCome@JimmyButler (22 PTS) comes up big late, scoring 15 4th quarter PTS in the @sixers home W! #HereTheyCome pic.twitter.com/dkYWnwzle4— NBA (@NBA) March 21, 2019 There is no other player on the 76ers’ roster like Butler. That’s a gift and a curse for a loaded team that has enough talent on paper, but also seems like it’s still a piece away from legitimate championship contention. Joel Embiid is the most dominant center in the NBA. Tobias Harris is the ultimate glue guy, a spot-up sniper who can put it on the floor in measured doses. Ben Simmons is a young Lebron James, a transition freight train and point guard in a forward’s body. But in crunch time, Butler is still the best (and maybe only) perimeter shot creator on the Sixers roster. He is the only player who can do what he did to propel Philly to a win over Boston, unless Harris proves otherwise. Since coming to Philly in November, Butler only averages 2.6 points for the Sixers in crunch time — which the NBA defines as the final five minutes of a game that’s within five points’ reach — but he shoots 46.6 percent from the field and 40 percent from three in those situations. This is why the 76ers traded two key role players in Robert Covington and Dario Saric for the Timberwolves’ embattled star. That’s why Butler will earn his next contract in April and beyond, not before Butler is just averaging 18.8 points per game in Philadelphia this season, his lowest scoring output since Year 3 in Chicago. His fit has been awkward, especially in the first three quarters of games. But when I talked to Butler in his first year in Minnesota, I learned one very important thing: stats do not matter to this man, only winning. If Butler can leave his fingerprint all over winning, it won’t matter what he’s averaging at the end of the year. Philly’s star will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. His next contract — max or near max — will come from a team that wants a winner on its roster, be it Philadelphia or somewhere else. He is in the driver’s seat of the next chapter of his career. Butler isn’t without flaws. After all, for the first three quarters, he only had seven points on 2-of-9 shooting and missed all four of his threes. The Sixers outscored the Celtics by three in the 25 minutes Butler played during the first three quarters, but he hadn’t left his mark on the game. If Philly had gone on to lose, his impact, or lack thereof, in a game with playoff implications would have been the story. There were also the shots leading up to the game winner. Butler took two questionable threes that killed Philly’s momentum and sucked the life out of Wells Fargo Arena. Had he not made that shot to seal the game, the story would have been about Butler’s shot selection, and whether he should be taking those shots in crunch time or feeding the All-Star horse in the paint. It’s funny how quickly a story can change if someone comes up big when it matters. Butler didn’t miss that game-winner. He made it, and Embiid was the first person over to celebrate with him. Embiid and Butler reportedly made it clear to each other pregame that the two needed each other to win big. If Butler comes up huge in the playoffs like he did against the Celtics, his value will establish itself.
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Marcus Smart’s ejection cost the Celtics their glue guy — and a win over the Sixers
Smart admitted he was frustrated, but he has to keep that in check. He means too much to Boston’s success. Marcus Smart was ejected early into the third quarter of Sixers vs. Celtics on Wednesday after shoving Joel Embiid in the back, sending the All-Star big man tumbling to the ground. The shove was a retaliation after Embiid stuck his elbow out on a screen and sent Smart crashing to the ground, but was not whistled for an offensive foul. Marcus Smart shoved Joel Embiid to the floor pic.twitter.com/yshJkeO1fe— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 21, 2019 Here it is again in slow motion. Smart said he “was frustrated because it was a cheap shot,” and you can tell by the way Embiid sticks his elbow out at the very last second. Smart leans into the shove, but Embiid also sells the shove — just like he sells that Hulu has live sports. Marcus Smart altercation with Joel Embiid pic.twitter.com/Sqi1hP22yC— John Karalis (@RedsArmy_John) March 21, 2019 Officials assessed Smart a flagrant foul two and gave Embiid a technical foul for dashing towards Smart after the shove. Boston led by 11 at the time of the play, but the ejection woke a slumbering Sixers team that went on to come back and win on a Jimmy Butler game-winning shot, 118-115. The Celtics need Marcus Smart He’s their heart and soul, the glue guy. Kyrie Irving gets buckets, Jayson Tatum does, too. Al Horford locks down the paint, moves the ball around, and directs everyone else. Marcus Smart does everything else. Boston can’t afford for him to lose his cool like this. Not in games of this magnitude, against a team they could meet in the playoffs. It’s not helpful to their cause of furthering last season’s playoff run that ended in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
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11 questions about LeBron James and the Lakers’ likely search for a new coach
Believe it or not, this is the first time LeBron is involved in an open coaching search since 2005. How will it go? LeBron James has a reputation as someone who gets coaches fired, which may or may not be fair. There’s no real evidence that LeBron was directly involved in Paul Silas’ firing by the Cavaliers in James’ second season in the NBA. Mike Brown was hired by Cleveland that summer, and didn’t get let go until five years later, just weeks before LeBron opted to leave the Cavaliers in free agency. It’s hard to blame LeBron for Brown getting fired at that point. Solid reports have swirled that LeBron clumsily attempted to replace Erik Spoelstra and push Pat Riley to un-retire from coaching in the trying early days in Miami, but that never actually worked if it did happen, since Spo still coaches the Heat. Cleveland had already made a coaching change before LeBron announced his return in 2014, so he could not have been involved in the machinations there. There’s no question LeBron’s open dislike for David Blatt led to Cleveland sacking him in the middle of the Cavaliers’ championship 2016 season. There’s one notch. But Ty Lue, who had been hired as Blatt’s deputy before LeBron arrived, was promoted and lasted until after LeBron left last summer. Now, everyone expects the Lakers to can Luke Walton at the end of this nightmare Lakers season, with persistent reports suggesting that he and LeBron aren’t really on the same page. Fair or not, Walton would see his name etched in stone under Blatt as coaches LeBron got fired. What an honor. But this opens up a whole new world in LeBron lore. Because LeBron hasn’t actually experienced too much coaching turnover in his career, there’s never really been an opportunity for a coaching hire to be made specifically for LeBron. You’d have to go back to 2005 to find an open coaching search made by a team with LeBron under contract, and no one would argue that LeBron had much (if any) pull in that initial Mike Brown hire in Cleveland. As such, this is going to a fascinating experience. 1. How forcefully will everyone involved — from Jeannie Buss to Magic Johnson to LeBron himself — insist that LeBron has nothing to do with it, even though we all know that’s Grade-A baloney? It’d be a breath of fresh air if everyone just acknowledged that LeBron is the real power broker here and that the Lakers will explicitly ask for his views, talk to Rich Paul and/or read some tea leaves with his behavior. 2. How much will LeBron be involved? Will this be a matter of explicitly asking his views? Or, reading the tea leaves? Will Buss’ reported discontent with Team LeBron’s handling of L’Affair Anthony Davis matter? It’s worth noting that late-era Kobe Bryant did not apparently have pull in coaching decisions, but that was under the bizarre Jim Buss regime. Also, LeBron in 2019 is way, way more important than Kobe circa 2013. 3. Given the weird timing of what comes next, what’s the priority here? The coaching decision will come before the draft (when a potential trade for Davis or another star would likely happen) and free agency. Is the priority a coach more reputed for developing young players, of which the Lakers still have a bunch, and are in line to get another in the draft? Or, will they prefer a personality manager who can balance LeBron with a hoped-for second superstar on the presumptive way via trade (A.D.) or free agency? Of course, coaches aren’t categorized so cleanly. But you can prioritize certain traits. There are both Doc Riverses (not available) and David Fizdales (not available, we assume) out there. 4. Oh wow, Mark Jackson is definitely getting a look, isn’t he? Yeah. 5. How much of a draw, if any, is the opportunity to coach an aging LeBron and potentially another superstar in Los Angeles with super-high expectations? Could the Lakers convince a good coach in a good situation to risk it all for a chance at coaching LeBron? Doc has said no, and you can come up with a reasonable list of other current NBA head coaches with security who would decline the opportunity given the Lakers’ oddly positioned front office and roster. There are probably 20 current head coaches who say no. But that still leaves a few who’d say yes. This is to say nothing of the coaches who are in broadcast or elsewhere right now. Does Jeff Van Gundy more openly consider coming back to the sidelines for this? Probably not, given his stress on front office power and how poorly this Magic/Rob Pelinka thing has gone. What about Stan Van Gundy? He’s probably a bad fit all the way around. We’ve regrettably mentioned Jackson. Is DOUG COLLINS walking through that door? 6. Is LeBron going to push a LeBron crony on the front office? Does anyone know if Mike Miller, James Jones, or Richard Jefferson have coaching aspirations? (How does R-Jeff, noted friend of Luke and LeBron, feel about all this?) 7. Is Magic going to push a Magic crony to the front of the line? Is that Derek Fisher’s music?! 8. Is Buss going to insist on keeping it in the Laker family and push Brian Shaw, Byron Scott, the dreaded Fisher, current Lakers assistant Mark Madsen, or TY LUE as contenders? 9. How will Kobe Bryant insert himself in this conversation? Further, in the extremely unlikely event Kobe himself becomes the head coach, will the Lakers have Wizenard alternate jerseys? 10. Given all of the above, is it worth keeping Luke and figuring it out? (In almost all cases where the question is whether it’s worth keeping the incumbent around when said coach has had a relatively short leash, the answer is yes.) 11. Is this going to be as entertaining as we think it will be? Because I have really, really high hopes for this whole Lakers summer. It’ll be difficult to live up to Lakers’ season, but I have high, high hopes.
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Gritty’s March Madness bracket is a delightful mess
Gritty is love. Gritty is life. Gritty became the latest celebrity to publicly post his March Madness bracket, and it makes no damn sense — just like Gritty. Getcha, getcha, getcha, getcha head in the game. #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/VTD4ce6Dtb— Gritty (@GrittyNHL) March 20, 2019 Gritty has “LOVE” cutting down the nets at the end because love always wins, but really he’s picking Duke. An appropriate pick for a transdimensional monster who will one day consume us all. Some other fun facts about Gritty’s bracket: He has Gardner Webb going all the way, which leads me to believe Gritty might be a Gardner Webb alum. That Elite 8 matchup between Lady Gaga and University of Phoenix Online is going to be BRUTAL. He likes turtles ... a lot. I like how Bradley just morphs into “Cooper” without any explanation. I’m surprised Gritty has strong feelings about toothpaste brands. I just assumed he brushes with the blood of his enemies. Godzilla is a better name that Gonzaga. Secretly I hope this bracket somehow wins and Gritty becomes a millionaire. Who knows what he could do with that money.
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P.J. Washington’s injury could derail Kentucky’s Final Four hopes
Kentucky’s star forward is out in the first round of the NCAA tournament with a sprained foot. P.J. Washington is out for Kentucky in its NCAA tournament opener against No. 15 seed Abilene Christian, the school announced. The star forward sprained his foot and has spent the week in a hard cast. John Calipari issued a statement on Twitter after Washington was ruled out: The specialists confirmed our original diagnosis that @PJWashington has a sprained foot and there is no fracture. Once we determined that PJ was not going to play today, they put him in a hard cast for precautionary reasons. He is out for today’s game.— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) March 21, 2019 Kentucky shouldn’t have any troubling getting past Abilene Christian even without Washington. But if the Wildcats want to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, Washington needs to be on the floor and playing to the peak of his abilities. P.J. Washington’s rise helped save Kentucky’s season It’s impossible to forget how Kentucky’s season opened. Duke walloped the Wildcats by 34 points at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis to begin the season, giving Calipari the worst loss of his coaching career at any level. Kentucky was actually favored in that game. Kentucky would lose again to Seton Hall a month later. That’s when Washington started to turn it on. He dropped 29 points in defeat to the Pirates, showing a versatile inside-out game that set the tone for his breakout season. Washington has been one of the best players in America ever since. We ranked him as the No. 7 overall player in March Madness in our countdown of the best players in the field. At 6’8. 230 pounds, with a 7’3 wingspan, Washington is nimble giant in the paint. He’s always been comfortable hitting jump hooks with his back to the basket, but it’s the development of his jump shot that has taken his game to a new level. As a freshman, Washington made five three-pointers at a 23 percent clip on the year. This season, he’s Kentucky’s best shooter, canning 31 threes on a 42 percent rate. That’s opened up everything else both for himself and his team. Kentucky needed a star player. It needed shooting in the front court. Washington’s emergence checked both boxes and made the Wildcats a legitimate title contender. They need him more than ever over the next two weeks. Kentucky can’t make it through the Midwest without Washington A potential rematch with Seton Hall is waiting for the Wildcats in the second round. Wofford, with its brilliant three-point barrage led by Fletcher Magee, would also be a tough opponent should they knock off the Pirates in the 7-10 matchup. In the Sweet 16, Kentucky likely has to face a Houston team that is 31-3 on the season, or an Iowa State squad that just won the Big 12 tournament. In the Elite Eight, North Carolina likely awaits. Kentucky’s only chance of making a March run rests on Washington being one of the best players in the field. If he can’t go, or if he’s limited, the Wildcats are in big trouble.
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Ichiro retired after a game in Tokyo, and the moment was perfect
Thank you Ichiro. Ichiro Suzuki’s retirement was planned, calculated and perfect — just like his MLB career. On Thursday, the 45-year-old outfielder hung up his cleats in Tokyo. Legend. pic.twitter.com/CgnaEpmLYP— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) March 21, 2019 Many intuited that Ichiro would retire following the Japan Series against the Athletics, or perhaps after the Mariners returned home — but few expected him to do so without forewarning or preparation. Instead the world learned of his imminent retirement mid-game from Japanese news outlet Kyodo News, after Ichirco was subbed out. The team came first, his personal glory second, making it a fitting tribute to one of the greatest players to ever play baseball, done in his signature quiet manner. A wave to the crowd in his home country, a dugout full of players sending him off and a hug with Ken Griffey Jr. were the only markers that this was truly the end. Two of the best to ever do it. pic.twitter.com/NIZvtPr6xG— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) March 21, 2019 Players wiped tears from their eyes, wished Ichiro well and appreciated that for a fleeting moment they got to play with someone as incredible and influential as Ichiro. A man who played professional baseball for almost 30 years, 19 of them coming in MLB, where he joined the esteemed 3,000 hit club in 2016 — though many will tell you he really reached the mark years earlier, considering he recorded 1,278 hits in Japan before heading stateside. It’s easy to wax poetically about Ichiro. Simple to discuss what he meant to baseball and the inspiration he became, but the underrated quality of his astounding career was the message he sent. Ichiro went undrafted in 1991 in Japan, based on his 5’9, 120-pound frame. When there was talk about him moving to the U.S. he was deemed “too frail” to withstand the rigors of MLB. He was met with a different kind of doubt in Japan, with coaches abhorring his batting style for flying in the face of conventions. Languishing in the farm system coaches desperately tried to change the way he played. Every step of the way Ichiro was criticized. He was told he wasn’t big enough, his technique was wrong and even got sent back down to the Japanese farm leagues the same day he hit a home run off Hideo Nomo, who went on to win NL Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers. All this after enduring a childhood where Ichiro was pushed to the limit by his father in training sessions he described as “bordering on hazing” in the 2009 book The Meaning of Ichiro. The cards were stacked against him from the beginning, and still he found a way to become one of the greatest players ever. His career stands as a love letter to anyone who wants to achieve something, even when the world tells them it’s not possible — and it’s something he understood. “I’m not a big guy and hopefully kids could look at me and see that I’m not muscular and not physically imposing, that I’m just a regular guy. So if somebody with a regular body can get into the record books, kids can look at that. That would make me happy.” We’re left with a career of 3,089 hits, an astounding .311 batting average and memories that stretch far beyond the statistics. We might have not been prepared for Ichiro’s retirement, but it’s here — and it was beautiful. There's nothing like baseball. And no one like Ichiro. pic.twitter.com/MTtGlkgCOi— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) March 21, 2019
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The top favorite and sleeper in the 2019 NCAA women’s basketball tournament
Baylor and Notre Dame are sizable favorites, but there is a sleeper to consider. The 2019 NCAA woman’s basketball tournament gets underway on Friday at 12:00 p.m. ET when No. 1-seeded Louisville hosts No. 16-seeded Robert Morris. The tournament wraps up on April 7th when the national title game takes place in Tampa, Florida. The Westgate SuperBook released futures for the women’s title and Baylor and Notre Dame are the top two favorites. Second-seeded UConn is slotted next followed by the remaining No. 1 seeds — Mississippi State and Louisville. Natalie Weiner provides us with a look at why Baylor is the favorite, and why Mississippi State is a potential value pick. Favorite: Baylor The Lady Bears have cruised into the postseason, going undefeated after a brutal road loss to Stanford back in January. They’re the No. 1 overall seed which explains their slight edge with Vegas, but a number of pundits are actually favoring Notre Dame to go back to back. Of the top tier NCAAW teams this season — of which there are at least six, depending on who you ask — Baylor is the strongest on defense, leading the nation in defensive rebounds and blocks thanks to 6’7” Kalani Brown and 6’4” Lauren Cox. If you believe defense wins championships, Baylor is an easy bet. Sleeper: Mississippi State The Bulldogs have been tantalizingly close to a title for two years in a row now, and it seems unlikely that coach Vic Schaefer is going to let another deep run evade his grasp while he can still count on star senior center Teaira McCowan. Mississippi State just won their first SEC title by playing some of the best basketball of their season, showing that they’re truly able to score from every part of the court — not just when they funnel the ball to McCowan, who shoots 65.5% from the floor. According to Her Hoop Stats, they’re the no. 2 offense and no. 3 defense in the country, which would seem like a pretty potent combination. 2019 NCAA women’s basketball title odds Baylor: 9/5Notre Dame: 2/1UConn: 7/2Mississippi State: 10/1Oregon: 14/1Louisville: 18/1Stanford: 30/1Iowa: 100/1Maryland: 100/1Field (all others): 100/1
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It’s carnage for the top seeds in our 2019 Beer Bracket
Let’s crown the 2019 NCAA tournament champion based on their local beer. You can fill out your 2019 NCAA tournament bracket based on several different factors. Sure, weighing each team based on their basketball talent is one way. Or maybe you’d prefer to pick teams based on which mascot would win in a fight. But as a person who enjoys beer — and who found it a great comfort as his alma mater, Vanderbilt University, took the highest-rated recruiting class in program history and spun it into an 0-19 SEC record — my preferred nonsense bracket lies somewhere in the intersection of water, grain, hops, and yeast. So in order to crown this year’s champion, we’ll be breaking down every single matchup in this year’s tournament by each school’s local brewery. How will we do it? Well, since I unfortunately haven’t been to the vast majority of the grain transmogrifiers across the country, I’ve gotta call in some backup. Every university will be represented by the highest-rated brewery in their home towns (with a minimum of 10 ratings if there’s more than one local brewery), as judged by the users at Beer Advocate. If there’s more than one school in a given city, the top seed with get the top-rated brewery and the lower seeded school will get the second-best beerseller. If the college doesn’t have a brewery within its city limits, it’ll get assigned the closest one. With our breweries in order, matchups will be determined by a lineup of a company’s highest-rated beers — with a minimum of 20 reviews each — ensuring 2019’s winner is the brewer with the most complete lineup of brews and not just a one-hit wonder. Teams will use their top-ranked beer in their first round, next best in round two, and so on and so forth. In some cases, breweries without enough rated beers were swapped out with other, more-often-rated breweries just to keep things as balanced as possible. Some cities only had one brewery with few reviews, so I used Untappd as a supplement when necessary (while scaling some of these scores back to the mean since Untappd typically has higher average ratings). Don’t agree with the choice of brewery/beer for your favored school? Take it up with the jamokes writing reviews over at Beer Advocate, who currently rate the top brewery in my current home of Madison, Wisconsin as Delta Beer Labs — a parody of what would happen if a brewery pandered to its local audience so pretentiously that it disappeared up its own asshole. (They did not have enough reviews to usurp the far, far superior Karben4 as the official unofficial beer of the University of Wisconsin) Also, breweries don’t necessarily (or often) represent their college towns. Northeastern gets repped here by Trillium, home of the $55 growler. For one month of graduate student pay you could buy a couple four-packs there. Here’s how the 2019 beer bracket shakes out. Keep in mind the folks at Beer Advocate really, really seem to like super hoppy hazy IPAs and anything that’s been stored in a bourbon barrel for a few weeks. And get ready for some numblingly stupid names for mediocre beers. First Four (16) Lone Pint Brewing (Prairie View) over (16) Alementary Brewing (Fairleigh Dickinson) Lone Pint, in somewhat nearby Magnolia and assuredly not a ripoff of Lone Star Brewing, wins with its Yellow Rose IPA (4.41 score) over Alementary’s poorly-reviewed lineup in Hackensack (11) Southern Grist Brewing (Belmont) over (11) Yards Brewing (Temple) Southern Grist’s DDH Noise Pollution (4.29) out-duels Yards’ General Washington’s Tavern Porter (Barrel Aged) (4.08) in our first appearance from a beer that needed to be stored in the casks of another, stronger drink in order to be made good. (16) Drekker Brewing (North Dakota State) over (16) Ponysaurus Brewing (NC Central) NC Central got hosed when Duke took Fullstream Brewing, leaving the smaller school with the not especially liked Export Lager at Ponysaurus (3.91). Drekker’s Freak Parade double IPA (4.29) wins easily. (11) Finback Brewery (St. John’s) over (11) Four Peaks Brewing (Arizona State) St. John’s proximity to good New England IPAs and review-loving beer hipsters gives the Red Storm the juice to go far in this bracket. Finback Brewery’s Between the Dead (4.44) is one of the top-rated beverages in this year’s lineup, dispatching Four Peaks’ Sirius Black (4.11) First round (10) Surly Brewing (Minnesota) over (7) Against the Grain Brewery (Louisville) Surly is great, and their Abrasive Ale (4.5) is enough to make a hard-luck loser out of Against the Grain’s 70K (4.32) (3) Tin Roof Brewing (LSU) over (14) City Steam Brewing (Yale) Baton Rouge’s highest-regarded brewery juuuuust barely sneaks by Hartford’s thanks to Smiling Ivan’s 4.03 score — .02 better than City Steam’s Careless Love biere de garde (4.01). (5) Red Clay Brewing (Auburn) over (12) High Desert Brewing (New Mexico St.) Auburn didn’t have a local brewery, so we had to turn to Opelika’s Red Clay Brewing Co. They’re so well liked their best reviewed popular beer (via Untappd, because they didn’t have much traction on BA) is a cider. Not a very good one, either — Murdercreek only scored a 3.96 despite its delightful name. That’s still better than High Desert’s poorly received Anniversary IPA (3.78). If this were a college basketball game, it would be a 44-38 Big Ten tournament rock fight. (13) Foam Brewers (Vermont) over (4) Proof Brewing (Florida St.) Foam Brewers is the Catamounts, and Built to Spill IPA (4.41) is T.J. Sorrentine. Poor Proof Brewing’s Creatures in the Dark (4.09) never had a chance. (2) Ellison Brewery & Spirits (Michigan St.) over (15) Bearded Owl Brewery (Bradley) Bearded Owl gives us the first beer name of the tournament you’d be embarrassed to order out loud with It’s Not Me, It’s You (4.00). It’s mercifully dispatched by Ellison’s DDH Citra Evolution (4.28) (11) Southern Grist (Belmont) over (6) Denizens Brewing (Maryland) Southern Grist’s second beer of the tournament, [Insert Juicy Pun] (4.29) ran Denizens’ Big Red Norm (3.88) off the court and left me wishing I could have just picked Natural Light for the Terrapins. (13) Trillium Brewing (Northeastern) over (4) Free State Brewing (Kansas) Remember what I said before about Trillium. Beer. Snobs. Can’t. Get. Enough. Of. Their. $14. Beers. Free State’s Old Backus Barleywine (4.21) got merked by Trillium’s Headroom (4.61). I’m not even looking at the description but I’m gonna assume its some kind of double-dry, hopped triple-IPA made solely in response to Old Milwaukee’s old “bitter beer face” ads. (5) Lakefront Brewery (Marquette) over (12) Perrylodgic Brewing (Murray St.) Perrylodgic is 25 miles from Murray State’s campus. It’s not a beer town. Milwaukee has about six local breweries within walking distance of Marquette (some are long walks), and wins pretty much by default with Lakefront’s Black Friday Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout (4.33) (10) Swamp Head Brewery (Florida) over (7) Brasserie Saint James (Nevada) Nevada swoops in with the fanciest-named local brewery, then swoops right back out with 1904 (4.06) can’t compete with Swamp Head’s, ugh, Saison du Swamp (4.19). (2) Country Boy Brewing (Kentucky) over (15) Pappy Slokum Brewing (Abilene Christian) Country Boy’s Infinite Sadness black ale (4.31) sweeps Stripper Dust (3.86) right the hell out of the bracket. (6) Conshohocken Brewing (Villanova) over (11) Federation Brewing (Saint Mary’s) The delightfully named and near campus Tin Lizard Brewing Co. didn’t have enough reviews to make the list for Villanova, so Conshohocken, some five miles away, got the call in its place. Their Type A American IPA (3.98) juuuuuust barely squeaked (squck?) by Oakland’s (Moraga doesn’t have a brewery either) Federation and their Imperial milk stout Nap Time (3.97). (16) Lone Pint Brewing (Prairie View) over (1) Iron Goat Brewing (Gonzaga) Lone Pint’s solid reviews makes Prairie View a worth successor to UMBC’s throne. Their Zythophile Summit (4.26) smoked Spokane’s poorly reviewed Iron Goat and its Impaler Ale (3.95). No, I don’t know what a zythophile is either, and I’m not gonna look it up on my work computer. (15) Big Sky Brewing (Montana) vs. (2) Arbor Brewing (Michigan) Big Sky’s most ubiquitous offering, Moose Drool, doesn’t even show up among their top five popular beers. Instead it’s Barrel Aged Ivan the Terrible (4.25) carrying the load for an upset win over Michigan and its Arbor Brewing Sodibo Barrel Aged Blond Ale (Sour Series) (4.01) (7) RJ Rockers Brewery (Wofford) over (10) Gaslight Brewery and Restaurant (Seton Hall) RJ Rockers has great reviews on Untappd and relatively poor ones on Beer Advocate, but a fairly low 3.88 rating for Star Spangled Stout was still enough to knock out South Orange’s Gaslight and its 3.78-rated Bourbon Barrel Quad. (3) Brokerage Brewing (Purdue) over (14) Smartmouth Brewing (Old Dominion) Daggers Bearing Notes sure is a name for a beer. At a 4.05 rating, it’s better than Smartmouth’s Notch 9 (3.97) (8) Middle Ages Brewing (Syracuse) over (9) Brotherwell Brewing (Baylor) Waco was another city where it was difficult to find a qualifying brewery. Brotherwell came closest, but their Percy Porter (3.77) couldn’t stand up against Middle Ages’ 10th Anniversary Double IPA (4.08). (10) Big Grove Brewing (Iowa) vs. (7) MadTree Brewing (Cincinnati) Cincinnati had a surplus of breweries to choose from, with MadTree clocking the most positive reviews on BA. It still wasn’t a match for the pride of Iowa City, Big Grove Brewing. Their Richard the Whale Macaroon is a combination of words that don’t go together in any meaningful way but manages to be the name of a pretty good beer, scoring a 4.45 to MadTree’s Axis Mundi - Coffee And Vanilla - Barrel-Aged (4.32). (9) 405 Brewing (Oklahoma) over (8) Yalobusha Brewing (Mississippi) According to Google, the closest brewery to Ole Miss is Yalobusha, which is more than 30 miles away. How is that possible I don’t even... (14) Braxton Brewing (Northern Kentucky) over (3) The Plains Brewing (Texas Tech) Lubbock only had one brewery crop up on BeerAdvocate, and since it was a lightly-reviewed chophouse I swapped in The Plains Brewing Co., which is in Lubbock but only shows up in reviews on Untappd. They aren’t great, either, with their Plains IPA scoring a 3.96. Braxton’s creatively named Braxton Labs NE IPA 001 (4.23) wins this one easily (13) Backstreet Brewing (UC Irvine) over (4) Tallgrass Brewing (Kansas St.) I thought Tallgrass was a respected rising brewery from the Great Plains. I was apparently not in the majority. Buffalo Sweat (3.88) turned out to be one of the lowest-rated lead beers in the bracket, even if always tasted pretty good to me. Backstreet’s Murder By Death Bourbon Barrel Aged moves on with a 4.03 score. (15) Good Nature Farm Brewery & Tap Room (Colgate) over (2) Downtown Grill and Brewery (Tennessee) Behold, possibly the worst-rated brewery in the bracket — the Downtown Grill and Brewery. Beer Advocate does not care for Knoxville, so at least it’s got that going for it. (16) New Groove Artisan Brewing (Gardner-Webb) over (1) Champion Brewing (Virginia) I’m sorry, Cavaliers. I’m so, so sorry. New Groove’s excessively-titled Missed Your Plane - Six & Twenty Barrel Aged (4.39) beats Champion’s Fruitbasket IPA (4.2) (11) Finback Brewing (St. John’s) over (6) Big Ditch Brewing (Buffalo) Finback’s second entry, BQE - Barrel Aged (4.39) is still stronger than most other teams’ top beers. It ends the Bulls’ Final Four hopes despite a solid showing from Big Ditch’s Hayburner American IPA (4.18). (12) Oakshire Brewing (Oregon) over (5) Karben4 (Wisconsin) I am devastated for my current home brewery, which didn’t stand a chance from the Eugene juggernaut and its Hellfire Double Barrel Especial (4.5). Karben4’s Idiot Farm (4.15) got eclipsed by the Ducks. For what it’s worth, I’d put their Tokyo Sauna up against anything else in the bracket. (9) Holy Mountain Brewing (Washington) over (8) Whatever 3.2% ABV Beer You’re Getting at the State Liquor Store (Utah State) Searching for Logan, Utah on BeerAdvisor only brings this up: Which checks out. The closest brewery, per Google, is Talisman. Talisman has great reviews, but I’m not rewarding the Aggies for not having a recognized brewery within 40 miles of campus. The Huskies get the Pac-12 a win here, even if it’s by default. (16) Drekker Brewing (North Dakota St.) over (1) Fullsteam Brewery (Duke) As much as I want a beer called Multiple Ectogasms (4.27) to lose, even the Blue Devils’ advantage of pulling Durham’s top brewery failed to push Fullsteam’s First Frost - Brandy Barrel Aged (4.12) into the second round. (3) St. Arnold Brewery (Houston) juuuust barely over (14) Scofflaw Brewing (Georgia State) Scofflaw and St. Arnold threw down the gauntlet in their showdown as Barrel Aged Coffee Absentium and Pumpkinator (Bourbon Barrel Aged) tied with equal 4.4 scores. Unfortunately for the Atlanta brewery, their second-best beer, Hooligan (4.18), couldn’t stand up against Houston’s Bishop’s Barrel (4.22) (12) Apocalypse Ale Works (Liberty) over (5) Sweetgum Brewing (Mississippi St) Apocalypse isn’t particularly close to Liberty, which makes sense because their beer lineup — including Lustful Maiden (3.94) — doesn’t seem like something that would be especially welcome at Jerry Falwell’s school. Fortunately the only consistently reviewed brewery in Starkville only has two beers on tap, one of which has a rating of “N/A.” The other is a 3.48. The less said about them, the better. Flames win. (16) Broken Bow Brewery (Iona) over (1) Carolina Brewery (North Carolina) Broken Bow’s Old Split-Foot (4.04) made short work of Carolina’s Oatmeal Porter (3.87) to cap a four-for-four sweep for 16 seeds over 1 seeds. I know, I know, I was hoping for the simple, non-ironic name to win one this round, too. (8) The Answer Brewpub (VCU) absolutely ruins (9) Orlando Brewing Partners (UCF) Orlando’s Ten10 Brewing didn’t have enough reviews to make the cut, so the honors fell to Orlando Brewing Partners. This was not a good trade. OBP’s top beer, Blackwater Porter, only scored a 3.72. Richmond’s Dead Thumb imperial stout (4.46) wins in the beer equivalent of the 1992 USA Basketball squad facing off against Angola. (11) Zaftig Brewing (Ohio St.) over (6) Olde Main Brewing (Iowa St.) Ames’ Olde Main Brewing Co. had significantly more reviews than Torrent or Alluvial, so it got the call to represent Iowa State. Poorly, it turns out. Olde Main only had two qualifying beers that scored higher than a 3. Columbus has no shortage of breweries, but Zaftig and its BamBaLam (4.11) gets an effective bye week to kick off the tournament. (13) Perennial Artisan Ales (Saint Louis) routs (4) Bull & Bones Brewhaus (Virginia Tech) Just 1.2 points separates Perennial’s Barrel-Aged Abraxas — the top rated beer in the bracket at 4.74 — and Bull & Bones’ not particularly enjoyed Maroon Effect Ale (3.54). If VCU-UCF was the dream team in 1992, this matchup is like the ‘96 Bulls taking on a high school team from suburban Rhode Island. Second round (8) The Answer Brewpub (VCU) over (16) Drekker Brewing (North Dakota State) Drekker’s Phantom Hand clocks in at a 4.12 — pretty strong for the company’s third-best beer, but not enough to knock off what The Answer’s 3 Scoops: Passionfruit, Mango, Peach (4.44), whiiiiiiich, upon review, may just be melted sorbet and mash liquor. (13) Perennial Artisan Ales (Saint Louis) over (12) Apocalypse Ale House (Liberty) Red Hoppocalypse Imperial Ale (3.92) is one of the weaker round-two offerings out there. Maman imperial stout (4.62) combines all the perfect factors for BA users — fancy sounding name, “imperial” style, crap-ton of booze (11.5 percent alcohol), “artisan” to check off at least four boxes on the “beer dork bingo” sheet. (11) Southern Grist Brewing (Belmont) over (3) Tin Roof Brewing (LSU) The 12-year-old Nashville brewery rolls on as DDH Mixed Greens (4.22) holds off Tin Roof’s Voodoo APA (4.03) to bring Belmont’s proxy to 3-0 for the tournament. It’s the first time anything good has happened to someone in Nashville at a place called Tin Roof in years. (10) Surly Brewing (Minnesota) over (2) Ellison Brewery and Spirits (Michigan State) Surly’s Darkness (4.48) keeps me from having to write out more nonsense titles from Ellison like their round-two entry You Can Get With That...JUICE (4.23) (8) Middle Ages Brewing (Syracuse) over (16) Lone Pint Brewing (Prairie View) Lone Pint’s drop off from its second beer to Zeno’s Pale Ale (4.03) signals the end of its Cinderella run. It falls to Middle Ages’ Blackheart Stout (4.06). (13) Foam Brewers (Vermont) over (5) Lakefront Brewery (Marquette) Foam Brewers’ college alt rock lineup chugs along from Built to Spill to Pavement New England IPA, whose 4.41 score shuffles Lakefront Brewery and the state of Wisconsin off the tournament’s moral coil. :( (11) Finback Brewery (St. John’s) over (14) Braxton Brewing (N. Kentucky) Finback keeps going strong, riding Fat Mango and its 4.38 fruit beer score to the Sweet 16 by toppling Braxton’s 4.11-rated Dead Blow Coffee Stout. (10) Swamp Head Brewery (Florida) over (15) Big Sky Brewing (Montana) Big Sky pulled out the ol’ trick play by springing a barleywine on us in round two. Specifically, Olde Bluehair Barley Wine (4.01). Swamp Head was ready though, dispatching the Montana fixture with its 10-10-10 IPA (Bourbon Barrel Aged) (4.14) (16) New Groove Artisan Brewery (Gardner-Webb) over (9) 405 Brewing (Oklahoma) New Groove’s Dichotomy sour (4.31) is one of round two’s strongest beers, even if it probably tastes a little bit like phlegm (a rich sour tradition). 405’s Freelance Whale (right.) (4.14) puts up a good fight, but ultimately comes up short for the Sooners. (12) Oakshire Brewing (Oregon) over (13) Backstreet Brewery (UC-Irvine) The Oregon hotshot blows the Backstreet boys out of the water with its Rum Brunch in Hell (4.45) the highest rated of approximately 1,000 barrel-aged beers from Oakshire. Backstreet’s Crippler (3.81) never had a chance. (3) Brokerage Brewing (Purdue) over (6) Conshohocken Brewing (Villanova) West Lafayette’s best reviewed brewery stays alive thanks to Absolute Mewnit (4.01) which despite being an extremely new money, meme-aware local beer name is at least brief. Conshohocken’s Day Without a Dawn (3.93), the bracket’s most My Chemical Romance-sounding of beers, bows out. (10) Big Grove Brewery (Iowa) over (15) Good Nature Farm Brewery (Colgate) Big Grove’s Big Ed (4.27) just squeaked by Broken Bow’s Annie imperial IPA (4.12) Colgate’s local brewery bows out without a single mint- or toothpaste-related beer on the docket, which is a tremendous disappointment for a lazy joke writer like me but also probably a good idea taste-wise. (9) Holy Mountain Brewing (Washington) over (16) Broken Bow Brewery (Iona) Holy Mountain staged a blowout when their Clarette American wild ale (4.46) totally wrecked Broken Bow’s Broken Heart Stout (3.41). (13) Trillium Brewing (Northeastern) over (5) Red Clay Brewing (Auburn) Trillium’s reign of terror claims another victim with its never-ending list of limited releases that somehow get reviewed hundreds of times in the two weeks they’re available (this time it’s Double Dry Hopped Congress Street and its 4.59 score). Are all their extremely well-received barrel-aged beers really barrel aged? Well, there’s some debate about that, though Trillium denies any impropriety on their end. (3) Saint Arnold Brewing (Houston) over (11) Zaftig Brewing (Ohio State) Saint Arnold’s high gravity Bishop’s Barrel 21 Belgian quadruple (a mere 12.5 percent alcohol and a 4.22 score) knocks Columbus out of the bracket, besting Zaftig’s Juicy Lucy (4.06). (2) Country Boy Brewing (Kentucky) over (7) RJ Rockers Brewing (Wofford) RJ Rockers’ Black Perle Dark IPA’s 3.82 score wasn’t enough to carry the Terriers through to another round. Country Boy advances with its Nate Coffee Stout (4.1) Sweet 16 (13) Perennial Artisan Ales (Saint Louis) over (8) The Answer Brewpub (VCU) The Answer brought out its Mounds Vesuvius (4.39), which sounds like either a discount strip club or candy store — neither of which you’d want to visit. Beer Advocate assures me it’s an imperial stout. 4.39 is a great score, but not enough to take down Perennial’s Apricot Funky Wit (4.55). (10) Surly Brewing (Minnesota) over (11) Southern Grist Brewing (Belmont) Nashville’s own Process Control (4.16) is no match for Surly’s widely distributed — and pretty good — Todd the Axe Man (4.46) (13) Foam Brewers (Vermont) over (8) Middle Ages Brewing (Syracuse) Foam’s list of alt rock beers comes to an end, but their high ratings do not as Galaxie 500 rolls in with a 4.39 to sweep Middle Ages’ Dragonslayer (4.04) out of the competition. (11) Finback Brewery (St. John’s) (10) Swamp Head Brewery (Florida) Finback’s NYC bonafides continue with Heinous imperial stout (4.37). That’s a good enough score to oust Swamp Head and its Tropical Disturbance (4.12) (16) New Groove Artisan Brewing (Gardner-Webb) over (12) Oakshire Brewing (Oregon) You know what Kurt Cobain would have loved? One of his song titles being used to sell upscale beers to thriving young adults in a college town. Oregon’s Heart Shaped Box (4.09) loses to Bluesberry Porter (4.25) (10) Big Grove Brewing (Iowa) over (3) Brokerage Brewing (Purdue) Big Grove’s Jean Luc Richard (4.24) prevents me from writing out more of Brokerage’s terrible beer names by defeating ... Lemur Juice (3.98) (13) Trillium Brewing (Northeastern) over (9) Holy Mountain Brewing (Washington) Trillium’s gauntlet of limited-edition beers continues with Permutation Series #57: Imperial Stout w/ Coconut & Vanilla (4.59), which knocks out Holy Mountain’s MIsere Au Borinage (4.41) in a heavyweight battle. (3) Saint Arnold Brewing (Houston) over (2) Country Boy Brewing (Kentucky) SA’s Endeavor IPA (4.15) beats, thank God, Country Boy’s Sexual Dracula (4.07). Elite Eight Only one seed in the single digits remains. This probably isn’t a great way to pick your bracket. (13) Perennial Artisan Ales (Saint Louis) over (10) Surly Brewing (Minnesota) The Billikens squeak into the final four when Perennial’s Television (4.33) just barely out-reviews Surly’s Pentagram Aged (4.31) (11) Finback Brewing (St. John’s) over (13) Foam Brewers (Vermont) Finback’s Orange Crush (4.37) is enough to push New York’s brewing scene into the Final Four, ousting Foam’s Television and its otherwise excellent 4.33 score. (16) New Groove Artisan Brewing (Gardner-Webb) over (10) Big Grove Brewery (Iowa) The pride of Boiling Springs, South Carolina, moves on to the Final Four with REMIX: Chocolate (4.22), defeating Big Grove’s Color TV (4.14) (13) Trillium Brewing (Northeastern) over (3) Saint Arnold Brewing (Houston) The last top(ish) seed falls when Saint Arnold’s Art Car IPA (3.99) can’t hold a candle to Trillium’s Double Dry Hopped Fort Point Pale Ale (4.58). Final Four An 11-seed, two 13s, and a 16. Just as God intended. (13) Perennial Artisan Ales (Saint Louis) over (11) Finback Brewing (St. John’s) Perennial’s Barrel Aged Vermilion Barleywine (4.49) still qualifies as beer, apparently. Apologies to Finback, whose Orange Crush (4.37) falls to the discard pile. (13) Trillium Brewing (Northeastern) over (16) New Groove Artisan Brewing (Gardner-Webb) Trillium’s ‘92 Dream Team run continues as its Trillium / Monkish - Insert Hip Hop Reference There (sigh) and its 4.58 score pushes the little Carolina brewery that could and its Double Time w/ Galaxy and Citra (4.2) out of the bracket. Yes, collaborations count. ... I guess. Beer Bracket Championship (13) Trillium Brewing (Northeastern) over (13) Perennial Artisan Ales (Saint Louis) Trillium’s massive amount of high-rated beers pushes the Boston juggernaut into the spotlight once more as our beer bracket champion. The brewery’s Coconut PM Dawn (4.57) beat out Perennial’s Sump Coffee Stout (4.43) for the title, proving that leaning hard into barrel-aged, dry-hopped, and weirdly-named beers is the best way to appease the kind of drinker that catalogues all her/his beverages immediately after drinking them. Congrats to the Huskies, and the nearby brewery none of their students have ever used for beer pong. You stand alone at the intersection of elite college basketball and elite suds.
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It’s easy to like what Billy Napier’s building at UL Lafayette
The former Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban assistant won a division title and then signed one of the best Sun Belt signing classes ever. What does he do for an encore? Bill C’s annual preview series of every FBS team in college football continues. Catch up here! Well damn, Billy, you’re not messing around. After a bumpy first few months on the job, UL Lafayette head coach Billy Napier has unleashed hell since the start of October 2018. On the field, he engineered a run of six wins in eight games, which resulted in his Ragin’ Cajuns both winning the first Sun Belt West division title and raising their S&P+ ranking nearly 25 spots (from 118th to 94th). They faltered early, both in the conference title game against Appalachian State (they were down 17-6 before making things interesting) and in the Cure Bowl against Tulane (they were down 24-7 20 minutes in, then rallied), and finished 7-7. But the start-to-finish improvement was obvious. Off the field, Napier signed one of the best classes in Sun Belt history. According to the 247Sports Composite, UL’s 2019 recruiting haul ranked 76th overall, ahead of USF’s, Cincinnati’s, BYU’s, FIU’s, and that of a lot of other schools that shouldn’t be finishing behind a Sun Belt school. This class ran away from the rest of the 2019 Sun Belt’s. We’ve heard enough through the years about the high school talent in Louisiana that it’s always confusing that an ambitious Louisiana school isn’t collecting more of it. Well, now the Cajuns are collecting it. Napier signed mid-three-star talent from Kentwood (defensive end Kendall Wilkerson), Thibodaux (receiver Brandon Legendre), Baton Rouge (linebacker Tyler Guidry), Metairie (quarterback Chandler Fields), Monroe (offensive lineman Logan Newell), Mandeville (receiver Jacob Bernard), New Orleans (defensive back Jaden Henderson), Greensburg (offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence), Kaplan (defensive tackle Quintlan Cobb), and more. He raided every corner of Louisiana in exactly the way you would want a head coach of Louisiana-Lafayette to do, and he did so after at least somewhat proving his bona fides on the field, too. Now all he’s got to do is keep it up. Eventually, predecessor Mark Hudspeth couldn’t. Hudspeth exploded out of the gates, taking over at UL in 2011 and igniting a run of four consecutive nine-win seasons. The Cajuns mostly ranked in the 90s in S&P+ but twice achieved much greater, ranking 64th in 2012 and 65th in 2014 and confirming every bit of potential this program seemed to possess. But keeping the roster stocked grew more and more challenging, and he went just 15-22 in his last three seasons. The Cajuns fell to 118th in 2017 and elected to start over with Napier. For one year, at least, Napier has lived up to a résumé that appears lab-created for success. He was Dabo Swinney’s first offensive coordinator at Clemson in 2009-10, went to Nick Saban’s Alabama for a year, followed Bama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain to Colorado State for a season, then spent four more in Tuscaloosa. He took over Arizona State’s offense in 2017 and improved it from 48th to 35th in Off. S&P+. Napier has Swinney and Saban experience, he has experience in the South, and he’s still not yet 40 years old. (He’ll hit that milestone in July.) It sure seemed like he was ready for a head coaching job, and he’s thus far made the most of the opportunity he’s gotten. Mind you, Hudspeth didn’t leave a bare cupboard. Napier inherited a team with a high level of returning production and eventually took advantage. The transition from an experienced core of talent to your own star recruits is trickier than it sounds — just ask UTSA’s Frank Wilson, who also overachieved in his first season, signed some great recruits, and stumbled. We’ll find out a lot more about UL’s prospects over the next two years. In 2019, the Cajuns must find a new starting quarterback, then hit the road to face Mississippi State (in New Orleans), Ohio, and, in conference play, Arkansas State and Georgia Southern. They do get Troy and App State at home, but S&P+ projects them as a favorite in only six games overall. They could improve and struggle to top last season’s seven wins. Then, in 2020, they will replace a potentially enormous batch of senior starters. At that point, the program will officially change from Transition Stage to All Napier. I would bet that this is all going to work out well for Napier, but hurdles remain. Offense Napier brought Rob Sale, former offensive line coach at Georgia and Arizona State (and ULM!), to Lafayette to serve as his offensive coordinator, and the relationship has worked pretty well so far. UL combined an efficient and explosive run game with a passing game that was a bit all-or-nothing and ended up improving from 75th to 53rd in Off. S&P+. You could almost make the case that they achieved this improvement despite the quarterback. That’s perhaps a bit harsh, but even though Andre Nunez completed 63 percent of his passes, a lot of that came from a really nice screen game. He took too many sacks (7.1 percent sack rate) and didn’t offset that with enough rushing success, averaging just 3.5 yards per non-sack carry with a 32 percent success rate. (QBs should be well into the 40s.) Nunez faltered when pressured, and there’s absolutely no guaranteeing that Levi Lewis or whoever succeeds him — JUCO transfer Jai’ave Magalei? one of two three-star freshmen (Chandler Fields or Clifton McDowell)? — will fare any better. In limited opportunities, in fact, Lewis was a bit more explosive as a passer but just as sack-prone and inefficient on the ground. But at the least, the Cajuns might be able to avoid a drop-off at the position. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports Trey Ragas That screen game really was effective. Running backs Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell combined to catch 45 of 55 passes for 578 yards and five touchdowns, and Z-receiver Ryheem Malone was one of the most dangerous screen receivers in the country. Granted, this typically requires either deception or sturdy blocking on the outside, which means that it became a bit of an all-or-nothing tactic for UL — it’s likely part of the reason they were abnormally effective against bad defenses (46 points per game in wins) and pretty much locked down against good ones (18 points per game in losses). But hey, in the Sun Belt, you’re going to face plenty of bad defenses. The screen game didn’t keep UL quarterbacks from succumbing to pass rushes, but it did spread defenses out for run success. Ragas, Mitchell, and Raymond Calais combined for 2,912 rushing yards (208 per game, 6.7 per carry); all three are scheduled to return this fall, and they could be joined by Arizona State transfer Nick Ralston as well. Ralston played both RB and LB for the Sun Devils; we’ll see where he ends up in Lafayette. You know what’s better than having a backfield of experienced and explosive running backs? Having an absurdly experienced line blocking for them. All five starting linemen are back, including first-team all-conference guard Kevin Dotson and second-team all-conference tackle Robert Hunt. All five are seniors, and they’ve combined for 129 career starts. Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports Ja’Marcus Bradley The run game will still be dynamite, but it’ll be hard to improve all that much with such a high bar. Further offensive improvement will depend on a more consistent passing game, then. Malone’s gone, which hurts the horizontal passing game — you figure either three-star JUCO Brian Smith Jr. or Jamal Bell, last year’s backup, will get the first shots at replacing him. But if the new starting QB can handle pressure a bit better (or if the line can prevent it a bit better), there are a couple of terrifying downfield threats available. Ja’Marcus Bradley and slot receiver Jarrod “Bam” Jackson combined for 59 catches, a 66 percent catch rate, 17.2 yards per catch, and 15 touchdowns last year. If you couldn’t get pressure on the passer last year, you were potentially getting burned deep. This offense has all the seasoned weapons it needs to destroy Sun Belt defenses. It just needs a signal caller that can avoid negative plays a bit better. Defense Considering the depths to which it fell in 2017, the UL defense pulled off a decent bounce-back job last fall. I mean, it was still a bad defense — 116th in Def. S&P+ with no redeeming characteristics beyond decent big-play prevention on passing downs — but the Cajuns were 129th in 2017. 116th is clear improvement. Defensive coordinator Ron Roberts also returns most of last year’s playmakers, too. The top four havoc leaders are back — end Bennie Higgins, linebackers Jacques Boudreaux and Chauncey Manac, and cornerback Michael Jacquet III — and it appears linebacker Joe Dillon, maybe the team’s best pass rusher in 2017, is back after missing a year with injury, too. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Deuce Wallace (25) and Jacques Boudreaux (59) The Cajuns showed steady defensive growth throughout the season, which is certainly what you hope to see. First 4 games — Points per game: 39.8 | Yards per play: 7.4 | Avg. percentile performance: 26 percent Next 5 games — Points per game: 32.2 | Yards per play: 6.1 | Avg. percentile performance: 38 percent Last 5 games — Points per game: 31.8 | Yards per play: 5.6 | Avg. percentile performance: 52 percent The improvement came mostly in the back. After allowing a 64 percent completion rate and 159.4 passer rating through nine games, the Cajuns winnowed that to 58 percent and 133.3, with half of the season’s eight interceptions, in the last five. Jacquet’s return is a boon, as is that of safeties Deuce Wallace (God, the names on this defense are just wonderful) and Terik Miller. But three of the top six tacklers are gone — the front seven has much greater continuity — and for sustained improvement, sophomores like corner Eric Garror and nickel Ja’len Johnson will likely have to raise their respective games. Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images Michael Jacquet III The pass rush was decent, but the Cajuns could stand to find a couple more disruptors against the run. They ranked just 123rd in stuff rate (run stops at or behind the line), with Manac (13) and Higgins (11) the only players to crack double digits. Napier did sign JUCO tackle Ja-Quane Nelson, but otherwise he appears satisfied to let natural development and maturation drive improvement. Special Teams Tight wins over Arkansas State and ULM keyed the division title run, and in both games, UL derived a special teams advantage. That wasn’t a coincidence. The Cajuns finished 15th in Special Teams S&P+, keyed by great place-kicking from Kyle Pfau, solid punting from freshman Rhys Burns, and dynamic kick returns from Raymond Calais and Ja’Marcus Bradley. Everybody’s back but Pfau, but there’s consolation in the fact that Stevie Artigue, UL’s 2017 kicker (who went 3-for-5 on FGs longer than 40 yards), is back. This should be a strong unit once more. 2019 outlook 2019 Schedule & Projection Factors Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability 31-Aug vs. Mississippi State 10 -28.6 5% 7-Sep Liberty 112 9.1 70% 14-Sep Texas Southern NR 38.6 99% 21-Sep at Ohio 82 -7.8 33% 28-Sep at Georgia Southern 81 -8.2 32% 9-Oct Appalachian State 31 -15.1 19% 17-Oct at Arkansas State 70 -10.7 27% 2-Nov Texas State 102 4.1 59% 7-Nov at Coastal Carolina 116 5.9 63% 16-Nov at South Alabama 127 11.1 74% 23-Nov Troy 69 -6.1 36% 30-Nov UL-Monroe 103 4.2 60% Projected S&P+ Rk 99 Proj. Off. / Def. Rk 56 / 114 Projected wins 5.8 Five-Year S&P+ Rk -7.3 (93) 2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 82 2018 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -2 / -2.1 2018 TO Luck/Game +0.0 Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 65% (63%, 66%) 2018 Second-order wins (difference) 7.0 (0.0) It’s easy for me to get ahead of myself when talking about Louisiana-Lafayette. The Cajuns improved demonstrably as 2018 progressed, then went out and signed an insane recruiting class. Combine that with Napier’s pedigree, and you can pretty easily see a program ready to explode. There are most certainly still hurdles, though. The schedule is going to limit the Cajuns’ 2019 upside, and there will be an exodus of Hudspeth seniors at the end of the season, making 2020 a little bit scary from a youth perspective. Still ... upside, upside, upside. UL is going to have a lot of it in the coming years. The saga of both Hudspeth and Wilson remind us that neither success nor sustained success is guaranteed, but I’m going to give Napier the benefit of the doubt here. Team preview stats All 2019 preview data to date.
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Renell Wren’s secret weapon to becoming an NFL pass rusher: YouTube
Wren could end up being a major draft steal if the right team can unlock his potential. Not every single draft prospect comes ready to be an instant-impact player in the NFL. Some need a little time to grow once they get into the league. Arizona State defensive tackle Renell Wren falls into that category. Wren has ALL the athleticism and attributes that teams covet when looking for defensive line prospects. At 6’5 and 318 pounds, Wren absolutely dominated the NFL Combine as one of the top performers of the weekend. He was hovering around the 70th percentile in just about every workout outside of the three-cone drill. Wren wasn’t always able to turn that athletic ability into on-field production during his time at Arizona State, however. In 29 games, Wren was only able to nab three sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. Just to compare, fellow NFL prospect Ed Oliver matched those numbers in his final season at Houston — in only eight games. This year’s draft is loaded with elite defensive linemen, but not every team can afford to use a premium pick on one. Wren, who will probably end up going in the middle rounds of the draft, could be a fantastic consolation prize for one team. But Wren has a lot of work to do to become the dominant player his physical traits say he should be, and he knows it. SB Nation was able to catch up with Wren at the NFL Combine to talk about what he’s trying to improve and how he’s going about it. Wren was clearly the best athlete on the field for Arizona State, but there’s room for development. The talent Wren has is wildly apparent on tape. Watch him bull rush the center like he’s just a sled on the practice field. While the burst is extremely impressive, Wren didn’t really attempt to disengage from the center and bring down the quarterback. That struggle to disengage showed up on his reps against the run as well. Here’s another clip from Arizona State’s game against UTSA. Wren blows up the offensive line again, but isn’t able to get away from the blocker for a tackle in the backfield. Wren is trying to get ready for the NFL by ... watching YouTube. Wren knows that he has the ability to be a much more impactful player than he is now. One resource that he’s been using to try and get better? YouTube. “I’ve really been looking at Chris Jones from the Chiefs and Fletcher Cox from the Eagles,” Wren said with a smile. “Just going on YouTube and looking at their pass-rush moves and getting in that extra work outside. I’m just doing the things that people aren’t seeing. “I’ve been seeing them do in-and-outs. I’ve been seeing them do clubs, rips. Simple things, but seeing them at the snap of the ball attacking.” Cox’s club move is a great move to study — at its peak, it can knock over even the biggest offensive linemen the NFL has to offer. Wren also knows that his tactic of just bulldozing straight through offensive linemen likely won’t work in the NFL — a bit of nuance and finesse needs to be applied to his game to really unlock his full potential. “I’m trying to work on taking on the shoulder [of the offensive lineman] instead of going straight down his chest. Just being able to prove that and show people that I can do more than just overpowering.” Taking on the shoulder of the offensive line is what’s known as the “half-man” relationship. The science isn’t exact, but a lot of coaches will explain it as cutting the weight of the offensive lineman in half by just taking on one side of them. If you’re battling against a 300-pound offensive lineman it makes sense, in theory, to take on 150 pounds of that player. Right now, a lot of Wren’s clips are him just trying to run over people. The big thing that Wren has going in his favor is that he’s just a much better athlete than other players at his position. If he can find the right coach and team to harness his potential, Wren could turn out to be the steal of the 2019 NFL Draft.
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Don’t make Tate Martell’s NCAA waiver a bigger deal than it is
Martell’s path to immediate eligibility at Miami might not be replicable, for reasons unique to him and not. If you’ve paid attention to the transfer debate around quarterback Tate Martell, what happened on Tuesday was a surprise. Just based on the rulebook, there was no good reason to think that Martell would be granted immediate eligibility after transferring to Miami from Ohio State. The vast majority of college athlete transfers have to sit a year of competition under NCAA rules, unless they meet one of a few specific exceptions. It made sense in that context that Martell would sit at The U for a year and potentially start in 2020, because he wouldn’t get a waiver for 2019. But then he did. The reason goes back to April 2018, when the NCAA’s Division I Council — made up of 40 athletic administrators from across the country, including Miami AD Blake James — approved a change in the way eligibility waivers are granted for non-grad transfers. Martell’s lawyer was able to use the recent change to his client’s advantage. The immediate eligibility waiver Martell got wasn’t automatic. He had to appeal for it just like any other player, but a player will get it granted more often than not. Only a small fraction of college football players transfer (there is no transfer epidemic, and the rate has remained static over time) and even fewer look for the waiver option to get immediate eligibility, per the NCAA’s own research of waivers granted through February 2019: But these updates to the waiver criteria helped Martell a lot. If a player’s transfer meets these criteria are met, a waiver’s much more likely to be approved: -The transfer is due to documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete’s control and directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete -At the time of transfer to the certifying institution, the student-athlete would have been athletically and academically eligible and in good standing on the team had he or she remained at the previous institution; -The certifying institution must certify that the student-athlete meets percentage-of degree requirements -The previous institution’s athletics administration does not oppose the transfer. The simplest, biggest thing working in Martell’s favor was that Ohio State didn’t put up a fight. Sources told The Miami Herald that, contrary to what Leach initially said, Ohio State’s coaching change from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day wasn’t actually much of a factor in the waiver decision. In a statement announcing the approval of the waiver, James thanked Ohio State “for their assistance and support throughout the waiver process,” and Leach told The Athletic, “There was no opposition [from Ohio State] and I think that was a big factor.” Sources to the Herald backed that up by essentially saying that Ohio State made no attempt to bring Martell back once he expressed his intent to transfer. Martell’s camp used that as leverage. Does the NCAA or Ohio State want to risk potentially getting sued for a quarterback the Buckeyes didn’t even try to keep? They’ve got bigger issues with their slowly mounting pile of legal losses related to amateurism. But the vagueness of one of the NCAA’s other waiver criteria — the one about the “health, safety and well-being” of the player — seemed to help, too. The vagueness of that point above was something that Martell’s lawyer, Travis Leach, used to his advantage in the waiver process. Travis Leach, an attorney assisting in the waiver campaign for Tate Martell, who is transferring from Ohio State to Miami, thinks that if an athlete feels negatively affected by his original school, “it should really be the burden of someone else to disprove that.” It wasn’t within Martell’s control that Ohio State picked up Fields. And who’s the NCAA to tell Martell that his well-being wasn’t affected by that move? So, is this the start of “college football free agency” or not? We’ll see, but Martell’s case likely doesn’t say a lot either way. It’s the offseason, so it’s time to break out the red herring that is free agency. High-profile transfers like Martell and Fields skew public sentiment to believe that transfers, and these waivers, are more prevalent than they really are. Coaches, who are afraid of increased player mobility, often conflate transferring with quitting. In their minds, someone making a business decision is soft when they do it at 20 years old, but somehow not when they’re 45 and offered more money for a different coaching job. The way Martell got his waiver may not be replicable, because it counts on two big things, one of them being that both schools apparently acted in good faith. Ohio State and Miami aren’t in the same conference, so the Buckeyes didn’t have much incentive to stand in Martell and Miami’s way — though that didn’t stopped other schools from blocking transfers before the transfer portal came about. The Buckeyes also were aware that they weren’t just dealing with a young man and his family here. Martell was lawyered up. Not every athlete has the means to get a lawyer, but it’s smart if they can. Martell’s not nearly the first. Athletes should take advantage while they can, because the NCAA could change the whole equation soon. The NCAA seems positioned to close this mini-loophole around “well-being” by amending the vague part of the waiver process soon. In February, the NCAA’s Committee for Legislative Relief announced that they’ll be taking a look at the transfer waiver guidelines and want to have changes implemented before the start of the 2019-20 academic year. The committee is “reviewing current transfer waiver guidelines to make sure they are in line with the membership’s expectations. We do believe attention on a small number of high-profile requests can skew perceptions of the scope of staff and committee review,” its chairwoman said. If the NCAA makes a change, it may be more difficult for players like Martell to get immediate transfers in the future.
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Warriors heavy favorites hosting Pacers on Thursday NBA odds
The Golden State Warriors hope to hold on to the top spot in the West with a win over Indiana as double-digit betting favorites at sportsbooks on Thursday. The Golden State Warriors are 7-3 straight up and 6-4 against the spread in their last 10 games against the Indiana Pacers. The Warriors will try to pick up another win over the Pacers on Thursday night at home. Golden State is an 11-point favorite on the NBA odds in Oakland at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. In their last four games as a double-digit favorite against the Pacers, the Warriors are 4-0 SU and 3-1 ATS. Indiana Pacers at Golden State Warriors When: Thursday, March 21, 10:30 p.m. ET Where: Oracle Arena, Oakland, California Betting Line / Total: Golden State -11 / 220.5 Points Pacers at Warriors OddsShark Matchup Report Golden State Warriors Notes The Warriors went into their recent four-game road trip playing some mediocre basketball with a 4-6 SU and 2-8 ATS record over their previous 10 games. But with Kevin Durant out, the rest of the team stepped up in back-to-back upset wins over Houston and Oklahoma City, sparking a 3-1 SU and ATS road trip. Durant returned in the third game of that road trip and will look to help the Warriors hold on to their 0.5-game lead over the Denver Nuggets for the top spot in the Western Conference down the stretch. Through the first 34 home games of the regular season, the Warriors have not been their usual dominant selves with a 24-10 SU and 12-21-1 ATS record per the OddsShark NBA Database. Indiana Pacers Notes The Pacers are slumping at the wrong time of the year with a 2-5 SU and ATS record over their last seven games including a current stretch of three straight losses. Indiana has fallen three games behind Philadelphia for the third seed in the Eastern Conference and is in jeopardy of being caught by the Boston Celtics for the fourth seed. Holding on to that No. 4 spot and the home court in the first round that comes with it would be huge for the Pacers, who are just 17-19 SU and 14-21-1 ATS on the road this season. Pacers at Warriors Betting Total Thursday night’s total is set at 220.5 points at online betting sites. The UNDER is 9-0 in Golden State’s last nine games. The stakes are high for both the Pacers and the Warriors as they look to hold on to their current spots in the standings. Golden State gets five of its next seven games at home including a showdown with Denver on April 2. For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.
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Tip off your March Madness excitement with Nike’s 40 percent off sale
Save big time on the Swoosh’s clearance items from now until March. 26. For basketball lovers, there’s no time of year quite like March Madness. With 32 games over the first two full days of the NCAA Tournaments, we’re treated to major upsets, wild finishes, and amazing performances that will save or destroy our brackets. With the madness getting underway this week, Nike is also coming in hot with a big sale that will make fans of the Swoosh very happy. There’s currently an up to 40 percent off sale running on Nike.com Yep, you heard that right! Just as your bracket is about to get busted (just kidding!), Nike is jumping in with a sale that runs through March 26. There’s no promo code necessary, so head over to Nike’s clearance section to check out the huge selection of shoes, merch, and apparel that’s discounted as part of the promo. If you’re not sure what to check out, here’s a quick rundown of what we’ve seen so far that will help get you started. Details: Free two-day shipping for Nike+ members. Prices below do not include the shipping fee. Kyrie 4 Team Basketball Shoe for $95.97 (usually $120) PG 2.5 Basketball Shoe for $92.97 (usually $110) Stephen Curry City Edition Swingman Jersey for $74.97 (usually $110) Nike Odyssey React Flyknit 2 Men’s Running Shoe for $89.97 (usually $120) Nike Epic React Flyknit 2 Men’s Running Shoe for $119.97 (usually $150) Nike Free RN 2018 Women’s Running Shoe for $89.97 (usually $100) Nike Metcon DSX Flyknit 2 Women’s Cross Training Shoe for $104.97 (usually $150) Nike Therma Elite Women’s Basketball Hoodie for $63.97 (usually $80) Nike Dri-Fit Men’s Pullover Hoodie for $39.97 (usually $50) Looking for more product reviews, shopping guides, and good deals on sports merchandise and apparel? Check out our new Buy Stuff section.
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March Madness live stream 2019: Times, TV channels, and how to watch Thursday online
The First Four are set, and now the real Madness begins. It’s finally here. After the First Four advanced to the full bracket, the NCAA Tournament begins in earnest on Thursday with a slew of first-round games. Broadcast duties for all of March Madness will be carried out by CBS, TBS ,TNT and truTV, with live streaming available via fuboTV, CBS All-Access, TBS, WatchTNT, truTV, and March Madness Live. Gonzaga will be the only one seed in action on Thursday, as they are set to face First Four winner Farleigh Dickinson. That game is set for 7:27 p.m. ET on truTV. There will be a pair of two seeds in action as Michigan will face No. 15 Montana, and Kentucky will take on No. 14 Abilene Christian. We also will see one of the always-intriguing eight seed vs. nine seed matchups, as No. 9 Baylor will take on No. 8 Syracuse at 9:57 p.m., also on truTV. The first game of the day will see No. 7 Louisville against No. 10 Minnesota. Below, we’re going to go over all games from Thursday and how you can watch them. All times Eastern No. 10 Minnesota vs. No. 7 LouisvilleLocation: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Ia.Time: 12:15 p.m.TV: CBSOnline Streaming: fuboTV, CBS All-Access, March Madness Live No. 14 Yale vs. No. 3 LSU Location: VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, Fla.Time: 12:40 p.m.TV: truTVOnline Streaming: fuboTV, truTV, March Madness Live No. 12 New Mexico State vs. No. 5 Auburn Location: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, UtahTime: 1:30 p.m.TV: TNTOnline Streaming: fuboTV, WatchTNT, March Madness Live No. 13 Vermont vs. No. 4 Florida State Location: XL Center, Hartford, Conn.Time: 2 p.m.TV: TBSOnline Streaming: fuboTV, TBS, March Madness Live No. 15 Bradley vs. No. 2 Michigan State Location: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Ia.Time: 2:45 p.m.TV: CBSOnline Streaming: fuboTV, CBS All-Access, March Madness Live No. 11 Belmont vs. No. 6 Maryland Location: VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, Fla.Time: 3:10 p.m.TV: truTVOnline Streaming: fuboTV, truTV, March Madness Live No. Northeastern vs. No. 4 Kansas Location: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, UtahTime: 4 p.m.TV: TNTOnline Streaming: fuboTV, WatchTNT, March Madness Live No. 12 Murray State vs. No. 5 Marquette Location: XL Center, Hartford, Conn.Time: 4:30 p.m.TV: TBSOnline Streaming: fuboTV, TBS, March Madness Live No. 10 Florida vs. No. 7 Nevada Location: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Ia.Time: 6:50 p.m.TV: TNTOnline Streaming: fuboTV, WatchTNT, March Madness Live No. 15 Abilene Christian vs. No. 2 Kentucky Location: VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, Fla.Time: 7:10 p.m. TV: CBSOnline Streaming: fuboTV, CBS All-Access, March Madness Live No. 11 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 6 Villanova Location: XL Center, Hartford, Conn.Time: 7:20 p.m.TV: TBSOnline Streaming: fuboTV, TBS, March Madness Live No. 16 Farleigh Dickinson vs. No. 1 Gonzaga Location: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, UtahTime: 7:27 p.m.TV: truTVOnline Streaming: fuboTV, truTV, March Madness Live No. 15 Montana vs. No. 2 Michigan Location: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Ia.Time: 9:20 p.m.TV: TNTOnline Streaming: fuboTV, WatchTNT, March Madness Live No. 10 Seton Hall vs. No. 7 Wofford Location: VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, Fla.Time: 9:40 p.m.TV: CBSOnline Streaming: fuboTV, CBS All-Access, March Madness Live No. 14 Old Dominion vs. No. 3 Purdue Location: XL Center, Hartford, Conn.Time: 9:50 p.m.TV: TBSOnline Streaming: fuboTV, TBS, March Madness Live No. 9 Baylor vs. No. 8 Syracuse Location: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, UtahTime: 9:57 p.m.TV: truTVOnline Streaming: fuboTV, truTV, March Madness Live
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10 dominoes that could fall if the Cardinals draft Kyler Murray
Murray’s draft position could define how the rest of the 2019 NFL Draft plays out. Back in January, Kyler Murray earning the top spot in the 2019 NFL Draft looked like a long shot. But as the calendar flipped over to spring and workouts and measurements came and went, the Arizona Cardinals looked more and more like the likely landing spot for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Murray is now the most popular pick at No. 1 overall as draft experts turn their powers of prediction toward April’s main event. Right now, 87 percent of mock drafts have the Oklahoma product usurping Nick Bosa’s as the Cardinals and first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury drop hint after hint that Murray could be their guy. So what happens if he is? Murray’s selection at the top of next month’s draft wouldn’t just impact the Cardinals, it would affect the plans of every team looking for a franchise passer in 2019. It would also push Josh Rosen out of his position as Arizona’s budding young starting quarterback and onto the trading block. Here’s how that could look, given what we know about teams’ draft needs and current assets so far. 1. The Cardinals get their quarterback of the future (for the second straight year) The only known outcome in this exercise. Kingsbury cashes in his football crush for a shot at a football relationship, and Murray gets to begin his NFL career in front of a rebuilding offensive line that added J.R. Sweezy, Oday Aboushi, and Max Garcia in free agency while trading for Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert. That’ll give him a much safer landing zone than Rosen had, as his OL depth chart had the structural integrity of a balsa wood treehouse. A reminder of who was playing offensive line in front of Josh Rosen over the second half of last season (100 snaps or more): pic.twitter.com/59fJi27MYc— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) March 4, 2019 That makes Rosen Kingsbury’s top trade asset, though his value isn’t as high as it was when Arizona selected him early in the first round of last year’s draft. He’ll be an inexpensive prospect for whomever wants to pick him up — a factor the Cardinals are even bragging about on their website. 2. The Giants acquire Josh Rosen for the 37th overall pick and a Day 3 selection New York is in need of an exit strategy in Eli Manning’s 15th season as a pro. Their last four quarterback selections — Rhett Bomar, Ryan Nassib, Davis Webb, and Kyle Lauletta — have failed to turn up a franchise quarterback. With Murray going No. 1 overall and no one quite sure what Jon Gruden’s Raiders are going to do (at the 2019 NFL Draft or otherwise), the Giants mitigate their risk by buying low on last year’s 10th overall pick. This allows a rebuilding team to focus on its other areas of weakness rather than reach for a flawed prospect like Daniel Jones — whom New York reportedly loves, but may not meet the demand needed to be a top-10 (or even top-30) pick. Even though they showed up at Ohio State’s pro day and had dinner with former Buckeye Dwayne Haskins, some reports emerging during the NFL’s lying season suggest the Giants aren’t super interested in Haskins, the other top-rated quarterback in this year’s crop. With two first-round picks, the club could work to fill the holes at pass rusher and wide receiver that the Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon trades created. The Cardinals would be looking to recoup a first-round pick for Rosen, but that may be difficult after his trying rookie season. Landing an early second-rounder in a solid draft wouldn’t be a bad consolation price and would likely give Arizona the opportunity to land a solid offensive lineman or pass-rushing prospect to further the team’s rebuild. 3. The Raiders stand pat at No. 4 overall, despite overtures from the Dolphins Murray rising to the No. 1 spot means the Raiders are guaranteed a shot at one of 2019’s top three defensive stars. Gruden will get to snap up the last man standing between Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, Kentucky’s Josh Allen, and Alabama’s Quinnen Williams — all of whom were considered potential No. 1 overall picks before Murray’s ascent. None of this winds up mattering, however. Mark Davis proves he’s his father’s son after hearing reports of Montez Sweat’s record-setting combine performance (a 4.41-second 40 at 6’6 and 260 pounds!) and drafts the Mississippi State defensive end to fill the Khalil Mack-shaped hole in Oakland’s lineup. Or, if he really wants to prove he’s Al Davis’ son, he could use the No. 4 pick to land Ole Miss wideout D.K. Metcalf, who ran an absurd 4.33-second 40 at 228 pounds at this year’s combine. Oakland has already restocked its receiving corps by adding Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams this spring, but there’s still room to add a player with RV size and Ferrari speed in the Raiders’ lineup. 4. The Buccaneers get an elite defensive talent at No. 5 Tampa Bay could use some offensive line help up front, even after re-signing left tackle Donovan Smith to a three-year extension. Florida’s Jawaan Taylor is rising up mock drafts and could stay on the peninsula with the Bucs. While he’d certainly help, the temptation of a top-three defensive talent at No. 5 would be too much to overcome for a roster with deficiencies across its depth chart. Adding a dynamic young pass rusher would also make Gerald McCoy’s eventual offboarding — he was a cut candidate in 2019 and is due $12.5 million in 2020 — a little easier. 5. The Giants get defensive help from the second, very good level of draft talent This could be LSU’s Devin White, Michigan’s Rashan Gary or Devin Bush, Houston’s Ed Oliver, or Clemson’s Clelin Farrell or Dexter Lawrence. New York’s defense was as bad as you’d expect from a five-win team, but there were some bright spots that suggest a dynamic rookie talent could be the spark that ignites a turnaround. The club could also upgrade its embattled offensive line by taking a player like Taylor or Alabama’s Jonah Williams, but given Nate Solder’s improved play late in 2018 and the acquisition of Kevin Zeitler, blocking help isn’t quite the glaring flaw it once was in New York. 6. The Jaguars trade back with the Dolphins, who select Dwayne Haskins with the seventh overall selection New York’s decision to rehabilitate Rosen works to Jacksonville’s benefit. The Jags’ No. 7 pick is a prime spot to grab a potent quarterback prospect in Haskins. They don’t need a passer in 2019 after signing Nick Foles for more than $50 million guaranteed, but they do need skill players throughout a rehabilitating offense. With that in mind, Jacksonville drops from No. 7 to No. 13 while picking up the Dolphins’ second-round pick (No. 48 overall) in the process. The Broncos could also use a young franchise quarterback going forward, but the 6’3 Haskins doesn’t exactly fill general manager John Elway’s need for tall pocket passers. The move is a slight overpay for Miami according to the draft pick value chart, but it’s worth it to give new head coach Brian Flores a building block for a team that just signed 36-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick to serve as its starting quarterback. It also means Miami’s tank is still on, but now the desired outcome isn’t a 2020 quarterback like Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa or Jake Fromm. Instead, Flores and the Dolphins can choose the best player available after this fall’s rebuilding season (or trade back to pick up more draft assets) instead of angling for a top-tier QB next year. 7. The Broncos select Missouri’s Drew Lock with the 10th pick of the draft This was originally where I had Elway making the most of his opportunity to draft a 6’5 passer with noticeable flaws and selecting Duke’s Daniel Jones, but Lock’s first-round stock has been holding steady after a decent combine performance, whereas Jones’ Day 1 hopes have been moving in the opposite direction. Lock will have the chance to follow in Lamar Jackson’s footsteps and steal a starting job from an underwhelming Joe Flacco midway through his rookie season. 8. The Jaguars select one of the Iowa tight ends at No. 13 Jacksonville hasn’t had a threatening tight end presence since that one season Marcedes Lewis completely ruined your fantasy season (700 yards, 10 touchdowns in 2010). Here, the Jags pick up either Noah Fant or T.J. Hockenson to give Foles some much needed aerial support. 9. Washington opts not to select Daniel Jones at No. 15 and drafts Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown instead Washington needs a quarterback and receiving help. It decides to ride with Case Keenum and Colt McCoy in 2019 and hope Alex Smith can return to the field in 2020 rather than gamble on Jones. Brown, the Sooners’ burner who didn’t work out at this year’s combine due to injury, is the deep threat Dan Snyder’s been searching for since DeSean Jackson left town — Washington averaged just 9.7 yards per completion, 28th-best in the league, last fall. 10. The Giants think very, very hard about selecting Jones at No. 17 — but select some extra defensive help instead New York gets its opportunity to select Dave Brown 2.0 with the pick it acquired from the Browns for Odell Beckham Jr., leading to at least a little buyer’s remorse after the Rosen trade — though general manager Dave Gettleman would never admit it. With Golden Tate on board and some of the draft’s top targets already taken, the Giants defer their wideout needs to the later rounds and add another defensive stalwart in a draft full of them. This pick depends on the team’s selection at No. 7. If the Giants draft LSU linebacker White or Michigan’s Bush early or decides to pick up some blocking help, their second choice could be the best remaining player from Clemson’s triumvirate of first-round linemen — the Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell group. If they go with a defensive lineman first, secondary help from Greedy Williams or Byron Murphy could be the choice. Either way, the Giants can turn a wretched 2017-19 span into three strong prospects. Getting Rosen and two first-round players in a draft loaded with impact defenders would be a solid start for New York’s latest shot at a rebuild. Some unpredictable dominoes will have to fall in the Giants’ favor to get there, but Kingsbury’s infatuation with Murray means the club could walk away from the 2019 NFL Draft with two top-20 selections and one of 2018’s top-10 picks. That might not be enough to turn New York into a contender again — but at least it’ll give the Giants a viable exit plan after Manning’s inevitable retirement (or release).
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8 March Madness teams that can win the national championship, ranked
These are the teams that can win it all. The greatest event on the American sports calendar begins in earnest on Thursday when 64 teams begin their question to win college basketball’s national championship. March Madness is often defined by underdogs and upsets, but it takes a special team win six straight games in the NCAA tournament. It feels like only eight teams in this field who can actually do it. Let’s rank ‘em. 8. Michigan State Spartans Three reasons Sparty can go all the way: Cassius Winston is one of the best point guards in the country They’re full of smart, experienced, and dependable role players This is a classic Tom Izzo team March is supposed to be Tom Izzo’s month, but Michigan State has struggled in the NCAA tournament as of late, failing to get out of the first weekend three straight years. Why can this season be different? Because instead of relying on young players full of NBA potential, Izzo has a group of veterans who share the ball, hit shots, and defend. Players in our top-50 countdown: 1 No. 8: Cassius Winston, PG How hard is Michigan State’s path to the Final Four? It feels manageable ... until the Elite Eight. The Spartans face a No. 15 seed in Bradley to open things up. Then they get the winner of Minnesota vs. Louisville for the right to go to the Sweet 16. No. 3 LSU and No. 6 Maryland are potential opponents to open the second weekend, but neither should have Michigan State fans scared. LSU is without head coach Will Wade, suspended by the school for his part in the FBI’s corruption investigation. MSU beat Maryland by 14 earlier this season, and the Terps don’t exactly have a sterling reputation in March. Duke likely awaits in the Elite Eight. That’s a different story. 7. Kentucky Wildcats Three reasons the Wildcats can go all the way: P.J. Washington is a stud Kentucky owns the paint The freshman are stepping up Kentucky has another team loaded with five-star recruits up-and-down the roster. While there isn’t a future top-five NBA draft pick on this roster like fans in Lexington are used to, this team still has so many of the traits that John Calipari’s best teams have shared. Namely: Kentucky has immense size, gets after it defensively, and can dominate on the glass. Players in our top-50 countdown: 1 No. 7: P.J. Washington, F Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson were each also considered. How hard is Kentucky’s path to the Final Four? Pretty tough. As the No. 2 seed in the Midwest, Kentucky faces Abilene Christian to open play in round one before meeting the winner of Wofford and Seton Hall. Seton Hall has already beat Kentucky once this year on a neutral court, while Wofford has hovered around the top-20 of KenPom over the last month thanks to a three-point heavy attack led by star sniper Fletcher Magee. Iowa State or Houston could await in the Sweet 16, and both are formidable. The Cougars are 31-3 and finished top-25 in efficiency on both ends of the court. Iowa State is loaded with long, athletic players and just won the Big 12 tournament title. In the Elite Eight, everyone will be wanting to see a Kentucky-UNC rematch from the game that Luke Maye won at the buzzer two years ago. 6. Michigan Wolverines Three reasons the Wolverines can go all the way: Michigan has an elite defense The Wolverines have bucket-getters on the wings Michigan has a great coach with a balanced roster John Beilein teams are typically known for their offense, but Michigan has turned into a defensive powerhouse in recent years. This Wolverines squad ranks No. 2 in the country in defensive efficiency with point guard Zavier Simpson providing outstanding perimeter ball pressure and center Jon Teske walling off the rim. Ignas Brazdeikis, Charles Matthews, and Jordan Poole are all capable scorers on the wing, allowing Michigan to ride the hot hand rather than play through one guy on offense. A year after reaching the national title game, Beilein is back with another squad good enough to win it all. Players in our top-50 countdown: 2 No. 35: Zavier Simpson, PG No. 31: Jon Teske, C Brazdeikis and Matthews were also considered. How hard is Michigan’s path to the Final Four? Real hard. After playing Montana in the opening round, Michigan could have to face a Nevada team that’s way more talented than its No. 7 seed would indicate. Jarrett Culver and Texas Tech’s No. 1 overall defense could be waiting in the Sweet 16, or maybe it will be a date with Nate Oats, C.J. Massinburg and Buffalo. That’s a lot of potential landmines. Gonzaga will be the favorite to reach the Elite Eight at the top of the region, but don’t discount Florida State either, who made a run to that round last year. Michigan has its work cut out for them given the draw. 5. Tennessee Volunteers Three reasons the Volunteers can go all the way: Grant Williams is a workhorse Admiral Schofield is a terrific co-star Jordan Bone is playing his best ball of the season The Vols had Final Four aspirations last season before they were shocked at the buzzer by Loyola-Chicago. The entire team returned this year and immediately solidified itself as one of the best in the country. Grant Williams — SEC Player of the Year as a sophomore — improved across the board as a junior and enters this tournament as one of the top players in the field. Can Tennessee’s guards hit enough threes when defenses collapses on Williams? If so, the Vols have every ingredient to make a run. Players in our top-50 countdown: 2 No. 25: Admiral Schofield, F No. 4: Grant Williams, F Jordan Bone was also considered. How hard is Tennessee’s path to the Final Four? As the No. 2 seed in the South, the Vols should have a clear path to the Elite Eight, at least. A matchup with a tough Cincinnati team could be waiting in round two, but Tennessee should have enough weapons to advance. In the Sweet 16, Purdue and Villanova are both beatable. Should Virginia also survive, it sets up a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown for the right to go to the Final Four. The ‘Hoos are legitimately good (more on them in a second), but Tennessee has the horses to win that game. 4. Virginia Cavaliers Three reasons the Cavaliers can win it all: The offense has finally caught up to the defense De’Andre Hunter is a certified lottery pick The defense is still elite A year after becoming the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 in the opening round, Virginia is back on the line with a team that feels better equipped for a tournament run. De’Andre Hunter being healthy helps, as does an improved offense off the strength of Kyle Guy’s shooting and Ty Jerome’s heady two-way game. Virginia enters the tournament as the team only team in the country currently No. 5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Players in our top-50 countdown: 3 No. 24: Kyle Guy, G No. 17: Ty Jerome, G No. 11: De’Andre Hunter, F How hard is Virginia path to the Final Four? Assuming the ‘Hoos can actually get past No. 16 Gardner-Webb in the first round, a matchup with the winner of Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma looms. Wisconsin and Kansas State are two most likely Sweet 16 opponents, but don’t be surprised if an underdog crashes the party. The Elite Eight game against Tennessee would be one of the best of the tournament, if it happens. 3. North Carolina Tar Heels Three reasons the Tar Heels can win it all: Coby White is emerging into a star UNC plays FAST The Heels have three senior leaders The Tar Heels play faster than any team in the tournament field. UNC wants to turn every possession into a transition opportunity, even after made baskets. Coby White has shined as a freshman point guard — Carolina’s tournament run could depend on how hot he gets. Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye are seniors with size and shooting ability. Roy Williams is trying to make the national title game for the third time in the last four years. This team has the talent to do it. Players in our top-50 countdown: 2 No. 19: Coby White, G No. 14: Cameron Johnson, F Luke Maye was also considered. How hard is North Carolina’s path to the Final Four? As the top seed in the South, UNC faces Iona in round one and then the winner of Washington and Utah State in round two. Auburn or Kansas could be tough Sweet 16 opponents, but Carolina has a much higher ceiling than either. All eyes will be on that potential Elite Eight meeting with Kentucky. Lexington might burn if Luke Maye hits another game-winner. 2. Gonzaga Bulldogs Three reasons the Bulldogs can win it all: Brandon Clarke is unconventional superstar There are so many players who can get hot on offense Josh Perkins is an experienced lead guard Gonzaga beat Duke, lost in overtime to Tennessee, and lost in a true road game to North Carolina this season, so no one can say the Bulldogs aren’t battle tested. The ‘Zags made the title game two years ago and this team might be even better: they’re loaded with offensive weapons and Clarke is arguably the best defender in the college game. This team is deep and loaded with high-level talent. No one should be surprised if they win it all. Players in our top-50 countdown: 2 No. 13: Rui Hachimura, F No. 2: Brandon Clarke, F Josh Perkins was also considered. How hard is Gonzaga’s path to the Final Four? The West feels like the toughest region. A potential second round game against Syracuse and its wonky zone would be scary. So is a potential Sweet 16 game against Florida State, who made the Elite Eight last year. Markus Howard and Marquette or Ja Morant and Murray State could also crash the party. Michigan could await in the Elite Eight. And if Gonzaga wins that game, a rematch with these guys is waiting next ... 1. Duke Blue Devils Three reasons the Blue Devils can win it all: Zion Williamson is a historically great player Duke plays defense this season They have the highest ceiling in the country Duke has owned this season from the very start, opening the year with a 34-point win over Kentucky that served as a warning shot for the rest of the country. Zion Williamson has been beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, putting together a case that he’s one of the most dominant players the college level has ever seen. With an impressive defense and capable co-stars in R.J. Barrett, Tre Jones, and Cam Reddish, Duke enters the tournament as the favorite to cut down the nets in Minneapolis. Players in our top-50 countdown: 3 No. 39: Tre Jones, G No. 12: R.J. Barrett, G No. 1: Zion Williamson, F Cameron Reddish was also considered. How hard is Duke’s path to the Final Four? The path is clear. UCF or VCU shouldn’t have a chance in the second round. A potential Sweet 16 game with Virginia Tech would be difficult, but Duke would be a big favorite. Even in an Elite Eight game against Michigan State, Duke would have a huge talent advantage. This season is national title or bust for Duke. Always has been. If anyone can handle that type of pressure, it’s Zion Williamson.
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