Thursday, May 26, 2022

UConn extends its absurd Final Four streak, plus nobody wants to face the Nets in the playoffs

Happy Tuesday, all! Hope this newsletter finds you well.

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Good morning to everyone but especially to…

PAIGE BUECKERS AND THE UCONN HUSKIES

They don’t call her Paige Buckets for nothing. Paige Bueckers scored 15 of her game-high 27 points in the overtime periods as UConn beat NC State 91-87 in double overtime to advance to the Final Four. It’s the Huskies’ 14th straight trip to the Final Four, but this one did not come easy:

  • NC State led by as much as four in the fourth quarter, but UConn rallied to take a late lead before Elissa Cunane‘s clutch bucket forced overtime.
  • In the first overtime, NC State’s Jakia Brown-Turner nailed a corner 3-pointer with less than a second left to force double overtime.
  • In the second overtime, UConn finally closed things out on a layup by Christyn Williams that stretched the lead to four with just seconds to go.
  • It was the first Elite Eight game to go to double overtime.

This game truly had it all. There was outstanding shot-making by both sides, and especially by Bueckers, whose 27 points were her most since the season opener. Neither team led by more than six points after halftime. But in the end, as has been the case every NCAA Tournament since 2008, UConn is headed to the Final Four.

Joining the Huskies there will be…

  • Stanford
  • South Carolina
  • Louisville

Here’s the Final Four schedule.

Honorable mentions

And not such a good morning for…

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THE BOSTON CELTICS

If you’ve been stuck in the NBA‘s version of the dog days for the last few weeks, I don’t blame you. The post-All Star and pre-playoffs stretch can drag a bit. But if you’ve found yourself a bit tuned out, you’ve missed a pretty incredible stretch by the Boston Celtics.

On the morning of Jan. 17, the Celtics woke up in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. Since then, they…

  • Have a 25-7 record (second-best in the NBA behind the Suns)
  • Have more wins by 25+ points (8) than total losses (7)
  • Are allowing 101.2 points per game (best in the NBA by nearly five points)
  • Have moved into a tie for second in the Eastern Conference

Safe to say it’s been pretty much all good news since mid-January. But the good news hit an abrupt end Monday: Center Robert Williams III will have surgery to fix a torn meniscus and is out indefinitely.

This is a massive loss for Boston, writes our NBA guru Sam Quinn:

  • Quinn: “Williams is perhaps the best player on that defense. His athleticism and length playing largely as an off-ball rover has made him one of the most dangerous defensive playmakers in basketball. … He is averaging career highs in points (10), rebounds (9.6), blocks (2.2), assists (2.0) and steals (0.9).”

Williams’ impact isn’t limited to defense, either. He is a terrific finisher at the rim — his 157 dunks this season rank fourth in the NBA — and a very good offensive rebounder (3.9 per game, also fourth in the league).

Just because Williams isn’t Boston’s biggest name doesn’t mean he won’t be sorely missed. The Celtics will have their hands full trying to adjust with the playoffs nearing, but NBA expert Brad Botkin has some ideas.

Not so honorable mentions

Bills staying in Buffalo, will open new stadium by 2026 🏈

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Fear not, Buffalo Bills fans: Your team is here to stay.

Yesterday, the Bills reached an agreement with New York State and Erie County for a new, $1.4-billion stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. with a 30-year lease. The stadium is expected to be completed by 2026. It will come at a cost, though:

  • $850 million from public funds ($600 million from New York and $250 million from Erie County)
  • $350 million from Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula
  • $200 million from NFL loans

The Bills were long overdue for a new stadium, explains our NFL writer Jeff Kerr:

  • Kerr: “Governor Kathy Hochul said she didn’t want Bills fans to worry about the future of the team, as Highmark Stadium has been the team’s home since 1973. While Highmark Stadium is the fourth-oldest stadium in the NFL, it has not undergone a major renovation like Soldier Field, Lambeau Field and Arrowhead Stadium — the three stadiums older than the Bills’ home — have done.”

Buffalo has some of the NFL’s best fans. Josh Allen and company should give them plenty to cheer about for years to come, soon at a venue they thoroughly deserve.

Ranking the men’s Final Four starters 🏆

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And then there were four… We’re also down to four teams remaining in the men’s NCAA Tournament, which means we’re down to 20 starters, and college basketball expert Kyle Boone has ranked every single one, 1-20.

One player stands out among the rest, as he’s playing his best basketball at the perfect time:

  • Boone: The best player on the best remaining team gets the best position in our rankings. Paolo Banchero was an All-American during the regular season but he has ratcheted up his game a level in this year’s tournament, averaging 18 points per game and seven boards for the Blue Devils while operating as the team’s No. 1 option. Against two of the best defenses in the sport — Texas Tech and Arkansas in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight — Banchero scored 22 and 16, respectively, while making nearly 50% of his shots in that span.”

Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering one of the best typical starters among the remaining teams — Villanova guard Justin Moore — is out for whatever remains of the Wildcats’ season after tearing his Achilles in the Elite Eight. Don’t sleep on his likely replacement, Caleb Daniels, though. The former Tulane transfer scored 12 points in the Elite Eight win over Houston and was one of just two Villanova players to reach double figures. He comes in 17th in Boone’s rankings.

Top storylines down the stretch of the NBA season 🏀

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The NBA regular season ends in under two weeks, and there are plenty of storylines to follow. My favorite, though, is the battle for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Here’s where things stand:

  • 1. Heat
  • T-2. 76ers (1 game back)
  • T-2. Bucks (1 game back)
  • T-2. Celtics (1 game back)

But, as our NBA expert Jasmyn Wimbish explains, earning that top seed could be a double-edged sword, because the current No. 8 seed is not your typical No. 8 seed.

  • Wimbish: Kyrie Irving played in his first home game of the season Sunday night after New York City mayor Eric Adams amended the vaccine mandate that now exempts New York-based performers and athletes who play for New York’s home teams. … Looking ahead to the postseason if the Nets do secure one of the final two spots in the East, having Irving available in every game makes them a tough draw for any team in the East.”

What we’re watching Tuesday 📺

🏀 Lakers at Mavericks, 7:30 p.m. on TNT

🏀 Jazz at Clippers, 10 p.m. on TNT

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