Thursday, April 18, 2024
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NCAA Men’s Tournament begins, Women’s Tournament’s First Four tips off tonight; Dodgers win MLB season opener

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🏀 Good morning to everyone but especially …

THE COLORADO STATE RAMS AND THE WAGNER SEAHAWKS 

Colorado State is getting another song at the dance, and No. 7 seed Texas had better be ready for all it can handle. The Rams throttled Virginia, 67-42, in the first of the No. 10 seed First Four games.

Even with star Isaiah Stevens smothered, the Rams showed they have plenty of options elsewhere: Joel Scott had a 23-point, 11-rebound double-double, and Nique Clifford (17 points) and Patrick Cartier (12) also reached double figures. The Rams shot 55% from the field against one of the nation’s best defenses.

Virginia, meanwhile, still hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since its 2019 national championship. If there aren’t major personnel upgrades and potential other alterations this offseason, that drought will continue. Last night was unwatchable.

Earlier in the evening, we added Wagner to the NCAA Tournament winners club. The Seahawks built a big lead and held on for a 71-68 win over fellow No. 16 seed Howard. After trailing by as much as 17, the Bison cut it to one late and even had three 3-point looks to force overtime, but none of them went down. Wagner will face No. 1 seed North Carolina tomorrow.

👍 Honorable mentions

🤕 And not such a good morning for …

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KEVIN MCCULLAR JR. AND THE KANSAS JAYHAWKS

This season has gone far from the plan for Kansas, and things took a turn for the worse just two days before the Jayhawks open their NCAA Tournament. Leading scorer Kevin McCullar Jr. will miss the entire tournament — no matter how far his team goes — due to a knee injury.

  • McCullar, a fifth-year senior, was a first-team All-Big 12 performer after averaging 18.3 points and 6.0 rebounds. He’s dealt with several injuries this season, and the knee proved too much to overcome. He last played in the Jayhawks’ regular-season finale, a 76-46 loss to Houston.
  • Kansas is 3-3 without McCullar this year, including a 72-52 loss to Cincinnati in the Jayhawks’ first Big 12 Tournament game. Overall, the Jayhawks — No. 1 in the preseason AP poll — are 22-10 and went just 10-8 in Big 12 play, their worst conference mark since 1988-89. That was Roy Williams‘ first season, when it was still the Big 8.

I’ve said it throughout the year: Kansas just doesn’t have the offensive juice to compete for a title. Add in McCullar’s absence, and the No. 4 seed Jayhawks are on major upset alert, Kyle Boone writes.

  • Boone: “Kansas faced a tough matchup against Samford even if McCullar was healthy. The Bulldogs won the SoCon regular season and tournament titles by playing an up-tempo brand of basketball that presses full-court on every possession, which is going to test Kansas’ endurance and depth. … Kansas ranks No. 318 in bench minutes, getting just 23.7% of its minutes from the bench.”

👎 Not so honorable mentions

🔥 Men’s NCAA Tournament top upset picks, X-factors, more

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Happy NCAA Tournament first-round eve! While the action technically got underway last night, you still have until tomorrow to fill out your brackets. So if you’re still researching (and hopefully not just procrastinating), good for you! We’re here to help.

Picking an upset is nerve-wracking. If you get it wrong, you can miss out on big points lots of other brackets get. But if you get it right, it’s a huge boost. I looked at top upset picks for every seed line 9-16, and the one I like most is …

  • Pereles:(11) New Mexico Lobos — The advanced stats sites like the Lobos a lot more than the committee did — both kenpom.com and barttorvik.com favor them over Clemson — and Vegas has the Lobos favored as well. … Mountain West Tournament MVP Jaelen House (son of Eddie) can be the best player on the floor in any game, and Jamal Mashburn Jr. (son of Jamal Sr.) joins him as excellent scoring guards who are doing their fathers proud. Throw in a deep front court, and the Lobos are an easy selection to lead the No. 11 seed-over-No. 6 seed discussion.”

Elsewhere …

But by far my favorite article of the day was Matt Norlander’s March Madness Mixtape, featuring every coach’s favorite band. Stock up? Nebraska. Stock down? Iowa State. As for BYU … well, you decide.

And remember, you can always look at our experts’ brackets — or Barack Obama’s — if you need more help.

🏀 Expert picks for women’s NCAA Tournament

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The women’s First Four tips off tonight, meaning you still have time to get in on our Bracket Games as well.

Looking for help? You’re in luck again. Our expert picks have arrived, and while No. 1 overall seed South Carolina is the favorite, it’s not even close to unanimous.

Unlike the men’s tournament, once the women’s tournament ends, we’re right into WNBA Draft season. So Jack Maloney dove deep into the best pro prospects in the tournament. You surely already know the best one — Caitlin Clark — but what about the star that beat her in the title game last year?

  • Maloney: Angel Reese is a terrific college player who uses her size, athleticism and tenacity to overwhelm opponents at times. She makes the biggest impact on the defensive end, where she can guard inside and out when necessary, and is a relentless rebounder. Her offensive game remains undefined, however, which is why there are questions about how impactful she can be at the next level. Draft range: Mid-to-late first round

And remember, we could have an Iowa-LSU Elite Eight collision course. Sign me up for that!

🏈 Top 10 NFL offseason moves, plus Jets add Mike Williams

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The rush of huge signings and trades may have died down, but it’s not over yet. The Jets signed Mike Williams to a one-year deal worth up to $15-million. The talent has never been an issue for Williams, 29. He’s had two 1,000-yard seasons, and his 15.6 yards per reception ranks second since he entered the league in 2017 (min. 500 targets). But he played just three games last year before a torn ACL ended his season. He has played just one full season in his career.

At 6’4″ and 218 pounds, Williams is a huge target for Aaron Rodgers, and he excels in contested-catch scenarios, something Rodgers isn’t afraid to give to his teammates. Opposite star Garrett Wilson, Williams should have a chance to be a solid contributor, if he can stay healthy. Admittedly, that’s a big “if,” but I like the move for a Jets team that needed (and maybe still needs) upgrades at pass catcher.

Cody Benjamin assessed the top 10 acquisitions of free agency so far, and after a couple of quarterback moves, a big move from the defending champs is No. 3.

  • Benjamin: 3. Chiefs tag L’Jarius Sneed — Playing the short game with Sneed enabled K.C. to keep All-Pro Chris Jones in place as the anchor of Steve Spagnuolo‘s title-winning defense. And no matter what happens next, it’s a win for the Chiefs: either they get a physical, ascending cover man for another year; or they get what figures to be a solid return for him via trade, leaving Trent McDuffie to lead the position.”

Somehow the Chiefs — again, the defending champs! — also had the fourth-best move, too. They just keep on chugging.

📺 What we’re watching Wednesday

🏀 No. 16 Grambling State vs. No. 16 Montana State (M), 6:40 p.m. on truTV
🏀 No. 16 Presbyterian vs. No. 16 Sacred Heart (W), 7 p.m. on ESPNU
🏀 Bucks at Celtics, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
🏒 Maple Leafs at Capitals, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
🏀 No. 12 Columbia vs. No. 12 Vanderbilt (W), 9 p.m. on ESPNU
🏀 No. 10 Colorado vs. No. 10 Boise State (M), 9:10 p.m. on truTV
🏀 Grizzlies at Warriors, 10 p.m. on ESPN
🏒 Wild at Kings, 10 p.m. on TNT

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