Thursday, July 18, 2024

Why you need to pay attention to the First Four; Giants sign Blake Snell

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THE MEN’S BASKETBALL NCAA TOURNAMENT FIRST FOUR

Your men’s NCAA Tournament brackets aren’t due until Thursday — sign up here — but if you’re not tuned in tonight, you’ll be behind the eight ball.

Why? The First Four begins tonight, and 12 First Four teams have won multiple tournament games since the round started in 2011. Fairleigh Dickinson last year? First Four. And how about VCU in 2011 and UCLA in 2021? Both went from the First Four to the Final Four! I wrote about my top four Fiirst Four teams most likely to make a run, and my second-best candidate plays tonight.

  • Pereles:Colorado State — Isaiah Stevens is already the stuff of legends in Fort Collins as the program’s all-time leading scorer and assister, but he’s never won an NCAA Tournament game. Now’s the time to change that, and he has plenty of help in Colorado transfer Nique Clifford and former Division II player of the year Joel Scott. … Great, experienced guard play often does well in March, and Stevens is both. He’s the only player this season averaging 16 points and six assists while shooting at least 44% from 3. In an early-season blowout of Creighton, he had 20 points and seven assists. Six days later, he dropped 20 points and 11 assists to beat Colorado.”

First Four teams, of course, aren’t the only ones who can bust your bracket. David Cobb has his list of potential Cinderellas, and the coach of one candidate knows plenty about the sneaker industry, not just slippers.

  • Cobb:No. 12 seed McNeese — McNeese beat VCU, UAB and Michigan on the road by double digits before running through the Southland Conference without much resistance. The Cowboys are coached by former LSU coach Will Wade, who is on a redemption tour after his tenure with the Tigers ended in 2022 amid an NCAA investigation. This team is ruthlessly efficient on offense and forces significantly more turnovers than it commits.”

Here’s more as you wade through your bracket:

And from our friends at SportsLine …

😃 Honorable mentions

😕 Not so honorable mentions

🏀 Women’s NCAA Tournament: South Carolina’s new and improved offense, plus top storylines

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South Carolina is looking to become the 10th undefeated national champion, and the first since UConn in 2016. The Gamecocks have long been a premier program under Dawn Staley, but the biggest difference this year is offense. They’re averaging 86.1 points, fourth in the country and on pace to be the best in school history.

Isabel Gonzalez took a deep dive into how one of the nation’s best programs got even better.

  • Gonzalez:When South Carolina suffered the 77-73 loss to Iowa in the 2023 Final Four, one of the most eye-popping stats was the Gamecocks went just 4-of-20 from beyond the arc. … Offensive versatility and 3-point shooting have improved significantly with the addition of Oregon transfer Te-Hina Paopao. The senior guard has the third-best 3-point shooting percentage in the country at 47.1%. Junior guard Bree Hall is another dangerous shooter as she has made 40% of her 115 attempts from 3-point range.”

Staley and Co. will be the storyline, but they’ll be far from alone. Isabel outlined all of the top storylines, including the Pac-12 raging against the dying sun.

  • Gonzalez: “It’s truly a shame to see the conference as we know it come to end, but the Pac-12 is saying goodbye by reminding everyone of the excellence that will be lost. Six Pac-12 teams have been ranked in the AP Top 25 poll for most of the season, and seven teams will be participating in the NCAA Women’s Tournament. For the first time in Pac-12 history, three teams are seeded No. 2 or better.”

Here’s the full list of Pac-12 team in the tournament:

  • USC (No. 1 seed)
  • UCLA (No. 2 seed)
  • Stanford (No. 2 seed)
  • Oregon State (No. 3 seed)
  • Colorado (No. 5 seed)
  • Utah (No. 5 seed)
  • Arizona (First Four, No. 11 seed)

💰 Blake Snell signs with Giants, ending lengthy free agency

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One would think a reigning Cy Young winner hitting free agency while still in his prime would have a strong market. That wasn’t the case for Blake Snell, but it only takes one, and the Giants are the one at long last. San Francisco signed the 31-year-old lefty to a two-year, $62 million deal just over a week before Opening Day.

Snell, who won the AL Cy Young with the Rays in 2018 and the NL Cy Young with the Padres last season, but a complicated statistical profile made for a complicated free agency, as R.J. Anderson noted in his top 50 free agents.

  • Anderson: “There’s no knocking his bat- or barrel-missing abilities, but his control leaves a lot to be desired. He threw fewer than 60% strikes this season, and his walk rate was nearly one of the 20 highest posted by a starting pitcher in the Expansion Era. The central conflict in Snell’s game is that he’s as chase-dependent as any starting pitcher — fewer than one-third of his secondary pitches were located within the zone — yet his coercive ability grades as below-average statistically. … Snell’s stuff has allowed him to overcome, and for all we know, that’ll continue to be the case. Still, you can’t blame anyone who develops the collywobbles when they think about the left-tail possibilities of his skill set.”

Snell was R.J.’s No. 6 free agent, and with his signing, only five of the top 50 remain teamless:

  • 10. LHP Jordan Montgomery
  • 22. DH J.D. Martinez
  • 33. OF/DH Michael Brantley (retired)
  • 34. OF/DH Tommy Pham
  • 50. 1B Donovan Solano

Snell is the fourth top-50 free agent the Giants have landed this offseason, all in the top 25:

A good offseason for the Giants just got better.

⚾ MLB’s best rivalries for 2024

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The MLB season is long, and once you settle into summer, it can feel monotonous. But rivalries help spice things up, and Matt Snyder is assessing the top rivalries for the 2024 season. I love the call at No. 1.

  • Snyder: 1. Astros vs. Rangers — The Astros came out of the AL in 2017, 2019, 2021 and 2022. They won the World Series twice in that timeframe. The Rangers came out of the AL last season, winning their first World Series title. That alone would be pretty damn intriguing, but there’s a lot more. … They ended up seeing each other in the ALCS. That series involved tons of drama and went seven games, with the road team taking all seven. Remember Game 5? The Adolis García home run, García being hit by a pitch and then the benches clearing shortly thereafter … only to see Jose Altuve hit a three-run bomb to turn the series on its head next inning?”

Notably absent from Matt’s list? Yankees-Red Sox. You’ll have to read on to find out why.

📺 What we’re watching Tuesday

🏀 (16) Wagner vs. (16) Howard (M), 6:40 p.m. on truTV
🏀 Nuggets at Timberwolves, 9 p.m. on NBA TV
🏀 (10) Colorado State vs. (10) Virginia (M), 9:10 p.m. on truTV

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