Happy Tuesday everyone.
Let's get right to it.
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Good morning to everyone but especially to...
NFL DRAFT PROSPECTS (AND THE NFL)
The NFL Combine is back on as scheduled. All it took was a potential boycott -- or at least some very pointed petitioning -- to make sure the NFL's top potential prospects will indeed participate in the yearly pre-draft ritual, which begins next week in Indianapolis. Here's how we got there:
- On Sunday, it was reported that agents representing over 150 NFL Combine invitees were planning to boycott given the "bubble" rules at the event.
- The bubble restrictions included prospects being allowed just one fully vaccinated "medical support person." Anyone who left the "secure Combine venues" would be disqualified from participating.
Now, however, the rules have changed:
- Players can leave the secure areas in their free time.
- Players can meet with whomever they want (trainers, coaches, therapists, etc.) outside restricted areas.
- Players can meet with medical support people, one at a time, in restricted areas.
The NFL did not accommodate all of the agents' requests, though. In a change from previous Combines, the bench press will be held on the same day as the on-field activities. In turn, many prospects may skip the bench press altogether.
While COVID-19 has impacted the Combine in many ways (last year there was no Combine at all), it's good for all sides that this has been worked out. Teams value the opportunity to see how prospects perform on-field and in interviews. Prospects want the opportunity to show off their skills. The NFL loves the chance to have something in an otherwise pretty dull part of the offseason (and get viewers to TV screens, too).
But make no mistake: the players and agents are the big winners here. Without them, there is no Combine, and they got key changes pushed across quickly.
- Goran Dragic -- one of the hottest commodities on the buyout market -- signed with the Nets. It's a good fit for both player and team writes NBA expert Sam Quinn.
- Adonis Lattimore, a high school wrestler born without legs, won a state title over the weekend.
And not such a good morning for...
JUWAN HOWARD AND THE MICHIGAN WOLVERINES
The punishments from Sunday's shocking brawl between Michigan and Wisconsin have been handed out:
- Michigan head coach Juwan Howard was suspended for the Wolverines' five remaining regular-season games and fined $40,000 by the Big Ten.
- Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard was fined $10,000 by the Big Ten
- Michigan's Moussa Diabate and Terrance Williams II and Wisconsin's Jahcobi Neath were all suspended one game.
It's appropriate that Howard received by far the largest penalty after he slapped Wisconsin assistant Joe Krabbenhoft following the Badgers' 77-63 win. Howard had been upset after Gard took a timeout late in the game with his team leading big (though Michigan was running a full-court press against Wisconsin's reserves), and Gard initiated contact with Howard in the postgame handshake line. It's still not known if Krabbenhoft did or said anything to escalate the situation.
After initially not apologizing for his actions, Howard released a statement Monday.
- Howard: "After taking time to reflect on all that happened, I realize how unacceptable both my actions and words were, and how they affected so many. I am truly sorry. I am offering my sincerest apology to my players and their families, my staff, my family and the Michigan fans around the world. I would like to personally apologize to Wisconsin's Assistant Coach Joe Krabbenhoft and his family, too. Lastly, I speak a lot about being a Michigan man and representing the University of Michigan with class and pride, I did not do that, nor did I set the right example in the right way for my student-athletes. I will learn from my mistake and this mistake will never happen again. No excuses!"
Strictly basketball-speaking, this is a big loss for the Wolverines, who sit in the First 4 Out in Jerry Palm's Bracketology and face another First 4 Out team -- Rutgers -- on Wednesday. Diabate is the team's fifth-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder. Williams II is the team's sixth-leading scorer. Both will miss Wednesday's contest, and even when they return, the Wolverines' closing stretch is no easy task:
- Wednesday: Rutgers
- Sunday: No. 15 Illinois
- March 1: Michigan State
- March 3: No. 25 Iowa
- March 6: at No. 22 Ohio State
Not so honorable mentions
- Antonio Brown attacked Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in his latest social media tirade.
- Medina Spirit was stripped of the 2021 Kentucky Derby title, and trainer Bob Baffert was suspended 90 days as a result of the horse -- which died in December -- testing positive for the banned substance betamethasone after the Derby win.
NFL Monday Night doubleheader is back... with a twist 🏈
After a hiatus in 2021, the NFL Monday Night doubleheader will return in 2022, and it will reportedly be different from any past iteration. Here are the details:
- First game starts at 7 p.m. and next game starts at 8 p.m., meaning games will overlap
- One game on ESPN and one on ABC
- Will take place within first four weeks of season
In 2021, ESPN's lone doubleheader affair was a pair of Week 18 matchups that weren't particularly inspiring. The Chiefs beat the Broncos -- who were already eliminated from playoff contention -- 28-24. Then, the Cowboys beat the Eagles' backups 51-26.
This upcoming season will be the final one of the current TV deal, and things will get pretty wild two seasons from now, says NFL expert John Breech:
- Breech: "When the new media kicks in starting with the 2023 season, Monday will be getting even crazier. Not only will there be THREE Monday doubleheaders per year, but the NFL will also have the power to FLEX Monday games starting in Week 12 of that season."
Zags are unanimous No. 1 in AP Poll; Bracketology has big names on bubble 🏀
Gonzaga has tightened its grip on top of the AP Poll. The Bulldogs are the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation after receiving all 61 first-place votes. Meanwhile, Arizona -- winner of eight straight -- leapfrogged Auburn for the No. 2 spot.
Here's the full top 10:
- 1. Auburn (previous: 1)
- 2. Arizona (previous: 3)
- 3. Auburn (previous: 2)
- 4. Purdue (previous: 5)
- 5. Kansas (previous: 6)
- 6. Kentucky (previous: 4)
- 7. Duke (previous: 9)
- 8. Villanova (previous: 10)
- 9. Texas Tech (previous: 11)
- 10. Baylor (previous: 7)
Elsewhere, Jerry Palm's latest Bracketology features plenty of big names, including Florida, Memphis, North Carolina, Indiana and Michigan right on the bubble. But it's Rutgers who might cause the biggest headaches for the committee come Selection Sunday.
- Palm: "[Entering Monday] Rutgers sits at 80 in the NET, and while that metric is not really used decisively, it would be the worst ranking in any NCAA metric for an at-large team since before 1994, when I started tracking the data. Despite the good number of Quad 1 wins, at the moment, the negatives weigh larger."
With less than a month until Selection Sunday -- and a week until the first conference tournaments begin -- we'll be keeping you updated on the race to the Big Dance often in this newsletter. It's the most wonderful time of the (college basketball) year.
What we're watching Tuesday 📺
🏀 No. 18 Arkansas at Florida, 7 p.m. on ESPN2
🏀 No. 8 Villanova at No. 21 UConn, 8 p.m. on FS1
🏀 Kansas State at No. 5 Kansas, 9 p.m. on ESPN