Good morning to everyone but especially to...
THE FINAL FOUR TEAMS
They say everything's bigger in Texas, and that's certainly the case with a HUGE weekend of college basketball on deck. The women's Final Four in Dallas begins tonight, and the men follow in Houston tomorrow.
Let's start on the women's side, and that means starting with Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark, who claimed both Naismith and AP player of the year awards. She's coming off a 40-point triple-double against Louisville in the Elite Eight, and our Isabel Gonzalez wrote a wonderful feature on Clark, an Iowa native, fulfilling her "destiny."
Meanwhile, the Final Four is nothing new to Dawn Staley and South Carolina, who are making their third straight trip. Staley continues to lead and inspire in a unique manner, Isabel writes.
- Gonzalez: "'These are young people we mentor and lead. We help them navigate through life right now and when they leave you. That's a heavy load,' she said. ... Staley doesn't just focus on helping her own team. In 2021, she sent pieces of the Gamecocks' 2017 championship net to other Black women coaching Division I basketball as a way to share her accomplishment and encourage others to keep fighting for their dreams."
Iowa-South Carolina has all the makings of an epic semifinal, and so does LSU (behind Kim Mulkey and Angel Reese) against Virginia Tech. You can read up on all four teams here.
On the men's side, Chip Patterson has what you need to know about each of the four teams: San Diego State, Florida Atlantic, Miami and UConn. Much has been made about UConn's dominance, Miami's resurgence and FAU's Cinderella tale. But what about San Diego State?
The Aztecs have quite the story of their own after their dominant 2020 squad never got to compete for a title after COVID-19 canceled the Tournament. Many of the players on that team are also on this one. Our David Cobb has the story.
So, who's winning it all? Our experts have made their picks, and it's unanimous. Here's what else to know:
- Our All-America teams and Player, Freshman and Coach of the Year
- UConn might be without its live mascot.
- Dusty May will stay at FAU.
- Brandon Miller declared for the NBA Draft. So did Nick Smith Jr. and Marcus Sasser.
- North Texas won its first ever NIT title.
Not so honorable mentions
- Julius Randle is out at least two weeks with his ankle sprain.
MLB Opening Day takeaways: New rules have big impact, Judge homers, more ⚾
This MLB season looks and feels different than any other thanks to a host of rule changes -- pitch clocks, bigger bases and shift restrictions -- and let me be the first one to tell you: It. Is. Awesome.
How awesome? Let our R.J. Anderson break it down for you.
- Anderson: "The two main metrics on everyone's radar coming into Thursday were how long would games last and how many stolen bases would teams attempt... The average length of the 15 games was two hours and 45 minutes. For reference, last season's average game lasted three hours and three minutes... As for stolen bases, teams went 21 for 23 on those. That works out to 1.53 attempts per game. Last season, teams attempted 0.67 stolen bases per game."
As for some dubious "first" honors related to the new rules...
- Marcus Stroman committed the first pitch clock violation.
- Austin Hays was the first batter to commit a pitch clock violation. Soon thereafter, Rafael Devers struck out via violation.
Some things looked the same, though. Aaron Judge homering is nothing new, and the Yankees star did it in his very first at-bat of the season in a 5-0 win over the Giants.
As for more storylines:
- Two of the game's best pitchers got some tough injury news: Max Fried hurt his hamstring in the Braves' win over the Nationals and will miss time, and Justin Verlander hit the IL with a shoulder injury.
- Another pitcher on the IL, Adam Wainwright, sang the national anthem ahead of his final Opening Day for the Cardinals.
- Jacob deGrom struggled in his Rangers debut but got bailed out by his offense.
- Willson Contreras took a 103-mph fastball to the knee.
- Daniel Bard went to the IL as he deals with anxiety, something he has battled throughout his career. I give a major shoutout to Bard for being up front with his struggles, and I hope he can return soon.
You can catch up with all of the action here and see all of our top takeaways here.
Five supposed reasons Lamar Jackson doesn't have a long-term contract 🏈
There's been lots of discourse regarding Lamar Jackson. To me, the thing that stands out is not just why the Ravens haven't figured out a deal, but why doesn't anyone else seem to be in on a star quarterback and former MVP who hasn't even reached his prime yet?
Our Garrett Podell listed five reasons Jackson doesn't have a contract -- and counterarguments for each. Here's one that caught my eye:
- Podell: "Scheme fit/reliance on the run -- 'Looking at it objectively, I'd say there's some concern over how long can he play his style of game,' [Falcons owner] Arthur Blank said Tuesday. ... Counterargument: Both of Jackson's injuries have come in the pocket as a passer, and Jackson's Ravens have needed to operate as a run-first unit because of their lack of offensive spending, especially on wide receivers. ... Jackson's running style is a stark contrast to the bruising, battering ram style of quarterback rushing associated with Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, and Cam Newton."
I thought this was a really good, detailed look at several aspects of what's become a very complicated situation.
Celtics demolish Bucks in matchup of top two teams in East 🏀
One night after making history, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and the Bucks made more history -- the wrong type of history, though.
The Celtics demolished Milwaukee, 140-99, in a battle of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. The 41-point loss is the Bucks' second-largest defeat home in franchise history.
- Jayson Tatum had 40 points -- his 11th 40-point effort of the season, tying Larry Bird's franchise record -- and Jaylen Brown had 30. The Celtics are 21-1 when Tatum and Brown both score 30 points in the same game.
- The Celtics made 22 threes, tied for their most in any game since the All-Star break. Tatum, who entered the night shooting 30.7% on 3-pointers in March, nailed 8 of 10 tries from deep.
- Boston shot 56% (and held the Bucks to 37.6%) and outscored Milwaukee 54-36 in the paint.
- Both teams spoke about a potential playoff rematch.
As our Jack Maloney notes, the Celtics did much more than inch closer to the 1 seed in the East: They also now own the tiebreaker. Even if the Bucks hold on, the Celtics showed what they can be at their very best: 1) an offensive powerhouse led by two elite scorers and supported by plenty of strong role players, and 2) a defensive juggernaut with positional flexibility up and down the lineup.
It's important to remember that the Bucks were on the second night of a back-to-back and the Celtics had two days to smart over a blowout loss to the Wizards. But it's also important to remember that this Celtics team can be flat-out dominant against just about anyone. They sent that message loud and clear Thursday.
What we're watching this weekend 📺
🏀 Women's Final Four: LSU vs. Virginia Tech, 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Lakers at Timberwolves, 8 p.m. on NBA TV
🏀 Women's Final Four: Iowa vs. South Carolina, 9:30 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Nuggets at Suns, 10:30 p.m. on NBA TV
🏒 Bruins at Penguins, 3 p.m. on ABC
🏀 Men's Final Four: San Diego State vs. Florida Atlantic, 6:09 p.m. on CBS
🏀 Mavericks at Heat, 7:30 p.m. on NBA TV
🏀 Men's Final Four: UConn vs. Miami, 8:49 p.m. on CBS
⚾ Guardians at Mariners, 9:40 p.m. on FS1
🏒 Rangers at Capitals, 1 p.m. on TNT
🏀 Women's national championship, 3:30 p.m. on ABC
🏒 Blues at Bruins, 3:30 p.m. on TNT
🏀 Warriors at Nuggets, 8:30 p.m. on NBA TV