Happy Monday, all! Hope you enjoyed your Sunday afternoon and evening full of great sports games. Nothing else big happened last night, right?
Let's get right to the sports and slap Monday in the face!
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Good morning to everyone but especially to...
THE DUKE BLUE DEVILS...
Mike Krzyzewski's curtain call is near, but he's not done making history. Duke topped Arkansas, 78-69, on Saturday night, sending Krzyzewski to his 13th Final Four. That mark passes John Wooden's for most all-time.
- AJ Griffin led the way with 18 points, his most in the NCAA Tournament so far.
- Paolo Banchero (16), Wendell Moore Jr. (14) and Mark Williams (12) all scored in double digits as well.
- The Blue Devils shot over 50% for the fourth straight game, their longest streak of the season.
That last bullet point has been the difference. Duke's offense has hit a completely new level in the NCAA Tournament. Banchero -- who was up-and-down all season -- has been excellent. Jeremy Roach is stepping up as the point guard that makes everything go. On defense, Williams has been a steady anchor with his rim protection.
We usually associate March Madness with Cinderella stories and buzzer-beaters, but now, the biggest story is Duke finally figuring it all out in their legendary coach's last games, writes our college basketball reporter Matt Norlander:
- Norlander: "You can roll your eyes at Krzyzewski all you want about what's come of this season and how announcing his retirement nine-plus months in advance inherently makes him the story, but... the story is the resolve and incredible evolution of Duke's team. They have had a claim as the most talented one in the sport all season. Now that the talent is meeting potential, Duke has become the tournament's top team and favorite to win the entire thing."
THE NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS...
On Feb. 16, North Carolina lost at home to Pittsburgh. The Tar Heels' NCAA Tournament hopes hung in the balance.
As bad as that loss was, their response has been even better. The Tar Heels have won 10 of their last 11 games and are into the Final Four after ending Saint Peter's Cinderella story with a resounding 69-49 win.
- Armando Bacot posted 20 points and 22(!!!) rebounds. It was his 29th double-double this season, tying Tim Duncan's ACC record for most in a season.
- Brady Manek had 19 points, and Caleb Love had 14.
The Tar Heels' defense has been the difference lately. They allowed 73 points per game in their first 26 games of the year. In the 11 games since, that number is down to 66.6. They'll need that defense to be great again in the Final Four, when they face a very familiar opponent. More on that in a bit.
THE KANSAS JAYHAWKS...
Kansas is back in the Final Four, and if it plays like it did in the second half yesterday, it might just win the whole thing. The Jayhawks outscored Miami 47-15 after halftime to earn a 76-50 win.
- Star guard Ochai Agbaji led the way with 18 points.
- David McCormack added 15 and Christian Braun had 12.
- This was the largest win by any team in the Elite Eight since 1992.
Now they'll face the same foe they faced in their last Final Four trip...
... AND THE VILLANOVA WILDCATS
In 2018, Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels were freshmen on Villanova's title team. Now, they're back for more. Saturday, Samuels scored a game-high 16 points to lead the Wildcats to a rugged 50-44 win over Houston. The win was bittersweet, though, as starting guard Justin Moore tore his Achilles and will miss the rest of the season. The Wildcats already don't have much depth, and Moore leads the team in minutes per game.
Regardless, it's another remarkable NCAA Tournament run for Villanova:
- It's their fourth Final Four appearence since 2009
- It's their third appearence in the past six tournaments
Gillespie and Samuels are more than capable of carrying a team, and the Wildcats do the key things -- make free throws, avoid turnovers, etc. -- that win games. That won't change, even with Moore unavailable.
- Chris Paul returned to action over the weekend as the Suns clinched the top seed in the NBA playoffs.
- Canada is heading to the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
- Another cheerleader came to the rescue of a stuck basketball in the NCAA Tournament.
And not such a good morning for...
THE SAINT PETER'S PEACOCKS
Don't cry because it's over. Smile -- maybe with a tear in your eye -- because it happened. The Saint Peter's Peacocks' historic run came to a tough end yesterday against North Carolina, but we won't soon forget them.
- First 15 seed to make the Elite Eight
- Won as an 18.5-point underdog to Kentucky in Round of 64 before beating Murray State and stunning Purdue
- Had never won an NCAA Tournament game prior to this season
- Gained plenty of fans, including Ja Morant
Stories like Saint Peter's make college basketball awesome. The Peacocks drew a mere 434 attendees in their home opener back in November. Four months later, they went from a team no one knew anything about to a team no one could stop talking about.
But now it's over, and the climb back will be even more difficult. Head coach Shaheen Holloway has been linked to other jobs, and March magic like this rarely repeats. Saint Peter's is the sixth team seeded 13 or lower to make the Sweet 16 over the last 20 seasons. None of the previous five programs have been back. The NCAA Tournament can be wonderful, but it's also extremely difficult.
Thank you, Saint Peter's, for etching your name into March Madness lore. I hope you'll be back, with a bunch of new names for us to learn, but with the same magic you provided this year.
Not so honorable mentions
- Ja Morant is out at least two more weeks.
- Memphis men's basketball and head coach Penny Hardaway are facing several allegations of breaking NCAA rules.
- It's been a tough March for Kentucky. The Wildcats lost in the Round of 64 to Saint Peter's and then had to give up the title of all-time winningest program.
A deeper dive on Duke-North Carolina, Villanova-Kansas in the Final Four 🏀
They've met 257 times dating back to 1922, and yet somehow, this will be the first time Duke and North Carolina meet in the NCAA Tournament.
It's hard to believe, but it's also perfect. It's Mike Krzyzewski's last season. How amazing would it be to vanquish his biggest nemesis on the sport's grandest stage? On the other hand, the Tar Heels already spoiled Krzyzewski's last home game. How incredible would it be for them to spoil his last game, period?
Villanova and Kansas, meanwhile, are plenty familiar. The two schools met in the 2018 Final Four; the Wildcats went on to win the title. They also met in the 2016 Elite Eight (Villanova went on to win it all) and the 2008 Sweet 16 (Kansas went on to win it all). How's that for history?
As for the rest of our early preview content:
We'll have plenty more for you right here throughout the week.
United States crushes Panama to all but clinch World Cup bid ⚽
Christian Pulisic scored his first career international hat-trick and Paul Arriola and Jesus Ferreira both found the back of the net as the United States thrashed Panama 5-1 to put the USMNT on the precipice of qualifying for the World Cup.
Here are our soccer expert Roger Gonzalez's player grades.
While it's not official yet, the U.S. would have to lose 6-0 or worse Wednesday at Costa Rica to miss out on the World Cup. The U.S. is up just three points on Costa Rica in the CONCACAF standings, but the tiebreaker is goal differential, where the U.S. is way ahead. Here are the standings. The top three automatically qualify.
- 1. Canada (clinched): 28 points | +17 goal differential
- 2. United States: 25 points | +13 goal differential
- 3. Mexico: 25 points | +6 goal differential
- 4. Costa Rica: 22 points | +3 goal differential
Wednesday's match is on Paramount+ at 9:05 p.m. ET.
Scottie Scheffler wins WGC-Dell Match Play, becomes No. 1 golfer in world 🏌
For a long time, Scottie Scheffler couldn't win. Now, he can't stop winning, and it has taken him to the top of the sport. Scheffler won the WGC-Dell Match Play yesterday -- his third win in the last month-and-a-half -- and is atop the Official World Golf Rankings.
Scheffler had never won on the PGA Tour before capturing the WM Phoenix Open on Super Bowl Sunday. Earlier this month, he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational. This latest win has established him as a superstar, writes our golf reporter Kyle Porter.
- Porter: "Scheffler took down Dustin Johnson 3 and 1 in the semifinals... and Kevin Kisner 4 and 3 in the finals later in the afternoon to clinch the event. Scheffler dominated throughout the day, leading 31 of the 32 holes he played against two of the last four champions of this tournament. ... Scheffler is now a superstar. It happened so quickly you may have missed it, but there's time to catch up because Scottie Scheffler is going to be among the best in the world for a long time."
What we're watching Monday 📺
- We're watching the women's NCAA Tournament. Here's the schedule.
🏀 Warriors at Grizzlies, 8 p.m. on NBA TV