NCAA Tourney sets up to be a memorable one

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NCAA Tourney sets up to be a memorable one

From Comcast SportsNet
Were they minor hiccups or something much bigger? Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina will sort that out over the next three weeks. For now, though, they have "No. 1" by their names -- top seeds and beneficiaries of a selection committee that all but ignored their weekend losses and put them in prime position for the NCAA tournament. "The win streak? That's done now," Kentucky coach John Calipari said after his team lost only its second game of the season, a setback to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament Sunday that ended a 24-game winning streak. "The fact that we were invincible? That's done now. We're going to be in a dog fight. That's how you have to approach this. Play each game like it's your last." It's what the NCAA tournament is all about -- a three-week free-for-all that gives little guys such as VCU, a Final Four team last year, and Iona, one of the last teams to squeak into the tournament this year, a chance against Kentucky, Carolina and the rest of the so-called power teams. Michigan State earned the fourth and final No. 1 seed and was the only top-billed team to win its conference tournament. The Spartans defeated Ohio State 68-64 in the Big Ten title game Sunday and earned top seeding for the first time since 2001. Michigan State is seeking its first national title since 2000. "We were playing for a No. 1 seed, which we knew was a possibility," Spartans forward Draymond Green said. "And we were playing to do something that hasn't been done here since 2000. That's all the motivation we needed." While No. 2 seeds Kansas, Duke, Missouri and Ohio State wonder whether they could have been rated higher, teams such as Drexel, Seton Hall, Mississippi State and Pac-12 regular-season champion Washington curse what might have been. Those bubble teams were left out, and all will be wondering how Iona, California, North Carolina State and South Florida made it in. The Big East led all conferences with nine teams, including defending national champion Connecticut, a dangerous No. 9 seed, conference tournament winner Louisville and, of course, Syracuse, which cruised through most of the season with only one loss. "I think it's going to help us a little bit," coach Jim Boeheim said of the second defeat, Friday to Cincinnati in the Big East tournament. "I think players, when they're winning, they kind of excuse their mistakes. I think we finally got their attention. I think they'll be a better team going forward than they were last week." There were 11 at-large teams from the so-called mid-major conferences, four more than last year and the most since 2004 when 12 made it. Though the committee claims not to consider a team's conference when it picks the bracket, this was nonetheless a nod to how unpredictable this tournament can be. Last year, 4,000-student Butler finished as national runner-up for the second straight season, while VCU, of the Colonial Athletic Conference, went from one of the last teams in the draw, all the way to the Final Four. Who might be this year's VCU? It's the question being asked across the country, as those 10- and 20-a-pop brackets start getting filled out in office pools and Internet contests around America. The tournament starts Tuesday with first-round games and gets into full swing Thursday and Friday, with 64 teams in action. "There were 112 teams with more than 20 wins," said Jeff Hathaway, chairman of the NCAA selection committee. "We talked a lot about parity at the high end of the field and about quality throughout the field. Bottom line, it was about who did you play, where'd you play them and how did you do?" Some results, though, were less important than others, and apparently, losing in the conference tournament didn't cost Syracuse, Kentucky or North Carolina. Those losses could have created chaos in the bracket, but the committee had the teams more or less cemented into top spots. "Seeding really doesn't matter too much," Tar Heels guard P.J. Hairston said after Carolina's loss to Florida State in the ACC title game Sunday, but before he knew his team would have a 1' by its name. "As long as you get in the dance, it's an equal opportunity to get to the Final Four." The Tar Heels open their run in the Midwest regional against the winner of a first-round game between Lamar and Vermont. Led by freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, either of whom could be one-and-done in Calipari's turnover-heavy program, Kentucky is the No. 1 overall seed. Kentucky was placed in the South region and potentially could play six games without having to leave the Southeast. Kentucky will open its 52nd NCAA tournament appearance in Louisville against the winner of a first-round game between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky, but it gets tougher from there. A possible second-round opponent is UConn, with No. 4 Indiana and No. 2 Duke possibly waiting beyond that. Indiana handed Kentucky its first loss this year and anyone who knows college hoops knows about Duke-Kentucky: This is the 20th anniversary of Duke forward Christian Laettner's last-second catch-and-shoot game-winner against the Wildcats. In the West, Michigan State will begin its quest for its seventh Final Four since 1999 against No. 16 LIU. The bottom of the West draw features No. 2 Missouri, which won the Big 12 tournament but got penalized for a weak nonconference schedule. "That hasn't changed at all over the years," Hathaway said when asked whether the committee rewards programs that beef up their schedules. In the East region, Syracuse opens against UNC Asheville with a possible third-round matchup against Jared Sullinger and Ohio State. Other games include No. 3 Florida State, which went 4-1 against Duke and North Carolina this year, against No. 14 St. Bonaventure, which was a surprise winner of the A-10 conference tournament and took a bubble spot away. Maybe Drexel's? "There must be a lot of people on the basketball committee that don't know too much about basketball," said Dragons coach Bruiser Flint, whose team went 27-6. Others left out included Miami, Northwestern, Nevada and Oral Roberts. All had flaws, as did Iona, though the Gaels' strength of schedule appeared to carry them through. "We tried to play teams or conferences ranked above ours, and most of those games we really had to play on the road to get those games," Iona coach Tim Cluess said. "We spent seven, eight weeks in a row on the road this year, but those were the teams we had to play to give ourselves a chance."

First impressions of the Red Sox’ 7-2 win over the Orioles

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First impressions of the Red Sox’ 7-2 win over the Orioles

BALTIMORE -- First impressions from the Red Sox' 7-2 win over the Orioles:

* Steven Wright had six 1-2-3 innings among the nine he pitched.

For a brief time in the second, after two were out, Wright battled command. Then, in the fifth, he yielded three straight hits and a sacrifice fly, accounting for the only two runs he allowed.

Otherwise? Wright carved through the Baltimore lineup, facing the minimum number of hitters in six of the nine other innings and one over the minimum in another.

He got a number of weak squibbers - including a couple he fielded himself and of the four hits he allowed, only three left the infield.

* Mookie Betts stole the first Red Sox run with some alert baserunning.

Betts was on second when Xander Bogaerts hit a tapped in front of the mound.

Catcher Caleb Joseph pounced on the ball about 15 feet from home plate, but then stood there after throwing out Bogaerts at first. With home plate unguarded, Betts got to third and alertly kept going, beating the throw home from first baseman Chris Davis.

Betts is the probably the Red Sox' fastest baserunner, but in instances like that one, he showed he's also one of their smartest.

* David Ortiz is a menace at Camden Yards.

There's a reason John Farrell waited to make out the lineup card, hoping that David Ortiz was available after missing Sunday's game with a sore foot. Ortiz usually makes his presence felt here and Monday was no different.

He homered to right to lead off the eighth, giving him seven homers in his last 10 games at Camden Yards and 12 homers in his last 28 games.

If Ortiz played for the Orioles, it's frightening to think what sort of power numbers he could put up playing half the time in a ballpark with an inviting right field porch.

* The Sox have gotten plenty of contributions from bench players.

Josh Rutledge (.830 OPS) has helped out in the infield, with Brock Holt relegated to LF, and more recently, the DL. On Monday, it was Marco Hernandez's turn. Hernandez supplied a three-run homer from the ninth spot in the eighth inning, turning a two-run lead into a five-run advantage.

Their contributions have allowed Farrell to make some moves around the infield, such as Monday's decision to give Hanley Ramirez a day off while shifting Travis Shaw to first.

Sean McAdam can be followed on Twitter @Sean_McAdam.

Malcom Brown already considered a leader for Patriots in second year

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Malcom Brown already considered a leader for Patriots in second year

FOXBORO -- Late last year, Bill Belichick went out of his way to explain just how far then-rookie defensive lineman Malcom Brown had progressed over the course of his first professional season. 

From the sounds of it, the first-round defensive tackle's on-the-field growth was atypical. 

"I think he’s really come on through the season, which isn’t always the case with first-year players," Belichick said on Dec. 30. "It took him a while to get to that point through training camp and the early part of the season, but he’s become much better and more consistent in every phase of the game – running game, passing game, play recognition, communication, adjustments – just everything. It seems like every week he just builds on it.

"He’s really hit a good slope, good incline. He’s worked hard. There is a lot on every rookie’s plate. There’s a lot on his plate as a rookie in the different situations that he plays in and the number of things that we do on the front, so it’s not easy, but he’s improved his techniques, his fundamental play and he’s improved his communication and overall understanding of the multiples that are involved. It’s been good."

Brown finished the year as the Patriots interior defensive lineman with the most snaps played (his 517 snaps trailed only Jabaal Sheard, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich among defensive linemen), and he established himself as a trustworthy option in the team's steady rotation on the interior of its front. 

According to one of Brown's newest teammates, free-agent acquisition Terrance Knighton, Brown is now serving as a leader on the interior of the defensive line. Though he's only in his second season, Brown's understanding of the Patriots defense gives him a leg up on players who may have more experience in the league but are new to New England. 

"Malcom Brown has basically been leading the group," Knighton said after an OTA practice last Thursday. "Being in his second year, he's probably the most experienced guy in it right now as far as this team. I'm picking his brain to see how things are done around here."

 

Knighton acknowledged that once the Patriots have Alan Branch back on the field -- Branch was one of 17 players missing from Thursday's OTA -- they'll get another player with a sound understanding of the defense. But right now, Brown is looked to as a source of information for veterans like Knighton and Markus Kuhn as well as rookie fourth-rounder Vincent Valentine. 

"Young guy, obviously played at a high level last year and you can tell he's feeding off of that," Knighton said of Brown. "He's only continued, from what I've seen on tape to now. That's one of the things I try to talk to about with the young guys is being on the up, and not going up and down in your career. That's something I've been through in my career so I just try to share knowledge and help guys out."

Brown, who turned 22 in February, certainly ended last season "on the up." In the early going this offseason, it seems as though he's on track to continue that trajectory.

2017 NBA title odds are out, Celtics rank second in the East

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2017 NBA title odds are out, Celtics rank second in the East

Teams are still fighting for the 2016 Larry O’Brien Trophy, but the 2017 NBA title opening odds have already been released by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. The Warriors unsurprisingly come in as heavy 3/2 favorites. The Cavaliers already punched their ticket for this year’s finals and are second, with 5/2 odds. Then there’s the Spurs, Thunder, and Clippers, as you’d expect rounding off the top five.

But then there’s the Celtics with 20/1 odds -- sixth-best in the NBA -- to raise Banner 18.

With eight draft picks and a chunk of cap space, the Celtics are in a position to capitalize on any opportunities that may come their way. There is a lot of uncertainty at this point in the NBA calendar, so Vegas must be hedging their bets on the Celtics making a leap towards contender status.

Celtics fans will also be happy to know the Nets have 500/1 odds to hoist the trophy next season, which ranks last of all teams. The Celtics have the right to swap first-round picks with the Nets in the 2017 draft, which could give them another swing at a superstar prospect.

For full draft profiles of players the Celtics could draft this year, click here.

Team Opening odds
Golden State Warriors 3/2
Cleveland Cavaliers 5/2
San Antonio Spurs 6/1
Oklahoma City Thunder 8/1
Los Angeles Clippers 16/1
Boston Celtics 20/1
Toronto Raptors 25/1
Miami Heat 25/1
Chicago Bulls 40/1
Atlanta Hawks 40/1
Minnesota Timberwolves 60/1
New Orleans Pelicans 60/1
Houston Rockets 60/1
Portland Trail Blazers 60/1
Memphis Grizzlies 80/1
Utah Jazz 80/1
Charlotte Hornets 80/1
Washington Wizards 100/1
Indiana Pacers 100/1
Dallas Mavericks 100/1
Milwaukee Bucks 100/1
Detroit Pistons 100/1
Los Angeles Lakers 100/1
New York Knicks 100/1
Sacramento Kings 100/1
Philadelphia 76ers 100/1
Orlando Magic 100/1
Denver Nuggets 100/1
Phoenix Suns 300/1
Brooklyn Nets 500/1