The daily pitch from Sports Editor Matt Daniels: March 20, 2024

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Sports Editor Matt Daniels with a look at what's going on around the area:

Three reasons we love sports today

➜ 1. Brackets getting filled out. Will any be perfect? No. By the time Illinois tips off Thursday afternoon against Morehead State, an upset (or two) will likely have happened. That's the beauty of March.

➜ at for the latest high school Athletes of the Week, powered by Copper Creek Contractors.

➜ 3. Jackson Griffith (Arcola baseball), Dirk Lane (Sullivan boys' basketball), Cade Schaumburg (Westville baseball) and Luke Teschke (Monticello baseball) are this week's boys' finalists. Aleigha Garrison (Champaign Central track and field), Tinley Parkerson (Armstrong-Potomac softball), Sarah Parsons (Watseka softball) and Abby Sabalaskey (Westville softball) are this week's girls' finalists. The winners will be featured in next Monday's N-G.

Numbers game: 22

Wins this season for Edmond Ruth, the Big Ten champion at 174 pounds from Illinois. Ruth and two of his teammates — Danny Pucino at 141 and Chris Moore at 165 — will represent the Illini starting Thursday at the NCAA Championships at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Mo. Ruth (22-2) is making his second NCAA appearance, is the third seed and tangles with Myles Takats (24-14) of Bucknell in the first round. Pucino (15-10) is the 25th seed and squares off against eighth-seeded Sergio Lemley (18-7) of Michigan, while Moore (11-14) is the 28th seed and will meet fifth-seeded Dean Hamiti (26-2) of Wisonsin.

Crowd control

Three events I'm paying attention to

➜ 1. Illinois vs. Morehead State men's basketball. If the Illini get past the Eagles on Thursday afternoon, a second-round NCAA tournament game against BYU or Duquense awaits on Saturday. Illinois is 4-2 all-time against BYU and 2-1 all-time against Duquense

➜ 2. Michigan State vs. Mississippi State. The first NCAA tournament game involving a Big Ten team is also the first of 16 NCAA tournament games on Thursday, tipping off at 11:15 a.m. from the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.

➜ 3. Illinois at Nebraska softball. Men's basketball isn't the only Illini team in the Cornhusker state this weekend. Tyra Perry's team will try to get back above .500 when it opens Big Ten play Friday night at Bowlin Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.

Coach's corner

Three questions with Danville boys' tennis and girls' coach tennis Kathy Houpt. The two-time N-G girls' tennis Coach of the Year in 2021 and 2022 is the mother of 2021 N-G girls' basketball Player of the Year Erin Houpt and 2023 N-G girls' tennis Player of the Year Anna Houpt.

➜ 1. My favorite sports teams are ... the San Diego State women's basketball team where my daughter, Erin, plays, and the William & Mary men's basketball team where my son, Sean, plays.

➜ 2. Three coaches I'd like to have dinner with are ... Geno Auriemma, Brad Gilbert and Steve Kerr.

➜ 3. My biggest pet peeve is ... when people are unkind and disrespectful to others.