Greg Cote’s Hot Button Top 10: Glorious NCAA finals, mad Messi heads to Mexico, stinking Fish & more

GREG COTE’S HOT BUTTON TOP 10 (APRIL 7): WHAT IN SPORTS HAS GRABBED US THIS WEEK: Our Sunday Hot Button Top 10 had been blog-only but when our blog retired it moved, re-imagined, to online-only. HB10 means what’s on our minds, locally and nationally, but from a Miami perspective and accentuating stuff that’s big, weird, damnable, funny or otherwise worth needling as the sports week just past pivots to the week ahead. Welcome to the 55th edition of your Sunday sports-potpourri notes column, the new HB10:

1. MARCH-INTO-APRIL MADNESS: It’s 1s wild as UConn-Purdue men, S.C.-Iowa women go for crowns: Two Final Fours gifted us two premium national championship games as March-into-April Madness crescendos. Sorry, Cinderella, but it’s four No. 1 seeds at the summit. It’s 1-derful! Caitlin Clark’s Iowa Hawkeyes will face coach Dawn Staley’s undefeated juggernaut South Carolina Gamecocks for the women’s crown on Sunday. Monday the men’s title goes to UConn Huskies or Purdue Boilermakers. South Carolina and UConn both are favored by 6 1/2, and rightly; I’d bet both. As far as want-to? Not much emotional investment in men’s final for me, but I’m rooting intensely for Caitlin.

2. INTER MIAMI: Messi back and angry in likely a volatile rematch in Monterrey: Miami settled for 2-2 home draw with Colorado in MLS play Saturday, with Lionel Messi scoring in his first action after three weeks out with hamstring injury. Now onto what matters: Leg two of the home-and-home vs. Monterrey is Wednesday in Mexico and Miami, with Messi, must win and score at least twice to stay alive in the CONCACAF Champions Cup after the 2-1 loss in Fort Lauderdale sans Messi. ESPN reported Messi angrily approached the Monterrey lockerroom after the loss and began yelling. Speculation is he was angered by comments from Monterrey coach Fernando Ortiz, who’d said beforehand: “I hope the boys understand that [Messi] is just another player. Because then comes all the other things, the referee, the framework ... everything that goes on around Messi can lead to decisions on and off the pitch that get made.” Did Messi hear that as a suggestion referees treat Messi favorably? After yellow cards filled leg one, and with Mexican fans crudely prone to juvenile anti-gay chants, Wednesday could get ugly.

3. GOLF: It’s Masters Week! Tiger in field, but Scheffler the pick: LIV Golf played Donald Trump’s Doral this week as a Masters tuneup for 13 turncoats including reigning green jacket holder Jon Rahm. Donald, too busy dodging indictments and pimping bibles and gold sneakers, was a no-show. I don’t care who won the Saudi blood-money event, and I hope Rahm shoots an opening-round 86 at Augusta Thursday. Betting favorites for the year’s first of four majors are red-hot Scottie Scheffler at +500, Rory McIlory at +1000 and traitor Rahm at +1300. Tiger Woods is playing but buried around 40th in odds to win. The Masters dubiously said 2009 champion Angel Cabrera could play, but his visa was denied. Cabrera, 54, served 2 1/2 years in prison for domestic assaults on two women. He shan’t be missed.

4. HEAT: Herro return a spark; Miami still hunting 4th but needs big finish: Heat at 43-34 enters today’s game at Indiana seventh in the NBA East -- still in play-in-purgatory -- but only a half-game from sixth to avoid a play-in and only two games from fourth place and home-court advantage in the playoffs’ first round. It may take a 5-0 finish or close to it and then some luck to climb to fourth but Miami is on an 8-4 run and Tyler Herro’s long-awaited return from injury Friday showed 17 off the bench in a win at Houston.

5. MARLINS: Stinking Fish begin MLB season an unfathomable 0-9: Miami’s 0-9 bungle is worst start in club history and worst in MLB annals for a team that made the playoffs the year before. With a starting rotation wracked by injuries, the Fish has allowed six or more runs in all but two games entering Sunday’s St. Louis. After today Marlins head to the Bronx for three, with Monday’s Yankees game moved four hours later to avoid the shadow of that day’s solar eclipse. The first 15,000 fans are to receive Solar Eclipse T-shirts. I’d suggest the embarrassing start of Miami’s season thus far has been a total eclipse of the fun -- and of playoff hopes.

6. PANTHERS: Cats absorb ninth loss in past 12, end with four at home: Florida is 48-24-6 but as dropped nine of past 12 games with Saturday’s crucial 3-2 OT defeat in Boston. Cats now trail Bruins by five points at top of NHL East standings. Panthers host Ottawa Tuesday to begin a regular season-ending four-game homestand. The Presidents’ Trophy for best season record is now likely between the Bruins and Rangers. Playoff seeding is yet to be settled but Cats’ frst-round foe as of now seems likeliest to be Toronto.

7. SOCCER: USWNT’s Albert booed in first appearance since controversy: U.S. women’s soccer rising star Korbin Albert heard booing Saturday when she entered as a reserve in a 2-1 SheBelieves Cup win over Japan in Atlanta. She entered in the 78th minute at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Albert drew a sharp rebuke from within her own team for social-media posts that seemed to support anti-LGBTQ sentiment. She has since apologized and remains on the team (for now) in the buildup to the 2024 Paris Olympics.

8. NBA: Bronny James enters NBA Draft ... and transfer portal: Keeping all options open, the USC freshman guard and Son of LeBron plans to enter the 2024 NBA Draft but also is maintaining college eligibility and entering the transfer portal. A July cardiac arrest and treatment for a congenital heart defect sidelined him five months and wreaked havoc with his freshman season as he averaged 4.8 points in 19 minutes a game. Speculation is Bronny will enter the draft if he is seen as a first-round pick, but that seems doubtful as of now. Early transfer options include Duquesne.

9. NFL: Rashee Rice an example why league must start taking reckless driving seriously: The Chiefs receiver was driving a Lamborghini crazy-fast in street racing another driver and causing a wreck involving four other cars. Rice was unhurt, has cooperated with police and has apologized. Not enough. NFL needs to start punishing flagrant reckless driving as it does spousal abuse. The Chiefs or league should suspend Rice, who but for dumb luck could have killed himself or others. Like Henry Ruggs III, the once-promising Raiders receiver now serving three to 10 years for a fatal DUI crash in Vegas last year.

10. NBA: Ishbia tops Gilbert in duel of price-hiking, mortgage-lending owners: Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia got rich off United Wholesale Mortgage and Cleveland Cavs owner Dan Gilbert did the same off Rocket Mortgage. They are the nation’s two biggest mortgage lenders who became billionaires gouging new homeowners with crazy interest rates. And they hate each. Ishbia’s Suns last week made iot a season sweep of Gilbert, and Devin Booker scored 92 points in the two games. Must be wanting to refinance and looking for a better deal?

Other most recent stuff from me: USWNT has championed surge in women’s sports but now confronts bigotry within own team // No Messi (again), 2-1 home loss to Monterrey have Inter Miami in trouble in Champions Cup // Caitlin, Cinderella NC State spice a great eight in crescendo of NCAA Final Fours // New season, same problem: Miami Marlins’ way-too-low spending unfair to players, insult to fans // NFL steals Christmas, makes tackling harder, find bizarre way to reinvent the kickoff return // American tennis desperately needs a Next Big Thing post-Serena. And it looks like Coco Gauff // An appreciation: Hurricanes’ Katie Meier retiring too soon after 19 years of winning & class // Marlins star Jazz Chisholm was miserable his first 3 years in Miami. But things changed // Tua’s tough task: Free agency losses hurting Miami Dolphins as brutal AFC gets stronger // ‘Reinvented’ Florida Panthers didn’t matter for decades. Now they’re Stanley Cup favorites // Born to fail? Bronny James, Charlie Woods and the impossible footsteps of LeBron and Tiger // Previous HB10 // And my latest podcast: