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Good morning, readers! The ides of March — and the greatest tournament in modern sports — are upon us.
Selection Sunday is just two days away
But first we’re getting the best appetizer this side of bagel dogs: A third installment of Duke-North Carolina in tonight’s ACC Tournament semifinal (9 pm ET, ESPN).
And, look, we’re going to be honest: This is proof that somebody loves us and wants us to be happy. North Carolina won both regular-season matchups, but Duke was without star Zion Williamson for all but 30 seconds of those games after his shoe blew out in the first game. (Why do we feel like you probably already heard about this?)
Anyway, Duke is a totally different squad with Williamson’s talents and he returned to the court (with new shoes, natch) for Thursday’s 84-72 win over Syracuse. As Pete Thamel wrote in his column from the game, Williamson made an impact right away, scoring 11 of Duke’s first 17 points, including two loud dunks and a deep three. He finished with 29 points and 14 boards, so it’s safe to say his right knee is feeling fine. It’s also safe to say he’s by far the biggest difference maker in the entire tournament field.
What’s at stake in Duke-North Carolina III?
Only the fine people who man the selection committee can say for certain. It looked like Duke had firmly settled into No. 2-seed territory after it looked pedestrian without Zion in its lineup. But if it’s able to beat North Carolina and then (possibly) Virginia on Saturday night? Well, you can see where that’s leading.
It’s possible the ACC could nab three No. 1 seeds when the brackets are unveiled on Sunday evening. But that’s assuming the committee penalizes 30-3 Gonzaga for its embarrassing loss to St. Mary’s in the WCC final and isn’t moved by anything Michigan State manages to do in the Big Ten tourney. No matter what happens, the weekend will provide no shortage of twists and turns as it comes to the entire tournament field. Make sure to follow Brad Evans’ frequently updated big board.
Big props to Jazz owner Gail Miller for taking the floor before Thursday night’s game to address the situation that led to a fan being banned for life after hurling excessive abuse at Russell Westbrook. “I am extremely disappointed that one of our quote ‘fans’ conducted himself in such a way as to offend not only a guest in our arena, but also me personally, my family, our organization, the community, our players and you, as the best fans in the NBA. … We are not a racist community.” Read more from Miller here.
Joe Montana did, too. But both stars issued statements on Thursday denying that they or their children were involved with the fraud allegedly perpetrated by Rick Singer’s company. “Obviously, we were not part of this fraud, our kids would disown us if we ever tried to interfere,” the golfer wrote on Twitter. Mickelson explains more here.
The MLB and players union announced some new rule changes for the upcoming season. Among them: A single trade deadline, an All-Star election day and a $1 million prize for the winner of the Home Run Derby. A three-batter minimum per pitcher could also be coming in 2020. Hannah Keyser writes that the players are more focused on what impact the new rules won’t have.
NICK BROMBERG: The 2020 candidate who wants to pay college athletes
FANTASY SPORTS: Win $1,000,000 with Tourney Best Bracket Millionaire
Seven ways to spice up your March Madness office pool
Landon Collins got an awesome signing bonus from Washington
Michael Bennett ‘used to hate’ Tom Brady and Bill Belichick but, uh, that has changed now
Name one thing better in sports right now …
… than a Zion Williamson dunk. (We’ll wait.)
Thanks for reading today’s newsletter!