We Made 10 Million Computer-Generated March Madness Brackets. Will Any of Them Be Perfect?

There’s a secret to winning your March Madness pool that Vegas doesn’t want you to know: All you have to do is enter 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 brackets, and you are certain to pick perfectly. Once.

There are 63 games in the NCAA tournament, not including the four play-ins. Filling out a bracket involves making an up-or-down decision for each one. Of course, after the first round of 32 games, not everyone guesses the outcome of the same remaining 31 matchups since it depends on who you’ve predicted will advance.

This means there are, in fact, 9 quintillion — hold on, let me count those digits again — yes, 9 quintillion possible outcomes for the tournament, or 2^63. By way of context, that’s 1.2 billion outcomes per human being on Earth, or 21 times the number of seconds since the Big Bang. Even if you reduced every bracket to just 63 bits, the size of a computer file containing every possible outcome would be about 72,500 petabytes, which is many times larger than the Internet itself, by most estimates.

Which is not to say we can’t still try to crack March Madness with what computer scientists call a “brute-force attack,” in which one tries to solve a problem by testing every possible solution rather than gaming it out methodically. (Like, say, cracking a password by trying thousands and thousands of possibilities until one works.) So rather than making any attempt to fill out a bracket wisely, I stayed up one night writing a short program that generates about 1,000 brackets a second, weighted slightly toward plausibility. By noon the next day I had over 10 million entries, none of them the same.

As the the tournament progresses, I’ll be scoring each of these March Madness brackets and comparing the best-performing entry to public data on how the nation is faring on popular bracket sites. I’m genuinely curious whether any of my entries stand out or whether even a few million attempts is insufficient to break through the noise. (We’re not putting our money where our algorithmically-generated mouth is, of course, seeing as $ 10 million in entry fees might raise a few questions with the expense department.)

I suspect the odds would be slightly greater in my favor if I had carved out more time to embolden the code with data from the regular season. College basketball dilettantes like USA Today’s Jeff Sagarin have developed techniques over the years that take into account all sorts of factors, like the difficulty of a team’s schedule and each game’s proximity to its home campus.

As it stands, the only factor my code weighs is the difference in the seeds of the two teams. When two teams have the same seed, the algorithm forks, Sliding Doors style, and guesses that both teams will win in parallel brackets.

I definitely wouldn’t want to bet any money against Sagarin, but a computational experiment that TIME ran last year lends some confidence to relying on seeding. As much as people complain about the NCAA selection committee, a 1,000-trial live simulator we developed found that, if you just always choose the higher seed to win and flip a coin when the top seeds face off in the Final Four, over time — a long time — you generally either win or lose a small net amount when pitted against colleagues who rely more on historical data.

Whether this experiment succeeds will probably hinge on the Madness Quotient this year, and the more dramatic the better. Had I tried this last year, about 3 percent of my brackets would have chosen UMBC to defeat Virginia (my alma mater) in the first round. That’s not very many, but that’s the beauty of delegating the work to a computer: It can spend all night guessing and only has to be generally correct once.

Methodology

Every matchup begins with 50-50 odds. For any matchup between unevenly seeded teams, the odds are adjusted to favor the lower-seeded team by about 3 percentage points for every 1-point difference in the seeds. This means a team that is one seed lower than its opponent has 53% odds of winning, while a first-round faceoff between the top-seeded team and the 16-seed will go to the 1-seed 97% of the time.

This generates a sensible spread of championships based on seeds: 10% for the four top-seeds, 6.1% for the 2-seeds, all the way down to between 5 and 7 total victories each for the 16-seeds out of 10 million trials.

Our source code is available on GitHub.

Sports – TIME

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A Guide to the Biggest Celebrity Superfans of March Madness

In the 80 years since the March Madness tournament started, it’s been a beloved and much-anticipated tradition for college basketball fans to fiercely rally for their favorite teams and celebrities are no exception.

For some, like actress Ashley Judd, being a super fan comes with longtime school spirit for her alma mater, the University of Kentucky, whose Wildcats are also a favorite for rapper Drake, who counts Coach John Calipari as a close friend and mentor. Others, like Bill Murray, don’t necessarily have an academic connection to a team, but an emotional one; Murray’s son, Luke, was an assistant coach for Xavier’s basketball program, which meant that the funnyman was a popular presence at Xavier games; for the 2019 NCAA Tournament, it appears that Murray will have to change teams, as Luke is now coaching at the University of Louisville.

Ahead of this year’s March Madness NCAA tournament, here’s a run-down of the most avid celebrity college basketball fans.

Drake — University of Kentucky Wildcats

While many have said that Drake is a bandwagon fan for the of-the-moment teams, there’s no denying that the Canadian rapper is an avid fan of the Kentucky Wildcats. From receiving his own “Drizzy” championship ring when the team won the national championship in 2012 to a chummy friendship with Coach John Calipari that even lead Drake to be on Calipari’s podcast.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus — Northwestern University Wildcats

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has plenty of reasons to cheer on the Wildcats when it’s March Madness; not only did the Veep actress attend Northwestern and meet her husband there, her son Charlie currently plays on the basketball team.

Julianne Moore — Davidson College Wildcats

Julianne Moore became a proud Davidson fan after her son Cal Freundlich joined the basketball team, playing the same position (point guard) that Warriors star Steph Curry played while he was at the college.

Ashley Judd — University of Kentucky Wildcats

Perhaps the most famous longtime fan of the Wildcats, Judd has long been a welcome presence at the school’s games, where she faithfully cheers on her alma mater.

American v Kansas
Jamie Squire—Getty Images

Jason Sudeikis — University of Kansas Jayhawks

Jason Sudeikis grew up in Overland Park, Kansas, roots that have helped to make him a notable fan of Kansas sports, including the Kansas Jayhawks.

Kentucky v Louisville
Andy Lyons—Getty Images

Jennifer Lawrence — University of Louisville Cardinals

While the University of Kentucky might have some major star power from fans like Drake and Ashley Judd, Jennifer Lawrence brings the shine for the state’s other big team, the University of Louisville Cardinals. Lawrence, who grew up in Louisville, is a prominent fan of the team.

Wisconsin v Xavier
Jamie Squire—Getty Images

Bill Murray — Xavier University Musketeers/University of Louisville Cardinals

Bill Murray was a proud fan of the Xavier Musketeers, becoming one of their most prominent and popular game attendees while his son Luke was an assistant coach at the college. However, this year, Luke will be coaching at the University of Louisville, which makes many believe that Murray will now be a staunch Cardinals fan.

Paul Rudd — University of Kansas Jayhawks

Although Paul Rudd was born in New Jersey, he grew up on Overland Park, Kansas and even attended the University of Kansas, making him a Jayhawks fan for life.

Brooklyn Decker — University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Tar Heels

Swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker grew up in North Carolina, making her a diehard UNC fan.

Tim Cook — Duke University Blue Devils

Apple CEO Tim Cook attended Duke for business school and is such a big fan of their basketball program that he used an Apple presentation to troll longtime Duke rival UNC.

Matthew McConaughey – University of Texas at Austin Longhorns

Matthew McConaughey attended the University of Texas, making him a longtime fan of the Longhorns; however, he recently became the university’s basketball arena’s self-proclaimed “Minister of Culture.” While the duties that come with this title are still a little dubious, McConaughey seems to be taking the role pretty seriously, going so far as to hype players during a game earlier this year, all while clad in a suit in the same hue as the school’s trademark orange.

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Ashton Kutcher — University of Iowa

Ashton Kutcher was born in Cedar Rapids and later attended the University of Iowa, making it easy for him to become loyal Hawkeyes fan.

Seth Meyers — Northwestern University Wildcats

Seth Meyers is such a big fan of his alma mater’s sports teams that he often works in references to them in his comedic material.

John Legend — Ohio State Buckeyes

John Legend is a native of Springfield, Ohio and is not shy when it comes to sharing his super fandom for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Sports – TIME

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Mike Trout’s Expected $432 Million MLB Deal Will Make History

A person familiar with the negotiations tells The Associated Press that Mike Trout and the Los Angeles Angels are close to finalizing a $ 432 million, 12-year contract that would shatter the record for the largest deal in North American sports history.

The deal was disclosed Tuesday by a person familiar with the negotiations who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the agreement had not been finalized and had not been announced.

Trout would top the new $ 330 million, 12-year contract between Bryce Harper and the Philadelphia Phillies, and his $ 36 million average annual value would surpass Zack Greinke’s $ 34.4 million in a six-year deal with Arizona that started in 2016.

Progress toward an agreement was first reported by ESPN.

Trout’s deal includes a signing bonus and would supersede the $ 144.5 million, six-year contract that had been set to pay him $ 66.5 million over the next two seasons.

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You Might Not Recognize Baseball’s Highest-Paid Star. For the MLB, That’s a Problem

Finally, Mike Trout is buzzing across the country! Mike Trout’s a thing!

Trout, the generational baseball talent who plays center field for the Los Angeles Angels, is reportedly close to signing the largest contract in North American professional team sports history. It’s a 12-year, $ 426.5 million extension with the Angels. The contract topped — by nearly a cool $ 100 million — the previous high of $ 330 million over 13 years, which Bryce Harper fetched from the Philadelphia Phillies less than three weeks ago. Harper chirped about recruiting Trout to the Phillies when he became a free agent after the 2020 season: Trout’s from South Jersey, and grew up a Phillies fan. But rather than relocate, Trout preferred a paycheck the size of Tonga’s GDP.

Days before the start of March Madness, Trout’s face popped up on ESPN throughout the day, as the network’s pundits debating the merits of the deal. He was trending all day on Twitter. MLB marketing execs were surely smiling.

This historic contract, however, won’t fix baseball’s Mike Trout problem. And baseball, indeed, has a Mike Trout problem.

It’s not that Trout is in any way toxic or anything. In fact, quite the opposite: by all accounts, Trout is a genuinely nice fellow who goes out of his way to sign autographs and do good deeds. No whiff of controversy, steroid or legal or otherwise, trails him.

Trout’s the best player in the national pastime. He’s won two AL MVP awards, and finished in the top two in the MVP voting in all but one of his seven full big-league season. According to analytics site baseballreference.com, his production through age 26 measures up to that of Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey Jr., Mickey Mantle, and Hank Freakin’ Aaron. The issue is that there’s a good chance that if he walked into your Olive Garden, you’d keep eating your breadsticks. Meanwhile, if LeBron James or Tom Brady did the same, you might choke on them.

Trout’s probably the most anonymous super-duper athletic star in America. According to The Q Scores Company, a marketing research firm, Trout has a familiarity score of 22 — meaning just 22% of Americans know who Mike Trout is. Meanwhile, Tom Brady has an awareness rating of 79, and LeBron James clocks in at 74. (Yes, it’s hard to believe that one in four Americans aren’t familiar with LeBron James. Guess it’s a big country out there.)

According to Q Scores Executive Vice President Henry Schafer, baseball players generally score lower in familiarity than football and basketball players. While Brady and James have ratings in the 70s, baseball’s most famous active player is Miguel Cabrera, with a score of 27. Trout’s score is similar to that of NFL players like Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff and Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who’s played in 14 career NFL games. Those players haven’t matched the greatness of Trout in their sport.

Trout’s score is also comparable to that of Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, who has a 23. Love’s a fine player, a five-time All-Star. But if more Americans are familiar with a guy who’s on one of the worst teams in the NBA — and has been injured most of this season — than the best player in baseball, that’s bad news for baseball.

“The thing with athletes is exposure, exposure, exposure,” says Schafer. “Baseball players aren’t out there. They’re not getting tremendous exposure.”

MLB’s aware of this. At last summer’s All-Star game, Trout’s aversion to self-promotion became a bit of a sticking point. Commissioner Rob Manfred noted that if Trout “wants to engage and be more active” in marketing himself, “I think we could help him make his brand really big. But he has to make a decision that he is prepared to engage in that area, and it takes time and effort.”

Manfred’s comments generated headlines — “MLB Commissioner places blame for Mike Trout’s lack of national visibility on Trout” wrote the Los Angeles Times — and irked the Angels, who released a terse statement in response, pointing out that Trout regularly visits hospitals, schools and “countless” charities.

“We applaud him for prioritizing his personal values over commercial self-promotion,” the statement read. “That is rare in today’s society and stands out as much as his extraordinary talent.

Trout might score higher if he played on a better team. While James and Brady have made regular appearances in Super Bowls and NBA Finals, Trout’s played in one postseason series, in 2014; the Kansas City Royals swept the Angles in three games, and Trout hit .083, though his one hit was a home run. You can’t blame Trout for failing to make the playoffs almost every year. It’s much harder for a great baseball player, who only comes up to the plate every nine at-bats, to carry a team on his back like a quarterback who’s involved in every offensive play, or a basketball player who can have the ball in his hands on every offensive possession.

Other factors beyond Trout’s control also account for baseball’s buzz issues. Long games turn off some younger attention-challenged fans. While pace of play initiatives like limiting mound visits and a timing clock for pitching changes helped quicken games a bit last season, the average game still checked in at three hours per nine innings, 10 minutes longer than a decade ago, and more than a half-hour longer than games 40 years ago. Also, baseball fandom is more localized. While it’s easier to follow basketball and football stars on national platforms like ESPN, TNT and Monday Night Football, following 30 teams over a 162-game season takes too much time and energy.

There used to be Monday Night Baseball on broadcast TV. It didn’t last like its football brethren. “Baseball is much more of a geographically contained sport,” says J.C. Bradbury, an economics professor at Kennesaw State University and author of The Baseball Economist: The Real Game Exposed. “MLB has figured out that by going after lucrative regional TV contracts, we’re going to get our money.”

Still, baseball players have the potential for mass cultural relevance. Derek Jeter, for example, transcended sports. MLB is also taking more measures to market its players. Trout, for example, will appear in a new MLB ad on Opening Day, March 28.

But Trout’s probably never going to be the “it” guy. You can’t fake charisma. And his contract, eye-popping as it may be, will soon lose its clout. Don’t forget, Giancarlo Stanton once signed the richest contract in North American pro team sports, a $ 325 million deal with the Miami Marlins in 2014. Right before signing, 11% of Americans were familiar with Stanton, according to Q Scores. Today, even after he subsequently hit 59 home runs one season in Miami and now plays for the New York Yankees — in the country’s largest market, for the game’s most storied team — Stanton checks in at 13, a difference of just two points. Such a spread is within the poll’s margin of error. So it’s completely possible Stanton’s no more famous today than he was five years ago.

That’s more disheartening news for baseball.

 

Sports – TIME

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Want to Win March Madness? These 10 Players Could Lift Your Bracket to Office Pool Victory

Did Michigan State get a raw deal? Yeah. If the Spartans — who (along with Purdue) won the Big 10 regular season title and took the conference tournament — didn’t deserve a #1 seed, they definitely didn’t deserve a #2 seed. Especially because that puts Duke, the top overall team in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, right in Michigan State’s Final Four path. (If seeding holds, #1 Duke and #2 Michigan State would clash in the Elite Eight.)

Meanwhile, should the selection committee have granted St. John’s, who lost in the Big East tournament quarterfinals to Marquette by a cool 32 points, the last at-large bid? With apologies to the Red Storm faithful, you can make a strong argument that no, it shouldn’t have.

All bitter gripes about the brackets, however, should last about three seconds. You can’t change anything now. So grab your pencil, print out a piece of paper and get ready make your picks. (Seriously, just to mess with the IT honcho who runs your office pool, hand him paper brackets, we’re sure he’ll love it.)

To help you along with your NCAA basketball March Madness bracket, here are 10 standout players who could carry their teams to an upset or two, if not all the way to the Final Four in Minneapolis.

Zion Williamson, Duke

Duh, I know. But even hermits have been known to fill out brackets (presumably). And just in case you’re one of those folks who only tunes into college hoops this time of year: Duke freshman Zion Williamson is simply the most freakish player in the game. “There’s never been a player on any level like Zion Williamson,” says ESPN analyst Jay Bilas.

That doesn’t mean Williamson is the best player on the planet. It’s that no one with his build — chiseled 6’7″, 284 lb. linebacker — possesses his skill set. He can jump over the backboard. And Williamson — or just plain “Zion” at this point, ala Serena, LeBron and Neymar — is incredibly fundamental: he can dribble, pass, and owns an effective shooting touch around the rim. “He’s like a mack truck,” says Bilas, “playing lead in ballet.” Let’s just hope his shoes stay intact.

#1 Duke plays the winner of the #16 North Carolina Central/#16 North Dakota State game on Friday, March 22 at 7:10 PM ET on CBS.

Fletcher Magee, Wofford

Magee — “sounds like he should be somebody’s butler,” Bilas deadpans — might be the best shooter in the country. The 6’4″ senior has hit 502 career three-pointers for Wofford, the Southern Conference champs, two shy of the NCAA D-1 record. He shoots an efficient 43% from downtown, a pretty remarkable rate for a guy who hoists an arm-tiring 11 treys a game, and 91% from the foul line.

Magee grew up studying the shot of Philadelphia 76ers guard J.J. Redick, who used to play for the Magic in Magee’s hometown of Orlando; this season, Magee passed Redick on the career NCAA three-pointer list.

#7 Wofford — of Spartanburg, South Carolina — faces #10 Seton Hall on Thursday, March 21, at around 9:40 PM ET on CBS.

Anthony Lamb, Vermont

The player of the year in the America East Conference, Lamb, a 6’6″ junior, has an unusual style in today’s basketball world, which values spreading players across the floor and jacking threes. During Vermont’s America East Conference title game win over UMBC on Saturday, Vermont would dump the ball to Lamb around the foul line, and he’d often bully his way to the basket, a testament to his strength and skill. And Lamb can shoot: he hit 1.5 threes per game this season, nearly double his per-game production from a year ago.

Besides Lamb, who averaged 21.4 points per game this season, the Catamounts feature the Duncan brothers of Evansville, Indiana: fifth year senior Ernie, junior Everett, and freshman Robin. Vermont’s the fifth team in Division 1 history with a fraternal trio on the same squad.

Catch #13 Vermont against #4 Florida St. on Thursday at 2 p.m. ET on CBS.

Miye Oni, Yale

It’s been 24 years since the NBA drafted a player from the Ivy League. Yale’s Miye Oni could end that draught. A late bloomer who had committed to a Division 3 college in high school — and was spotted by a Yale assistant coach while scouting another player — NBA scouts have made regular visits to New Haven to check out Oni’s game. The 6’6″ guard won Ivy Player of the Year honors by doing a little bit of everything; Oni averaged 17.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game.

#13 Yale will play #4 LSU on Thursday at 12:40 PM ET on TruTV. Both schools are involved in embarrassing scandals: LSU coach Will Wade was placed on leave after he was caught potentially violating NCAA rules on wiretap. Yale’s embroiled in the college admissions scandal, as a family allegedly paid $ 1.2 million in bribes to get a fake soccer recruit into the school. Folks made jokes on the internet.

Ja Morant, Murray St.

Zion may be the top overall pick in this June’s NBA draft. But Morant, the explosive 6’3″ point guard from Murray St., is almost certainly going top 3. A Murray State assistant coach first spotted Morant, another unheralded recruit, while stopping by a gym concession stand to grab some chips. Best snack ever: Morant’s stewardship on the Murray St. offense is now appointment TV. Morant scores 24.6 points per game on 50% shooting, which is scarily efficient for a point guard, and dishes out 10 assists per game, tops in the country.

In the first round, Morant will duel with one of the country’s other top point guards, Markus Howard of #5 Marquette, around 4:30 PM ET on Thursday on TBS. Grab some more chips for that one.

Tacko Fall, University of Central Florida

Ja Morant, Fletcher Magee — this year’s tournament fields an impressive All-Name Team. Tacko Fall’s another name you won’t forget. The 7’6″ University of Central Florida center shot 75% from the field this season, and swatted away 2.5 shots per game for the Knights, who finished 23-8. That’s right: Fall’s 7’6″, with a 10-foot, 5-inch standing reach, meaning he need not jump to dunk the basketball.

In one of the season’s sweetest moments, Fall was reunited this season with his mother, whom he hadn’t seen in the seven years since he moved to the U.S. from Senegal.

#9 UCF takes on #8 VCU on Friday at around 9:40 ET PM on CBS. The winner most likely gets Duke in the second round.

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

Ethan Happ, the 6’10” senior center, this season became the first Big 10 player in more than 35 years to score over 2,000 career points and grab over 1,000 rebounds. Don’t discount his passing — Happ has also assisted on 37% of his teammates’ field goals while he’s on the floor, a fantastic rate for a big man.

Happ’s a bit of a throwback, the rare tall pro prospect who doesn’t jack three-pointers — he finished his career 1-16 from downtown. Still, don’t discount the damage Happ, a second team All-American, and his Badgers can inflict on their opponents these next few weeks.

First test for #5 Wisconsin is #12 Oregon, the Pac-12 tournament champions, on Friday at 4:30 ET on TBS.

Eric Paschall, Villanova

One-and-done college players like Zion, who stay in college for a year before leaving for the NBA, rightfully steal most headlines. They tend to be phenomenal. But it’s nice to see players who stick around at college, like Happ and Villanova’s Eric Paschall, get their due. Remember the Wildcats, last year’s national champs? They lost four of their top six players to the NBA this season, but thanks in large part to Paschall — the relatively undersized senior 6’8″ power forward who memorably shot 10-11 from the field against Kansas in last year’s national semifinals — the Cats still won the Big East regular season and tournament championships.

‘Nova’s not a favorite to repeat as national champions. But beware of any team with a skilled bruiser like Paschall, who’s eager to prove that he’s ready to play at the next level, no matter his height.

#6 Villanova opens up its title defense against #11 St. Mary’s on Thursday at 7:20 ET on TBS.

Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga

Hachimura, a 6’8″ junior, is a projected NBA lottery pick: he’d be the first native of Japan ever selected in the draft. As a freshman at Gonzaga, for the 2016-2017 Zags team that reached the national championship game (before falling to North Carolina), he didn’t see much action. Hachimura missed practice time with his teammates to learn English in tutoring sessions (he also picked up the language through TV shows like The Vampire Diaries).

Since then, he’s blossomed. In one of the best regular season games of the season, in Hawaii back in November, Hachimura helped show that Duke — a team that some pundits were predicting would finish with a perfect record this season — could indeed be felled. In a thrilling 89-87 win for Gonzaga, Hachimura scored 20 points, with seven rebounds, five assists, and three blocked shots. Gonzaga could face Duke again in the national semifinals.

But first, on Thursday at 7:27 ET on TruTV, the #1 ‘Zags must advance past either #16 Farleigh Dickinson or #16 Prairie View A&M, who play in the “First Four” on Tuesday night in Dayton.

De’Andre Hunter, Virginia

A financial services firm called 361 Capital on Monday released a note —titled “The Psychology of Undermining March Madness Brackets” — applying behavioral research to tournament picks. (Makes sense: the firm’s clients surely want to win their bracket pool’s prize.) As one of its “behavioral biases that can bust a bracket,” the company pointed to “the gambler’s fallacy,” a misconception that an abnormal event is less likely to occur in the future because it just happened in the past. So, 361 Capital warns, don’t feel #1-seeded Virginia is immune to another historic upset at the hands of a #16 seed, just because UMBC crushed the Cavaliers a year ago.

With all due respect to the financial outfit, throw your psychological buzzwords off the court. Virginia’s not going to fall in the first round again, because this year, the Cavaliers have De’Andre Hunter. The 6’7″ sophomore swingman from Philly missed last year’s tournament game due to an injury. But this season, Hunter has emerged as Virginia’s best NBA prospect in the school’s resurgence under coach Tony Bennett over the last decade.

Virginia will try to move on from last year’s nightmare against Gardiner-Webb on Friday, at around 3:10 PM ET on TruTV. With Hunter, a third-team All-American, on the floor, they’re more than likely to avoid another disaster. That’s no fallacy, gambler’s or otherwise.

Sports – TIME

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Princeton coach knows what to expect from St. John’s-Arizona St.

DAYTON, Ohio — Arizona State’s size and physicality impressed Mitch Henderson. St. John’s five-out offense and quickness in transition stood out to the Princeton coach. Whichever teams exerts its strengths more in Wednesday’s First Four matchup in Dayton will likely advance, according to Henderson, one of two coaches to face both tournament teams this season….
Sports | New York Post

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The 10 Most Exciting March Madness Match-Ups That Could Happen During the 2019 NCAA Tournament

The NCAA tournament, March Madness, the Big Dance, whatever you want to call it, it’s the most wonderful time of the year for college basketball fans.

Selection Sunday has come and gone and the field of 64 Division I men’s basketball teams that will compete for the 2019 National Championship is set— with the exception of the four teams that will be determined by play-in games on Tuesday and Wednesday, of course. This year’s Final Four will take place in Minneapolis, Minn. from April 6 – 8, with the national championship title game set for Monday, April 8.

In the mix this March are three No. 1 seeds from the Atlantic Coast Conference — Duke, Virginia and North Carolina — as well as the fourth and final one-seed, Gonzaga, and a slew of other programs gunning for an upset against the four top-ranked teams.

Brackets will almost certainly be busted and at least one Cinderella story will hopefully be told as the tournament plays out, but in the meantime let’s take a look ahead at 10 of the most exciting potential match-ups that could happen in the 2019 NCAA tournament.

Match-up: Tennessee (2) vs. Purdue (3)

Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game between the Tennessee Volunteers and Auburn Tigers at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee on March 17, 2019.
Matthew Maxey—Icon Sportswire/Getty ImagesTennessee Volunteers guard Jordan Bone watches the final seconds tick off the clock during the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game between the Tennessee Volunteers and Auburn Tigers at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee on March 17, 2019.

Round: Sweet Sixteen

The Volunteers and Boilermakers may not be defensive powerhouses — their defenses are ranked 34th and 32nd in the nation, respectively, according to KenPom — but with the No. 3 and No. 5 offenses in play, this could be a high-scoring second weekend match-up to look out for.

Match-up: Duke (1) vs. Virginia Tech (4)

Wabissa Bede #3 of the Virginia Tech Hokies runs past Jordan Goldwire #14 and Marques Bolden #20 of the Duke Blue Devils at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Virginia on February 26, 2019.
Lauren Rakes—Getty ImagesWabissa Bede #3 of the Virginia Tech Hokies runs past Jordan Goldwire #14 and Marques Bolden #20 of the Duke Blue Devils at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Virginia on February 26, 2019.

Round: Sweet Sixteen

The Hokies pulled off a decisive upset when they came up against the Blue Devils during regular-season conference play in February. Of course, the caveat to that win is that Duke’s star freshman, Zion Williamson, sat the game out with a sprained right knee. Williamson is back and slamming down more dunks than ever, but that doesn’t mean Virginia Tech won’t somehow find an answer to the Blue Devils’ 6-foot-7-inch, 285-pound forward.

Match-up: North Carolina (1) vs. Kentucky (2)

North Carolina Tar Heels forward Luke Maye #32 handles the ball against Kentucky Wildcats forward PJ Washington #25 during the CBS Sports Classic at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois on December 22, 2018.
Quinn Harris—Icon Sportswire/Getty ImagesNorth Carolina Tar Heels forward Luke Maye #32 handles the ball against Kentucky Wildcats forward PJ Washington #25 during the CBS Sports Classic at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois on December 22, 2018.

Round: Elite Eight

When these two storied basketball programs last met in March, North Carolina’s Luke Maye hit the game-winning shot with just 0.3 seconds left to send the Tar Heels to the Final Four on the way to their 2017 National Championship. Not to mention that the 2018 CBS Sports Classic game that these two played in December came down to the final minutes — Kentucky pulled off the win. An Elite Eight match-up between the one and two-seeds in the Midwest would almost certainly be another one for the books.

Match-up: Duke (1) vs. Michigan State (2)

Michigan State Spartans guard Foster Loyer #3 and Michigan State Spartans players celebrate after defeating the Michigan Wolverines in a Big Ten Tournament Championship game between the Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State Spartans at the United Center in Chicago, IL on March 17, 2019.
Robin Alam—Icon Sportswire/Getty ImagesMichigan State Spartans guard Foster Loyer #3 and Michigan State Spartans players celebrate after defeating the Michigan Wolverines in a Big Ten Tournament Championship game between the Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State Spartans at the United Center in Chicago, IL on March 17, 2019.

Round: Elite Eight

Straight off a come-from-behind victory against their in-state rival Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament Championship, Michigan State is entering the NCAA tournament on a hot streak. The only bad news is that the Spartans’ Kyle Ahrens suffered a gruesome ankle injury in Sunday’s game that could keep him on the bench for the remainder of the season. As the No. 1 overall seed, the Blue Devils are going to be a force to be reckoned with for any team, let alone one that isn’t at full strength.

Match-up: Virginia (1) vs. Villanova (6)

Phil Booth #5 of the Villanova Wildcats celebrates the 74-72 win over the Seton Hall Pirates during the Big East Championship Game at Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 16, 2019.
Elsa—Getty ImagesPhil Booth #5 of the Villanova Wildcats celebrates the 74-72 win over the Seton Hall Pirates during the Big East Championship Game at Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 16, 2019.

Round: Elite Eight

After battling through a late-season slump to win the Big East Tournament Championship, Villanova could easily turn out to be one of the most dangerous teams ranked below the top three seed lines in this year’s tournament. On the other hand, after losing to the No. 16-seeded UMBC Golden Retrievers in the first-round of last year — a historic March Madness upset — the Cavaliers are back at No. 1 with something to prove.

Match-up: Kentucky (2) vs. Kansas (4)

Lagerald Vick #24 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky on January 26, 2019.
Andy Lyons—Getty ImagesLagerald Vick #24 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky on January 26, 2019.

Round: Elite Eight

If one-seed North Carolina and current-Tar-Heel-former-Jayhawk coach Roy Williams fall to Kansas in a Sweet Sixteen game that is set to take play at Kansas City’s Sprint Center — an arena that would essentially give Kansas a home-court advantage — a Kentucky-Kansas match-up in the Elite Eight could very well be in the cards. The Wildcats topped the Jayhawks by just eight points when the two teams faced off in January, so with a spot in the Final Four at stake, this rematch would likely be a showstopper.

Match-up: Gonzaga (1) vs. Michigan (2)

Rui Hachimura #21 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs brings the ball up the court against the Pepperdine Waves during a semifinal game of the West Coast Conference basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 11, 2019.
Ethan Miller—Getty ImagesRui Hachimura #21 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs brings the ball up the court against the Pepperdine Waves during a semifinal game of the West Coast Conference basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 11, 2019.

Round: Elite Eight

As the losers of the 2017 and 2018 National Championships, Gonzaga and Michigan are both itching to make it back to the championship title game for a shot at redemption. But to get there, the two may first have to face each other in an Elite Eight game that would pit the nation’s No. 1-ranked offense (Bulldogs) against the No. 2-ranked defense (Wolverines).

Match-up: Virginia (1) vs. North Carolina (1)

Kenny Williams #24 of the North Carolina Tar Heels takes a three-point shot against the Virginia Cavaliers during their game at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on February 11, 2019 .
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesKenny Williams #24 of the North Carolina Tar Heels takes a three-point shot against the Virginia Cavaliers during their game at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on February 11, 2019 .

Round: Final Four

The Cavaliers came out on top the first and only time that Virginia and North Carolina met during the regular season, but it’s always a showdown when these two ACC powerhouses go head to head. The Cavaliers thrive at a slower pace while the Tar Heels like to race down the court at breakneck speed, so the outcome of this Final Four match-up would likely depend on who controls the tempo of the game

Match-up: Michigan (2) vs. Michigan State (2)

Ignas Brazdeikis #13 of the Michigan Wolverines dribbles the ball while being guarded by Aaron Henry #11 of the Michigan State Spartans in the second half during the championship game of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois on March 17, 2019.
Jonathan Daniel—Getty ImagesIgnas Brazdeikis #13 of the Michigan Wolverines dribbles the ball while being guarded by Aaron Henry #11 of the Michigan State Spartans in the second half during the championship game of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois on March 17, 2019.

Round: Final Four

If both Michigan State and Michigan manage to knock out the No. 1 seeds in their regions (Duke and Gonzaga, respectively) — or another team does the job for them first — a Big Ten Tournament Championship rematch could prove to be one of the tournament’s most exciting games. Only this time, the Spartans and Wolverines would be competing for a chance to play in the 2019 National Championship.

Match-up: Duke (1) vs. North Carolina (1)

North Carolina Tar Heels forward Nassir Little #5 shoots over Duke Blue Devils forward RJ Barrett #5 during the ACC basketball tournament between the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tar Heels at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC on March 15, 2019.
Icon Sportswire—Icon Sportswire via Getty ImagesNorth Carolina Tar Heels forward Nassir Little #5 shoots over Duke Blue Devils forward RJ Barrett #5 during the ACC basketball tournament between the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tar Heels at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC on March 15, 2019.

Round: National Championship

No matter either team’s record or ranking, a Duke-UNC game is high stakes any time the two Tobacco Road teams meet. Over the course of college basketball history, the two schools — both of which are among the top five winningest programs of all-time — have won a combined 38 of the 65 ACC Tournament Championships, 50 regular season ACC championships and 11 National Championships. This year alone, North Carolina swept Duke to win a share of the ACC regular season championship before Duke returned the favor by edging Carolina out of the ACC Tournament with a 74-73 win in the semifinals.

All of this is to say that, for fans of either program, the idea of the Blue Devils and Tar Heels meeting in the NCAA tournament for the very first time with a national title on the line is nearly unfathomable. If these two do go head to head in the 2019 National Championship, the greatest rivalry in college basketball will skyrocket to a whole new level.

Sports – TIME

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Boeing shares fall again as crash probes intensify

Boeing shares fell 3 percent on Monday after a pair of newspaper reports over the weekend raised more questions about the certification process for its 737 MAX jets before two recent deadly crashes. A Wall Street Journal report on Sunday said the US Transportation Department was probing the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval of the 737…
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Dominic Thiem Beats Roger Federer to Secure First Masters 1000 Title at Indian Wells

Thiem had lost in his previous two ATP Masters 1000 finals while Federer was in the final for the third straight year and lost for the second year in a row.

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How 2018 St. Patrick’s Day trade became Colts’ four-leaf clover

The Colts picked up four for the price of one in their trade with the Jets. And it’s clear that GM Chris Ballard would do it all over again.
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Feeling shaky about Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament? Remember, no program is more solid.

For as much as Mark Few’s program has done to establish itself as a perennial power, it is still judged too critically by a single loss in its mid-major conference.
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FIFA Will Publicize Its Vote on the 2023 Women’s World Cup Host

(MIAMI) — FIFA has agreed to make public its vote on the host for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

The organization’s decision-making body is becoming more transparent after concerns were raised last month that the women’s tournament wouldn’t fully follow the new voting process for the men’s World Cup.

The United States, Canada and Mexico were chosen last year to host the 2026 World Cup. The votes by the FIFA Congress of all member associations were published. Previously, the decisions were taken in private by the scandal-discredited FIFA executive committee, which was renamed the FIFA Council in 2016.

But FIFA announced last month that its 37-person council would still decide on the destination of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, with no mention of votes being publicly declared.

Now, FIFA has said following a meeting in Miami that after the council makes its decision in March 2020, the “result of each ballot and related votes of each member” will be “open and made public.”

It could be the most hotly contested bidding process for the tournament, which was first staged in 1991. Australia, Colombia, Japan and South Africa have been exploring bids. South Korea submitted a proposal to North Korea to jointly bid.

FIFA asked countries interested in bidding to do so by Friday, but it has yet to disclose who made submissions. Bidders have until April 16 to complete their bidding registrations, and bid books must be submitted by Oct. 4.

Sports – TIME

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51 Women are Suing the U.S. Olympic Committee for Failing to Prevent Abuse By Larry Nassar

(DENVER) — Fifty-one women are suing the U.S. Olympic Committee, its board members and a number of former high-ranking officials for failing to prevent their abuse at the hands of imprisoned sports doctor Larry Nassar.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Denver, details abuse dating to the late 1990s. One of the victims was 8 years old.

Most contend that because they were young and sexually inexperienced, they were not aware they were being abused at the time. Some became aware when other victims began telling their stories at Nassar’s 2018 sentencing hearing for child pornography and sex abuse. Others acted after the release of a report in December that detailed the USOC’s slow response to sex-abuse cases.

The lawsuit alleges the USOC violated Title IX and the constitution by not acting promptly and more forcefully.

The USOC said the federation would have no comment on pending litigation. The governing body has tried to remove itself as a defendant in a number of other similar lawsuits, contending it should not be held legally responsible for Nassar’s crimes. Those lawsuits include USA Gymnastics as defendants, but this one singles out the USOC, which is based in Colorado Springs.

The lawsuit outlines abuse by six other coaches, and the USOC’s slow response to it, though most plaintiffs say they were abused by Nassar.

Many of the plaintiffs’ claims in this lawsuit are similar to those of other victims: Often their parents were present during the examinations but Nassar positioned himself in a way that they could not see what was happening.

One plaintiff described gasping and looking over at her mother when Nassar touched her inappropriately, and Nassar responded by saying “Sorry, cold hands.”

In addition to compensation, the plaintiffs are asking for institutional reform at the USOC. Virtually all the top executives — including the chairman, CEO and sports performance director — have left voluntarily or been fired since Nassar’s sentencing in January 2018.

Sports – TIME

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This Blind Runner Will Be the First to Race the NYC Half Marathon Guided Only By Dogs

Thomas Panek, 48, has been a runner for quite some time — he’s run 20 races throughout his life. Ever since he lost his sight in his early 20’s, he was hesitant to continue running, but eventually trained to run in races with the help of human guides tethered to him. However, he wondered if it was possible to run a race without human guidance, instead led only with guide dogs.

Panek is the president and chief executive officer of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a New-York based nonprofit organization that matches guide dogs to people with vision loss. Five years ago, Panek was paired with his own Guiding Eyes dog, and now 7-year-old yellow lab named Gus. In 2015, he developed the “Running Guides” program, which trains dogs to guide blind runners at a running pace.

This Sunday, Panek will be the first blind person to run the NYC Half Marathon, and he will be guided by a team of three dogs, Westley, Waffle and Gus.

Watch the video above to learn how Panek and his dogs will run Sunday’s race.

Sports – TIME

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It’s gut-check time for Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The way the Players Championship has shaped itself entering the weekend’s final 36 holes, there are some demons to be exorcized. Rory McIlroy, who has failed to emerge victorious in his past nine times in a final-round final pairing, has again positioned himself for a possible Sunday run after scorching…
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