Happy Thursday everyone, and happy first round of the men's NCAA Tournament! If you're reading this before noon ET, you still have time to join our Men's Bracket Games (and until tomorrow at noon ET to join our Women's Bracket Games). And if you're still waiting to finalize everything, you're in luck: We have every last-second piece of advice you need.
Let's get right to it.
Good morning to everyone...
It's the NCAA Tournament. Need I say more? Whether you've watched hours and hours of basketball or zero-point-zero seconds, submitting a bracket is super easy, super fun and -- well, everyone does it. Pick your favorite mascot, or flip a coin, have your pet pick... or, hey, just use our experts' insights!
Nine of our best and brightest have filled out their brackets, and here's the breakdown of their championship picks:
Why are the Cougars so popular? Let our Matt Norlander explain...
- Norlander: "Houston has rated as the best team in college basketball in every mainstream advanced analytic metric for months. ... And if Marcus Sasser's groin issue can subside, it means the Cougars will have a nasty three-guard attack, a future lottery pick (Jarace Walker) and a coach (Kelvin Sampson) who took this school to the biggest stage just two years ago. They have the pedigree, talent, size, strength and toughness to do this."
The Cougars also have one of the easiest paths in the Tournament, notes our David Cobb, and if you're worried about how far you have your top seeds advancing, David's story will help calm any nerves. Or maybe accentuate them. At the very least, it will help you make your final decision.
Zooming in on the First Round alone, though, we have absolutely terrific action today and tomorrow. David ranked all 32 games between now and the weekend, and I think I can speak for most of us when I say I can't wait for Oral Roberts vs. Duke.
- Cobb: "Oral Roberts stunned No. 2 seed Ohio State in a first round game two years ago behind the play of star guard Max Abmas and reached the Sweet 16. Now, Abmas is back to try and take down the red-hot Blue Devils, who have won nine straight games with a rotation full of immensely talented freshmen. ORU owns the nation's longest winning streak at 17 games and is a potential giant slayer once again."
You can see our experts' picks for that game -- and the other biggest games today -- here. Still worried about your bracket? Let me interest you in Matt's annual numbers to know column, which is full of all the stats that can help inform your decisions. Andrew Tulin's FUNK method is also a really fun way to narrow down the field.
And to finish it off -- of course -- is the best of the rest.
More than anything, enjoy the next few weeks. Whether your bracket survives until the end or is in shreds hours from now, this is the best time of the year. There is nothing like the NCAA Tournament. The upsets, the buzzer beaters, the emotions... we'll be here to enjoy it with you.
Brackets are here! Get back in your pools and join our Men's and Women's Challenges for the chance to win a new SUV and a college basketball dream trip! No purchase necessary. See Terms & Rules for details.
- The Eagles are actually keeping Darius Slay.
- De'Aaron Fox hit a game-winner for the surging Kings.
- No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson and No. 11 seed Arizona State got easy First Four wins.
- Grand Canyon's practice equipment got left behind, so Baylor coach Scott Drew stepped up to help little brother Bryce.
- Real Madrid and Napoli both cruised into the Champions League quarterfinals. The quarterfinal draw is tomorrow morning on Paramount+.
- Here's the latest USMNT roster.
And not such a good morning for...
EDWIN DÍAZ AND THE NEW YORK METS
In the blink of an eye, pure joy turned into absolute horror for Edwin Díaz -- and the New York Mets. The Mets All-Star reliever sustained an apparent right knee injury after closing out a huge win for Puerto Rico vs. the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.
He was carried -- and then put in a wheelchair -- to get off the field, but it was hard to see exactly how Díaz, 28, got hurt. He was among a large huddle of players jumping on the field after the victory.
- Díaz, is coming off a marvelous season in which he converted 32 of 35 save opportunities, posted a 1.31 ERA and won the Trevor Hoffman Award, given to the NL's top reliever.
- Díaz signed a five-year, $102-million contract with the Mets last offseason.
- The win sent Puerto Rico into the quarterfinals and eliminated the Dominican Republic.
... AND ALSO NOT SUCH A GOOD MORNING FOR EZEKIEL ELLIOTT
It's the end of an era in Dallas. The Cowboys released Ezekiel Elliott, ending his seven-year stint with Dallas that saw him rack up the third-most rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in franchise history.
- Elliott, 27, has won two rushing titles but averaged 3.9 yards per touch in 2022, worst among the 30 players with at least 200 touches. Tony Pollard, who the Cowboys franchise tagged, averaged 5.9 yards per touch to top that list.
- Elliott still had four years left on a six-year, $90-million extension. None of the remaining money, though, was guaranteed.
- Here are potential landing spots for Elliott.
Not so honorable mentions
- LeBron James' foot is feeling better, but there's no timetable for his return.
- Draymond Green picked a bad time to get a technical foul.
Aaron Rodgers intends to play for Jets, but no deal in place yet 🏈
After a darkness retreat, a meeting with another team, a wish list and plenty of other twists and turns... we still don't have an official resolution to the Aaron Rodgers saga. But we're close.
The four-time MVP intends to play for the Jets, but the deal is not done yet:
- Rodgers said on "The Pat McAfee Show" that he went into the offseason leaning toward retirement, but the retreat changed his mind. That was one of several eye-opening comments.
- The trade isn't done yet because the Packers are "digging their heels in" when it comes to trade compensation.
- Per a report, Green Bay is looking for a package similar to what the Rams gave up to get Matthew Stafford. That trade netted Detroit two first-round picks, a third-round pick and Jared Goff.
Obviously, this is huge news for the Jets. But the Packers are somewhat of a winner, too. If they were going to lose Rodgers, losing him in this manner at least gives the team some leverage in terms of asking price and timing, writes our Jordan Dajani.
- Here's how the Packers will look different under Jordan Love
- Here are a dozen amazing numbers from Rodgers' time in Green Bay.
Finally, late Wednesday, the Bengals signed four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who served as Patrick Mahomes' blindside protector during last year's Super Bowl run, to a four-year deal. It's a huge move, considering Cincinnati and Kansas City figure to be facing off in the AFC for a long time to come.
As always, you can keep up with all the comings and goings...
NBA suspends Ja Morant eight games without pay 🏀
The NBA officially suspended Grizzlies star Ja Morant eight games for "irresponsible, reckless and potentially very dangerous" conduct stemming from a social media post showing him brandishing a gun in a nightclub.
- The six games Morant has already missed count toward the suspension. That means he's eligible to return Monday, though he is not expected to play in that game. He was not charged with a crime.
- Morant entered a counseling program in Florida to "get help and work on learning better methods of dealing with stress and my overall well-being."
- In an interview, Morant said the gun was not his and that he "made a bad mistake."
What we're watching Thursday 📺
🏀 We're watching the men's NCAA Tournament. Here's how.
🏀 We're also watching the women's NCAA Tournament. Here's how.
🏀 Magic at Suns, 10 p.m. on NBA TV