Is it Monday yet?
Not a phrase you’d normally say, but in the context of what will take place at 9:00 p.m. ET, it’s well justified.
At long last, the two best teams in college basketball this season will face each other when the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Baylor Bears meet in the NCAA Men’s Division I Tournament national title game.
This has been a hotly anticipated meeting between these two schools for four months now, ever since their Dec. 5 tilt was cancelled because of COVID-19 protocols when both schools were looking like the two best in college hoops just three games into their respective seasons.
As the campaign progressed, even as Baylor experienced a swoon because of a COVID-mandated pause, it became apparent that these two schools were in a class of their own with the Bulldogs entering the NCAA tournament undefeated and the Bears with just two losses to their name, mostly as they were shaking the rust off from their layoff.
But on Monday, at last, these two powerhouses will meet not only for a chance at a national championship — and a chance at basketball immortality on the line for Gonzaga — but also a shot to finally, truly see who is the best team in college basketball this season.
As we await Monday, however, there is still the matter of the two Final Four games that were played Saturday — and, man, was one of those contests smoking.
Here are a few takeaways from the Final Four.
The Legend of Jalen Suggs
Before you read any further, just take a look at these two clips:
TWO. WAY. MADNESS.
Jalen Suggs block
Drew Timme dunk pic.twitter.com/o7AGVns8wz
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) April 4, 2021
WHAT. JUST. HAPPENED.
GONZAGA STAYS UNDEFEATED AT THE BUZZER! pic.twitter.com/27I8a2A9DA
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) April 4, 2021
The first clip looked like the defining play of the game between Gonzaga and UCLA when freshman phenom Jalen Suggs came up with an incredible sequence where he blocked a shot at the rim, saved it from going out of bounds, started a break and then threw a strike of a bounce pass to teammate Drew Timme for a dunk that put the Bulldogs ahead with under two minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
But as remarkable as that was, the clip below was even more incredible and is the reason why Suggs’ name is unlikely to be forgotten anytime soon.
With 3.3 seconds left to play in overtime and the game tied at 90-90, Gonzaga coach Mark Few opted to allow his team to just inbound the ball and see what happens, despite having a timeout left. It turned out to be a genius move as the ball ended up in Suggs’ capable hands, he raced to just a little past half court and banked in an iconic game-winner reminiscent of Christian Laettner’s in the Elite Eight against Kentucky in 1992.
Christian Laettner + Jalen Suggs = MADNESS pic.twitter.com/I0LuYZ5IRt
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) April 4, 2021
Suggs is a projected top-five pick in this year’s NBA draft, but he appears to have something that the other top prospects simply don’t have: the impossible-to-define “it” factor.
Oklahoma State freshman Cade Cunningham is expected to go No. 1 overall, but he isn’t the player who will be looking to lead his team to the first undefeated college season since 1976 with a signature moment that will be played on repeat until the end of time, is he?
Measurables are great and all, but Suggs has a special kind of magic that you just can’t teach and has proven his desire to will his team to victory. If you’re a GM of an NBA team and don’t want that you should probably look for another job.
We’ll be watching this shot FOREVER. pic.twitter.com/BMftAHdrEi
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) April 4, 2021
Greatest college basketball game of all time?
And on the topic of that Gonzaga-UCLA game, did anyone else feel like they needed a cigarette after watching/experiencing that?
A tightly contested contest with great shot-making and star performances on both sides from start to finish, it’s games like that that remind you why the NCAA Tournament always has such allure.
In particular, because of the two competing storylines from the respective teams with the Bulldogs chasing the history of an undefeated season and the Bruins looking to become the first team in the tournament to go from the First Four to the national championship game.
And it was only made that much more intoxicating by the fact that No. 1 seed Gonzaga was was getting pushed all game long by the No. 11.
The game will always be remembered for Suggs’ heroics, but the 29 points from UCLA’s Johnny Juzang (including the tying basket he made with 3.3 seconds to play in overtime) won’t soon be forgotten, neither will the strong first half from the Zags’ Joel Ayayi and the clutch play of Timme down the stretch of the fourth quarter and in overtime, including a game-saving charge he drew near the end of regulation.
Johnny Juzang gives the ball back to Gonzaga. pic.twitter.com/PvwLnVT9YP
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) April 4, 2021
Canadian comes up clutch
And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the outstanding play from the lone Canadian left in the NCAA Tournament: Andrew Nembhard.
Nembhard, normally a key bench player, got the start for Few’s squad as the Gonzaga coach tightened up his rotation to just seven men. He was mostly used as a safety valve and a calming presence when things got a little hectic, finishing with 11 points and eight assists on 4-of-9 shooting, including a clutch step-back three-pointer that put the Bulldogs up five with about 1:14 to play in overtime.
ANDREW. NEMBHARD. ICY. pic.twitter.com/MyRt0fE1iX
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) April 4, 2021
Though he can get lost in the shuffle given just how much talent is on the Zags, there’s little doubt just how important Nembhard is to them, and he showed it against UCLA.
Oh yeah, that other game
And in case you forgot, there was another Final Four game played Saturday, a 78-58 Baylor victory over Houston in a contest that was the polar opposite of the Gonzaga-UCLA match.
Simply put, the Bears overwhelmed the Cougars, who looked like they didn’t belong and, perhaps, really didn’t as their path to the Final Four was through double-digit seeded teams and when matched up against a truly great opponent like the Bears, they had no answer.
It took a little while for them to get their motor going again, but Baylor continues to look like the dominant team that had many wondering if they were as good or better than Gonzaga near the beginning and middle parts of the season.
The dynamic duo of Jared Butler and likely lottery pick Davion Mitchell are once again playing All-American style basketball, giving the Bears the kind of offensive firepower they’ll need to hang with the Bulldogs as well as the depth thanks to a strong supporting cast with players like MaCio Teague and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Matthew Mayer coming off the bench.
Reminder, we’re getting Gonzaga-Baylor for the national championship game
Get hype! We’re actually going to see a rare best-on-best college national championship game on Monday!
MLB playoff push: Blue Jays can’t afford to cool down in wild card race – Sportsnet.ca
Wednesday’s loss to Tampa Bay escalated from disappointing to dramatic with a single pitch when Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ryan Borucki hit Rays batter Kevin Kiermaier square in the back with an eighth-inning fastball, breathing new life into “cardgate.”
While tempers flared on the diamond with several heated exchanges between managers, players, and umpires, tensions rose in the playoff standings.
The Rays’ decisive 7-1 victory saw them clinch a playoff berth that for them was never in doubt, while the Blue Jays finished Wednesday outside the playoff picture after watching the New York Yankees defeat the Texas Rangers to temporarily break the two teams’ tie and grab sole possession of the American League’s second wild card spot.
After a red-hot September that saw Toronto’s offence propel it into the post-season picture, the club’s playoff pursuit has been slightly cooled thanks to two losses to the Rays. Thursday brings a fresh four-game series against the Minnesota Twins and an opportunity to fire up the offence once again.
Here’s a closer look at where things stand in the MLB playoff picture…
If the playoffs began today
The top teams in each division make the playoffs. In addition to the six division winners, the top remaining two teams per league qualify as wild cards for a total of 10 playoff teams.
The wild card teams in each league face off in winner-take-all games for the chance to advance to the LDS against the top seeded division winner. Meanwhile, the remaining two division winners match up against one another in each league.
If the post-season began today, these five American League teams would qualify:
And these five National League teams would qualify:
(*x = playoff berth clinched)
In striking distance
In the American League, their series loss to the Rays means the Blue Jays are no longer in the post-season window but rather just outside of it, going from being up on the Yankees for the second wild-card spot heading into Wednesday’s action to being one win back of New York by night’s end. The Red Sox are two games up on New York, meanwhile, giving them a little bit of breathing room in that first wild card spot.
Behind the Blue Jays are the 83-69 Seattle Mariners, who aren’t out of the running but are 2.5 games behind New York.
Meanwhile, the National League is looking much more locked up with three teams having officially booked their playoff tickets. The Cincinnati Reds are the closest to the final (and only) wild card spot available with a record of 78-74, but hope is dwindling as they’re 4.5 games back of St. Louis. The same applies to the Philadelphia Phillies, whose identical record and win percentage (.513) has them still alive — barely! — in this race.
Blue Jays’ FanGraphs odds: 51.4% | Blue Jays’ Baseball-Reference odds: 68.5%
Yankees’ FanGraphs odds: 49.4% | Yankees’ Baseball-Reference odds: 33.1%
Red Sox FanGraphs odds: 96.2% | Red Sox Baseball-Reference odds: 94.3%
The Blue Jays will look to bounce back from their first series loss in a month when they send Steven Matz to the mound to open up a four-game stint in Minnesota while the Twins counter with Michael Pineda. Meanwhile, the Yankees and Red Sox embark on a three-game series Friday, which we’ll all be watching closely.
Seven burning questions entering the Maple Leafs' 2021-22 training camp | Maple Leafs Hotstove – Maple Leafs Hot Stove
Welcome back! I hope everyone had a nice summer and was able to get outside and enjoy some fresh air after what felt like an extremely long winter.
Naturally, that’s a great segue to the Toronto Maple Leafs…
Training camp has officially started, and a new season is on the horizon.
It goes without saying at this point, but the pressure facing the Maple Leafs‘ core players, coaching staff, and management group is greater than it has ever been. They need to advance in the playoffs this season. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that jobs are on the line.
Adding to the tense situation is a disgruntled fanbase that probably won’t be forgetting about five straight first-round exits for the entire regular season. The team is also returning to a difficult division featuring several high-end teams.
The Leafs have a lot of questions to answer this season, and training camp should start providing us with some clues as to how they plan to approach the 2021-22 season.
Here are seven storylines to monitor over the next few weeks.
Will they spread out their talent to create three lines and some depth?
In the offseason, I did a deep dive on the lopsided Leafs’ forward ice-time distribution. In a nutshell, the Leafs are asking their top players to play more than any successful Cup team in the last 12-plus years. In the regular season, Mitch Marner led all forwards in the league in average time-on-ice per game, which still feels a little crazy to write. Is this upcoming season going to be more of the same?
The loss of Zach Hyman is particularly notable in this sense. Not only did he play a ton as well, but he gave the Leafs a credible winger to play heavy minutes on the top line against the opponents’ best. Nobody the Leafs signed this summer credibly gives them an option to replace him.
The new additions are fine gambles — and they will probably even hit on a signing or two — but it doesn’t make them options to play against the Bergeron line, Point line, or the Barkov line for 20+ minutes a night. To some degree, the Leafs’ coaching staff really should try to create three lines, and that means one of their top four forwards would have to play on a de facto third line of sorts.
In that sense, it’s almost strange to picture the Leafs loading up the top six when each of their top two lines would have a clear weak link. In the case of a first line playing 22+ a night, there would be a gigantic leap of faith with the player in this spot, who would be playing well above his head based on previous results (unless, maybe, Ondrej Kase actually stays healthy).
We know that Matthews and Tavares will be the top two centers. Will Marner and Nylander be attached to their hips the whole time, as they have been since Keefe took over the bench? Will they swap Marner and Nylander at any point? Dare we ask, will one of Marner/Nylander be given a line of their own to shape a three-line Leafs attack?
Who will play left wing alongside Matthews and Tavares?
As we just noted, we know who the top two centers are pretty well no matter what. We have a rough idea of who the right wingers will be (Marner, Nylander, Kase, possibly Nikita Gusev, and maybe even Spezza is rewarded at some point).
The left wing is a completely different story. Nick Ritchie is in the mix and has a reasonable pedigree. Michael Bunting is intriguing, but he is 26 years old and has 26 NHL games to his name. Alex Kerfoot can slot there competently, but the Leafs might not have a suitable 3C if he does. Mikheyev can handle good minutes defensively, but he might not score enough to justify significant ice time alongside a top-end center. And Nick Robertson has the pedigree of a player that can play in the top six someday, but whether or not the time is now is the big question.
It will be interesting to see how creative Keefe becomes with his line building. For example, will he try Nylander on his off-wing at all? He has played there before and has the shot to be dangerous in that spot. The team’s right wing depth is strong if Kase is healthy (again, a massive if). Bumping one over to the left side to push their right-wing talent up a ring on each line is a reasonable idea.
One last note here: The Leafs can also feasibly plan to start the game with certain lines — spreading out their talent and having players playing high up the lineup in the first few periods — before loading up to close out games. It is a reasonable strategy that can be sustainable if managed the right way, and it won’t lead to players playing 2, 3, 4+ minutes more than they should/are capable of.
Maybe a Nick Ritchie starts each game on the top line but is bumped down the lineup in the third period? When Keefe took over as the Leafs’ coach, he moved players around regularly. Last season, he got away from it.
To start this training camp, Keefe expressed optimism about the team’s improved depth. Let’s see how he manages it.
Who is the third line center?
This is a bit of a conundrum. Alex Kerfoot struggled last season as the third line center but handled himself well alongside Tavares and Nylander on the left wing. He also played well at center beside Nylander in the playoffs. Maybe he just needs to play with a puck carrier such as Nylander, allowing him to use his speed to forecheck and create turnovers. He can easily be one of the two top-six left wingers, but whether he can adequately center a third line without a top player on his flank is a different question.
If it’s not Kerfoot at 3C, who are the other options? The Leafs gave Kampf a two-year, $1.5 million AAV contract and he is in fact a natural center. If it’s not Kerfoot, he seems to be the logical next man up. Kampf is good enough defensively, but can the Leafs use a player in that spot if he is only putting up 20 points over a full season? There is a certain level of productivity needed to justify the ice time, and 20 points is not it.
For some reason, Spezza is often mentioned in the center conversation, but he hasn’t been a full-time pivot for at least three seasons now. There isn’t much reason to believe he could suddenly shift back there at age 38 while his skating falls off. I don’t think the Leafs coaching staff is even remotely considering him as an option in this spot.
Pierre Engvall played 3C at times last season and can do it. The question with him — and it’s one Keefe seems keenly aware of based on his poking and prodding of the player — is which Engvall is showing up each night? When he’s on his game, Engvall is a good third-line center. When he’s not, he’s borderline unplayable.
Adam Brooks also flashed a little offensively. If the Leafs want to have an offensive third line, he’s certainly a candidate. Of all the options, he might actually have the highest offensive upside in this type of role. Can he handle the defensive responsibility of a third-line role (where he wouldn’t be nearly as sheltered as he was in the 4C spot alongside Spezza and Thornton)? Can he produce consistently enough to outweigh any lapses on the other side of the puck?
How will the forward group round out?
By my count, the players guaranteed to start game one of the season in the top 12 are (in no particular order):
- Kampf (they didn’t pay him 1.5×2 just to sit him)
The final three spots are anyone’s guess. Keefe has consistently sat Pierre Engvall, so while I’d like to think he can be a contributor as a checker and possibly a center, history has shown us that Keefe has no problem making him a healthy scratch.
Bunting is unproven, so while he will get a shot at some point, you can’t necessarily etch it in stone to start game one of the season.
As a respected veteran, Simmonds will likely get into the game one lineup based on pedigree alone, but you can also quite easily envision the team’s best possible lineup not including him (that said, a two-year contract with an NTC almost certainly guarantees Simmonds is playing in game one, if we’re being realistic).
Kase will be in there if he’s healthy, but I will not bet on that anytime soon given his history.
Gusev is on a PTO and has had some success in the league – given he’s competing against a number of players with inconsistent track records, it’s quite easy to see him making the team.
You also have Adam Brooks and Kurtis Gabriel in the mix. And then there’s Robertson, who is probably the biggest wildcard among the forwards. If he’s ready to play a full NHL season and contribute, the domino effect on the Leafs’ forward depth would be notable.
All in all, that’s eight players vying for the final three spots. This should be a good battle.
Will the top two pairings stay the same?
The Leafs were set-and-forget with their top four last season – Rielly paired with Brodie the whole time, as did Muzzin with Holl.
This year, they don’t have a veteran anchoring the third pairing. At some point, they have to start wondering about Muzzin’s injuries in the playoffs (two consecutive years of missing series-deciding games). Are they going to set the top four again and run with it, or are they going to move these pairings around at all?
Maybe an injury forces the team’s hand at some point during the season and they opt to keep the top four rolling as is. Maybe they get proactive and spread out the unit a little bit, trying out new combinations within the top four (Muzzin – Brodie, Rielly – Holl, for instance). Maybe they spread out the wealth among the entire top six, reuniting pairings in high-leverage situations (to close out periods, or in the final 10 minutes of a game, etc.).
Who wins the final spot in the top six on defense?
On defense, I’ll comfortably project that Rielly, Brodie, Muzzin, Holl, and Dermott are all locks to start the season. Perhaps the inclusion of Dermott might shock some, but he’s coming off of a quietly solid season and has now played over 200 games in the league. It would be unexpected to me if not one but two rookies completely bumped him out of the starting six.
That leaves Rasmus Sandin vs. Timothy Liljegren. On one hand, Sandin has the better pedigree and has played more in the NHL. On the other, the Leafs might like the handedness with the rightie Liljegren (and he has also been a good player in the AHL — I don’t want to take anything away from him there).
After Zach Bogosian departed, the Leafs left this open to competition (they also signed Alex Biega for depth), and it’s presumed the intention here is to give both young defensemen a real chance to crack the lineup. They will both play at some point. This one will be more about who seizes the opportunity when it’s presented.
This also bleeds into the previous point – it’s possible the Leafs want to pair up these young defensemen with veterans and decide to insulate them rather than having a kids pairing, even if they would be sheltered.
How will the goaltending tandem be managed?
I’m really fascinated to see how this goaltending tandem plays out, particularly in this market.
Years ago, the Leafs ran a James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier tandem, which was actually a fairly reasonable duo on paper (in their first year together, the Leafs were 10th in 5v5 save percentage, although they dropped to 22nd in their second year). The whole time, there was a non-stop storyline around who should start and who was the better goalie.
Now, Petr Mrazek arrives in a fairly similar situation: brought in to split starts with an inexperienced goalie coming off a strong season and a good showing in the playoffs. Bernier was brought in to be the guy, and while I wouldn’t necessarily say the same about Mrazek, he is born in the same year as Campbell and is signed for the next three years. He’s not coming in to simply accept the back seat.
There are plenty of great examples of 1A/1B goalie tandems working – Mrazek himself just came from a situation like that! – but this is not Carolina. Who should start will be a story throughout the season.
How will the goalies handle it? How will Keefe manage it? Is there going to be a preference for giving the net to the goalie who performed really well last season, or the netminder signed to a fairly sizable three-year contract?
For Oilers, Archibald’s selfish anti-vaccine stance is not worth the risk – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — One is a player who opted to honour his commitment to his new team in Edmonton. The other, just another selfish anti-vaxxer who is betting on himself, somewhat foolishly.
One is a player the general manager staked his reputation on, with much pedigree and a handful of Stanley Cup rings. A guy who came to town billed as a leader, and then backed it up when he rolled up his sleeve despite obvious misgivings about being vaccinated.
Sure, Duncan Keith should have gotten vaccinated a month sooner. But give him some credit for putting the team — society and the Oilers — ahead of himself. Even if he waited until the 11th hour to do it.
Then there is depth winger Josh Archibald, who will be replaced by Game 1 of the regular season if he doesn’t give his head a shake. He is from that young, conspiracy-oriented demographic that has been suckered in by far-right disinformation, and tweets about idiocy like “the plandemic.”
“I’m happy that he’s going to be part of our team this year, fully vaccinated,” Oilers general manager Ken Holland said of Keith, a player Holland had seriously dug in on to convince him to get vaccinated. Mike Smith took some work, too, we are told, but now both are vaccinated and ready to do what they were brought in to accomplish.
The other player is more selfish than that.
Archibald is a nice, fourth-line penalty killer in a normal season. He’ll get you 10 goals a year. But for this, the third COVID-affected NHL campaign, an unvaccinated Archibald just isn’t worth it.
Holland and head coach Dave Tippett sat down with Archibald on Tuesday and spelled out how many games he would miss and what it would mean to be Canada’s only unvaccinated NHL player. It would cost him up to 40 per cent of his $1.5 million salary. Maybe more.
Now Holland sits, and hopes that Archibald changes his mind before the GM has to send him to AHL Bakersfield. He is virtually untradeable, as Archibald could not play games in Canada for a U.S.-based team, and poses a risk that no fourth-liner can justify.
“There are a team or two out there that have made the decision that unvaccinated players are not welcome at training camp. I have not made that decision as of this time,” Holland said on Wednesday. “I think the player is going through the process to decide. It’s a difficult decision. I’ll give [Archibald] the appropriate time, and I’ll see where I’m at in a week, 10 days from now. We’ll see.”
Editor’s note: With overwhelming consistency, research has shown vaccinations against COVID-19 are safe and effective. Residents of Alberta who are looking to learn more about vaccines can find up-to-date information here. Further details on COVID-19 and the country’s pandemic response are available on Canada’s public health website.
In a strange twist of fate, Keith — who received his vaccination in the United States only this week — is in quarantine until next Friday, while the unvaccinated Archibald is undergoing daily testing while attending Edmonton Oilers training camp.
But here’s the reality of all this: A Canadian team simply can not have an unvaccinated player on its roster.
By Holland’s math, an unvaccinated player who must serve a 14-day quarantine every time he comes over the U.S. border and into Canada, would miss “30-plus games” this season. He’d also miss a ton of practice time, and would lose one-200th of his pay for every day missed due to the federally mandated quarantine.
It would be impossible to hold his place on an NHL roster.
“After you quarantine for 14 days, if we’re playing well you’re not just taking someone out to put that person in,” Holland said. “The number of times we cross the border, it’s going to be very difficult.”
Had Keith and Smith not relented, the Oilers’ season would have been derailed.
Related reading: Edmonton Oilers goaltender Alex Stalock contracted COVID-19 before the shortened 56-game season. Now, the 34-year-old is likely going to miss the 2021-22 season due to a heart condition.
Now that Holland has his starting goalie and No. 3 defenceman in the fold, why on earth would you want an unvaccinated, 13:33-minutes per game player flying on the same charter and inhabiting the same dressing rooms as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl?
Between the peer pressure, the risk of lost salary, and the ridiculous nature of his stance, I expect Archibald to relent and get the jab. Let’s face it: It’s a business, and there is no moral high ground in sport.
“In July I heard talk that there were 80, 90 unvaccinated players,” Holland recounted. “We had a Board of Governors meeting (Tuesday), and Bill Daly said we’ll be in single digits of players unvaccinated going into the season. So, basically, 70, 80, 90 players eventually made the decision to get vaccinated.”
Some because they didn’t want to lose the salary, and some because they put their team and others before themselves.
There is one player left on a Canadian team who puts himself before everything else, and his name is Josh Archibald.
Politics Podcast: FiveThirtyEight Goes To Canada And Germany – FiveThirtyEight
Canada's costly election: Could $600M have been spent elsewhere? – CTV News
Canadian retail sales likely up 2.1% in August as restrictions lift
Silver investment demand jumped 12% in 2019
Europe kicks off vaccination programs | All media content | DW | 27.12.2020 – Deutsche Welle
Iran anticipates renewed protests amid social media shutdown
News21 hours ago
Canada fossil fuel workers want victorious Trudeau to keep retraining pledge
Business21 hours ago
Police in Quebec seek man for punching nurse over wife’s COVID-19 shot
Health21 hours ago
New Zealand’s Ardern says lockdowns can end with high vaccine uptake
Business21 hours ago
BlackBerry beats quarterly revenue expectations on cybersecurity boost
Art22 hours ago
All Aboriginal art is political: you just need to learn how to read it – The Guardian
Tech8 hours ago
U.S. social audio app Clubhouse launches ‘wave’ feature for private chats
Politics8 hours ago
Mail-in delays and recounts: Canada’s election tallying drags on.
Health18 hours ago
B.C. reports 759 new COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths, 1 death in Island Health – CHEK