Hey there ... happy Monday! I hope your couch and your bracket managed to survive the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. I certainly can't hold it against you if your bracket is already in the trash because, as I mentioned last week, I raced marbles in order to fill out my bracket this year and the marbles backed Ohio State all the way. Damn you, marbles!
Of course, Ohio State wasn't the only big-time upset through the first couple of rounds ... not even close. There were so many unexpected early takedowns this weekend (and we've got potential for more today) so we'll take some time to recap as much of the madness as we can this morning. Stick around for some predictions for today's games, too.
Whether your favorite team is still playing or not, I think we can all agree that it's awesome to have March Madness back in our lives. The opening weekend of the tourney is always one of the most fun and relentless sports weekends of the year and, even though things look a bit different this year, the entertainment factor was still through the roof.
Luckily, there's still plenty more basketball to enjoy so let's take a second to recalibrate and then get right back to that comfy spot on the couch.
📰 What you need to know
1. Upsets galore across March Madness 🏀
One of the things we love most about the NCAA Tournament is how unpredictable it can be ... especially in the early going. There are always at least a few early upsets that throw a bunch of brackets out of whack and cause some major gambling swings. This year we figured the unpredictability factor might be ramped up a bit thanks to a strange COVID-altered season, but I'm not sure anyone expected the number of upsets we got over the past few days.
It took less than two days for the last perfect entry in our Bracket Challenge to be busted. As we approach the Sweet 16, there are several double-digit seeds still alive.
- No. 15 Oral Roberts: They are looking like the Cinderella story of the tourney right now, as they stunned No. 2 Ohio State in Round 1 before then eliminating No. 7 Florida to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16
- No. 11 Syracuse: The Orange put on a defensive showcase and took down No. 6 San Diego State in the opening round, then doubled up with a dramatic win over No. 3 West Virginia on Sunday
- No. 12 Oregon State: The Beavers continue to exceed all expectations. Fresh off a Pac-12 Tournament title, they downed No. 5 Tennessee in the opening round before then topping No. 4 Oklahoma State to move on to the Sweet 16
- No. 13 Ohio: Virginia's unusual title defense came to a swift end in the first round, as Ohio handed the upset to Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers, who had just come out of a COVID-19 quarantine period. Ohio will look for another upset against No. 5 Creighton later tonight
- No. 10 Maryland, No. 11 UCLA and No. 14 Abilene Christian are all still alive in the East region and will play for spots in the Sweet 16 today (UCLA and Abilene Christian will face one another)
TL;DR: There are three double-digit seeds that have already secured spots in the Sweet 16, with four more ready to play for spots today. By the way, the record for the most double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16 is five and that came back in 1999. There's a chance we could see some history this year.
And that doesn't even cover all the upsets, either. There were a total of nine double-digit seeds to come out of the first round (Rutgers and North Texas were the others, but they lost in Round 2) and our first No. 1 seed casualty (Illinois) came at the hands of No. 8 Loyola-Chicago. Sister Jean is working her magic again and it's no surprise her squad was named one of the biggest winners of the weekend from our college basketball crew.
You want to know who's a big loser after the opening weekend? All the "professional" sportswriters out there who have to try to suppress the urge to make juvenile jokes about Oral Roberts. If the Golden Eagles keep winning I may preemptively place myself on unpaid leave.
2. Predictions for Monday's slate of Madness 🏀
So your bracket sucks -- now what? Well, you can take your ball and go home, crying the entire way about how life is unfair and that you never win anything. Or you can shake it off, embrace the madness and see if you can redeem yourself down the stretch.
Our college basketball crew is showing some bravery by continuing to try to predict this nutty tournament, and a bunch of our experts have risked their reputations by delivering predictions (both straight-up and against the spread) for all eight of today's games. Let's take a look at some of the selections from our Kyle Boone:
- No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 2 Iowa: Oregon will have a tough test in their first game of the tournament -- they advanced after their opening round game was declared a no-contest thanks to a positive COVID case for VCU -- but Boone thinks the fresh legs could help them. Prediction: Oregon 71, Iowa 69
- No. 13 Ohio vs. No. 5 Creighton: Ohio's got plenty of confidence after knocking off the (sort of) reigning champs in Virginia, but will that swagger translate to another upset? Boone says not so fast. He likes Creighton to win and cover (-6). Prediction: Creighton 78, Ohio 71
- No. 6 USC vs. No. 3 Kansas: This is a big-time showdown that could honestly go either way (and our experts are completely split), but Boone has faith in USC star freshman Evan Mobley putting on enough of a show to carry the Trojans to victory. Prediction: USC 71, Kansas 67
You can find the rest of the predictions right here. It's important to keep in mind that this tournament has been incredibly off-the-wall insane so far and that makes is a bit more difficult to trust ANYONE'S predictions. At this rate, I'm ready to bank on Gonzaga losing by 50 today.
3. LeBron James sidelined indefinitely with high ankle sprain 🏀
Not all the big basketball news came from the college ranks this weekend. The NBA was still in action and the league had a major injury development a couple of days ago. The seemingly indestructible LeBron James is apparently mortal after all, and now the Lakers are going to have to forge forward without (another) one of their biggest stars.
- LeBron suffered a high-ankle sprain on Saturday afternoon when Solomon Hill fell on top of James' right ankle
- X-rays on the ankle were negative but James will be sidelined indefinitely
- Lakers currently sit third in the West but are only one game ahead of the fourth-seeded Clippers and just 2.5 games ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers, who are sixth
- LeBron on Twitter after the injury: "Nothing angers and saddens me more than not being available to and for my teammates! I'm hurt inside and out right now. The road back from recovery begins now. Back soon like I never left."
Los Angeles was already without Anthony Davis (calf strain) and now they find themselves in a tough spot as they try to maintain playoff positioning down the stretch. The good news is that they're still on the right side of the trade deadline, and they've got some time to swing a deal if they so choose, perhaps for some help on the perimeter. But, as our Sam Quinn points out, acquiring said help is not going to be easy...
- They have only one tradable first-round pick and it's in 2027
- The Lakers also only have $1.5 million in space below the hard cap. They would essentially have to match the salary of any player they acquire dollar-for-dollar
It seems safe to assume the Lakers are going to play it relatively safe with LeBron, as keeping him healthy and ready to go for the playoffs should be their top priority. With that in mind, we may not see him back for a little while and that means the MVP race could be down to two guys -- Nikola Jokic and Damian Lillard.
4. Latest NHL Power Rankings 🏒
Basketball may be dominating the entire sports world right now, but that doesn't mean I'm going to forget my greatest love. The NHL is still cruising along and every team in the league has now played at least 50 percent of its 56-game season. We're starting to get a good feel for the contenders and the pretenders, or at least so we think.
The latest edition of my weekly Power Rankings highlights Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche. MacKinnon has struggled with health issues, but he's gone on a tear recently (four goals and nine points in five games) and, as a result, the Avs are looking like the powerhouse that we expected them to be this season.
Here's a look at the updated top 10 from the rankings:
- Golden Knights
- Maple Leafs
Keep in mind we're only a few weeks out from the trade deadline, which means that any team that's not happy with their spot in the rankings has an opportunity to add some reinforcements for the stretch run (this is a plea for my Bruins to please, please add some secondary scoring before the deadline.)
📝 Odds & Ends
- LaMelo Ball is expected to miss the rest of the season after fracturing his wrist
- The Women's NCAA Tournament got new workout facilities after public backlash from athletes and coaches
- Matt Jones scored his first PGA Tour victory in seven years
📺 What to watch today
🏀 No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 2 Iowa, 12:10 p.m. | IOWA -5 | TV: CBS
🏀 No. 8 LSU vs. No. 1 Michigan, 7:10 p.m. | MICH -5 | TV: CBS
🏀 No. 6 USC vs. No. 3 Kansas, 9:40 p.m. | KU +1 | TV: CBS
🥇 The best thing I saw yesterday
This "dance-off" between Loyola-Chicago fans was incredibly painful yet hilarious.