Happy Wednesday, folks.
Let's get right to it.
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Good morning to everyone but especially to...
Villanova has won or shared three straight Big East regular-season titles and seven of the last eight. On Tuesday night, the Wildcats paid a visit to the only team ahead of them in the conference standings: Providence.
Safe to say Villanova isn't too keen on its streak ending, especially not if Collin Gillespie has anything to say about it.
Gillespie poured in a career-high 33 points -- seven of which came in the final minute -- and the No. 10 Wildcats beat the No. 8 Friars, 89-85.
Gillespie is a fifth-year senior, and his outstanding skill, poise and smarts shined down the stretch:
- 3:01 left, up 2: After offensive rebound, pump fakes defender closing out, takes one dribble left and nails open three
- 0:55 left, up 2: Notices over-aggressive defender, draws foul, makes both free throws
- 0:29 left, up 2: Gets screen, sees Providence defenders hesitate/miscommunicate, dribbles left and nails open three. Dagger.
- 0:20 left, up 5: Makes both free throws (did I mention he's a 92% free-throw shooter?)
This was an excellent win for the Wildcats, who have won four straight -- three against teams currently in Jerry Palm's projected tournament field. Their defense leaves something to be desired at times, but when you have one of the nation's best players running the show and one of the nation's best coaches (Jay Wright) on the sideline, that's a pretty good combination.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo had 50 points in the Bucks' win over the Pacers. He is really good.
- No. 16 Tennessee avenged a blowout loss to Kentucky from earlier this season, topping the No. 4 Wildcats 76-63.
- Sidney Crosby joined Alex Ovechkin as the only active players with 500 career goals.
- We got crazy buzzer-beaters from Duke's Mark Williams and South Carolina's James Reese V. You can watch those here and here.
- Congratulations to Ryan Zimmerman on one heck of a career. As a Nationals fan, all I can say is "thank you." Zimmerman was the Nationals' first ever draft pick, he endured many awful seasons, many good-but-heartbreaking seasons and finally, in 2019, a World Series championship season.
And not such a good morning for...
THE PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Celtics 135, 76ers 87.
Philadelphia took its worst loss to the Celtics ever last night, and it was just as ugly as the score suggested.
- Joel Embiid scored just 19 points, his fewest this calendar year.
- Tyrese Maxey (11) was the only other Sixer with double-digit points.
- The Celtics made a franchise-record 25 threes.
Yes, James Harden was out and, yes, it's just one game, but this was stunningly bad, and it's not like Harden can fix a 48-point deficit by himself.
Meanwhile, credit the Celtics. Their winning streak is now up to nine straight, and their defense is outstanding. Boston has held its opponent under 110 points in 13 straight games, tied for the second-longest streak in the NBA this season. Boston can throw a bunch of guys at Embiid (Al Horford, Robert Williams and newly acquired Daniel Theis) and at Harden (Marcus Smart if his injury isn't too serious, Jaylen Brown and newly acquired Derrick White).
This is not a matchup Philly would want to see come playoff time. Last night provided all the proof you need.
Not so honorable mention
- Novak Djokovic says he'll willingly continue to miss majors before he'll get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Five NFL teams primed to make 'the leap' in 2022 🏈
Every year, there's a team that makes "the leap." Let's take a look at examples from the past five years:
- 2021: Bengals (4-11-1 in 2020)
- 2020: Buccaneers (7-9 in 2019)
- 2019: 49ers (4-12 in 2018)
- 2018: Bears (5-11 in 2017)
- 2017: Eagles (7-9 in 2016)
Four of those five made the Super Bowl, and the 2020 Buccaneers and 2017 Eagles won it. Turnarounds can come out of nowhere in the NFL, and they often do.
So, who's ready to take the next step in 2022? Our NFL guru Cody Benjamin has candidates, including one whose 2021 season ended in heartbreak -- the Chargers:
- Benjamin: "Five of their eight losses in 2021 were one-score games, with two going to overtime. Best of all, they have an emerging MVP type in Justin Herbert, who's already one of the game's finest passers. With a ton of cap space, they have a chance to follow the Bills' recent model, identifying and grooming a star signal-caller, then putting all their money to use to prop him up."
You can check out the full list here.
Where could the Rams turn if Sean McVay actually does retire? 🔮
The Rams are just three days removed from becoming Super Bowl champs, but as we move into the offseason, we'll focus on two surprising storylines that arose ahead of the championship:
Both hinted at it leading up to the Super Bowl, and if either one did so, he would be leaving at the height of his powers, Donald, 30, dominated the Bengals with a pair of sacks and the game-winning pressure on Joe Burrow, and he has been a First-Team All-Pro selection each of the last seven seasons.
McVay, 36 just became the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl. After doing so, though, he said simply, "We'll see," when asked if he would return next year. So, who could replace the coach if he does step away? Benjamin has a list of candidates, including one who played a big role in the Super Bowl triumph.
- Benjamin: "The most seamless succession plan would be an internal torch-passing, and Raheem Morris is a respected leader, as evidenced by his own head coaching interview with the Vikings this year. Hired to replace Brandon Staley in 2021, he oversaw a championship defense after a busy six years with the Falcons, where he served five different roles, including interim coach."
Morris is extremely well regarded, has coached both sides of the ball and has been to two of the past six Super Bowls. I'll be surprised if McVay retires, but I'll be more surprised if Morris isn't a head coach (either in Los Angeles or elsewhere) within the next few years.
Mbappe's stunning goal leads PSG over Real Madrid in Champions League ⚽
For 93 minutes, PSG created plenty of chances, only to fail to capitalize or be denied by Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Enter Kylian Mbappe.
The PSG superstar, who has been linked to an eventual move to Madrid, split two defenders and buried a finish under Courtois in stoppage time to give Les Parisiens a 1-0 lead after the first leg of their Round of 16 matchup. Mbappe, unsurprisingly, earned the highest mark in our soccer expert Roger Gonzalez's grades:
- Gonzalez: "Mbappe (9/10) -- Electric. With all eyes on him, the Frenchman did not disappoint and gave Carvajal a particularly torrid time which resulted in him being scythed down for the penalty. Ultimately got the goal his performance merited and looked like it might go without."
- Salzburg vs Bayern, 3 p.m.
- Inter vs Liverpool, 3 p.m.
What we're watching Wednesday 📺
⚽ UEFA Champions League: Salzburg vs Bayern, 3 p.m. on Paramount+
⚽ UEFA Champions League: Inter vs Liverpool, 3 p.m. on Paramount+
🏀 Seton Hall at No. 24 UConn, 8:30 p.m. CBS Sports Network
🏀 No. 7 Baylor at No. 11 Texas Tech, 9 p.m. on ESPN 2
🏀 Jazz at Lakers, 10 p.m. on ESPN