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USATSI

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Let's get right to it.

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Good morning to everyone but especially to...

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usatsi

THE MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

I love the Memphis Grizzlies. They're currently third in the Western Conference and 8-1 since the calendar flipped to 2022 -- tied with the Mavericks for best in the NBA.

Memphis was one of just three teams to earn an A+ in our NBA experts' midseason grades. Jack Maloney has the breakdown:

  • Maloney: "After sneaking into the playoffs via the play-in tournament last season, the Grizzlies have officially taken the leap. Ja Morant is playing at an All-NBA level, they have the deepest roster in the league (shout-out John Konchar) and are top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating."

But that's not why I love the Grizzlies. Maloney covers it in the second part of his grade:

  • Maloney: "They play extremely hard, will not back down to anyone and their 14-8 record against opponents that are .500 and above (second only to the Suns) makes it clear this is in no way a fluke. The Grizzlies are for real."

That's what I love most about the Grizzlies.

It's a trait exemplified in a two-game stretch when they beat the Suns on Dec. 27 and the Lakers on Dec. 29 -- a trait they get from their superstar, Ja Morant. He hit the game-winner against Phoenix and then posted 41 points against Los Angeles, the latter of which Memphis trailed by as much as 14 in. I firmly believe teams' attitudes are shaped by their stars' attitudes, and I love Morant's: full of joy and competitiveness.

There's so much more to Memphis, though. There's Jaren Jackson Jr., an absurdly athletic and skilled big man who's even younger than Morant. There's Desmond Bane, a two-way stud who garnered plenty of "Most Improved Player" votes in our midseason awards. I could go on and on. Any player can have a huge impact any night.

All I can say is that the Grizzlies are so much fun, breaking through the slog that the regular season often becomes. They play hard. They play an exciting brand of basketball. They're legit. I'm excited to see what they do over the second half. The A+ for the first half is so well-deserved.

Honorable mention

  • Florida State and No. 6 Duke treated us to a game-of-the-year contender with the Seminoles pulling out a 79-78 overtime win. FSU has now won 13 straight overtime games, the longest streak in Division I history.

And not such a good morning for...

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THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Even when things should be good in Laker Land, they're not. Let me explain. On Monday night, the Lakers beat the Jazz 101-95, overcoming a 10-point deficit and snapping a three-game losing streak.

Instead of waking up to headlines about their best win of the season, the Lakers received a much different story: According to a report from The Athletic, head coach Frank Vogel "narrowly avoided" being fired after a blowout loss Saturday to Denver, and he is being evaluated on a game-by-game basis.

Listen, the Lakers have been bad this season, and Vogel is a part of that. But there's a bunch of injuries (including to LeBron James and Anthony Davis), the continued struggles of Russell Westbrook (who has never been a good fit) and a poor supporting cast to blame, too. Vogel isn't to blame for any of those three areas. GM Rob Pelinka and senior basketball advisor Kurt Rambis are.

And if Vogel goes, they should go, too, writes our NBA expert Sam Quinn:

  • Quinn: "It's not as though he traded for Westbrook. Blame for that falls on the executives who saw an opportunity to reshape a championship roster, but only ended up dismantling it. Shooters were replaced with redundant, high-usage ball-handlers. Defenders were swapped out for turnstiles. Even the personality fits were often disastrous. ... It's made the failings of this year's roster feel a tad predictable."

I very much agree with this, especially the feeling of predictability. Westbrook has been awful: 31 players have taken at least 600 shots this season and only one -- Reggie Jackson -- has a worse true shooting percentage than Westbrook. On the other end, the Lakers also lost key defenders Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, among others. The Lakers finished first in defensive efficiency last year. They're 18th this year.

Basically, the Lakers front office took all the good parts of last year's team and gave it away for Westbrook and players who aren't as good as the guys who filled their roles last year. That's a recipe for exactly where the Lakers are now: struggling despite another exceptional year from James, without many solutions, and unable to celebrate celebration-worthy wins.

Predicting who will fill the NFL's head coaching openings 🔮

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There are eight head coaching vacancies to fill this offseason: the Bears, Broncos, Dolphins, Giants, Jaguars, Raiders, Texans and Vikings.

Our NFL guru Jeff Kerr played matchmaker and predicted who would fill each of the eight openings. One candidate to watch is Brian Flores, the former Dolphins coach who is attracting a lot of attention. Kerr has him heading to ... the Giants.

  • Kerr: "Flores is arguably the biggest name on the market and Giants owner John Mara reportedly has 'great respect' for the former Dolphins coach. The Giants have yet to interview Flores (they're still searching for a general manager), but New York needs a significant culture change in the locker room."

As for Flores' replacement in Miami, Kerr has the Dolphins turning their eye to the offensive side of the ball with current Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy:

  • Kerr: "Coming from the Andy Reid tree, Bieniemy knows how to build a staff and can work well with a front office. He appears to be the right fit for Miami, even though the Dolphins haven't sought him out in the early stages of their head coaching search. If the Dolphins are committed to Tagovailoa, Bieniemy seems like the coach to get the most out of him."

You can keep up with all the latest coaching developments here.

Big changes coming to Big 12 soon 😲

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The Big 12 as we know it -- or at least have known it recently -- will look very different in a couple of years. The conference is planning to split into two divisions in football starting in 2023 as the league's realignment takes place.

In July, Texas and Oklahoma were extended invitations to join the SEC in 2025, and both schools accepted. In September, the Big 12 added BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and BYU. They're expected to join in the 2023-24 academic year.

That means the Big 12 will temporarily expand from 10 teams to 14 in 2023-24 and 2024-25 before shrinking to 12 starting in 2025-26. That also means that two divisions are coming, reports our college football insider Dennis Dodd.

  • Dodd: "NCAA rules state that any league with more than 12 teams must split into divisions for football according to Big 12 senior associate commissioner Ed Stewart. ... Stewart said a decision has not been made whether to separate the divisions competitively or geographically. Big 12 North and South divisions existed from 1996 to 2010. In 2017, the Big 12 decided to match its two highest-ranked teams a league title game to create a greater chance of getting into the College Football Playoff."

Dodd has already proposed a potential solution. I'll leave you with it below:

HYPOTHETICAL BIG 12 NORTH

  • BYU
  • Cincinnati
  • Iowa State
  • Kansas
  • Kansas State
  • Oklahoma
  • Oklahoma State

HYPOTHETICAL BIG 12 SOUTH

  • Baylor
  • Houston
  • TCU
  • Texas
  • Texas Tech
  • UCF
  • West Virginia

Latest NHL Power Rankings has new No. 1 🏒

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CBS Sports

Strange as it may seem, the NHL currently runs through the state of Florida. Sure, the Lightning are back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions, but this season they've been joined by the other Sunshine State team.

The Florida Panthers are No. 1 in our NHL expert Austin Nivison's latest Power Rankings:

  • Nivison: "Since Dec. 29, the Panthers are averaging six goals per game, and they have scored nine goals twice in that stretch. Some shooting luck has certainly contributed to that, but the Panthers are simply outplaying opposing teams. Their 55.91% expected goals share at five-on-five is evidence of that."

What we're watching Wednesday 📺

🏀 No. 13 LSU at Alabama, 7 p.m. on ESPN2
🏀 Marquette at No. 11 Villanova, 8 p.m. on CBS Sports Network
🏀 Clippers at Nuggets, 10 p.m. on ESPN