Apr 8, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

☕️ Happy Monday! Texas Tech has canceled classes for tonight and tomorrow. Do the right thing, UVA.

  • Bracket pool: Congrats to MrIncraigable for already locking up the victory. He correctly predicted three of the Final Four teams (everyone except Texas Tech) and has Virginia winning it all. We'll be in touch, Mr. Craig.
1 big thing: 🏀 Defense wins championships

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

There will be plenty of defense in tonight's national championship between No. 3 seed Texas Tech and No. 1 seed Virginia (9:20 pm ET, CBS), as both teams rank among the country's very best on that end of the floor.

Why it matters: While the internet is littered with sportswriters calling this "generationally unsexy" matchup a bad thing, I'm here to convince you of the opposite.

  • First of all, we associate low-scoring games with "sloppy" and "bad" basketball, but if tonight's contest is low scoring, it will be because both teams executed their game plans. Big difference.
  • Second of all, this isn't a case of two teams sitting back in their lazy zone defenses like your high school JV team that had no athletes on it. This is complex scheme versus complex scheme — and the ways in which they differ are fascinating.

Texas Tech's scheme: Whereas most teams focus on defending the 3-point arc or the basket, Texas Tech's primary goal is to defend the middle of the floor and force the ball to specific areas.

  • "Instead of standing between their man and the basket, Tech's defenders stand between their assignment and the middle of the court, with their feet essentially parallel to the sideline," writes The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman.
  • "This might look like it makes it easy for opponents to drive toward the baseline … and it does. That's fine. Because that's precisely what Texas Tech wants."
  • Once an opposing player heads that direction, a wall of Red Raiders comes crashing down upon him and, as we saw against Michigan State, they're remarkably good at ripping the ball away once they have you surrounded.
  • Watch: Video breakdown

Virginia's scheme: Head coach Tony Bennett's "Pack Line Defense" was invented by his father, Dick, and gets its name from an imaginary line a few feet inside the 3-point arc.

  • Unless your man has the ball — in which case you're applying intense pressure — all Pack Line defenders must be within that imaginary line to discourage dribble penetration. If the ball does get into the paint, they're so "packed in" that they can quickly collapse and close any gaps.
  • Instead of forcing opponents to the baseline like Texas Tech does, Virginia's defense is designed to force them toward the middle where help is always on the way — or, if communication is on point, already there.
  • Watch: Video breakdown

The bottom line: Texas Tech sets up a trap and forces you to walk into it (common result: turnover), while Virginia packs it in so tight that there is seemingly nowhere to go (common result: settle for contested 3).

Go deeper: Neither team needed flashy recruits to get to the title game

2. 🏀 Baylor handles adversity, wins third title

Baylor knocked off defending champion Notre Dame to capture its third national title. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

When​ star player and leader Lauren​ Cox went down with a serious knee injury late in the third quarter, it wasn't clear how Baylor — clinging to a 12-point lead — would respond to the sudden adversity.

  • Notre Dame instantly rallied to take the lead with 3:17 to play in the fourth, but with a hobbled Cox cheering her teammates on from the bench, Baylor held on for a dramatic 82-81 win.
  • By the numbers: Baylor (3) joins Tennessee (8) and UConn (11) as the only women's programs with at least three national championships.
  • Watch: Sports, man.

P.S. ... Oregon star point guard, and projected No. 1 pick, Sabrina Ionescu announced via The Players' Tribune that she will return to school next season, citing "unfinished business." Worth a read.

3. ⚾️ Folks, we need to talk about Chris Davis

Pray for Chris Davis. Seriously. Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

A year after finishing with the worst batting average ever (.168), Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is 0 for 23 this season and is now hitless in his last 44 at-bats dating back to September, two shy of the record for a position player.

Why it matters: We have officially entered "never seen anything like this" territory, and it has me questioning how this is even possible. A slump of this magnitude on the heels of the worst-hitting season ever? Seriously, what is going on?

  • The only thing I know for certain is that baseball is the single-worst sport to experience a slump like this while playing. Those long walks back to the dugout without a helmet to cover your face ... staring into a sea of fans yelling and laughing at you ... just brutal.

What's next: The Orioles begin a three-game set against the Athletics in Baltimore tonight.

  • I encourage my fellow O's fans to stop booing Davis in his own stadium and lift him up, instead. Please. The guy is literally crying himself to sleep at night.

P.S. ... Speaking of epic struggles, Nationals reliever Trevor Rosenthal has thrown 38 pitches this season, recorded zero outs and been charged with seven earned runs.

  • Rosenthal's ERA is literally INF, which stands for infinity, because at least one out is needed to calculate that statistic. Yeah, it's bad.
BONUS: 📸 This weekend in photos
Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Above: Wake Forest senior Jennifer Kupcho won the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur — the first women's tournament ever held on the 87-year-old course.

Screenshot: MLB.TV

Above: Benches cleared in Pittsburgh, and Reds outfielder Yasiel Puig was one of five players ejected after he tried to fight every Pirate.

Photo: Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images

Above: Two goals from substitute Gerard Deulofeu (above) helped Watford come back from 2-0 down to defeat Wolverhampton 3-2 and advance to next month's FA Cup final against Manchester City.

4. 🏒 Playoff hockey SZN
Screenshot: NHL on Twitter

The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs are set, with five of the eight first-round series getting underway on Wednesday night.

The intrigue: From 2009 to 2018, the Kings, Ducks and Blackhawks combined for 10 trips to the Western Conference finals and five Stanley Cups. This year, all three longtime powers are absent from the postseason.

  • Not absent: The Lightning (arguably the best regular-season team ever), Capitals (defending champs), Golden Knights (last year's runner-up) and Hurricanes (first appearance in a decade) highlight the 16-team field.

Go deeper: Full playoff schedule

5. 🏀 The top of the 2018 NBA draft class has been historically great
Rookies Trae Young (bottom left), Marvin Bagley (top left), Deandre Ayton (top right), Luka Dončić (bottom right) and Jaren Jackson Jr. (missing) have been special. Photo: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

From Mike Sykes: Trae Young and Luka Dončić have dominated the Rookie of the Year conversation all season, but their fellow top-five picks — Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley and Jaren Jackson Jr. — have been pretty darn good, too.

By the numbers: The top five picks in this year's draft are just the sixth group in history to exceed .100 win shares per 48 minutes, a metric used to divvy up credit for team wins to individual players.

  • 1984 (0.174 WS/48): Hakeem Olajuwon, Sam Bowie, Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Charles Barkley
  • 1979 (0.137): Magic Johnson, David Greenwood, Bill Cartwright, Greg Kelser, Sidney Moncrief
  • 1982 (0.129): James Worthy, Terry Cummings, Dominique Wilkins, Bill Garnett, LaSalle Thompson
  • 1992 (0.118): Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Christian Laettner, Jimmy Jackson, LaPhonso Ellis
  • 2018 (0.102): Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Luka Dončić, Jaren Jackson Jr., Trae Young

Note: The 2009 draft class (0.108 WS/48) should technically be above the 2018 class, but only three top-five picks took the floor that year (Blake Griffin was injured and Ricky Rubio was in Spain), so we left that class out.

P.S. ... Speaking of impressive rookies, Knicks center Mitchell Robinson (36th pick) is blocking 10.4% of opponents' 2-point field goal attempts while he's on the floor, good for fifth all-time(!).

6. ⚾️ April 8, 1974: Hank hammers history

Hank smash. Photo: Bettman/Getty Images

45 years ago today, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, passing Babe Ruth for No. 1 on the all-time list — a spot Ruth had held for 39 years.

  • By the time he retired in 1976, Aaron had pushed the record to 755 home runs. 33 years later, Barry "asterisk" Bonds claimed the top spot.

All-time HR leaders:

  1. Barry Bonds: 762 HR (9,847 at-bats)
  2. Hank Aaron: 755 HR (12,364 AB)
  3. Babe Ruth: 714 HR (8,399 AB)
  4. Alex Rodriguez: 696 HR (10,566 AB)
  5. Willie Mays: 660 HR (10,881 AB)

Watch: Aaron's 715th homer (Vin Scully on the call)

7. 🏀 March Madness trivia

If Texas Tech wins tonight, the Red Raiders will become just the second men's basketball champion since 1997 not to be based in the Eastern time zone.

  • Question: Who was the other non-Eastern time zone champion?
  • Hint: Like Texas Tech, this school is also based in the Central time zone.
  • Submitted by: Richard Rothschild (Oak Park, Illinois)

Answer at the bottom.

8. The Ocho: WrestleMania 35 grosses $16.9 million

SNL's Colin Jost being thrown out of the ring last night during WrestleMania 35. Photo: Brian Ach/Getty Images for WWE

"With ratings flailing, Vince McMahon and family got on stage in late 2018 and promised to start listening to fans and giving them what they want. WrestleMania 35 was the culmination of that promise," writes Bleacher Report's Chris Roling.

  • "Wrestling inside the ring ... isn't always perfect. ... But the decisions can be, provided the company wants to make it happen. At WrestleMania 35, WWE did. The favorites got their wins, and by extension, so did the fans."

By the numbers: According to WWE, WrestleMania 35 grossed $16.9 million, breaking the record for MetLife Stadium. The sold-out crowd of 82,265 hailed from all 50 states and 68 different countries.

9. Everything else
  • NBA: The Nets and Magic both clinched playoff spots last night, which means the Pistons (39-41), Hornets (38-42) and Heat (38-42) are now competing for the NBA's last remaining spot.
  • NFL: 16 months ago, Ryan Shazier was unable to walk. Yesterday, he posted a video of himself doing box jumps. Unreal.
  • CBB: Wofford's Mike Young is set to become Virginia Tech's next coach, replacing Buzz Williams (Texas A&M) ... and Nevada's Eric Musselman is headed to Arkansas.
  • Football: The Spring League is back with a revolutionary overtime idea. In what is essentially a 2-point conversion shootout, both offenses and defenses will battle it out on separate ends of the field through multiple rounds.
  • Soccer: A fire at a Brazilian youth academy in February killed 10 young players. Their deaths "raised sweeping questions about a brutal apparatus that chews up untold numbers of young Brazilian boys for every star it mints." (NY Times)
10. 🎰 Pick 3: Make your picks!
LET'S GO!!! How jacked up is Chris Beard this morning? Source: Giphy

Pro-tip: Download The Action Network app to master the art of sports betting.

1. Who will cover the spread in tonight's title game between Virginia (-1.5) and Texas Tech?

  • Betting 101: Virginia is a 1.5-point favorite (live odds tracker), so they must win by 2 or more points to cover the spread. Texas Tech is a 1.5-point underdog, so they must lose by 1 point or fewer — or win — to cover.

2. Will Virginia and Texas Tech combine for Over/Under 117.5 total points?

  • Know this: This is the lowest point total set for the national championship since the NCAA adopted the 3-point line in the mid-'80s.

3. Which duo will score more combined points tonight? Virginia's Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome or Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver and Matt Mooney?

  • Know this: Points per game during the tournament: Guy (12.4) and Jerome (16.6) ... Culver (19.2) and Mooney (13.8).

🎰 Play now: Make your picks (cutoff time: 9:20 pm ET)

We're changing things up this week. Instead of having a tiebreaker and selecting only one winner, every reader who nails all three predictions will get a shoutout (name, hometown) in the following day's newsletter.

Kendall Baker


Kendall "Doesn't understand the appeal of WWE" Baker

Trivia answer: Kansas in 2008 (beat Memphis in OT)