March 27, 2023

๐Ÿ‘‹ Happy Monday! Out of the 20 million brackets submitted on ESPN, just 37 picked the men's Final Four. That's 0.000185%.

๐Ÿ“† Coming up: We're co-hosting a virtual event this Thursday alongside the Aspen Institute. Join us for a brief conversation: Future of Sports: Protecting High School Athletes After Damar Hamlin.

Today's word count: 1,459 words (5 minutes).

Let's sports...

1 big thing: ๐Ÿ€ Newcomers crash Final Four

Graphic: Axios Visuals

64 games later, four teams remain: UConn, Florida Atlantic, San Diego State and Miami. Just as we all predicted!

State of play: This year's Final Four has the second-highest seed combination ever. UConn (4), Miami (5), San Diego State (5) and FAU (9) adds up to 23, trailing only UConn (3), Kentucky (4), Butler (8) and VCU (11) in 2011.

  • Newcomers: This is the first Final Four with three first-time participants (FAU, San Diego State, Miami) since 1970, when St. Bonaventure, Jacksonville and New Mexico State each debuted.
  • No top seeds: This is the first time since seeding began in 1979 that none of the No. 1, 2 or 3 seeds made the final weekend.
  • No blue chips: For the first time since seeding began, the Final Four won't feature a single former McDonald's All-American. There isn't even a consensus top-30 recruit in the field.
FAU celebrating
FAU celebrating their win over Kansas State. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

The four teams heading to Houston...

UConn โ€” The Huskies looked like a title contender for the first two months of the season, and now they're back to dominating. They've won their four tournament games by an average of 22.5 points.

Miami โ€” Imagine telling a Hurricanes fan in 2002, fresh off decades of football dominance, that Miami basketball would make a Final Four before Miami football would have another 12-win season.

  • Final AP ranking: 16
  • Overall seed: 20
  • Fun fact: Sunday's comeback win over Texas came on the 17th anniversary of Jim Larraรฑaga leading George Mason to the Final Four. Now, he's taking Miami there.

San Diego State โ€” Back in 2020, the Aztecs went 30-2 and were destined for a top-2 seed in the tournament โ€” only to see it canceled. Three years later, they're headed to the program's first-ever Final Four. You love to see it.

  • Final AP ranking: 18
  • Overall seed: 17
  • Fun fact: San Diego State is the only Final Four team that was ranked in the preseason poll (No. 19).

FAU โ€” The Owls are the second team in the 64-team era to make the Final Four after entering without a single NCAA Tournament win, joining George Mason in 2006. No team has won more games this season than FAU (35).

  • Final AP ranking: 25
  • Overall seed: 33
  • Fun fact: FAU plays its home games in cozy 2,900-seat Baldwin Arena โ€” a slightly different atmosphere than NRG Stadium in Houston this weekend (71,000+ capacity).

2. ๐Ÿ˜€ Study: Sports are good for the soul

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Feeling blue? Try sports.

Driving the news: New research has found that attending live sporting events improves levels of well-being and reduces feelings of loneliness.

Details: The study used data from a nationwide survey of 7,209 adults, aged 16-85, living in England. The survey asked them about their lives, and included questions about their in-person sports viewing habits.

  • Researchers found that attending live sporting events โ€” from free amateur events to professional Premier League matches โ€” resulted in higher life satisfaction scores and lower loneliness scores.
  • The study also found that live sports attendance leads to an increase in people's sense that "life is worthwhile," and the size of this increase is comparable to that of gaining employment.

What they're saying: The study's lead author, Dr. Helen Keyes of Anglia Ruskin University, believes these findings "could be useful for shaping future public health strategies, such as offering reduced ticket prices for certain groups."

The bottom line: Playing sports is good for the body. Watching sports in person is good for the soul.

3. ๐Ÿ€ End of an era: Huskies go down

Photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images

One of the most incredible streaks in sports ended Saturday when UConn fell to Ohio State, 73-61, in the women's Sweet 16.

The big picture: The loss snapped UConn's streak of 16 straight Elite Eights (!!) and 14 straight Final Fours (!!!).

  • 2022: Runner-up
  • 2021: Final Four
  • 2019: Final Four
  • 2018: Final Four
  • 2017: Final Four
  • 2016: ๐Ÿ†
  • 2015: ๐Ÿ†
  • 2014: ๐Ÿ†
  • 2013: ๐Ÿ†
  • 2012: Final Four
  • 2011: Final Four
  • 2010: ๐Ÿ†
  • 2009: ๐Ÿ†
  • 2008: Final Four
  • 2007: Elite Eight
  • 2006: Elite Eight

Consider this: The last time the Huskies missed the Elite Eight, Ohio State freshman Cotie McMahon โ€” who led the Buckeyes with 23 points on Saturday โ€” was 1 year old.

Elsewhere โ€ฆ LSU beat Miami and Iowa beat Louisville on Sunday to punch their tickets to the Final Four. The field will be finalized tonight.

4. โšก๏ธ Lightning round

Teammates skate over to Mackie Samoskevich after his game-winning goal. Photo: Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

๐Ÿ’ย Frozen Four: Michigan beat Penn State, 2-1 (OT), on Sunday to advance to their record 27th Frozen Four. They'll play Quinnipiac (third Frozen Four), while Minnesota (21st) and BU (21st) will face off in the other semifinal.

๐Ÿฆถย The LeBron of feet: LeBron James made his long-awaited return on Sunday. Asked why he didnโ€™t get season-ending surgery on his right foot: โ€œBecause I went to the LeBron James of feet โ€ฆ and he told me I shouldnโ€™t.โ€

โ›ณ๏ธ Burns catches fire: Sam Burns birdied eight of his final 10 holes on Sunday to win the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, his fifth PGA Tour victory.

๐Ÿถย Good boy: A dog caught a home run ball during Saturdayโ€™s Cactus League matchup between the Royals and Dodgers.

5. ๐ŸŒณ Pickleball in the Park

Courtesy of CityPickle

Red-hot pickleball is coming to world-famous Central Park, and everybody is invited โ€ฆ for $80-120 an hour.

Driving the news: NYC-based CityPickle will transform Central Park's Wollman Rink into a 14-court pickleball venue that will be open to the public from April 7 to Oct. 9.

  • Cost: $80/hour (off-peak times); $120/hour (peak times). CityPickle will also rent paddles for $6 each, but players can bring their own.
  • Major League Pickleball, the 24-team pro league that counts LeBron James and Tom Brady as investors, plans to hold exhibition matches there this summer, per Bloomberg.

What they're saying: "Right now the way many people play is they bring their own nets to scraps of pavement," CityPickle co-founder Erica Desai told NYT. "In Wollman โ€ฆ they'll be playing on a professional surface."

The big picture: The pickleball boom has created a demand for courts. Chicken N Pickle (think TopGolf for pickleball) is now in multiple states, CityPickle has multiple locations in New York (both pop-up and permanent) and numerous other facilities have popped up across the country.

6. ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ Photos across America

Caitlin Clark
Photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images

SEATTLE โ€” Caitlin Clark made history on Sunday, recording the first 40-point triple-double (41-10-12) in men's or women's NCAA Tournament history to lift Iowa past Louisville and into the Final Four. She's must-see TV.

Nova Southeastern
Nova Southeastern's Kobe Rogers cuts down the nets. Photo: Joe Robbins/NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

EVANSVILLE, Ind. โ€” Nova Southeastern beat West Liberty, 111-101, on Saturday to win their first national title and become just the sixth undefeated champion in D-II men's basketball history (36-0).

Car on fire
Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

AUSTIN, Texas โ€” Zane Smith celebrated his NASCAR victory on Saturday with a burnout ... that went a bit too literally. By the time he climbed out of his truck in victory lane, it was engulfed in flames.

7. ๐ŸŒ Photos around the world

Streetball in China
A streetball game on Friday. Photo: Qu Honglun/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images

TAIJANG, China โ€” Festival-like basketball tournaments have become a phenomenon in rural China, drawing massive crowds and media attention to small villages across the country.

MotoGP racers
Photo: Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP via Getty Images

PORTIMรƒO, Portugal โ€” Defending world champion Francesco Bagnaia (above on the right) won the opening race of the 2023 MotoGP season, which will be the longest ever with 21 races.

Morocco celebrating
Photo: Alex Caparros/Getty Images

TANGIER, Morocco โ€” Morocco beat Brazil for the first time ever on Saturday, delivering a statement win in their first home match since making a surprise run to the World Cup semifinals three months ago.

8. ๐Ÿ“บ Watchlist: The last No. 1 seeds left

It's the Gamecocks' tournament to lose. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The two remaining No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament (men or women) take the court tonight in the women's Elite Eight.

More to watch:

9. ๐Ÿ€ NBA trivia

Photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokiฤ‡, who go head-to-head tonight, are two of four NBA players averaging 20+ points and 10+ rebounds this season.

  • Question: Who are the other two?
  • Hint: East.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ๐Ÿฟ Top plays: Weekend edition

Kent Johnson celebrating his epic goal on Saturday. Photo: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

On March 24, 1996, Michigan's Mike Legg scored the original "Michigan" goal โ€” a viral sensation before "going viral" was a thing. Exactly 27 years later, Kent Johnson โ€” who also played at Michigan โ€” honored his fellow Wolverine with the sixth "Michigan" in NHL history.

  1. ๐Ÿ’ "Michigan" magic
  2. โšฝ๏ธ Filthy finish
  3. ๐Ÿ’ Alley-oops to himself
  4. ๐Ÿ€ Jeff Green!!!
  5. ๐Ÿ’ So many saves
  6. ๐ŸฅŽ What a catch
  7. ๐Ÿ€ Posterized
  8. ๐Ÿ€ Up and under
  9. ๐Ÿˆ Heckuva grab
  10. ๐Ÿ€ Denied at the rim

Watch all 10.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Always keep your head up" Baker

Trivia answer: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Julius Randle

๐Ÿ™ Thanks for reading! Follow us for more (@kendallbaker andย @jeffreytracy). Friends canย sign up here. Thanks to Matt Piper for copy edits.