Mar 22, 2019

Axios Sports

Good morning! There is an absurd amount of sports to cover today, so let's get right to it.

1 big thing: ⚾️ Long live Ichiro


Ichiro Suzuki announced his retirement yesterday, concluding one of the most remarkable careers in not only the history of baseball, but the history of sports.

  • He was a superstar. An icon. The rare athlete who could arrive in a new country and completely change the way its fans watch, and appreciate, the sport they call their national pastime.
  • Mariners fans rooted for him, and later Yankees fans and Marlins fans. But if we're being honest, we all rooted for him. Because he loved baseball more than anything β€” and it showed.

What he means to America: "We expect foreign players to arrive attached to legends too good to check, but Ichiro created his own myths, even here, before our eyes and cameras and notepads," writes Deadspin's Barry Petchesky.

  • "How he was reliably a beast in batting practice and could've hit 40 home runs a year if he wanted to be that type of player. (Barry Bonds once said Ichiro could win the Home Run Derby.)"
  • "How he could instantly discern a good bat from a bad bat by tapping the barrel once with his fingernail. How he had no idea who Tom Brady was. Were these stories true? Does it matter? For Ichiro as for no other player, certain things felt possible."

What he means to Japan: One of the teammates Ichiro hugged as he left the field yesterday was Yusei Kikuchi, the 27-year-old Japanese pitcher making his MLB debut this season. He started crying almost instantly.

  • "What does Ichiro mean to Kikuchi?" asks Petchesky. "Would the Mariners have been so invested in Japanese scouting if not for Ichiro's success? Would MLB teams be so eager to sign the top [Japanese] players each winter? Would Kikuchi be here if Ichiro hadn't done what he did? Now that's a legacy."

Go deeper:

2. πŸ€ Ja Rules (and more from Day 1)

Photo: John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The good:

  • Murray State's Ja Morant ruled an otherwise sleepy opening day, putting up 17 points, 16 assists, and 11 rebounds to become just the 12th player to record a triple-double in the NCAA tournament. He's so damn good.
  • Wofford's Fletcher Magee went 7-12 from deep and set the all-time career record for threes made. Ian Eagle's call of Magee's three-pointer that sealed the game was epic.

The bad:

  • Lack of buzzer-beaters: "We all love March Madness because it's when we get to see West Fartville A&M hit a half-court, behind-the-back buzzer-beater to take down Big State," writes The Ringer's Rodger Sherman. "And then March Madness comes, and sometimes it's just regular basketball games. Thursday was just basketball games."
  • 6:37–6:50pm ET: For 13 entire minutes, we were left without any basketball to watch. This is unacceptable. I won't stand for it.

The ugly: Michigan State coach Tom Izzo needed to be physically restrained while yelling at freshman Aaron Henry.

3. πŸ€ Day 2 preview: Tacko Friday
UCF's Tacko Fall (7-feet-6-inches) standing next to CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson (not 7-feet-6-inches). Photo: CBS Sports

#10 Iowa vs. #7 Cincinnati (12:15pm ET, CBS)

  • The intrigue: Cincinnati probably should have been seeded higher, but they landed in a perfect spot. This is basically a home game for the Bearcats with the action tipping off in Columbus, Ohio.

#9 Oklahoma vs. #8 Ole Miss (12:40, truTV)

  • Key stat: Ole Miss has excellent guards who help force a turnover on 21% of opponents' possessions.

#14 Northern Kentucky vs. #3 Texas Tech: (1:30, TNT)

  • Key stat: Texas Tech has the nation's stingiest defense (No. 1 in defensive efficiency), having held their opponent under 60 points 16 times this season.

#13 UC Irvine vs. #4 Kansas State (2:00, TBS)

  • Hot streak: UC Irvine comes into the tournament riding a 16-game winning streak and is the first 30-win team from the Big West since UNLV in 1991.

#15 Colgate vs. #2 Tennessee (2:45, CBS)

  • Lucky number: During Colgate's current 11-game winning streak, they've won by an average of 11.5 points and made 11 threes per game. If they can somehow hold Grant Williams to 11 points (well below his average of 19), they might just have a chance.

#16 Gardner-Webb vs. #1 UVA (3:10, CBS)

  • Player to watch: This is UVA's best offense in years and the Cavaliers are led by sharpshooter Kyle Guy, who is shooting 46% from deep on a whopping 7.2 attempts per game.

#11 Arizona State vs. #6 Buffalo (4:00, TNT)

  • The intrigue: Bobby Hurley coached Buffalo to its first-ever tournament appearance in 2015. Now at Arizona State, he'll be trying to end the most exciting season Buffalo's ever had.

#12 Oregon vs. #5 Wisconsin (4:30, TBS)

  • The intrigue: Oregon isn't your typical 12 seed. The Ducks, who began the season ranked No. 15 in the country, are just a one-point underdog and have won 8 games in a row.

#9 Washington vs. #8 Utah State (6:50, TNT)

  • Matchup to watch: Utah State's Sam Merrill is a walking bucket (21.2 PPG; 27.2 over his last five), while Washington's Matisse Thybulle is arguably the nation's best defensive player.

#16 North Dakota State vs. #1 Duke (7:10, CBS)

  • The intrigue: Can Zion Williamson join the Triple Ones Club (player of the year, national title, No. 1 overall pick)? Only four players have ever done it: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, David Thompson and Anthony Davis.

#14 Georgia State vs. #3 Houston (7:20, TBS)

  • Fun fact: Houston just capped off the program's first 31-win season since the 1983-84 campaign that saw the Cougars make the National Championship Game for the second straight year behind Hakeem Olajuwon.

#12 Liberty vs. #5 Mississipi State (7:27, truTV)

  • Player to watch: Mississippi State's Quinndary Weatherspoon has the rare combination of shooting (39.8% from deep) and scoring (18.2 PPG) and can jump out the gym.

#16 Iona vs. #1 UNC (9:20, TNT)

  • Fun fact: UNC is playing in its 50th NCAA tournament and the Tar Heels are a No. 1 seed for an NCAA-record 17th time. Talk about pedigree. Good luck to the Gaels.

#9 UCF vs #8 VCU (9:40, CBS)

  • The intrigue: Get ready for a l0w-scoring slugfest. VCU has the nation's seventh-best defense, per KenPom, and UCF has 7-feet-6-inches Tacko Fall patrolling the paint.

#11 Ohio State vs. #6 Iowa State (9:50, TBS)

  • Player to watch: Marial Shayok transferred from UVA and turned into Iowa State's leading scorer in his first year with the Cyclones (18.3 PPG). He can fill it up from deep (39%) and rarely misses a free throw (88%).

#13 Saint Louis vs. #4 Virginia Tech (9:57, truTV)

  • Player to watch: Virginia Tech senior point guard Justin Robinson is returning from a left foot injury after missing 12 games. The Hokies are 17-3 when he plays and just 7-5 when he doesn't.
4. ⚽️ USA 1, Ecuador 0

Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie. Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The U.S. men's national team beat Ecuador 1-0 yesterday, as Gregg Berhalter's perfect start (3-0) to his tenure as head coach continued.

  • Details: Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, 20-year-olds who have become regulars in the Bundesliga, started together for the first time as Berhalter had the full player pool available. McKennie exited with an injury.
  • Watch: Gyasi Zardes scored a bizarre goal in the 81st-minute.

What's next: The U.S. will play the South American champs, Chile, on Tuesday in Houston.

Go deeper: Meet Tyler Adams

5. πŸ€ The women's tournament starts today, too!

Today's first game features likely No. 1 overall draft pick, Asia Durr. Photo: David Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

All games on ESPN2.

#16 Robert Morris vs. #1 Louisville (12:00pm ET)

  • Player to watch: Louisville's Asia Durr (2,404 career points) is one of the best players in the country and the likely No. 1 pick in the upcoming WNBA draft.

#13 Belmont vs. #4 South Carolina (1:45)

  • Hot streak: Belmont has won 18 of its last 19 games. An upset might not be likely here, but it's certainly a possibility.

#15 Mercer vs. #2 Iowa (2:00)

  • Player to watch: Iowa center Megan Gustafson has been unguardable this season, leading the Big 10 in points (25.7) and rebounds (12.8).

#12 Rice vs. #5 Marquette (2:00)

  • Key injury: Marquette senior forward Erika Davenport is out for the tournament after suffering a knee injury in late February. Marquette is just 4-3 since she went down.

#9 Kansas State vs. #8 Michigan (2:00)

  • Fun fact: This is the first matchup between these two schools since 1995.

#13 Wright State vs. #4 Texas A&M (4:00)

  • Player to watch: Texas A&M star guard Chennedy Carter is back after missing the entire conference tournament with a hand injury. She averaged 31 PPG in last year's Big Dance.

#12 Bucknell vs. #5 Florida State (4:00)

  • Player to watch: FSU forward Kiah Gillespie (16.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG) is the straw that stirs the Seminoles' drink.

#10 Drake vs. #7 Missouri (4:00)

  • Matchup to watch: The battle at guard between Missouri's Sophie Cunningham (18 PPG) and Drake's Becca Hittner (19.8 PPG) should be entertaining.

#10 Buffalo vs. #7 Rutgers (4:30)

  • Player to watch: Buffalo's Cierra Dillard was the country's second-leading scorer this season (25.2 PPG).

#15 Towson vs. #2 UConn (6:30)

  • The intrigue: Napheesa Collier (20.9 PPG, 10.5 RPG) and UConn are not happy about missing out on a No. 1 seed, so look for them to enact revenge tonight. Pray for Towson.

#12 UCF vs. #5 Arizona State (7:00)

  • Storyline to watch: UCF might be better than its record would indicate. They lost six games this year, but three of them were to UConn.

#10 Indiana vs. #7 Texas (7:00)

  • Fun fact: Texas has won at least two tournament games in each of the last four seasons.

#9 Clemson vs. #8 South Dakota State (7:00)

  • Fun fact: Clemson's last appearance in the tournament was in 2002. Before that, they had made 13 appearances in 14 years. Welcome back, Tigers.

#16 Southern vs. #1 Mississippi State (9:00)

  • Fun fact: This was the first year Mississippi State has ever won their conference tournament, and they did it while having to work in four new starters. It's been a special year in Stark Vegas.

#15 Portland State vs. #2 Oregon (9:00)

  • Player to watch: Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu is a triple-double machine. She recorded seven this season (D-I record for both men and women) and has 17 for her career (also a record). So talented.

#13 Florida Gulf Coast vs. #4 Miami (9:00)

  • Trendy upset pick: FGCU is on a 19-game winning streak and nearly beat Miami at home this season, falling 62-60.
6. 🏈 March 22, 1994: NFL adopts two-point conversion

Tom Tupa, who began his career as a QB before switching to punter, scored three two-point conversions in 1994, earning him the nickname "Two-Point Tupa." Screenshot: YouTube

25 years ago today, the NFL officially adopted the two-point conversion rule, giving teams the option to run or pass for two points instead of kicking for an extra point after scoring a touchdown.

  • The decision came on the heels of 24% of points league wide coming from field goals, per the Chicago Tribune. Owners wanted to incentivize coaches to score touchdowns instead of kicking field goals.

Watch: The NFL's first two-point conversion

7. πŸ’ NHL trivia

St. Louis Blues winger Alex Steen joined his father Thomas (817) in the 600-point club last night.

  • Question: Can you name the other three father-son duos to accomplish this feat?
  • Hint: Two of the last names begin with the letter "H" and the other one begins with the letter "S."

Answer at the bottom.

8. The Ocho: 1995 Paintball World Championships
Screenshot: YouTube

Everything was cooler in the 90s. That includes ESPN2, which apparently used to broadcast paintball. Please enjoy.

9. ⚾️ MLB fandoms map
Infographic: Courtesy of SeatGeek
  • The Braves are the most popular team in an MLB-best 515 counties. They also control the most "out-of-state counties" with 360, followed by the Royals (223) and Cardinals (205).
  • The Mariners, who control Alaska and much of the Pacific Northwest, are the team that covers the greatest land area.
  • Baseball allegiance in Pennsylvania is split among seven teams, more than any other state.

Go deeper.

10. 🎰 Pick 3: Make your picks!
Photo: The Action Network/Axios

1. How many combined points and rebounds will Zion Williamson have vs. North Dakota State?

  • Know this: Since returning from injury, Zion is averaging 27 points and 10 rebounds per game. Season averages: 22.1 PPG, 8.9 RPG.

2. How many upsets according to seeding will there be today?

  • Know this: There were four yesterday, and over the last 10 NCAA Tournaments, there have been an average of 8.7 in the Round of 64.

3. How many points will Virginia defeat Gardner-Webb by?

  • Know this: Despite allowing 55.1 PPG this season, the lowest mark in the nation, the under is only 15-15 in the 30 games with an over/under listed this season for UVA.

Play now: Today's contest will be held within The Action Network app. Click here to play/download the app.

  • Prize: $50 Amazon gift card.
  • P.S. Congrats to this week's winners Allan Bronz0 (San Francisco) and Rob Van Auken (Cleveland Heights, Ohio). Allan has UNC winning the tourney, while Rob has Duke.


Kendall "Currently on repeat" Baker

Trivia answer: Gordie (1,850) and Mark Howe (742); Bobby (1,170) and Brett Hull (1,391); Peter (1,239) and Paul Stastny (676)