The Back to the Future Final Four

Michigan State's Cassius Winston is a Big Ten superstar, but does he have what it takes to stick in the NBA?

Source Dylan Buell/Getty

Why you should care

Because more teams could look like Virginia before long.

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With college basketball’s one-and-done media darlings bounced from contention, let this Final Four serve as your peek at what lies ahead. The four remaining teams are quintessential college basketball, and the tournament is better for it. So pour one out for the Zion cam and pay respect to the players who deserve to be here. After all, they’re the ones who always will be.

Does any player represent college hoops better than Michigan State’s Cassius Winston? The senior looks more ball boy than baller, but his impeccable court vision and leadership have Sparty in the Final Four for a 10th time. His 20 points and 10 assists against Duke didn’t hurt either. Winston won’t stick in the NBA, but his East Lansing legacy is secure. And this Final Four doesn’t lack NBA prospects; it just lacks one-and-dones. Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter (the No. 6 projected draft pick by ESPN), Ty Jerome (a borderline first-round pick) and Kyle Guy (the tournament’s best remaining shooter) can all play in the league. So can Texas Tech sophomore guard Jarrett Culver, ESPN’s fifth overall draft prospect.

Fact is, youth cracks in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky hasn’t reached the Final Four since 2015. Duke has only been there once since 2011, around the time when Mike Krzyzewski reinvented his program into the kind of one-and-done factory that he used to despise. After his worst coaching performance ever — and with NBA draft eligibility rules reportedly changing in 2022 — don’t be surprised when K starts recruiting teams that look like Virginia. Again.

What to Watch & Pick ’Em

No. 2 Connecticut vs. No. 1 Notre Dame (Women’s Final Four) (Friday at 9:30 pm ET on ESPN2). UConn, which last won it all in 2016, hasn’t had a three-season title drought since the mid-2000s. The defending champ Fighting Irish would love to make more history. 

No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 2 Michigan State (Men’s Final Four) (Saturday at 8:49 pm ET on CBS) In its first Final Four appearance, can Tech’s dynamic athleticism and No. 1–ranked defense upend the Sparty squad that took down Duke? 

 

Ones to Watch

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Pete Alonso rounds the bases after hitting a spring training home run in February. His hot streak has continued into April.

Source Michael Reaves/Getty

Pete Alonso, New York Mets. What’s better than your first MLB home run? Being wheeled into the locker room showers and pelted with eggs, ketchup, beer, relish, mayonnaise, shaving cream and whatever else your insane teammates can find, of course. OK, a Fear Factor-esque human omelette isn’t for everyone, but Alonso — the Mets’ rookie first baseman — seems fine with it. “I had no idea that was going to happen, but it was a blast,” Alonso told reporters after his team beat Miami on Monday. You know what else is a blast? Hitting .409 with a .458 on-base percentage and seven RBIs through your first six MLB games.

The Wrestlemania Trio. After years of fans and athletes calling for more female representation, WWE’s biggest annual pay-per-view event will be headlined by a women’s main match. The Raw women’s championship match between Ronda Rousey (pictured), Becky “The Man” Lynch and Charlotte Flair will close out the show on Sunday. Rousey, of course, is the UFC icon turned WWE Raw women’s champion who joined the company in January 2018. Meanwhile, seven-time WWE women’s champ Flair (daughter of Ric) and two-time champion Lynch have spent years promoting the women’s side as a physical performance deserving of respect. This first won’t be a last.

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Ronda Rousey celebrates a UFC victory in 2015. She’s now plying her trade in the WWE.

Source Harry How/Getty

Trending Up

The Summer of Bryce. The Philadelphia Phillies started 4-0 for the first time since 1915. While it’s hardly been a one-man show, the $330 Million Man (Harper) is already paying off. After visibly pressing in his hitless Phillies debut, Harper has exploded. He’s hitting .500 with three home runs and an absurd 1.840 OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) through five games. In Tuesday’s game at Washington — his home for seven seasons — the slugger was showered with boos before officially making all Nationals fans his children. After two early strikeouts, Harper doubled off Washington ace Max Scherzer in the fifth, singled in the sixth and added an eighth-inning moonshot (plus a saucy bat flip) to cap an 8–2 victory. The next great NL East rivalry is upon us.

Trending Down

Spring Football. On Tuesday, the Alliance of American Football up and vanished. Six weeks after buying a $250 million majority stake in the league, Dallas billionaire Tom Dundon suspended operations, blaming a failure to secure a developmental (aka minor league) agreement with the NFL — which he reportedly was more impatient about than league founders Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian. Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer also reports that some insiders believe Dundon invested solely for the league’s gambling app technology. It’s a sad ending for a league that started hot. In total, the AAF lasted eight weeks, leaving hundreds of unemployed players without lodging and having to pay their own way home.

Read This

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Historically a subpar professional league, can MLS continue its ascent as a development pipeline?

A Year Later, Barbecue Yee Is Trying a Different Path to Baseball Success, by Steve Craig in The Portland Press Herald

Meet 16-year-old Princehoward Barbecue Yee. After unsuccessfully suing Portland schools to play varsity baseball, one of Maine’s best prospects is controlling his own destiny.

With Homers, Slow Games and Unlikely Pitchers, the Dodgers Are Embodying Baseball in 2019, by Emma Baccellieri in Sports Illustrated

Los Angeles is winning by shaking up the game in ways MLB is trying to eliminate. Let the debates rage on.

Passing With Flying Colors, by Pablo Uggetti in The Ringer

Trae Young couldn’t hit a shot to start his NBA career. Now, his playmaking is the foundation of the Atlanta Hawks’ suddenly bright future.

Don’t Miss

With the NBA playoffs near, it’s time for fans outside Toronto to get acquainted with the league’s next star, Pascal Siakam. Among those playing consistently since February 1, Siakam leads the NBA in overall plus-minus while averaging more than 20 points per game. If Kawhi Leonard leaves Toronto, Raptors fans will be in good hands with Siakam.

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