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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Stories by Grey Papke:

10 March Madness players who can carry their team to a championship

Zion Williamson

An NCAA Tournament winner oftentimes gets to the promised land because one star player takes over their March run. Sometimes it’s an unlikely candidate — we see you, Donte DiVincenzo — but usually it’s a star player carrying the team.

Every title contender has a player who can, and perhaps needs to, do it for them. Here is a look at ten of those players.

10) Jordan Poole, Michigan

Michigan profiles as a strong defensive team that doesn’t rely on one primary scorer. While they’re not bad offensively, they’re not elite either. When Poole performs, however, they go from a decent offensive team to a very good one. When he’s hitting consistently from deep, the Wolverines are exceptionally difficult to beat, and it opens up the floor for his teammates. Last March, Poole hit one of the most memorable shots of the tournament. If he can hit a few more from deep, Michigan bears watching.

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10 best remaining NFL free agents

Ndamukong Suh

After the initial rush of NFL free agency, it turns out there are still plenty of good players available. Sure, they all have flaws, be it age, a part of their game that’s not quite as prominent as teams would like it to be, or an extensive injury history that has teams questioning whether they can stay on the field. But all of these players have had success at the NFL level and can be key contributors in the right situation if they stay healthy and find the right fit.

Here are ten NFL free agents who rank as the best still available.

10) Darqueze Dennard, CB

A slot corner turned starter for Cincinnati last season, Dennard grew into his role in the Bengals’ secondary during his time with the team. Ultimately, his financial demands forced the pair to go their separate ways this offseason. The slot corner market has been robust, and Dennard figures to play heavily into it. There are injury concerns here — Dennard has just one 16-game season to his name in his NFL career thus far — but if he can stay healthy, he’ll be a worthwhile investment for someone.

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Six coaches you can bank on in March Madness

Roy Williams

There is no such thing as a sure thing in March Madness. If you ever thought there was, UMBC offered you a blunt reminder of the reality of the situation last year. Even the best coaches can be slipped up against the odds — it wasn’t that long ago that Mike Krzyzewski suffered a massive first-round upset twice in three years to a 15 and 14 seed, respectively.

But some coaches seem to have a knack for coming up big at the right time of year. Here are six of the best coaches you can trust in March.

John Beilein, Michigan

After another appearance in the National Championship game in 2018, Beilein is finally getting his due as one of the country’s best college basketball coaches. He’s gotten the Wolverines out of the first round in six of their eight NCAA Tournament appearances, and has been a second weekend fixture since joining Michigan.

Beilein’s tournament success goes all the way back to his tenure at West Virginia, where he led a then-unheralded program to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 in back-to-back seasons. He’s an outstanding tournament coach, and Michigan is a tough out with him in charge.

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Report: Eric Berry to visit Cowboys

Eric Berry

Eric Berry has his first free agent visit lined up, and it’s with a somewhat unsurprising team.

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Berry is slated to visit the Dallas Cowboys, who have a need at the safety position.

We already know that the Cowboys would love to sign a safety, as two years of Earl Thomas rumors would indicate. Berry would be a more than adequate second choice if he can stay healthy. That’s a big if, as the safety has played in just three regular season games since the end of the 2016 season. It’s a risk, but the exact sort of risk that Jerry Jones loves to take.

Twitter reacts after ESPN accidentally leaks women’s bracket hours early

ESPN made a massive blunder on Monday, revealing the brackets for the NCAA women’s tournament bracket hours early thanks to an apparent on-air mistake.

During a re-air of ESPN’s “Bracketology” special with analysis of the men’s tournament, a few viewers noticed the network’s sidebar was running what was labeled as the women’s bracket, with complete seedings and pairings. This was on TV just after 3 p.m. ET, despite the fact that the official reveal had been scheduled for 7 p.m.

ESPN confirmed that the leak was real, and simultaneously announced that the initial bracket announcement had been moved up two hours to 5 p.m.

As many noted, the rescheduling to cover the network’s own error meant that numerous watch parties scheduled at many schools would be thrown off on short notice, even if the network was still opting to broadcast a full selection show at the original time. That may be happening, but every school involved would already know their fate by that point

Twitter, naturally, went in on ESPN for their error. Many were particularly angry at the network for rescheduling the announcement, which does nothing to fix the leak but only serves to cause chaos for the schools.

One school, however, decided to just lean into the leak.

The men’s tournament dealt with a bracket leak of its own three years ago. At least in that case, while still a huge mess that spoiled things for many, the leak happened minutes before the scheduled selection show, not hours.

The irony is ESPN is extremely strict over employees leaking internal information to the media, and then this happens. Someone in the programming or graphics department is going to have a very, very bad day.

MLB studying new technology aimed at eliminating sign-stealing

Rob Manfred

Major League Baseball is looking to cut down on sign-stealing with some unique new technology.

According to Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post, the league was at Washington Nationals camp on Monday as they explore a new communication device that would be worn by pitchers and catchers. The watch would allow a catcher to call a pitch, which would be communicated to the pitcher wearing the same type of watch.

It seems a bit strange, but that’s what the testing and workshopping is for. It remains to be seen how pitchers and catchers will adapt or like it.

The league seems to be ramping up efforts to combat sign-stealing, and this is far from the only avenue they’ve considered. This is probably not the last we’ll hear about this sort of thing.

Pistons coach thinks Andre Drummond can grow into three-point shooter

Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond has improved his game over the past year or so, and that’s given coach Dwane Casey hope that he can take further steps to become even more dangerous.

Drummond, one regarded as the league’s worst free-throw shooter, still is far from elite. But he’s improved from a 35 percent free throw shooter to a 58 percent one, and he’s even gone 21-of-25 this season in league-defined clutch situations.

That improvement has given Casey the belief that, given time, Drummond could even morph into a dangerous shooter from beyond the arc.

“Down the road, he’s going to be able to shoot 3s,” Casey said, via Dana Gauruder of the Detroit Free Press. “People look at me like I’m crazy, but that’s going to come at some point. But it’s got to come in the right way. I thought we experimented with it early in the year and he wasn’t ready for it. So what?”

Drummond has attempted a career-high 37 three pointers this season, but has made just five of them, a miserable 13.5 percent success rate. Obviously he has some way to go. Still, considering that he has become a better free throw shooter after considering some real desperation tactics a few years back, stranger things have happened.

Giants’ GM hints that team never considered moving on from Eli Manning

Eli Manning

Much has been said and written about the future of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning this offseason, but in the minds of the team’s general manager, it seems there wasn’t much of a decision to make.

GM Dave Gettleman said Monday that the narrative of Manning being washed up is “a crock,” and said there wasn’t much of a decision to make when it came to keeping him in the fold for 2019.

In other words, the Giants and Manning are married to each other for at least one more year. Gettleman has previously dropped hints about using 2019 to develop a young quarterback behind Manning, but there’s no guarantee they do that, either.