The Big Dance is back. It’s officially bracket season, and we’re getting in the March Madness spirit by rewarding readers through a little competition (see below). The 24-day craze of college basketball begins now…
The Sportsletter’s Bracket Challenge
Group Name: The Sportsletter
1st Place: $500
3rd, 4th & 5th: Sportsletter Gear
Top-10: Recognition in The Sportsletter on Apr. 6
*No purchase necessary. All prizes and rewards are part of The Sportsletter’s community guidelines and not in any way associated with the NCAA. All brackets must match the email address connected to your Sportsletter subscription in order to be eligible for prizes. Friends who join the bracket group must also subscribe to The Sportsletter in order to be eligible. Picks are locked Friday at Noon ET.
Let’s Go Dancing!
NCAA Selection Show Reveals 2021 NCAA Tournament Field
2021 NCAA Tournament Bracket (Printable)
It’s finally here. For the first time in 700-plus days, we can happily say that the brackets are back. March Madness is a full go, but many complications and unique circumstances remain due to COVID-19. This year’s 68-team tourney will take place entirely in Indianapolis with the Final Four held at Lucas Oil Stadium.
2021 COVID-19 Rules: Any team that has a COVID-19 outbreak could forfeit its game resulting in a walk-over. And each team must have seven consecutive days of negative tests before coming to Indianapolis. That puts 4-Seed Virginia and 3-Seed Kansas in a unique position to get healthy. Both teams had positive tests over the weekend.
Yours truly is in Indy for the next three weeks, and there are storylines galore leading up to tip-off. Let’s go dancing!
The Top Seeds
1-Seeds: Gonzaga, Illinois, Michigan, Baylor
2-Seeds: Ohio State, Iowa, Alabama, Houston
3-Seeds: Kansas, West Virginia, Arkansas, Texas
4-Seeds: Purdue, Oklahoma State, Florida State, Virginia
Low-Seed History: Only three teams lower than a 4-seed have won the National Championship; #6 Kansas (1988), #7 UConn (2014) and #8 Villanova (1985). History says the champion is on the 4-line or higher.
1-Seed History: No. 1 seeds have won 22 of the last 35 NCAA Tournaments. The 1-seeds have also had success in recent years, winning each of the last three titles; North Carolina (2017), Villanova (2018) and Virginia (2019).
Bid Breakdown by Conference
Big Ten: 9 Teams
Big 12: 7 Teams
ACC: 7 Teams
SEC: 6 Teams
Pac-12: 5 Teams
Big East: 4 Teams
Last Four In: Michigan State, UCLA, Wichita State, Drake
First Four Out: Louisville, Colorado State, Saint Louis, Ole Miss
Tournament Schedule: Opening Weekend
First Four: Thursday
1st Round: Friday-Saturday
2nd Round: Sunday-Monday
Drew Brees Hangs It Up
Saints Quarterback & Future Hall of Famer Retires After 20-Year Career
Many NFL fans expected that Drew Brees played his final game, and now it’s confirmed. The 42-year-old Hall of Fame quarterback announced his retirement on Instagram Sunday night where his children helped him celebrate the news. After 20 NFL seasons, and exactly 15 years (to the day) since joining New Orleans, the NFL’s all-time passing yardage leader is riding off into the sunset.
“Each day, I poured my heart and soul into being your quarterback. Til the very end, I exhausted myself to give everything I had to the Saints organization, my team, and the great city of New Orleans. We shared some amazing moments together… This is not goodbye, rather a new beginning. Now my real life’s work begins.” — Drew Brees
13X Pro Bowler
7X Passing Yards Leader
Super Bowl XLIV Champion
Super Bowl XLIV MVP
Passing Yards: 80,358 (1st)
Passing TDs: 571 (2nd)
Completion Percentage: 67.7% (2nd)
Passer Rating: 98.7 (5th)
Brees has already signed a broadcasting deal with NBC Sports, so we’ll still get to see him on Sundays. Move over, Tony Romo. There’s another quarterback in the booth.
J.T. Cards Sunday Comeback at TPC Sawgrass
Justin Thomas (-14) Goes Birdie-Eagle-Birdie on Back-9 to Win The Players Championship
Sunday’s final round of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass was a shootout down the stretch as five players jockeyed for the top spot on the leaderboard. By day’s end, Justin Thomas (-14) fired a 4-under final round that included three perfect holes — birdie, eagle, birdie — on the back-nine to beat Lee Westwood (-13). Westwood held the lead entering Sunday, but he shot even par in the final round while Thomas led a surge of players in pursuit. Bryson DeChambeau (-12) was also knocking on the door until his Sunday collapse.
JT on the Weekend: Thomas was nowhere near the top of the leaderboard following his first two rounds on Thursday and Friday. He was just 2-under and eight strokes off the lead, but a scorching Saturday (-8) and Sunday (-4) secured his 14th PGA Tour win, and his first of the 2021 season.
Chasing History: JT’s 14 PGA Tour wins before the age of 28 ranks third all-time behind Jack Nicklaus (25) and Tiger Woods (39).
J. Thomas (-14)
L. Westwood (-13)
B. Harman (-12)
B. DeChambeau (-12)
T. Gooch (-11)
P. Casey (-11)
Other Notable Scorecards: C. Conners (-10), S. Lowry (-9), S. Garcia (-8), J. Rahm (-8), P. Reed (-5), P. Mickelson (-3), J. Day (-3), C. Morikawa (-2), D. Johnson (-1), J. Spieth (-1)
The Women’s Selection Show
NCAAW Selection Show: Tonight (7:00 pm ET)
With all the hoopla surrounding the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, we’ll get another bracket reveal tonight for the women’s game. This year’s women’s tourney will take place in San Antonio. The same COVID-19 rules apply, and your bracket is more than likely a better bet — the women’s game is usually more top-heavy and less upset-crazed. Only five different programs have won the last 10 NCAA women’s tournaments. UConn has accounted for five of those 10, but they haven’t won it all since 2016.
Projected No. 1 Seeds
UConn, Stanford, Texas A&M, South Carolina
Conference Tournament Champions
Big 12: Baylor
Big Ten: Maryland
ACC: NC State
Big East: UConn
SEC: South Carolina
Tonight: NCAA Women’s Selection Show (7:00 pm ET)
Joel Embiid suffered a knee injury Friday night in the 76ers’ win over the Wizards (127-101). Then, they crushed the Spurs by 35 (134-99) without the MVP candidate on Sunday to claim their league-best fifth straight win.
Don’t look now, but the New York Islanders are catching fire in the month of March. They beat the Devils twice this weekend to extend their win streak to nine games and their point streak to 12 games. The Isles are the only team still perfect at home (12-0-2) in regulation this season.
️ EPL: The Manchester Title Race
Manchester City buried Fulham (3-0) with a flurry of goals in a 13-minute spell on Saturday. That win gave them another three points (71 total) while rival Manchester United claimed three points as well (57 total). The race isn’t over, but City’s lead on the Premier League field, namely United, remains at 14 points.
️ NASCAR: Truex Jr. Delivers in the Desert
The NASCAR Cup Series traveled to Phoenix Raceway on Sunday for the Instacart 500, and Martin Truex Jr. claimed his first career win in the desert. Truex Jr. and the No. 19 Toyota won a late restart to jump Joey Logano and end a 29-race winless streak.
This year, the teams that finish the regular season Nos. 7-10 in the NBA standings in each conference will enter a play-in tournament. The expansion means more teams could be willing to roll the dice on a trade before the postseason. (Bleacher Report)
One batter. Spanning 12 minutes. 22 pitches — six over 100 mph. In Sunday’s Spring Training game between the Mets and Cardinals, Jordan Hicks and Luis Guillorme delivered an at-bat for the record books. And it ended with a walk. (MLB.com)
Who are the best players scheduled to hit free agency this week, and where could they wind up? All that and more in this year’s NFL free agency primer. The negotiation window opens today. (The Ringer)