We’ve got some major movement in the final NCAA polls before (some) conference tournaments kickstart the madness, and if the ever-evolving top 10 is an indication of what’s to come, buckle up. Plus, MLB spring training is underway with new rules, the NFL franchise tag window is officially open, and the Champions League returns this afternoon.
Let’s mull the madness, take a swing at the new rules, and start playing tag, shall we?
Mulling the Madness
Men: Houston Retakes No. 1 for 3rd Time; Women: South Carolina Still No. 1 After Scare, But Indiana Receives 1st-Place Votes
March is just eight days away, and there’s a new No. 1 at the top of men’s college hoops… again. After Alabama’s loss to Tennessee last week and three losses by Purdue, it’s Houston back on top of the men’s AP Poll this week — and that No. 1 spot continues to be a revolving door. In the women’s game? No such thing. It’s South Carolina (27-0) who remains on top, but a new team has emerged with first-place votes (Indiana) after the Gamecocks were taken to overtime on Sunday. With the Super Bowl and NBA All-Star break behind us, college basketball gets the A1 spot in The Sportsletter for much of the next six weeks. Bracket season is near… Here’s where they stand:
Men’s AP Top-10
1. Houston (25-2) | ↑1
2. Alabama (23-4) | ↓1
3. Kansas (22-5) | ↑2
4. UCLA (23-4) | —
5. Purdue (24-4) | ↓2
6. Virginia (21-4) | ↑1
7. Arizona (24-4) | ↑1
8. Texas (21-6) | ↓2
9. Baylor (20-7) | —
10. Marquette (21-6) | ↑1
Women’s AP Top-10
1. South Carolina (27-0) | —
2. Indiana (26-1) | —
3. Stanford (25-3) | —
4. UConn (24-4) | ↑2
5. LSU (25-1) | —
6. Iowa (22-5) | ↑1
7. Maryland (22-5) | ↑1
8. Utah (23-3) | ↓4
9. Virginia Tech (22-4) | ↑2
10. Notre Dame (22-4) | —
Last Night’s Highlights
New-Look Baseball: Spring Training 101
Spring Training is Underway With New Rules & Baseball is About to Speed Up
Welcome back, baseball! In case you missed it, MLB spring training began over the weekend with all 32 teams playing in their first action of 2023. And the new year brings new changes to a sport that needs (and is getting) a little facelift. The new rules in 2023 are some of the most dramatic changes to the game in the 21st century, and they should make things a little more fast-paced and exciting. Opening Day is Thursday, March 30, which gives us six weeks to preview the new rules in action.
Overall, the new changes will add a pitch timer, restrict defensive positioning and include larger bases to re-incentivize a faster and more exciting game. Here’s what is changing on the diamond this spring.
Pitch Clock: The pitch timer in 2023 will give pitchers just 15 seconds to deliver with the bases empty and an extra five seconds (20 seconds) with runners on base. A violation of the pitch clock results in an automatic ball, and pitchers are also given just two resets — either stepping off or attempting to pick off a runner. Batters also have to be in the box within eight seconds, and they get just one timeout or they’ll be charged an automatic strike.
End of the Shift: Gone are the days of the overshift. Teams have to have four infielders within the infield boundary whenever the pitcher has the ball on the mound. They can still bring an outfielder into the infield, but not vice versa. Two fielders must be set on both sides of second base. Positioning violations result in an automatic ball.
Bases Get Bigger: There’s an added three square inches in the size of the bases in 2023 — up from 15 square inches to 18 square inches — in an attempt to enhance player safety with potential collisions.
Other Rule Changes for 2023?
The league’s recently adapted “runner on 2nd” rule is here to stay. Each team will get an automatic runner on second base during extra innings to help prevent extensive, five-hour marathons. The league is also still experimenting with the automated ball-strike system (robotic ump) on the Triple-A level, and it could show up in the majors sooner than later.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the MLB’s new rules are here to try and liven up baseball. Spring training is in full go. We’re six weeks out from the first pitch.
Let’s Play Tag
NFL Franchise Tag Candidates to Watch as Window Opens Today (Feb. 21 – Mar. 7)
The NFL franchise tag window officially opens today, which means your team can begin navigating their ugly offseason salary cap woes with a band-aid for one of their best players. What is the franchise tag, you ask? It allows a franchise to strategically retain one player on a non-negotiated salary who is set to become a free agent, essentially delaying a long-term deal for a one-year rental. The tag is a pre-set amount that differs by position with quarterbacks commanding $32 million. Teams have major decisions to make this offseason, and it all starts with the tag targets.
Players to Watch: Lamar Jackson (Ravens) will likely headline the tag news over the coming days and weeks, but star running backs in New York and Las Vegas are also high on the watch list. The Giants have the decision to make with contracts between quarterback and running back, and the Eagles will have to be selective about which players are most important to their defense. Here are the key players and teams to follow.
NFL Franchise Tag Top Candidates
QB Lamar Jackson (Ravens)
QB Geno Smith (Seahawks)
QB Daniel Jones (Giants)
RB Josh Jacobs (Raiders)
RB Saquon Barkley (Giants)
RB Tony Pollard (Cowboys)
TE Dalton Schultz (Cowboys)
OT Orlando Brown (Chiefs)
OT Mike McGlinchey (49ers)
DT Daron Payne (Commanders)
DT Javon Hargrave (Eagles)
CB James Bradberry (Eagles)
S Jessie Bates III (Bengals)
S Jordan Poyer (Bills)
NFL Franchise Tag Window: February 21 — March 7
NBA Buyout Season
Clippers Sign Russell Westbrook, Heat Sign Kevin Love & More From Buyout Season
The NBA trade deadline and All-Star Weekend are in the rearview mirror, and that means many of those inflated veteran contracts have become buyout candidates in the last few days. Four big names have already been the subject of contract buyouts, including three who were involved in trade packages. A buyout means those veterans became free agents who can find new homes at a lesser value. In the last few days, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, and Patrick Beverly have landed on new teams. Let’s rewind the buyout players and their new homes.
NBA Buyout Landing Spots
Russell Westbrook → Clippers
Kevin Love → Heat
Patrick Beverly → Bulls
Danny Green → Cavaliers
Top Remaining Buyouts/Free Agents
Derrick Rose (Knicks), Will Barton (Wizards), John Wall (Rockets)
The NFL offseason has already been relatively wild. We saw Tom Brady retire again, Sean Payton return to the NFL to coach the Denver Broncos and Aaron Rodgers is meditating in darkness. (CBS Sports)
Everybody’s motivated to prevent an NBA work stoppage, with multiple extensions of the opt-out date being granted so the players’ union and team owners can work to extend the collective bargaining agreement. (Yahoo! Sports)
The U.S. women’s national team beat Japan 1-0 on Sunday with a vastly different starting lineup than the one that beat Canada 2-0 on Thursday at the SheBelieves Cup. So what does that mean for the World Cup roster? (FOX Sports)