The NCAA picked the perfect year to push back the first reveal of the tournament selection committee’s top-16 teams until this deep into the season.
No season in recent memory has supplied as much intrigue and parity at the top. No one is undefeated. No one has completely dominated. The smallest of margins will likely determine seeding and game location.
Monday night’s reveal during halftime of the South Carolina-UConn game (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET) will give us insight into how the committee has seen the season so far. This is the first of two reveals in 2019 (the second comes March 4); last season, the committee had three reveals, the first of which was in mid-January.
Here is a look at some of the most pressing questions before the committee heading into Monday’s reveal.
Who is the fourth No. 1 seed?
Miami’s upset of Notre Dame on Thursday made the committee’s job easier. Before that game, six teams could make an argument to be on the top line for this reveal. Now, it’s down to five teams, with the three-loss Fighting Irish out of the conversation, for now.
Baylor, Louisville and Oregon are locks to be No. 1 seeds. UConn, the fourth projected No. 1 in this week’s bracketology, is not. Mississippi State has a legitimate claim to that spot too. The Huskies and Bulldogs have the same number of RPI top-25 and top-50 wins. UConn has one more loss, but both came against current No. 1 seeds. Mississippi State’s lone blemish was to Oregon, also a No. 1.
Strength of schedule, particularly in nonconference play, is what might separate the two. Last year’s committee leaned heavily on SOS.
And keep in mind that if Mississippi State gets the nod as the No. 1 seed, the Bulldogs would be the last top seed bracketed — and the Albany Regional would be the only spot left on the bracket. It’s a near certainty that UConn will be placed in that region. So, if this season continues on its current path, the Huskies and Bulldogs will be the 1-2 pairing in Albany, regardless of which team gets the No. 1 seed.
Where does Notre Dame go?
This is the most intriguing portion of Monday’s reveal. This decision will provide insight as to the committee’s leanings toward bracket balance or geographical/attendance priorities.
Notre Dame should be the sixth overall team. If Baylor is the No. 1 overall, then the committee has to make a difficult call.
On one hand, having the Irish play in Chicago would be ideal for atmosphere and attendance. On the other hand, then pairing the Irish with the Lady Bears creates a competitive imbalance among the top two seed lines. The entirety of the bracket could still be reasonably balanced. But having the No. 1 and No. 6 teams potentially meeting in the regional final would be unfair to both teams, especially when the domino effect would likely have the No. 8 overall team — be it Marquette or Maryland or NC State — likely playing in the same region as a lower-rated No. 1 seed, probably Oregon in Portland.
Of course, after the Ducks’ ultra-dominant win at Stanford on Sunday, an argument could be made for Baylor, Louisville or Oregon as the No. 1 overall team. The Ducks’ performance at Maples Pavilion might give the committee the freedom to have the top three teams in a different order, put Notre Dame in Chicago and still give the appearance of complete bracket balance.
Keep a close eye on this one.
Who rounds out the top 16?
We know hosting the early rounds is important. The ramifications could be even more vital this year. Take the case of Florida State. Heading into Sunday, the Seminoles were the No. 16 team overall, just good enough to be a host. Then they were blown out at Notre Dame. That dropped Florida State just one spot, to No. 17 overall. That seemingly minor fall cost the Seminoles two homes games and — in this week’s bracket — 2,600 miles. Because there are eight ACC teams in the field and four of them are in the top 16, the places Florida State can be placed in the bracket are limited. The Seminoles are shipped to Spokane, Washington, in this week’s bracket.
That is why the committee’s decision on those final teams in the top 16 is so important. Even now, with a month to go in the regular season, it’s important. Monday night’s reveal will tell us how the committee feels about teams such as Gonzaga and Iowa State versus Florida State, Texas A&M, Miami and Rutgers. Then those teams will know where they stand going forward in the hunt to host.
Tennessee is out of the field
The Lady Vols aren’t in the top 16 and therefore won’t be a part of Monday’s reveal. They might not be a team we hear on Selection Monday, either. Following a blowout loss to Mississippi State on Sunday, Tennessee is the first team left out of the field in this week’s bracket. If that holds, it would mark the first time the Lady Vols fail to make the NCAA tournament since it began in 1982.
Tennessee currently ranks 60 in the RPI, with two top-50 wins. The Lady Vols are also just 4-6 in the SEC, 15-8 overall and 3-7 in their past 10 games. Though competition for the final few spots in the field is not particularly strong, Tennessee’s lack of big wins, followed with the 28-point loss in Starkville, Mississippi, was too much to get into the field this week.
That’s the bad news for the folks in Knoxville. Now the good: A win over Auburn on Thursday could get the Lady Vols back into the field. It’s a de facto play-in game at this point. After that, Tennessee’s next three games are against Missouri, Texas A&M and South Carolina. No other bubble team has that kind of opportunity. This isn’t the best of years for the SEC, but the overall balance in the conference provides more potential tournament-worthy wins this time of year than any other league.
It’s also worth noting that the current bracket includes two teams from the Missouri Valley Conference and three from the Mid-American. Those numbers might not hold. In fact, Missouri State is in the field only because its upset of Drake 10 days ago makes the Bears the leaders in the MVC. Drake will make the field with an at-large bid. But if the Bulldogs eventually win the conference tournament, the MVC reverts back to a one-bid league. That opens up another at-large spot for a team like Tennessee. It’s also possible that all of Central Michigan, Buffalo and Ohio will be able to maintain their status. If one falters, that opens up yet another spot.
Tennessee, with its poor metrics and inconsistent play, is not in a good place, but the Lady Vols are far from finished. They need a few wins against their upcoming schedule and then, like never before, will become scoreboard watchers the rest of the season.
Reports: Bears to cut K Parkey in March
After a difficult season culminated by a crucial missed field goal on a potential game-winning field goal in the NFC playoffs, kicker Cody Parkey will be released by the Chicago Bears when the new league year begins in March.
FILE PHOTO: Sep 17, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey (1) watches his field goal during the first half against the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
According to multiple reports on Friday, the team intends to cut ties with Parkey once the NFL free agency period begins on March 13.
Parkey, who turned 27 on Tuesday, endured an inconsistent season in Chicago after inking a four-year, $15 million contract last winter following the team’s release of Robbie Gould, the Bears’ all-time leading scorer who moved on to the San Francisco 49ers.
Parkey, a five-year veteran, not only missed a career-high seven field-goal attempts and three extra points during the regular season, but his 43-yard attempt in the final seconds of the NFC wild-card round against the Philadelphia Eagles first hit the upright then the crossbar before bouncing back on the field.
Despite the NFL later ruling that the kick was partially blocked, Parkey took much of the public blame for the Bears’ season ending.
Parkey began his career with the Eagles in 2014 when he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, scoring a franchise-record 150 points while making 32 of 36 field-goal tries. In two seasons with the Eagles, Parkey never missed an extra point.
Parkey later kicked for the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and Miami Dolphins in 2017.
In January, the Bears signed Tulsa product Redford Jones after conducting a workout that reportedly included multiple hopefuls. Jones made 50 of his 67 field-goal attempts at Tulsa from 2015-17, and he does have a kick on his resume where he hit both uprights. Unlike Parkey’s double-doink, though, that 2016 attempt against Cincinnati ended up going over the crossbar for three points.
“We need more production out of that position,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said last month after signing Jones. “We know we need to get better there, and it will be an area of focus.”
—Field Level Media
WTA roundup: Bencic upsets Svitolina to reach Dubai final
Belinda Bencic secured a spot in the final by stunning two-time champion Elina Svitolina 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3) on Friday at the Dubai Duty Free Championships in the United Arab Emirates.
Tennis – WTA Premier 5 – Dubai Tennis Championships – Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Dubai, United Arab Emirates – February 22, 2019 Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic in action during the Semi Final against Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina REUTERS/Satish Kumar
Bencic trailed 5-3 in the final set before recovering to defeat the sixth-seeded Svitolina. She will face second-seeded Petra Kvitova in the championship match after the Czech Republic star defeated Taiwan’s Su-Wei Hsieh 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
“I think I’m always the most proud of how I fight,” Bencic said after posting the victory. “Even when I lose, I learned myself to just look in the mirror and be proud of myself when I’m fighting, when I’m giving my all, when I’m trying to do what I have to do.”
Bencic won eight consecutive points after Svitolina was in position to close out the match. Then the Switzerland native carried the momentum into the tiebreaker to notch one of the biggest victories of her career by outdueling the Ukrainian.
“Basically, I stayed in the zone, even in (the) tiebreak,” Bencic said. “I was barely breathing, just playing automatic. You are not thinking any more. It’s where the instincts just guide you through it.”
Bencic will be seeking her third career title when she squares off with Kvitova, who will be shooting for her 27th.
Kvitova dropped the first set on Friday before recovering to win the last two.
“It was a tough one today, for sure,” Kvitova said. “She really didn’t give me anything for free. It was a tough first set. I’m glad that I was able to came back in the second. I didn’t play great at the end of the first.
“I think I’m pleased with my kind of mental focus after losing the first set, that I was calmer when I came back and played from the beginning of the second set. I still kind of felt that I can do that somehow. I don’t know. It was something weird.”
Kvitova overcame eight double faults to claim the victory.
Hungarian Ladies Open
Top-seeded Alison Van Uytvanck defeated Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 to advance to the semifinals in Budapest.
Van Uytvanck, of Belgium, will face fifth-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova in the semis. The Russian dispatched third-seeded Frenchwoman Pauline Parmentier 6-3, 6-2.
Eighth-seeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic will face Russian Anastasia Potapova in the other semi. Vondrousova outlasted Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 while the 17-year-old Potapova fought past Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-5 in 2 hours, 50 minutes.
—Field Level Media
Patriots owner Robert Kraft facing charges of solicitation of prostitution
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is facing charges of misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution after he was twice videotaped paying for a sex act at an illicit massage parlor, police in Florida said Friday.
The 77-year-old Kraft was one of 25 people involved in the alleged solicitation at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter.
Michael Edmondson, spokesman for the state attorney’s office in Palm Beach County, told ESPN that the nature of any charges that the 25 people face will not be released until next week.
Kraft has denied wrongdoing.
The potential charges come amid a widespread crackdown on sex trafficking in Florida from Palm Beach to Orlando. Hundreds of arrest warrants have been issued in recent days as result of a six-month investigation, and more are expected. Ten spas have been closed, and several people charged with sex trafficking have been taken into custody.
Police said they secretly planted undercover cameras in targeted massage parlors and recorded the interactions between men and the female employees.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Kraft said they “categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”
The NFL said it is “aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments.”
The individuals named as having solicited prostitutes could be facing either a first- or second-degree misdemeanor for each count. A second-degree charge carries up to a 60-day jail sentence and a $500 fine; a first-degree charge carries up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Most people charged for the first time with soliciting a prostitute in Florida are allowed to enter a diversion program, said attorney David Weinstein, a former prosecutor. Kraft would have to perform 100 hours of community service and pay to attend an educational program about the negative effects of prostitution and human trafficking.
Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr said he was shocked to learn Kraft, who is worth $6 billion, was allegedly paying for sex inside a strip-mall massage parlor.
“We are as equally stunned as everyone else,” Kerr said.
Kraft lives in Massachusetts and has a home in the Palm Beach area. He is a frequent guest of President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago Club. Though a Democrat, Kraft is friendly with Trump.
“Well it’s very sad. I was very surprised to see it,” Trump said at the White House on Friday. “He’s proclaimed his innocence, totally. But I’m very surprised to see it.”
Kraft’s wife, Myra Hiatt Kraft, died in 2011. He has been dating 39-year-old actress Ricki Noel Lander since 2012.
Team owners are subject to the NFL’s personal conduct policy, and owners and league employees are held to an even higher standard than players.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was suspended for six games in 2014 after he was arrested on drug charges. He was also fined $500,000.
Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey, whose agency has been involved in the investigation, told reporters earlier this week that the prostitutes are victims who have been trapped into the trade.
“These girls are there all day long, into the evening. They can’t leave, and they are performing sex acts,” Currey said, according to TCPalm. “Some of them may tell us they’re OK, but they’re not.”
Kraft, who made his initial fortune through a packaging company, was a Patriots season-ticket holder when he purchased the team’s previous stadium in 1988, then used his leverage to buy the team for $172 million in 1994 to keep it from moving to St. Louis.
He hired Bill Belichick to be his coach in 2000, and the team subsequently drafted quarterback Tom Brady, launching nearly two decades of success.
Under Kraft, who also owns Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, the Patriots have been the most successful team in pro sports, having made it to 10 Super Bowls, winning six, including this year against the Los Angeles Rams.
But there also have been issues involving team actions under Belichick.
In 2007, the Patriots were caught filming signals from New York Jets coaches; New England was suspected of doing so against other teams as well, and that was confirmed later on. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fined the Patriots $250,000 and stripped them of their 2008 first-round draft pick. Belichick was fined $500,000, the most an NFL coach ever was fined.
In the 2014 AFC Championship Game, the team — specifically Brady — was accused by the Colts of doctoring footballs.
The NFL concluded that Patriots employees were involved in deflating the footballs and Brady was “at least generally aware” it was being done. After lengthy legal battles, Brady served a four-game suspension at the beginning of the 2016 season and the Patriots were fined $1 million — the heftiest for a team in league history. New England was stripped of a first-round and a fourth-round draft choice.
Neither Kraft nor Belichick was implicated after the investigation.
Longtime Patriots captain Devin McCourty told NBC Boston, which is with him on a goodwill trip to Puerto Rico, of the Kraft news: “When you see things come out like that you really have to just let it play out. See what it is, what it isn’t, and go from there.”
Information from ESPN’s Paula Lavigne, Mike Reiss and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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