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NCAA selection committee’s top 16 reveal will answer biggest bracketology questions

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NCAA selection committee's top 16 reveal will answer biggest bracketology questions

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.

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Giants manager Bruce Bochy to retire after 2019 season

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Giants manager Bruce Bochy to retire after 2019 season

San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy has announced he will retire after the 2019 season.

Bochy, 63, has been the Giants’ manager since 2007 and has guided them to three World Series championships, in 2010, ’12 and ’14.

Before that he managed the San Diego Padres from 1995 to 2006. He took them to the World Series in 1998, where they lost to the Yankees. He was named Manager of the Year in 1996.

In 24 years as a manager, he has a record of 1,926-1,944. His victory total ranks 11th on the all-time list.

Bochy played nine seasons in the big leagues as a catcher for the Astros, Mets and Padres.

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French fencing body recognizes lightsaber dueling as a sport

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French fencing body recognizes lightsaber dueling as a sport

BEAUMONT-SUR-OISE, France — Master Yoda, dust off his French, he must.

It’s now easier than ever in France to act out “Star Wars” fantasies, because its fencing federation has borrowed from a galaxy far, far away and officially recognized lightsaber dueling as a competitive sport, granting the iconic weapon from George Lucas’ saga the same status as the foil, epee and sabre, the traditional blades used at the Olympics.

Of course, the LED-lit, rigid polycarbonate lightsaber replicas can’t slice a Sith lord in half. But they look and — with the more expensive sabers equipped with a chip in their hilt that emits a throaty electric rumble — even sound remarkably like the silver screen blades that Yoda and other characters wield in the blockbuster movies.

Plenty realistic, at least, for duelists to work up an impressive sweat slashing, feinting and stabbing in organized three-minute bouts. The physicality of lightsaber combat is part of why the French Fencing Federation threw its support behind the sport and is now equipping fencing clubs with lightsabers and training would-be lightsaber instructors. Like virtuous Jedi knights, the French federation sees itself as combatting a dark side: the sedentary habits of 21st-century life that are sickening ever-growing numbers of adults and kids.

“With young people today, it’s a real public health issue. They don’t do any sport and only exercise with their thumbs,” says Serge Aubailly, the federation secretary general. “It’s becoming difficult to [persuade them to] do a sport that has no connection with getting out of the sofa and playing with one’s thumbs. That is why we are trying to create a bond between our discipline and modern technologies, so participating in a sport feels natural.”

In the past, the likes of Zorro, Robin Hood and the Three Musketeers helped lure new practitioners to fencing. Now, joining and even supplanting them are Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader.

“Cape and sword movies have always had a big impact on our federation and its growth,” Aubailly says. “Lightsaber films have the same impact. Young people want to give it a try.”

And the young at heart.

Police officer Philippe Bondi, 49, practiced fencing for 20 years before switching to lightsaber. When a club started offering classes in Metz, the town in eastern France where he is stationed for the gendarmerie, Bondi says he was immediately drawn by the prospect of living out the love he’s had for the Star Wars universe since he saw the first film at age 7, on its release in 1977.

He fights in the same wire-mesh face mask he used for fencing. He spent about 350 euros ($400) on his protective body armor (sturdy gloves, chest, shoulder and shin pads) and on his federation-approved lightsaber, opting for luminous green “because it’s the Jedi colors, and Yoda is my master.”

“I had to be on the good side, given that my job is upholding the law,” he said.

Bondi awoke well before dawn to make the four-hour drive from Metz to a national lightsaber tournament outside Paris this month that drew 34 competitors. It showcased how far the sport has come in a couple of years but also that it’s still light-years from becoming mainstream.

The crowd was small and a technical glitch prevented the duelers’ photos, combat names and scores from being displayed on a big screen, making bouts tough to follow. But the illuminated swooshes of colored blades looked spectacular in the darkened hall. Fan cosplay as Star Wars characters added levity, authenticity and a tickle of bizarre to the proceedings, especially the incongruous sight of Darth Vader buying a ham sandwich and a bag of potato chips at the cafeteria during a break.

In building their sport from the ground up, French organizers produced competition rules intended to make lightsaber dueling both competitive and easy on the eyes.

“We wanted it to be safe, we wanted it to be umpired and, most of all, we wanted it to produce something visual that looks like the movies, because that is what people expect,” said Michel Ortiz, the tournament organizer.

Combatants fight inside a circle marked in tape on the floor. Strikes to the head or body are worth five points; to the arms or legs, three points; on hands, one point. The first to 15 points — or, if they don’t get there quickly, the high scorer after three minutes — wins. If both fighters reach 10 points, the bout enters “sudden death,” where the first to land a head- or body blow wins, a rule to encourage enterprising fighters.

Blows only count if the fighters first point the tip of their saber behind them. That rule prevents the viper-like, tip-first quick forward strikes seen in fencing. Instead, the rule encourages swishier blows that are easier for audiences to see and enjoy, and which are more evocative of the duels in Star Wars. Of those, the battle between Obi-Wan and Darth Maul in “The Phantom Menace” that ends badly for the Sith despite his double-bladed lightsaber is particularly appreciated by aficionados for its swordplay.

Still nascent, counting its paid-up practitioners in France in the hundreds, not thousands, lightsaber dueling has no hope of a place in the Paris Olympics in 2024.

But to hear the thwack of blades and see them cut shapes through the air is to want to give the sport a try.

Or, as Yoda would say: “Try not. Do! Or do not. There is no try.”

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Lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury to be co-promoted by Top Rank

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Lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury to be co-promoted by Top Rank

Lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and promoter Frank Warren have signed a deal under which Fury will be co-promoted by Top Rank, they announced Monday.

Fury will have his future bouts co-promoted by Top Rank and Warren’s Queensberry Promotions, with the deal calling for a minimum of two bouts per year in the United States, according to their agreement. That means Fury’s bouts will appear on ESPN platforms. The network and Top Rank have a multiyear deal.

“I’m delighted that Frank and Queensberry Promotions have teamed up with Top Rank to promote my fights in America,” Fury said. “With ESPN and [British broadcaster] BT Sport behind me, the biggest sports platforms in the world are now linked up with the best heavyweight in the world.”

Top Rank and Warren already made an earlier deal for most of Warren’s United Kingdom cards to stream on ESPN+ in the United States.

What the deal with Fury means for the prospect of his rematch with world titleholder Deontay Wilder is unclear.

“Top Rank is very excited to enter into the promotional arrangement along with Queensberry Promotions for the lineal heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury,” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said. “He is a generational heavyweight talent at the peak of his powers. We also look forward to our growing relationship with [Fury manager] MTK Global, which represents so many world-class fighters.”

Said Warren: “This is a great move for Tyson Fury and a great move for Queensberry Promotions. By partnering with ESPN and Top Rank in America, we’re giving our boxers, including Tyson, the opportunity to perform on the biggest and most powerful platforms on both sides of the Atlantic and become truly global stars.”

The Wilder and Fury camps have been in negotiations for a rematch of their Dec. 1 draw at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Showtime, which has a long-term deal with Wilder co-manager Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, put the fight on Showtime PPV and has said it has the rights to a rematch, which could make finalizing it complicated now that Fury is with ESPN.

Shelly Finkel, Wilder’s co-manager, told ESPN that he said he wasn’t sure if Showtime had a contractual right to a rematch but that he hoped the network would be involved if the fight is finalized.

“We are hoping to make the fight and figure out how with this new relationship they have with ESPN that it can be done. I would want to try to make it with Showtime and ESPN (working together),” Finkel said. “(Haymon) wants to make the fight and that whatever is realistic will get done.”

A purse bid for the bout has been postponed twice because they were close to a deal.

The purse bid was initially scheduled for Tuesday at the WBC headquarters in Mexico City, but the sanctioning body permitted it to be postponed for one week because the camps said they were close to making a deal.

WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman said the purse bid was allowed to be further delayed because of how close they are to an agreement.

“I have been in direct communication with both parties and they have indicated that they are in goodwill negotiations, very close to reaching an agreement,” Sulaiman told ESPN last week. “I will monitor this matter personally and if needed will intervene within the next week.”

Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs) and Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs) fought to a draw in an entertaining battle in a classic heavyweight title fight that generated around 325,000 buys for Showtime PPV in the United States. Fury outboxed Wilder for long stretches, but Wilder also scored two knockdowns, one in the ninth round and a thunderous one in the 12th round, after which Fury shockingly beat the count and was able to continue.

In the end, the judges scored it 115-111 for Wilder, 114-112 for Fury and 113-113, a split draw that allowed Wilder to retain his belt for the eighth time.

After the fight, Wilder, 33, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Fury, 30, of England, each said they wanted an immediate rematch, and a week after the fight, the WBC said it would approve a second fight. Three weeks ago, the WBC formally ordered the rematch and set the parameters for the purse split in the event there was a purse bid.

The fight, if finalized, is being targeted for May 18 in New York or Las Vegas, Finkel said. April 27 had also been a potential date but no longer.

“April is out,” Finkel said.

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