/Dark horse candidates for the Big Dance and the top choices to replace Les Miles at Kansas
Dark horse candidates for the Big Dance and the top choices to replace Les Miles at Kansas

Dark horse candidates for the Big Dance and the top choices to replace Les Miles at Kansas

Good morning, good morning, good morning! Happy Wednesday to you, friend. We’re now officially 50 days away from the NFL Draft, in case you were wondering.

I bring some good stuff to you this morning, but no need to thank me…it’s literally my job. We’ll be discussing some college basketball teams that are on the bubble but shouldn’t be underestimated, yesterday’s slate of Champions League action, who might be taking over for Les Miles at Kansas, and a recap of yesterday’s NFL franchise tag deadline.

We’ve also got a hump day mailbag to get to at the end. Stick around and let’s have some fun.


📰 What you need to know

1.Which bubble teams could make a run? 🏀

One of the best things about March Madness is that there always seems to be at least one Cinderella team that shocks the world and makes a run every year. A lot of the time, those improbable runs start on the bubble — with a team fighting for its postseason life ahead of Selection Sunday.

So, with that in mind, it’s important not to write off any bubble team simply because they narrowly snuck into the field of 68. But which bubble teams are in the best position to make an improbable run at the big dance this year? Glad you asked because our Kyle Boone has highlighted some of his sleepers:

  • VCU: The Rams split their regular-season series with A-10 winning St. Bonaventure, and they also had impressive wins over Memphis and Utah State as well as close losses to West Virginia and Penn State. They can hang with tough competition and they have a legitimate NBA prospect in Nah’Shon Hyland.
  • Drake: They were 19-1 before leading scorer ShanQuan Hemphill went down with injury. They limped down the stretch but Hemphill will be back soon and, at full strength, this can be one of the best teams in college basketball.
  • Boise State: The Broncos didn’t do themselves any favors by losing their final three games to close out the regular season and now they basically have to win the conference tourney to get in. That being said, they’re capable of doing just that if they’re healthy.

Kyle has a few more teams to watch right here, but remember: Just because a team isn’t highlighted doesn’t mean they’re not capable of pulling off something special after. After all, the true dark horses are the teams that nobody picked to be dark horses. Once you get into the dance, anything can happen.

2. Tuesday’s Champions League takeaways ⚽

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The Champions League got back to business yesterday with the second leg stage of the Round of 16. That means we found out which teams are our first quarterfinalists, as well as our initial knockout round casualties. Porto pulled off a shocker to eliminate Juventus, while Borussia Dortmund sent Sevilla home.

Let’s get some of the day’s takeaways from our Roger Gonzalez and James Benge.

  • Juve stunned despite match win: It was a brutal end to the tournament for Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. They won 2-1 in regulation to force extra time, and they ultimately won 3-2 in extra time. However, they suffered a devastating fate after being whistled for a soft foul that eventually led to Sergio Oliveira scoring on the ensuing free kick in the 115th minute, an away goal that pushed Porto through after tying 4-4 on aggregate. That clincher was helped by a downright awful defensive wall in front of the set piece.
  • Haaland does it again: Erling Haaland continues to be one of the game’s great young goal scorers and he had himself quite a day on Tuesday. After scoring twice during the first leg, he added two more goals yesterday and, at 20 years old, became the youngest player in UCL history to reach 20 goals.
  • Sevilla rallies but comes up short: Sevilla got off to a great start yesterday but ended up fading as the first half wore on, and Haaland’s two goals put them in a brutal 5-2 hole on aggregate. They ended up scoring twice in the second half to make things interesting but the game ended in a 2-2 draw and Sevilla came up just short, with BVB advancing 5-4 on aggregate.

It was a pretty thrilling pair of games to kick off second leg action and, luckily for us, the train keeps on rolling here today. We’ve got two more big matches to look forward to later, with PSG hosting Barcelona (Barca trails 4-1) and Liverpool (up 2-0) looking to finish off RB Leipzig in Hungary.

You probably know what I’m going to say next but I’ve gotta say it anyway to trick my bosses into thinking I’m a model employee: YOU CAN STREAM ALL THESE UCL GAMES ON PARAMOUNT+. We’ll be back tomorrow to recap all the fun stuff that awaits this afternoon.

3. Top candidates to replace Les Miles at Kansas 🏈

USATSI

With Les Miles’ sudden departure from Kansas thanks to unsavory behavior during his time at LSU, the Jayhawks find themselves looking for a replacement to course-correct the program. While we don’t know exactly who is going to replace Miles, we do know this: Kansas isn’t interested in an interim coach — they want to make a hire immediately, and it’s going to be athletic director Jeff Long leading that process, though he’ll have the help of a search firm.

So, who’s it going to be? Let’s look at some prime candidates, as named by our Dennis Dodd:

  • Lance Leipold, Buffalo: Leipold is building his way to a Power Five opportunity — he keeps winning in the MAC (has made two of the last three MAC Championship Games) and has won six Division III national titles. He’s reportedly got interest in the Kansas job and it could very well be mutual.
  • Jeff Monken, Army: He finished as the runner-up for the Illinois job that went to Bret Bielema, but Monken has a strong case for a promotion after eight seasons at Army. Kansas is looking for a stronger, more disciplined program and that’s likely something Monken can provide.
  • Willie Fritz, Tulane: Fritz’s name consistently comes up whenever there’s a Kansas opening, largely due to his local ties. The Green Wave are 29-33 under Fritz and they’ve made three straight bowl games.

Dodd names several more options here, so it’s worth checking out the full list. Whoever Long and Kansas go with, they better hope that the program sees new life relatively quickly because, if not, it may be the athletic director out the door next. At this point, it’s probably fair to assume that a lot of Kansas fans already wish he was packing his stuff up alongside Miles…and they probably don’t have a lot of faith in his ability to pick the next guy either.

4. Franchise tag deadline winners and losers 🏈

USATSI

The NFL’s deadline for teams to franchise tag players who are in need of a contract came and went yesterday. It may not be the most exciting date on the league’s offseason calendar but it’s a pretty important one nonetheless, especially because it sort of sets the table for the open market.

Nine teams elected to tag players yesterday (10 if you count the Cowboys tagging Dak Prescott as a procedural move before inking him to a $160 million contract) so let’s look at some winners and losers from the deadline decisions.

  • Winner: Aaron Jones Jones wasn’t tagged by Green Bay, which means he’s either going to strike a long-term deal to be a “Packer for life” (which is apparently his wish) or he’s going to cash in as the clear top running back in this year’s free agent class
  • Loser: Jared Goff –The Lions elected not to tag Kenny Golladay, which has to be disappointing news for their new QB in Goff. It seems as though Golladay is probably going elsewhere as the top WR on the market
  • Winner: Buccaneers — They put the tag on Chris Godwin, meaning he’ll be sticking around with Tom Brady in Tampa for at least another season. They’ll likely still be pushing to reach an extension with the WR as well
  • Loser: Allen Robinson — Robinson was probably looking forward to escaping Chicago’s offense and entertaining plenty of suitors as one of the top receivers on the market. Instead, the Bears refused to let their No. 1 wideout walk even though they’re still reluctant to give him a long-term deal

Our Cody Benjamin has you covered with more winners and losers, as well as a full tracker of which players received tags yesterday. Now, who’s ready for free agency? Let’s get crazy.


📝 Odds & Ends

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📺 What to watch today

PSG vs. Barcelona, 3 p.m. | Barca +165 | TV: Paramount+

🏒 Golden Knights vs. Wild, 7 p.m. | MIN -105 | TV: NBCSN

🏀 Iowa State vs. No. 25 Oklahoma, 9:30 pm | OR -11.5 | TV: ESPN


🥇 The best thing I saw yesterday

This drone footage of a bowling alley is absolutely awe-inspiring.


Mailbag!

As a proud Patriots fan, what do you think they do at quarterback next season? -Jared

As much as I’d love to see them make a play for Deshaun Watson, I don’t see that happening given the haul it’ll cost. There are a lot of rumblings about a potential reunion with Jimmy Garoppolo but, honestly, I think it’s more likely that they bring back Jacoby Brissett on a short-term deal. I still think Bill Belichick believes he can get by being frugal at the QB position until finding “the guy” — whoever that may be. I’m hoping Trey Lance falls to them in the draft but I won’t hold my breath.

You said you just recently got a Nintendo Switch, do you have any favorite games yet? -Anthony

I’ve only got a couple games so far (Pokemon Sword and Mario Kart) but I’m having a blast with both. Playing Pokemon on a handheld device is really bringing back some childhood memories and it’s an incredible feeling, even though it’s kind of disappointing that I know pretty much nothing about the new generation characters. I’ve been told that I need to dive into Breath of the Wild but I’ve never really been a Zelda guy so I don’t know if that’s going to happen. It’s probably more likely I get Smash Bros. or a Super Mario game. I’m open to suggestions, though.

Who do you pick for best band of the 70s, The Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin? -Jeff

ABBA. Pretty sure The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin didn’t inspire TWO major motion picture musicals featuring the likes of Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth. Just saying! (Also, my real answer is Fleetwood Mac.)