Yahoo Sports AM: Play ball!

In today’s edition: The top 50 people who will define the 2024 MLB season, stats and fun facts about the Sweet 16, NFL win totals, the Headless Hoopsman, and more.

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🚨 Headlines

💵 Money moves: Caitlin Clark has a groundbreaking $5M offer to join Ice Cube's BIG3 league; Portland's Sophia Smith is the NWSL's new highest-paid player; Dodgers catcher Will Smith got a 10-year, $140M extension; Jadeveon Clowney to the Panthers for two years, $20M.

🏀 3 minutes, 36 seconds: That’s how long it took Draymond Green to get ejected during last night's game against the Magic after receiving two technicals for arguing with the official.

🏟️ Staying in DC: The Wizards and Capitals will no longer move to Virginia after Monumental Sports, which owns both teams, reached a deal with Washington, D.C. to keep them in the nation's capital until at least 2050.

🎾 Novak splits with coach: Novak Djokovic is parting ways with his longtime coach, Goran Ivanisevic, after an incredibly successful six-year relationship that saw him double his Grand Slam total from 12 to 24.

📺 25 years of highlights: Longtime ESPN anchor John Anderson says he will retire from "SportsCenter" when his contract runs out in June. He's been hosting the network's flagship show since 1999.

⚾️ Play ball! Meet the main characters of the 2024 MLB season

A mural of Shohei Ohtani on the Miyako Hotel in the Little Tokyo district in Los Angeles (Kirby Lee/Getty Images)

It's Opening Day! To get you ready for the action, here are the top 50 people who will impact the 2024 MLB season, courtesy of Yahoo Sports' Jake Mintz.

Top 10:

  1. Shohei Ohtani, Dodgers DH: Even before the highest-paid player in the history of the sport was suddenly embroiled in a massive gambling scandal, Ohtani was slated to be the story of the season.

  2. Juan Soto, Yankees OF: The Yankees spent a king's ransom in the offseason to acquire Soto, even though the 25-year-old slugger has just one season left before free agency. It was, as Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner put it, the type of deal you just have to make.

  3. Spencer Strider, Braves SP: With Gerrit Cole down, it's Strider's moment to elevate himself to his rightful place as the Undisputed Best Pitcher in the World.

  4. Ippei Mizuhara, former interpreter: The ball is in Mizuhara's court. If he publically corroborates what Ohtani claimed at Monday's news conference, it simplifies things moving forward. But if Mizuhara pivots once more and decides to deny and fight back, well, this thing could somehow get even uglier.

  5. Rob Manfred, MLB commissioner: Between his impending retirement in 2027, the Athletics' messy move to Vegas, the Ohtani-Mizuhara gambling fiasco and 50,000 other things, Manfred is sure to have his hands full yet again.

  6. Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Dodgers SP: This winter, the Dodgers bestowed unto Yamamoto, a pitcher who'd never thrown a pitch in the major leagues, the single largest contract ever given to a pitcher.

  7. Mookie Betts, Dodgers SS: Having to learn a completely new job that's pretty similar to but somewhat harder than your old job just a few weeks before the new job starts doesn't sound like a good time. For Mookie Betts, it's just another day at the office.

  8. Gerrit Cole, Yankees SP: Shelved by elbow inflammation until at least late May, Cole's absence is by far the sport's most significant. For years the epitome of reliability, the Yankees ace was an annual lock to make 30 starts and throw 200 innings.

  9. Ronald Acuňa Jr., Braves OF: How do you follow up the performance of a lifetime? Acuña’s 2023 was a season for the ages — a 73-steal, 41-homer jaunt that earned the convivial outfielder his first MVP award. But while Acuña loves the accolades and the fame (by his own admission), he yearns to shine when it really matters: in October.

  10. Aaron Judge, Yankees OF: It's simple: When Judge stays healthy, he's one of the five best players in baseball. Remember, this guy is liable to mess around and hit 65 homers.


Opening Day snapshot:

  • Two rainouts: Today's scheduled games in Philadelphia (Braves at Phillies) and New York (Brewers at Mets) have been postponed to Friday due to rainy forecasts.

  • Title favorites (via BetMGM): The Dodgers (+350) have the best odds to win the World Series, followed by the Braves (+450), Astros (+800), Yankees (+900), Orioles (+1300), Rangers (+1400), Phillies (+1500), Mariners (+2000) and Blue Jays (+2000).

  • MVP favorites (via BetMGM): Yankees duo Aaron Judge (+550 at BetMGM) and Juan Soto (+600) lead the AL MVP odds, while Ronald Acuña Jr. (+525), Mookie Betts (+600) and Shohei Ohtani (+900) lead the NL MVP odds.

Division previews: AL East | NL East | AL Central | NL Central | AL West | NL West

🏀 Sweet 16: Stats and fun facts

(Amy Monks/Yahoo Sports)
(Amy Monks/Yahoo Sports)

The Sweet 16 has arrived! Here are some stats and fun facts to set the stage.

  1. Purdue vs. Gonzaga is a matchup of the two teams with the most tournament wins without a title (46). Illinois is right behind them (44).

  2. Arizona can become the West Coast's first national champion since… Arizona in 1997. Purdue and Illinois can become the Big Ten's first champion since Michigan State in 2000.

  3. UConn vs. San Diego State is a rematch of last year's title game, and Marquette vs. NC State is a rematch of the 1974 title game, which took place 50 years ago this week.

  4. Clemson, Tennessee, Alabama and Creighton are the only Sweet 16 teams that have never made the Final Four.

  5. Duke hasn't beaten a higher seed since 1994 (0-5 in that time), and Gonzaga is 0-9 all-time against No. 1 seeds. Can they pull off upsets against top-seeded Houston and Purdue?

  6. Illinois vs. Iowa State is a matchup between KenPom's No. 1 offense (Illinois) and No. 1 defense (Iowa State).

  7. UNC is making its 31st Sweet 16 appearance since the tourney expanded to 32 teams in 1975, the most of any school. Duke is second with 28.

  8. Marquette, Gonzaga and Creighton are the only Sweet 16 schools without football, though all three had successful programs in the early 20th century.

  9. NC State's surprise run marks the 15th straight tournament that a "Power Six" team seeded 8th or worse has reached the Sweet 16.

  10. San Diego State has more wins in the past two tournaments (seven) than all previous tournaments combined (six).

Plus, my personal favorite: 95% of national champions over the last 21 years have met two criteria: 21st or better in adjusted offensive efficiency and 37th or better in adjusted defensive efficiency. Eight teams met both criteria this year (Arizona, Auburn, Creighton, Duke, Houston, Marquette, Purdue, UConn) and seven made the Sweet 16 (everyone but Auburn).

More Sweet 16: Full game previews | 10 players raising their NBA draft stock

🏈 NFL win totals: How's your team looking?

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

BetMGM posted NFL win totals on Wednesday, roughly five months ahead of the upcoming season. How do you feel about where they have your team?

🌏 The world in photos

Morgan Hancock/Getty Images)
Morgan Hancock/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Bells Beach, Australia — A surfer warms up at sunrise ahead of the 2024 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, the fourth event on this year's World Surf League Championship Tour.

Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Seattle New Washington DC Steve Belichick roasted his dad in very Belichick-ian fashion on Wednesday. Asked at a press conference about the differences between them, Steve quipped: "I got a job, he doesn't."

(Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
(Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Miami Gardens — Danielle Collins, who plans to walk away from tennis this year at age 30, is into the semifinals of the Miami Open after beating No. 23 Carolina Garcia. The Florida native plays No. 14 Ekaterina Alexandrova tonight (8:30pm ET, Tennis).

📆 March 28, 1990: MJ's big night

Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, pictured in 1990. (Steve Lipofsky/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)
Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, pictured in 1990. (Steve Lipofsky/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images) (Sports Illustrated via Getty Ima)

34 years ago today, Michael Jordan scored a career-high 69 points (23-37 FG, 2-6 3PT, 21-23 FT) in a 117-113 overtime win over the Cavs, adding 18 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals for the NBA's best statistical game in the past 40 years.

Best games ever: MJ's game score of 64.6 is the best since the catch-all stat was first tracked in 1983-84. Rounding out the top five are Luka Dončić's 73-point game (this season), Kobe Bryant's 81-point game (2006), Joel Embiid's 70-point game (this season) and Donovan Mitchell's 71-point game (last season).

More on this day:

*The other duo: On June 27, 2004, Craig Stadler won the Senior Tour's Bank of America Championship, and Kevin Stadler (his son) won the Nationwide Tour's Lake Erie Charity Classic.

📺 Watchlist: Sweet 16, Day 1

Keshod Johnson and Arizona face Clemson tonight. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Keshod Johnson and Arizona face Clemson tonight. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

The men's Sweet 16 tips off tonight. The eight teams in action have won 77% of their games this season (218-65 combined record).

  • Los Angeles: No. 2 Arizona (-7.5) vs. No. 6 Clemson (7:09pm ET, CBS)

  • Boston: No. 1 UConn (-10.5) vs. No. 5 SDSU (7:39pm, TBS/truTV)

  • Los Angeles: No. 1 UNC (-4.5) vs. No. 4 Alabama (9:39pm, CBS)

  • Boston: No. 2 Iowa State (-1.5) vs. No. 3 Illinois (10:09pm, TBS/truTV)

More to watch:

  • ⚾️ MLB: Opening Day! 13 games, starting in Baltimore (Angels at Orioles, 3:05pm) and ending in Seattle (Red Sox at Mariners, 10:10pm).

  • 🏀 NBA: Bucks at Pelicans (8pm, NBA) … No. 2 in the East vs. No. 5 in the West.

  • 🏒 NHL: Rangers at Avalanche (9pm, ESPN+); Stars at Canucks (10pm, ESPN+) … Four of the six best teams in the league, record-wise.

  • ⛳️ PGA: Houston Open (8:30am, ESPN+; 3pm, Peacock/Golf) … No. 1 Scottie Scheffler returns to action after back-to-back victories.

  • ⛳️ LPGA: Ford Championship (6pm, Peacock/Golf) … At Seville Golf & Country Club in Gilbert, Arizona.

  • 🎾 Tennis: Miami Open (1pm, Tennis) … Women's semifinal, men's quarterfinal.

  • ⚾️ NCAA Baseball: No. 8 LSU at No. 1 Arkansas (7pm, ESPN2) … Two of the best teams in America's best conference.*

*The SEC has 10 ranked teams, including six of the top eight in the nation: No. 1 Arkansas, No. 4 Texas A&M, No. 5 Tennessee, No. 6 Florida, No. 7 Vanderbilt, No. 8 LSU, No. 16 Alabama, No. 18 South Carolina, No. 21 Mississippi State, No. 24 Kentucky.

🏀 College hoops trivia

UConn celebrating last year's national championship. (Brett Wilhelm/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
UConn celebrating last year's national championship. (Brett Wilhelm/NCAA Photos via Getty Images) (NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

UConn is vying to become the eighth men's basketball program to win back-to-back national championships. Can you name the other seven?

Hint: Two SEC, two Big 12, one ACC, one Pac-12, one WCC.

Answer at the bottom.

📸 The headless hoopsman

(Chad Krockover)
(Chad Krockover)

Get your head in the game, Zach! What a hilariously-timed photo of Purdue's star center Zach Edey during Sunday's Round of 32 action.

Remember SI for Kids in its heyday? This would have been in "Funny Photos," and I would have cut it out and taped it to my bedroom wall next to my nerf hoop and lava lamp. Dang, I miss the 90s.

Trivia answer: Oklahoma State (1945-46); Kentucky (1948-49); San Francisco (1955-56); Cincinnati (1961-62); UCLA (1964-65, 1967-73); Duke (1991-92); Florida (2006-07)

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