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Baylor had to wait a year to reach the Final Four — and Houston paid for it

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Baylor had to wait a year to reach the Final Four — and Houston paid for it

INDIANAPOLIS — If you think about it, no one waited longer for this than Baylor. Everyone in college basketball sorely missed the NCAA Tournament after it was canceled on March 12, 2020. It was a terrible day and a vacant month for so many players, coaches and devoted fans. A lot of them moved on, though, by choice or by force.

Dayton’s Obi Toppin was compelled to enter the NBA Draft, aware he’d be selected in a prominent position, and the Flyers entered a rebuilding season. Kansas center Udoka Azubuike was out of eligibility, and the Jayhawks followed with a fine season, just not extraordinary. Gonzaga All-American Filip Petrusev chose to turn professional in Europe, but the Zags this year were great without him, as they were the year before (Elite Eight), the year before that (Sweet 16) and the year before that (Final Four).

MORE MARCH MADNESS: Live scores | Updated bracket | TV schedule

Their teams were the other likely No. 1 seeds had last year’s tournament been bracketed. And then there are the Bears, who hadn’t had a team like this since 1950, at least: Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague and Mark Vital. That quartet, the core of last year’s team, had taken Baylor basketball to places it never had traveled, and then they had nowhere to go. Once each decided to return for another season, they promised each other not to let their window close.

So, no, they were not going to squander the opportunity to compete in the 2021 Final Four. They’d earned the right with convincing victories in the first four rounds of the tournament, and although that was a goal, it was not the goal. The Bears are good enough to win the NCAA championship. They’ve been good enough to win it for two seasons running. And that’s so much a part of the reason they ran Houston out of the gym, or, actually, Lucas Oil Stadium.

Coach Scott Drew reminded his players before tipoff Saturday the three seniors from last year’s team — Freddie Gillespie, Devonte Bandoo and Tristan Clark — “were in the stands, and how much they wished they had this opportunity, but they were here to cheer us on,” Drew told Sporting News. “Moments like that make you reflect and think you feel so bad for the guys that didn’t have that opportunity and never will. But at the same time, you feel so fortunate these guys are, this year.”

All-American Jared Butler scored a team-high 17 points for the Bears in their overwhelming 78-59 victory over the Cougars. His backcourt partner, Davion Mitchell, took turns destroying every Houston guard he opposed. The Bears shot 57 percent from the field and 53 percent on 3-pointers.

BAYLOR-HOUSTON: Scoring updates, highlights from Final Four game

“Being here now, it’s like, ‘Wow: This is what we missed out on last year,'” Butler told Sporting News the day before the game.

Houston got here by beating 12-seed Oregon State in the regional final, No. 11-seed Syracuse in the Sweet 16 and No. 10-seed Rutgers in the second round, and then was reminded how steep the climb can be the farther a team advances in this event. Baylor looked very much the part of a No. 1 seed in this game.

It was no shock Houston would struggle to score, but it a was little surprising Baylor’s defense bothered the Cougars as it did. The Bears have not been exceptional on D in this tournament, or in the Big 12 Tournament, or down the stretch on conference play, or even in the weeks before the COVID pause that consumed so much of their February. Enter Saturday’s game, 11 of the past 15 major opponents to face the Bears scored at least a point per possession, dropping their defensive efficiency rank from No. 1 at KenPom.com to No. 44 on Selection Sunday.

The biggest decline, of course, came following that three-week interruption. Their defense allowed 89 points to West Virginia in an early-March overtime win for the Bears that clinched the Big 12 regular season. They gave up 83 to Oklahoma State in the conference tournament, including 25 to All-American Cade Cunningham. Against Villanova in the NCAA Sweet 16, Drew felt forced to deploy a matchup zone midway through the second half, and that sufficiently turned around the game and kept the Bears alive.

Saturday, with point guard Davion Mitchell freshly honored as Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, the entire squad chose to embrace what had made the team great a year ago, and early this year, until making baskets became common enough that being the nation’s most rugged defensive team appeared to become optional.

Mitchell began the game on Houston point guard DeJon Jarreau, the idea being to use Mitchell’s peerless ability at the point of attack to dull the initiation of the offense. The Cougars did a pretty good job of that themselves, though, so when guard Marcus Sasser kept them afloat with four 3-pointers in the first dozen minutes of the game, Drew switched Mitchell’s assignment. That was the last we saw of Sasser. Or the Cougars.

With All-American Quentin Grimes missing all five of his first-half shots, Sasser wound up with 17 of the Cougars’ 20 points at the break.

They weren’t able to pound Baylor on the offensive boards in the first half as they had Oregon State, because too many of their misses were from 3-point range, which created long rebounds that negated the power of Justin Gorham, Reggie Chaney and Fabian White. The Bears might have been able to handle that, too, but they weren’t forced to prove it.

“I definitely thought even Wisconsin, we played much better. And Villanova, second half, we were really good,” Drew said. “Arkansas we were great in spurts, and good in other areas. And tonight, Houston doesn’t give you anything; you have to be really good. That first half was about as well as any team could play against Houston. I definitely think if we’re not where we were, I can’t see the difference.”

Drew said that telling the Bears last March that the tournament had been canceled was, for him, like every other coach that expected to be in the tournament, one of the most difficult tasks he has had to complete as a coach.

Hearing that message, Butler described the feeling as being “like a tornado hitting our town and destroying everything. We just couldn’t understand it, couldn’t fathom,” he said. “I don’t think the COVID ending was a big reason why everybody came back. We all explored our options, wanted to see where we were at in our basketball careers. And each one of us thought coming back was the best option. And I think it was the best option, for sure.”

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Is Julian Edelman a Hall of Famer? Twitter debates retired receiver’s credentials

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Is Julian Edelman a Hall of Famer? Twitter debates retired receiver's credentials

Julian Edelman called it quits Monday, announcing his retirement after an 11-year NFL career, all of it spent with the Patriots.

Edelman’s final stat line: 620 receptions for 6,866 receiving yards (11 yards per reception) and 36 receiving touchdowns; 58 rushes for 413 yards (7.1 yards per carry); 177 punt returns for 1,986 yards and four touchdowns. His yardage ranks 156h in NFL history, and his receiving touchdowns are tied for 261st.

Zero Pro Bowl selections. Three Super Bowl rings. One Super Bowl MVP. And a member of the Patriots’ 2010 All-Decade team.

Now, the ensuing debate: Are those numbers good enough to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (which Edelman won’t be eligible for until 2026)? The pure numbers say no, but that didn’t stop Twitter users from making “HOFer” and “Edelman” trend Monday evening as they discussed Edelman’s Hall of Fame credentials.

MORE: Why did Patriots cut Julian Edelman? Failed physical only part of New England roster move

Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer in May 2019 made a compelling argument that Edelman’s Hall of Fame case isn’t so cut and dry. Working in Edelman’s favor is the fact that only Jerry Rice ranks ahead of Edelman in postseason receptions (151 to Edelman’s 118) and receiving yards (2,245 to Edelman’s 1,442). He was also one of the favorite targets of Tom Brady — himself a first-ballot Hall of Famer — as the two won three Super Bowls together.

But Edelman only led the Patriots three times in receiving yards, and never put together more than 1,117 yards in a season (in 2019, his last fully healthy season). He had three 1,000-yard receiving seasons and never scored more than seven receiving touchdowns a year. People were also quick to point out his stats pale in comparison to other non-Hall of Famers with considerably better stats, including Hines Ward, who in 2021 failed to make it into Canton for the fifth consecutive year.

Regardless of whether Edelman makes it into the Hall of Fame, the fact that his candidacy is so hotly debated — not even 24 hours removed from announcing his retirement — is a testament to his impact on the game.

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Why did Patriots cut Julian Edelman? Failed physical only part of New England roster move

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Why did Patriots cut Julian Edelman? Failed physical only part of New England roster move

The Patriots sent shockwaves throughout the NFL on Monday — tremors, at least — with the announcement that they would cut veteran receiver Julian Edelman.

Multiple reports suggest that New England cut Edelman, 34, because he failed his physical; he would have played his 12th season in the league in 2021 after missing the final 10 games of the 2020 season while recovering from knee surgery.

That said, New England’s decision to cut Edelman was more than just a simple failed physical. Either way, Monday’s decision could put the cap on an 11-year career that saw Edelman catch 620 passes for 6,822 yards and 36 touchdowns and win three Super Bowls.

NFL MOCK DRAFTS 2021: Compare Mel Kiper, Daniel Jeremiah, Todd McShay & other experts

Here’s everything you need to know about the decision, and Edelman’s future in the NFL.

Why did the Patriots cut Julian Edelman?

The initial reason for Edelman’s tenure ending in New England was a failed physical. That makes sense on the surface, considering that the 34-year-old receiver played in the fewest games in a given season since he entered the NFL in 2009. Considering how busy New England coach/GM Bill Belichick was in free agency, it also stands to reason that Edelman would have seen fewer targets in 2021 after the Patriots added receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, and tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

However, that was only part of the Patriots’ decision. Per Mike Weiss of ESPN, the decision could simply be a formality and precursor to Edelman retiring from football.

Edelman later confirmed rumors that he was, indeed, retiring. Edelman, in a pre-recorded video, announced his decision.

Why is Edelman retiring from the NFL?

In the video, Edelman credited an undisclosed knee injury from the 2020 season as the reason for his retirement. He underwent surgery on Oct. 29 and did not return for the remainder of New England’s 7-9 season.

“Nothing in my career has ever come easy. And, no surprise, this isn’t going to be easy, either,” Edelman said in his announcement. “I always said, ‘I’m gonna go until the wheels come off.’ And they finally have fallen off. Due to an injury last year, I’ll be making my official announcement of retirement from football. It was a hard decision, but the right decision for me and my family. And I’m honored, and so proud, to be retiring a Patriot.

That last line also puts an end to any rumors that Edelman will attempt a comeback somewhere else in the NFL — notably, in Tampa Bay with former teammates Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

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Dustin Poirier says Conor McGregor never donated promised $500K to former’s charity

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Dustin Poirier says Conor McGregor never donated promised $500K to former's charity

Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor are confirmed to be fighting again … on Twitter.

The latest clash between the two UFC fighters stems from a Poirier claim Sunday night that McGregor and his team failed to deliver on a promised $500,000 donation. It would have gone to Poirier’s charity, “The Good Fight,” after their UFC 257 bout in January, which Poirier won via second-round TKO.

McGregor responded in kind, saying that Poirier never said exactly where the money was going and how it would be used.

MORE: Francis Ngannou wins heavyweight title at UFC 260 after KO of Stipe Miocic

All this stemmed from a 2020 exchange between the two fighters where McGregor teased a comeback outside of UFC. He proposed a PPV with Poirier, saying all the money would go to charity. He eventually settled on the $500,000 amount, which would be donated after their January bout. Poirier confirmed in December 2020 that McGregor’s team had begun the process of donating to his foundation.

Poirier and McGregor’s online squabble further devolved from there, with Poirier claiming that McGregor’s team quit responding to emails and McGregor calling Poirier a “brain dead hillbilly” — before canceling their trilogy fight.

Both fighters have reportedly signed contracts to a trilogy fight on July 10 at UFC 264, though that promotion hasn’t been made official. What’s also uncertain is whether McGregor’s claim that the fight is off is him simply letting off steam or retaliation against Poirier.

Just another day in the UFC.

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