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Final Four 2021 picks, predictions against spread: Why Baylor, Gonzaga are safe bets for title game

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Final Four odds, picks, predictions: Baylor edges Houston, Gonzaga runs past UCLA for 2021 title game

Which Final Four national championship story will come true?  

There are four compelling stories to tell heading into the national semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.   

No. 1 Baylor (26-2) meets No. 2 Houston (28-3) in the first national semifinal at 5:14 p.m. The Bears are making their third Final Four appearance and are looking to make the championship game for the first time since 1948. The Cougars are back in the Final Four for the first time since the 1980s Phi Slama Jama heyday. This matchup of former Southwest Conference rivals should be heated.  

That is the table-setter for second matchup between No. 1 Gonzaga (30-0) and No. 11 UCLA (22-9) in the second semifinal at 8:34 p.m. The Bulldogs are trying to finish off the first undefeated season since Indiana in 1975-76. The Bruins made their run from the First Four and are trying to add a 12th national championship to their collection.  

Which two teams will complete those stories? Sporting News gives its predictions for the national semifinals: 

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

Final Four odds 2021

Below are the opening March Madness odds for the Final Four, including point spreads, money lines and over-under totals for every game, according to the FanDuel sportsbook.

Game Spread Moneyline Over/Under
Baylor vs. Houston BAY -5 BAY -215 134
Gonzaga vs. UCLA GON -14 GON -1100 145.5

Final Four picks, predictions 

No. 1 Baylor (-5) vs. No. 2 Houston  

Saturday, 5:14 p.m., CBS  

Baylor is considered the best bet to knock off Gonzaga because of a top-10 scoring offense that averages 83.0 points per game, but they will have to get through a defensive-minded Houston team first. That is a reflection of coaches Scott Drew and Kelvin Sampson.  

The Bears’ strength is a backcourt that features Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell. Baylor is hitting 35.7 percent of its three-point attempts in the tournament, but a hidden key to that success has been role players such as Adam Flagler, Matthew Mayer, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, Mark Vital and Flo Thamba.  

That eight-man rotation has been effective, and the Bears are good enough to win with their offense or defense.  

Houston’s offense revolved around Quentin Grimes, who has hit 43.6 percent of his 3-point attempts in the tournament. Marcus Sasser is an excellent wing man who averages 13.3 points per game, and Dejon Jarreau and Justin Gorham are key role players. The Cougars are winning with their defense. They have allowed just 55.8 ppg. in the tournament, and that approach will not change against Baylor.  

The key matchup will be Grimes against Mitchell, who is one of the best defensive players in college basketball. Houston must shoot the ball from 3-point range, and Baylor has limited opponents to 26.4 shooting from that range.  

Expect a tight game in the first half, with tough defense on both sides. Baylor, however, is the more consistent offensive team, and they should generate enough transition and second-chance points in the second half to pull away. The Bears will have to knock down free throws late to seal it, and that’s not a guarantee considering they are at 70.2% for the season.  

Baylor, however, pulls through and advances to the national championship game.  

Final score: Baylor 73, Houston 67 

No. 1 Gonzaga (-14) vs. No. 11 UCLA  

Saturday, 8:34 p.m., CBS  

The Bulldogs have defeated their first four tournament opponents by an average of 24 points per game, a dominant run part of a season in which they average 91.6 ppg. Mark Few is on the cusp of getting that elusive national championship, and the offense is impressive.  

Gonzaga will present UCLA’s offense problems, and that starts with center Drew Timme (18.9 ppg.). The Bruins are already at a size advantage, and Timme’s ability to pass through double-teams will make that job that much more difficult. UCLA forward Cody Riley, who fouled out against Michigan, will be on the spot.  

Corey Kispert (19.0 ppg.) and Jalen Suggs (14.0 ppg.) are high-scoring options in the backcourt, and Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard can score double digits on any given night.  

UCLA would have to be perfect on both sides, but coach Mick Cronin deserves credit for instilling belief that led to upsets against No. 2 Alabama and No. 1 Michigan in the East Region.  

The Bruins’ offense continues to roll with Johnny Juzang, a Kentucky transfer who averages 22.4 ppg. in the tournament. Jaime Jaquez, Jules Bernard and Tyger Campbell – a point guard who has stepped up in the tournament – form a talented backcourt.  

The problem is UCLA is subject to scoring droughts, and it cannot afford to have one against Gonzaga’s up-tempo offense. The Bruins are 9-1 when they force 13 turnovers or more, but they might need Gonzaga to commit at least 20 turnovers and have an off-shooting night.  

That is too much to ask. Emotions should be high because of the Pac-12 pride dynamic, but Gonzaga earns that shot at a perfect season in style.  

Final score: Gonzaga 84, UCLA 70  

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White Sox’s Carlos Rodon completes no-hitter after losing perfect game in 9th to HBP

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White Sox's Carlos Rodon completes no-hitter after losing perfect game in 9th to HBP

Carlos Rodon went through elbow surgery two years ago and shoulder issues last year. The White Sox non-tendered him last offseason and then re-signed him about two weeks before the start of spring training.

He was perfectly healthy for his second start of 2021, to the point he almost made history.

Rodon on Wednesday threw a no-hitter against Cleveland, beating the Tribe 8-0 on a 45-degree night in Chicago. He was two outs away from becoming the 24th MLB pitcher to throw a nine-inning perfect game.

MORE: Teams’ most recent no-hitters

Unfortunately for him, he lost the perfecto when he hit Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez on the foot with a breaking ball with one out in the ninth. Perez did not make much of an effort to avoid the pitch but there was no argument from the White Sox.

After that, the 28-year-old left-hander struck out Yu Chang and retired Jordan Luplow on a ground ball to third baseman Yoan Moncada to complete the no-hitter. Rodon threw 114 pitches (75 strikes), his highest pitch count since throwing 116 on July 29, 2018 (per Baseball-reference.com). 

Rodon almost lost his perfecto bid on the first batter of the ninth. Josh Naylor hit a slow bouncer to first baseman Jose Abreu, who slid into the bag to barely beat a diving Naylor. First base umpire Brian Knight, who was no Jim Joyce on this night, called Naylor out. A rapid replay review upheld the call.

“That was a hell of a play, man, hell of a play,” Rodon told the White Sox TV crew in an on-field interview.

Rodon rejoined the Sox on Feb. 1 — he said it was a “pretty easy” decision to come back, knowing that Chicago was set up to win now — and then pitched his way into the rotation in spring training. Wednesday’s start was just his fourth since suffering the elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery in May 2019. He threw 95 pitches over five innings in his 2021 debut, April 5 vs. the Mariners.

He almost became the fourth White Sox pitcher to throw a perfect game; he would have joined Philip Humber (2012), Mark Buehrle (2009) and Charlie Robertson (1922). Instead, he completed the 20th no-hitter in franchise history (rotation mate Lucas Giolito no-hit the Pirates last Aug. 25).

And he threw the second no-no in MLB in less than a week. Joe Musgrove threw the first no-hitter in Padres history Friday night against the Rangers in Texas.

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PSG star Neymar wants to be professional poker player when he retires from football

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PSG star Neymar wants to be professional poker player when he retires from football

PSG star Neymar has expressed his desire to become a professional poker player when he retires from football.

The 29-year-old started playing poker during the 2014 World Cup and has developed a passion for the game since then. 

Neymar said he played with Gerard Pique during his time at Barcelona and now counts Keylor Navas and Leandro Paredes among his poker rivals at PSG.

What was said?

When asked by CNEWS if his goal was to be a professional poker player when he retires from football, Neymar said: “It’s true, it’s true. It’s one of the things I love to do the most. 

“I feel very comfortable and I think that after playing football I will be able to do tournaments, travel to play tournaments that I have always wanted to participate in and could not do because of my agenda and my career. 

“So when I finish my football career, that’s one of the things I’m going to do, travel to play this type of tournament.

“Among the similarities between poker and football, I think focus is one of them. The way you read your opponent and the game is also very important. 

“I think one of the most important things in football, and what I do on the pitch, is to read the game, read your opponent, and see where you can attack, where you can move to create a chance for your team. 

“And in poker it’s the same, you have to read the game, read your opponents and know the right time to attack your opponent.”

What’s next for Neymar?

The Brazilian still has plenty to accomplish on the pitch before his playing days are over, starting with his quest for a treble with PSG this season.

Neymar helped PSG past Bayern Munich in the Champions League this week, setting up a semi-final clash with Manchester City.

PSG are also three points back of first-place Lille in Ligue 1, while they have a French Cup quarter-final date with Angers later this month.

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‘Heading into one’s arm is not punishable’ – Dortmund boss Terzic slams penalty decision vs Man City

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'Heading into one's arm is not punishable' - Dortmund boss Terzic slams penalty decision vs Man City

Borussia Dortmund manager Edin Terzic hit out at a crucial penalty call that went against his side on Wednesday in their Champions League elimination against Manchester City.

With Dortmund leading 1-0 on the night and poised to advance to the semi-finals on away goals, Emre Can was whistled for a handball in the box 10 minutes into the second half. 

Can headed the ball off his outstretched arm, which Terzic insisted meant the spot kick should not have been awarded. Riyad Mahrez would convert the ensuing penalty to send City on their way to the last four.

What was said?

“To be fair, you have to congratulate Man City,” Terzic told Sky Germany. “They played brilliantly and deservedly go one round further.

“After three of four halves, however, we were through – then it’s annoying that we end up conceding two goals like this. At the referee training it is clearly stated that heading into one’s arm is not punishable.

“Let me put it this way: We weren’t very lucky with decisions in the two games. We had a big dream, it is now unfortunately over.”

What other decisions went against Dortmund?

Jude Bellingham had what appeared to be a valid goal taken away in the first leg after he stole the ball from Ederson and rolled it into an empty net.

The referee ruled the teenager had fouled Ederson and blew his whistle before Bellingham put the ball into an empty net, meaning the play could not be reviewed by VAR. 

Replays showed that Bellingham had robbed the ball in mid-air from Ederson while hardly making contact with the goalkeeper.

What happened after Mahrez’s goal?

The Algerian drew City level on the night after Bellingham’s opener for Dortmund, and his spot kick put City ahead 3-2 on aggregate. 

City would then go on to control possession as they looked to take away the Germans’ chances of equalising.

With 15 minutes to play, Phil Foden then grabbed another goal to put the tie out of reach for Dortmund as City advanced with a 4-2 aggregate win.

What’s next for both teams?

Dortmund will face Werder Bremen on Sunday as they continue their pursuit of a top-four spot in the Bundesliga, currently sitting in fifth place. 

City take on Chelsea in a FA Cup semi-final on Saturday before they face PSG in the Champions League semi-finals later in April.

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