*THE CONFERENCE OF CHAMPIONS WILL BE REPRESENTED AT THE FINAL FOUR: UCLA is in The Final Four for the first time since 2008 after Michigan missed its last eight field-goal attempts in the 51-49 slugfest … STATISTICALLY SPEAKING – UCLA’s defense dominated Michigan’s usual efficient offense – 20 of 51 from the field (39.2%), three of 11 behind the arc (27.3%) with just 12 assists and 14 turnovers … CLOSING LAS VEGAS LINE – Michigan 6 ½ (137) … THE BOTTOM LINE – UCLA is the second double-digit seed ever to beat first and second seeds to reach a Final Four (1986 LSU was the first).
*MAYBE JALEN SUGGS SHOULD THE FIRST PICK OF THE NBA DRAFT AHEAD OF ISAIAH MOBLEY AND CADE CUNNINGHAM: Gonzaga is headed to its second Final Four after leading wire-to-wire and never threatened by USC, which also lost its heart after falling behind 17-4 … STATISTICALLY SPEAKING – Suggs nearly had a triple-double (18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) … CLOSING LAS VEGAS LINE – Gonzaga 8½ (152) … THE BOTTOM LINE – Gonzaga remained perfect with 29 of its 30 wins by double digits.
*THE LATEST LINE: With three tournament games remaining, underdogs are 33-30 ATS and 39 of 63 games have gone under the total.
2021 AMERICAN LEAGUE PREDICTIONS
*1. NEW YORK: Still the most top-shelf talent in the AL even after spring training with injuries to 2019 MLB home run leader Luke Voit and key bullpen piece Zack Britton.
*2. TAMPA BAY (OVER 86 WINS): No organization has a deeper 40-man roster of 2021 contributors, but losing difference-making starting pitchers Charlie Morton and Blake Snell means no repeat World Series appearance.
*3. BOSTON: Not a good roster, but this division has declined.
*4. TORONTO: Overrated offense, highly questionable defense, and a pitching staff littered with injury risks, with some already ailing.
*5. BALTIMORE: Matt Harvey making the rotation is a combination of his perseverance and the team’s desperation.
*1. MINNESOTA: The pitching staff depth (rotation and bullpen) and improved infield defense up the middle at both positions are the difference.
*2. CHICAGO: Too many questions in the rotation and poor defense make it difficult to overcome the loss of Eli Jimenez.
*3. KANSAS CITY (OVER 72½ WINS): A nice mix of developing pitchers and position players – also, don’t be surprised if it buys at the trade deadline.
*4. CLEVELAND: Not even Terry Francona can overcome the losses of Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, plus an everyday lineup that is average at best everywhere, except Jose Ramirez at 3B.
*5. DETROIT: The young arms and bats aren’t ready, yet the organization is heading in the right direction – also, don’t be surprised if the free agent to be Justin Verlander doesn’t return in 2022 to conclude his career where it started.
*1. OAKLAND: Bob Melvin remains the best manager in the league, but the depth has taken a step back.
*2. HOUSTON: The starting rotation is not division-winning material and the lineup isn’t deep enough to compensate.
*3. LOS ANGELES: Might actually contend in the division if Shohei Ohtani can stay healthy and enough to hit and pitch all season.
*4. SEATTLE: Another AL team with young talent that is at least a couple of seasons away from contending.
*5. TEXAS: The Rangers are expected to add before the 2022 season, which might start with Irving native Trevor Story.
AL PLAYOFFS: Wild Card – Tampa Bay over Chicago
ALDS – New York over Tampa, Oakland over Minnesota