NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Carmelo Anthony says he was momentarily "shocked" when he felt someone grasping at his thigh as he stood near the top of the key in the final minute of the New York Kicks' game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night.
When he saw it was a young boy who'd somehow slipped through courtside security to give him a hug, his instinct was to react with an affectionate pat on the head.
"It was a little kid," Anthony said when explaining his friendly response. "I was shocked. I didn't really know who was it until I actually looked over and saw that it was a kid."
The boy ran onto the court during a stoppage in play with the Knicks on their offensive end, then was shooed back off the court by game official Kevin Cutler.
The chief of arena security at the Smoothie King Center, Russ Bourgeois, declined to comment on the incident. So it was not immediately clear if the boy or his guardian were cited in any way or removed from the building.
In New York City, the so-called "Calvin Klein Law" subjects those who walk onto the court during a game to arrest and fines. The law was passed in 2003 after fashion designer Calvin Klein walked onto the court at Madison Square Garden and attempted to chat with Knicks player Latrell Sprewell.
"I think it was because he was a little kid, they just let him go," Anthony said. "Definitely a security issue though, for sure."
The boy ran back into the stands and up stairs past an apparent female guardian, who, looking embarrassed, appeared to usher him toward the exits.
Out of the blue (AP) -- or make that orange - Syracuse finds itself in the best of all places - the men's and women's Final Four.
The feat has been accomplished by only eight other schools, most recently by UConn in 2014 when Kevin Ollie's men and Geno Auriemma's women won titles. Both teams of Huskies also won national championships in 2004, the only other time that's happened.
In all, UConn has placed both its teams in the Final Four four times. Syracuse is happy just to join the party because no one saw this coming.
The men have 13 losses, five during a nine-game NCAA suspension to coach Jim Boeheim. The ban came a year ago after a long investigation that uncovered various violations in the athletic department. The women had never advanced past the first weekend of the tournament.
"It's not easy. There's no question about it," Boeheim said Monday. "It's a tremendous accomplishment. Besides the fact just to have two from the same school, for these two particular teams the odds were pretty steep to get to the Final Four. I'm happy for the school. I think it's good for the soul of the school that we have good programs."
The Orange men (23-13) were among the last teams to get into the NCAA Tournament after a rough closing stretch. They slipped in as a No. 10 seed before storming to their second Final Four in four seasons.
The Syracuse women (29-7), ranked most of the season, defeated upstate New York foes Army and Albany at home in the Carrier Dome, then topped No. 1 seed South Carolina before beating Tennessee by 22 points Sunday to reach the national semifinals.
The Orange men, who have been to four other Final Fours since Boeheim took over in 1976, rallied from a 16-point deficit to knock off top-seeded Virginia 68-62 in the Midwest final Sunday night. Syracuse also beat Dayton, Middle Tennessee State and Gonzaga before facing the Cavaliers.
Other things to know about this rare Orange double:
SEMIFINAL SETBACKS: Georgia landed both men and women in the 1983 Final Four and both teams lost in the semifinals. Texas followed suit in 2003, the year Boeheim led the Orange men to their only national championship, as did LSU in 2006.
FINALS DISASTER: Duke in 1999 is the only school to have both its men and women reach the national championship game and lose. Mike Krzyzewski's men lost to Jim Calhoun's UConn Huskies (77-74) and the Duke women lost to Purdue (62-45).
WIN SOME, LOSE SOME: In 2002, the Oklahoma women lost in the final and the men lost in the semis. In 2005, the Michigan State women lost in the final and the men were ousted in the semifinals. In 2013, the Louisville men won the national championship and the women lost in the final.
UCONN KING: The Connecticut women provide a common thread in this scenario with 10 national championships among their 16 Final Four appearances. The Huskies won the 2009 women's title while the men made the Final Four but lost in the semifinals. Two years later, the men won their third title under Calhoun and the women lost in the semis.
WORKING TOGETHER: The success of both Syracuse teams this year says a lot about the two coaches, who follow one another's exploits and share the same facility - the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center.
"It's really good. It says a lot about our building," Quentin Hillsman, in his 10th year as coach of the Syracuse women, said Monday. "We have two very good basketball teams in that building. Both teams are right in their mode."
AP- That was quite a show by the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Now the league is set up for quite the showcase on Sunday in the Elite Eight.
There were four games in the Sweet 16 on Friday night and all of them involved one ACC team. Sure enough, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia and Syracuse all prevailed.
The four victories mean it'll be an all-ACC showdown on Sunday when Notre Dame meets North Carolina and Virginia faces Syracuse. It also means the league will have two Final Four representatives in Houston and one in the championship game.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said the ACC was certainly "tough" but didn't gloat about the league's dominance in the aftermath of his team's comeback win over Gonzaga.
"I learned a long time ago that it's a foolish game to say one league is better than the other," Boeheim said. "There's just too many variables. I think the top conferences are very, very good, and it's an imperfect system to say, well, they did better in the NCAA Tournament."
Here are a few more nuggets as the NCAA Tournament hits the Elite Eight round:
PLENTY OF PERRY: Kansas fans have heard about senior Perry Ellis for a very long time.
Ellis was a Kansas high school star and coach Bill Self attended his first high school game in 2008 while laying the groundwork for his recruitment.
Now the 6-foot-8 Ellis is in the final days of an outstanding career - his 1,794 career points are 8th career at Kansas and he recently passed Paul Pierce on the scoring list. The Jayhawks face Villanova on Saturday.
Ellis has saved some his best basketball for the past month. He's scored at least 20 points in seven of his last eight games.
"Just trying to do whatever I can to win - that's all I'm trying to do," Ellis said.
VILLANOVA'S SCORCHING THE NETS: It's hard to find a team as hot as Villanova right now.
The Wildcats are shooting nearly 60 percent from the field in three NCAA Tournament wins and have scored at least 86 points in all of them.
"They're probably playing as well as anybody that we've gone against in recent memory, at least that I can recall," Self said. "They're on fire right now."
BUDDY TIME: Oklahoma's star guard Buddy Hield met Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant after Thursday's win over Texas A&M.
Now, he'd like to do his best Kobe impression when the Sooners meet Oregon on Saturday for a chance to go to the Final Four.
"He's one of my idols I grew up watching, one of the guys I looked up to," Hield said. "And I try to copy and mimic his work ethic. I am just happy I got to meet Kobe and he said a couple words of encouragement."
Hield had a down game by his lofty standards in Oklahoma's 77-63 win over Texas A&M, finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds. The prolific shooter is averaging more than 25 points per game.
Oregon expects to get Hield's best.
"He's just a great athlete, and he can keep backing up," Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "He moves so well without the ball that it's hard to keep up with him."
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Robert Griffin III is getting a chance to revive a career that once seemed unstoppable.
One of the NFL's brightest and flashiest stars just a few years ago, Griffin signed a two-year contract Thursday with the Cleveland Browns, a franchise on a perpetual mission to find a quarterback. Financial terms were not immediately available.
Griffin hasn't been the same since his dazzling rookie season in Washington in 2012, when RG3 - possessed with a rocket arm, a tailback's speed and endless swagger - burst onto pro football's stage. The Browns, who tried to trade up and select Griffin four years ago, believe he can still lead on and off the field and they're giving him a chance to revive his career and win their starting job.
"I'm just excited to come in and compete," Griffin said. "Nothing's ever been given to me in my life, so I just want to go out and compete with the guys and grow with this team. I feel like that's all I'm really focused on. I cherish the opportunity to get another chance to play this beautiful game."
Griffin met last week with new Browns coach Hue Jackson, who was impressed by the 26-year-old's candor and eagerness to begin anew.
"He brings starting experience to our team and organization," Jackson said. "He's a young, athletic, talented passer and he's really just starting out in this league. Just like every player on our team, Robert will have to earn every opportunity he gets. He will compete with the rest of the quarterbacks on our roster and he helps improve our QB room, which was one of my goals upon taking the job."
Cleveland has started 24 quarterbacks since 1999 and the team is expected to take one with the No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft. That rookie - possibly California's Jared Goff or North Dakota State's Carson Wentz - will compete with Griffin, the second selection in 2012. Jackson and other members of the Browns attended Wentz's pro day Thursday in North Dakota.
The Browns recently released troubled quarterback Johnny Manziel, who they once thought would solve their problems. They also have quarterbacks Josh McCown and Austin Davis on their roster, but as is always the case with that position in Cleveland, nothing stands still.
After winning the Heisman Trophy at Baylor, Griffin was taken in the draft just after Andrew Luck was plucked by the Indianapolis Colts. The Browns attempted to swing a deal to move up and get him but were outbid by the Redskins.
Griffin took the nation's capital by storm. He led the Redskins to the NFC East title and was named the league's top offensive rookie. It didn't take him long to become one of American's most celebrated athletes and there seemed no limit to what he could accomplish. Griffin, however, sustained a significant right knee injury in a playoff game against Seattle and things would never be the same.
The indelible image of Griffin lying face down on the turf is one that will haunt Redskins fans for years. In a way, it symbolized what might have been.
Griffin underwent reconstructive surgery, but there was little he could do to fix a fractured relationship with then-Washington coach Mike Shanahan. Griffin wound up being benched at the end of his second season, and he missed a big chunk in his third year after dislocating his ankle.
Last year, coach Jay Gruden named Griffin his starter during preseason, but then came a concussion. Griffin lost his job and spent the season behind Kirk Cousins. He was eventually demoted to third-string behind Colt McCoy.
When the Redskins placed the nonexclusive franchise tag on Cousins last month for $20 million, Griffin, who went 14-21 with 40 touchdown passes as a starter, was let go with little fanfare.
In search of a team, he and the Browns will try to restore each other.
BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) -- NFL owners have approved as a one-year trial ejecting a player who draws two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties from specific categories.
Those categories include throwing a punch at or kicking an opponent; taunting; and using abusive, threatening or insulting language or gestures.
"Sportsmanship is important to the membership," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday as the owners' meetings concluded. "We all have standards. They have two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties before they're ejected. The message from the membership, our clubs and the coaches is they're going to be held to those high standards."
Also approved Wednesday as a one-year trial was placing the ball at the 25-yard line after touchbacks on kickoffs instead of at the 20. The league is seeking ways to reduce injuries on kickoff returns, which it says statistically are the most dangerous plays in the game.
Most proposals on expanding video replay in officiating were dismissed. A suggestion by Baltimore that would simplify the language in replay rules to make clearer what is reviewable has been tabled.
Expanding the use of video on sideline tablets, which many expected to pass easily, also was tabled until the May meetings in Charlotte.
"There was really good discussion from the coaches and some concerns on the technology side and the ramifications of using video," said Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee. "We will use the Microsoft Surface (tablets) with photos on the sideline and will continue to discuss this."
In other changes, teams no longer will be required to designate the one player allowed to return from injured reserve as soon as he is placed on that list. Instead, they will have until the day before the player returns to practice during the season to designate him. That player must have sat out at least six weeks in the regular season.
Goodell said reports of substantial progress in talks with the players' union about reducing his role in player discipline were inaccurate.
"We are not close to an agreement by any stretch of the imagination on making changes on that," he said. "But we are open to it and keeping an open dialogue with the union."
CLEVELAND (AP) -- LeBron James scored 33 points and recorded his 41st career triple-double as the Cleveland Cavaliers clinched their second straight Central Division title with a 124-91 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.
James added 11 rebounds and 11 assists before checking out with 6:02 left to a thunderous ovation. He scored 17 in the first quarter, helping the Cavs build a 19-point lead and erase the memory of an embarrassing loss on Saturday in Miami.
The Nuggets fought back and briefly led before the Cavs regrouped, scored 68 after halftime and easily notched their 50th win.
J.R. Smith added 15 points and Channing Frye 14 for Cleveland, which played without starter Kevin Love (illness).
Will Barton scored 27 for the Nuggets, who concluded a 1-4 road trip. Denver's Kenneth Faried missed his third straight game with a sore lower back.
The Cavs were playing for the first time since being battered by the Heat, who led by 33 in the fourth and won by 21. It was a humiliating night for James, who sat out the final 12 minutes against his former team, and the loss raised more questions about Cleveland's chemistry and chances of returning to the NBA Finals.
James got the Cavs back on track and to 50 wins, a milestone coach Tyronn Lue said shouldn't be taken for granted.
"It's something we embrace," he said. "It's not every year that you can do that, unless you're the San Antonio Spurs and teams like that. It just shows the hard work the guys have put in to get to this point. All is not bad."
Cleveland has more work to do but this is a start.
James was aggressive from the outset and finished the first quarter with 17 points, five rebounds and three assists. The Cavs had their highest-scoring opening quarter of the season and it appeared they would be able to rest some starters in the second half.
But with Barton leading the way, the Nuggets went on a 17-0 run and took a 43-41 lead in the second quarter while James was on the bench.
James returned and with Lue using a lineup that featured the four-time league MVP, Frye, Smith, Timofey Mozgov and Matthew Dellavedova, the Cavs reeled off nine consecutive points and led 56-48 at halftime.
Cleveland's starters blitzed Denver to start the third and the Cavs pushed their lead to 30 before James left.
After James picked up his 11th assist for his second triple-double this season, Lue sent in a substitute and Cleveland's bench and crowd applauded as he left the floor.
Nuggets: F JaKarr Sampson strained his left shoulder in the first half and didn't return. He attended James' high school, Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary, for three years. ... Coach Mike Malone spent five seasons as an assistant with the Cavaliers. He said Cleveland's run to the 2007 finals, which included James' epic performance in Game 5 of the conference semifinals at Detroit - he scored 28 of the Cavs' final 30 points - is his fondest memory. "One of the best performances by a player in postseason history," Malone said.
Cavaliers: Cleveland has won at least 50 games nine times. ... James has scored 20 points or more in 16 straight games against Denver. ... G Mo Williams has been cleared to practice after missing nearly a month with an injured left knee. Williams, who has not played since Feb. 24, has been bothered by soreness in his knee for most of the season. He took part in Monday's shootaround and could play in games later this week. ... The Cavs also won division titles in 1975-76, 2008-09, 2009-10, 2014-15.
Nuggets: Host Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Cavaliers: Host Milwaukee on Wednesday.
AP- A region-by-region look at what you might have missed last week and what you shouldn't miss next week, as the NCAA Tournament heads into the Sweet 16.
GOING TO FORM:
Not that it's unusual for a No. 1 seed to encounter very few problems in its first two games. But given all the talk about parity, upsets and the rest of the twists and turns during this unpredictable season, North Carolina's dominance was impressive. Two wins by a total of 45 points. And the second-round game, against Providence, was actually competitive for the first half. Just enough to keep the Tar Heels sharp - and then they ran away. "I probably think we've played our best basketball the entire season in the last couple of weeks," coach Roy Williams said. Hard to disagree.
WHO WAS THAT?: Give the bracket-buster award in the East to No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin, which took apart West Virginia in the first round and came one point short of the Sweet 16, in a 76-75 loss to Notre Dame. It took a tip-in from unheralded Rex Pflueger of the Irish with 1.5 seconds left to send the Lumberjacks home. "They've set a new standard for SFA basketball," coach Brad Underwood said of his seniors, who have three tournament appearances and two NCAA wins in their careers.
CHECK IT OUT: Hooking up Friday, it will be North Carolina and Indiana. Plenty of history here, just not with each other. This is their first meeting in the tournament since 1984, when Steve Alford scored 27 points to headline an upset against the top-ranked Tar Heels. The loss ended Michael Jordan's college career.
GOING TO FORM:
Almost everything. This region is sending seed Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5 to the Sweet 16. They are Kansas, Villanova, Miami and Maryland.
WHO WAS THAT?: No. 13 seed Hawaii notched the program's first NCAA victory - but there was no repeat in Game 2, and there won't be a repeat next year, either. The Rainbow Warriors, who lost to Maryland on Sunday, are banned from next year's postseason because of infractions committed under former coach Gib Arnold. The current coach, Eran Ganot, said it's something in the back of everyone's mind. "But there's always opportunity from those kind of things and it was an opportunity for us to send a message of how we can lock in and fight through adversity and get better and try to do something special," he said.
CHECK IT OUT: The Villanova-Miami game Thursday in Louisville will be an interesting contest between the guards. Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan of Miami are about as quick as they come, and Villanova's Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono will be hard-pressed to stop them.
GOING TO FORM:
Virginia and Iowa State are both where they're "supposed" to be - a 1 and 4 facing off in the Sweet 16.
WHO WAS THAT?: Syracuse was one of the most hotly debated bubble teams, but has responded by winning games by 19 and 25. Coach Jim Boeheim was glad to say that anyone who thought the Orange didn't belong didn't know anything about basketball - and maybe he was right. Runner up: Josh Hagins of No. 12 Little Rock, who did - well - just about everything en route to 31 points and a come-from-behind win over Purdue in the first round.
CHECK IT OUT: No. 10 Syracuse meets No. 11 Gonzaga on Friday. They've played a combined four games. Nobody has come closer than 16 points of either team. This was widely viewed as the weakest of the four regions, and there's no doubt the winner of the other game - Virginia-Iowa State - will have its hands full with whichever double-digit seed makes the Elite Eight.
GOING TO FORM:
For only the 16th time since the field expanded in 1985, a region is sending seeds 1-4 to the Sweet 16. But to say things went to form wouldn't be telling the whole story. No. 3 Texas A&M somehow overcame a 12-point deficit in the last 44 seconds - yes, 44 seconds - of regulation to force overtime with Northern Iowa en route to an eventual win. Though Oregon, Oklahoma and Duke all had their own moments of drama, nothing compared to that.
WHO WAS THAT?: Northern Iowa may not be a newcomer to the tournament, but the 11th-seeded Panthers certainly came up with new ways to put the madness in March. From Paul Jesperson's half-court game-winner at the buzzer against Texas to the entire team's meltdown against Texas A&M, these guys will serve as Exhibit A the next time anyone says, "It's never over 'til it's over."
CHECK IT OUT: Oregon was a surprise No. 1 seed. The Ducks struggled against St. Joe's, before coming out on top, 69-64. Next up, the defending national champions. Though Duke isn't nearly as deep or talented as it was last year, Grayson Allen is a force. And, as we all know, both the program and its coach, Mike Krzyzewski, are very comfortable on the big stage.
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Nobody wants an NCAA Tournament mulligan more than Michigan State.
But the Spartans' spotlight as the biggest flop of the first round is one of many reasons it's time to reboot March Madness. Time to frame around the 32 teams left competing for a title.
Millions of bracketeers prove it: Nobody saw this set coming. The fantasy of a perfect bracket - already far unlikelier than Powerball - was dashed in 21 games despite all the permutations generated by ESPN, Yahoo and CBS Sports users. Hoops fans on ESPN thought a Michigan State loss to Middle Tennessee State was so unlikely that more picked one of three No. 1s - North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia - to be the first top seed ever to lose to a 16.
By the time No. 11 seed Northern Iowa beat Texas on a buzzer-beating halfcourt rainbow Friday night, the Missouri Valley Tournament champions became the record-setting 10th double-digit seed to win a first-round game. Three of the four No. 9 seeds also were victorious.
Indeed, it's been a tournament for the bracket underdog. Or at least the under-seeded.
So where do all these upsets leave the NCAA Tournament?
Well, the Jayhawks joined fellow No. 1 seeds Oregon, North Carolina and Virginia in surviving. But Kansas gets one of the hottest teams in the tournament in UConn in the next round, while the Tar Heels have to face Kris Dunn and Providence and the Cavaliers get perennial tournament darling Butler.
No sure things in that bunch of games.
Second-seeded Oklahoma will join the Jayhawks in trying to return some respectability to the Big 12 after another disappointing NCAA Tournament start. Meanwhile, the Ducks will be trying to do the same thing for the bruised and battered Pac-12, which also has third-seeded Utah alive.
The biggest winner so far might be the Missouri Valley, which had the Shockers roll through Vanderbilt in a play-in game before their easy win over the Arizona. Northern Iowa's heart-stopping victory over coach Shaka Smart's Longhorns made it a banner week for the mid-major conference.
"At this point, you're running on adrenaline," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. "We've got a lot of work to do, and we've got a great opponent tomorrow (in Miami). But it has been just a very grueling, very taxing several days, but it's been fun all the same."
Michigan State - predicted champs on about one-quarter of ESPN and Yahoo brackets - gets one of many surprise trips home.
There was third-seeded West Virginia losing to Stephen F. Austin, fourth-seeded Cal floundering against Hawaii and sixth-seeded Arizona getting shocked by Wichita State. No. 5 seeds Baylor and Purdue went down Thursday, while No. 10 seeds Syracuse and VCU joined No. 11 seed Gonzaga in surviving.
"There's such great college stories this time of year, every year. We looked at it and said, 'Guys, why not Middle Tennessee?'" Blue Raiders coach Kermit Davis said. "It's going to be something after this weekend, and everyone is going to have a great, great moment."
Just like the one the Shockers had, and same with Yale and Little Rock in advancing as 12-seeds.
In a season with this much parity, no seeding has proven safe.
"I think that people realize we're the real deal," said Lumberjacks star Thomas Walkup, who could just as easily be speaking for underappreciated teams everywhere.
"A couple of years ago, when we got an NCAA win they thought it was almost a fluke," he said. "But I think now people are starting to realize that Stephen F. Austin is a really strong basketball program and really starting to make a name for ourselves."
Plenty of teams that expected their 2016 legacy to last longer won't get that chance.
Start with the Mountaineers, who looked like a Final Four contender in giving overall No. 1 Kansas all it could handle in the Big 12 Tournament. They were soundly beaten by a Lumberjacks team playing its very own style, popping loose a plethora of turnovers and turning them into easy layups.
West Virginia's problems paled next to those at California, where a scandal involving an assistant coach and an injury to the Golden Bears' leading scorer contribute to their loss.
"I mean, it's tough for young guys to overcome," Cal coach Cuonzo Martin said. "We still have to lace them up and play the game. I think Hawaii won the game. Obviously, a lot of factors - you can say this or that, but they won the game."
But no surprise of the many that dramatically shifted the atmosphere of March Madness during the round of 64 can top Michigan State, the second favorite to Kansas in Las Vegas sports books after Selection Sunday.
"I don't care about next year. I don't even care about tomorrow right now," Izzo said after his team's listless 90-81 loss. "Somebody's not happy unless they win it all. It just was disappointing that we didn't move farther than we did."
CLEVELAND (AP) -- The Browns have finally jumped into the free agency pool with both cleats.
After letting four starters leave and sign with new teams last week, Cleveland added its first notable player of the offseason by signing inside linebacker Demario Davis to a two-year contract.
Davis made 51 starts over the past four seasons with the New York Jets, who selected him in the third round in 2012. He'll move into a starting spot with the team expected to release veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby on Wednesday.
The 34-year-old has been informed by the team of their plans to let him go. Dansby spent two seasons with Cleveland, which signed him as a free agent in 2014.
Davis will likely start alongside Chris Kirksey. The Browns also signed Justin Tuggle last week.
Davis visited the Browns on Tuesday. They're hoping he can help fix one of the NFL's worst rushing defenses.
"It seems like they're ready to take this organization in the right direction. I felt nothing but positive vibes from (executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown) all the way down to the defensive coordinator and the head coach," Davis said. "I just felt like this was the best fit for me and my family."
Davis started every game the past three seasons for the Jets, but he shared playing time last season when he finished with 90 tackles and two sacks. He recorded more than 100 tackles in 2013 and 2014.
The Browns are likely to lose linebacker Craig Robertson, who is also one of their best special teams players, and Davis can help fill that void.
"I just want to be able to come in and help as best as possible," Davis said. "I take pride in being a run stopper. I take pride in covering. I take pride in playing in space, being a sideline-to-sideline backer. I take pride in getting after the quarterback. I just want to be able to do whatever the coach is asking of me.
In Cleveland, Davis will be reunited with new Browns linebackers coach Ryan Slowik, who spent last season with the Jets.
"I played for some great defensive minds," Davis said. "I played with a lot of great players. Just everything I've been able to learn over the four years is going to help me as I enter into the next chapter of my career."
AP - As the hours tick down to the start of the NCAA Tournament, people across the country are poring over statistics and studying matchups and trendlines with the hope of coming up with the perfect bracket - or least a winning one.
Then there's Holly Weatherwax. The realtor from Reston, Virginia, on Tuesday dashed off two brackets she'll enter in a family pool. On one, she picked the Virginia Cavaliers to win the national championship. That's because her daughter attends the school. On the other, she picked the Duke Blue Devils. That's because she took a shine to Coach K, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill back in the 1990s.
"I do this very casually," Weatherwax said.
Others take it very seriously. According to American Gaming Association research, 40 million people filled out about 70 million brackets last year, and the average bet per bracket was $29. The trade group estimated $9.2 billion will be wagered on the tournament this year through office pools, Nevada sports books, offshore sites and illegal bookmakers.
John Dietrich, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln senior from Omaha, said he'll submit five or six brackets in various pools and plunk down a total of about $40 in entry fees. He's more analytical than Weatherwax. For each matchup, he looks at offensive and defensive scoring averages and how the teams fared against common opponents and top competition. He waits until just before tipoff of the first games to hit the send button.
Brad Wiemels, a Clemson University sophomore from Columbus, Ohio, evaluates the same metrics as Dietrich, plus he weighs performances at neutral sites and delves into stats that some would consider minutia. Wiemels helps friends who are filling out brackets and runs a personal website called "Bradketology" (http://bit.ly/1TMaH6Y).
Wiemels said he'll occasionally back up his brackets with a few bucks, but his priority is to win the annual pool among 20-30 family members and take home the prize known as the "Weirdy Doll."
"The trophy is coveted," he said. "You want to hold onto it, put it on the mantle, show it off. It's like a voodoo doll-looking thing. My second cousin found it somewhere. It's not something I would call a particularly impressive piece of artwork. There's a reason it's called the 'Weirdy Doll.'"
As of Tuesday afternoon, Kansas and Michigan State were the top two choices to win the national championship, according to brackets entered in contests run by ESPN, Yahoo.com and CBSSports.com.
Office pools have long been the most popular avenues for participation in this madness. They are against the rules - wink, wink - at many companies because gambling is illegal most places, not to mention that having employees devote time to picking winners can have an adverse effect on productivity.
Some workplaces, however, embrace the camaraderie.
Billionaire Warren Buffett announced on CNBC two weeks ago that one of his 300,000 Berkshire Hathaway employees could win $100,000 by picking the most consecutive winners in the tournament. Buffett said at least one employee will win the $100,000 prize, but if multiple employees tie, they will share it. Buffett said if an employee can somehow pick all 48 winners in the opening rounds, he'll pay that person $1 million a year for life.
The hectic pace of coaching the best team in the NBA doesn't stop the Golden State Warriors' Steve Kerr from keeping an eye on the tournament. Kerr played at Arizona, and his son, Nick, is a reserve guard for California.
"We'll have a tournament pool on our team, but don't tell anyone. It's probably illegal. There won't be any money involved. Let's make that clear," Kerr said.
Steve Cuddihy, who works for a computer manufacturing company in Burnsville, Minnesota, is a pioneer of online bracket contests. He's been running OfficePool64.com since the dial-up days of 1997. He knew he was getting to be big-time a few years later when the NCAA sent him a cease-and-desist order for using the trademarked terms "March Madness" and "Final Four" on his website.
About 1,500 brackets were submitted each year when he was starting out. That number has leveled off at about 450 in recent years, he said, because people have migrated to the big sports websites that run contests.
Cuddihy has discovered that luck is as important as skill in winning first prize. The 46-year-old follows the sport closely. His mother does not.
"I've never won my own pool in the 20 years I've run it," he said, "but my mom has."
AP Business Writer Josh Funk in Omaha, Nebraska, and AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in Oakland, California, contributed.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The NFL is standing behind a top executive's acknowledgement that the brain disease CTE can be linked to football.
The comments by Jeff Miller, the senior vice president for health and safety, "accurately reflect the view of the NFL," league spokesman Brian McCarthy said Tuesday. Miller spoke Monday at a congressional committee's roundtable discussion about concussions.
League officials have long denied proof of a connection between playing in the NFL and the condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Miller told the congressional panel that brain research on former NFL players "certainly" shows a link between football and CTE. Responding to questions, Miller referenced the work of Boston University neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee, who has found CTE in the brains of 90 former pro football players.
"Well, certainly, Dr. McKee's research shows that a number of retired NFL players were diagnosed with CTE, so the answer to that question is certainly yes, but there are also a number of questions that come with that," Miller said.
CTE is tied to repeated brain trauma and associated with symptoms such as memory loss, depression and progressive dementia. Players diagnosed after their deaths include Hall of Famers Junior Seau, Ken Stabler and Mike Webster.
Critics of the NFL's proposed $1 billion plan to settle concussion claims call Miller's sudden acknowledgement of a football-CTE connection a game changer.
The settlement is being appealed by players concerned that it excludes future cases of CTE - what they consider "the signature disease of football."
The deal announced by lead plaintiffs' lawyers and the NFL in August 2013 would instead pay up to $4 million for prior deaths involving CTE.
"Given that, the settlement's failure to compensate present and future CTE is inexcusable," lawyer Steven Molo wrote Tuesday in a letter to the federal appeals court in Philadelphia that is hearing his appeal.
The court heard arguments in November on the fairness of the settlement and was expected to issue an opinion in the high-stakes case soon. The NFL and lead plaintiffs' lawyers have said they do not want to incentivize suicide by offering future payments. CTE cannot yet be diagnosed in the living.
The settlement would resolve thousands of lawsuits and cover more than 20,000 NFL retirees for the next 65 years. The league estimates that 6,000 former players - nearly three in 10 - could develop Alzheimer's disease or moderate dementia.
They would receive an average of $190,000, though the awards could reach several million dollars in the most serious cases, which include young men with Parkinson's disease or Lou Gehrig's disease.
"We welcome the NFL's acknowledgement of what was alleged in our complaint: that reports have associated football with findings of CTE in deceased former players," lead plaintiffs' lawyer Christopher Seeger said in a statement. "The settlement achieves that, providing immediate care to the sickest retired players and long-term security over the next 65 years for those who are healthy now but develop a qualifying condition in the future."
Chris Nowinski, a former professional wrestler who runs the Concussion Legacy Foundation, noted that millions of children still play tackle football despite the suspected risks. The foundation seeks to study and prevent head trauma in athletes.
"If we actually believe that football is linked to CTE now, then how is the NFL underwriting (youth) tackle football when kids could just as easily play flag and not be exposed to the risk of CTE at such a young age?" he asked.
AP Pro Football Writers Dave Campbell in Minneapolis and Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.
CLEVELAND (AP) - The Browns have released troublesome quarterback Johnny Manziel.
The team cut ties on Friday with the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner after two disappointing, drama-filled seasons. Manziel faces an uncertain future in the NFL and potential criminal charges in Texas following a domestic violence incident.
The Browns used a first-round pick in the 2014 draft to select Manziel, an electrifying star at Texas A&M who earned his "Johnny Football" nickname in college with side-armed throws and scrambles for touchdowns. But Manziel's pro career has not gone well as he has become better known more for his excessive social life than anything else.
Manziel started just eight games for the Browns, who supported him through a lengthy stay in rehab last year but finally grew tired of his antics and are moving on.
He passed for 1,675 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Michigan could not afford a loss in its opening game of the Big Ten Tournament and expect to get an NCAA Tournament invite.
The Ohio State Buckeyes were in the same situation, though with even less leeway.
Both took care of the first step in rebuilding their NCAA Tournament resumes on Thursday, but still have some work left if they want to be in the big bracket.
Michigan has to play No. 10 Indiana while the Buckeyes have to get through No. 2 Michigan State.
"We had a good win today, but we can't enjoy it for too long because we know we have IU tomorrow," Michigan's Zak Irvin said.
The Wolverines (21-11) had to rally to keep their NCAA hopes alive.
Duncan Robinson hit a 3-pointer with 46 seconds left to tie it, then Irvin drained a jumper from the wing with 3.3 seconds left to give Michigan a 72-70 win over Mississippi.
Find a way to beat the Hoosiers and Michigan should have its ticket punched.
Ohio State (20-12) rallied with a late 7-0 run to knock off Penn State 79-75, setting up the showdown with the Spartans.
Michigan State won both meetings during the regular season in routs, so the Buckeyes will have their hands full if they want their season to continue.
"We're trying to get these guys to understand, they've never been in this situation before in a conference tournament," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said after the win over Penn State.
"You're playing Michigan State for the third time in two weeks, they're a great basketball team. We have to play better than we've played the last two games. We've been working on a game plan and hopefully we can get this in in the next 24 hours."
ON THE RISE
Florida. The Gators (19-13) enhanced their NCAA chances with a 68-61 win over Arkansas in the SEC Tournament. Beating No. 17 Texas A&M on Friday would be a bigger boost and a loss to the Aggies will leave them squirming on the bubble.
San Diego State. The Aztecs (24-8) took a necessary step by beating Utah State in the Mountain West Conference quarterfinals. They'll likely still need to do more, starting with Friday's semifinal against Nevada.
George Washington. The Colonials (23-9) won a can't-lose game against Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, but still could use some resume padding. GW faces St. Joseph's in the third round on Friday.
Alabama. The Crimson Tide (18-13) needed a deep run in the SEC Tournament to boost its NCAA prospects and got off to a good start, knocking off Mississippi 81-73. The next one will be tougher. Alabama faces No. 2 seed Kentucky Friday in the quarterfinals.
Vanderbilt. The Commodores (19-13) did what they could not do in the SEC Tournament: Lose to Tennessee. Now Selection Sunday will be much more tense.
Washington. The Huskies (18-14) needed to at least reach the Pac-12 Tournament title game and lost in the quarterfinals to No. 8 Oregon in the quarterfinals. NIT time.
Pittsburgh. The Panthers (21-11) have a solid record and beat Syracuse in the ACC opener. A rout at the hands of No. 7 North Carolina will at least make them sweat a bit on Selection Sunday.
Oregon State. OK, fading might be a strong way to put it. The Beavers (19-12) were in decent shape heading into the Pac-12 Tournament and beat Arizona State in the second round. A loss to No. 24 California in the quarterfinals may at least give them pause while waiting to find out if their 26-year NCAA Tournament drought will end.
LONDON (AP) -- Maria Sharapova was guilty of "willful negligence" for using meldonium, and international tennis officials were aware that many players were taking the drug before it was banned this year, former World Anti-Doping Agency president Dick Pound said Wednesday.
Pound told The Associated Press that Sharapova could face a ban of up to four years unless she can prove mitigating circumstances to explain her positive test for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.
Meldonium, a Latvian-manufactured drug designed to treat heart conditions, was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list on Jan. 1 after authorities noticed widespread use of the substance among athletes.
In announcing her positive test at a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday, Sharapova said she had been using the drug for 10 years for various medical issues. The five-time Grand Slam champion and world's highest-earning female athlete said she hadn't realized meldonium had been prohibited this year, taking full responsibility for her mistake.
"An athlete at that level has to know that there will be tests, has to know that whatever she or he is taking is not on the list, and it was willful negligence to miss that," Pound said. "She was warned in advance I gather. The WADA publication is out there. She didn't pay any attention to it. The tennis association issued several warnings, none of which she apparently read."
"I am sorry, if you are running a $30 million a year sole enterprise you better make sure the basis for that commercial success, if nothing else, remains unassailable," Pound added in the interview with the AP on the sidelines of the Tackling Doping in Sport conference at Twickenham Stadium.
Current WADA president Craig Reedie questioned why Sharapova was prescribed meldonium.
"If the reports are true and this was happening when she was a teenager, then you begin to wonder why a drug that is basically to help heart problems was administered," he said.
Pound disclosed that international tennis officials had flagged up the use of meldonium to the WADA committee that monitors the use of various drugs and recommends whether to put them on the banned list.
"Clearly, within the tennis circle at least, they were aware that a lot of the players were using it (meldonium) and said that there must be something to this, so they referred it to the WADA list committee," Pound said.
So far, Sharapova is the only tennis player with a known positive test for meldonium.
Meldonium, which is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, was banned by WADA because it aids oxygen uptake and endurance. Several other athletes in various international sports have already been caught using it since it was banned Jan. 1.
A study published Wednesday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that up to 490 athletes may have been taking meldonium during last year's inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan. The drug was not banned at that time.
The study found that 13 winners or medalists were taking meldonium, 66 athletes tested positive for it, and the drug was detected in athletes in 15 of the 21 sports on the program. The research contributed to WADA's decision to add meldonium to the banned list.
Sharapova is being provisionally suspended by the International Tennis Federation, which will hold hearings on the case and decide on any long-term ban.
"She faces up to four years sanction for this," Pound said. "There will have to be a review of whatever mitigating factors there may be, and not many leap to mind."
Pound said he did not understand why Sharapova would have been taking the drug for so long.
The player said Monday that she had taken meldonium for a decade following various health problems including regular sicknesses, early signs of diabetes and "irregular" results from echocardiography exams.
"Looking at it from 10,000 feet and from outside, you say, 'I am sorry but that doesn't hold together,'" Pound said. "You're in the United States, this is a product that is not available in the United States, and so there has got to be more to this than meets the eye."
Grindeks, the Latvian company that manufactures meldonium, said the normal course of treatment with meldonium is four to six weeks.
"One of the issues that will have to be dealt with is that the use of this product for therapeutic purposes is not a long term," Pound said. "You use it for a single intervention for weeks or months maybe, but not for 10 years in a row."
Sharapova's lawyer, John J. Haggerty, said Tuesday that he wanted "to disabuse the concept that Maria took mildronate every day for 10 years because that's simply not the case."
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- A day after accepting a 30-game suspension, New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman has apologized for using a gun and insisted he never hurt his girlfriend.
Chapman agreed to the penalty, assessed by Major League Baseball under its new domestic violence policy.
His girlfriend, 22-year-old Cristina Barnea, told police he pushed and choked her during an Oct. 30 incident at his home in Davie. Chapman said there was an argument but he was pushed down by Barnea's brother, then got a handgun and fired eight shots into a wall and window while locked in his garage.
Prosecutors declined to file charges, citing conflicting accounts.
"I want to take this opportunity, I want this to be clear, I'm apologizing because the use of the gun," Chapman said Wednesday before the Yankees' spring training opener. "It was bad judgment on my part. But I also want to say that I never hurt my girlfriend. I want this to be very clear. I'm taking this punishment because of my bad judgment, something that I definitely want to put behind me."
Chapman said he no longer has a gun.
"I think the lesson is very clear to everybody," Chapman said. "You have to be able to make better judgment in certain situations. At the same time, I want to take this opportunity to put this behind me. I really don't want to keep talking about this, creating a distraction not only for me, for my family and teammates. I want to concentrate on baseball, which is the best thing I know how to do and help this team win a championship."
Under the discipline announced Tuesday, the four-time All-Star will serve the penalty from the start of the Yankees' season on April 4. He will lose 30 days of pay - $1,856,557 of his $11,325,000 salary. The agreement specifies he will be eligible for free agency after this season barring any additional suspension for off-the-field conduct that would cost him the necessary service time.
Chapman said the free-agent situation played a role in his decision to reach an agreement.
"I think that this was an example of all parties working towards a really strong and beneficial solution for trying to avoid circumstances and eliminate them as we move forward," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.
Chapman, the hardest-throwing pitcher in the major leagues, was traded from the rebuilding Cincinnati Reds to the Yankees in December. He forms a powerful back end of the bullpen along with former closer Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.
Chapman can continue to participate in all spring training activities. The penalty starts when the Yankees open the season April 4 at home against Houston. Barring rainouts, he would be eligible to start his season May 9 when the Yankees host World Series champion Kansas City.
Chapman said he will work out at the Yankees' minor league complex in Florida following spring training. Cashman said the reliever will only be permitted to pitch in extended spring training games.
"I think it's going to be a mental challenge," Chapman said. "I do feel fine. I feel physically strong, mentally strong. My job will be to work really hard and wait for May 9 so I can join my team."
Miller is expected to be the closer in Chapman's absence, and Girardi said the plan is for Chapman to take over after the suspension.