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Messi’s genius is enough for Barcelona to win the Champions League

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It is six years since a team without Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo won the Champions League and, if you conducted a straw poll of the Manchester United team torn apart by Barcelona’s magician in the Nou Camp during a 3-0 quarterfinal second-leg defeat Tuesday night, few responses would suggest the sequence will end this season.

Ronaldo, courtesy of Ajax’s stunning victory against Juventus, will not be in Madrid for the final June 1, but Messi, who netted twice in four minutes against United, is still on course to get his hands on the European Cup for a fifth time, which would equal the winners’ medal tally of his great rival in the process.

Liverpool are likely to be Barcelona’s semifinal opponents — Jurgen Klopp’s side lead FC Porto 2-0 going into Wednesday’s return leg in Portugal — and will believe they can slam the brakes on the Catalan club’s juggernaut and deny Messi & Co. a symbolic European Cup triumph in the Spanish capital.

But while Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona are not in the same stratosphere as Pep Guardiola’s 2008-12 vintage, which won two Champions Leagues, or Luis Enrique’s 2015 Treble winners, the presence of Messi means they boast the most potent weapon of any side still harbouring hopes of glory this season.

Moreover, the great man is on a personal mission to win it again, having promised supporters at the start of this season that the squad was determined to bounce back from last season’s humbling quarterfinal exit against Roma, which came in spite of Barcelona winning the first leg 4-1.

“Last season was really good as we did the double, but we all felt bad about how it went in the Champions League,” Messi said eight months ago to the day, on Aug. 16. “We promise that this season we will do all we can to bring that beautiful trophy back to the Camp Nou.”

In the event that Liverpool do provide their next opposition, Barcelona will be given a tougher test by than that provided by United.

Yes, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team created three clear scoring chances inside the first 10 minutes of this game, but Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay and Jesse Lingard all failed to trouble goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. If the same opportunities fall to the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane or Roberto Firmino, they will surely not be so profligate.

But regardless, Barcelona will still have Messi to get them out of any hole, and that is why Valverde’s men will be favourites to reach, and win, the final at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium. As Solskjaer himself said: “You can prepare all you like, but if you give him (Messi) time and space around the goal, he will score. He’s a fantastic player.”

So much of what Barcelona do carries Messi’s unique mark of genius, and he effectively ended the tie vs. United in a four-minute spell just after the quarter-hour mark.

His first goal was all about opportunism, as he pounced on a mistake by Ashley Young to steal the ball, before nutmegging Fred and skipping into space on the edge of the penalty area. Then came the move and shot seen countless times over the past 15 years: a cut inside onto his left foot, followed by an unerring strike into the bottom corner.

Everyone knows what is coming, but nobody has shown themselves able to stop it, and David De Gea was beaten like so many keepers before him.

Moments later it was two, thought this time United were more responsible for their own downfall. First, another failure by the away side to keep possession gave Messi a chance to capitalise and, second, De Gea inexplicably allowed a weak effort to squirm under his body and into the net.

For a goalkeeper yet to sign a new contract at United, it was hardly the best audition for a move back to his native Spain, where his reputation has already been tarnished by uninspired international performances. Maybe De Gea was spooked by Messi’s first goal and caught expecting something else, but it was nevertheless a calamitous mistake.

Messi, though, is about more than goals. Six days ago at Old Trafford, he was subdued by his own standards after having his nose bloodied in a challenge with Chris Smalling, but here he toyed with United — Young and Phil Jones in particular — and strode across the pitch like a man in his own universe. Indeed, one young fan held a board which read, “Messi, before you go back to space, can I have your shirt?”

Before he headed back to his own planet, Messi still had business to finish, and his long-range pass to Jordi Alba on 61 minutes led to Philippe Coutinho’s 20-yard curler, which put the home side 3-0 in front on the night and 4-0 on aggregate. Three minutes later, Messi was inches away from claiming his hat trick with an overhead kick.

Make no mistake, the brilliance of their talisman masks glaring problems for this Barcelona team — Luis Suarez’s lack of mobility and sharpness, Sergio Busquets’ recklessness and Coutinho’s inconsistency could prove costly — but he is a decent sticking plaster to have.

Injury or suspension would change things, yet while Messi is playing, Barcelona are the team to beat.

Source: http://www.espn.com/soccer/blog/the-match/60/post/3826664/lionel-messis-genius-is-enough-for-barcelona-to-win-the-champions-league

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NIT bracket 2019: Tournament schedule, dates, times, locations for the 32-team field

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It can be a stepping stone to bigger things and also a a way to earn some postseason success after not making the Big Dance — the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) pits 32 teams, including the 10 teams that won their conference regular season championships as automatic qualifiers.

The 22 at-large berths will be handed out on Sunday with the first three rounds of the NIT played at campus sites. The semifinals and championship game played at Madison Square Garden. But before the entire field is announced and set, let’s take a look at how you can watch and follow the entire NIT this year.

Start a bracket pool to compete against friends or play for the chance to win a college basketball dream trip.Get in the action today!

2019 NIT key dates

First Round: Higher seed hosts — March 19-20
Second Round: Higher seed hosts — March 21-25
Quarterfinals: Higher seed hosts — March 26-27
Semifinals: Madison Square Garden — April 2
Championship: Madison Square Garden — April 4

Upper Left Bracket
(1) UNC Greensboro vs. (8) Campbell — March 19, 7 p.m.
(4) Davidson vs. (5) Lipscomb — March 19, 7 p.m.
(3) Georgetown vs. (6) Harvard — March 20, 7 p.m.
(2) North Carolina State vs. (7) Hofstra — March 19, 7 p.m.

Lower Left Bracket
(1) Indiana vs. (8) St. Francis (Pa.) — March 19, 7 p.m.
(4) Providence vs. (5) Arkansas — March 19, 9 p.m.
(3) Furman vs. (6) Wichita State — March 19, 7 p.m
(2) Clemson vs. (7) Wright State — March 19, 7 p.m.

Upper Right Bracket
(1) Alabama vs. (8) Norfolk State — March 20, 7 p.m.
(4) Colorado vs. (5) Dayton — March 19, 11 p.m.
(3) Xavier vs. (6) Toledo — March 20, 7 p.m.
(2) Texas vs. (7) South Dakota State — March 19, 9 p.m.

Lower Right Bracket
(1) TCU vs. (8) Sam Houston State — March 20, 9 p.m.
(4) Nebraska vs. (5) Butler — March 20, 9 p.m.
(3) Memphis vs. (6) San Diego — March 19, 8 p.m.
(2) Creighton vs. (7) Loyola-Chicago — March 19, 9 p.m.
Ten schools earned automatic berths by way of their regular season conference titles, and not being selected to the NCAA Tournament: Campbell, Harvard, Hofstra, Lipscomb, Loyola-Chicago, Norfolk State, St. Francis (Pa.), Sam Houston State, South Dakota State, Wright State.

NIT rule modifications
The NIT continues to experiment with rules in its tournament. Some changes in the NIT have eventually seeped its way into the mainstream of college basketball, such as the 30-second shot clock and four-foot restricted-area arc.

The NCAA playing rules process operates on two-year cycles, rule changes can be approved this May, and could be in effect for next season. There will be four rule modifications for the 2019 tournament:

The 3-point line will be extended by approximately 1 foot, 8 inches to the same distance used by FIBA for international competition (22 feet, 1.75 inches).
The free throw lane will be widened from 12 feet to 16 feet, consistent with the width used by the NBA.
The shot clock will reset to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound instead of the full 30 seconds.

Team fouls will reset at the 10-minute mark of each half for the purpose of determining free throws and one-and-one free throws will be eliminated. Teams will shoot two bonus free throws after the fifth team foul of each 10-minute segment. Additionally, teams will be awarded two bonus free throws after the second team foul committed under two minutes remaining in each half if that foul occurs before the fifth team foul of the segment. In each overtime period, team fouls will reset, and teams will shoot two free throws beginning with the fourth team foul or the second team foul committed under two minutes remaining if that comes before the fourth team foul of the overtime period.

Source: https://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/news/nit-bracket-2019-tournament-schedule-dates-times-locations-32-team-field/

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Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko climbs to 23rd spot in WTA ranking

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Ukraine’s second seeded tennis player Lesia Tsurenko has climbed one spot in the latest WTA ranking and has taken 23rd position for the first time in her career.

The 29-year-old has 1,950 points, Ukrinform reports.

Ukraine’s top seeded tennis player Elina Svitolina (5,020) returned to sixth position in the table, whereas Dayana Yastremska (1,386) retained 34th spot.

Japan’s Naomi Osaka (6,970) continues to top the table. Romanian Simona Halep (5,537) is second, and American Sloane Stephens (5,307) is third.

Source: https://menafn.com/1098134348/Ukraines-Lesia-Tsurenko-climbs-to-23rd-spot-in-WTA-ranking

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National Signing Day 2019: Winners and losers

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National Signing Day can help shape a college football program for the next few years, but which teams succeeded and which failed in 2019?
National Signing Day 2019 is officially in the books. The once frenetic day in the college football recruiting period still has a little bit of frenzy to it, but not quite in the same manner that it once did thanks to the recent institution of the early signing period. Even still, programs had the opportunity to round out their recruiting classes in a big way.

Some teams undoubtedly succeeded in that regard, while others didn’t necessarily have to. When you look at programs like the Alabama Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs, they had already completed most of their big-time recruiting work prior to National Signing Day and didn’t have much work to do.
Having said that, those two are largely the outliers as there was work that needed to be done for most college football programs throughout the country. But who succeeded and who failed in that regard? Let’s look at just that by looking at the big winners and losers from 2019 National Signing Day.

Loser: Florida State Seminoles
Even with Deondre Francois on the roster, Willie Taggart’s Seminoles were going to be thin at the quarterback position. However, with Francois being dismissed from the program, that made them in desperate need of landing a quarterback recruit on National Signing Day to provide depth behind James Blackman.

Their big target on Wednesday was James LeGendre, a 4-star recruit that was the best available passer coming into the day. However, they missed out on him as he elected to head to the Maryland Terrapins instead. This now marks the second-straight year that Florida State has failed to secure a quarterback in their recruiting class and the Taggart era in Tallahassee continues to move on less than swimmingly.

Winner: Tennessee Volunteers
With his first full year to compile a recruiting class for the Tennessee Volunteers, Jeremy Pruitt needed to make some big moves in Knoxville. Though he entered the day floating around the top 20 overall recruiting classes, his efforts on National Signing Day vaulted the Vols into the top 10 by the end of the day as they were able to pull off two massive signings.

The prize gem that Tennessee landed on Wednesday was, without question, offensive tackle Darnell Wright, the highest-ranked uncommitted recruit heading into Wednesday, getting him to spurn hometown West Virginia to come to the Vols. With that and landing the third-best outside linebacker in the country, Henry To’oto’o, the Volunteers are in a good way right now with Pruitt leading the charge.

Winner: Ole Miss Rebels
Coming off of a postseason ban, Matt Luke was able to make a splash for the Rebels on National Signing Day. He landed 5-star running back Jerrion Ealy, which is huge — even if he still might go to Major League Baseball instead of playing college football. Meanwhile, they nabbed wide receiver Jonathan Mingo as well, a 4-star recruit who was a big target of rival Mississippi State.

Those big moves and the signing of JUCO transfer linebacker Lakia Henry ultimately vaulted Ole Miss into the top 25 overall classes for 2019 recruiting. Luke still has work to do in Oxford, but they made big strides in the right direction on Signing Day.

Loser: USC Trojans
Entering National Signing Day, Clay Helton’s USC Trojans had the 18th-ranked class in the country, but had the opportunity to improve with some big targets still left uncommitted. They did get one of those guys in wide receiver Kyle Ford, but neither Puka Nacua (at least yet) nor Enokk Vmahi (heading to Ohio State) decided to go with Helton and the Trojans. Oh, and let’s not forget Bru

McCoy making his flip/transfer to Texas official.
Ultimately, Signing Day was a disappointing punctuation mark on the recruiting period for USC. Not only did things not turn out well on Wednesday, but they also missed out on 18 of the top 20 recruits in the state of California, something that would’ve been blasphemous at their peak. Helton has some serious work to do to keep his job if he’s going to misfire in recruiting like this.

Winner: Texas Longhorns
In truth, Tom Herman and the Texas Longhorns weren’t all that active on National Signing Day. Their biggest moment, as previous mentioned, came in the form of announcing officially something that we already knew — that 5-star athlete Bru McCoy would be coming to Austin rather than heading to USC. That bolstered an already strong class for the Longhorns.

Even better, though, the strong class for Texas left them as one of the top five in the entire country for 2019, the only non-SEC team to earn that distinction. It was clear last season that Herman has Texas as “back” as they’ve ever been, and this recruiting class is only going to further solidify that.
Loser: Louisville Cardinals

This is too easy, but it has to be mentioned. The Louisville Cardinals finished last among Power 5 schools in regards to their overall recruiting class rankings. They signed a meager 14 recruits and they appear to be heading in the wrong direction after Bobby Petrino’s departure. That may not be the trend, but things could get ugly early on for Scott Satterfield, and really already have with this 2019 class.

Source: https://fansided.com/2019/02/07/national-signing-day-2019-winners-losers/

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