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The Astros Offer Apologies, but Draw the Line at Their Title



WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — They avoided suspensions, and no one is coming for their championship rings or bank accounts. The Houston Astros got away with electronic sign-stealing in 2017, and escaped with just this punishment: an hour of apologies in their clubhouse before their first workout at spring training on Thursday.

“What we did in 2017 was terrible,” shortstop Carlos Correa said. “We all know it and we feel really bad about it.”

The Astros’ owner, Jim Crane, said weeks ago that his players would apologize in spring training, and they did. But first Crane held a clunky news conference in which he tried to absolve them of blame for the scandal that has roiled the sport and tainted the club’s only World Series title.

“Our players should not be punished for these actions,” Crane said, echoing last month’s explosive report from Commissioner Rob Manfred. “These are a great group of guys who did not receive proper guidance from their leaders.”

Crane fired those leaders — General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch — after Manfred had suspended them for a year. But his players are his product, and their title is his crowning achievement. He would not condemn them or apologize for the championship — or even admit that the cheating had helped them win it.

“Our opinion is that this didn’t impact the game,” Crane said. “We had a good team. We won the World Series and we’ll leave it at that.”

The Astros prepared for this day of reckoning with an hourlong team meeting on Wednesday night, and center fielder George Springer — the 2017 World Series Most Valuable Player — called it productive. “It was obvious to everyone who was here — the remorse, the regret,” he said. Crane said the players were emotional.

But the Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers — the last two teams the Astros beat on their way to the title — should not expect any sorrowful calls. The Astros’ apologies were more general than specific on Thursday, and they do not believe they took something from their opponents.

“We don’t feel the need to have to reach out to those guys, or anybody for that matter,” right fielder Josh Reddick said. “It is what it is. We’ve got to ask for forgiveness again and just keep saying how bad we feel, because this team does feel very sorry and very bad for what has happened, and that we didn’t take more of a role in preventing it.”

Apologizing to fellow players would be awkward, Reddick acknowledged, but that was almost beside the point.

“I think it just goes back to it not being a tainted championship,” he said. “I think it’s just a matter of, we’re still a good team and it wasn’t a necessary point of us winning. We still went out there and won ballgames on the road as well.”

Added starter Lance McCullers, who won Game 3 of the World Series in Houston: “I believe that championship was earned, 100 percent.”

McCullers said he knew some people would refuse to accept that opinion. The Astros did win Game 7 of the World Series in Los Angeles, but otherwise they were 2-6 on the road and 8-1 at home in the 2017 postseason. They did try to use their scheme in October — decoding the catcher’s signal off a video feed, then relaying it by banging on a trash can — but Correa said they did not have the signs then.

“The regular season is when we used it the most,” Correa said. “I remember going to Dodger Stadium and we used multiple signs over there, and when they came to our house they used multiple signs as well, so there’s no way to relay signs out there.”

He added: “When it comes to the playoffs, it’s loud, and people are using multiple signs because of rumors or whatever was going on at the time. When I look back at the playoffs and I look at the games, it was not effective like in the regular season. The trash can was there if you had a chance, but I remember them coming in using multiple signs, and it’s impossible to decode all those signs.”

No other Astros were as willing as Correa was to discuss details, and second baseman Jose Altuve declined a chance to parse out blame. Evidence suggests that he used stolen signs far less than his teammates, but Altuve shared the responsibility.

“I want to take this as a team,” he said. “I think we’re all on the same level right now of feeling the way we’re feeling about doing what we did. I’m not here to say ‘you and you’ more than ‘you and you.’ We’re a team. If we are something, we all are something.”

Altuve and third baseman Alex Bregman gave brief and contrite statements at the news conference, and also spoke to reporters in the clubhouse soon after. Bregman said he had thought about the scandal “nonstop” for the last four months, but demurred when asked if he knew, at the time, that the scheme was wrong.

“The choices we made were bad,” he said. “I think everybody here today is apologizing for that.”

When the Astros first started the sign stealing, Correa said, they rationalized it as a natural byproduct of a game saturated in video. (“Everybody was using technology,” he said.) But they did know it was wrong, Correa added, and disputed a report that players were too intimidated by the veteran Carlos Beltran to stop it.

Beltran, a designated hitter for the 2017 Astros, was fired last month from his new job as Mets manager for his central role in the scandal.

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U.N.L.V. Ends San Diego State’s Unbeaten Streak



SAN DIEGO —Elijah Mitrou-Long scored 19 points, including two free throws with 11.5 seconds left, and U.N.L.V. handed No. 4 San Diego State its first loss of the season, a 66-63 defeat on Saturday, ending the Aztecs’ 26-game winning streak.

San Diego State, which had been the only remaining undefeated men’s team, erased most of a 14-point deficit when it pulled to within 64-63 on Malachi Flynn’s 3-pointer with less than 20 seconds left. Mitrou-Long was fouled by Matt Mitchell with 11.5 seconds left and made both free throws.

Flynn missed a contested 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left and the ball went to the Runnin’ Rebels (15-14, 10-6 Mountain West Conference). After a long pass down the court, Mitchell ended up with the ball and his desperation shot at the buzzer fell short.

San Diego State (26-1, 15-1) unveiled a banner for winning the regular-season conference championship before the game and then looked nothing like the team that raced to the best start in program history. The Aztecs trailed by 14 midway through the second half and were down 11 with 4:32 remaining.

They were uncharacteristically porous on defense and sloppy on offense, missing easy shots and committing careless turnovers.

San Diego State had been projected as the No. 1 seed in the East Region in the N.C.A.A. tournament by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. Providing the Aztecs do not falter again, the loss could keep the Aztecs in the West as the No. 2 seed. Gonzaga is the projected No. 1 seed in the West, where the regionals will be at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

The Aztecs will drop from their No. 4 spot in the Top 25, which matched the highest ranking in school history. The Top 25 was also shaken by No. 3 Kansas’ 64-61 win over No. 1 Baylor.

U.N.L.V.’s Amauri Hardy scored 17 points, and Bryce Hamilton added 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Flynn scored 24 points, Mitchell had 13 and Jordan Schakel had 10 for San Diego State.

The Aztecs pulled within 62-60 on Flynn’s two free throws with 1:47 left and Arop Aguek’s layup with 25.6 seconds left. Mitrou-Long then made two free throws with 19.9 seconds left for a four-point lead.

Hardy’s jumper gave U.N.L.V. a 44-30 lead three minutes into the second half before San Diego State pulled within seven. But Hardy then made a free throw and a layup to put the Runnin’ Rebels back up by double digits.

U.N.L.V. took advantage of numerous breakdowns by the Aztecs to take a double-digit lead midway through the first half and were up 37-25 at halftime after a steal and dunk by Mitrou-Long.

San Diego State never led after going up 14-13 on a Flynn 3-pointer, and then allowing U.N.L.V. to go on a 10-0 run. Mitrou-Long started it by converting a 4-point play when he hit a 3-pointer and was fouled by Flynn.

The Aztecs’ only points in a four-minute span were two free throws apiece by Mitchell and Flynn. U.N.L.V. kept connecting, though, getting a bank shot by Hamilton and a 3-pointer by Mitrou-Long to take its first double-digit lead, 28-18 with 7:12 before halftime.

San Diego next hosts Colorado State on Tuesday.U.N.L.V. will play Boise State in its home finale on Wednesday.

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New Hockey Folk Hero, David Ayres



That was quite the story tonight. Carolina could really bond over this game and the result. For Ayers, he has a story for the ages as he gets the victory.

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NCAA tournament bubble watch: Providence, Memphis help cause



Three weeks away from Selection Sunday means NCAA tournament bubble teams are feeling the pressure to bolster their profiles in hopes of keeping their postseason hopes alive. 

Here’s a look at which teams enhanced and stained their résumés the most in Saturday’s action. 


Providence: The Friars (16-12) started the day as one of the “last four in” the projected field of 68. Their 84-72 home victory over Marquette (and Markus Howard’s 38 points) moved them closer to the safety zone. Providence’s NCAA profile is peculiar in the sense that it features four résumé-staining Quadrant 4 losses. However, it also showcases seven Quadrant 1 victories, which is more than any bubble team. 

STATEMENT WIN: Kansas makes case as NCAA tournament’s top No. 1 seed

Memphis: The Tigers (19-8) picked up a much-needed 60-59 win over fellow bubble team Houston. Memphis has regrouped with two consecutive wins after losing three in a row before that. This victory alone over a Houston squad leading the American Athletic standings won’t push coach Penny Hardaway’s team into the projected field of 68 because a NET score in the 60s doesn’t do any favors, but beating Houston counts as a marquee win, which Memphis was desperately lacking on its résumé. 

Arkansas: The Razorbacks (17-10) are currently on the outside looking in as a bubble team that needs to keep winning to have a shot at the NCAAs. So beating SEC foe Missouri 78-68 on Saturday was necessary to keep those hopes alive. Arkansas only has a 4-9 record in league play (the committee doesn’t look at that), but has a top-50 NET score, top 15 non-conference strength of schedule and no Quad 3 or Quad 4 losses on its profile. 

Syracuse: The Orange (15-12) have a way to go to really enter the at-large bid discussion but winning games it should like Saturday against Georgia Tech will only help that cause. Syracuse’s NET score in the 60s isn’t good and neither are just two Quadrant 1 wins on the NCAA portfolio. But if Syracuse can pick up a couple of marquee victories in the final weeks of ACC play, it’s in business to push to the right side of the bubble. 


Purdue: The Boilermakers (14-13) fell 71-63 to Michigan at home in a must-win game to stay in the NCAA tournament hunt. It’s the fourth consecutive loss for Purdue, which now slips further to the wrong side of the bubble with a near-.500 record. The Boilermakers have an appealing NET score of 34 (and the committee has proved in the past how much it harps on this) and no horrible losses to go with four Quadrant 4 wins. But if there aren’t enough wins on the profile, it won’t matter.

Florida: The Gators (17-10) entered the day as a projected No. 11 seed and Saturday’s 65-59 loss to Kentucky won’t change that seed line. But if it gets close on Selection Sunday the loss could matter considering it would’ve given UF a résumé-lifting Quad 1 road win. Florida has a NET score in the 30s an top-15 strength of schedule, but it’s also one bad loss away from drifting to the wrong side of the bubble. 

Rhode Island: The Rams (19-7) fell in overtime to Davidson 77-75 and could potentially see their seeding line dip from No. 10 to a less safe No. 11. Rhode Island has an exceptional NET score in the low 30s but also owns only one Quadrant 1 win on its résumé. Another Quad 2 win over Davidson would have helped offset those profile shortcomings. 

Richmond: The Spiders (20-7) had won five in a row to leapfrog to one of the “last four in” the projected field this February. But mid-majors don’t have much room for error — meaning Saturday’s 75-71 loss to St. Bonaventure will likely shove Richmond out of the field. A NET score in the 40s is decent, but only two Quad 1 wins means the committee will already be harping on one portfolio shortcoming. 

North Carolina State: The Wolf Pack (17-10) came up with a huge win over Duke earlier this week, but couldn’t pull off another Quadrant 1 victory in falling to Florida State 67-61. A NET score in the 50s is the biggest profile flaw right now if the committee conducted a blind resume test. But adding to N.C. State’s five Quad 1 wins would have catapulted the Wolf Pack much further to the safety zone. Expect them to stay at the No. 10 seed line. 

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs (17-10) lost to SEC foe Texas A&M after starting the day as one of the “first four out” on the projected bracket. Expect MSU to slip further to the wrong side of the bubble after this road loss. It’s not a résumé stain, but it is a loss that makes the next few weeks look bleak as far as tournament hopes go. Ben Howland’s team needs to start winning or it’s NIT. 

Oklahoma: The Sooners (16-11) lost to Oklahoma State 83-66 and as a result will take a hit from a projected No. 10 seed to a No. 11 seed — which is much closer to the wrong side of the bubble than fringe teams would prefer. Even though it was a road loss, now this puts OU in a position of needing to enhance its credentials in the final two weeks of the regular season. This team has a NET score in the 40s but is drastically lacking in the Quadrant 1 win department with just one. 


NCAA tourney explainer:

  • Quadrant 1 wins: Home games vs. 1-30 NET teams; Neutral-site games vs. 1-50 NET; Away games vs. 1-75 NET
  • Quadrant 2 wins: Home games vs. 31-75 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 51-100 NET; Away games vs. 76-135 NET
  • Quadrant 3 wins, losses: Home games vs. 76-160 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 101-200 NET; Away games vs. 136-240 NET
  • Quadrant 4 wins, losses: Home games vs. 161-plus NET; Neutral-site games vs. 201-plus NET; Away games vs. 241-plus NET

Note:  Mostly all statistical data are used from USA TODAY Sports veteran bracketologist Shelby Mast. and the NCAA’s NET rankings are also a reference point. 

Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.

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