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KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) -- Matt Adams hit a homered among his two hits and drove in three runs, lead the St. Louis Cardinals past the Houston Astros, 5-2, Saturday.
 
Michael Wacha gave up two runs in seven innings, his longest outing of the spring. He allowed two runs and struck out eight without allowing a walk.
 
"I'm pretty happy with how it's going," Wacha said. I am just stretching myself out. I'll be ready in two weeks."
 
Mark Ellis played three innings at second base for the Cardinals. He is competing with Kolten Wong for the starting job at second base. Ellis is recovering from left knee tendinitis. He was signed as a free agent from the Los Angeles Dodgers during the off season. He had a hit and scored a run in three at-bats.
 
"I feel good and better than ever," said Ellis, who batted .270 in 46 games for the Dodgers last season. "I just want to keep progressing and getting better."
 
Brett Oberholtzer, who was named the No. 3 starter in the Astros' rotation, allowed five runs in five innings as his ERA rose to 11.00.
 
Jose Altuve homered for the Astros.
 
STARTING TIME
 
Cardinals: Manager Mike Matheny said that Wacha is ready to start the season right now. "He had a nice game and he's ready," Matheny said. "He has made some adjustments and when you have no walks in two straight games, that's pretty good."
 
Wacha has a 1.76 ERA this spring and hasn't allowed a walk in 10 2-3 innings.
 
Astros: Oberholtzer said he isn't concerned about his inflated ERA and is ready for opening day. He will follow Scott Feldman and Jarred Cosart in the Astros' rotation. The final two spots haven't been named.
 
Oberholtzer gave up four runs in the first inning, but still went a spring-high five innings.
 
"I had a rough first inning, but I was satisfied after that," Oberholtzer said. "During the course of a season, that is going to happen. I got some pitches up, but I'm still preparing for opening day."
 
WHAT A RELIEF
 
Astros reliever Chad Qualls pitched an inning with one strikeout. He is a candidate to be the Astros closer, but said he has no idea how the scenario will play out.
 
"You have to go two doors down," said Qualls, pointing toward manager Bo Porter's office. "Who knows. I feel good. I am locating my pitches and getting my fastball over."
 
Qualls went 5-2 with a 2.61 ERA for the Miami Marlins last season.
 
BIG IMPRESSION
 
The Cardinals' Keith Butler allowed onoe hit in an inning of relief. His Grapefruit League ERA is 8.64 but Matheny said he was impressed by Butler.
 
"He was really crowding the zone with his fastball," Matheny said. "I haven't seen that from him before. I like what I saw."
 
Saturday, 22 March 2014 22:15
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SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The day started with a bracket-crushing blow. More upsets followed. Four overtime games, a record. A buzzer-beater, a pair of late-night scares.

OK, now breathe.

This was just one day.

There are still 47 games left, 16 of those on Friday.

After one of the wildest opening days in NCAA tournament history, one that cost millions their shot at $1 billion, it's hard to imagine there won't be more chaos to come.

"I've heard this before where there really aren't upsets anymore," Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said after the Crimson pulled off one of Thursday's biggest takedowns. "There may be some surprises, but I just think when you're looking at seeds and if you're playing this time of year, you're probably a pretty good basketball team."

We'll start with the billion.

Warren Buffett offered the unprecedented prize to anyone who could come up with a perfect bracket.

Forty minutes into the first full day of the tournament, roughly 83 percent of the would-be billionaires were done after Dayton, the No. 11 seed in the South Regional, toppled sixth-seeded Ohio State 60-59 in Buffalo, N.Y.

Just the beginning.

No. 12 East seed Harvard started a how-can-that-be run of games in Spokane, Wash., by knocking off fifth-seeded Cincinnati 60-59.

Two upsets, and almost everyone shooting for perfection was eliminated before they got home from work, the number of blemished brackets up to about 95 percent.

The day of dead pools continued in Spokane, where No. 12 West seed North Dakota outlasted fifth-seeded Oklahoma 80-75.

Thanks for playing everyone. Less than 1 percent of you are still in it.

It was a 9.2 quintillion-to-1 pipe dream to begin with, and Buffett has to like his chances even more after a day like this.

Bracketers in contests by ESPN and CBSSports.com suffered similar fates, leaving less than 1 percent unblemished.

"Being bounced from the billion THAT early definitely made me feel some type of way," said Marcus Arman of Portland, Ore. "I can tell you this: I will not be supporting the city of Dayton in any shape, form or fashion so long as my foam finger still points upward."

And that wasn't it.

Not at a point in the college hoops timeline where upsets, seedings and status have little bearing on the bracket.

The opening day of the 64-team bracket included four overtime games, a record.

Connecticut had the first, beating Saint Joseph's 89-81 in coach Kevin Ollie's NCAA tournament debut. North Dakota's win over Oklahoma came in overtime after Lawrence Alexander hit a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left in regulation.

Saint Louis rallied late to force overtime and beat North Carolina State 83-80 in Orlando, Fla., and San Diego State needed an extra 5 minutes to outlast New Mexico 73-69.

Including Tennessee's win over Iowa in the First Four, that's five overtimes in the opening 20 games.

Now that's madness in March.

"We didn't want to end on that kind of note. We didn't want to bow out of the tournament this early," said Saint Louis' Rob Loe, who had 22 points and 15 rebounds. "We're here to win, and we're here to put our mark on basketball."

Of course the day included a buzzer-beater.

It came in Milwaukee, where Texas' Cameron Ridley gathered an offensive rebound and put it up just out of the reach of Arizona State's 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski and into the basket, sending the Longhorns to an 87-85 victory over the Sun Devils.

"We were fortunate," Texas coach Rick Barnes.

So many weren't, especially those who had hoped to win some coin with a perfect bracket.

With Dayton's opening win, about 83 percent of the brackets in Yahoo's Tourney Pick `Em game were one and done, perfection flushed in 40 minutes. The wins by Harvard and North Dakota State only figured to add to the number of disappointed billionaires-in-waiting once the official numbers were released.

"Yesssssssssss HARVARD!!!!!!! Messing up a lot of peoples chances at $1 billion lol," former Harvard and current Houston Rockets guard Jeremy Lin said on Twitter.

At CBSSports.com, Dayton took out 81 percent of the poolers in the bracket challenge. By the time the Bison roamed over the Sooners in the evening, 0.4 percent of the brackets were still perfect.

Of the 11 million brackets in ESPN's Tournament Challenge, over 80 percent had Ohio State advancing to the next round. That's about 8.8 million brackets with a blemish after one game.

And to the 2.2 percent that had the Buckeyes going all the way to the Final Four: Oops!

Through 12 games, there were 41,315 perfect brackets out of the original 11 million - or about 0.3 percent.

This, of course, is nothing new.

A year ago, not a single person of the 11 million who entered on ESPN's website was perfect after a first day filled with upsets. Just four got 15 out of 16 right.

By now, we've learned that Cinderella's carriage doesn't turn into a pumpkin once the NCAA tournament starts. It becomes a Formula One car racing through the bracket - and it may be moving at an even faster pace this year.

---

AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this story.

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Friday, 21 March 2014 07:23
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- For Florida, Louisville and Saint Louis, the home of "the happiest place on earth" was nearly dreadful.

The top-seeded Gators, the fourth-seeded Cardinals and the fifth-seeded Billikens survived significant scares in their opening games of the NCAA tournament Thursday. All three avoided becoming huge upset victims in the second round.

"That's what makes March Madness so fun," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.

Florida, the tournament's overall No. 1 seed, sleepwalked early and looked vulnerable late in a 67-55 win over No. 16 seed Albany.

Louisville and Saint Louis needed some late breaks. The Cardinals trailed 58-55 with about 4 minutes remaining before edging Manhattan 71-64, and the Billikens had to overcome a 16-point deficit in the second half before beating North Carolina State 83-80 in overtime.

The near-chaos started with Florida, which got a big boost from its bench in a tight game against what was supposed to be an overmatched opponent.

Sixth man Dorian Finney-Smith scored 16 points, most of them on dunks, and Florida used a second-half surge to beat Albany in the South Region.

Florida's locker room was a solemn place afterward, with coach Billy Donovan telling players "this isn't going to be enough to keep our season going."

The Gators (33-2), who won a school-record 27th consecutive game, vowed to play better against ninth-seeded Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Panthers (26-9) were the only team in Orlando that had an easy time Thursday. Pitt led 13-0 early and 46-18 at the break en route to beating No. 8 seed Colorado 77-48.

Louisville and Saint Louis had to work much harder.

The Cardinals staved off elimination against Manhattan, which showed everyone why Pitino wanted nothing to do with the Jaspers.

Luke Hancock hit two huge 3-pointers in the final 1:19 to help Louisville finally shake free from the tenacious Jaspers.

The Cards were outplayed for most of the second half before coming alive from behind the arc.

Russ Smith, who finished with 18 points, got things going with a game-tying 3 from the wing. Hancock delivered the knockout blows. He stole an inbound pass, got fouled and made both free throws. He hit the first of two daggers with a little more than a minute left and then sank a wide-open look from behind the arc with 28 seconds remaining.

Those shots propelled Louisville (30-5) into the round of 32, where it will face Saint Louis on Saturday in the Midwest Region.

"We needed a couple bounces to go our way," Hancock said. "Nobody wants to go home on the first day. We're trying to build a legacy. This is a first step."

Louisville is trying to become the first school since Florida in 2007 to win back-to-back titles.

While many questioned why the Cardinals were given a No. 4 seed, Pitino criticized the selection committee for pitting his team against 13th-seeded Manhattan, which is coached by Pitino's former assistant, Steve Masiello.

Masiello served as Pitino's ball boy with the NBA's New York Knicks in the 1980s, played for him at Kentucky (1996-1997) and then spent another six years coaching alongside him at Louisville (2005-11). They know each other inside and out, with Masiello molding Manhattan to mirror the Cardinals.

And it showed.

The Jaspers attacked Louisville's weaknesses and gave the Cards fits on the defensive end. Masiello was at times calling out Louisville's plays.

"That's one of the best coaching jobs that I have seen in my 39 years," Pitino said.

Saint Louis needed five extra minutes to avoid joining fellow No. 5's Cincinnati and Oklahoma in falling to 12th seeds in the tournament. The Billikens advanced by wiping out a late double-digit deficit.

Rob Loe led the way with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Jordair Jett overcame a slow start to score 18, doing most of his damage while Saint Louis (27-6) was escaping a 59-45 hole over the last five minutes of regulation.

"We didn't want to end on that kind of note. We didn't want to bow out of the tournament this early," Loe said. "We're here to win, and we're here to put our mark on basketball."

With better free throw shooting, Saint Louis would have won without having to work overtime against a team playing its second game in three nights.

NC State beat Xavier in an opening-round game, and fatigue could have been a factor in the Wolfpack collapsing late and missing 17 attempts from the foul line.

"It's heartbreaking. ... Obviously we're going to always feel like we let one slip away," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. "It's hard to explain. We're a good foul shooting team."

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

Friday, 21 March 2014 07:38
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JUPITER, Fla. (AP) -- St. Louis' Carlos Martinez and Minnesota's Kyle Gibson each enhanced their chances of earning a spot in their team's rotation with solid outings, and the Cardinals beat the Twins 3-1 on Wednesday.
 
Martinez cruised into the fifth, holding the Twins to one hit, but Jason Bartlett had an RBI single to right-center in the sixth that ended the right-hander's scoreless string at 14 innings.
 
For Bartlett, the hit was his first of the spring in 27 at-bats.
 
The 22-year-old righty struck out four but kept his pitch count low by inducing two inning-ending double plays.
 
"He's starting to learn his stuff but he's also trusting a pretty good catcher behind the plate to help him understand which ones he needs to focus on and what pitches are most likely to get him out of a jam," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.
 
Making his fourth appearance - second start - Gibson limited the Cardinals to Matt Adams' second homer of spring training in 4 1-3 innings. Gibson allowed four hits.
 
"He's pitching really well," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We really like him. He's doing what he's supposed to do. That's good stuff."
 
Peter Bourjos doubled and scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch by Samuel Deduno in the eighth inning.
 
STARTING TIME
 
Minnesota: Deduno is also a candidate for the fifth spot in the Twins' rotation. Deduno had allowed one earned run in 9 2-3 innings. He piggybacked Gibson against the Cardinals, allowing two runs in 2 2-3 innings.
 
St. Louis: As good as Martinez was in short relief last season, one reason the Cardinals believe he will eventually be a starter is that in minor league starts his fastball didn't lose much of its velocity over the course of multiple innings.
 
"There are some guys who can come out and just really light up the (radar) gun for an inning or so. There's other guys that can hold it. He's been one that's been able to hold it," Matheny said.
 
TRAINER'S ROOM
 
Twins: shortstop Pedro Florimon made his Grapefruit League debut on Tuesday night and was back in the lineup again on Wednesday. After missing much of the spring because of an appendectomy, Florimon should be a fixture in Minnesota's lineup over the final week-and-a-half.
 
"He needs at-bats," Gardenhire said. "He needs to play because he sat out the whole spring and then we'll see where we are in a week and go from there, but I'm going to try to get him out there pretty much every day."
 
Cardinals: Second baseman Mark Ellis' sore knee continues to keep him out of action. Matheny said Ellis could play were it the regular season, but the veteran will likely get at least a couple more days off.
 
NESHEK BACK
 
Pat Neshek pitched in a major league game for the first time since leaving Cardinals camp last week to be with his wife for the birth of their child. A non-roster invitee, Neshek struck out two and earned the save on Wednesday.
 
SUPER UTILITY
 
Barlett received his first spring start at third base for the Twins. Defense hasn't been the non-roster invitee's problem. He entered Wednesday's game 0 for 24 at the plate.
 
"He's actually having quality at-bats," Gardenhire said. "The numbers in spring training never affect me if you are having quality at-bats."
 
ROSTER MOVES
 
After the game, Matheny said St. Louis sent pitcher Tyler Lyons to the minors. Early in the spring, Lyons was thought to be an option for the fifth starting spot. He worked exclusively out of the bullpen once games began, allowing 13 runs in eight innings.
 
Wednesday, 19 March 2014 23:15
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CHICAGO (AP) -- Corey Crawford stopped 23 shots for his second shutout this season, backstopping the Blackhawks to a physical 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night that gave Chicago coach Joel Quenneville his 700th NHL win.
 
It was a costly victory for the Blackhawks, though. Leading scorer Patrick Kane left the game at 7:56 of the second period, favoring his left leg as he headed to the dressing room following a collision with Brenden Morrow.
 
Kane is expected to miss about three weeks, Quenneville said.
 
Duncan Keith, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith scored as Chicago ended the league-leading Blues' nine-game point streak (8-0-1) and dealt St. Louis its first regulation loss against a Central Division opponent this season. The Blues entered 20-0-2 against division foes and hadn't lost in regulation since a 1-0 defeat at Anaheim on Feb. 28.
 
Quenneville, who previously guided St. Louis and Colorado, has the most wins of any active NHL coach and ranks third all-time behind Al Arbour and Scotty Bowman, now the Blackhawks' senior adviser of hockey operations.
 
Crawford earned his 10th career shutout in Chicago's first win against the Blues this season after three losses.
 
Kane, who has 29 goals and 40 assists in 68 games, assisted on Keith's opening goal.
 
St. Louis goalie Ryan Miller lost in regulation for the first time since joining the Blues following a trade from Buffalo on Feb. 28. Miller, now 7-1-1 with St. Louis, was replaced by Brian Elliott at 7:58 of the third period after allowing four goals on 27 shots.
 
St. Louis needs one win to clinch a playoff spot for the 38th time in franchise history.
 
Defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago entered the game tied with Colorado for second in the Central Division and fourth in the Western Conference.
 
The Blackhawks have struggled this season against their top rivals in the Central. Chicago entered Wednesday's game with only one win and five points in eight games against St. Louis and Colorado.
 
Keith scored the only goal in a physical first period on a power play with 58 seconds left.
 
After taking Kane's feed, Keith fired a drive from the top of the slot that zipped past Miller's stick side just as Shaw provided a screen by cutting across the crease.
 
The play got tighter and grittier in the second, and Chicago took a 2-0 lead thanks to Shaw's goal on a deflection with 4:25 left in the period.
 
Shaw's goal capped a determined, physical flurry by Chicago.
 
The Blackhawks were jamming the net when Patrick Sharp picked up a loose puck and fed back to Nick Leddy at the blue line. Leddy's drive ticked off the shaft of Shaw's stick and past Miller as Shaw battled for position in front of the net with Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
 
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk threw a loose rebound behind Crawford during a St. Louis power play in the final seconds of the second, but the puck slid across the crease and to the far boards.
 
Kruger and Smith scored 2:15 apart in the third period to ice it for Chicago.
 
Following a long lead pass from defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, Kruger took a quick feed from Peter Regin in the slot and beat Miller from just outside the crease at 5:20 to make it 3-0.
 
Smith's power-play goal at 7:35 extended Chicago's lead to 4-0. He connected from the doorstep after taking a feed from Kris Versteeg behind the net after Miller stopped Leddy's shot from the blue line.
 
Notes: Blackhawks C Michal Handzus played in his 1,000th NHL game and was honored in a pregame ceremony. He turned 37 last week. ... St. Louis RW Vladimir Tarasenko underwent surgery for a right hand injury sustained last Saturday at Nashville in the final minute of the game. He will be re-evaluated in six weeks. ... Blues RW T.J. Oshie returned to the lineup after missing one game for the birth of his first child. ... Chicago LW Brandon Saad sat out his second game with an upper-body injury and is day to day.
Wednesday, 19 March 2014 23:12
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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Tigers put to rest any questions of whether they would be motivated to play in the National Invitation Tournament.
 
After missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years, Missouri overcame two 13-point deficits in the second half and won its NIT opener against Davidson 85-77 on Tuesday.
 
"There's a lot of teams that don't play," coach Frank Haith said. "We talked about competing. When you have a young team, you have a chance. You can use it as a springboard."
 
Jabari Brown scored 30 points, including his 1,000th career point at Missouri, and Earnest Ross added 16 for the Tigers (23-11), who advance to face the winner of Wednesday's matchup between Southern Mississippi and Toledo.
 
De'Mon Brooks led Davidson (20-13) with a career-high 29 points. The Wildcats ended their season with two consecutive losses after winning 13 in a row to win the Southern Conference regular-season title.
 
The legaue player of the year fought back tears after the game, saying he told his teammates in the locker room how quickly time flies.
 
"I've been at Davidson for the past four years," Brooks said. "It's changed my life. It's the best decision of my life coming to this school. I'd do anything for anything affiliated with Davidson."
 
Missouri trailed 54-41 with 16:52 remaining following a 16-4 run by the Wildcats but scored 12 of the next 16 points and took a 69-67 lead on a traditional three-point play by Johnathan Williams III with 6:05 left — Missouri's first advantage since the 10:41 mark of the first half.
 
Brown then sparked a 10-2 Missouri run to give the Tigers an 81-74 lead with 1:17 remaining. Davidson's Tyler Kalinoski hit a 3-pointer to end the streak, but the Wildcats could get no closer than four points the rest of the way.
 
Kalinoski finished with 16 points.
 
The Tigers played with a three-man bench following the arrests of freshmen guards Wes Clark and Shane Rector on Saturday for suspicion of 35 grams or less of marijuana. Tony Criswell sat out for a violation of team rules and Corey Haith watched while nursing an injury.
 
Despite Missouri playing shorthanded, Davidson coach Bob McKillop said the Tigers wore his team down. Davidson shot 51.5 percent (17 of 33) from the field in the first half but only 32.4 percent (11 of 34) after the break.
 
"(Jordan) Clarkson and Ross and Brown have the bodies of pro guards," he said. "Brian Sullivan certainly doesn't. They took advantage of that throughout the game. I think the guards overpowered us."
 
Missouri shot 58 percent (29 of 50) from the field, its best performance of the year behind a 62.3 percent performance at Mississippi State on March 1. Brown noted the importance of bench players such as Danny Feldmann, who contributed four points and four rebounds in a season-high 22 minutes.
 
"Danny really stepped up. He knows every word, where he's supposed to be on the court, offense and defense. He's not afraid to make plays," Brown said. "When the opportunity presents itself, he did that."
 
The Tigers improved to 2-7 all-time in the NIT in front of a season-low attendance of 2,403, with their only other win coming in 1996.
 
Tuesday, 18 March 2014 23:53
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LAS VEGAS (AP) -- There will be 1,000 people lined up early Thursday morning to get a seat at the LVH sports book for the start of the NCAA tournament, and most of them don't care that Michigan State was somehow relegated to a No. 4 seed.

Oddsmakers in this gambling city are treating the Spartans like a No. 1 seed anyway. Their numbers show a team that will likely be favored against everyone except Florida, no matter what the NCAA selection committee thinks.

"We certainly can point out the committee flaws like no one else can," said Jay Kornegay, who runs the popular LVH sports book. "Michigan State is a 4 seed yet we have them as the second favorite to win it all. That doesn't make much sense to us."

Michigan State got more respect at the LVH than it did in the NCAA selection room, with oddsmakers making the Spartans a 9-2 pick to win it all, second only to Florida at 4-1. The odds might have even been better, but bookies figure the Spartans will have to work a little harder to make the Final Four from a No. 4 seeding than if they were seeded No. 1 or No. 2.

The same type of reasoning bumped the odds up slightly on Louisville (15-1) and Michigan (25-1) because they must come out of a brutal Midwest region loaded with contenders.

"The Midwest region is one of the toughest regions we've ever seen," Kornegay said. "In my opinion it might be the toughest region of all time."

The seedings don't necessarily match their power ratings, but there's plenty for the bookies to like about this year's tournament. Thousands of people will jam sports books the first four days of play in a betting frenzy unmatched by anything other than the Super Bowl, and they will bring fistfuls of cash.

And without a dominant favorite, the sports books figure to do well.

"People every year talk about a tournament that is wide open, which to me is one where eight to 10 teams have a chance," said Johnny Avello, the book director at the Wynn resort. "Unpredictability is the stuff that the books love and this is one year we don't have one team anyone can say will win it hands down."

Among relative equals at the top, though, one team is more equal than the rest. Florida is not only the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll, but the odds-on pick at books up and down the Las Vegas Strip.

Avello said he lowered Florida to 3-1 because he has taken a lot of money on the Gators since first posting odds on them last April. Helping, he said, was a favorable bracket in the South that gives Florida a clear path to the Final Four.

"The favorite should be a team capable of winning that has the easiest route," Avello said. "And Florida has the easiest route, no question about it."

Florida is a 5-1 favorite in consensus odds compiled by RJ Bell, who does handicapping for Pregame.com. Bell lists Michigan State second at 6-1 among the 21 teams with odds of better than 100-1.

Louisville is another favorite of the oddsmakers that didn't get the seed they might have expected. The Cardinals must come out of the Midwest region as a No. 4 seed to make the Final Four, but there's a good chance they will be favored in every game they play in their region.

That's because the Vegas bookies, unlike the NCAA, put emphasis on recent play as more of a predictor of success than an entire season. Like Michigan State, Louisville finished strong in winning its conference tournament and looks ready to make a run.

"I was looking at a possible No. 1 for them," Avello said. "When I saw No. 4 I thought it was low for a team playing so well that is the defending champion. But that's what the committee does, I can't get involved with that."

Not much of a chance of that, though the pairings would be different if the bookies had their way.

"The committee guys ought to get some book guys involved," Avello said. "We'd get the brackets together."

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014 09:20
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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — For the first time in six years, the Missouri Tigers are left out of the NCAA tournament.
 
As expected, the Tigers failed to earn a spot in the field of 68 when the brackets were announced Sunday. Instead, Missouri (22-11) earned a No. 2 seed in the National Invitational Tournament and will play Southern Conference champion Davidson (20-12) at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Mizzou Arena. It is Missouri's first NIT appearance since 2005.
 
"We're excited about playing in the NIT, a tournament that has great tradition," Missouri coach Frank Haith told the Columbia Tribune (http://bit.ly/1fRCfU2 ). "Obviously, our goal is to play in the NCAA Tournament every year, but we do have an opportunity to compete for a championship. There's a lot of teams that have unlaced their shoes."
 
Missouri was ranked in the top 25 early this season, but a 9-9 record in the Southeastern Conference doomed the chance for an NCAA berth. Just three SEC teams made the tournament field.
 
Missouri teams haven't fared well in past NIT appearances — the Tigers are 1-7 all-time, the lone victory over Murray State in the first round of the 1996 tournament. Missouri suffered first-round losses to Alabama-Birmingham in 1998, Michigan in 2004 and DePaul in 2005.
 
Davidson coach Bob McKillop's program has won in Columbia before, beating the Tigers 84-81 in an upset on Nov. 19, 2004 — Missouri's first loss in the new arena. The Tigers also lost to Davidson in 2005 but beat the Wildcats in 2006.
 
Adding insult to injury this season: Nine of the Missouri's former Big 12 Conference foes made the NCAA tournament — seven teams still in the Big 12 plus Colorado and Nebraska.
 
As he sat down to watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, Haith wasn't sure how to feel about the Tigers' chances.
 
"I think we were right there on the bubble with a lot of teams," he said. "When I saw Tennessee become an 11 and then Kentucky was an 8/9, I just felt like they didn't have a lot of respect for our league. That's what I thought."
 
In fact, North Carolina State (21-13), the last team in the field, finished below Missouri in the RPI (Missouri was No. 49, the Wolfpack No. 55). Both teams were 9-9 in their leagues and Missouri beat North Carolina State on Dec. 28 in Raleigh, N.C. But North Carolina State had the nation's 33rd toughest schedule. Missouri's schedule ranked 68th.
 
Missouri also posted victories over then-No. 18 UCLA and Mid-American Conference champion Western Michigan as part of a 12-1 non-conference record that vaulted the Tigers as high as No. 21 in the national polls.
 
The SEC opener was an overtime loss at home to Georgia, and the Tigers never had a signature win. They needed to make a run in the SEC tournament but lost to No. 1 Florida in the quarterfinals.
Monday, 17 March 2014 22:24
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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Four Missouri athletes were arrested Saturday night on suspicion of possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana during a traffic stop in Columbia.
 
Guards Wes Clark and Shane Rector of the basketball team and defensive backs Aarion Penton and Shaun Rupert from the football team were pulled over at 11:32 p.m. after Columbia police noticed an expired rear license plate tag on Rupert's car, police spokeswoman Latisha Stroer said Monday.
 
The officers approached the car and detected the smell of marijuana, prompting the discovery of a package of Swisher Sweets cigarillos containing a substance that tested positive for marijuana, Stroer said. The four athletes were each issued a court summons and released.
 
Columbia residents passed a referendum in 2004 that reduced penalties for the offense to no more than a court summons and a fine, if found guilty, of up to $250. The reductions do not apply to anyone found guilty of misdemeanor possession of marijuana on two or more occasions in the past five years.
 
The Columbia Daily Tribune first reported the arrests.
 
Basketball coach Frank Haith said Monday that Clark and Rector were suspended for the team's practice, but not necessarily for Tuesday's NIT opener against Davidson.
 
"I didn't know about it soon enough," Haith said, adding that the final decision would be made after gathering additional information.
 
Missouri missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years after finishing 22-11 and 9-9 in the Southeastern Conference.
 
Clark, a freshman from Detroit, has played in all 33 games this season as a backup point guard, averaging 20.4 minutes and 4.1 points. Rector, a freshman from New York, has averaged 4.3 minutes and 0.5 points.
 
With Tony Criswell suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules and Corey Haith out with an injury, Missouri's bench would shrink to forwards Danny Feldmann, Torren Jones and Keanau Post, leaving Jordan Clarkson with no backups at point guard.
 
"You want me to dress out?" Haith said, slightly exasperated. "Who else can I put in? That could be a problem. It is what it is."
 
Penton is currently atop the depth chart at cornerback after appearing in every game of Missouri's 12-2 season last fall as a freshman. He recorded 16 tackles and an interception while Rupert, a safety, redshirted in his first year with the team.
 
Both Penton and Rupert were suspended indefinitely after the athletics department learned of their arrests, spokesman Chad Moller said. Their long-term status with the team would be determined after an internal review.
Monday, 17 March 2014 22:20
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ST. LOUIS (AP) -- David Backes scored twice, and Ryan Miller made 16 saves in another win as the St. Louis Blues beat the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 on Monday night.
 
The Blues are 7-0-1 since Miller was acquired by trade from Buffalo. St. Louis has won three straight and eight of nine.
 
Western Conference-leading St. Louis has an NHL-best 101 points. It is the sixth time in franchise history that the Blues have reached 100 points.
 
Backes has 23 goals this season. Brendan Morrow added a goal, and Jay Bouwmeester had two assists in the Blues' win.
 
Eric O'Dell had the lone goal for Winnipeg, and Al Montoya made 23 saves.
 
The Blues won despite the absence of players Vladimir Tarasenko and T.J. Oshie.
 
Tarasenko is expected to miss six weeks because of a hand injury sustained Saturday against Nashville. Oshie, whose first child was born earlier Monday, should be back for Wednesday's game at Chicago.
 
Backes broke a 1-1 tie with a power-play goal at 13:09 of the third period when he swatted in a rebound of Ian Cole's shot.
 
With 1:11 left, Backes was awarded a goal when he broke in on the Jets' empty net and was pulled down by Jacob Trouba.
 
After a listless first period, St. Louis took a 1-0 lead just 1:44 into the second. After Winnipeg's Devin Setoguchi failed to control a bouncing puck, Derek Roy took it and broke in on left wing. He centered a pass to Morrow on the right side for a shot into the open net.
 
The Jets took advantage during 4-on-4 play to tie it at 1:55 of the third. Evander Kane skated down left wing with O'Dell on a 2-on-1 break. Kane centered a pass to O'Dell, who faked a shot and then beat Miller with a backhand.
 
NOTES: St. Louis is 38-1-5 when scoring first and 30-0-4 when leading after two periods. ... Winnipeg is 8-13-5 against the Central Division. ... Blues coach Ken Hitchcock moved into sole possession of third place on the team's career win list with 119.
 
Monday, 17 March 2014 22:18
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