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AP AP Sports Summary Brief | March 15, 2023

Bucks clinch playoff spot, top Suns 116-104 for 50th win

PHOENIX (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 36 points, Brook Lopez added 21 and the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks clinched a playoff spot by beating the Phoenix Suns 116-104 to become the first team to 50 wins this season. The Bucks pulled away late for their 21st win in 23 games and are the first team to secure a postseason berth. The Suns have dropped three straight. Booker led the Suns with 30 points on 13-of-27 shooting. Deandre Ayton had 19 points and eight rebounds despite playing just 26 minutes because of foul trouble.

FIFA expands 2026 World Cup again to create 104-game program

The expanded World Cup in North America has gotten even more supersized. The governing body of soccer increased the size of the 2026 tournament for a second time. FIFA has created a bigger opening stage with four-team groups in a 104-game schedule. The tournament will now last nearly six weeks in June-July in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The decision adds 24 more games for the 16 host cities. That should further fuel FIFA’s expected record revenue of at least $11 billion through 2026. The 1998 World Cup in France was the first with 32 teams.

Why FIFA changed the format for the 2026 World Cup

The World Cup group stage format for 2026 was changed to 12 groups of four teams from 16 groups of three teams by FIFA’s Council on Tuesday, increasing the total to 104 matches from 64 in the 2022 tournament in Qatar. That means to win a World Cup, a nation will have to play eight games, up from the seven in place since 1974. The top two teams in each group and the top eight third-place teams will advance to a new round of 32 that starts the knockout phase.

Analysis: Grabbing NBA play-in spots in West will be tough

Let’s go ahead and put Denver and Sacramento into the NBA’s Western Conference playoffs. It’s hard to imagine Memphis and Phoenix falling out of the mix, even with Ja Morant away from the Grizzlies and Kevin Durant still not able to make his home debut for the Suns because of ankle trouble. Put them on the bracket as well. And from there, it’s anyone’s guess. The West is an absolute mess, and the middle of the pack — the race for the last two guaranteed playoff spots and the four berths into the play-in tournament — is as muddled and murky as possible.

A bigger March Madness? Many obstacles stand in the way

NEW YORK (AP) — For the first time in more than a decade, NCAA and college sports leaders are committed to a serious and thorough examination of expanding March Madness. The tournament generates hundreds of millions in revenue annually for the NCAA and its 1,100 member schools. Making significant changes to the tournament in the near term will be difficult, if not impossible. There are logistical, financial and even political obstacles. A major factor is the role of broadcast partners. The current $8.8 billion contract with CBS and Warner Bros. Discovery runs through 2032.

Georgia’s Smart insists he has not lost control of program

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia coach Kirby Smart insists he has not lost control of a program that has produced back-to-back national championships but has been rocked by offseason arrests and a car crash that claimed the lives of a player and a recruiting staffer. Defensive tackle Jalen Carter’s NFL draft outlook has been potentially clouded by misdemeanor charges of racing and reckless driving in relation to the January 15 crash that killed teammate Devin Willock and recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy. Linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson also faces charges of racing and reckless drive in a separate incident. Quarterback Stetson Bennett was arrested for public intoxication.

Pitt edges Mississippi St in back-and-forth First Four game

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Jamarius Burton made a go-ahead jumper with 10 seconds left and Pitt edged Mississippi State 60-59 in a back-and-forth First Four game that featured 21 lead changes — most in the NCAA Tournament in five years. Mississippi State had a great chance to win at the end, but Shakeel Moore missed an open 3-pointer with two seconds remaining off an inbounds play. D.J. Jeffries’ tip-in attempt was off target just before the buzzer. Nelly Cummings led Pitt with 15 points. Greg Elliott scored 13 and Blake Hinson added 12 as the Panthers won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 2014. They slotted into the Midwest Region as the 11th seed and advanced to face No. 6 Iowa State on Friday in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Oats steers Alabama to March Madness in a turbulent season

Nate Oats has coached Alabama all the way to the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. His biggest challenges have come off the court. One of his players was charged with capital murder during the season and is no longer with the team. Two others were involved, including star freshman Brandon Miller. Both have continued to play. It’s been a turbulent year for Oats, who has climbed from high school coach to the top of college basketball in just a decade.

Nadal aiming to make comeback from injury at Monte Carlo

MONACO (AP) — Tournament organizers say Rafael Nadal is aiming to make his comeback from a hip injury at the clay-court Monte Carlo Masters next month. The 22-time Grand Slam champion has been sidelined with a left hip flexor injury since the Australian Open and he pulled out of hard-court tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami. The Monte Carlo Masters begins on April 8 and tournament director David Massey says Nadal was the first player to be registered and “is giving himself every chance to take part.” Nadal has won the tournament a record 11 times.

Injuries change dynamic heading into women’s March Madness

Athletes and coaches aren’t the only ones putting in extra time this week to help their teams get ready for the NCAA Tournament. Doctors and trainers are playing a big role, with injuries leaving question marks on some top teams. The No. 3-seeded Notre Dame is still waiting to see if star Olivia Miles will be healthy enough to play. UConn, a No. 2 seed, will have leading scorer Azzi Fudd for the tournament after she missed 22 games during the regular season with a knee injury.

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