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🦁 Good morning to everyone but especially …
THE DETROIT LIONS
Two days after their heart-warming season ended in heartbreaking fashion, the Lions got the best news possible. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is staying with Detroit, passing on potential head-coaching opportunities for the second straight year.
I cannot emphasize how huge of a win this is for Detroit. Johnson has been with the Lions since 2019 and offensive coordinator since 2022. In the last two years under his guidance, the Lions rank first in yards per game and red-zone touchdown percentage, second in sack rate and third in offensive points per game and interception rate. They are every bit an elite offense powered by Johnson’s elite scheme and play-calling. He turned Jared Goff from trade toss-in to a Pro Bowl quarterback. He turned 2023 rookies Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta into stars. He is terrific. Detroit is better off and the rest of the NFC North is worse off following this move, Jordan Dajani notes.
That’s what the Lions are getting back, and what’s just as important is what they’re not losing.
Brain drain is a real thing in the NFL. Look at what happened to the Eagles this season without 2022 offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and 2022 defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon after both got head coaching jobs this past offseason. Their replacements struggled and were fired after the team collapsed. Even if replacement candidates have excellent backgrounds and seem like a perfect fit, you just never know. The Lions may well have had a strong successor lined up. Johnson may have been a great head coach elsewhere. But what we know is that he’s a great coordinator in Detroit. The Lions are reloading with a young, exciting team and a young, exciting coordinator.
😁 Honorable mentions
😮 And not such a good morning for …
THE UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE
The NCAA is investigating Tennessee for what’s expected to be major alleged violations regarding NIL, CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd confirms. Here are the key details:
“The case in football centers around quarterback Nico Iamaleava, who signed a record contract with Spyre Sports Group, Tennessee’s primary collective and a member of the The Collective Association, a trade association of 30-plus collectives across the country.” Spyre Sports’ lawyer released a statement claiming the group wasn’t acting on behalf of the university and Iamaleava’s deal didn’t require he attend Tennessee.
“The NCAA enforcement staff could charge Tennessee with multiple Level I and Level II violations. … This less than a year after the program was hit with 18 high-level violations due to impermissible recruiting practices which occurred under former coach Jeremy Pruitt.”
“Already having been placed on probation as a result of the findings from that case, Tennessee could be labeled a ‘repeat violator’ in the NCAA’s eyes, which would mean enhanced penalties. However, the NCAA only applies the repeat violator label if a school lacks “exemplary cooperation.”
Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman called the allegations “factually untrue and procedurally flawed” in a letter to the NCAA, and another source told Dodd, “We feel supremely confident and strongly that we have followed all NCAA guidance related to NIL.”
Read Dennis’ story for more on a concerning situation for the Volunteers and the background behind why NIL changes have muddied this ordeal.
😔 Not so honorable mentions
🏀 No. 3 North Carolina, No. 5 Tennessee fall
If you needed another reminder to never overlook anyone, Georgia Tech delivered it Tuesday night. The Yellow Jackets stunned No. 3 North Carolina, 74-73, ahead of the Tar Heels’ showdown with No. 7 Duke.
North Carolina had been undefeated in conference play, but Naithan George hit a tough go-ahead layup over Armando Bacot late before R.J. Davis‘ floater was off the mark. Georgia Tech entered the game just 2-7 in ACC play and lost to Virginia Tech by 24 over the weekend, but the Yellow Jackets have now upset the top ACC powers in their first year under Damon Stoudamire, too: they beat Duke in early December.
South Carolina also got its second top-10 win of the season, going to Rocky Top and topping No. 5 Tennessee, 63-59, the Gamecocks’ first road win over a top-five opponent since 1997.
I talked a little bit about the Gamecocks last week after they upset Kentucky, and the best parts of Lamont Paris‘ team shone again. Veteran guard Ta’Lon Cooper scored 18 points, and the Gamecocks held the Volunteers to 36% shooting. South Carolina, now 18-3 overall and 6-2 in the SEC, is a true contender for the conference title, Cameron Salerno writes.
Dalton Knecht had 31 of the Volunteers’ 59 points, and while he continues to make his All-America case, he needs help offensively.
🏀 Western Conference trade deadline preview
One day after looking at the Eastern Conference teams, we’re heading to the Western Conference for team-by-team trade deadline previews.
The Timberwolves lead the conference but have some clear needs, Sam Quinn notes.
Quinn: “Trade deadline goal: Find some way to stabilize the bench offense, ideally with another ball-handler that can shoot without hurting the defense. How can they accomplish that goal: If Gordon Hayward reaches the buyout market, he’d be a perfect addition to Minnesota’s bench (assuming the Timberwolves could recruit him, of course). More likely, they’ll have to make a trade. The obvious guard in their salary range is Dennis Schroder at $12.4 million, though a direct swap for Shake Milton and Troy Brown Jr. would take Minnesota over the tax line.”
As per usual, all eyes will be on the Lakers, too, but they have limited resources. The Warriors, meanwhile, are reportedly open to big moves, but Brad Botkin opines a quiet deadline would be smarter.
⚾ Angelos family agrees to sell Orioles for $1.725 billion
One of the most exciting young teams in MLB will have new owners: The Angelos family has agreed to sell the Orioles to billionaires David Rubenstein and Mike Arougheti for $1.725 billion, and franchise legend Cal Ripken Jr. is reportedly expected to be part of the new group. Rubenstein and Arougheti will purchase a 40% share initially and acquire the rest following Peter Angelos‘ death — a detail included for tax purposes. The Angelos family has owned the Orioles since 1993, when Peter Angelos purchased the franchise for $173 million.
iyuThe Orioles are fresh off a 101-win season — their best since 1979 — and have young stars (Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman) and a loaded farm system led by No. 1 overall prospect Jackson Holliday. They also just reached an agreement to stay at Camden Yards for the long haul.
It’s an exciting time to be an Orioles fan, and Rubenstein and Arougheti could make it even better: The Orioles have not ranked higher than 27th in Opening Day payroll since 2018. Now’s the time to change that.
📺 What we’re watching Wednesday
🏀 Northwestern at No. 2 Purdue (M), 6:30 p.m. on BTN
🏒 Kings at Predators, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
🏀 Florida at No. 10 Kentucky (M), 8 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Suns at Nets, 8:30 p.m. on ABC
🏀 Providence at No. 1 UConn (M), 8:30 p.m. on FS1
🏀 Bucks at Trail Blazers, 10 p.m. on ESPN