NCAA

Arizona St. to take on Navy in Fight Hunger Bowl

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Arizona St. to take on Navy in Fight Hunger Bowl

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Arizona State contends with a variety of offenses in the Pac-12 conference.

From the Air Raid at Washington State to the power running game at Stanford to the pro styles at Southern California to the fast-paced option at Oregon.

None of that will prepare the Sun Devils (7-5) for what they will face on Saturday in the Fight Hunger Bowl when they take on Navy (8-4) and its vaunted triple-option running attack.

``Honestly it's totally different from everything we've seen all season and my five years here,'' linebacker Brandon Magee said. ``Their offense is really disciplined. They can get the ball to the quarterback, they can pitch it, they can hand it off to the fullback and they can also beat you deep on some passes if you fall asleep on the passing game. Very explosive offense.''

Navy is sixth in the nation in rushing with 275.6 yards per game and has won seven of eight games heading into the bowl matchup against the Sun Devils.

Arizona State coach Todd Graham said he would have been ``miserable'' if this game was in the regular season and he only had a few days to prepare. He hopes his past experiences going against triple-option teams and the extra practice before the bowl game will help his team's preparation.

The Sun Devils have gone to unusual measures in their preparation, using cornerback Robert Nelson as the scout team quarterback simulating running plays.

``The knowledge of the triple option and being able to put it on the board and being able to talk about it is one thing,'' Navy slotback Bo Snelson said. ``But to go out and practice and have guys who have never run it before, guys who aren't as in tune to the nuances of the offense and have them run it at the speed we do, that's extremely difficult to do.''

Stopping the option is simple in the abstract - players must be disciplined enough to stay with their responsibility and not try to freelance, which can open up big running lanes.

It's appropriate that discipline is the keyword in the final game of Graham's first season as coach because that has been the key to the team's success all year.

Graham took over from Dennis Erickson and immediately set out to change the culture that led to the Sun Devils leading the nation last year in penalties per game and penalty yardage. This season Arizona State is tied for the 11th fewest penalties in the nation and is hoping for its first bowl win since 2005.

``People will meet whatever expectations you set,'' Graham said. ``I was very fortunate because these guys embraced it. I don't yell and scream or tell them to do this and that. I put in a values system and here's the values we'll be about and here's the accountability.''

Navy has become more difficult to defend since making a quarterback switch early in the season when the Midshipmen turned to freshman Keenan Reynolds.

Reynolds led a comeback win against Air Force that helped Navy get out of the hole of a 1-3 start has not looked back ever since. He has thrown for eight touchdowns, run for 10 more and thrown just one interception, giving the Midshipmen a legitimate passing attack to pair with the option running game,

``If knew he was that poised we'd have put him in earlier,'' coach Ken Niumatalolo said. ``He's exceeded my expectations. We knew he was a good quarterback, that's why he moved up the ladder pretty quickly. I didn't know he'd be this good. Right now he has a chance to be the best quarterback we've had in my time at the academy. He's on that track.''

Arizona State will be playing the game with heavy hearts after running back Marion Grice's brother was killed in Houston last week. He rejoined the team for practice in San Francisco and will leave from the game to go to his brother's funeral, along with members of the coaching staff.

``He felt like his brother would want him to play and be here,'' Graham said. ``I personally think it will be a lot better for him.''

The game is sponsored by Kraft and is dedicated to fighting hunger in the United States. Three meals will be donated to local food backs for each ticket sold, with more than 100,000 meals expected to be donated this year.

Both teams also spent Christmas day serving meals to needy families in the San Francisco area.

``I haven't had an experience in a bowl game that came close to that experience of serving,'' Graham said

2018 Big South Tournament Bracket, How to watch, Dates, Preview, Location

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2018 Big South Tournament Bracket, How to watch, Dates, Preview, Location

The Big South conference had a surprising start to their league play this year with preseason favorites UNC-Asheville and Winthrop losing two of their first three games.  Since, things have settled down in the Big South with those two squads separating themselves from the pack late in the season.

This 2017-18 season, the Big South is a single bid conference but does have opportunities to get a couple of teams into the NIT. Depending on how this tournament plays out, there may be two or three teams in the second biggest tournament in the country.

READ MORE: NCAA TOURNAMENT BUBBLE WATCH

Like always the tournament will be hosted at multiple sites. The first round will be on campus-sites with the No.7 and No. 8 teams hosting their respective games. From there, the remaining teams will head to Asheville, NC for two rounds as the Bulldogs earned the No. 1 seed. The highest remaining team will then host the championship game.

Home-court advantage will clearly be a factor for which ever team hosts, but it has also been a theme of the Big South. Combined, the entire conference is 88-38 at their home court. Only Liberty has a winning record on the road at 5-4. The host of the quarterfinals and semifinals, UNC-Asheville, is 13-1 at Kimmel Arena. The lone loss being against Liberty.

Only one year in this format, Winthrop won the championship in 2016-17 as the hosts.

TOURNAMENT INFORMATION:

When is the Big South Tournament?

The Big South Tournament will be Tues. Feb 27, March 1-2, and the Big South championship is on March 4.

Where is the Big South Tournament?
The Big South tournament will primarily be hosted at Kimmel Arena in Asheville, North Carolina. The higher seeds will host the first round match-ups. The Big South Championship will also be at the highest seed’s home court.

How to watch the Big South Tournament?

The Big South Tournament will be televised as a part of ESPN’s family of networks, excluding the first round. The first round can be seen on the Big South Network, the quarterfinals and semifinals will be streamed on ESPN3, and ESPN will televise the Big South Championship.

Who is the defending Big South Champion?

The Winthrop Eagles won the 2016-17 Big South Championship after hosting the main portion of the tournament. It was the Eagles 11th Big South Championship in their history, the most ever in the Big South.

2018 BIG SOUTH TOURNAMENT BRACKET:

First Round – Tuesday, Feb. 27

No. 9 Presbyterian at No. 8 Charleston Southern 7:00 pm (Big South Network/ Roku)
No. 10 Longwood at No. 7 High Point                     7:00 pm (Big South Network/ Roku)

Quarterfinals - Thursday, March 1

7/10 Winner vs. No. 2 Radford                     1:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)
No. 6 Gardner-Webb vs. No. 3 Winthrop   3:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)
8/9 Winner at No. 1 UNC Asheville              7:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)
No. 5 Liberty vs. No. 4 Campbell                  9:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)

Semifinals - Friday, March 2

TBD vs. TBD                          6:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)
TBD vs. TBD                          8:00pm, at Asheville, NC (ESPN3)

Big South Championship - Sunday, March 4

TBD vs. TBD                          1:00pm, higher seed host (ESPN)

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PREVIEW:

Even as the No. 3 seed and losers of their last two games, Winthrop is probably still the favorite heading into the tournament. Their offense is one of the highest scoring in all of college basketball (80.7 ppg), with Xavier Cooks scoring 17.6 ppg (3rd in Big South). However, the Eagles’ offense is not powered entirely behind three-point shooting, it is done with balance on both sides of the ball. They have the best two-point shooting percentage in the league (47.3 percent), lead the Big South in rebounding averages, blocks, and field goal defense. In addition, their guards’ three point shooting ability is pretty good too at 37.5 percent and making 9.5 deep balls a game.

However, when they go quiet from long range or another team matches their three-point shooting for a contest, they are susceptible. Also as defending champs, they have been here before and are motivated to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

As the Big South tournament hosts, UNC Asheville will have a leg up on the competition, but they have not been as dominant as a top seed should be. The Bulldogs are one of the most consistent teams in the conference with all five starters scoring in double figures each game. If one is betting, they are the safe bet to win it all based on what is mentioned above.

While Radford was a pleasant surprise throughout league play, do not anticipate that they will be a contender. They are eighth in scoring in the conference (68.2) and around the same mark when it comes to shooting. Their defense has bailed them out as probably one of the top defensive units in the league, but their leading scorer is a post player, Ed Polite Jr.  (13.6 ppg) and if shut down in the paint, there is no offense.

Liberty is the darkhorse in the Big South Tournament. The do boast the best defensive numbers in the conference (64.0 points against per game) and have a high-powered offense, although it is spotty.  Two players are shooting well above 40 percent or better from behind the arc. Dominating the boards, they limit other team’s second chance opportunities. Do not bet against the Flames in a one-on-one contest.

PICK: No. 3 Winthrop

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Wizards vs. Sixers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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Wizards vs. Sixers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick and the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

WASHINGTON WIZARDS VS. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (coverage begins at 7 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Another test

The Wizards continue their difficult stretch coming out of the All-Star break against a very dangerous Sixers team. Philly has proven to be very streaky this season, but right now they are rolling. They come to Washington having won their last seven games dating back to Feb. 6 when they beat the Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center. The Wizards are also playing well, having won eight of their last 11, despite their loss to the Hornets on Friday.

The Sixers are currently seventh in the East and appear on track to make the playoffs. If they keep rising the standings, they could meet the Wizards, who are currently fourth, in the first round. 

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

Season series

Speaking of the playoffs, this game could end up looming large for postseason seeding. The Sixers have won two of the three matchups between these teams this year. If they win on Sunday, they will take the season series and own the tiebreaker over Washington.

If the two teams tie head-to-head and end up with the same record at the end of the season, it will then come down to conference record. The Sixers currently have a better record against East teams than the Wizards. But if they can beat Philly this time, the Wizards will have a chance to secure the conference tiebreaker down the stretch of this season.

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Sixers are tough to guard

The Wizards have found out the hard way this season just how difficult it can be to match up with the Sixers, who are led by two emerging stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Embiid is 7-foot-1 with rare abilities to stretch the floor and beat opponents off the dribble. Simmons is 6-foot-10, yet can lead the fastbreak with rare speed and vision to find his teammates with crisp passes.

The mobility for their size is almost unmatched and it has not been easy for the Wizards to answer. In their last meeting earlier this month, Simmons had 15 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals. Embiid had 27 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. The Wizards have to try to limit those guys while also dealing with other challenges like Robert Covington, Dario Saric and J.J. Reddick.

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