NCAA

Bengals try to break playoff futility in Houston

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Bengals try to break playoff futility in Houston

CINCINNATI (AP) The Bengals are taking one of the longest streaks of playoff futility in NFL history back to the scene of their latest postseason loss.

A year older, they're hoping they've grown up enough to pull off a significant breakthrough.

Cincinnati (10-6) opens the postseason Saturday at Houston (12-4), where the young Bengals imploded during a 31-10 loss in the first round last year. Quarterback Andy Dalton was a rookie then and threw three interceptions that turned a close game into a blowout.

The drubbing kept the Bengals without a playoff victory since 1990, the league's longest current streak and tied for the ninth longest in NFL history, according to STATS LLC. They beat the Houston Oilers 41-14 at Riverfront Stadium in a first-round game in 1990, then lost to the Raiders in Los Angeles.

They've been back to the playoffs only three other times since then, losing lopsided games to the Steelers in 2005, to the Jets in 2009 and to the Texans last season. Winning in Houston would be a huge step for the franchise.

``No doubt,'' coach Marvin Lewis said. ``I think our guys realize that just being in the playoffs is not what we're here for.''

Their second straight season as a wild card team represents a major step by itself. It's only the second time in franchise history that they've made the playoffs in back-to-back years. The other time was 1981-82.

``This young team expected to be in the playoffs,'' offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. ``In a year where we expected to be in the playoffs, we did.''

They've got a few things in their favor the second time around.

The Bengals were taken aback by the loud crowd at Reliant Stadium a year ago, caught up in the Texans' first playoff appearance.

``I think the atmosphere is the biggest thing,'' safety Chris Crocker said. ``It's like wow, Houston, that was crazy, that was nuts. I think guys saw that. I ain't never seen an atmosphere like that - regular season game, playoff game, never. That was just, wow. But once it gets going, it gets going.''

Cincinnati lost the 2005 and 2009 playoff games at Paul Brown Stadium. Last year was the first time that most of their players were on the road for a postseason game. It'll seem more familiar this time - 38 of those players are still on the roster.

``The difference is we know the atmosphere from when we went down there last year,'' Lewis said. ``(It was) the first time we had a playoff game on the road for any of the people here.''

Dalton, who grew up in suburban Houston, has learned how to win pressure games in his second season. Dalton's interceptions turned last year's game into a blowout, starting with J.J. Watt's 29-yard return for a touchdown.

If Dalton can avoid mistakes, the Bengals will have a chance to end that drought.

``We just have to take care of our business,'' Dalton said. ``If we do that, all of that stuff will take care of itself. We've done some good things. We went 10-6 this year and had a good year. We made the playoffs again. That was our goal going into it, and now our goal is to make a run at it.''

The biggest change for Houston is Matt Schaub will be at quarterback instead of T.J. Yates. The biggest change for the Bengals is their defense, which set a club record with 51 sacks and has steadied them down the stretch.

In wins over Pittsburgh and Baltimore the last two weeks, the defense scored two touchdowns - Leon Hall and Carlos Dunlap returned interceptions - while the offense managed only one.

``We are probably playing better this year than we have been in the past heading into the playoffs,'' said Mike Zimmer, in his fifth season as Cincinnati's defensive coordinator. ``This defense is salty right now.''

Unlike last season, the Bengals head into the playoffs with a lot of confidence. They lost three of their last five games last year, getting the final wild card because other teams lost even more. This time, they pulled out of a 3-5 start by winning seven of their last eight games, one of the best closing stretches in team history.

It was only the third time they'd won seven of their last eight games. They won their final seven in 1970 to reach the playoffs for the first time. They won seven of the last eight in 1981 and went on to play in their first Super Bowl, where they lost to San Francisco.

``It gets us going in on a big hot streak, that's for sure,'' defensive tackle Geno Atkins said. ``We are more mature this year. It's also not our first trip, so we can learn from our mistakes from last time as well.''

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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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