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Big East surges with 3 ranked, undefeated teams

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Big East surges with 3 ranked, undefeated teams

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Excuse Big East commissioner Mike Aresco if he's feeling a bit giddy this week. When the dust settled after weekend play, he still had three undefeated teams ranked in the AP Top 25.

While nine ranked teams lost, No. 18 Louisville, No. 20 Rutgers and No. 21 Cincinnati boosted their combined record to 14-0 and remained among the 14 undefeated teams in major college football.

The best news for Aresco is that all three are staying put as he continues to rebuild the much-maligned conference.

``Louisville, Cincinnati and Rutgers are some of our core programs, and they have strong football,'' Aresco said. ``What it shows also is that, going forward, we will have even stronger football. It's only going to get better. This is early evidence of it.''

Boise State (4-1), currently No. 24, joins the conference next year. That should more than make up for the departure of Pittsburgh and Syracuse after this season as they make the jump to the Atlantic Coast Conference. If only West Virginia - 5-0 and ranked No. 5 - hadn't bolted for the Big 12.

``When we bring in the new schools, we're going to have a powerful football conference top to bottom,'' Aresco said. ``It's going to be very competitive, very rugged.''

It already is. Just ask Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, whose Hokies used to play in the Big East.

After Pittsburgh started the season under first-year coach Paul Chryst with a stunning two-touchdown loss to Youngstown State, which plays at Division I's second level, and followed that with a loss at Cincinnati, Pitt upset then-No. 13 Virginia Tech, 35-17, forcing the Hokies into four first-half turnovers.

Tech hasn't been the same since, also losing to Cincinnati and North Carolina. So, for the record, the Hokies, another former league member, are 0-2 vs. the Big East.

``(The Big East is) having a good year, that's for sure,'' Beamer said. ``Cincinnati was for real, and the day we played Pittsburgh ... they were good, so I have nothing but respect for them.''

Since 2006, the Big East is 215-89 (70.7 winning percentage) in nonconference play, behind only the SEC (304-70, 81.3 percent) and the Big 12 (259-86, 75.1 percent). And since 1998, the Big East has the best postseason record (43-27) of any Bowl Subdivision conference during the Bowl Championship Series era.

So, why is the conference always an afterthought?

``Because we beat each other up,'' Louisville offensive guard Jake Smith said. ``There aren't too many unbeaten teams that come out of the conference. It's tough. I won't say we'll have the national champion every year, but I think there are really good teams in the Big East.''

It's just that nobody seems to notice.

Such is life in a league with no dominant teams, even if players such as Baltimore Ravens tailback Ray Rice (Rutgers) or New England Patriots rookie defensive end Chandler Jones (Syracuse) quickly become household names as pros.

``This conference is really underrated, honestly,'' Smith said. ``There are a lot of really good players that come out of the Big East. You don't have to look far to find great talent.

``It's kind of offensive when you see somebody just bashing the conference that you're in. Last year, when West Virginia was in the conference, they came and blew out Clemson (70-33 in the Orange Bowl), and then they moved to another conference and have become a top-10 team - and that's the team we beat last year. I think it's the perception nationally. I don't think that's how it should be.''

Aresco already knows he won't have three unbeaten teams at season's end, and he's OK with that.

``It's always been a conference that has been able to reinvent itself and get even stronger,'' Aresco said. ``We're doing it now. It's not surprising to me that we've got teams that are in the Top 25. It's nice to have undefeated teams, but they've got to play each other.''

Not yet. Which means Aresco still has three good bargaining chips on his side as the league continues negotiations on a new television contract.

``It's great timing,'' Aresco said. ``It sends the signal that I've talked about. We are a strong football conference, we're a valuable football conference, we're going to be valuable to our media partners. Not only is it great timing, but it foreshadows the future.''

The drawback to the start, though, has been everyone else. If you take out the three ranked teams, no other league member is over .500. But at least, there are the Cardinals, Scarlet Knights and Bearcats to brag about.

``We really didn't know what was going to happen this year,'' Smith said. ``Cincinnati had questions, Rutgers had some questions, and with us there were some questions of youth. But to have three undefeated teams, it's good to see that competitiveness.

``And I like it.''

Aresco does, too.

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AP Sports Writers Gary Graves in Louisville, Ky., and Hank Kurz in Richmond, Va. contributed to this report.

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Need to Know: Five safe draft picks for the Redskins

Need to Know: Five safe draft picks for the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, April 22, four days before the 2018 NFL draft.  

Five safe picks for the Redskins

Sometimes teams try to hit home runs with their draft picks. They may hit a few but they also will strike out a lot. Teams often are better off trying to hit solid singles and doubles. Here are five picks who would are unlikely to make many Pro Bowls but the Redskins would not regret the pick if they turned in the cards with their names on it. 

RB Kerryon Johnson, Auburn—I’m starting off here with a player who would be a safe pick in the third round. Of course, the Redskins don’t have a third right now but if they do swing a trade and get one, Johnson would be a good pick. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, which is one reason why he might be available in the third. He is a grinder who will be an upgrade over Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley. 

DL Vita Vea, Washington—There is plenty of hand wringing over whether Vea is a three-down player or just a base defense nose tackle. But even if he can’t rush the passer very well his floor is a player who can go a long way towards helping the Redskins stop the run, a chronic weakness. This is why a lot of fans and media are urging the Redskins to not overthink this and take a player that will, at a minimum, bolster one of their weakest areas. 

OL Billy Price, Ohio State—He started 55 games for the Buckeyes, the most of any player in the storied history of the program. He did suffer the partial tear of a chest muscle in the combine but that will be fully healed by training camp. When he’s ready, he’s an explosive, smart, and powerful player. Just plug him in at left guard and the Redskins’ O-line is set with all home-grown talent. 

LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State—He doesn’t have the ceiling that the more heralded Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds have. However, he may have a higher floor. Smith is undersized, and Edmunds will be highly drafted based more on potential than on production. At 6-4, 256, Vander Esch has plenty of size, and he racked up 141 tackles last year on his way to defensive player of the year honors in the Mountain West. 

 CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado—The All-Pac-12 selection has the size and athleticism that add up to a safe pick in the second round. He needs some work on technique, but he has enough natural athletic ability—he competed in the decathlon—to be a productive cornerback right out of the gate. One other plus that fans will appreciate is that his strength is press coverage, not off man. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS.

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Timeline  

Days until:

—OTAs start (5/22) 30
—Training camp starts (7/26) 95
—Redskins @ Cardinals (9/9) 140

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2018 NBA Playoffs Wizards-Raptors Game 4: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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2018 NBA Playoffs Wizards-Raptors Game 4: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and the Washington Wizards battle Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night in Game 4 of the 2018 NBA Playoffs.

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

GAME 4: TORONTO RAPTORS AT WASHINGTON WIZARDS

Series: Raptors lead 2-1
Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 6 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (pregame coverage begins at 5 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Time to get even

After a momentous Game 3 win, the Wizards have breathed some life back into their season. On Sunday, they can make this a brand new series.

With a win in Game 4 for the Wizards, they would tie the series and send it back to Toronto ensuring another home game in Washington. A loss would put them down 3-1, a deficit that has historically been hard to overcome.

Only 11 teams have accomplished the feat, most notably the Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals. The Warriors did the same that year in the conference finals. It has only been done three times since 2006. 

How will Raptors respond?

Game 3 took on a much different tone and style than the previous two and it played into the Wizards' hands. It was much more physical and Washington did a good job of instigating contact and using it to their advanage. After the game, several players highlighted Markieff Morris shoving OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka as a turning point.

Just because it worked in Game 3 doesn't mean it will carry over successfully in Game 4. Not only could the Raptors respond with their own dose of brutality, but the referees may try to nip anything of the sort in the bud early on.

It would not be surprising if Game 4 was officiated very tightly and if a message was sent in the first quarter to the players. After seeing how well it worked in Game 3, the Wizards will likely try to test the limits.

Playoff Beal

The Raptors will also try to adjust their defense following Bradley Beal's 28-point outburst in Game 3. He wasn't much of a factor in the first two games of the series, but broke out in Game 3 to lead the Wizards to a win.

The Wizards did a good job of getting Beal involved early. He was found for open looks from three in the first half and had two three-pointers in each of the first two quarters. Beal also took it upon himself to attack the rim and force the issue.

The Raptors held Beal back in the first two games by being rough with him and in Game 2 they got him in foul trouble. Surely he will be a big emphasis of their gameplan on Sunday.

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For more on the Wizards-Raptors series, check out or latest Wizards Tipoff podcast: