NCAA

Brady finds a positive in recent struggles

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Brady finds a positive in recent struggles

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Tom Brady found something encouraging in his toughest stretch of the season.

He knows he and his New England Patriots can come back from a huge deficit.

The two-time NFL Most Valuable Player had his three lowest passer ratings of the season in his past four games. His 68.9 on Dec. 16 in a 41-34 loss to the San Francisco 49ers was his worst in his last 49 regular-season games. But at least he rallied them from a 31-3 deficit to tie that game with four touchdowns in 15 minutes.

``If we're down 28 points again, which I hope we're not, at least you can say, `Well, we've come back from this before,' `` Brady said Wednesday. ``So I think you can draw on those experiences, but this week is going to be its own separate game and we're going to have to go out there and earn it.''

The Patriots showed that comeback ability a year ago against the Miami Dolphins, the team they'll meet in the regular-season finale on Sunday. In last season's matchup at Gillette Stadium in the next to last game before the playoffs, the Patriots overcame a 17-0 halftime deficit by scoring the next 27 points and won 27-24.

This year, the Patriots (11-4) have clinched the AFC East title. The Dolphins (7-8) are out of the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

New England can be seeded in any of the conference's top four spots. The Houston Texans, Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens also will finish in the top four with the top two getting first-round byes.

But the Patriots could be eliminated from the No. 1 position by the time their game starts at 4:25 p.m.

Houston (12-3) would clinch it with a win over the Indianapolis Colts (10-5) in a 1 p.m. game. Denver (12-3) is currently in second place in the AFC and is home against the weak Kansas City Chiefs at 4:25 p.m. Baltimore (10-5) is in fourth and visits Cincinnati at 1 p.m.

Coach Bill Belichick isn't focusing on all the possibilities.

``We're doing everything we can to get ready for the Dolphins,'' he said. ``I've been around this league long enough to know that you can't predict how things are going to go on Sundays in the NFL. We'll control what we can control, which is to get ready and play Miami.''

Brady is taking the same approach.

No matter what Houston does, ``I don't think that changes what our goal is for the weekend,'' he said. ``We're trying to win this game regardless. It could be different if some other teams win, but that's really out of our control.''

The Patriots had won seven straight games, capping that stretch with wins over the Dolphins, 23-16, and Texans, who entered that game with the NFL's best record but lost 42-14.

But in the two games since then, New England got off to poor starts in the loss to San Francisco and a 23-16 win over the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday.

``We put a lot into the preparation throughout the course of the week and you'd love for it to go well,'' Brady said. ``Sometimes it doesn't always go very well. But you put as much into it the following week as well.''

In his first 11 games, Brady threw three interceptions and was sacked 15 times. In his last four games, he's had five interceptions and 11 sacks.

``It's about playing consistent football and I think we've got to do a better job of that,'' he said. ``We've still got a chance to improve it. And really, if we're consistent this week, which I hope we are, that's ultimately what's going to help us win this game, not really what happened in the previous month or two months.''

The Patriots have been far from the dominant team they were most of the season. Five of their first eight wins were by 21 points or more. Two of their last three were by seven.

One of those was against Miami on Dec. 2. The Dolphins had cut the lead to 20-13 on Dan Carpenter's 33-yard field goal with 8:28 left in the game. Then the Patriots put together a time-consuming drive that resulted in Stephen Gostkowski's 20-yard field goal with 1:10 remaining. Carpenter kicked a 42-yarder, but the Patriots recovered the onside kick, ending the Dolphins chances.

``It is pretty fresh in our mind of how they played us, the things they do well,'' Brady said. ``Certainly, they gave us everything we could handle. They're a good team. There's nothing easy about this team.''

Win or lose, the Patriots will be heading to the playoffs. They could play in the wild-card round the following weekend. Or, if they're seeded first or second, they'd have the weekend off before hosting a divisional playoff game.

For now, the focus is on the Dolphins.

``Right now what matters is just our performance in this game,'' Belichick said. ``How that affects some other week, I don't know. Right now, we just want to take advantage of our opportunity to prepare and play well and coach well this Sunday. That's really what it's about.''

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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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