Capitals

Carson anxious to finally play for Sun Devils

Carson anxious to finally play for Sun Devils

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Jahii Carson leaves a defender stumbling and staggering with a crossover. Then another. And another.

Seconds later, he whips a bounce pass through traffic to hit a teammate in perfect stride, does it again from a different angle to a different teammate. He drops in 3-pointers, mid-range jumpers, reverse layups.

And the dunks: a head-above-the-rim, double-pump reverse, an almost indescribable around-his-back tomahawk after catching a bouncing lob pass off the floor.

Nearly half a million hoops fans have watched the highlight reel of the 5-foot-10 point guard with the bouncy legs and blurring quickness on YouTube.

His Arizona State teammates have seen similar eye-bugging displays on the practice court.

Now, after a year on the shelf, the Jahii Carson show is going live. If it's even half as good as the hype, it'll be a sure hit.

``I'm ready,'' Carson said on Tuesday. ``I wish the game was tomorrow.''

Arizona State fans wished it was last year.

One of the most highly touted basketball recruits in school history - certainly under coach Herb Sendek - Carson was viewed as a program savior, a point guard with ridiculous skills and a swagger to match who would lift Arizona State out of mediocrity.

His resurrection project got put on hold for a year, though, when he didn't meet the NCAA's academic eligibility standards.

All that did was add to the hype.

With Arizona State struggling and Carson's highlight reel racking up the hits, the hyperbole reached a manic pitch, Sun Devils fans wondering WWJD - What Would Jahii Do? - as the season wore on and the losses piled up.

Carson's Twitter followers ballooned over 6,000 and his reputation swelled to superhero proportions even though few people outside Arizona State had seen him play since he averaged 32.2 points and 6.6 assists during his senior season at nearby Mesa High School.

The long wait over, Sun Devils fans, coaches and players are anxious to see what he can do when the lights come back on.

``He's got a lot of confidence, he can score in many different ways, so it'll be exciting to watch him play,'' said Evan Gordon, who will team with Carson in what's expected to be one of the country's best backcourts after sitting out as a transfer from Liberty last season. ``Watching him in practice and guarding him in practice, he's an amazing player.''

Carson is certainly a singular talent, blessed with a crossover that often leaves defenders falling over, a deft outside shooting touch and pogo-stick legs that allow him to not just get to the rim, but finish over bigger players.

He also has plenty of a confidence, a swagger in his voice and body language that lets everyone know he can handle anything that comes his way.

Still, asking a player who's barely out of his teens to carry the hopes of an entire program and fervor-fueled fans is asking a lot, even for someone with a skill set like Carson's.

``The danger is because of the legendary reputation, the fervent interest, there's some of us perhaps expecting him to take the court with an S on his shirt and a cape on his back, and that really wouldn't be fair to him,'' Sendek said. ``That doesn't mean we don't want to have high expectations for him and all the players on our team, but there comes a point where we have to stay on earth, too.''

But part of what has stoked anticipation for Carson's debut is the belief that he's the kind of player and person who can handle it.

On the court, he was often one of the best players during Arizona State's practice last season, wowing teammates with his quickness.

He used his redshirt season wisely, working on his game, adding about 15 pounds of muscle to his lanky frame, studying opposing players and NBA point guards like Tony Parker, Steve Nash and Ty Lawson.

Carson also matured during his year away from the spotlight, vowing not to take anything for granted after his ``dumb mistake'' of slipping up academically.

There's a self-awareness, too, a realization that if he gets caught up in the hype and pressure, it will take him down.

``I just try not to think about it,'' Carson said. ``I know it's something that's there, but the more I think about it, the more it's going to affect me. So the more I don't think about it and just keep focus, the better I'll play and the more I'll keep that out of the way.''

The bow on Carson's got-it-all package is the confidence that holds it all together.

His is not the hollow bravado of a doesn't-know-any-better youngster. He truly does believe in himself, a trait that initially caught his teammates off-guard the first few practices last year.

The swagger is in the way he strokes in jumpers and takes the ball to the rim without hesitation.

It's in the way he talks, the calmness and inflection of someone much older, not a year removed from high school.

It's in his desire to be in the spotlight, to rise up to the brightness of so many eyes watching, not shrink away from them.

``He's a pretty cool, calm customer,'' Sendek said. ``That's the one thing about sports to me is how some of these guys are able to perform at such amazing levels in the crucibles we put them in. Whether it's Mary Lou Retton needing a 10 and getting it in the Olympics or a quarterback needing to take a team 80 yards in the final two minutes in front of 80,000 people and millions more on TV, the ability to just block everything out and perform at a high level is something that I have tremendous respect for.

``I think Jahii, along those same lines, will have that ability.''

Arizona State and its fans sure hope so. They've been waiting over a year for this show to start.

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

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USA TODAY Sports

Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

After two games, it looks like Michal Kempny is already moving up in the lineup.

At Sunday’s practice, Kempny played on the team's second defensive pairing, lining up on the left of John Carlson. Previously, the Czech defenseman had been playing on the right of Brooks Orpik. The move to the left allows him to play on his natural side as he is a left-handed shot.

Here are the pairs from Sunday’s practice:

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos
Jakub Jerabek – Madison Bowey

Acquired on Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks, Kempny has played in two games for the Capitals and has received glowing reviews thus far.

“He's a really good pro, that's what sticks out,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He takes care of himself, he works at his game off the ice and with the guys, he has fit in very well.”

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“I've gotten to play a little bit with [Kempny] the last couple games,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think he's a guy that, he moves pretty well and he moves the puck pretty well and likes to keep things pretty simple. He's very consistent and predictable so he's very easy to play with.”

When the Capitals first acquired Kempny, it seemed like the best fit for him would be alongside Carlson. It’s a natural fit with Kempny being a left-shot and Carlson a righty. It also bumps down Christian Djoos to a third-pair role which is preferable to having a rookie in the top-four come the playoffs.

Should Kempny play well with Carlson, that would likely solidify Washington’s top two pairs. The Orlov-Niskanen pair was not going to be changed and Carlson was going to be on the second pair. The only question was who would ultimately play with him in the postseason?

The third pair, however, remains a work in progress.

The Caps will have to wait at least another day for the debut of their second recent acquisition as Jakub Jerabek cannot yet play due to visa issues and will miss Monday's game, reports Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Considering the issues Washington has had on defense, they would not have brought in another defenseman just to be a healthy scratch. He will get his shot to earn a spot in the lineup.

With two new defensemen in tow, obviously the team will need to experiment over the next few days and weeks to find the right combinations.

“We're going to have to probably spend at least the next 10 to 12 games doing that and then we'll have to sort of settle in,” Trotz said. “With eight defenseman, you sort of want to see which guys you’re going to play and who to play as partners and sort of a little bit of ranking. If someone goes down, who's filling that extra role?”

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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