NCAA

Freeney prepares for what could be final home game

Freeney prepares for what could be final home game

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Dwight Freeney understands the predicament.

He'll be 33 in February, his sack totals have declined each of the last three years and this year's salary cap hit was a staggering $19.035 million, the highest in football. Even Freeney knows that's not a good combination to take into contract talks with the Colts.

So no matter how much Freeney wants to finish his career in the same place he started it, he will try to savor every moment Sunday against Houston in what will likely be his home finale in Indianapolis.

``This could be it,'' he said. ``We'll see what happens for me and my career later and what they decide to do. Those are all business decisions for both of us. But yeah, I think the later in your career, the older you get and especially when your contract is what it is, you have to sit there and say, `Hey this might be it, man.' Just take in as much as you can take in.''

Whatever happens next, there's no doubting what Freeney has meant to this franchise over the years.

Tony Dungy and Bill Polian took the 266-pound pass rusher with the 11th overall pick in the 2002 draft as the cornerstone for their defense, even when the critics contended the choice was a reach. They argued Freeney was the quintessential small, quick college defensive end who would be nothing more than a third-down pass rush specialist against the NFL's mammoth offensive linemen - and they were wrong.

Despite starting only the final eight games as a rookie, Freeney still broke the Colts' single-season franchise record with 13 sacks, was named the AFC's defensive rookie of the month in November and December that season and finished second to Julius Peppers in balloting for defensive rookie of the year.

And he never really slowed down.

Freeney won battles on the line of scrimmage with his blazing speed and spin move, something teammates and opponents continue to try and emulate. He created nightmares for opposing linemen not only because of his ability to get to the quarterback but to knock the ball loose in the same motion. He teamed with Robert Mathis to form one of the league's most feared pass rushes for nearly a decade.

Fans appreciated his celebrations, a simple salute to those who showed up on Sunday afternoons, and players embraced his simple, down-to-earth approach to the game and life.

``We've been playing together 10 years so that speaks for itself,'' said Mathis, who joined the Colts in 2003. ``It's almost like we formed a brotherhood. It's deeper than just a teammate. We call it `9398 Bring the Heat Boulevard.' We kind of coined that term, so we want to keep it going as long as we can.''

Freeney is the franchise's career sacks leader (106 1/2), the only Colts player to win a league sacks title (16 in 2004) and his seven Pro Bowl appearances are tied for fifth in franchise-history with Lenny Moore. The only Colts with more Pro Bowl selections are Peyton Manning (11), Gino Marchetti and John Unitas (10 each) and Jim Parker (eight). Marchetti, Unitas, Parker and Moore are all Hall of Fame members, and Marchetti is the only Colts' defender to appear in more all-star games than Freeney.

When the playoffs end, the Colts will have to make the decision about re-signing Freeney or letting him go.

A year ago, Freeney watched the Colts say goodbye to four-time MVP Manning. running back Joseph Addai, linebacker Gary Brackett, tight end Dallas Clark, center Jeff Saturday and receiver Pierre Garcon. Receiver Reggie Wayne was so certain he would be caught in last season's overhaul that he packed up his locker and took down his nameplate a few days before the 2011 season finale at Jacksonville. He wound up coming back, a move that may go down as the Colts' best offseason player move outside of taking Andrew Luck in the draft.

Indy also gave Mathis a big contract and the converted linebacker, like Wayne, rewarded the Colts with another Pro Bowl season.

The questions about Freeney, though, are different.

He was most effective in the traditional 4-3 defense, and after switching to the 3-4 for the first time this season, Freeney has only 18 tackles and four quarterback sacks. Those numbers are down from 2011, when he had 19 tackles and 8 1/2 sacks, which was down from 25 tackles and 10 sacks in 2010. And that was down from 2009 when Freeney had 31 tackles and 13 1/2 sacks.

So the Colts must decide whether he fits into this defense, and if so, how much he's worth on a team that continues to build for the future?

``You don't know what's going to happen at the end of the day. The strangest things happen. Look at last year, everybody thought Peyton would be here and he's not,'' Freeney said. ``I guess we will figure it out when the season is over. I just appreciate everything this city has done for me, the fans have done for me. It's been a great ride and hopefully we can continue it.''

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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. 

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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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