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Henderson imperfect poster boy for upstart Rebels

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Henderson imperfect poster boy for upstart Rebels

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) The talkative and brash Marshall Henderson is the face of Mississippi's basketball program.

Sometimes that's good, sometimes it's not so good.

His play and antics have led to plenty of attention for the No. 16 Rebels (17-3, 6-1 Southeastern Conference), who face No. 8 Florida (17-2, 7-0) in Gainesville on Saturday in a matchup of the SEC's two top-ranked teams.

Henderson has been so good during his first two months in the SEC that the 6-foot-2 junior has brought a rare spotlight to a program that hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2002. He leads the conference in scoring at 19.3 points per game; he's averaging more than 21 in SEC contests.

Being the SEC scoring leader also brings individual attention.

The scrutiny into Henderson has revealed a player with a dynamic personality and a flair for the dramatic that opposing fans love to hate. In the first 20 games of his Ole Miss career, the fast-talking, emotional Henderson has hit a 35-foot buzzer beater against Vanderbilt to tie a game, celebrated in front of an angry Auburn student section after making two game-clinching free throws and scored a combined 60 points against Tennessee over a two-game period.

Coach Andy Kennedy has had several conversations with Henderson about channeling his emotions, but has stressed he views the exuberance as a good thing.

Opposing coaches - including Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin and Kentucky's John Calipari - have said they enjoy watching Henderson play.

``I think it's passion,'' Kennedy said of Henderson's reactions. ``We don't want it to be misconstrued. Everything that he does is sincere. It is team first. We just want to make sure he funnels it in the proper way. He's a guy that's certainly going to garner attention.''

But all the attention has also revealed details about Henderson's checkered past, which includes a stint in jail last year because of a probation violation.

- According to court documents, Henderson was arrested for a 2009 incident in Tarrant County, Texas, and charged with misdemeanor forgery after buying marijuana with counterfeit money. He was eventually sentenced to two years of probation.

- Henderson was arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana in 2011 in Texas and sentenced to four months in jail during early 2012 for violating his probation - though not all of that time was actually served behind bars because he was on a work release program. Court documents also show that Henderson failed tests for alcohol, marijuana and cocaine while on probation.

Ole Miss officials have said the athletic department was aware of Henderson's past legal issues when he signed, and that there have been no problems since he arrived on campus.

Kennedy said Henderson's past might be news for opposing fans, but he doesn't expect the publicity to rattle his star guard.

``We've talked about it,'' Kennedy said Thursday. ``Marshall's a free spirit and a different thinker. I don't know exactly what would upset him one way or the other. These are things that he's dealt with. This is his reality. All of these things were two, three, some of them four years ago. I don't think people talking about them will offend him or get him off focus. I'm going to certainly try to make sure that's the case.''

Henderson was not made available for interviews on Thursday.

It remains to be seen if all the attention will change Henderson's torrid scoring pace as Ole Miss enters its most crucial stretch of the season. He scored 21 points on Tuesday in the Rebels' first SEC loss to Kentucky, but shot just 5 of 19 from the field, including only 2 of 11 from 3-point range.

The loss was costly for the Rebels. One of their most important reserves Aaron Jones - a 6-foot-9 sophomore who is the primary backup for both Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner - tore the ACL in his left knee in the second half and is out for the season. Backup guard Nick Williams, who is averaging more than nine points per game, is also out indefinitely after re-aggravating a foot injury against the Wildcats.

So the onus is on Henderson to keep producing for the shorthanded Rebels.

That won't be easy against Florida, which is on a nine-game winning streak. The Gators have crushed everyone in the SEC so far - the closest game was a 64-47 victory over Georgia.

Florida coach Billy Donovan is wary of Henderson, who is attempting nearly 11 3-pointers per game.

``He's got really, really good speed to come off screens,'' Donovan said. ``He's got the ability to kind of get himself squared up pretty quickly. He can make tough shots. He can make challenged shots.''

As for Henderson's on-court antics, Florida forward Will Yeguete wasn't particularly concerned.

``I think players are just different,'' Yeguete said. ``We play with a lot of energy and a lot of emotion in the game and sometimes you do things that you don't realize you do until after. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.''

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AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla., and Associated Press writer Danny Robbins in Dallas contributed to this story.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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How the Capitals have limited Columbus' top offensive threat

How the Capitals have limited Columbus' top offensive threat

The Capitals boast a roster full of superstar forwards including players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

The Columbus Blue Jackets do not.

As a team, Columbus’ offensive output is more spread out among the team, except for one offensive focal point: Artemi Panarin.

Traded in the offseason to Columbus from the Chicago Blackhawks, Panarin has proven this season to be a star in his own right rather than just someone hanging on to the coattails of his former linemate in Chicago, Patrick Kane.

Defensively, shutting down Panarin was priority No. 1 for Barry Trotz and company heading into their best-of-seven first-round playoff series

“We went into the series knowing fully well how good of a player Panarin is,” the Capitals head coach told the media via a conference call on Sunday. “He's a leader for them. It's no different than what they would do with Kuznetsov, Backstrom or [Ovechkin]. It's got to be a team game.”

Initially, things did not go well for the Capitals, as Panarin tallied two goals and five assists in the first three games. In Game 4 and Game 5, however, he was held off the scoresheet and finished with a plus/minus rating of -3.

For the series as a whole, Washington has actually done a good job of shutting Panarin down. Four of his seven points came on power play opportunities, meaning the Caps limited Columbus’ top forward to only three even-strength points in five games.

Washington’s strategy coming into the series was to give Panarin a healthy dose of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen. At 5-on-5 play, no two defensemen have been on the ice against Panarin anywhere near as much as the Orlov-Niskanen pairing. That’s been true all series. The offensive line Panarin has been matched against, however, has changed.

In Game 1, the Caps’ second line of Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky and T.J. Oshie matched primarily against Panarin’s line. That changed in Game 2. Since then, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson have been on Panarin duty.

There are several ways to approach matching lines against an opponent. Backstrom is one of the best shutdown forwards in the NHL. It makes sense for Trotz to want him out against Columbus’ most dangerous line. The problem there, however, is that Trotz was taking his team’s second line and putting it in a primarily defensive role.

In Game 1, Backstrom was on the ice for seven defensive zone faceoffs, 12 in the neutral zone and only two in the offensive zone.

The Capitals have an edge over Columbus in offensive depth, but you mitigate that edge if you force Burakovsky, Backstrom and Oshie, three of your best offensive players, to focus on shutting down Panarin.

Let’s not forget, Washington scored only one 5-on-5 goal in Game 1 and it came from Devante Smith-Pelly. They needed the second line to produce offensively so Trotz switched tactics and go best on best, top line vs. top line in a possession driven match up.

The strategy here is basically to make the opposing team's best players exhaust themselves on defense.

You can tell this strategy was effective, and not just because Panarin's offensive dried up. In Game 4, when the Blue Jackets could more easily dictate the matchups, Columbus placed Panarin away from the Caps’ top line, whether intentional or not.

Kuznetsov logged 7:27 of 5-on-5 icetime against Panarin in Game 4. Wilson (6:52), Oshie (6:46), Ovechkin (6:42) and Backstrom (6:01) all got a few cracks at Panarin, but nothing major. Those minutes are far more even than in Game 5 in Washington in which Ovechkin matched against Panarin for 12:45. Kuznetsov (12:42) and Wilson (12:30) also got plenty of opportunities against Panarin as opposed to Chandler Stephenson (2:10), Oshie (2:10) and Backstrom (2:01).

This is a match up the Caps want and the Blue Jackets are trying to get away from.

Trotz was asked about defending Panarin on Sunday.

“There's no one shadowing anybody,” Trotz said. “You know you want to take time and space from top players in this league, and if you do and you take away as many options as possible, you have a chance to limit their damage that they can do to you."

At a glance, this statement seems to contradict itself. You are going to take time and space away from Panarin, but you’re not going to shadow him? But in truth, this is exactly what the Caps are doing.

When the Caps’ top line matches against Panarin, if they continue attack and maintain possession in the offensive zone, that limits the time Panarin gets on the attack.

This will become more difficult on Monday, however, as the series shifts back to Columbus for Game 6. As the Blue Jackets get the second line change, just as in Game 4, you should expect to see Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella try to get his top line away from the Caps’ to avoid that matchup.

Shutting down Columbus’ power play and matching Panarin against both Ovechkin’s line and the Orlov-Niskanen pairing have been the keys to shutting him down. The Caps will need more of the same on Monday to finish off the series.

MORE CAPITALS vs. BLUE JACKETS:
How Nick Backstrom saved the Capitals in Game 5
Burakovsky done for first-round, but how much longer?
Capitals' penalty kill the biggest difference maker
 

4.19.18 Rick Horrow The Sports Professor talks with Joe Leccese, Chairman ProSkauer

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USA TODAY Sports

4.19.18 Rick Horrow The Sports Professor talks with Joe Leccese, Chairman ProSkauer

Rick Horrow The Sports Professor sits down for an exclusive interview with Joe Leccese -- and more from the $1 trillion-dollar business of sports in this week's 'Beyond The Scoreboard with Rick Horrow'

About the Guest: Joe Leccese is the Chairman of Proskauer. He is responsible for leading the Firm’s global operations across its 13 offices and co-heads of Proskauer’s renowned Sports Law Group.

By Rick Horrow

Podcast producer: Tanner Simkins

LISTEN HERE