Capitals

Iowa State confident in senior PG Korie Lucious

Iowa State confident in senior PG Korie Lucious

AMES, Iowa (AP) Korie Lucious was supposed to bring stability to Iowa State after transferring from Michigan State.

Instead, the senior point guard has been as inconsistent as any player on Iowa State's roster this season. And so has his team.

Lucious has committed 41 turnovers in 10 games, more than any other player from a major-conference school. Though Lucious turned it over just once in Sunday's easy win over Nebraska-Omaha, the lasting image of his weekend came Friday night at Iowa.

Lucious committed seven turnovers - six more than his freshman counterpart, Iowa's Anthony Clemmons - in an 80-71 loss.

Third-year coach Fred Hoiberg has put control of his offense in the hands of Lucious and he isn't about to bail on him now.

``I'm confident in Korie. We weren't ourselves in that game over in Iowa City,'' Hoiberg said. ``You learn from those types of things. It's a painful lesson to learn.''

Lucious has never had as much control of a team as he has this season with the Cyclones (7-3), who face Drake on Saturday as part of the Big Four Classic in Des Moines.

He's still adjusting to all that responsibility.

Lucious was mostly a key reserve for Michigan State's back-to-back Final Four teams in 2009 and 2010, although he nailed the game-winning basket in the second round against Maryland in `09 and started the next three games after Kalin Lucas ruptured his Achilles tendon. After being suspended by the Spartans in January 2011, Lucious wasn't able to do anything but practice for nearly two years.

His first season as a full-time starter has been more up and down than many expected.

Lucious is shooting only 34 percent from the field and has just nine assists against 15 turnovers in Iowa State's three losses. His assist-to-turnover ratio of roughly 1.3-to-1 is far below where the Cyclones want it to be.

There are signs of progress after a head-scratching November.

Lucious is scoring more, averaging 13 points per game in his last four outings. He also has dished out 29 in that time, and even in losing at Iowa he scored 14 points with seven assists.

Hoiberg also noticed improvement from Lucious in the win over Nebraska-Omaha, which came after a practice that focused on correcting what went wrong with the Hawkeyes. Lucious had nine points, four assists and just one turnover in 26 easy minutes against the overmatched Mavericks.

``I think he took a big step in the right direction (Sunday). And I blame myself for some of the things that happened in the Iowa game, for not getting us into different sets,'' Hoiberg said. ``Our flow was much better. Our spacing was much better. Our just overall purpose, in getting to our spots, was a lot better.''

Lucious is hardly the only new piece for the Cyclones, who've again shuffled their roster extensively.

Fellow transfer Will Clyburn is Iowa State's leading scorer at 14 points per game, and had been mostly exceptional before the Hawkeyes held him scoreless. Hoiberg also shuffled the lineup after the loss at Iowa, starting freshman Georges Niang and sophomore Percy Gibson in place of senior Anthony Booker and junior Melvin Ejim.

Iowa State will likely tinker with its rotation ahead of the Big 12 season, which starts at Kansas in just under a month.

But the Cyclones are counting on Lucious to run the offense regardless of who's on the court with him.

``I definitely think that, for a lot of the new guys coming in, it was a learning experience at the beginning of the season,'' Ejim said. ``Korie is getting more comfortable now and he's playing better basketball. And that's just because he knows who he's playing with. He knows where guys are going to be. He knows the offense.''

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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

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