Panthers eager to get last Big East season started

Panthers eager to get last Big East season started

PITTSBURGH (AP) Tray Woodall found the note stashed in his locker recently, a not-so subtle message from the Pitt coaching staff. The note contained an article ranking college basketball's top point guards. The senior scanned down until he found his name somewhere in the mid-30s.

If the coaches were looking to get a rise out of Woodall, it didn't exactly work.

``I'm not in high school anymore,'' he said. ``It was cool back in the days to tell guys, `Yeah I'm Top 10' ... it' doesn't even matter now.''

There are more pressing matters for Woodall these days than where he stacks up against his peers, namely returning the Panthers to their usual perch near the top of the Big East.

The road back begins on Friday when Pitt hosts Mount St. Mary's in the season opener. It is a chance for Woodall and his teammates to start moving forward after the most disappointing year of coach Jamie Dixon's remarkably successful tenure.

Pitt went 22-17 last winter, but missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in more than a decade. The Panthers managed to win the College Basketball Invitational, but don't expect there to be a banner-hoisting ceremony.

Ask Woodall about what happened last year, and the letters ``CBI'' never escape his mouth. While the tournament allowed Pitt to end the season on an up note, the only image that sticks with Woodall are the games he sat out due to a lingering abdominal injury.

``I've got a bad taste in my mouth just because I missed so many games,'' Woodall said. ``I feel like I owe a lot of people. I feel like I missed so many games. I'm just ready to play in a whole season.''

So are the rest of the Panthers, who believe a dash of new faces will help return some of the swagger they lacked a year ago.

Dixon typically makes freshmen watch and learn early in the season before giving them a heavy workload, but guard James Robinson and center Steven Adams will both start as a reward for their attention to detail on defense.

``Right now they're defending the best,'' Dixon said. ``We've just got to sustain it and keep everybody going. We're going to play a lot of guys. I hope some guys (on the bench) make some strides, make some improvements.''

Robinson's rise has pushed Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler to a reserve role and allowed Woodall a little more freedom on offense. Too often last season the Panthers looked lost offensively when the ball wasn't in Woodall's sure hands.

Those issues appear to be solved. Robinson didn't turn the ball over once while playing 49 minutes during a pair of exhibition victories.

``We thought he'd be good, but he's probably a little better than we thought going in with his quickness, his athleticism,'' Dixon said. ``His strength is probably something you don't expect as a freshman.''

Playing two point guards also lets Dixon turn up the pressure defensively. Pitt has long been one of the best half-court defensive teams in the country. Dixon is adding a dash of full-court pressure to help the Panthers up the tempo.

Pitt was 269th in the country in turnover margin last season, a number that needs to improve considerably if the Panthers want to exit the Big East on top. Pitt has won more conference titles - four regular season, two postseason - than any other Big East school since 2000, but is heading to the ACC next summer.

Woodall won't be around when the transition happens. All he is focused on is restoring a sense of order after a season in which everything just felt out of whack.

``We're all out to prove everybody wrong,'' he said. ``We want to exceed expectations and play beyond everybody else's thinking.''

Playing better at home would help. Pitt was nearly unbeatable at the Petersen Events Center until last winter. The Panthers lost 12 times in the arena's first nine years of existence. Last year they lost at home seven times. Dixon would love to see his team get back to making the ``Pete'' one of the more intimidating gyms in the country.

``There's an edge, no question about it,'' he said. ``I think every team has an edge at this point. It's just about how they handle adversity, who improves, who doesn't. We're excited about going forward here. We've got a lot of work to do, a lot of improvement to make and we better continue on that path.''


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Game 75 Capitals at Canadiens Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 75 Capitals at Canadiens Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens

Where: Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Canadiens will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington.

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals (43-24-7) take on the Canadiens (27-36-12) Saturday, March 24 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Montreal.


The Capitals-Canadiens game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. for postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals at Canadiens
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime


You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—D-line scoop, Alex Smith's big deal

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—D-line scoop, Alex Smith's big deal

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, March 24, 33 days before the NFL draft.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington.

Free agency update: What's next for the Redskins on the D-line? The Redskins have been casting out lines for defensive linemen since before free agency officially started but they haven’t been able to reel one in. Part of the issue might be that they know that Vita Vea and Da’Ron Payne are likely to be available in the draft. They have to balance spending big on a lineman vs. being able to get one pretty cheap for the next five years.

Redskins make a D-line contract change, gain roster flexibility—Speaking of the D-line, the team negotiated the removal of a salary guarantee for one player to give themselves more flexibility when it comes time to cut the roster down to 53 in September. See the post for details.

Redskins guarantee Alex Smith a whopping $71 million in new contract—In the words of Joe Biden, this is a big f-----g deal. It showed that the Redskins aren’t afraid to pay a quarterback big money if they think it’s the right guy. It should be noted that whether or not they chose the right guy is something that remains to be seen. Although the post shows that it’s plausible for the Redskins to terminate the deal after three years, I anticipate Smith playing out at least four if not all five years of the contract.

Redskins add another ex-Cowboy as they sign Scandrick—Orlando Scandrick has struggled with injuries the past few years and Redskins fans did not greet the news of his signing with great enthusiasm, to say the least. To point out the bright side, his contract is not pricey by NFL terms ($2.6 million cap hit this year, no guaranteed money beyond a $1 million signing bonus) and from what I have been able to gather it’s possible that change of scenery might give him a boost for a year or two.

Tweet of the week

Well before free agency started, I wrote that the Redskins’ top priorities in free agency should be to get extensions done for Smith, Brandon Scherff, and Jamison Crowder. They should have about $15 million to work with after a few more free agent signings and that would be plenty to get all of those extensions done. And if they do score a big free agent signing, it would be worth it to restructure the contract of someone like Ryan Kerrigan to get them done.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.


Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 23
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 124
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 169

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