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Pierre, Baylor backcourt key with 3 forwards gone

Pierre, Baylor backcourt key with 3 forwards gone

Baylor is moving forward without most of its Ps and Qs.

Coming off a school-record 30 victories last season, the 19th-ranked Bears go into this year without forwards Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller, who both left Baylor early for the NBA. Also gone is big man Quincy Acy, a heart-and-soul leader during his four seasons who was also drafted.

The Bears still have senior point guard Pierre Jackson, the Big 12 preseason player of the year.

``He's really improved and focused on his leadership, and being more vocal in practice,'' coach Scott Drew said.

Despite all the changes in the frontcourt, including two other post players who graduated, the Bears are still considered one of the Big 12's top teams. They were picked second in a preseason vote by coaches behind perennial Big 12 champ and seventh-ranked Kansas.

Jackson is among five guards back, including 3-pointer shooter and starter Brady Heslip. A.J. Walton has started 52 games his first three seasons, while Deuce Bello and Gary Franklin were key contributors off the bench in their first seasons at Baylor.

``As far as our team goes, experience in the back court, which is a little bit different,'' said Drew, entered his 10th season at Baylor. ``In the last few years, we've been a taller team and more experienced on the front line. But when you lose three players to the NBA and return a lot of people in the back court, it kind of changes some of the things that you do.''

That doesn't mean the Bears will be lacking for quality big men. They are just young, except for junior Cory Jefferson and senior J'mison Morgan, who sat out last season after starting 14 of the 31 games in 2010-11.

Their starting center will be 7-foot-1, 220-pound freshman Isaiah Austin, who was one of the nation's top-ranked recruits after playing at Grace Prep in Arlington.

``He brings a lot of height, a lot of length and a great skill set. The biggest thing when you look at him right now is you know he can get stronger,'' Drew said. ``At the same time offensively, because he can shoot 3s and handle the ball, he really stretches the defense and makes it tough to guard a big guy like that. ... That versatility makes him special.''

Other front-court freshmen are 6-8 Rico Gathers, 6-11 Chad Rykhoek and 6-7 Taurean Prince.

Acy, Fred Ellis and Anthony Jones left as the winningest senior class in Baylor history, after the Bears won 100 games the past four seasons.

That included a school-record 28 wins in 2009-10, before that mark was surpassed last season. They twice made it to an NCAA regional final before losing to the eventual national champion, Duke in 2010 and Kentucky last season.

Baylor had five players average in double-figure scoring last year, led by Jackson's 13.8 points a game. But with the next three leading scorers from last year now in the NBA and all the youngsters now around him, Jackson is sure to get more attention from opposing teams.

``He's used to scoring. I think he'll be focused on more defensively and offensively. Everybody will focus their game plan around him versus last year,'' Drew said. ``So as we all know, the expectations for him and the focal point, things are going to be tougher for him. At the same time, he's improved his game and is excited for that challenge.''

The Bears open the season at home Nov. 9, a late afternoon game on a Friday against Lehigh after the No. 1-ranked and defending national champion Lady Bears play their opener earlier that day at the Ferrell Center.

Baylor has five games the first 10 days of the season, and play again before going to Kentucky on Dec. 1.

``It's a great opportunity for us,'' Drew said. ``This year could be harder than last year's non-conference schedule. We play some real tough road games, true road games like at Gonzaga, at Kentucky. That gets us ready for the Big 12.''

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With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

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USA TODAY Sports

With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

With Andre Burakovsky out for the remainder of the first round at least, someone will have to replace him in the top six. Originally, it looked like Jakub Vrana was the man for the job. Based on Game 4, however, it now looks like Chandler Stephenson is the "next man up" for the Caps.

While Vrana may have top-six skill and a high ceiling, it was Stephenson who stepped into the second-line role on Thursday playing alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Stephenson finished with two shots on goal in 17:28 of ice time. Vrana, meanwhile, played for only 6:40.

On Friday, Barry Trotz praised Stephenson's hockey IQ for allowing him to adjust to the top-six in a complementary role.

"[Stephenson's] an intelligent player," Trotz said. "He played with [Backstrom] a lot [Thursday]. If you talk with the real top-end guys, he has the ability to think like a top-end guy in terms of play with them. He’s a very intelligent player. He skates extremely well. He’s got some strength to his game. He can complement people. I think his ability to play those different roles and his hockey IQ when you play with those skill guys, he plays more of a give-and-go game than an individual game. When you play with those high skill guys, you’re able to compliment them very well."

Stephenson has spent the majority of the season on the fourth line. He was drafted as a natural center, but has played primarily wing since coming to the NHL. The ability to play both positions gives Stephenson more versatility than most forwards which Trotz credits for helping him see the game so well.

"The great thing about Chandler is he’s played multiple positions over the years. I think it’s allowed him to play a fourth-line role and with high-skill guys. At center-ice, you distribute the puck a little more.  He’s turning into a well-rounded player for us."

On the surface, having Stephenson on the fourth line over Vrana makes little sense. Vrana is highly skilled and has great speed, but he is also prone to giving up turnovers and his production can be inconsistent. Trotz has clearly put a premium on responsible play this postseason which gives Stephenson the edge.

But Game 4 was only one game. If you are going to get top-six minutes, Stephenson will be expected to produce offensively as well. Despite the limited ice time he has gotten, Vrana has shown he can have a major impact on games. In Game 1, he set up the team's only 5-on-5 goal and drew a penalty. In Game 3, he drew two penalties in less than two minutes, giving Washington a two-man advantage.

Stephenson had a fantastic game in Game 4 when he was given the chance to play in the top-six. The next step will be finding a way to have a bigger impact on the game.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—All-Redskins mock, fast-fading interest in Dez

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—All-Redskins mock, fast-fading interest in Dez

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 21, five days before the 2018 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

Should the Redskins pursue Dez Bryant? This topic was one like a meteor, very hot for a short period of time before it quickly faded out. It started to heat up as soon as the Cowboys cut Dez (about a month too late) and when it was reported that he wanted to play against Dallas twice a year it really picked up steam. But then people started to actually think and figured out that signing Bryant didn’t make much sense for the Redskins. Add to that the reports that the Redskins had no interest and would not look into signing Dez in the future and the Redskins fans quickly lost enthusiasm for the topic.

Seven-round Redskins mock draft—I think that most Redskins fans would be happy with this mock. Well, I’ll say some Redskins fans, most is a pretty strong word in this case. 

Is the draft pool deep enough for the Redskins to trade back? There is plenty of talk about the Redskins trading down in the first round to recoup the third-round pick they gave up in the Alex Smith trade. But they need to be careful. Many consider the draft to be top heavy and they may lose their chance to pick up an impact player if they trade back too far. The question then becomes one of quality vs. quantity. 

Three questions as offseason workouts get underway—There will be plenty more questions that we can ask about this team. But we don’t really know what to ask before the draft, particularly when it comes to the defensive line and running back. One the personnel settle into place we will know what we don’t know. 

Tweet of the week

On Chris Cooley’s thought that the Redskins might try to trade back and get Da’Ron Payne in the draft and the use the assets obtained to move up to get Derrius Guice. 

This is related to the questions about trading back. On paper it looks like a good idea, assuming the Redskins want Payne. We’re pretty sure they would like to have Guice but we haven’t heard as much about the Alabama defensive lineman. 

I had many reply that Guice won’t be there in the second round. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, but you just don’t know. There was zero chance that Jonathan Allen would be there at No. 17 last year, right? 

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

Timeline  

Days until:

—OTAs start (5/22) 31
—Training camp starts (7/26) 96
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 141

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