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In 1 year, Big 12 goes from turmoil to terrific

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In 1 year, Big 12 goes from turmoil to terrific

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) In the span of a year, the Big 12 has gone from turmoil to terrific on television once again.

A conference whose football future was uncertain with the defections of Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri over the past two years has landed squarely on its feet.

The Big 12 has two teams in the top 10 and is the only conference to have eight schools with one or fewer losses. (The Southeastern Conference has seven).

No. 5 West Virginia and No. 6 Kansas State are the early front-runners in the Big 12 standings, with No. 13 Oklahoma and No. 15 Texas trying to keep pace while settling the Red River rivalry in Dallas on Saturday.

``I think the league is stronger now than it has been in a long time,'' Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said Monday.

It might have been hard to imagine this a year ago, considering the Big 12 could've gone bust.

``We've gone from possibly not having a league, to having an unstable league, to having a league that wasn't getting along, to having as stable a league as anyone with great football teams in it, great sports programs across the country,'' Texas coach Mack Brown said. ``We're right at the top of conferences right now. This league has got more parity at the top than ever before.''

In September 2011, Texas A&M's announcement that it was leaving the Big 12 to seek SEC membership sparked a new round of positioning. Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech were considering a potential move to the Pac-12 until that league announced it would not expand.

Shortly after that, embattled Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe was dumped and the nine remaining member schools committed to healing.

``Nobody knew what was going to happen,'' Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. ``You kept hearing Pac 12, everybody being independent, form our own league. The uncertainty was just unbelievable. And just the last year has enabled us to be solidified as a conference.''

A year ago Wednesday, TCU pulled an about-face and decided to make the Big 12 - not the Big East - its new home. The Big 12 then mulled over whether West Virginia or Louisville was the proper candidate for expansion before settling on the Mountaineers. In early November, Missouri made it clear it was moving to the SEC.

In May, Bob Bowlsby was named Big 12 commissioner. And last month, the conference announced a new 13-year deal with ESPN and Fox Sports.

``I feel better now than I've ever felt about this conference,'' Tuberville said.

When things got settled after two restless summers, the redrawn Big 12 was essentially the same - high-scoring offenses, questionable defenses and Heisman hype. Four Big 12 offenses are among the top seven passing teams in the FBS. Five are in the top nine in third-down efficiency.

This much is known - West Virginia likes the way it fits in.

The Mountaineers (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) set a lofty goal of winning the conference championship right away, but that's way too far in the distance to contemplate. For starters, West Virginia must get through one of its toughest October schedules after going 28-8 in the month over the previous decade.

After beating ranked teams Baylor and Texas in successive weeks, West Virginia travels to Texas Tech (4-1, 1-1) on Saturday before returning home for an Oct. 20 showdown with co-leader Kansas State (5-0, 2-0).

``I've got some guys that believe,'' said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. ``I like the way this team plays together.''

Tuberville, who lost to West Virginia when he coached at Auburn in 2008, gets another crack at the Mountaineers on Saturday. What he'll see is a much different foe.

Back then, West Virginia relied heavily on the run. Under second-year coach Holgorsen, quarterback Geno Smith is averaging 399 yards passing per game, has thrown 24 touchdown passes and no interceptions.

``They've got a real good one,'' Tuberville said. ``He does a good job of spreading the ball around. He's a cool guy in terms of just under pressure. I've been very impressed.''

There are seven teams with one league loss, but that number will certainly dwindle on Saturday.

Kansas State travels to Iowa State (4-1, 1-1), while it's Texas (4-1, 1-1) against Oklahoma (3-1, 1-1) at the Cotton Bowl, TCU (4-1, 1-1) at Baylor (3-1, 0-1) and Oklahoma State (2-2, 0-1) at Kansas (1-4, 0-2).

``Everybody understands how competitive it is and everybody seems to want to be a part of that,'' said Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. ``I think perhaps that adds to the stability of the conference. I think the people who are in the conference want to be in the conference. That's the important thing.''

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NBA offseason grades: With Kawhi Leonard, Raptors shined most in Atlantic Division

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USA TODAY Sports

NBA offseason grades: With Kawhi Leonard, Raptors shined most in Atlantic Division

Here is a look at how the 2018 NBA offseason went for teams in the Atlantic Division...

Toronto Raptors, B+

2017-18 finish: 59-23, 2nd round of playoffs
In: F Kawhi Leonard, G Danny Green, C Greg Monroe
Out: G DeMar DeRozan, C Jakub Poeltl, C Lucas Nogueira

The Raptors had one of the more consequential offseasons of any NBA team this year. First, they fired Dwane Casey, the 2017-18 NBA Coach of the Year, following a season in which they won 59 games. Then, they pulled off the biggest trade of the summer, a deal that featured two perennial All-NBA players. They let go of DeRozan and brought in Leonard in return. If they hadn't parted with DeRozan and Casey, they may have gotten an A. But it's hard to tell how much better they will be following the deal and Leonard does bring with him some concerns based on his quadriceps injury and the fact he has only one year left on his contract. The Raptors do, however, also get points for re-signing point guard Fred VanVleet.

Boston Celtics, C

2017-18 finish: 55-27, conference finals
In: C Robert Williams, G Brad Wanamaker
Out: C Greg Monroe

One year ago, the Celtics flipped nearly their entire roster and brought in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. This year, they mostly stood pat and didn't add much of anything in free agency or trades. Their biggest acquisition was Williams, who they took 27th overall in the first round of the draft. The Celtics will hope they improve from within. They re-signed Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes, and should get Irving and Hayward back from injuries. They should have plenty of talent to compete for an NBA Finals berth, but as far as this offseason goes, they didn't do much.

Philadelphia 76ers, D+

2017-18 finish: 52-30, 2nd round of playoffs
In: F Wilson Chandler, C Mike Muscala, G Zhaire Smith, G Landry Shamet
Out: G Marco Belinelli, F Ersan Ilyasova

Where do we begin? This summer was about as dramatic and bad as it could get for the Sixers. First, they had to fire their general manager because of a burner Twitter account scandal. Then, they struck out miserably in free agency with LeBron James and Paul George, and in trade talks for Leonard. After that, Smith - their first round pick - hurt his foot. And along the way, Ben Simmons has been dating a Kardashian, flirting with the curse that has claimed many pro athletes before him. Philly did re-sign J.J. Redick and Johnson, and the Chandler trade was nice, but all in all it was an offseason that fell way short of the Sixers' expectations. That said, they can still get way better next season based solely on their young players taking another step.

New York Knicks, B

2017-18 finish: 29-53, missed playoffs
In: F Mario Hezonja, F Kevin Knox, F Noah Vonleh, C Mitchell Robinson
Out: F Michael Beasley, G Jarrett Jack, F Kyle O'Quinn

It's been a while since the Knicks had an offseason to write home about and this one is no exception. There was nothing they did that would flirt with an A-grade. However, the early returns on their draft are excellent. Knox and Robinson were both standouts in the Summer League and offer fans a little bit more hope about the team's future. As long as Kristaps Porzingis can return this season safe and sound from his ACL tear, the Knicks could take a step forward in 2018-19.

Brooklyn Nets, C+

2017-18 finish: 28-54, missed playoffs
In: F Ed Davis, F Kenneth Faried, F Jared Dudley
Out: F Dante Cunningham, G Nik Stauskas, C Jahlil Okafor

The best news about the Nets' offseason is that their trade with the Celtics, the one that stripped them of years of first round picks, is finally over. Next year, the Nets will have a first round pick. This summer, they once again didn't add any major pieces in the draft, but seemed to make some smart moves in free agency. The Davis deal is solid and Faried may benefit from a change of scenery. More baby steps for Brooklyn.

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Dmitry Orlov dazzles his hometown of Novokuznetsk with the Stanley Cup

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USA Today Sports

Dmitry Orlov dazzles his hometown of Novokuznetsk with the Stanley Cup

Friday featured Dmitry Orlov and his jam-packed schedule with the coveted Stanley Cup.

The 27-year-old native of Russia decided to take the Cup to Novokuznetsk (located in the southwest region of Siberia) for a meet and greet with fans by the Ferris wheel at Gagarin City Park.

It should be mentioned that Orlov's day with the trophy was nearly derailed after a travel glitch that sent the Cup to Novosibirsk instead of his hometown. 

Thanks to the ultimate assist from a helicopter, the Cup arrived in style and set up one memorable entrance for the defenseman. 

Orlov released this hype video which highlights his entire day on Instagram: 

Дорогие друзья! Огромное спасибо, что разделили с нами наш праздник! Для нас это значимое и большое событие! Ещё раз приносим искренние извинения за задержку с кубком! И спасибо за понимание, мы старались сделать все максимально быстро! Спасибо за тёплый приём! Нашим родным, друзьям, тренерам, отдельная благодарность! Вы сделали наш праздник, наш день! Мы никогда не забудем этот праздник! P.S. Лена @govor_elena , тебе и твоим родным, отдельная благодарность, если бы не ваша помощь, то не известно когда бы кубок был в Новокузнецке!

A post shared by Dmitry Orlov (@orlov_09) on

Talk about a banner weekend for the Washington Capitals. The Ovechkins welcomed their new son, Sergei Aleksandrovich, into the world and Orlov pulled off yet another spectacular day with the Cup.

 

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