Wizards

Back home, No. 18 Rutgers set for Kent State

Back home, No. 18 Rutgers set for Kent State

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) There was a time when a game against a Mid-American Conference program could be counted as a win for Rutgers.

That's changed this season.

Ohio is ranked No, 23 and MAC teams have posted wins over Big East foes Cincinnati, Connecticut and South Florida already, with Cincinnati dropping its first game of the season to Toledo last weekend.

It's no wonder the No. 18 Scarlet Knights (7-0, 4-0 Big East) are wary heading into Saturday's homecoming game against Kent State (6-1, 4-0 MAC) and its sensational running back-returner Dri Archer.

Archer leads the nation in all-purpose yards (a 212.9 yard average). He ranks 33rd nationally in rushing (98.1) and is first in kickoff return yardage (47-yard average).

``You just have to keep doing the things that got you to this point. You can't take anybody lightly,'' said Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova, who threw four second-half touchdown passes last week against Temple. ``Everybody can give you their best shot. Obviously we just got a great example. Cincinnati just lost to a MAC team. The MAC, you can't take anybody lightly. Definitely a top contender in Kent State that is going to come in here and fight their heart out. We have to be ready for the shots they're going to give us, and we have to respond.''

If there is a concern for the Scarlet Knights, it's looking ahead. After this week, they will face Army in their final non-conference game and then continue pursuit of their first conference title with games against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Louisville.

Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Green tries not to pay too much attention to conference affiliations or records.

``It's not about our opponent. It's about us and how we perform,'' Greene said. ``It would definitely be a letdown for us if we don't take care of business because we know what we're playing for and where we want to be at the end of the season. For us to lay an egg, it would definitely be a letdown and we don't plan on having that problem.''

Favored by 13 points, Rutgers will be looking for its fourth 8-0 start in 143 years of college football. It would be the third since 1976 and the second since joining the Big East in 1991.

To get there, the Scarlet Knights need to slow down Archer, a speedster who is tied for third in the nation with 14 touchdowns.

``He's a real special guy. One of the faster players,'' Rutgers defensive tackle Scott Vallone said. ``You can see him in the open field, outrunning defenders. He flies, and he's all-purpose. He's a kick returner, punt returner, he plays a little tailback, slot receiver. They do whatever they can to get him involved. He's their No. 1 guy, and he's a really special player.''

Archer, however, will be facing an outstanding defense. The Scarlet Knights are ranked third nationally in scoring (11.3).

``They're very stout. They got a great front. They're constantly moving,'' Kent State coach Darrell Hazell said. ``The linebackers are making turnovers all over the field. They play a lot of man coverage and they play a lot of Tampa 2 coverage. We've been able to run the football pretty successfully throughout the first half of the season. But there will be some tough running going on Saturday so we'll have to figure out what to do.''

The Golden Flashes have topped 40 points four times this season.

``We just have to do what we do, and that's get to the ball fast, tackle and hit people hard,'' Greene said. ``(Archer's) a fast player, he's leading the nation in all-purpose yards, they line him up in the slot, everywhere. He's a very fast guy. But it's about us at the end of the day doing what we do and that's playing our style and attacking people. It's definitely a challenge when you go against a guy like Archer, but it's more about us.''

Kent State will look for its first six-game winning streak since 1940. It won't be easy.

Defensively, the Golden Flashes need to slow down Nova and running back Jawan Jamison, who ranks 20th nationally and first in the conference, averaging 111.3 yards.

``He's very efficient with the football and he looks like a great leader,'' Hazell said of Nova. ``He definitely has command of the offense so we're excited to play him.''

The game will not only be homecoming for Rutgers, but also for Hazell, who coached under Greg Schiano here from 2001-04.

``It will be fun for me,'' Hazell said. ``My family grew up about 45 minutes out (Cinnaminson) from Rutgers. So it's going to be fun to get back there. We're obviously playing a very tough opponent.

``It's going to be a formidable test for us this week, but we're excited to get out there.''

Quick Links

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Quick Links

Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

In what is perhaps the most unexpected Stanley Cup Final pairing in recent memory, the Washington Capitals and the Las Vegas Golden Knights are going to make history this year.

Either it is going to be the first expansion team to win a title in their first season, or it will be a team looking to end a 27-year title drought for one of the biggest cities in the United States.

But what it will not be is the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup.

Going even farther back than the Capitals last Stanley Cup appearance (1998), the Georgetown Hoyas and UNLV Rebels met in the 1991 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Sin City took the first, and up until now, the only postseason bout between these two cities. The Larry Johnson-led University of Las Vegas squad powered right past the Hoyas in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

[D.C. sports and Second Rounds, I know right?]

Coming fresh off the NCAA title in 1990, UNLV waltzed right to the Final Four before meeting their demise against Duke. It also ended up being the last game for Dikembe Mutombo in a Georgetown uniform.

While in all likely-hood this will not be the final game/ series for Alex Ovechkin rocking the red, it may be his last and only chance for him to play this far into a postseason.

In the past two seasons, Vegas has gone from zero professional teams to having a Stanley Cup contender, a WNBA franchise, and lined up to take over the Oakland Raiders in 2020. 

Now time for the Golden Knights' Cinderella story to come up a little bit short. 

MORE CAPITALS' NEWS: