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Big 12 basketball lacking depth this season

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Big 12 basketball lacking depth this season

The top of the Big 12 looks familiar, with Kansas in first place and ranked in the top 10.

The rest of the league doesn't appear to be nearly as deep as usual this season, its first with West Virginia and TCU instead of Missouri and Texas A&M.

No. 24 Oklahoma State (8-1) is the only other league team to join the ninth-ranked Jayhawks (8-1) in the Top 25 and nobody else received a single vote for Monday's poll.

This wasn't entirely unexpected, of course. Missouri won the conference tournament before bolting for the SEC and its currently ranked 12th. But beyond the Cowboys, nobody has emerged as a serious threat to the Jayhawks with non-conference play winding down.

Big 12 teams are just 2-10 against opponents ranked in the Top 25 and the league is seventh in overall RPI - behind the Atlantic-10 and the Mountain West. The inconsistent play of Baylor and Texas has a lot to do with that.

The Bears (7-3) were picked to finish second in the preseason poll, while the Longhorns (6-4) were slotted fourth. But Baylor has been up and down, while the Longhorns could find themselves at 6-6 at the end of the week.

Baylor's biggest win was about as big a resume builder as a team could ask for. The Bears knocked off Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Dec. 1, 62-55, snapping the Wildcats 55-game home winning streak. But Kentucky later fell out of the Top 25and Baylor lost at home to Northwestern.

The Bears have already lost to Charleston in Waco. But they've got a chance to pick up a pair of quality wins before meeting Texas in the league opener on Jan. 5. Baylor hosts BYU and plays at Gonzaga on Dec. 28.

Baylor coach Scott Drew said he saw positive signs after his team led by just two at halftime before rallying to beat USC-Upstate, 73-57.

``Early in the year I think that you are always adjusting, changing and tweaking,'' Drew said. ``I'm so pleased with this effort though because we were able to defend and still take care of the ball and win. I thought that we made some extra effort passes. We made a more conscious effort to get the ball inside. We're learning how to get more touches inside.''

Texas is scuffling in part because of a challenging schedule and the absence of point guard Myck Kabongo (NCAA eligibility investigation) and forward Jaylen Boyd (left foot injury).

If the Longhorns want to turn their season around, this would a good week to get started.

Texas, which doesn't have an upperclassman in its starting lineup, hosts No. 23 North Carolina on Wednesday and plays at No. 20 Michigan State on Saturday. A pair of wins would be a massive boost for a team that has lost to Division II Chaminade and by 23 points to No. 15 Georgetown.

``You've just got to go into it with a mindset of getting better every day. Build on the positive. And that's what we've been trying to do as a young group,'' Texas freshman guard Javan Felix said.

Of course, not everyone in the Big 12 is off to a slow start.

Kansas brought a seven-game winning streak into this week. Oklahoma State has already beaten Tennessee and North Carolina State behind freshman point guard Marcus Smart, who is averaging 13 points, seven rebounds and 5.2 assists a game and is on the short list of the game's top freshmen.

New coach Bruce Weber got Kansas State off to a respectable 7-2 start, and Oklahoma beat old foe Texas A&M 64-54 on Saturday to move to 7-2.

Iowa State (8-3), which was picked to finish eighth in the league, has lost to three quality opponents; Cincinnati, UNLV and Iowa.

Coach Bob Huggins led West Virginia to five straight NCAA tournaments out of the brutal Big East. Right now, the Mountaineers find themselves last in the Big 12.

West Virginia (4-5), fresh off a 15-point loss to No. 2 Michigan, is one of the nation's worst shooting teams at just 38.9 percent. The Mountaineers have lost to Gonzaga and fellow Big 12 team Oklahoma, but they've also fallen to Davidson and Duquesne.

``We'll win. We've won before and we'll win again,'' Huggins said. ``We've got to continue to guard better and we've got to continue to rebound the ball better.''

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMererdithAP

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Remembering the other series-clinching goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov

Remembering the other series-clinching goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov

When you think about Evgeny Kuznetsov in the playoffs, most probably think of his overtime-winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018 that ended the series and handed Washington a long-awaited victory over its archrival. But that wasn’t the first series-clinching goal Kuznetsov scored.

Before the Stanley Cup was brought to Washington, before the bird celebration, there was another epic moment of Kuznetsov’s career that now feels overshadowed by the 2018 run.

In 2015, the Caps returned to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus. They entered the postseason as the second-place team in the Metropolitan Division, drawing the third-place New York Islanders in the first round.

A back-and-forth series, it ultimately went the distance with Game 7 being played in Washington. As even as the series had been, the Caps dominated that Game 7, suffocating the Islanders and giving up only 11 shots on goal. Joel Ward put Washington ahead 1-0, but Frans Nielsen tied it early in the third period. Despite the dominant defensive performance, Jaroslav Halak (remember him?) would not allow the Caps to the chance to put the game away.

Just when it began to feel as if Halak was going to steal away another Game 7 from the Caps, a young Russian center in just his first full NHL season took over.

With less than eight minutes remaining in the third period, Kuznetsov took a pass along the half wall, showed Frans Nielsen his back and when Nielsen bit, he spun and cut to the center of the ice. Nielsen was caught a step behind and whacked Kuznetsov in desperation, actually diving to the ice to try to keep him from breaking loose. In one slick move Kuznetsov had cut through the Islanders’ defense and was in alone on net. Halak went down to the butterfly as Kuznetsov cut to center, but Kuznetsov showed incredible patience and did not immediately shoot. Suddenly, Halak was committed and helpless. He dove to his right desperately holding up the glove as Kuznetsov kept gliding across the ice, but Halak had left too much of the net open by going down too soon and Kuznetsov hit the corner.

With 7:18 remaining in the game and the series, Kuznetsov had given the Caps the 2-1 lead.

The series was a breakout performance for Kuznetsov who returned the following season and earned a top-six role, something not all that easy for young players to do under head coach Barry Trotz. It also gave a franchise still bearing the scars of Halak’s 2010 upset a measure of revenge.

And the rest is history.

What heroics does Kuznetsov have in store for the Islanders on Saturday when the two teams meet at 1 p.m.? Tune in to NBC Sports Washington at 12 p.m. for coverage.

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Wizards committed more turnovers against the Raptors than they have in any game in 25 years

Wizards committed more turnovers against the Raptors than they have in any game in 25 years

Whether it's good or bad, nothing the Wizards do is subtle. 

They'll score a million points and give up two million points. They'll beat the Heat, Nuggets and Celtics without Bradley Beal but also blow an 18-point fourth quarter lead to the Bulls. 

The Wizards had some turnover issues Friday night, but again, they're never subtle. 

Washington committed 28 turnovers on the way to a 29-point loss. Following the first seven minutes of play, the Wizards had seven turnovers and seven points. 

The last time the Wizards turned the ball over that much was April 2, 1994, in a 104-96 win over the Bucks. The last time an NBA team turned it over 28 times? The 2010 Suns. 

Nine Wizards players had multiple turnovers, while five players had at least three. 

Following Bradley Beal's comments criticizing the team's culture and need to develop winning habits, the Wizards' response left more than enough to be desired. Credit the Raptors defense utilizing their length and ball pressure to take advantage of when the Wizards were loose with the ball, but it takes more than good defense to turn it over 28 times. 

The bright side is this was an uncharacteristic performance for the Wizards. They currently average the 10th-fewest turnovers per game in the NBA, so there's a good chance they clean things up on Monday against the Pistons. 

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