Braggin' Rights game comes with extra buzz, hype

Braggin' Rights game comes with extra buzz, hype

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) There is a little something extra in this year's Braggin' Rights game between Missouri and Illinois.

For the first time in a decade, both teams are ranked in the top 15 and it's a big early season test for a couple of teams still trying to figure out who they are.

No. 10 Illinois has surprised pretty much everyone under first-year coach John Groce, bringing a 12-0 record into Saturday's game in St. Louis. They certainly surprised a couple of teams in Gonzaga and Butler to help build their resume.

Missouri is playing with a largely rebuilt roster and getting ready for its first run through the SEC. Only two of coach Frank Haith's players have played in a Braggin' Rights game, but the 12th-ranked Tigers (9-1) are off to a strong start.

With Missouri having won three in a row against its rival, Illinois seniors Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey are getting their last shot at beating the Tigers unless there's a postseason meeting.

Groce has said that virtually since the moment he left Ohio for the Illinois job back in March he's heard about how big a deal the game is - the loud sellout crowd, divided right down the middle between fans in orange and blue and those in gold and black, national TV, the hype and buzz of a game played over the holidays just before the teams head off to their conference schedules.

That's great, he said, and the opening few minutes of the game will be all energy and crowd noise and hustle.

``But after four or five minutes, Frank will coach his team and I'll coach mine and we'll both try to execute,'' said Groce, who is worried about Missouri's size and rebounding.

Missouri is No. 1 in the country in rebounding at 46.1 a game, and averages 13.3 more a game than the teams they've played.

Alex Oriakhi, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward, leads the team with 8.6 boards a game. But the Tigers' starting lineup also includes 6-8, 227-pound Laurence Bowers (6.4 rebounds a game) and 6-11, 230-pound Stefan Jankovic (2.1).

Outside of 6-11 center Nnanna Egwu and 6-9 forward Griffey - known more for his shooting than inside play - the Illini don't have players who, on paper, match up. Most of Illinois' 36.6 rebounds a game come from their guards. Paul (5.1 rebounds a game), Richardson (4.6) and point guard Tracy Abrams (3.5) lead the team.

``The biggest thing is the rebounding,'' Groce said, ``and obviously those (Missouri) guys can post the ball. We've got to block out well and we've got to be willing to hit people when the shot goes up, and we've got to snatch our fair share.''

Missouri also is deep.

While Illinois has eight players averaging 10 or more minutes a game, Missouri has nine, and has played almost its entire roster some games. In Monday's 102-51 demolition of South Carolina State, 10 Tigers played at least 14 minutes each and 13 saw some action.

Haith, in his second season at Missouri, said being able to dip that deeply into his bench is a luxury.

``It is a little different for me playing that many guys,'' he said. ``We do have guys that can play and can contribute. It allows us to play fast on offense and do some things defensively when you have that kind of depth. You can wear opponents down, so that is something we have to look at.''

Haith has built this team in part on transfers like Oriakhi (from Connecticut) and guard Keion Bell (Pepperdine).

Bell said he played rivalry games at Pepperdine, ``but it was nothing to this extent. This is a different level of basketball. I've heard the guys from previous years talk about the intensity of the game and how big of a game it is, so I'm just looking forward to playing in it this year.''

He's right, said Paul, preparing to play in his fourth game against Missouri.

``You try to prepare for every game the same, you know,'' Paul said. ``But no matter what anyone says, it's a lot different. It's an incredible atmosphere and it's a blessing to play in this every year.''


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Hard Knocks L.A. Episode 1 Recap: Anthony Lynn tested positive, Justin Herbert shines

Hard Knocks L.A. Episode 1 Recap: Anthony Lynn tested positive, Justin Herbert shines

Football is back on TV as the new season of HBO's Hard Knocks premiered Tuesday evening. It’s the first time in the documentary's 15 seasons that the show will follow two teams, the Los Angles Chargers and Los Angles Rams. In case you missed it, here are some highlights from episode one. 

Anthony Lynn tested positive

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn revealed in the opening scene that he had tested positive for coronavirus earlier this year. Lynn is the third known NFL head coach to have contracted the virus, joining New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Peyton and Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.

Justin Herbert shines

The Chargers first-round draft pick was the star player of episode one showing off his arm skills. He nailed almost every one of his targets during accuracy drills. The episode didn’t show too much of any player, but the former University of Oregon signal-caller stole the show in small amount of camera time he had

Rams head coach Sean McVay

Sean McVay’s introduction to the show had fans jealous of the panoramic views from his home in Los Angeles. McVay’s jokes were also a highlight of the episode. 

COVID-19 precautions and safety

Training camp is off-limits to fans in order to decrease potential exposure of the virus for players and staff. With that in mind, Hard Knocks is fans and media members first look at what an NFL training camp in 2020 looks like. From the frequent testing to the outdoor facilities that both the Rams and Chargers have invested in, it's a different type of training camp. It’s also a different type of Hard Knocks, but because of our desire for anything football-related, it has the potential to be one of the best seasons yet.
It will be tough to top the excitement of episode one but with two teams in action, there's no shortage of storylines. Episode two airs on HBO next Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET. 

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Wizards' NBA Bubble Awards: Thomas Bryant was the clear MVP

Wizards' NBA Bubble Awards: Thomas Bryant was the clear MVP

The Wizards closed out their 2019-20 regular season on Thursday with a much-needed win, as they finished the year 25-47 and their time in the NBA's restart bubble 1-7. 

Those final eight games, though, were about much more than wins and losses. The team was evaluating their young players as they look ahead to next season when the expectations will be raised significantly.

Just looking at those eight games, here are some awards and superlatives for what we saw...

Most valuable: Thomas Bryant

This is a very easy call, it was a unanimous vote. Though Bryant wasn't the only young player who looked good in Orlando, he was by far their best player overall.

Bryant leaves the bubble with eight-game averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.4 steals per game. Those are big-time numbers, even if they were compiled on a team that went 1-7. Bryant took on a larger role in the offense and increased his volume while remaining efficient. He shot 53.2 percent overall and 40.5 percent from three.

Bryant took a big step forward. He was healthy after dealing with a foot problem earlier this season, and delivered. The Wizards have a legitimate starting center they can pencil in for next season, hopefully with the green light to take more threes.


Most improved: Jerome Robinson

This was one of the more unexpected, yet pleasantly surprising developments for the Wizards in the bubble. Robinson, who had spent his entire career to this point backing up really good players, finally got a chance to spread his wings. And, boy, did he.

Robinson found a newfound level of consistency, averaging 14.8 points while shooting a solid 36.7 percent from three. He reached double figures in scoring in seven of the eight games after only doing that four times in his previous 88 NBA appearances. 

Given the small sample size, and the stakes, it probably isn't enough to truly guarantee him a role going into next season. But he has absolutely earned a chance to compete for the back-up role behind Bradley Beal.


Most intriguing: Troy Brown Jr.

Brown had a tremendous start in the bubble, but slowed down late as he was thrown into the fire as the starting point guard. Though he struggled in that role, it was an invaluable experience that he can take a lot of lessons from.

Overall, though, Brown made clear improvements in his game. He thrived with a greater share of the play-making duties and was able to showcase his skills as a passer and ball-handler.

It was enough to warrant some focus by the Wizards' coaching staff next season. Though they will have John Wall and Beal coming back, they have to find a way to incorporate Brown's strengths. That may come in a bench role as the primary ball-handler in the second unit.

Needs most improvement: Admiral Schofield

Not all of the Wizards' young players displayed growth in the bubble games and included in that group is Schofield, the team's 2019 second round pick. Unfortunately for him, it was all juxtaposed with the breakout performance of Bol Bol, whom the Wizards passed on to select Schofield out of the University of Tennessee.

Schofield averaged only 2.7 points in 12.6 minutes while shooting 29.4 percent from the field. He looked uncertain on the floor and continues to sort of float between roles with no defined path towards stability in the rotation.

Keep in mind, though, Schofield is just starting out his NBA career. He was a second round pick and those guys take time. He has the physical tools, the work ethic and the smarts to make it in this league. But there is no question this will be an important offseason for the guy.

Best moment: Moe Wagner vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo

The most memorable image from the Wizards' time in Orlando was definitely the ejection of the league's reigning MVP in their penultimate game. Antetokounmpo has since been suspended by the league for it.

He lost his cool and headbutted Wagner, who now has another notch on his belt in his neverending quest to get under the skin of his opponents. He is a pest and an effective one at that.

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