Can bottom dwellers break open Big East race?


Can bottom dwellers break open Big East race?

CINCINNATI (AP) The folks looking up from the bottom of the Big East will have a lot to say about who stays at the top.

With six weeks left in the season, the conference-in-transition has taken a dramatic turn from last year, when just about everyone was still in contention heading down the stretch. There was such parity and so many weekly upsets that it came down to the final week, with three teams sharing the title.

So far, equality is out this year. Three teams - Rutgers, Louisville, Cincinnati - have commandeered the top with a combined 19-1 record. None of the other five teams has a winning record.

Can the foundering five still make a mark on the race? The teams at the top aren't putting it past them.

``I think there's a couple of teams that have separated themselves but if you really look at it, you talk about the balance of the Big East last year, I think it's more balanced this year,'' Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said. ``I think that's what separates our conference. You can have no off-days in our conference. Parity is extremely high right now.''

The top three - No. 16 Louisville (7-0, 2-0), No. 18 Rutgers (7-0, 4-0) and Cincinnati (5-1, 1-0) start their head-to-head winnowing out on Friday, when the Bearcats play at Louisville. The Cardinals finish the season at Rutgers on Nov. 29.

In-between, the bottom five will get a chance to weigh in and knock one of them out of it, or move themselves back into it.

Possible? The last-place team almost pulled it off. South Florida (2-5, 0-3) was on the verge of the first race-altering upset after B.J. Daniels threw three touchdown passes on Saturday for a 25-21 lead over Louisville with 3:09 left. Teddy Bridgewater's 11-yard touchdown pass with 1:35 to go gave the Cardinals a 27-25 victory.

South Florida has lost 11 of its last 12 Big East games, has dropped five straight overall and is the only team in the country without an interception. But the Bulls came up one defensive stand short of knocking off the preseason favorite Cardinals.

For Louisville, it was a reminder that even though there haven't been as many upsets, they're still possible.

``Even from the so-called bottom of the league, I feel those teams can show up and beat somebody,'' Louisville linebacker Preston Brown said. ``Because we know each other so well, there's always a team that can come out and beat the top of the Big East.''

The Bulls have one more shot at the big three, playing at Cincinnati on Nov. 23.

``They're a team that really has had some tough breaks during the year,'' Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said, referring to the Bulls. ``Last week they played Louisville well. They just didn't get some breaks at the end of the game.''

What about the rest?

Syracuse (3-4, 2-1) has played a tough nonconference schedule that included losses to Northwestern, Southern California and Minnesota. The Orange have games left at Cincinnati on Nov. 3 and at home against Louisville the following week.

They see little difference between themselves and the teams at the top.

``I don't think they've separated themselves,'' Orange senior receiver Marcus Sales said. ``Anyone can win the Big East. We're expecting somebody to knock one of those teams off. I think it's still wide-open for us.''

The league's history also provides encouragement. It's had a three-way tie for the title each of the last two years.

``The Big East is always open,'' Syracuse senior safety Shamarko Thomas said. ``You see what happened last year - a three-way tie. The Big East is always open, and we're going to go out there and take our opportunity.''

There's opportunity for others, too.

Newcomer Temple (3-3, 2-1) plays at Louisville and at home against Cincinnati in consecutive weeks. The Owls are coming off a 35-10 loss to Rutgers.

Pittsburgh (3-4, 0-3) opened its final season in the Big East by losing in Cincinnati - a week after it lost to Youngstown State - and also has lost to Louisville.

Nobody will get the final say quite like Connecticut (3-5, 0-3), which won the title in 2010. The Huskies close the season at Louisville on Nov. 24 and at home against Cincinnati on Dec. 1. UConn has dropped its last three games, a bad trend.

``We've got to cut down on giving up big plays,'' coach Paul Pasqualoni said. ``Big plays have hurt us. We've got to stop giving up big plays and find a way to run to take the pressure off the quarterback. We can't be dropping back 35 to 40 times a game.''

The three teams at the top aren't looking down on any of them.

``I think Syracuse is a byproduct of their schedule - they've had some difficult games,'' Cincinnati's Jones said. ``South Florida is as talented a team as we have in the conference. Look at what Temple's done. UConn has had some unfortunate injuries. You go across the board.

``We have six weeks left and it's going to be a tremendous challenge.''


AP Sports Writer John Kekis in Syracuse and Gary Graves in Louisville contributed to this report.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

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The Stanley Cup is not the only trophy that will be awarded at the end of the Stanley Cup Final series between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights. The Conn Smythe will also be given to the player deemed the most valuable to his team during the playoffs.

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It's not hard to figure out who the frontrunner is right now. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't just been the best goalie in the playoffs, he's been the best player with a dominant postseason in which he has posted a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. He has been so dominant, he could win it even if Vegas loses the series.

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

The last player from the losing team to win the Conn Smythe was Jean-Sebastian Giguere from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003.

But what about the Caps?

Alex Ovechkin is the leader of Washington and has been absolutely dominant throughout the postseason. He even scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Surprisingly, however, Ovechkin does not lead the team in points through the playoffs. Evgeny Kuznetsov holds that edge with 24 points to Ovechkin's 22.

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See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.


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The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...