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Coach Tom Izzo fired up about 14th-ranked Spartans

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Coach Tom Izzo fired up about 14th-ranked Spartans

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is pretty fired up about his team's chances this season.

It's easy to see why.

Despite losing All-American forward Draymond Green, the 14th-ranked Spartans are deep and talented.

``We have a chance to put together a pretty good team,'' Izzo said, sounding perhaps as optimistic as he has before a season in years.

Izzo has four of his top six scorers back from last season's team that won Big Ten titles in the regular season and conference tournament and put the program in the NCAA tournament's round of 16 for the 10th time in 15 years.

And what really pleases Izzo, is how hard his players are working and what he heard from former Spartans guard Tim Bograkos, who was a player in the program from 2000-05, after one of their early workouts.

``He was here when those practices were like wars and he's been here when they've been like belly bumping, prom dancing practices,'' Izzo said. ``He said to me, `Hey, coach, looks like old-time practices are back, huh?' I said, `Hey, Tim, that's the best compliment you can give me.'''

Third-year guard Russell Byrd said the team can put together drills and scrimmages that will prep the team well for what is expected to be a demanding season.

``It's crazy how competitive it is in practice,'' Byrd said. ``Coach keeps saying it reminds him of the championship season.''

Izzo - in his 18th year as head coach and 30th with the program - led the Spartans to the 2000 national championship and is coming off his 15th straight NCAA tournament.

Michigan State won its seventh Big Ten title under Izzo and third conference tournament championship last season.

Green had a lot do that.

The do-it-all forward, who graduated and was drafted by Golden State, leaves a void on the court as a scorer, rebounder, passer and defender. He also will be missed as a leader Izzo compares to former Spartans guards Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves.

``We have to keep in perspective that Draymond Green was a once-in-a-decade leader, maybe once every 13 years,'' Izzo said. ``Cleaves and Magic, they're just guys that do things for you in so many ways. You try to find someone that's going to live up to half that standard, not all of it.

``That's going to be our job. I think leadership was the strength of our program last year and I think it's still a little bit of a question mark right now.''

Players voted Byrd, whose career has been stunted by three surgeries on his left foot, and Derrick Nix, who pleading guilty to impaired driving charge that stemmed from an April traffic stop, to be the team's captains.

Izzo has decided not to suspend Nix for any games after making his life ``miserable'' during the offseason.

``This kid has made incredible progress,'' Izzo said. ``He's made his mistakes, which can help him be a great captain.''

Talent can help highly touted freshmen Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine earn a starting job, or at least a role as a key reserve, on a team that will lean on returning players such as Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, Adreian Payne and Nix.

``The freshmen give us so many options,'' Dawson said. ``The fit in quite well.''

Dawson has recovered remarkably well from having major surgery on his left knee after getting hurt in Michigan State's last game of the regular season. The 6-foot-6 guard can run, cut and leap as if was never injured.

``I'm able to go all out, doing everything the rest of the guys are doing,'' Dawson said.

Michigan State has scheduled its first of two exhibition games for Tuesday night at home against Northwood (Fla.) - an NAIA team led by former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino.

The Spartans will start the regular season with two road games in consecutive seasons for the first time in nearly 100 years. They'll open against Connecticut on Nov. 9 in Germany and will play No. 7 Kansas four days later in Atlanta a year after playing North Carolina on an aircraft carrier and facing Duke in New York.

``It'll be the same deal as last year,'' Dawson said. ``We'll be ready for it.''

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Follow Larry Lage on Twitter:http://twitter.com/larrylage

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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