Craft, Thomas back to lead young Buckeyes

Craft, Thomas back to lead young Buckeyes

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) At least for a while, everyone will be talking about who's not playing for Ohio State in 2012-13.

Two-time All-American Jared Sullinger led the Buckeyes to a 65-11 record over the last two seasons and a trip to last year's Final Four before being drafted in the first round by the Boston Celtics. In his four seasons, William Buford tied the legendary Jerry Lucas as the third-highest scorer in school history with 1,990 points.

Now they're gone, but the Buckeyes have a lot of talented players coming back - and they're not worried replacing the departed two stars.

``Nobody's going to carry that load by themselves but we do have the pieces that can come out here and get the job done,'' guard Lenzelle Smith said.

The Buckeyes, who open practice on Friday, have three starters back - and several intriguing possibilities waiting in the wings.

Smith held down the fort as a defensive stopper at guard while Aaron Craft, considered by many the best returning point guard in the college game, is back to do his usual thing of shutting down opposing shooters, stealing the ball and getting it to teammates for buckets.

Plus, 6-foot-7 forward Deshaun Thomas disdained making an early exit to the NBA (like his classmate, Sullinger) and stuck around for at least another year with the Buckeyes.

Thomas, who averaged 16 points and 5.5 rebounds a game last season, says he came back to go a little bit farther than last year's team, which fell in the national semifinals to Kansas, 64-62.

``I knew one more year would be good for me,'' he said. ``I came back just for one reason - to also go to the national championship and to win the Big Ten.''

Coach Thad Matta has led the Buckeyes to three consecutive regular-season conference titles, three Big Ten tournament titles and two Final Fours in his glittering eight years (221-65) at Ohio State.

He's not looking for replacements for the departed Sullinger and Buford, but rather players who do their own thing.

``This team is going to need everybody doing their job,'' he said. ``We don't need a superstar.''

Unlike some years in the past where he's had a lot of talent but little depth or experience, Matta has a wealth of possibilities in the season that opens Nov. 9 against Marquette at the Carrier Classic onboard the U.S.S. Yorktown.

The top options underneath are 6-11 Amir Williams, who played exceedingly well in spot duty a year ago in the NCAAs as a freshman, along with 6-8 Evan Ravenel and 6-8 Trey McDonald. Williams is an aggressive and agile shot blocker who still needs to hone his offense. Ravenel is a solid back-up who does a little bit of everything well. McDonald will be seeing his first action after a year spent on the bench.

As the only senior on the roster, Ravenel has a good feel for his team.

``There's a lot of questions that need to be answered,'' he said. ``Like, some say Craft hasn't really shot the ball. It's not that he didn't shoot it well, it was that he didn't shoot it enough. It wasn't in the game plan. This year we obviously need Craft to do some things. We will need Lenzelle, Amir, myself, Trey and everyone on the team to do more and those questions will be answered as the season goes on.''

Smith developed into a dependable perimeter shot while Craft, who had offseason ankle surgery, scored most of his points on the break. Both need to become bigger offensive threats. Shannon Scott, a freshman back-up on the point a year ago, has worked hard on his shot and also will play a key role.

At forward, Thomas will spend time outside and inside. He's never met a shot he wouldn't take. Now he'll have to find a way to include his teammates in the flow and find the open man.

``If we all come together, everybody can shine,'' he said.

The possibilities are endless at the other forward spot. LaQuinton Ross was an acclaimed scorer in high school out of his New Jersey prep school. He never got close to playing a moment in a key situation last season because of a disinterest in defense. Now Matta praises the steps he's taken, while being wowed by his offensive gifts.

Ross relishes that other teams don't know anything about him.

``They won't be able to put me on the scouting report until late in the season,'' he said. ``They can't go back and watch tape from last year. They have no idea.''

Sam Thompson is also vying for playing time. A year ago Matta called the 6-7 slasher the most athletic player he's ever coached - which is saying something since he's had two national players of the year who were superlative athletes (David West at Xavier, Evan Turner at Ohio State).

Thompson can't wait to get out on the wing and run.

``Last year's team, I don't want to say we were slow on the offensive end, but we were methodical,'' he said. ``We'd get the ball to Sully, or Will would do his thing. Other teams pretty much knew that. This year we've got a lot of fast, athletic guys who can beat their men off the dribble, can create for themselves, can create for other people. It's going to be a fun brand of basketball to watch. We'll be able to get up and down the court.''

Craft downplays high preseason rankings in some publications while remaining optimistic of another season filled with trophies.

``There are no great teams in October. Everyone has to start off at square one,'' he said. ``That's where we're going to do tomorrow. We're excited and we're ready for practice to start.''


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Injuries hit Capitals hard in 3-1 loss to Winnipeg

Injuries hit Capitals hard in 3-1 loss to Winnipeg

The Capitals were already facing one of the toughest back-to-back challenges in the NHL. Then they found out their starting goalie would not play and less than nine minutes into the game lost their No. 1 center. 

That about summed up a 3-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday. The last time an NHL team swept a back-to-back set of games against the Jets and Minnesota Wild was 2012. 

Washington played well enough taking a 1-0 lead on a Jakub Vrana goal in the first period and the game was tied until 12:51 of the third period when a shot by Ben Chiarot skipped past goalie Pheonix Copley. The Jets added an empty-net goal to seal the win. 

The loss is one thing. Winnipeg is a tough place to play and maybe the favorite to come out of the Western Conference. But injuries have begun to mount and that’s the big takeaway. 

Holtby showed up to the rink Wednesday morning and it was assumed he’d play after Copley won the game in St. Paul against the Wild. Instead, Holtby was ruled out with an upper-body injury and the Capitals had to sign an emergency goalie – Gavin McHale, a 31-year-old assistant coach for a local women’s college hockey team in Winnipeg. That is less than ideal. 

Holtby’s injury might not be a big deal. You’ll know if Washington recalls top prospect Ilya Samsonov from AHL Hershey for Friday’s game in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche. 

“That was this morning. [Holtby] came over with our goalie coach and did a skate this morning and was not able to back up tonight or play,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “So he was kind of a game-time decision and he wasn’t able to participate tonight.”

Holtby will be re-evaluated Thursday after he gets continuing treatment for his injury. There has to be concern about Kuznetsov, who took an elbow to the face at 8:52 of the first period from Jets forward Brandon Tanev. Kuznetsov left the game and did not return. 

That left the Caps shorthanded most of the night with Lars Eller playing center alongside Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson on the top line. Ovechkin ended up playing 24:21. Eller played 18:48 and Backstrom 21:41. Not having Kuznetsov would be an issue. He’s not a player they can replace for long. 

“Was more precautionary,” Reirden said. “Obviously a blow to the head. We had to continue to evaluate him tomorrow, but we needed to make sure he didn’t return to the game.”

Washington, of course, could look to last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs when they missed Backstrom for Game 6 during the second round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a hand injury and the first three games against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final.

Oshie was the final blow. He was slammed to the ice by Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey and the back of his head hit the ice. Reirden compared the play to a hit by Florida Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson on Vancouver Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson. He was suspended two games on Oct. 15.  

Oshie certainly didn’t look right. He had to stay on the ice as the Caps pushed for the tying goal with the net empty down 2-1. But it took a while for him to get back to his skates and then he wasn’t able to jump on a loose puck in the slot moments before Winnipeg put the game away at the other end of the ice with an empty-net goal. 

The result is one thing for the Capitals (8-7-3), who are still struggling to generate multiple wins in a row. The status of their three key players is more important after a 1-1-0 start to a four-game road trip. 


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Wizards finally experience a blowout win for their side

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Wizards finally experience a blowout win for their side

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- The Washington Wizards experienced plenty during this largely trying regular season. One aspect missing, being on the all-smiles end of a blowout victory. After Wednesday’s 119-95 rout over the Cleveland Cavaliers, they can now check that box.

“It’s nice to experience that as well,” Tomas Satoransky said.

Washington led from start to finish and by double figures for the final 35 minutes. It set season-highs for points in a quarter (41 in the first), the first half (73) and largest halftime margin (21). The Wizards turned 24 Cavalier turnovers into 29 points. All 13 players scored. 

Quality stretches existed this season, but for minutes, a quarter, maybe a half, but rarely over the full 48. Other than a third-quarter dip when the Cavaliers (2-12) closed within 13 points, the Wizards rolled. The romp meant John Wall only played 21 minutes. None of the starters entered in the fourth quarter. That last part happened in recent games, but this time for positive reasons.

“It was great,” Bradley Beal said of a game “[We were] able to come out and get a lead and be able to sustain it and maintain it throughout the game.”

The Wizards maintained little during the opening 11 games of the regular season other than a downtrodden vibe. Their 5-9 record reflects those struggles. The current three-game winning streak signals growth. The postgame locker room smiles and comments displayed some sense of relief.

“I think we needed that, obviously,” Satoransky said to NBC Sports Washington. The reserve point guard was part of the second quarter surge that saw the Wizards outscore the struggling Cavaliers 20-2 for a 61-34 lead.

“They were on a back-to-back and they haven’t been playing well this year. We felt like with a day off after our last win we could come out aggressively, and just keep it going,” said Satoransky, who had eight points, four assists and three steals in 17 minutes. “Trying to turn the season around.”

The Wizards aren’t naïve enough to think all problems are solved. The three wins came against teams with losing records. Victories over Miami and Orlando included shaky stretches. The big picture hole remains.

“We still have a lot of work to do – we still have to get better,” said Beal, who led Washington with 20 points. “We’re still not content with where we are. We put three [wins] together, but we still have a couple more at home that we have to take care of.”

All of that is true. Numerous gloomy statistics remind the reader of the rough beginnings. Washington entered Wednesday allowing a league-high 118.5 points per game. At least now, the Wizards can contemplate their issues without the weight of the world on their shoulders. For now, the league-wide media will find another target after pillaring the Wizards for weeks. Finally, positive momentum arrived and did so with the Nets, Clippers and Trail Blazers rounding out the homestand.

“I hope we can continue winning,” Satoransky told NBC Sports Washington. “We have three more games at home. I think it’s a good moment for us to turn things around. Brooklyn has been playing well and those two [Western Conference] teams are going to be tough, but I think we’re in a good way now.

“It’s great to experience something like that [blowout]. It helps you mentally. It helped just being able to win three in a row. You can feel it. Whenever you step on the court after that you feel more confident, so that’s good.”