Nationals

Creighton sets goal of making deep postseason run

201210171651607033504-p2.jpeg

Creighton sets goal of making deep postseason run

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) Creighton matched its record for wins last season and won a game in the NCAA tournament.

Coach Greg McDermott believes he has the makings of a team ready to reach a regional semifinal for the first time in program history. He said Wednesday at the team's media day that he's not afraid to make his goal public.

``Our team's expectations are probably very similar to that. We're certainly not going to hide from it,'' he said. ``At the same time we understand there is a target on our back and we have a lot of work to do between now and then if we expect to have an opportunity to have that happen.''

Doug McDermott, a 2012 first-team All-American and a candidate for national player of the year, is among four returning starters.

In all, nine of the top 10 players are back from the team that went 29-6, finished second to Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and won the league tournament. The Bluejays beat Alabama before losing to North Carolina in the NCAA tournament.

Janhenns Manigat said the coach's confidence about the Bluejays' potential has rubbed off on the players.

``He understands he needs to challenge us,'' Manigat said. ``Saying something like that really just helps us and lets us know how good a team we could be. We could even go farther than the Sweet 16.''

Grant Gibbs agreed, saying his coach set the goal too low.

``I know it sounds lofty, but I think everybody's goal this time of year should be to compete for a national championship,'' Gibbs said. ``If you're not shooting for that, what are you playing for? We get to the Sweet 16, then what are we going to do?''

The Bluejays were second in the nation in field-goal shooting, third in three-point shooting and ninth in scoring. Their prolific offense covered a host of defensive deficiencies. Creighton was 222nd in field-goal defense, 242nd in scoring defense and 313th in steals.

Greg McDermott said the team can't count on being ``off the charts'' again offensively.

Doug McDermott, the junior forward and coach's son, is bidding to become the greatest player ever in a program that produced Paul Silas, Kyle Korver and first-round NBA picks Benoit Benjamin and Bob Portman. He will become the school's all-time leading scorer in his third year if he produces at or near the rate he did last season, when his 22.9-point average was third nationally.

``We have a lot of expectations on ourselves,'' Doug McDermott said. ``We know we can go far. You see Butler, VCU, teams like that that make it to the Final Four and even the national championship game. We're not thinking that far ahead, but we know we're capable of doing what those teams have done in the past.''

Greg McDermott said everything is in place for Creighton to elevate itself from a winning mid-major to an elite mid-major. He pointed to Gonzaga and Xavier as models because both have sustained success.

The support for Creighton is equal to if not greater than that of any mid-major. The Bluejays ranked sixth in the nation in attendance last season with an average of 16,665 at the NBA-style CenturyLink Center.

The coach said there remains one key difference between Creighton and programs such as Gonzaga, Xavier, VCU and Butler that have made it to the Sweet 16 or further.

``When you get to that second weekend in the NCAA tournament, things change,'' he said. ``I think you become much more known nationally when that happens because you're down to just a few games that second weekend and (media) have to have something to talk about, so they tell your story. We've fallen short of that. We've had several opportunities. I hope sooner or later we'll kick that door down.''

Creighton opens Nov. 2 with an exhibition against Mary University. The regular season starts Nov. 9 at home against North Texas.

Quick Links

5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

usatsi_10801156.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

capture_reirden.png
USA TODAY Sports

MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

Will Todd Reirden replace Barry Trotz as head coach of the Washington Capitals?

Based on what GM Brian MacLellan said Monday, it certainly sounds like it’s Reirden’s job to lose.

“We’re going to start with Todd here,” MacLellan said. “I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach, whether for us or someone else.”

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and we’ll make a decision based on that,” MacLellan added. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. And if it doesn’t, we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MacLellan said he isn’t sure exactly when the interview with Reirden will take place. The front office needs a few days to regroup. It’s also a busy stretch in hockey’s offseason. In the coming two weeks, MacLellan will direct the NHL draft in Dallas, monitor development camp in Arlington and then call the shots when free agency begins on July 1.  

“We need to take a breather here but I think Todd is a good candidate for it,” MacLellan said. “I’d like to sit down with Todd and have a normal interview, head coaching interview. I think most of our discussions are just casual. It’s about hockey in general. But I’d like to do a formal interview with him and just see if there’s differences or how we’re seeing things the same and if he’s a possibility for the head coach.”

Reirden, 46, spent the past four seasons on Trotz’s bench. He was elevated to associate coach prior to the 2016-17 season after coming up just short in his pursuit of the head coaching position in Calgary.

Reirden’s primary responsibility on Trotz’s staff was overseeing the defense and Washington’s perennially potent power play.

Prior to joining the Capitals in 2014, he was an assistant coach for four seasons with the Penguins. And before that, he spent a couple of seasons as the head coach of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins’ top minor league affiliate.

A native of Deerfield, Ill., Reirden also had a lengthy professional career that included 183 NHL games with the Oilers, Blues, Thrashers and Coyotes.

Asked what he’s looking for in the Caps’ next head coach, MacLellan said he’s looking for a forward-thinker, a strong communicator and a players’ coach.

Reirden is all of those things.

“Someone that's up to date on the modern game,” MacLellan said. “Someone that's progressive, looking to try different things. Someone that has a good relationship with players. They communicate, can teach, make players better. It's becoming a developmental league where guys are coming in not fully developed products and we need a guy that can bring young players along because more and more we're going to use young players as the higher end guys make more money.”

One of the side benefits of elevating Reirden is the fact he already has a strong relationship with many of the current players, meaning there won’t be much upheaval as the Caps look to defend their championship.

“It could be a natural transition,” MacLellan said. “But once we sit down and talk face to face about all the little small details in the team, I'll have a better feel for it.”

MacLellan said a decision on the other assistant coaches—Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe, Scott Murray, Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi—will be made after the next head coach is named.

MORE CAPITALS COVERAGE: