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Don't throw records out in Iron Bowl mismatches

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Don't throw records out in Iron Bowl mismatches

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) The Alabama-Auburn rivalry has a storied history, Hatfield-vs.-McCoy level hatred and games and performances that inhabit the state's psyche for decades.

What the Iron Bowl hasn't been filled with is really big upsets.

The Tigers visit Bryant-Denny Stadium and the second-ranked Crimson Tide on Saturday as 31.5-point underdogs hoping to change that tradition.

``I would say if Auburn was able to win it, it would be the most surprising win Auburn's had'' in the Iron Bowl, said David Housel, a former Auburn athletic director and author of several books on Tigers football.

He has to go all the way back to 1949 to find a possible exception. That's when the Tigers pulled out a 14-13 win a year after getting pasted 55-0 when the two in-state powers renewed the rivalry following a 41-year break over a disagreement involving an extra 50 cents in per diem money and the selection of officials.

The divide between the two programs nowadays makes those differences look downright silly, if they didn't already. Alabama fan Harvey Updyke is accused of burning Auburn's iconic oak trees at Toomer's Corner after the 2010 Tigers victory. Plus the stakes have been monumental lately.

The winner three years running has won the national title and Alabama (10-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) hopes to make it four.

Nick Saban's Crimson Tide has steadily maintained its position as one of college football's powers. The Tigers (3-8, 0-7) have fallen far and fast since Cam Newton and the national title-winning team of two years ago engineered a 24-point comeback that was the largest in Iron Bowl history.

Now, Auburn is gunning for a huge upset that would make this season not quite so bad, after all.

Not all Tigers fans are giving up on the game, but they're hardly confident either. David Wilbanks has been to every Iron Bowl since 1971, but that streak comes to an end Saturday.

He gave his tickets to his son and nephew, both Auburn students, partly because Auburn is having ``probably the worst season that I can remember since the late 70s.''

``I probably would have gone to the game just to keep my streak alive had my son not needed tickets,'' said Wilbanks, an Auburn graduate who lives in Sylacauga.

``Our family, we are orange and blue and it runs real deep with us. You just don't give up on that game, but things don't look too good and he needed a ticket and what's Dad to do? I figure it's time to pass the torch.''

If oddsmakers and perception prove accurate, there might be no better time.

Wilbanks' streak began the year before the ``Punt Bama Punt'' game in 1972. Alabama, a 16-point favorite, lost a 13-point lead in the final 5:30 when Bill Newton blocked two punts and David Langer ran both in for touchdowns.

``I was on the fourth row in Section 47 and every score on both sides, Auburn and Alabama, took place right in front of us,'' he said. ``We were about on the 10-yard line on that end of the field. That was probably the greatest sporting event of my lifetime.''

For Auburn fans, this could join that as one of the most memorable Iron Bowls if the team can pull off a much bigger upset. The Tide might be OK so long as punter Cody Mandell gets decent blocking.

Saban used the ``throw the records out'' cliche minutes after last weekend's win over Western Carolina, the first of many such claims. It can be thrown out in this rivalry.

The ranked team has won the last six meetings when the opponent was unranked, dating back to Auburn's 17-7 upset of No. 9 Alabama in 2002.

The Tide was a three-touchdown favorite going into last season's meeting and won 42-14.

``I noticed Gov. (Robert) Bentley said the other day you can always throw out the record book and a lot of people say you can throw out the record book when Alabama and Auburn play,'' Housel said. ``That's not true. There have been some upsets, but not many upsets. The best team going into this game wins it far more often than not, so you can't throw out the record book.''

Regardless of what's happened before, the winner gets serious bragging rights at church, school or the office.

``You don't have any pro sports in this state, so this is pro football, baseball, basketball all tied into one,'' Tigers coach Gene Chizik said. ``This is what this state is all about, and when you're born in this state you're usually born one or the other, and if you're not, you've got to make a decision real early on which one you are and then you can't flip. That's just the way it is.''

Tide linebacker Nico Johnson is an Alabama native. He had to lose as a sophomore to really get it, though.

``If you don't beat them, those 365 days are going to be bad for you,'' Johnson said.

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

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