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Gophers look to prove themselves in Big Ten

Gophers look to prove themselves in Big Ten

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Golden Gophers have been here before.

They've steamrolled through cushy nonconference schedules to crack the AP Top 25 and raise some optimism for the season. Then the Big Ten comes along and roughs them up.

This year, they say they're different. Well, they're about to find out.

No. 11 Minnesota (12-1) hosts 19th-ranked Michigan State (11-2) in the Big Ten opener Monday, with a chance to set a new tone. The Gophers have had just two winning records in conference play in the last 15 years. In the previous two seasons, they've gone 23-2 in nonconference play and 12-24 against the heavyweights in their conference.

And they know it.

``We've definitely got a lot to prove,'' senior forward Rodney Williams said. ``We finished, what, 6-12 the last two years? We want to come into the Big Ten season and start off the right way. Usually we come out with a loss in the first game, and that hasn't ended too well for us in the Big Ten season. So we want to come out and get this `W' right away and see what happens.''

With Trevor Mbakwe healthy, Andre Hollins emerging as a top-flight point guard and more depth than Tubby Smith has ever had at Minnesota, the Gophers head into the Big Ten opener brimming with confidence. They have the highest ranking since they went to the Final Four in 1996-97 and have a nice mix of athleticism on the perimeter and muscle in the paint to stand up to the rugged schedule that awaits.

Smith has ridden players hard in his first five seasons since coming to Minnesota from Kentucky, a demanding approach that hasn't always sat well with some of the Gophers. But in his sixth season, he appears to finally have the mix of tenacious defenders and mentally tough veterans that he's been looking for.

``This group has really made it a lot of fun coming to practice,'' Smith said. ``They're sort of coaching themselves, and that's what good teams do. It's kind of like in the classroom when the teacher shows up and people are so excited about learning and being around one another. It makes it easier to teach and coach.''

Mbakwe hasn't played in a Big Ten game in nearly two years while he's worked his way back from a torn ACL in his right knee. He came off the bench for the first 12 games but was re-inserted into the starting lineup against Lafayette last week, and he said he's getting close to being all the way back.

``I'm excited about going up against another top-20 team, especially one that's coached by coach (Tom) Izzo, one of the best coaches in America,'' Mbakwe said. ``We're excited. It's a New Year's game. It's a chance for us to really set the tone and send a statement out that we're serious this year. And we're all up for the challenge.''

This season could be the most challenging in the Big Ten in years. Six teams are ranked in the top 20, including three ahead of the Gophers.

``We start the Big Ten season off against Michigan State, probably one of the most physical teams in the country. You're playing against better competition, and we'll definitely have to limit our turnovers and stuff like that,'' Mbakwe said. ``We can't beat ourselves. The level of intensity picks up, and we're excited for the challenge.''

The Gophers are 1-4 in Big Ten openers under Smith and have lost four straight to the Spartans, who have shown a knack in the past of deflating Minnesota's balloon just when things started looking up. So in some ways, the schedule couldn't unfold any better for the Gophers.

They get a team that has owned them on their floor on the last day of 2012. If this season is going to be different, this game will go a long way toward showing it.

``We can definitely contend for a Big Ten title, and we know that,'' Williams said. ``We've just got to come out and prove that to everybody else.''

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AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this story.

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Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

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Manny Machado trade rumors are dominating headlines at All-Star Game

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Manny Machado trade rumors are dominating headlines at All-Star Game

Manny Machado could very well be playing in his final game in an Orioles uniform Tuesday night when he takes the field for the 89th Midsummer Classic at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. 

According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Dodgers are now in the driver's seat as a favorite to land the All-Star shortstop. 

Machado, 26, has gone back and forth on what he does and does not know as front office deals develop and speculation continues to grow. One thing he has made clear is that the rumors have not detracted from his enjoyment of being an All-Star.

Machado is signed through the end of the season, but the Orioles intend to deal him before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

For the latest news and conversation surrounding Machado's status and the Orioles, follow along on Twitter

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2018 MLB All-Star Guide 

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All-Star Game Weather: Storms causing traffic havoc, could force delay, postponement

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USA Today Sports

All-Star Game Weather: Storms causing traffic havoc, could force delay, postponement

There is inclement weather in the forecast for Tuesday evening both before and during the 2018 All-Star Game in Washington, D.C.

The rain could, theoretically, force the game to be delayed or even postponed, but the forecast shows the skies clearing up as first pitch nears.

Bad weather and MLB All-Star Games share a history in Washington.

The last time Washington hosted the MLB All-Star Game, in 1969, a bad rainstorm forced the game to be postponed from Tuesday night to Wednesday afternoon.

Even if the weather does let up and the game is able to start on time, there are sure to be problems with D.C.'s already-dense traffic. Roads are flooding and with more people on them than usual, getting to the game will surely be an issue.

All-Star Game Forecast

The worst of the weather seems to have already happened on Tuesday afternoon. The rest of the evening forecast calls for a slight chance of precipitation, with mostly cloudy skies and, naturally, a lot of humidity.

The issue, if there is any, would likely be with the All-Star Game getting started on time. That said, there's obviously still the chance for delays during the game.

Luckily, a full postponement seems unlikely at this point.

All-Star Game Traffic

There's hardly a worse place to drive in the United States during rush hour than in, around or through Washington. With the All-Star Game in town, there are already significantly more cars on the road than there usually are. Add rain and flooded roads into that equation and things get extra messy.

The George Washington Parkway, a main thoroughfare in the area, has already flooded.

One road in Alexandria, Virginia, is flooded and has cars scattered about.

Public transportation would seem to be the way to go, but even the Capitol South Metro Station in Southeast D.C. is flooding.


A brief history of weather and the All-Star Game

The first and only time the MLB All-Star Game was ever postponed because of rain was in 1969, the last time Washington was the host.

Three other times, the game has either been shortened or delayed because of rain, most recently in 1990 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. That game was delayed for over an hour but was still played.

All signs point to the game being played Tuesday night, but Nationals Park has definitely felt the wrath of this storm already.

On the bright side, if it's light enough when the game starts, there will probably be a rainbow somewhere in-view from the stadium, which should make for some pretty cool pictures for those in attendance.