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High hopes for 5th-ranked Michigan

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High hopes for 5th-ranked Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) John Beilein is heading into uncharted territory.

For the first time since he began climbing the Division I coaching ladder, Beilein is entering his sixth season with the same school. And what a campaign it could be. His Michigan Wolverines are coming off a Big Ten championship and start 2012-13 ranked fifth in the country.

``I think anybody building a program has to understand, it is difficult, because people weren't stepping back and saying, `Hey, let's let Michigan have their turn.' It's hard to get there,'' Beilein said. ``If you establish the culture and get the right breaks here and there, anything can happen.''

The Wolverines are one of three Big Ten teams in the top five. The No. 5 ranking is Michigan's highest in the preseason since 1993, when the Wolverines were coming off back-to-back appearances in the NCAA title game.

After a nine-year run at LeMoyne, Beilein spent five seasons each at Canisius, Richmond and West Virginia before settling in at Michigan. Last season was his most successful yet with the Wolverines. They tied for the Big Ten championship and won 24 games - although they lost their NCAA tournament opener to Ohio.

Michigan then caught a break in the offseason when point guard Trey Burke decided to stay for his sophomore season instead of leaving for the NBA. When Burke arrived last season, the Wolverines were trying to replace another star point guard after Darius Morris turned pro. Michigan didn't miss a beat. Burke was the team's leading scorer and provided crucial 3-point shooting in Beilein's perimeter-oriented offense.

``Burke was able to step in and fill in so admirably as a freshman,'' Beilein said. ``So having him back has been helpful because he's a good player, he is a winner, he's proved he's a winner and having talent is one thing, teaching winning is another thing. He's been through a year where he was so helpful in that Big Ten championship in games both at home and on the road.''

Burke's role now includes mentoring Michigan's newcomers. The freshman class that includes forwards Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, along with guard Nik Stauskas, has Ann Arbor abuzz. It will be interesting to see how they meld together with holdovers Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan.

``I'm just trying to teach the freshmen at a faster pace,'' Burke said. ``When we're off the court, I'll show them some film. I'll just try to show them little tips and things in the offense.''

Beilein's offense often surrounds a single post player with four perimeter shooters. Now, the 6-foot-8 Morgan can expect more help inside. If the 6-10 McGary can contribute right away, the Wolverines may actually be a threat on the offensive boards, which isn't usually a staple of Beilein's teams.

It's Beilein's job to figure out how to use Michigan's newfound size while also setting Burke and the outside shooters up to succeed.

``We're basically trying to figure out what's the best way to use each guy rather than who are the five that are together,'' Beilein said. ``We are just continuing to experiment with it.''

Perhaps the biggest wild card on Michigan's roster continues to be Hardaway, an athletic wing who can drive to the basket and create problems for opponents with his length. But the 6-6 Hardaway looked frustrated at times last season, shooting only 42 percent from the field and 28 percent from 3-point range.

``When he plays the 3 or the 2, how much he has the ball off the dribble, off the pass, I think he's growing comfortable no matter what he's doing and learning about his strengths,'' Beilein said. ``Love coaching him every day, intensity is incredible.''

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New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

Alex Smith in, Kirk Cousins out.

That's certainly the headline, but there are plenty of other questions for the Redskins, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

For the last two seasons, most of the questions going into OTAs for Washington came from the defensive side of the ball. After consecutive drafts with a first-round defensive lineman selection, the defense should be much improved. 

On offense, however, there are a lot of new parts. 

  1. The headliner - No position in sports is as important as NFL quarterback. This will be Alex Smith's first action in a Redskins uniform with media present. The 34-year-old veteran is coming off the best season of his career, and if he can continue that level of accuracy and play-making, the Redskins could be poised for an explosive year.
  2. The speedster - Washington's wideouts lacked separation in 2017. It was apparent through much of the year, and likely played a roll in some of Kirk Cousins' reluctance to make tough throws. Free agent addition Paul Richardson is supposed to help, immediately. He has elite deep speed and the 'Skins brass hopes he can bring a similar element to the offense that DeSean Jackson provided a few years back. Time to prove it Paul. 
  3. The injuries - There are big reasons for concern, namely two very large men in Jordan Reed and Trent Williams. Reed will not participate in OTAs, and has been dealing with a foot/toe injury for the better part of a year. Williams, who seems highly unlikely to attend OTAs, underwent knee surgery in January. Beyond Smith, Reed and Williams are probably the two most important offensive players on the Redskins. OTAs aren't important, Reed and Williams participating, or even attending, OTAs is not important. Both men being healthy and ready to go in September is quite important. 
  4. The Rookie - Has Derrius Guice become the most popular player on the Redskins? Maybe. The dynamic rookie running back, with an interesting draft weekend slide, has the charisma and ability to be a star. The "off-field concerns" that hurt his draft status seem like myths at this point, but there was some injury concern his junior season at LSU (see video above). Guice has an opportunity to be a huge part of the Redskins offense, and all eyes will be watching the rookie. 
  5. The leap? - In 2017, Josh Doctson showed flashes of the player that warranted a first-round pick in 2016. Will 2018 be the year he proves it, week after week, game after game? Getting off to a good start with Smith should help, and even more important would be an injury-free offseason. 

There are questions for the defense too, particularly at cornerback after Josh Norman, but this year, the offense has more new parts. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

The Eastern Conference Final is going the distance!

After losing three straight to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals won Game 6 to force a Game 7 in Tampa Bay. Can the Caps beat the Lightning one more time and advance to the Stanley Cup Final?

JJ Regan, Tarik El-Bashir and special guest cameraman Mike D break it all down.

 

PLEASE NOTE: Due to schedule and time constraints, this podcast was recorded by phone and the audio quality is not up to our usual standards.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.