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High-scoring Creighton looks to improve on defense

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High-scoring Creighton looks to improve on defense

Creighton expects to be one of the best offensive teams in the nation again this season.

The Bluejays don't expect to be one of the worst on defense.

When the players were issued practice jerseys last month, they found the number ``222'' stamped on them - their national ranking in field-goal defense.

``Last year, we were so good offensively that we just fell into the mentality that we were going to try to outscore people,'' senior guard Grant Gibbs said. ``It put us in a lot of close games, and we were fortunate to win a lot of those. We have to have a mentality where it has to hurt when people score on us.''

With preseason All-American and Valley player of the year Doug McDermott and nine of the top 10 players returning, Creighton is the overwhelming choice to win the Missouri Valley Conference. The 16th-ranked Bluejays, who matched a school record with 29 wins, hope to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament after losing in the third round to North Carolina last March.

The Bluejays know they probably can't get away with allowing opponents to shoot 44.1 percent from the field, 36.1 percent on 3-pointers and average 69.7 points like they did last year.

``It's what the coaching staff has been preaching to us since the end of the season,'' junior guard Jahenns Manigat said. ``It's one of the reasons we couldn't get by North Carolina in the tournament. Seeing it on our practice jersey each and every day is a constant reminder of how terrible we were last year and how much better we could be as a team if we improve on that number.''

Scoring shouldn't be a problem.

McDermott's 22.9 points a game ranked third in the nation, and 82 percent of the scoring from a team that averaged better than 79 points is back. The Bluejays were second nationally in field-goal shooting (50.4 percent), third in 3-point shooting (42.4 percent) and second in assists (17.6).

Senior center Gregory Echenique, one of the Valley's top defensive players, resculpted his 6-foot-9, 260-pound frame in the offseason and has worked to improve on the offensive end.

Gibbs, who led the Bluejays in assists and steals, and Manigat, who shot 49.2 percent on 3s in Valley games, are the other returning starters.

The biggest change is at point guard, where sophomore Austin Chatman takes over for Antoine Young.

The rest of the Missouri Valley:

ILLINOIS STATE: Former Vanderbilt assistant Dan Muller is in the unusual of position of being a first-year coach who takes over a team in position to contend for a championship. Tim Jankovich left in April to become head coach-in-waiting under Larry Brown at SMU. The Redbirds are looking to get to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998, Muller's last season as a Redbirds' player. Jackie Carmichael, who averaged 15 points and 11.7 rebounds, is among four returning starters from the team that reached the Valley tournament final.

NORTHERN IOWA: The Panthers, coming off a fourth straight 20-win season, return four starters and four other players who have significant experience. Seth Tuttle, the Valley freshman of the year, shot a league-high 65.2 percent. The versatile Jake Koch was only Valley player with 30-plus 3-pointers, offensive rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Anthony James is the top returning scorer (12.5 ppg). UNI will get tough Thanksgiving test in a Bahamas tournament, with Louisville, Missouri and Stanford on its side of the bracket and Duke, Minnesota, Memphis and VCU on the other.

WICHITA STATE: Coach Gregg Marshall is overseeing a team with lots of moving parts because of newcomers and injuries. Seniors Carl Hall (8.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Demetric Williams (5.5 ppg, 2.1 apg) are the only starters back from the defending regular-season champion Shockers, who went to the NCAA tournament and won 27 games. Williams has been limited in practice after having ankle surgery in August. Transfer Malcolm Armstead made 52 starts in two seasons at Oregon and will help Williams at the point. Junior-college transfer Cleanthony Early should be a factor right away.

EVANSVILLE: The Purple Aces finished third in the Valley for their best finish in 13 years. Everything revolves around preseason all-conference pick Colt Ryan, whose 20.5-point average was 11th in the country. Point guard Troy Taylor (5.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg) can fill a stat sheet in a variety of ways. Ned Cox, who backed up Taylor, was the Valley's sixth man of the year after averaging 9.2 points. Ryan Sawvell (6.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg) was on the MVC all-freshman team.

DRAKE: Seth VanDeest, the Bulldogs' 6-foot-11 center, is back after missing last season because of problems with both shoulders. He's up to 265 pounds, 40 heavier than when he started every game as a freshman and sophomore. VanDeest's return to the post should help preseason all-MVC pick Ben Simons (16.4 ppg), a 43-percent shooter on 3s, and Jordan Clarke, who will be able to move back to his natural power-forward spot. Utah transfer Chris Hines averaged 9.6 points and started 26 games for the Utes two seasons ago.

INDIANA STATE: The Sycamores are in rebuilding mode after losing four senior starters. They do return preseason all-MVC pick Jake Odum, one of four players nationally to average at least 10 points, five rebounds and 4.5 assists. R.J. Mahurin (7.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg) is the only other returning player who was a significant contributor. The Sycamore sustained a blow when junior-college transfer Mike Samuels, the biggest player on the roster at 6-11, broke a foot during a summer exhibition tour of the Bahamas. He's probably out for the season.

MISSOURI STATE: Anthony Downing (11.5 ppg) will need to increase his scoring to fill the void created by the departure of graduated star Kyle Weems. Christian Kirk (3.7 ppg) and Nathan Scheer (2.5 ppg) are the other returning starters. Coach Paul Lusk likes his six freshmen. Bruce Marshall, at 6-10, is the biggest player on an otherwise undersized roster. Lusk touts the freshman's willingness to muck it up inside even though he weighs just 220 pounds.

BRADLEY: With four starters back, coach Geno Ford is confident the Braves will be better than the squad that won just seven games and finished last in the Valley. Walt Lemon Jr. (12.6 ppg) is the top returning scorer. Sixth-year post player Will Egolf, who averaged 8.0 points and 4.1 rebounds in 2010-11, is back after missing last year with a torn ACL. Newcomers Ka'Darryl Bell and Tyshon Pickett are players to watch.

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS: Coach Barry Hinson, formerly at Missouri State, is back in the Valley after working for Bill Self at Kansas the past four years. Four starters are back. Wyoming transfer Desmar Jackson gives the Salukis plenty of depth at guard. Jeff Early (8.6 ppg) is the top returning scorer. Forward Dantiel Daniels (8.3 ppg) is out five weeks with a leg injury, a setback for a team already short on size.

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: John Wall goes 1-on-1 to talk Bryce Harper's future, celebrity softball and the Summer League

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: John Wall goes 1-on-1 to talk Bryce Harper's future, celebrity softball and the Summer League

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, John Wall went 1-on-1 to talk Bryce Harper's future, the celebrity softball game and the Summer League.

Chase Hughes and Chris Miller broke down the parallels between Wall and Harper and why Wall has chosen to stay loyal to Washington in his own contract decisions. Plus, can the Wizards really tone down the talking this season?

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Outside linebackers

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Outside linebackers

Redskins Training camp opens next week, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope.

Between now and the start of camp, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

Additions: Pernell McPhee (free agent)
Departures: Junior Galette (free agent)

Starters: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith
Other roster locks: Ryan Anderson, McPhee
On the bubble: Pete Robertson

How the outside linebackers compare

To the rest of the NFL: By any measure, the Redskins had a top-10 pass rush last year. They were tied for seventh with 42 sacks and they got a sack on 7.3 percent of pass attempts, also seventh in the league. Looking forward to this year, Pro Football Focus has them ranked as the sixth-best pass rushing team for 2018. Ryan Kerrigan is showing no signs of slowing down as he approaches age 30 and Preston Smith is about to hit his prime. After the departure of Galette, the depth is questionable, and we’ll deal with that next. Even without Galette, it’s still one of the best units in the NFL. 

To the 2017 Redskins: Some downplay the decision to let Galette walk in free agency, saying he had just three sacks. But his value went beyond that. He had 9 QB hits and 25 hurries, both second-most on the team, in just 258 pass rush snaps. Someone will have to step up and replace that pressure. The spotlight will be on Anderson, who had no sacks after being a second-round pick. He will need to step up for this year’s Redskins pass rush to be as good as last year’s. 

2018 outside linebacker outlook

Biggest upside: Since the 2015 season, only one NFL player has at least 20 sacks, four forced fumbles, and three interceptions and it’s Preston Smith. His consistency is an issue but even when he is going for a few weeks between sacks he is getting pressure on the quarterback. Still, there is more ability there. Smith could set himself up for a big payday by breaking through with a double-digit sack season while continuing to make big plays in his contract year.

Most to prove: To be fair, Anderson did not get a whole lot of chances to rush the passer last year, playing just 81 pass rush snaps. Still, there are reasons to be concerned about how much he can produce after a zero-sack, one-hit, three-hurries 2017 debut season. Anderson was not expected to make a splash as a rookie, but more was anticipated. He was drafted where he was in part because of his work ethic. The Redskins hope he will work his way into a significant second-year leap. 

Rookie watch: There are no rookie outside linebackers on the roster. 

Bottom line: The main concern about the Redskins’ defense this year revolves around the cornerback spot following the departures of Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland. The best way to manage problematic cornerbacks is by getting a strong pass rush. The Redskins need to Smith to have a true breakout season and for Anderson or McPhee to be a strong contributor off the bench. Along with the improved defensive line, the pass rush could transform the defensive line into a quality unit in 2018. 

2018 Redskins Position Outlook Series