Redskins

Illinois hopes to rebound at methodical Wisconsin

201301092233812380043-p2.jpeg

Illinois hopes to rebound at methodical Wisconsin

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Among the things John Groce has preached to his Illinois team is the need to keep their emotions under control. Never get too high with a win or too low with a loss.

A home loss to No. 8 Minnesota this week could prove to be a test of just how well the 12th-ranked Fighting Illini have listened. The 84-67 setback followed a 74-55 blowout win over then-No. 8 Ohio State, a split almost any team would take.

But the loss also left Illinois (14-3) to 1-2 in Big Ten play with a third loss in five games. Maybe worse, The Illini couldn't pin the loss to Minnesota on a lack of effort or toughness.

Illinois did plenty that qualified as tough, Groce said Friday - taking charges, running and diving after loose balls, looking for contact. The Illini just couldn't knock down shots. They hit just 35.4 percent overall and were a miserable 3 of 24 from 3-point range.

And, tough or not, they gave up 21 points in transition to the Gophers.

``Ran into a little bit of a buzz saw Wednesday night,'' Groce said. ``They were really good.''

Now the Illini are looking ahead to Saturday's game at Wisconsin (11-4, 2-0), not the first team you'd pick to bounce back against.

Illinois has lost 10 of its last 14 against the Badgers, who stubbornly stick to just the kind of low-scoring, methodical game that the Illini - averaging a solid 75.2 points - have managed to avoid this season. Wisconsin is averaging 70.6 points, but that figure is dropping. The Badgers scored 47 on Nebraska and 60 on Penn State in their last two games, both wins.

``They're very, I don't want to say very deliberate, but very calculating,'' Groce said. ``They're determined to get what they want to get and not very often will they take a bad shot.''

``It's hard to speed them up,'' he added.

Sophomore center Nnanna Egwu, who has played twice against Bo Ryan's Badgers, sounded a little frustrated just describing Wisconsin's slowdown game.

``They do a good job getting to you, making you prolong your offense,'' he said. ``And on the offensive end they take their time. They make you guard for (almost) 35 seconds and then they shoot with two seconds left - and then they get the offensive rebound and make you guard for another 35 seconds.''

Egwu, in his first year as a starter, will see a lot of Badgers center Jared Berggren. He is the team's leading scorer, averaging 13.3 points, and one of its top rebounders with a 6.0 average. The 6-10, 235-pound Berggren is in his fifth season in Madison and has started every game since the opener last season - making it 51 in a row.

Along the way, Groce said, he's become very good.

``He's really polished offensively, he's very skilled, he can shoot the ball from the perimeter, he can score it inside,'' Groce said. ``They use him a lot like we use Egwu defensively.''

Egwu, an inch taller than Berggren, isn't nearly as polished but he's started to come into his own the past few weeks. He's averaging 8.2 points and 7.0 rebounds over the last five, and has given Illinois a smart, physical presence inside on defense that the team wasn't sure it would have this season.

He quietly had one of the better nights of any Illinois player in the loss to Minnesota, pulling down nine rebounds while scoring eight points.

A loss Saturday would push the Illini toward the back of the Big Ten pack. The next two games, against Northwestern and Nebraska, would give them a chance to claw back. But there's no question they'd be well behind the top of the conference that could include a pair of 4-0 teams in Michigan and Minnesota by the end of the weekend.

That, Groce said, is something Illinois can't worry about.

``In terms of getting away from you and all that, I can't control that,'' he said.

---

Follow David Mercer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidmercerap

Quick Links

2019 Redskins Draft Bracket: DK Metcalf and TJ Hockenson would inject the offense with needed talent

dk_and_tj.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

2019 Redskins Draft Bracket: DK Metcalf and TJ Hockenson would inject the offense with needed talent

NBC Sports Washington wants Redskins fans to help decide the team's ideal 2019 first-round pick by voting in the Redskins Draft Bracket on Twitter. Before you vote, though, take in this breakdown of the next matchup.

Looking for a stat to describe the rough season the Redskins receivers had in 2018? Well, there's tons to choose from.

The team's wideouts had the second-fewest catches of 20-plus yards in the league. Antonio Brown had more grabs, yards and touchdowns than Washington's top three targets combined. Josh Doctson led the squad in receiving yards — with a measly 532.

You could easily find plenty more, but those three are all you need to realize that DK Metcalf should absolutely be on the franchise's mind when it comes to their first-round pick this April.

While Metcalf's numbers at Ole Miss won't overly impress you, his athleticism and potential explosiveness as a pro absolutely does. That's why it's no surprise the WR met with the Redskins while at the Combine, as Jay Gruden and Co. are well aware that they must become more dangerous on the outside.

As with any prospect, there are questions with Metcalf. He only had 67 catches in 21 games in school, and while he shredded most of the drills in Indianapolis, his short area agility numbers were worse than Tom Brady. That's not great.

Regardless, he'd instantly become the offense's scariest athlete, and you have to like his chances of at least contributing splash plays early while he learns the nuances of the NFL.

The 'Skins don't just need improvement out wide, however. Jordan Reed was largely ineffective despite playing for much of 2018, Vernon Davis is 35 years old and Jeremy Sprinkle isn't much of a threat in the air at tight end.

Perhaps TJ Hockenson could be their answer. NFL.com says the Iowa product "is an ascending talent with a chance to become one of the best all-around tight ends in the game." 

One problem the Burgundy and Gold have encountered in recent years is Reed and Davis don't help much as blockers, while Sprinkle won't worry a defense with his hands. Taking Hockenson at pick No. 15 would mean Gruden could finally have a guy who excels in both areas.

It remains to be seen whether Metcalf or Hockenson will last until the Redskins' choice, as they could continue to rise up boards as the draft draws closer. If both or either is there, however, they need to be heavily considered. 

While the offense may have to be run-oriented again in 2019, it still needs more weapons for whoever is under center. They won't be able to grind out 13-play scoring drives every time they need a TD, and grabbing Metcalf or Hockenson would go a long way in introducing a new element to the group.

You've heard the case for both players. Now, retweet or like depending on whom you'd prefer to see move on in the bracket.

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

Quick Links

How Tom Wilson's first game back from suspension against Minnesota sparked the Caps

How Tom Wilson's first game back from suspension against Minnesota sparked the Caps

WASHINGTON -– Capitals forward Tom Wilson did not miss a beat. That’s what happens when a player sits the first 14 games of a season because of an NHL-mandated suspension for a hit to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in a preseason game. 
 
With his suspension reduced from 20 games to 16, Wilson was suddenly eligible to play Nov. 13 when Washington played a game against the Minnesota Wild.

Wilson scored a goal in the first period – and ironically was penalized on the same play for running into the goalie.

He later had a fight with Wild forward Marcus Foligno. He also helped the penalty kill strop five of six chances. That pretty much summed it up. 


 
Wilson sees Minnesota again tonight when the Capitals host the Wild at Capital One Arena (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington). That first game in St. Paul sparked a turnaround for the Capitals, who were lethargic early in the season as they tried to stay emotionally engaged after last spring’s dramatic championship run through the Stanley Cup playoffs.
 
Wilson’s return against the Wild had a visceral effect. The players had a jump not seen often in a 7-6-3 start to the season that included back-to-back home losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Arizona Coyotes. 
 
The Capitals won 5-2 that night against the Wild and went on an 8-2-0 run in Wilson’s first 10 games. He had eight goals and seven assists in those games before sustaining a concussion during a fight in a Dec. 4 loss at the Vegas Golden Knights. 
 
Wilson missed three more games and has only played 55 total. But he’s had a major impact on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and either center Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom. Wilson has 21 goals and 16 assists. Those are both career highs. His 37 points are also a career best. And that’s all in 23 fewer games than the 78 he played last season. There are eight games left for Wilson to top 40 points for the first time. 

Djoos returns

The lower-body injury to Michal Kempny sustained Wednesday means Christian Djoos is back in the lineup. He will be on the top pair with John Carlson. Djoos is playing just his second game since Feb. 23. The Capitals will be experimenting here down the stretch thinking Kempny will be out for a while. It’s a good opportunity for Djoos, who has played with Carlson before.

Washington will not recall a defensemen from AHL Hershey for now. They will stick with six unless another player is needed during the remaining three games of this four-game homestand.

50

Alex Ovechkin couldn’t find the back of the net in Wednesday’s 5-4 overtime loss to Tampa Bay, but he is still just two goals shy of 50 for his career. That would be his eighth 50-goal season. Ovechkin finished last year with 49. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy have had more (nine each).

Ovechkin always torches Minnesota with 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in just 15 career games.

That’s his highest goals-per-game average against any franchise.

Holtby goes

No surprise here as the Capitals don’t have any more back-to-back games and will ride Holtby down the stretch until they possibly clinch the Metropolitan Division. They lead by three points over the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins and have eight games to go.

Holtby is 8-2-0 in his career against Minnesota with one shutout and a .922 save percentage. 

Going streaking

The Capitals have won eight games in a row against Minnesota, led by former Washington coach Bruce Boudreau.

Expect a good push from the Wild, however, who are still in the playoff chase in the Western Conference. At 34-31-9, they have 77 points and are one point behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second and final wild card spot. 

Expected lineup

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly
Andre Burakovsky – Nic Dowd – Travis Boyd
Christian Djoos – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Nick Jensen
Braden Holtby
Pheonix Copley
Scratches: Chandler Stephenson, Dmitrij Jaskin
Injured: Michal Kempny

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: