Ravens

Indiana is preseason No. 1 in AP basketball poll for 3rd time and 1st since 1979-80

Indiana is preseason No. 1 in AP basketball poll for 3rd time and 1st since 1979-80

Tom Crean didn't look like any of the other people in the Maui airport that day.

He had just coached his third, fourth and fifth games in his first season at Indiana. He looked how you would expect a coach to look after losing games by 38 and 26 points, then managing to beat Division II Chaminade in the seventh-place game of the Maui Invitational by only two points. The Silverswords got off a possible game-winning 3-point attempt at the buzzer.

Others waiting for flights to the mainland on the day before Thanksgiving in 2008 were wearing leis and flowered shirts and were carefully carrying pineapples. Not Crean. He had a lot of things on his mind and looked like he was ready to blow the whistle and start practice.

"This is going to take a while," Crean said at the time. "We can do it. This place has so much in so many ways."

He was standing and pacing now, the way he piles up the miles on the sideline.

"We can do this," he said. "We can do this."

Not many people would have believed it then. They do now. Another step in the return of the fabled Hoosiers program came Friday as Crean is about to start his fifth season in Bloomington.

Indiana was ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press' preseason Top 25, a first for the Hoosiers since 1979-80, when they were coached by Bob Knight and the 3-point line was still in the experimental phase.

The Hoosiers and their fans are quite familiar with the next two teams in the voting: Louisville and Kentucky.

The three schools are from the basketball-rabid area known as "Kentuckiana." Nos. 1, 2 and 3 are all within an easy drive of each other and they are schools which have known basketball success over the years and recently, as well.

The Hoosiers, who return all five starters including 7-foot sophomore Cody Zeller, received 43 first-place votes from the 65-member national media panel. Indiana is a preseason No. 1 for the third time.

Louisville, which reached the Final Four last season, and Kentucky, the reigning national champions who beat Indiana in the regional semifinals and Louisville in the national semifinals, received the rest of the first-place votes. Louisville was No. 1 on 20 ballots and the Wildcats got the other two.

Louisville has most of the team back from last season including Gorgui Dieng, a defensive force in the middle. Kentucky, on the other hand, has another roster full of talented freshmen after four players left early and were taken in the first round of the NBA draft including overall No. 1 and 2 picks Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

This is the fifth time that Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky were all ranked in the preseason top 10. The last time was 1983 when Kentucky was No. 4, Louisville No. 8 and Indiana No. 9.

Indiana's other preseason No. 1 was in 1975-76 when the Hoosiers put together the last unbeaten run to a national championship.

Ohio State and Michigan joined Indiana as Big Ten teams ranked in the top five. The last time a conference had three teams in the preseason top five was 2008-09 when Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh of the Big East were second, third and fifth, respectively.

North Carolina State, Kansas, Duke, Syracuse and Florida round out the top 10.

North Carolina led the second 10 and was followed by Arizona, UCLA, Michigan State, Missouri, Creighton, Memphis, UNLV, Baylor and San Diego State.

The last five ranked teams were Gonzaga, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Cincinnati and Florida State.

The Big Ten led the way with five teams in the preseason poll, while the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conference had four each. Along with the Southeastern Conference's three teams, those four leagues accounted for 16 of the 25 teams.

Crean took over an Indiana program in 2008-09 that had plenty of history - five national championships - and a lot of current problems. Only two players returned from a team that was facing NCAA discipline over a phone call scandal that led to the ouster of coach Kelvin Sampson.

The program was back on the national scene last season when Christian Watford's 3-pointer at the buzzer beat No. 1 Kentucky and the fans rushed the court at Assembly Hall. Three straight losing seasons seemed long ago as the Hoosiers added two more wins over teams ranked in the top five and got back in the NCAA tournament.

Now Crean has a team that will start the season No. 1

"It's great. Those things are great," Crean said. "I think now, it's just so much about the daily challenge of getting better. That to me is what the focus is. It's a big deal, but you don't get any banners for your preseason rankings. You've got to go out and you've got to earn it every day. I think that's what this team is really doing a good job of, and I know it's early, but they're doing a good job of it."

Duke has the longest current streak of consecutive poll appearances at 97, a run that started with the preseason poll of 2007-08. Kansas has the second-longest current run at 65 weeks.

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Peter King awards Lamar Jackson with weekly honor for NFL start vs. Bengals

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Peter King awards Lamar Jackson with weekly honor for NFL start vs. Bengals

The Baltimore Ravens couldn't have drawn up a better NFL start for rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson. 

With the weight of keeping his team in playoff contention against a division rival that crushed those hopes less than a year ago firmly on his shoulders, Jackson stepped onto the field at M&T Bank Stadium and not only got the win, but set records along the way.

The 21-year-old's performance caught the attention of local and national pundits, earning him one of two Offensive Players of the Week honors in Peter Kings' Football Morning in America:

Hey rook. We know you went to the hospital with a stomach ailment on Thursday, but would you mind making your first career start Sunday? Against a team that hates us? Oh, and stop a three-game losing streak too? That was what was facing Jackson as he stepped in for injured Joe Flacco (hip) and started Sunday’s game against the Bengals. Jackson set a single-game record for a Ravens QB with 117 rushing yards, tacked on 150 yards in the air on 13-of-19 passing and simply played “winning football,” according to coach John Harbaugh. He also kept Baltimore’s feeble playoff hopes alive for another week.

Those 117 rushing yards were the second-most by a rookie quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger with 46 of them on the Ravens' opening drive alone. Coincidentally, Robert Griffin III holds the record for most rushing yards by a rookie QB with 138 back in October of 2012 with the Redskins.

His speed was an issue all afternoon for the Bengals as well. Jackson is so fast that according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Jackson reached 15+ mph on 14 rushing attempts. No other player has hit 15+ mph on more than nine rushing attempts this season. 

"The way he bounced back and his composure," safety Eric Weddle told reporters after the game on what impressed him about Jackson's performance.

"He threw that pick [to start the second half], and what did he do next drive? He went down and scored. And it was like nothing happened and you can't teach that. It's something that you see in him, he's very even-keeled, cool calm and collected...that's what impressed me. His physical ability and the way he plays; we see it everyday so I expect him to play like that. But just to overcome some adversity early on in his first start and to come back and lead a huge drive and make some big plays...I just think his composure."

Now the Heisman Trophy winner will have to maintain that same composure when the Oakland Raiders come to town in what will likely be his second NFL start.

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NHL Power Rankings: What a difference Tom Wilson makes

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: What a difference Tom Wilson makes

If I told you the Caps would lose Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie on the current road trip and win at least two of their four games, you would probably take that.

Well, on Monday, Washington has a chance to grab three out of four wins on their road trip in a stretch that feels like it could be a turning point on a sluggish start to the season.

At 9-7-3, there’s no question the Caps were hoping for a better start to the season considering all the players they had coming back. Having said that, given all the challenges they have faced to start the season (Tom Wilson’s suspension, all the injuries), first year head coach Todd Reirden has done a decent job to get the team to this point.

Now a quarter of the way in, however, it’s time to pick things up and make a run.

SEE THIS WEEKS’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Here are a few observations from the past week:

  • What a difference Wilson makes. The Caps look like a completely different team with him in the lineup. When he first started playing on the top line last season, he looked a bit out of place, but that’s definitely no longer the case. He adds so much more than just physicality. He is a good skater, wins board battles and has the offensive and defensive ability to make that top line defensively balanced while still being so dangerous offensively. Not only does he look tremendous on the top line, but the Caps also really struggle to fill his spot in the lineup when he’s out. If you still think he’s nothing more than a goon, you’re just not paying attention to all the positives he brings to the lineup.
  • The Caps have found a backup goalie. I have gone back and forth on Pheonix Copley, but there’s no denying how well he has played when the team needed him the most. He looked great in the preseason, shaky to start, but he has gotten better with each game. With Holtby’s injury, Copley was forced to start three road games in four days and he provided solid, strong goaltending. In seven appearances this season, Copley has a 2.65 GAA, .908 save percentage and, most importantly, a record of 4-2-1. He is not nearly as smooth a goalie as Holtby, but he has great size which he uses to his advantage specifically down low. He has also looked great on breakaways and odd-man rushes. The question of backup goaltending now looks officially settled.
  • This isn’t the first time we’ve seen John Carlson with Dmitry Orlov as a pair. They played a few games together at the start of last season and they looked horrible together. Putting Orlov with Matt Niskanen and Carlson with Michal Kempny provides much more balanced pairings, but it just wasn’t working this season. Interestingly enough, all four players have looked better the last few games since switching it up. Perhaps the pairs had gotten stale and they just needed time apart, but for now the switch is working.
  • Madison Bowey may be the most improved player on the roster this season and is playing with a lot more confidence on both ends of the ice. That first NHL goal is coming.

How improved the Caps look with Wilson back plus how the team banded together in the wake of so many significant injuries gave them a boost this week.

FIND OUT WHERE THEY LAND IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS

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