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Kansas prepares to defend Big 12 title yet again

Kansas prepares to defend Big 12 title yet again

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) The first thing you notice about the Kansas basketball team this year is that it's big.

Not in height, though 7-footer Jeff Withey stands out, but in numbers.

There are a lot of players on the roster this season, 17 to be exact, and for the most part they land on the extremes of experience. The main contributors will be either seniors who were part of a national title run last season or wide-eyed freshmen who watched the Final Four from afar.

``We have so much experience, at the same time, we have a lot of freshmen, so it's going to be a fun season,'' said Withey, who emerged last season as a shot-swatting All-America candidate.

``It'll be fun for the older guys to teach the young guys. We have all this experience,'' Withey said. ``The game has slowed down to us - for them it's fast motion - so it'll be fun for us.''

There are several reasons for the unique composition of the team.

All-America forward Thomas Robinson declared for the NBA draft a year early, opening up a scholarship for another newcomer. That's one reason why there are nine freshmen on the roster.

Another reason is that two of them were forced to sit out last season.

Ben McLemore, a talented combo guard, and Jamari Traylor, an athletic power forward, were deemed partial qualifiers by the NCAA and forced to redshirt. They wound up being able to practice the second semester, but they weren't able to participate in games.

Both of them ready to go this season, which officially tips off Friday night with the annual ``Late Night in the Phog'' practice.

``It's totally different when you get under the lights. These guys will be scared to death tomorrow night. Their biggest crowd ever is what, a thousand?'' Jayhawks coach Bill Self said.

``Making mistakes under pressure, people writing about mistakes, the pressures that go along with, some freshmen welcome that and want there. There's pressure playing here.''

There's certainly going to be pressure on Self, too.

He agreed to a restructured contract a few weeks ago that extends through the 2021-22 season and includes a raise to $3.857 million per year. His previous contract ran through June 2018.

Self's new contract includes bonus provisions of $50,000 for conference regular-season titles, $25,000 for winning the conference tournament, $100,000 for earning AP coach of the year, $150,000 for reaching the Final Four and $200,000 for winning the national championship.

Something that the Jayhawks nearly accomplished last season.

Behind the bruising play of Robinson and the often-maddening play of talented guard Tyshawn Taylor, the Jayhawks rolled to another Big 12 championship and all the way to New Orleans.

Kansas eventually ran into mighty Kentucky and its NBA-laden lineup, but a team that many didn't believe was capable of winning its conference had nearly won it all.

Even though Robinson and Taylor are gone, along with role player Connor Teahan, the Jayhawks still return three starters in Withey, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford. Super-sub Kevin Young is also back for his senior season after making some key contributions down the stretch.

Then there are all those new faces ready to step up.

McLemore could move directly into the starting lineup after impressing just about everyone in practice last season. Anrio Adams, a guard from Seattle, has shown some ability to handle the ball, while forward Perry Ellis may carry on his shoulders the biggest expectations.

The five-star recruit from Wichita has been committed to the Jayhawks for so long that the anticipation to actual see him on the court has reached a breaking point.

``Just the atmosphere, all these people, I never played in an arena with this many people watching,'' Ellis said, taking solace in the fact that he's not alone.

There are plenty of other freshmen going through the same thing.

Indeed, there will be plenty of new names when the Jayhawks take the court for their first exhibition game Oct. 30 against Emporia State, and when the nation gets to see them play Michigan State on Nov. 13 in Atlanta in just their second regular-season game.

That doesn't mean expectations are any different.

Kansas was picked to win the Big 12 once again Thursday in balloting by league coaches.

``I was probably more surprised with us being picked first this year than us being picked not first in the past. We return some guys, but we lost three of our top six, two of them were pretty good. Those two guys scored 36 a night,'' Self said, referring to Robinson and Taylor.

Then he admitted what everyone has come to expect of the Jayhawks over the years: ``I do think we have a chance to be good by the end.''

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10 changes that would make the NHL better

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USA TODAY Sports

10 changes that would make the NHL better

Hockey is one of the most incredible, compelling sports in the world. As fun as it is to watch on TV, it is even more compelling in person and fans in North America are treated to the best hockey in the world as played in the NHL.

But the NHL's not perfect.

SEE THE 10 CHANGES THAT WOULD MAKE THE NHL BETTER HERE

Just like every sports league, the NHL is always adjusting and making changes to the game in order to improve it through things like rule changes, expansion, playoff formats, etc.

No sport is perfect and hockey is not without its flaws, but there are a number of clear changes that could be made that would improve both the game and the league.

 SEE THE 10 CHANGES THAT WOULD MAKE THE NHL BETTER HERE

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Need to Know: Redskins training camp preview—Defense

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Associated Press

Need to Know: Redskins training camp preview—Defense

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 23, three days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Training camp preview—defense 

Here are some of the big topics surrounding the defense at Redskins training camp along with some of the things I’ll be observing closely when training camp gets underway on Thursday. I looked at the topics on offense yesterday

Lining up the line

Will Phil Taylor, who seems to be a long shot to make the team after they drafted two nose tackles, get some run with the first and second teams? Also, this is a young group and Jim Tomsula will have a lot of opportunities to teach. Watching him interacting with his line and going over the details of line play is fun to watch.

Spaight vs. Vigil

The two starting inside linebacker starters are safe and the team is intrigued enough by the potential of both Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaun Dion Hamilton to make them likely bets to make the 53-man roster. That leaves Zach Vigil and Martrell Spaight competing for the last ILB roster spot. 

Spaight is a known quantity who has been a mainstay on special teams since he was drafted in the fifth round in 2015. They kept him over Vigil in the cut to 53 a year ago. But last year when injuries hit, Vigil started over Spaight. In a way, this is Round 3 between the two. 

Ryan Anderson

We know what outside linebacker starters Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith can do. Pernell McPhee will be good for four or five sacks and perhaps a forced fumble or two. Anderson, who was team’s second-round pick last year, is a big question mark. He played 193 snaps in 14 games, but he barely dented the stat sheet with no sacks and just 11 tackles. Anderson is a hard worker and they need his 

The pieces of the cornerback puzzle

This is discussed in some detail hereby JP Finlay and I’ll look at it later this week. To pick out one detail, I want to see what the rotation in the slot is. Right now the guess is that Orlando Scandrick is the starter but who will be behind him? That’s important because Scandrick has missed 25 games in the last three seasons due to injuries. 

Apke’s progress

Fourth-round safety Troy Apke displayed impressive makeup speed during offseason practices and that let him make some plays on the ball. But he needed that speed too often as he had issues in coverage. You need to be more than just fast to play in the NFL. If Apke is going to be an alternative if injury problems strike Montae Nicholson again he needs to start making some progress while he is in Richmond. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 3
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 17
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 40

The Redskins last played a game 204 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 48 days. 

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