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Kentuckiana again focal point of college hoops

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Kentuckiana again focal point of college hoops

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) It's always been easy for basketball fans living in this part of the country to find a good game. There are 15 national championship banners hanging in three campus arenas within about two hours of each other.

They've been spoiled by Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky - all just a short ride along Interstate 64 or 65.

But never like this.

For the first time the Hoosiers, Cardinals and Wildcats start the season ranked 1-2-3 in the Top 25.

Welcome to Kentuckiana.

The corridor along the Ohio River is once again the focal point of college hoops - rekindling memories of its heyday back in the 1970s and 1980s. The last time Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky were ranked in the top five was 32 years ago. And it's been 37 years since they finished the 1975 season rounding out the top four behind UCLA.

All three schools reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament in 1975. Kentucky ended Indiana's perfect season with a 92-90 victory to advance to the Final Four, along with Louisville. The Cardinals lost to UCLA in the semifinals and then the Bruins knocked off the Wildcats for the title.

That year was the highlight of Kentuckiana - until now.

``If you're a fan in this area, even if you don't like someone it doesn't get any better than what you have around here,'' said former Louisville coach Denny Crum, who led the Cardinals to titles in 1980 and `86.

``Fans here are treated to something very special because people are always talking about these three teams. Right here is the top college basketball in the country.''

The fans are some of the most passionate in the country. They are nearly as territorial about their favorite team as they are knowledgeable about the game. That's especially true about Big Blue Nation, the throng of Wildcat faithful whose sheer numbers seem to irritate their neighbors as much as their team's success.

Even across the Ohio River in Jeffersonville, Ind. - an area affectionately called the `sunny side of Louisville'' - where Kentuckiana thrives with plenty of Louisville red among the Hoosier crimson, and the blue of the Wildcats stands out.

That doesn't sit well with Indiana fan Ernest Brown, 63, though he's more tolerant of Cardinals fans than Wildcats fans.

``That burns me up,'' Brown said of the UK paraphernalia he sees. ``There are so many Kentucky fans, you wonder why they just don't move there. (But) when the (Cardinals) lose, yeah, they're down. They're not making 500 excuses. ... It's just a different kind of people on the same side of the river. I don't understand it.''

Still, beneath the fans' dislike for one another sits a mutual respect - albeit begrudgingly -for all three teams.

Kentucky rolled to its eighth NCAA title last year with tournament victories over Indiana and Louisville led by freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Wildcats and coach John Calipari have replaced that group with another talented rookie class that includes Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and Nerlens Noel. But Kentucky begins the season in the polls behind Indiana and Louisville, which return veteran rosters.

Former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall says it all just adds to the excitement in Kentuckiana.

``It's great what Indiana has done with keeping their recruits and it's been good for Louisville,'' said Hall, who led the Wildcats to three Final Fours and the 1978 championship. ``But Cal is in a situation all his own with these one-and-dones. I think it's exciting for our fans.''

Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, the former Indiana All-American, said having the Hoosiers competitive again is a big part.

``Kentucky has always been extremely good and competitive and Louisville has always had good players and a good program,'' said Thomas, who led the Hoosiers to the 1981 national title. ``But Indiana has always prided itself on the purity of the game. So, I give more weight to Indiana because of what it represents in terms of basketball.''

There was a time in Kentuckiana that debate would have been settled on the court in the Big Four Classic.

Louisville, Kentucky, Indiana and Notre Dame used to battle in Indianapolis every December from 1987 to 1990. That event disbanded for various reasons and Louisville hasn't played Indiana since 2003. Though the Cardinals and Wildcats will play here on Dec. 29, the Hoosiers announced last spring they wouldn't play Kentucky this season because they were already playing too many games away from Bloomington.

Former Louisville star Darrell Griffith leads a chorus of laments for the teams to work something out.

``I don't think it's that hard to play each other because Louisville and Kentucky play every year,'' said Griffith, known as ``Dr. Dunkenstein'' when he led Louisville to the 1980 title. ``You just do it. The fans would love it. The players would love it.''

Calipari, whose Wildcats lost at Indiana last December on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, said he didn't want the series to end.

``I wanted to play those Indiana games and I thought they'd be great games in Indianapolis but that's fine,'' he said. ``We're doing what most teams are doing, playing a schedule that fits.''

Kentucky radio analyst Mike Pratt and former Indiana All-American Brian Evans say it's just wrong that the teams don't play each other.

``I can appreciate the rivalry because I've lived in the middle of it and have known so many Louisville and Indiana players,'' said Pratt, a Wildcats Hall of Famer who played at UK from 1967-1970. ``You observe how they talk about it. There are a lot of armchair quarterbacks out there, but that's what makes playing around here so special. They care almost to a fault.''

Said Evans, ``These games need to be played. Too many fans want to see it happen.''

Especially with Kentuckiana back in the national spotlight.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

The Stanley Cup is not the only trophy that will be awarded at the end of the Stanley Cup Final series between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights. The Conn Smythe will also be given to the player deemed the most valuable to his team during the playoffs.

Who will that player be?

It's not hard to figure out who the frontrunner is right now. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't just been the best goalie in the playoffs, he's been the best player with a dominant postseason in which he has posted a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. He has been so dominant, he could win it even if Vegas loses the series.

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

The last player from the losing team to win the Conn Smythe was Jean-Sebastian Giguere from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003.

But what about the Caps?

Alex Ovechkin is the leader of Washington and has been absolutely dominant throughout the postseason. He even scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Surprisingly, however, Ovechkin does not lead the team in points through the playoffs. Evgeny Kuznetsov holds that edge with 24 points to Ovechkin's 22.

Will their offensive dominance propel them to win the Cup and the Conn Smythe? Will a different player emerge as the hero of the series?

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

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Associated Press

Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, May 26, 17 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Contract makes Alex Smith a Redskins for at least three seasons

This post was originally published on March 19. 

When the Redskins traded for Alex Smith on January 30, news also broke that he had agreed to a four-year extension with Washington in addition to the one year left on his contract with the Chiefs. While we got some top-line numbers on the deal, we have gone since then without any details. 

Until now. 

The details show a deal that has a slightly higher cap hit in 2018 than was on his original Chiefs contract and the numbers rise gradually over the life of the deal, which runs through 2022. 

Smith got a $27 million signing bonus and his salaries for 2018 ($13 million) and 2019 ($15 million) also are fully guaranteed at signing making the total $55 million (information via Over the Cap, which got data from a report by Albert Breer). 

But there I another $16 million that is guaranteed for all practical purposes. On the fifth day of the 2019 league year, his 2020 salary of $16 million becomes fully guaranteed. He almost assuredly will get to the point where that money will become guaranteed since the Redskins are not going to cut him after one year having invested $55 million in him. So the total guarantees come to $71 million. 

His 2021 salary is $19 million and it goes up to $21 million in 2022. There have been reports of some incentives available to Smith but since we have no details we’ll set those aside for now. 

The cap hits on the contract are as follows: 

2018: $18.4 million
2019: $20.0 million
2020: $21.4 million
2021: $24.4 million
2022: $26.4 million

The Redskins can realistically move on from Smith after 2020. There would be net cap savings of $13 million in 2021 and $21 million in 2022. 

The first impression of the deal is that the Redskins did not move on from Kirk Cousins because they didn’t want to guarantee a lot of money to a quarterback. The total practical guarantee of $71 million is second only to Cousins’ $82.5 million. It should be noted that Cousins’ deal runs for three years and Smith’s contract is for five. 

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