Louisville picked No. 1 in Big East

Louisville picked No. 1 in Big East

NEW YORK (AP) Notre Dame coach Mike Brey walked into Big East media day at the New York Athletic Club, saw the table with a large card bearing the school's name and faked a sigh of relief.

``I thought we would be in a closet,'' Brey said Wednesday, anticipating the reaction to Notre Dame announcing last month it was leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference. ``I thought they would put us where Pitt and Syracuse were last year.''

This was the last Big East media day for Pittsburgh and Syracuse, who announced last year they were leaving for the ACC.

West Virginia left after last season for the Big 12. Pitt and Syracuse go after this season and Notre Dame could go after 2012-13 or wait one more season before leaving.

Conference movement is a way of life in college sports. Schools are playing in leagues whose names don't make sense anymore - by numbers or direction.

``The Big East is a committed group of schools,'' said new commissioner Mike Aresco, a former television executive. ``I'm no prophet but we think expansion has subsided and we have a solid core. TV is a hugely important issue. It provides financial stability for the conference, confidence for conference membership and also exposure in a wide variety of platforms for the schools.''

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim let everybody know right away all questions Wednesday would be about the Big East and this season alone.

``They knew we were going last year,'' Boeheim said when asked about how the other fans in the league might treat the Orange in their last conference visit. ``I just hope we have the same record as last year on the road (9-1 in true road games). They've never liked us since I've been here anyway.''

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said he thinks the Panthers playing their last season in the Big East is ``something to be written and talked about.''

``The Big East has gone through so many shifts with teams coming and going,'' he said, referring to the 17 schools that have joined (and some left) the league since seven charter schools began play in 1979-80. ``Players play. Coaches coach. There are six teams in the ACC that are Big East teams. ... The Big East is the best conference and it has been over the last several season. We're leaving a great place and going to a great place. It's not a big change. What it is is beyond our control. College athletics the way it is today is money, TV and all those things factor in. But for coaches and teams they just want great basketball conferences to play in.''

When the talk about teams going and coming (UCF, Houston, Memphis, Temple and SMU join next season) slowed down, there was plenty to go over about the upcoming season.

Louisville, which has three starters back from last season's Final Four team, was the unanimous choice for first place in the coaches' preseason poll.

The Cardinals, who won the Big East tournament last season, received 14 first-place votes and Notre Dame got the other, obviously from Louisville coach Rick Pitino.

``There are probably 40 schools right now that have a chance in college basketball the way it is today,'' Pitino said. ``Last year Duke, Connecticut and Pittsburgh were all ranked in the national preseason Top Ten. Duke lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Lehigh. Connecticut lost to Iowa State in the first round and Pitt didn't even make the tournament.

``You've got to be a great defensive team to make it to the Final Four and we are a great defensive team. We're not there yet with some things but we certainly are a good defensive team. ... We could have the best 10 players in America. We have 10 really good guys.''

Syracuse, coming off a school-record 34-3 mark, was second and Notre Dame, which returns all five starters, was third.

Cincinnati was fourth followed by Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Marquette, USF, Connecticut, St. John's, Rutgers, Villanova, DePaul, Seton Hall and Providence.

Connecticut faces one of the biggest changes in the country following the retirement of Jim Calhoun, who will be remembered for turning a regional program into a national power in his 26 years in Storrs. He won an NIT championship in 1988 and national titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011. His teams won 10 Big East regular-season championships and seven Big East tournament titles.

Kevin Ollie, the man replacing Calhoun, used to run the offense for him as a point guard and also played relentless defense for the Huskies before heading off for a 12-year NBA career. Ollie's first season will be one that will end without participation in either the Big East or NCAA tournaments over academic shortcomings by the program.

``You see the NCAA tournament coming and you can get dejected and I have to control that,'' Ollie said. ``We have to accept it, face it and get over it. I would be lying to you if I said it didn't hurt.''

Shabazz Napier, a member of the 2011 title team, said there's nothing the team can do about the postseason ban. Still, Ollie has been working them harder than the previous coach did at this time of the preseason.

``It's been tough. Coach is a guy who will make you work and will keep pushing you. He's all about being in great condition,'' the junior guard said. ``He fills in the void of Jim Calhoun and he's really good.''

He was asked to compare the two coaching styles.

``As of right now there's not as much yelling but he'll get there. He's energetic,'' Napier said. ``Coach Calhoun would yell at you and get on you for making a mistake. Coach doesn't do that yet.''

Peyton Siva was selected preseason player of the year, the first time a Louisville player received that honor.

Joining Siva on the first team were Jack Cooley of Notre Dame, Vincent Council of Providence, Sean Kilpatrick of Cincinnati, Gorgui Dieng of Louisville and Otto Porter of Georgetown.

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Nationals rally, but find themselves treading water again

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Nationals rally, but find themselves treading water again

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals lost to the Chicago Cubs, 6-5, Sunday to drop their record to 19-27. Here are five observations from the game…

1. A word about Anthony Rendon first.

His three-run homer dragged the Nationals to within 6-4 on Sunday night. He also walked and a soft liner off his bat was caught by a leaping Addison Russell at shortstop. He was stellar in the field. After an initial rusty patch when returning from the injured list, he is back to his normal self and one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League. He could finally be going to his first All-Star Game.

Second, a word about Howie Kendrick.

He homered -- again -- his seventh already this season. Things around the Nationals’ poor start are not great. They would be severely amplified if Kendrick wasn’t walking around with a .317 batting average and an almost 1.000 OPS.

Their work was not enough Sunday. The Cubs took a 4-0 lead early, then hung on late, spoiling the Nationals chance for a rare second consecutive series win.

2. “Little things” kicked in again Sunday.

A fourth-inning passed ball by Kurt Suzuki moved a runner to third with one out. Kyle Schwarber’s sacrifice fly drove him in.

Juan Soto’s late break from second with two outs in the sixth inning led to third base coach Bob Henley giving a rare stop sign at third base. Albert Almora Jr.’s throw for center field went soaring over bot the catcher and pitcher at home plate. If Soto broke early or Henley took his usual chance, another run would have scored.

The Nationals’ overall defense was cleaner Sunday. Rendon made multiple quality defensive plays, Brian Dozier also two slick stops. But, two smaller incidents flipped two runs in what became a 6-4 game.

3. Jeremy Hellickson is going in reverse.

He lasted just three innings Sunday, and was lucky to make it there. Hellickson opened the game by loading the bases via walks. Despite him laying the groundwork for a devastating first inning, he allowed just a run.

Runners made it to second and third to start the second inning, but just one scored. A leadoff homer for Anthony Rizzo bumped the Cubs’ lead to 3-0 in the third. Hellickson wiggled away from a double in the inning to finish his evening in arrears, 3-0.

He threw 64 pitches, just 30 strikes.

The outing was the second time this season Hellickson lasted just three innings in a start. He gave up five earned runs the last time. Four of his previous five outings delivered a Game Score of 34 or lower (50 is the starting point with potential to go up -- or down). A non-analytical measure of those outings is to simply call them uncompetitive.

The trouble for Washington is it has no clear option to replace Hellickson and his 6.23 ERA in the rotation, if it decided that was the best course of action going forward. Joe Ross could swap spots wit Hellickson, flipping Ross into the rotation and Hellickson into the bullpen. Kyle McGowin, called up from Triple-A Fresno on Friday, relieved Hellickson on Sunday. He’s not big-league ready.

Austin Voth is the only minor-league starter on the 40-man roster but not on the 25-man roster. Voth has a 3.89 ERA in Fresno this season.

4. Trevor Rosenthal continues to creep toward a return.

He threw a bullpen session in Nationals Park on Sunday after a day off Saturday. Rosenthal pitched in back-to-back games Thursday and Friday for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators.

Rosenthal is going to Harrisburg to throw another inning Monday, then be re-evaluated. He had another rough outing Friday for the Senators: ⅓ of an inning, 21 pitches, 11 strikes, a walk and hit allowed.

Nationals manager Davey Martinez said the misses were up and down in the zone. Rosenthal was previously pulling pitches to his left.

“I watched video,” Martinez said. “His mechanics are pretty good right now.”

Is he close to returning?

“I think he’s really close,” Martinez said. “We’ll see how this next outing goes for him.”

5. More progress for the injured.

Matt Adams (left shoulder strain) took 40 swings Sunday, felt good afterward, and is nearing a pre-game stint on the field, possibly Monday with the team in New York.

Ryan Zimmerman (plantar fasciitis) continues to swing and play defense. He was expected to run Sunday, the final step in his rehabilitation. He could be ready “very soon” according to Martinez.

Tony Sipp (oblique) took Sunday off after pitching an inning Saturday for Single-A Potomac.

Outfielder Andrew Stevenson (back spasms) was sent back to Triple-A Fresno on Sunday. He will begin playing games with the Grizzlies on Monday.


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Cubs drop protest, but not stance about Sean Doolittle's delivery

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Cubs drop protest, but not stance about Sean Doolittle's delivery

WASHINGTON -- Sunday afternoon’s discussions still revolved around Saturday night’s close, which Washington manager Davey Martinez referred to as a “fiasco” on Sunday.

Chicago manager Joe Maddon started a chaotic situation when he popped out of the dugout following Sean Doolittle’s first pitch in the ninth inning Saturday. Maddon contended Doolittle’s “toe-tap” was an illegal delivery, akin to when Chicago reliever Carl Edwards Jr. tried to add a pause in spring training, but was told the move was illegal.

The umpires told him, and Doolittle, the delivery was legal. Chicago filed a protest with the league. After consulting with Major League Baseball and MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, Joe Torre, the Cubs dropped their protest Sunday morning.

A point of differentiation is whether the pitcher is taking a second step. Umpires previously determined Edwards was taking a second step. They determined Doolittle was not. This is a judgment call for the umpires and is not reviewable.

Official Baseball Rule 5.07(a) states in part: “The pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch. If there is a runner, or runners, on base it is a balk under Rule 6.02(a); if the bases are unoccupied it is an illegal pitch under Rule 6.02(b).”

The league, according to Maddon, said there is a difference between Edwards placing his full foot on the ground and Doolittle grazing the mound with a cleat when he delivered. Maddon continued to not agree with the interpretation.

“We went through the whole process,” Maddon said. “Our guys in the office spoke to MLB and I talked to Mr. Torre. The whole thing I wanted to really get done was protect Carl. I really didn’t anticipate a whole lot to be done with it. Even though I still don’t agree with the conclusion, because I think it’s exactly what Carl did, only a different version of it. But the point was, I would not be a good parent if I had not spoken up for my guy. And that’s what I was doing last night and, again, it’s just to eliminate any gray area there just for future because it’s going to happen again down the road somewhere and you’re just trying to delineate what is right and what is wrong. In my mind, it wasn’t a judgment call, I thought it was black-and-white. It wasn’t gray.”

Maddon said multiple times that Doolittle tapped with his toe in addition to grazing the mound, both of which, he contended, were not legal or different than Edwards' attempt at deception.

The congenial Doolittle was steamed postgame Saturday and remained irritated Sunday. Saturday, he took multiple shots at Maddon during his postgame commentary. He also taunted the idea when throwing warmup pitches while Maddon argued with umpires by making exaggerated kicks with his leg and multiple stops with his foot. Doolittle switched to a delivery without any stops -- one he often uses -- after the protest as a way to show Maddon he didn’t need the tweak to be successful.

“In that moment, he's not trying to do anything other than rattle me and it was kind of tired,” Doolittle said Saturday. “I don't know. Sometimes he has to remind people how smart he is and how much he pays attention to the game and stuff like that. He put his stamp on it for sure.

"I actually have to thank him. After they came out the second, the [Kyle] Schwarber at-bat, I threw two fastballs and a slider and a fastball to [Kris] Bryant and those were probably the best ones I've thrown in a while. I don't do the tap when there's somebody on base so I can keep my pickoff move available if I need it. I've had a lot of traffic recently, so I've had practice doing it, so it wasn't like a huge adjustment to me. I don't know. In a way, I kind of need to thank him."

Asked Sunday if Doolittle’s comments were relayed to him, Maddon smiled and said yes.

“Listen, I have no issue with that whatsoever,” Maddon said. “We’re all emotional. I’ve said a lot of things I didn’t want to say years ago -- even in this ballpark. I think if he understood the entire context, he might have had a different opinion. Even if he was the manager himself -- if he was me -- or if he was being protected by his manager under similar circumstances, I think his stance may be different.”

No one -- the league, Maddon or Doolittle -- changed their perspective a day later.