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Midterm: Some of basketball's best freshman

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Midterm: Some of basketball's best freshman

The winter break is wrapping up, conference play is under way and youth is being served on college basketball teams across the country.

With most of the preliminaries out of the way, here are six of the standout freshmen who have passed the midterm tests for their teams. Some are playing right out of high school and others had to wait a year before their first college games - but they are playing and playing well. Just like the classroom rolls, they're listed in alphabetical order (statistics as of Thursday):

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Isaiah Austin, Baylor. The versatile 7-foot-1 center quickly made an impression for the Bears when he scored 22 points in 17 minutes in his debut - on 10-of-12 shooting with three dunks and two 3-pointers. Austin has provided a needed boost for the Bears after forwards Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller both left early for the NBA draft after a school-record 30 victories and NCAA regional final appearance last season. Austin isn't likely to stay for four years, either, but the Bears can enjoy him while he's there. He is fourth in the Big 12 in both points (14.9 per game) and rebounds (8.5).

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Anthony Bennett, UNLV. The 6-foot-8 forward is the nation's top scoring freshman at 19.4 points a game, which also topped all players in the Mountain West Conference. Bennett scored in double figures in each of his first 16 games, and had 10 rebounds or more in seven of those. The first McDonald's All-American since Freddie Banks in 1983 to go to UNLV straight out of high school, Bennett averaged 8.9 rebounds a game, and was second in the MWC shooting 56 percent from the field (106 of 190).

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Jahii Carson, Arizona State. The 5-foot-10 redshirt freshman guard was worth the wait for the Sun Devils. During the 2011-12 season, the Arizona prep standout who stayed home could only practice after being ruled an academic non-qualifier by the NCAA. Now he is fifth in the Pac-12, scoring 16.7 points a game and second in the league with 5.4 assists a game. He is playing 36 minutes a game, the most in the Pac-12 for any player and on pace to be the most for any Arizona State freshman. Carson already has five 20-point games, and became the fourth freshman in school history with a 30-point game (Creighton).

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Ben McLemore, Kansas. The 6-5 combo guard can score everywhere on the court for the sixth-ranked Jayhawks. The redshirt freshman is second in the Big 12 averaging 16.9 points a game after scoring 33 (just two off Danny Manning's KU freshman record) in the Jayhawks' Big 12-opening 97-89 overtime victory against Iowa State on Wednesday night. He had six 3-pointers, the fifth a bank shot that tied the game and forced overtime. The sixth came 11 seconds into overtime, starting an 11-0 game-clinching run for the Jayhawks.

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Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA. After having to wait until the fourth game to be cleared by the NCAA, the 6-foot-6 guard/forward scored in double figures his first 12 games, just like Kevin Love for the Bruins five years ago. Muhammad was second in the Pac-12 with 19.6 points a game and led the league making 49 percent of his 3-pointers (17 of 35). He had consecutive 27-point games in December, including seven points in overtime of a 97-94 victory over seventh-ranked Missouri when he hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with a minute left in the extra period for UCLA's first win over a top-10 non-conference opponent since 2007.

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Nerlens Noel, Kentucky. Seems impossible to have a list of top freshmen without a Wildcat since coach John Calipari churns out so many one-and-done stars. Noel, the lanky 6-foot-10 forward with hair several inches on top of that, arrived to comparisons of Anthony Davis, the NBA's top overall pick and AP Player of the Year last season as a freshman after the Wildcats won another national championship. Noel, who averages 10.3 points a game, is the SEC's top shot blocker (3.5 blocks per game) and ranks second in the league with 9.3 rebounds. By the way, two other Kentucky freshmen - Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress - average at least 14 points a game.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

Who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Need to Know: A look at the Redskins' key 2019 free agents

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Need to Know: A look at the Redskins' key 2019 free agents

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 27, 16 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. 

Here is my sunrise view from this morning:

Looking at next year’s free agents

This post was originally published on March 18. 

There is still work that the Redskins can do in free agency and they still have some of their own players they want to retain. But with a lot of the player movement already in the books, we can take a look forward some of the key Redskin who currently are set to be free agents when the 2019 league year opens. 

QB Colt McCoy (Week 1 age 32)—Lots of questions here. Will the Redskins want to keep him around for another year as Alex Smith’s backup? Or will they want a younger and cheaper backup? Will McCoy want to move on rather than back up another QB who doesn’t miss many games?

OL Ty Nsekhe (32)—The Redskins gave him a second-round restricted free agent tender this year so it’s possible that he could be gone or on a long-term contract in Washington. If he is a free agent, his value and the difficulty of retaining him could depend on if he ends the season as a reserve tackle (easy) or as a starting guard (hard). 

OLB Preston Smith (25)—As we saw with Trent Murphy (three years, $21 million with up to $30 million), pass rushers get paid. Smith also makes big plays. Since Smith came into the NFL, he is the only player with at least 20 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. If the Redskins can’t reach a deal on an extension with him this year the franchise tag is a distinct possibility. 

WR Jamison Crowder (25)—This year the supply of quality receivers both as free agents and in the draft sent contract prices skyrocketing. To guard against that happening next year, the Redskin should start talking to Crowder about an extension soon. 

ILB Zach Vigil (27)—As I noted here, Vigil went from being cut in September to a very valuable reserve in November. Both Zach Brown and Mason Foster will still be under contract, but the Redskin still should make an effort to retain Vigil for special teams and as a capable backup. 

Other Redskins who are slated to be UFA’s next year are DL Ziggy Hood and ILB Martrell Spaight. 

It’s also worth noting that WR Maurice Harris and DE Anthony Lanier will both be restricted free agents next year. Both positions were pricey in free agency this year, so both could require at least second-round tenders, which likely will increase to about $3 million in 2019. 

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