Wizards

NDSU, Sam Houston coaches ready for FCS rematch

NDSU, Sam Houston coaches ready for FCS rematch

FARGO, N.D. (AP) Hang on before you chalk up the Football Championship Subdivision title game as a rematch.

The coaches at North Dakota State and Sam Houston State said Thursday their teams are not carbon copies from a year ago.

``It's two new teams that are playing each other this season,'' Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said. ``A lot of the offense and defense and kicking game principles are the same, but there are a lot of differences that I can tell from watching the tape.''

The most obvious changes were made with assistant coaches, where NDSU needed to replace its defensive coordinator and the Bearkats brought in practically a new offensive staff. Both units are even better than a year ago.

The Bison, who won last year's game 17-6, will put their top-rated defense against Sam Houston State's No. 2 scoring offense in the Jan. 5 game in Frisco, Texas.

``They are very talented. They've got very good players,'' Fritz said. ``They're quick and fast. They play with great leverage. It's really tough to outflank them.''

Fritz has succeeded in improving his team's passing game, which worked as a surprise element last year, but struggled in obvious throwing situations. The result is a more balanced offense and a quarterback, Brian Bell, who ranks 11th in FCS in passing efficiency.

``It was a little bit bumpy at the beginning of the year like it always is when you implement something new,'' Fritz said. ``But we really took off about week four or five.''

Bison coach Craig Bohl said preparing for Sam Houston State's offense is more difficult this time around.

``They have a different play caller and their quarterback is throwing the ball significantly better,'' Bohl said. ``They've got a lot more threats. That's really going to stress our defense.''

NDSU's defense features an All-American cornerback in Marcus Williams, but is spearheaded by linebackers Grant Olson and Travis Beck. Olson had a school-record 29 tackles in a playoff win over Wofford. Beck came back the next week to make 15 tackles against Georgia Southern.

``We've got to get bodies on bodies,'' Fritz said, referring to his team's blocking.

Last year's game was a defensive struggle that saw NDSU escape with a 235-210 edge in total offense. The Bison broke the game open with their first fake punt of the year to set up the go-ahead touchdown.

Fritz, asked about the fake punt, said it was an excellent call and the play was executed well. Then he added, ``Shoot, I was trying to forget that.''

Bohl has been known to pull off the occasional trick play in his tenure with NDSU. The key touchdown in this year's playoff win over South Dakota State was an end around that worked when 5-foot-7 wide receiver Ryan Smith basically hid behind his linemen.

``Having good players execute it is the most important thing. In every ballgame you always look at things to try and find an edge,'' Bohl said. ``Certainly last year that (fake punt) proved to be a good play in the game.''

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John Wall badly wants to win and is sick of perception he cares more about his own stats

John Wall badly wants to win and is sick of perception he cares more about his own stats

John Wall is ready to put the 2017-18 season behind him, behind him like a hapless defender staring at the back of his No. 2 jersey on a fastbreak. 

After missing 41 games due to injuries and falling in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his career, the Wizards' All-Star point guard is taking nothing for granted. The 28-year-old believes he's about to lead the most talented team he's ever played on.

Wall has made five All-Star teams and one All-NBA selection. After playing for two seasons without one, he signed a reportedly five-year shoe deal with Adidas in 2018. He has a supermax contract, one that kicks in next season and begins at a projected $37.8 million.

What Wall doesn't have is what he's always wanted most. He wants to win.

The Wizards have made the playoffs four times in his career and reached the second round three times. The Eastern Conference Finals, however, has been elusive.

"I'm the type of guy that wants to have a statue out front. I want to bring a championship here. Those are all the things that I care about," Wall told NBC Sports Washington. "If you're not winning as a group and doing things as a team, then you don't get individual success. That's something that I learned a long time ago."

There was a lot about the 2017-18 season that bothered Wall. In particular, he detested the perception that grew that he was unhappy with the team's success while he was injured. 

During Wall's second injury absence, from late January to late March, the Wizards won five straight games and 10 of 13 with him watching from the sidelines.

Though it ultimately proved to be a mirage, as the Wizards lost 12 of their next 17 that he didn’t play, there were numbers early on that suggested their success was because they passed the ball more frequently without him. Comments from his teammates Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat to reporters and on social media were viewed by some as slights to their point guard.

Wall remained silent at first and a lack of communication between the sides allowed it all to bottle up. He did several interviews, including one with NBC Sports Washington, to give his side of the story and to say it was ridiculous he could be criticized for not being a team player.

That narrative still bothers him.

"Some people mistake me that all I care about is individual stats but that's never been my game," he said. "I don't think a lot of people really get that."

"I love to get assists. I love to get 10 assists before I score 30 points. It's just that I have the ability to do both. A lot of guys never had the ability to be able to do both. It's great to do that, but I feel like if I ain't winning then it don't mean s*** to me."

Wall's numbers are historically good for his age and he is aware of the company he's in. He is one of only four players to average at least 18 points, nine assists and four rebounds per game through their first eight NBA seasons. The other three were Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and Chris Paul. Johnson and Robertson are Hall of Famers and Paul will be there someday. 

Statistically, Wall is on a Hall of Fame track, but he wants much more than a plaque in Springfield, Massachusetts.

"I think about all of that. Everybody thinks about the Hall of Fame and being the franchise scoring leader and all that," he said. "I have all of those goals, but it don't mean s*** if you don't win at the end of the day. You can be a loser and have all of these records, but what does that stand for?"

Wall has been relatively fortunate throughout his career when it comes to his health, but his worst injuries have come at inopportune times. In 2015, his Wizards were up 1-0 on the Hawks in the second round of the playoffs when he suffered five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand. That may have cost him a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Last year, Wall's months-long injury saga began when he banged his knee with a Mavericks player in just the 10th game of the season. 

It was a down year for him and the Wizards in a season in which the Cavaliers were vulnerable, the Celtics had major injuries and the Sixers were still learning how to win. If Washington was at full-strength, perhaps they could have taken advantage.

Now, after an offseason that brought newcomers Dwight Howard, Austin Rivers and Jeff Green to Washington, and that saw LeBron James leave the Eastern Conference, Wall feels he has a serious opportunity to win.

He just wants to get back to the postseason and take another shot at a deep playoff run he believes he is destined for.

"We had a great chance [in 2017]," he said. "We just s***ed the bed. That's how it goes. I don't think [time is] running out, but teams are getting better."

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

On Saturday, the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals faced off against one of the hottest young teams in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was viewed as a marquee matchup and it certainly lived up to its billing with both teams battling in a tight, well-played game.

In the end, Toronto walked away as the 4-2 victors in one of their better wins of the young season, but not everyone left that game impressed.

A team that already boasted super-star talent Auston Matthews added John Tavares in the offseason as a free agent giving the Maple Leafs a formidable one, two punch at center. For most of the game, the Caps were able to shut down that center tandem.

Lars Eller was asked after the game how the Caps were able to keep the Leafs’ big stars in check and he indicated that perhaps Tavares and Matthews were not as formidable a pair as they had been made out to be.

“We’re used to playing against [Sidney Crosby] and [Evgeni Malkin],” Eller said. “Everything kind of drops from there so it’s not that special. It’s a good team like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I think.”

Not surprisingly, that quote caught Toronto’s attention, especially forward Nazem Kadri.

Per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, Kadri called Eller’s comments “bulletin board material.”

With 12 points in seven games, the Maple Leafs currently boast the top record in the league. Toronto is far from perfect, however, and their defense remains a major question mark in whether this team is a true Stanley Cup contender.

But as to whether or not they are a playoff team? That seems like a pretty safe bet.

The Caps and Maple Leafs will meet twice more this season on Jan. 23 and Feb. 21. Both games are in Toronto.  

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