Nationals

No. 1 Michigan and No. 3 Indiana take center stage

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No. 1 Michigan and No. 3 Indiana take center stage

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Indiana should be getting used to all this.

Students lining up in chilly temperatures long before tip-off so they can see America's No. 1 team play at Assembly Hall. A nationally televised game that will become the focal point of the college basketball universe for one day. And the Hoosiers vying again for the Big Ten lead.

On Saturday, it's all about facing Michigan.

``It's going to be a big game, and I really can't wait for it,'' freshman guard Kevin Ferrell said.

Nobody in Bloomington can.

After stumbling in December against Butler and again early in conference play against Wisconsin, the Hoosiers (18-2, 7-1) have been trying to play their way back to the No. 1 spot they held through the first month of the season. A win Saturday might finally get them back on top, and Indiana is playing its best basketball of the season.

National player of the year candidate Cody Zeller broke out of his two-game shooting funk Wednesday night, dominating the middle against Purdue. Not surprisingly, his inside presence opened things up for the Hoosiers' 3-point shooters, who knocked down a season-high 12 against the Boilermakers. Indiana's vastly improved defense continues to play well, too, ranking 12th nationally in defensive field goal percentage (37.3).

The result: Indiana slugged it out with then-No. 13 Michigan State on Sunday before pulling away for a 75-70 victory, moved up four spots to No. 3 in Monday's AP poll and then handed Purdue its worst ever home loss, 97-60.

If they can beat a No. 1 team at home for the second time in 14 months, the Hoosiers will sweep their biggest week of the season.

``Everybody can play, they can run, shoot, play defense, they can do everything,'' Indiana guard Jordan Hulls said of Michigan. ``So you know we're excited for this opportunity.''

Michigan is playing well, too.

Since losing at No. 15 Ohio State on Jan. 13, following their first perfect nonconference season since 1985-86, the Wolverines (20-1, 7-1) have won four straight - including their last three by at least 14 points. Sophomore guard Trey Burke is averaging 17.9 points and 7.1 assists and, like Zeller, is a national player of the year candidate and a preseason All-American.

A win would allow Michigan to retain its first No. 1 ranking since 1992-93, the second season of the Fab Five, for a second straight week.

Plus, the winner would take sole possession of the conference lead at the midway mark.

``We're looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of hype. It's going to be a really hectic crowd and atmosphere,'' Burke said. ``I know guys are ready. Indiana's a really good team. We'll be ready for them. It should be a fun game.''

And perhaps another milestone in a series that has had its share of memorable moments.

The only other time Michigan faced Indiana as the No. 1 team came Feb. 15, 1965, and the Wolverines won 96-95 in overtime over the eighth-ranked Hoosiers.

There was Indiana's victory in the 1976 national championship game, the first of Bob Knight's three national titles and the last undefeated season in major college basketball. There was Michigan's 65-52 victory on Jan. 24, 1995, which ended Indiana's 50-game winning streak at Assembly Hall. And, of course, there was the early 1990s rivalry between the Indiana teams led by Calbert Cheaney and Damon Bailey and the Wolverines teams with the Fab Five. Indiana went 3-1 in those two years.

Historically, though, things have not gone well for the Hoosiers in these contests.

Indiana is 2-5 all-time against No. 1 teams in Bloomington and a win Saturday would make these upperclassmen the first players in school history to beat two No. 1 teams at home and the first to beat No. 1 teams in two straight regular seasons. Indiana beat Michigan State at home on a last-second shot in January 2001 and Duke in the 2002 NCAA tournament. Christian Watford hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to upset No. 1 Kentucky last season.

The Hoosiers have only faced a No. 1 team twice before when they were ranked No. 3: Losing at Iowa in January 1987 and beating UNLV in the Final Four two months later.

Indiana understands what it's up against this time, too.

Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas are all averaging double figures and are ready to prove they really are America's best team.

``We know they're a talented team. They're on top of the Big Ten,'' Zeller said.

The question is will the Wolverines have everyone on deck?

Forward Jordan Morgan, Michigan's second-leading rebounder, missed Wednesday's game against Northwestern with a sprained right ankle and his status for Saturday remains uncertain.

``He's going to try and do some things with us today,'' coach John Beilein said. ``We won't know until he moves out there a little bit.''

But the Hoosiers aren't worried about injuries, the buildup or the outside influences.

If they've learned anything over this past season and a half, it's this: Be themselves.

``It's a great opportunity,'' Hulls said. ``It's going to be a fun atmosphere and we're definitely excited about it.''

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MLB All-Star FanFest: Searching for a jersey from every team

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USA Today Sports

MLB All-Star FanFest: Searching for a jersey from every team

A sea of red and white Nationals jerseys flooded toward the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. But there wasn’t a Bryce Harper signing. And there wasn’t even a game. The Nationals are in New York to play the Mets. 

Then, as I turned and walked down the street I began to see random jerseys: Phillies, Yankees, Astros and Mets, among others.

It all clicked.

Ah, yes, the MLB All-Star weekend and its annual FanFest

As I walked inside the building and looked around, there was everything from memorabilia to interactive games like a speed gun, home run derby and more. 

MLB fans filled the building and the once-sea of red and white thinned out into a blob of colors. Fans from all different teams came out for the weekend’s festivities.

This left me curious: Could I find a jersey for every MLB team?

It was easy to find the big name teams. Going down the escalator, I was hit with a couple Jacob deGrom jerseys and a Carlos Correa one, as well. 

Mets, check. Astros, check.

A right turn and there was an Aaron Nola jersey, the All-Star phenom who surprised this year for the first-place Phillies. Check.

The Yankees and Red Sox weren’t far behind. 

As the day went on, my notepad of teams kept getting crossed off. The National League Central was the first division to go, and the American League Central followed suit. Surprisngly, it took me a couple hours — of course, I wasn't searching the whole time — to find the Marlins. Every other NL East team was easy.

Three hours later, I had found all but five teams: Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels. 

I decided to take another lap before I left. And standing, right by the stolen base activity, stood a man in a Randy Johnson throwback Diamondbacks jersey. 

We both look at the kids running down the line toward the base before a purple jersey caught my eye. It was another kid, waiting in line, wearing a Nolan Arenado jersey.

That left me with just three more teams. As I headed toward the exit, I was shocked I had not seen a Mike Trout jersey. One of the greatest players in modern baseball and not one Angels fan.

Then a co-worker pointed toward the MLB shop area. Finally, a Trout jersey. And then I turned around to grab my backpack and notebook. Another Trout jersey. Weird. I crossed off the name and looked up. Another Angels jersey. OK, enough. 

With just two more jerseys left and me being the stubborn person I am, I walked around the FanFest for another 20 minutes, looking for that green A’s jersey, or dark blue Rays one. 

Then, I finally found Stomper, the Athletics mascot taking photos with kids. On him was an A’s jersey — ironic, right? 

After about 10 more minutes I gave up. There were no Rays jerseys. The best I could do was a Tampa Bay tank top a woman was wearing while her kids played. But, that doesn’t count. We’re looking for jerseys.

Oh, and here are other sports apparel that I saw before that non-existent Rays jersey.

  • Atlanta Falcons Matt Ryan t-shirt
  • San Francisco 49ers Jimmy Garoppolo jersey 
  • A Texas Longhorns athletic shirt
  • France soccer jersey
  • Philadelphia 76ers shirt
  • Montreal Expos Vlad Guerrero jersey
  • Oakland Raiders Bo Jackson jersey
  • Golden State Warriors Steph Curry jersey
  • DC United Wayne Rooney jersey

And so, the search for a Rays jersey continues. 

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Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

When asked at his introductory press conference for how he will fit on the Wizards' roster from a basketball perspective, guard Austin Rivers didn't first cite his three-point shooting, his ability to affect games scoring off the bench or his speed to run the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The first thing he point to was his defense.

That may have surprised some people out there as Rivers has long been known for his scoring ability and not so much his skills on the other end. It's not that he can't play defense, it's just that most of the highlights he's produced over the years have been due to his high-flying finishes at the rim and wicked pull-up jumper from three-point range.

Defense, though, is something Rivers takes pride in and he hopes to continue developing as a defender in Washington.

"With how much Brad and John have to do every night, for them to not have to always guard the best guard on the other team, that's something I can come in here and do. Try to bring that competitive spirit and be one of the defenders on the team," Rivers said.

Rivers' defensive ability has produced some controversy among Wizards fans and media members on social media. Some insist he does not bring value on that end of the floor, while some numbers suggest he does have some defensive potential.

Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game. He was tied for fifth on the Clippers in defensive win shares.

However, his 113 defensive rating was his worst since 2013-14. It was an outlier on the Clippers and not in the good way. He also ranked nowhere near the top of the league in deflections or contested three-point shots, two hustle stats that guys like Wall and Beal fair well in.

Rivers points to two attributes that he believes make him a strong perimeter defender. One is his versatility and the other you could call scrappiness.

"On defense [the Wizards] can switch one through three or one through four. I think that gives us a lot of dangerous options," he said.

As for his scrappiness, Rivers says it comes from the early days of his career.

"I had to figure out ways to be effective without [a jumpshot] and that's how I became a defender. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? I'm happy I did have those early career struggles because it made me find a side of me that I didn't do [early on]. Because I promise you I didn't play any defense at Duke," he said.

The last line drew laughter from those gathered at his introductory press conference. Rivers insists that he now takes that end of the floor very seriously. The Wizards certainly hope he can back up his words.

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