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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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Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

The Florida Panthers played over half of Friday’s game with five defensemen after a hit from Alex Ovechkin ultimately knocked Mark Pysyk out of the game.

Early in the second period, Ovechkin attempted to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but it was swept away at the blue line back to Pysyk. Pysyk quickly chipped the puck away and then was on the receiving end of a hit from Ovechkin.

In real time, the hit did not appear to be a big one. It wasn't even the biggest hit Ovechkin delivered in the game, as in the third period he sent Aleksander Barkov flying with a shoulder hit. But Pysyk went down to the ice after the hit and left the game soon after.

After the game, Florida head coach Bob Boughner did not mince words.

“Pysyk got a high hit to the head,” he said.

When asked if he thought the league should review the hit, Boughner said, “I hope they do because if you see the replay, it's high. It's a head shot. And the league's trying to clamp down on that. Whether there's no call, I don't blame the refs. Maybe they missed it. That happens. But those are the kind of plays that need to be reviewed.”

Based on the replay, it is hard to determine if the principal point of contact was the head. Ovechkin does not launch himself, but does appear to take an upward trajectory into Pysyk. Still, it seems like a hard sell to say Ovechkin was targeting the head.

But the hit did send Pysyk out of the game, and in today’s NHL, when head hits are a big topic of conversation and when a player is injured on a play, the NHL has shown it takes those plays more seriously.

Pysyk returned to the game for one more shift after receiving the hit, but left the game after and did not return.

“Right now we're still getting him checked out, but we'll see more in the morning,” Boughner said.

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Three reasons the Capitals lost to the Panthers

Three reasons the Capitals lost to the Panthers

Friday’s game had a little bit of everything. After spotting the Florida Panthers a 4-1 lead, the Capitals furiously battled back to tie the game at 4, then tied the game at 5 with just 1:25 remaining in regulation to earn an improbable point. The comeback ultimately fell short, however, as the Panthers earned the 6-5 shootout win.

Here are three reasons the Caps lost.

Bad puck management

A disastrous first period saw the Panthers score four goals and the biggest reason for that was the Caps’ puck management. They were sloppy with the puck leading to a number of costly turnovers, and Florida took advantage.

A good illustration of this game with Washington already trailing 2-1: Jakub Vrana made a lazy pass in the defensive zone that was easily intercepted by Jonathan Huberdeau, who forced a really nice save from Braden Holtby.

Whew, bullet dodged. Actually, not so fast.

Brett Connolly won the resulting faceoff, but Michal Kempny attempted a backhanded pass behind the net that was easily stolen away by Vincent Trocheck. Florida went tic-tac-toe with Trocheck to Huberdeau to Colton Sceviour who finished off the play for the goal.

No control in front of the net

Trocheck scored a rebound goal from the slot that bounced off of Lars Eller and into the net. Evgenii Dadonov scored from the slot on the power play. Sceviour scored from the high-slot after what was a generous pass from Huberdeau who looked like he could have scored from closer in…from the slot. Jared McCann pounced on a loose puck in the slot to beat a sprawling Holtby and Huberdeau scored off a rebound right in front of Holtby.

See a pattern?

The Panthers had complete control in front of the Caps’ net and all five of their goals came from in close.

Penalties

The Caps had a pretty good start to the game, but that was derailed by a Jakub Vrana penalty just 6:10 into the game. Evgeny Kuznetsov was called for hooking about 10 minutes later and Dadonov scored to put Florida up 2-1.

Despite the penalties and going down 4-1 in the first, the Caps battled back to a 4-4 tie in the second. Then the penalties popped up again.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad late in the period. It was a tough call as the puck as was at Ekblad’s feet, but Ovechkin made no attempt to play the loose puck at all and simply hit Ekblad, drawing an interference call. Less than a minute later, the Caps were called for too many men giving Florida 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with and Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal.

After three-straight goals, the Caps’ penalties completely derailed them and swept momentum back in the Panthers’ favor.

But wait, there’s more.

With the time ticking away on the too many men penalty, Kuznetsov was tossed out of the faceoff dot. He argued with the linesman and apparently argued a bit too hard because the linesman went to the referee and Kuznetsov was booked for unsportsmanlike conduct giving Florida another 10 seconds of 5-on-3.

Despite all of that, the Caps still managed to tie the game with just 1:25 remaining in the game. Matt Niskanen, however, took a penalty with just 23 seconds left. With a 4-on-3 power play to start overtime, 

Overall, Washington gave the Panthers seven power play opportunities including two 5-on-3s, gave up two goals on the man advantage and completely killed their own momentum.

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