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No. 10 Florida wants another shot at Final Four

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No. 10 Florida wants another shot at Final Four

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida could be coming off back-to-back trips to the Final Four.

The Gators squandered late leads against Louisville (2012) and Butler (2011) in regional finals the last two seasons, disappointing losses that still haunt some of the team's upperclassmen.

``There's not a day that doesn't go by that I still don't think about it,'' junior center Pat Young said.

The 10th-ranked Gators want another shot at college basketball's biggest stage, and they seemingly have the players to make it happen. Coach Billy Donovan returns seven of nine key contributors, including three starters and his entire frontcourt, and has a schedule built to prepare his team for the NCAA tournament.

``People aren't going to remember that we came up short,'' Young said. ``I want to leave here with a championship. We all want to. We know we have all the components necessary to get there.''

Florida's quest begins Nov. 9 against Georgetown on the USS Bataan in nearby Jacksonville. The non-conference schedule also includes games against No. 23 Wisconsin (Nov. 14), Marquette (Nov. 29), No. 25 Florida State (Dec. 5), No. 12 Arizona (Dec. 15) and Kansas State (Dec. 22).

It's Florida's toughest slate in Donovan's 17 seasons in Gainesville.

But the Gators seem up for the challenge.

Guard Kenny Boynton and fellow starters Young and forward Erik Murphy are back, along with guards Scottie Wilbekin and Mike Rosario as well as versatile forwards Will Yeguete and Casey Prather. Throw in freshmen Michael Frazier II, Dillon Graham, Braxton Ogbueze and Devon Walker, and Donovan has the ability to press more than he has in years and the depth to handle injuries and foul trouble.

``The one thing that is clear right from the get-go is we have incredible potential defensively,'' Donovan said.

The Gators might need to alter their identity, mostly to compensate for losing guards Brad Beal and Erving Walker. Beal turned pro after his freshman season and was selected by Washington with the third pick in the NBA draft. Walker graduated, leaving school as the program's all-time assist leader.

Both were solid shooters, helping Florida lead the nation in 3-pointers last season.

``I do think we need to change some things on offense because our team is a little bit different,'' Donovan said. ``Last year, clearly the identity was we could really, really shoot 3s. I think we have a good shooting team, but we probably, with the loss of Walker and Beal, don't have the same depth shooting the ball as we did a year ago.''

The Gators have plenty of depth in the frontcourt. But Young needs to stay out of foul trouble. Murphy needs to become a post presence. And Yeguete needs to develop a short-range jumper.

But what really motivates this team is the way the last two years ended.

Florida led Butler by 11 points midway through the second half before collapsing and losing in overtime. Last year ended in similar fashion. The Gators were up 11 with about 8 minutes to play against Louisville, but managed just three points the rest of the way and lost 72-68.

``Our guys really need to be careful with the mentality of we got to try and get over the hump and get to the Final Four,'' Donovan said. ``We can actually end up being a better team than a year ago and not go as far. With that being said, there's no guarantee right now that we're even an NCAA tournament team. You have to earn your way into that. You have to work your way into that.

``Our guys need to understand, and I think that they do, that there's a process.''

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Need to Know: Looking ahead — The Redskins’ salary cap status

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Need to Know: Looking ahead — The Redskins’ salary cap status

Here is what you need to know on Wednesday, September 26, 12 days before the Washington Redskins visit the New Orleans Saints.  

Talking Points

It’s an early bye week so it’s kind of early to be doing a look at the Redskins’ 2019 salary cap.

But the bye is where it is so let’s take a look at what’s going on in the land of prorated bonuses and dead money for next year. 

All cap info is via Over The Cap

The cap for next year is expected to be around $190 million, an increase of slightly over seven percent. This is consistent with cap growth over the last several years. 

Using that number, the Redskins currently have $25.1 million in salary cap space for next year. That number may decline between now and the end of the year. It counts $10.4 million of rollover from this season. The amount they have to roll over could decline if the Redskins have to dip further into their 2018 cap money to sign more players to replace the ones on injured reserve. That can create a dent in the rollover amount. 

If that doesn’t sound like a lot of money, it isn’t. There are 22 other teams who will have more cap space than Washington. 

If the Redskins decide they need more cap room, there are a few routes they could take. One move that they are unlikely to make is to restructure contracts, pushing some cap money back into 2020 and beyond to create for immediate spending money. The organization has a history of avoiding doing this unless it becomes absolutely necessary. 

The more conventional way of saving cap room is to release high-priced veterans. Before the season started there was a lot of talk about the possibility that Josh Norman could be a cap casualty after this season. The last of the guaranteed money on his contract was paid out this year and the Redskins could save $8.5 million in cap space if they let him go. 

That talk was before the season started and now he is a key player in a defense that is playing well. There is a long way to go but the Redskins may want to hang on to Norman despite his $14.5 million cap number next year. 

There are other veterans who could be released to save anywhere from under one million dollars to around $6 million. There will be plenty of time to talk about those players when the season ends, and we can better estimate the value of their performances was compared to their cap costs. 

One other way they can create more cap space if by extending the contract of Brandon Scherff. He is due $12.5 million on his fifth-year option next year. All of that will hit the 2019 cap. If he and the Redskins agree to an extension that would keep him from becoming a free agent in 2020 they could structure it in such a way that it would create more cap space this year. 

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The Agenda

Today: Bye week

Upcoming: Redskins @ Saints (October 8) 12 days; Panthers @ Redskins 18; Cowboys @ Redskins 25

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Max Scherzer reaches 300 season strikeout mark in Nationals win over Marlins

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USA Today

Max Scherzer reaches 300 season strikeout mark in Nationals win over Marlins

With a bottle of bubbly at his feet and a baseball with the inscription "300 Ks" in a case in his locker, Max Scherzer allowed himself a moment to consider what he'd just accomplished.

"It was something I dreamed of, reaching this mark," Scherzer said, "because I know how hard it is to consistently go out there and strike guys out."

Scherzer became the 17th pitcher since 1900 to strike out 300 batters in a season, reaching that milestone by fanning 10 in seven innings Tuesday night during the Washington Nationals' otherwise meaningless 9-4 victory over the Miami Marlins.

"A big number," Nationals catcher Matt Wieters said, "when you're talking about strikeouts."

Scherzer (18-7) lowered his ERA to 2.53 by allowing one run in seven innings as he bids for a third consecutive NL Cy Young Award; he also won the 2013 honor in the AL for Detroit. He threw 70 of his 100 pitches for strikes, gave up five hits and didn't walk a batter.

The righty reached 300 by getting Austin Dean to whiff on an 85-mph slider at the end of a 10-pitch at-bat for the second out of the seventh. Scherzer pumped his fist while much of the announced crowd of 26,483 -- including his wife, Erica May-Scherzer -- joined players in the home dugout and home bullpen by saluting the ace with a standing ovation.

"I definitely wanted to do it here at home," said the 34-year-old Scherzer, who is currently slated to make one more start, in Sunday's season finale at Colorado. "The fans -- unbelievable support."

They would chant, "Let's go, Max!" They would rise and cheer when he had two strikes on a hitter. They would emit a collective "Awwwwwww" when a pitch near the plate was ruled a ball -- or even when a pitch resulted in any sort of out that wouldn't add to his strikeout total.

Sweating profusely on a muggy, 78-degree evening, Scherzer had all of his repertoire working, from the 97-mph fastballs he threw past Lewis Brinson for strikeouts in the fourth and seventh innings, to the 84-mph changeup that JT Riddle missed for a K leading off the game.

As is Scherzer's wont, he stalked around the grass after strikeouts.

Asked whether he considered pulling his famously intense pitcher before No. 300, Nationals manager Dave Martinez laughed.

"I value my life," Martinez joked. "He was going to get 10 today, somehow."

Scherzer now has 10 strikeouts or more in a majors-high 18 of his 33 starts in 2018, and 82 such games for his career.

He got Dean by throwing fastball after fastball with a full count, then getting him to chase a slider.

"That's probably where you can see Max has become a more complete pitcher than he was earlier in his career," Wieters said, "where he was able to go with the slider and execute it and realize that with where that fastball was starting, (Dean is) going to be way out in front of it."

Dean's take?

"He's the best pitcher in baseball," the Marlins rookie said.

The case certainly can be made. This is, after all, a guy with two no-hitters and a 20-strikeout game on his resume, along with the Cy Youngs.

Scherzer entered Tuesday ranked No. 1 in the NL in eight significant statistical categories, including strikeouts, strikeouts-to-walks ratio (5.69), opponents' batting average (.188) and innings pitched (213 2/3). He was also tied for No. 1 in two others: wins and quality starts (27).

The expectation is that Scherzer and New York Mets starter Jacob deGrom are the main Cy Young contenders in the NL. DeGrom is 9-9 with a 1.77 ERA and single-season records of 23 consecutive quality starts and 28 starts in a row allowing three or fewer earned runs.

"There's more to pitching than just striking guys out," Scherzer said, "but also, it is a big reason why you can have success."

RENDON AND HARPER

Nationals 3B Anthony Rendon hit a three-run shot in the first inning off Jeff Brigham (0-4), increasing his season totals to 24 homers and 90 RBIs and extending his streak of reaching base to 33 straight games. Rendon added an RBI double in the seventh, when Washington batted around and tacked on six runs. ... Bryce Harper scored twice to surpass 100 runs for the season; he already had a career-best 100 RBIs and more than 100 walks. Harper can become a free agent in the offseason, so Wednesday's series finale could be the 2015 NL MVP's last home game at Nationals Park.

UP NEXT

The Nationals will give 26-year-old RHP Kyle McGowin his first start in the majors Wednesday. Miami will start LHP Wei-Yin Chen (6-11, 4.66 ERA).

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