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No. 25 Michigan vows to stay focused on Illinois

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No. 25 Michigan vows to stay focused on Illinois

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Michigan is back in the poll, climbing to No. 25 after an impressive win over Purdue, and heads into Saturday's game favored to beat Illinois by more than two touchdowns.

The Wolverines (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) in theory could be looking ahead to next week's game against rival Michigan State.

``I don't think we'll have any problems,'' coach Brady Hoke said sternly Monday.

Hoke seems to deliver a message each week that keeps his players thinking and talking about the next game - not the big picture.

``I'm going to tell you the exact same thing coach Hoke tell us every day, `Every week is a championship week,''' defensive tackle Will Campbell said. ``Every week we're going to be playing for a Big Ten championship.''

The Wolverines are coming off a 44-13 victory against the Boilermakers and have steadily improved since opening with a lopsided loss to Alabama. Illinois (2-4, 0-2) has lost three straight games by a combined score of 118-45 and four games this year by an average of 26 points.

The Wolverines insist they're taking the Illini seriously because they're one of the teams to beat in their quest to end a conference championship drought that dates to 2004.

``If you overlook any game in the Big Ten, you're going to lose that game,'' offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said.

If Michigan can't figure out a way to run the ball without Denard Robinson doing it, it might have a hard time ending a four-game losing streak to the Spartans on Oct. 20 at the Big House. On nearly 20 carries in the last two losses to Michigan State, Robinson is averaging just 3.3 yards per rushing attempt for 128 yards combined.

Robinson, as he often has when the Wolverines win, was spectacular on the ground at Purdue.

The speedy senior ran for 235 yards at Purdue and became the Big Ten's all-time leading rushing quarterback with 3,905 yards. He was named the conference's co-player of the week on offense for a ninth time, tying the record total set by Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne.

Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, though, was held to 19 yards rushing on 17 carries. He has just 169 yards rushing - 3.2 yards per carry - in four games this year after averaging 5.6 yards per attempt for a total of 1,091 yards last season.

Is Hoke concerned with the lack of production the team is getting from its running backs?

``I would be lying if I said I wasn't,'' he acknowledged.

Thomas Rawls has made the most of limited opportunities. Rawls ran for 33 yards on just four carries against Purdue and is averaging 5-plus yards on 16 attempts that have been spread sparingly out over three games.

After Hoke vowed that he's going to stick with Toussaint at tailback, the second-year coach was asked if he thought about playing Rawls earlier in games?

``No, not really,'' Hoke said.

Hoke explained that Toussaint hasn't proven that he can't do the job, saying he simply ran against a defense that was designed to stop him last Saturday.

``A year ago, I think Fitz ran for 170 yards against Purdue - they weren't going to let him did that,'' Hoke said. ``They were very concerned with taking that part of our offense away. Denard rushed for 235, so something has got to give.''

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

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USA Today Sports Images

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

In what is perhaps the most unexpected Stanley Cup Final pairing in recent memory, the Washington Capitals and the Las Vegas Golden Knights are going to make history this year.

Either it is going to be the first expansion team to win a title in their first season, or it will be a team looking to end a 27-year title drought for one of the biggest cities in the United States.

But what it will not be is the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup.

Going even farther back than the Capitals last Stanley Cup appearance (1998), the Georgetown Hoyas and UNLV Rebels met in the 1991 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Sin City took the first, and up until now, the only postseason bout between these two cities. The Larry Johnson-led University of Las Vegas squad powered right past the Hoyas in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

[D.C. sports and Second Rounds, I know right?]

Coming fresh off the NCAA title in 1990, UNLV waltzed right to the Final Four before meeting their demise against Duke. It also ended up being the last game for Dikembe Mutombo in a Georgetown uniform.

While in all likely-hood this will not be the final game/ series for Alex Ovechkin rocking the red, it may be his last and only chance for him to play this far into a postseason.

In the past two seasons, Vegas has gone from zero professional teams to having a Stanley Cup contender, a WNBA franchise, and lined up to take over the Oakland Raiders in 2020. 

Now time for the Golden Knights' Cinderella story to come up a little bit short. 

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