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No. 3 Georgia, No. 2 Alabama backfields come in 2s

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No. 3 Georgia, No. 2 Alabama backfields come in 2s

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) That running back duo in the Southeastern Conference championship game has been punishingly effective all season.

Pick a team - No. 3 Georgia or No. 2 Alabama - the description fits.

Bulldogs freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall roll into Saturday's game with 1,858 combined yards and 22 touchdowns.

The Crimson Tide counters with Eddie Lacy, freshman T.J. Yeldon and their collective 1,848 yards and 24 TDs.

The stats hardly settle the debate of which tailback tandem is better.

``They've got two great running backs,'' Tide cornerback Dee Milliner said. ``We've got two, three great running backs here.''

Well, that's no help.

There's not an easy answer. Both backfield combinations have been terrific. If one player gets winded, the other goes in. One gets a little dinged up, no problem.

Fresh legs, and no rest for the weary defenses.

It has been Alabama's formula since Nick Saban arrived. The two-tailback system has flourished with 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and 2011 finalist Trent Richardson, and both gained 700-plus yards as freshmen.

Yeldon has already surpassed the first-season production of either of those two first-round NFL draft picks with 847 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Saban said the system is especially effective if the backs present defenses with different styles, like Gurley and Marshall.

``Todd is a little bit like our guys in a way,'' he said. ``He's big, physical, can run inside, can run outside. He'll make you miss, but has power. Their second guy is a very, very good back in all those regards, but he's a very fast guy. There's a change of pace there that the players have to be aware of.''

Gurley has been the most prolific of the bunch. He is second in the SEC with 1,138 yards while he and Lacy's 14 touchdowns are tied for tops among running backs. Lacy has 1,001 yards.

Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson said Yeldon and Gurley compare favorably.

``They both run really hard,'' Robinson said. ``When I look at Todd I just see lower body. You know, people try to hit him high a lot of times, and he just keeps turning his legs and gets those extra yards and makes a lot of people miss.

``What I've seen of Yeldon, he has the speed to get around the edge. He turns up a lot on people that don't think he's as fast as he really is. You've got to hold the edge of the defense or else he's gone. I think Todd has speed as well. He's obviously looking a little bit faster. But I would say Todd's a little bit bigger and more of a bruiser.''

Georgia's backs have the clear advantage in one area: Nickname. No. 3 Gurley and No. 4 Marshall (720 yards, eight touchdowns)) have been dubbed ``Gurshall'' after Herschel Walker, who led the Bulldogs to the 1980 national title as a freshman. Their numbers just happen to smush into his 34, and Walker has praised the two freshmen.

``That's great, to have one of the best players to ever come through college football to say great things about me,'' Gurley said. ``But I've got to keep working.''

He's not into any comparisons with the former superstar, either. ``We're not trying to be like nobody else,'' Gurley said. ``But it's a cool thing for the fans.''

Gurley is one touchdown away from matching Walker's 15 as a freshman. He and Marshall have already blown by the 1,739 yards and 14 combined touchdowns by Arkansas freshmen and future first-rounders Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in 2005.

``Playing as a true freshman in the SEC, two guys, that's enough said right there - at the University of the Georgia,'' Alabama defensive end Damion Square said. ``I know they've got some big-time guys there. For those guys to come in and play early and often, that makes them great. Those guys run hard. They're going to make you pay when you make mistakes. Come in and tackling those guys, they're going to make a 2-yard gain a 7-yard gain. You've got to be really fundamentally sound when you're playing against those guys.''

Square passed on the question of which tailback tandem is the best.

``I play for the University of Alabama. So...'' he said.

Maybe Saturday's game will provide a more conclusive answer.

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

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