Capitals

No. 5 Louisville posting up little-used big men

No. 5 Louisville posting up little-used big men

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Louisville's Zach Price and Stephan Van Treese a week ago spent most of the game watching their teammates play.

Now they're holding down the middle for the No. 5 Cardinals (5-1).

With starting center Gorgui Dieng sidelined until January with a broken left wrist he suffered eight days ago, the two reserves are getting extended minutes.

Price and Treese enter Saturday's game against Illinois State averaging a combined 3.0 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. That's a drop-off from Dieng's 8.2 points and 8.0 rebounds.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino doesn't expect them to replace Dieng, and doesn't want them to try. He hopes that each focuses on creating their own inside niche. Whether they do will likely depend on how much confidence they develop from being in the fray.

``I'm very confident in them, but they're not Gorgui,'' Pitino said Friday. ``They'll do a good job. But it's up to Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock and Kevin Ware to pick up their games to a higher level because you can't make up for Gorgui with Zach and Stephan.

``You can certainly hold your own but they're not going to be Gorgui, so the other guys have got to pick up their games in order for you not to slip.''

Saturday will mark the second game with extensive playing time for 6-foot-10 sophomore Price and 6-9 senior Van Treese.

Dieng was injured in Louisville's semifinal victory over Missouri at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. He returned with his wrist wrapped and eventually played 24 minutes but missed the championship game loss to Duke.

Price made his first career start in that game with Van Treese coming off the bench, and the combination produced promising numbers. Van Treese had eight points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes while Price added four points and three rebounds in 19.

More encouraging to Pitino was how both played against Blue Devils' big man Mason Plumlee, who finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. Besides relishing the challenge, each seemed to handle the extra minutes well.

Now it's a matter of boosting their confidence.

Price said the Duke game helped him.

``My teammates were definitely on my side throughout the whole game, telling me things that I need to do,'' Price said. ``Just being able to play against a great player like Mason Plumlee is just really building my confidence up.''

Price may not give the Cardinals the presence inside they're used to, but he provides size comparable to the 6-11 Dieng. Pitino also believes the increased time will also help him become more comfortable with understanding how to play his position.

``He's a big body, he jumps well, he's got a good hook inside,'' the coach said. ``His biggest weakness is low self-esteem. I told him, go out there and say, `I'm the best big man on the court' and then go show it because he has the ability to do it.

``I think he's a much better player than he knows he is. I've always expected him to do more. So, we're hoping he can.''

Knee injuries have limited Van Treese's ability to contribute, to the point where he almost transferred after last season's Final Four run. He decided to stay with the Cardinals after talking with Pitino.

He is glad he did and improved health has a lot to do with his attitude.

Though nowhere close to what he considered his peak condition as a sophomore, the Indianapolis native feels ``100 percent'' now after not playing for six months during his recovery.

Versatile enough to play center or power forward and obviously familiarity with Pitino's system, Van Treese hopes to use this opportunity to expand his offensive skills.

``It's unfortunate for Gorgui, but I'm excited to step into his role,'' Van Treese said. ``I know all the plays and practice against these guys every day. ... I haven't always been so confident with my offensive game, but I can pass out of the zone and create shots for Luke and Wayne in the corner. I feel like I bring that to the table.''

While that figures to help the Cardinals' depth later in the season, Pitino leaves no doubt about how much Louisville will miss Dieng. He set a school record with 128 blocks last season and provided the inside presence the coach believes the Cardinals need to make another championship run.

For now, that role will be a two-man job shared by Price and Van Treese.

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Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

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USA TODAY Sports

Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

Tarik: The term ‘Stanley Cup Hangover’ exists because, well, it’s a real thing. And the Caps, like all teams that battle into early June, are vulnerable to suffering from it next season.

Why? Think about it. No. 1, the core group just completed the longest season—106 games—of their lives (and, somewhere, the party is still going). No. 2, the top guys aren't exactly a bunch of spring chickens. No. 3, human nature.

A little more on that last one. Alex Ovechkin and Co. have spent the entirety of their professional hockey careers chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup. And now they have it. At long last. Hoisting the Cup was as much a moment to cherish as it was a gigantic relief for a team that had been labeled perennial underachievers. Shifting gears from that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment back to hunger and determination is difficult.

Something else that worries me a bit? They don’t have experience dealing with a truncated offseason. Rest and recovery matter. And they aren’t going to get much of either this summer.

All that said, they don’t have to stumble through the 2018-19 season. If you're looking at things from the optimist's point of view, the Cup run did something for Ovechkin and his teammates that none of the previous failures could: It showed them EXACTLY what it takes to play deep into the spring.

Eleven out of 12 forwards from the championship squad are expected back. Five of six defensemen and the goalie are returning, as well. Sure, they’ve got a new head coach, but he’s been here for four years already, giving him a huge advantage over a bench boss who’s starting from scratch. So there’s continuity and chemistry already built in.

I look at it like this: The core guys who’ve been around a while—Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Holtby, etc.—have a rare opportunity before them. After coming up short for so many years, they’ve been gifted an extraordinary chance to make up for lost time over the next 12-24 months. In fact, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Eller, Carlson, Niskanen, Orlov, Kempny and Holtby have two more years together, as a core, before the next round of tough decisions will need to be made.

But it’s going to be up to them. Are they going to be satisfied with one Cup? Or will they get greedy? I’m betting on the latter.

Regan: The Capitals could enter next season hungry, motivated, in the right mindset, completely prepared in every way to avoid a Cup hangover and it may still happen. Why? Because the Capitals (and Vegas for that matter) will enter next season with less time to rest, recover and prepare after a grueling playoff run than any other team in the NHL.

First things first, no, I do not think the Caps will struggle because they are are partying too hard this summer and won't be ready for the start of the season.

It took a long time Washington to finally reach the top of the mountain. It won't be lost on Alex Ovechkin, or any of the veterans, that the year he came into training camp early and in really good shape, that was the year he was able to lead his team to the promised land. Considering all the struggles, all the early playoff exits, all the years it took to finally win, I expect the veterans will look at how they prepared last season and take that lesson to heart going into camp. Those players will enter the fall in as good a shape as the time they have this offseason will allow them to be.

But this team is not just composed of veterans of the Ovechkin era who suffered through all of those postseason struggles.

What about the youngsters? Will Jakub Vrana have the same motivation as Ovechkin or a Nicklas Backstrom to show up to camp ready next season? What about Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey? If any of the team's young players aren't exactly in "game shape" by the fall, they won't be the first and they certainly won't be the last to struggle with early career playoff success.

There's also a new head coach to consider. In a lot of ways, I think coming into the season with a new coach in Todd Reirden will help. I don't expect too much adjustment under a coach the team knows very well, but I do expect more motivation at the start of the regular season than you usually see from a team coming off a championship.

There are a lot of reasons why the Caps could actually avoid a Cup hangover, but the fact is that time puts them at a disadvantage. Even if they overcome all the other factors, there's nothing they can do to suddenly give themselves more time to recover and to train. For that reason alone, I do expect a few early-season struggles from the defending champs.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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Ranking the 2018 Redskins Roster: Revealing 31-53

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Ranking the 2018 Redskins Roster: Revealing 31-53

<< Go here to see our ranking of the 2018 Redskins, players 31-53. >>

At NBCSportsWashington.com, we projected the Redskins’ 53-man roster (offensedefense) right after minicamp. Now we are taking it one step further and ranking the 53 players we think will make the team.

The rankings are determined by who we think will have the most impact on the 2018 Redskins. No consideration was given for past performance or for what a particular player might do down the road. We’ll be revealing the rankings between now and the start of training camp. 

Today we’re starting up the list with the players we ranked from 31-53, Here are some of the players in our latest update:

—Seven of the team’s draft picks, including the pick they made last week.     

—All three specialists.

—The team’s leading rusher from 2017.   

Go here to see our ranking of the 2018 Redskins, players 31-53