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No. 8 Gophers will get big test on road this week

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No. 8 Gophers will get big test on road this week

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) This is one of those weeks in the season that will reveal a lot about Minnesota.

The Gophers have surged to a 14-1 start and a No. 8 ranking, with a loss to No. 1 Duke their only setback. But after winning their first two Big Ten games at home, they must play at No. 12 Illinois on Wednesday and No. 5 Indiana on Saturday.

``I think we'll be ready,'' said junior Austin Hollins, who swished five 3-pointers in a second-half stretch of 3 1/2 minutes Sunday against Northwestern.

After that game, coach Tubby Smith was asked if he anticipating learning more about his team in these challenging matchups with the Illini and the Hoosiers. He tried to downplay the significance of the games.

``I'm finding something out every day in practice. Every moment there's something new about this group,'' Smith said.

Following practice on Tuesday, Smith shrugged off again the magnitude of the trip.

``Well, every game is important now, whether it's for the development of the program, development of players or just keeping the momentum we have going,'' he said.

After this, the Gophers have a game against No. 2 Michigan waiting for them at home on Jan. 17. The reality of the top-heavy conference this season, perhaps even more than usual, is that there will be many weeks just like this.

``Just got to take care of home court and hopefully steal a couple on the road,'' said senior Trevor Mbakwe, offering a simple but proven plan for Big Ten success.

Keeping up their intense defense is the best way the Gophers can get through these daunting opponents with a glistening record still intact. They're fourth in the conference in both points per game (59.2) and field goal percentage (38.1) allowed, second in rebounding margin (plus-11.1 per game) and first in both steals (9.9) and blocks (6.7) per game.

Wildcats coach Bill Carmody noted an improvement after Sunday's 69-51 win by the Gophers.

``They are guarding, not just going for steals where maybe in the past they've done that a little bit and it opened up some things,'' Carmody said. ``It's more substantial this year that I've seen on the tape. Tough. And if they do go for steals, they've got some of those guys in back that block shots or at least contest shots so you miss.''

The Gophers lost their Big Ten opener last season at Illinois in double overtime, one of many winnable games they let get away at the end on their way to a second consecutive 6-12 finish in the conference.

This will be a stark contrast from Northwestern, which tried to drag the pace of the game to a crawl and rely on that 1-3-1 zone defense and Princeton-style, deliberate offense to fluster the Gophers. After a rough first half, they found their groove. The Illini, instead, will try to run as many fast breaks as they can and hoist an equally unhesitant barrage of 3-pointers.

That makes, for Minnesota, a repeat of the sharpshooting performance on Sunday by Hollins (or someone else) more critical.

``If you can shoot the ball well, you can win a lot of games,'' Smith said. ``That solves a lot of problems.''

Depth does, too, and the Gophers are counting more contribution from sophomore center Mo Walker and freshman guard Wally Ellenson. Smith said Walker is getting healthier (referring to his problematic shoulder) and lighter (referring to his hard-to-control weight). He also said Ellenson has done well considering the time he lost to a broken hand earlier this season.

``Right now it's tough to get playing time. That's what he's been told from the beginning,'' Smith said. ``So hopefully he'll stay focused, and we'll find opportunities for him to contribute and stay positive, because he can help us.''

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Dwight Howard reportedly takes another positive step in post-surgery recovery

Dwight Howard reportedly takes another positive step in post-surgery recovery

Dwight Howard is back. Back in town, at least.

According to a report from The Athletic, the Wizards’ center, sidelined since undergoing back surgery on Nov. 30, is expected to start on-court work in Washington.

The original timeline indicated a 2-3 month recovery timeline for Howard, who played in nine games for the Wizards but none since Nov. 18 against Portland. Howard, 33, has primarily rehabbed post-surgery in his native Atlanta.

Washington returns to practice Wednesday following the NBA All-Star break. The Wizards, 24-34, face the Hornets Friday in Charlotte before hosting the Indiana Pacers Saturday.

Needing to jump three teams for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards could certainly use more help. Whether that help comes from Howard remains to be seen. The report did not indicate if Howard would rejoin the team's full practices or when he would return to the lineup.

Howard missed training camp, preseason and the opening seven games while dealing with back and gluteal pain. The future Hall of Famer only played seven minutes against the Trail Blazers before exiting.

Less than two weeks later Dr. Robert Watkins performed a L4-L5 lumbar microdiscectomy after consultation with the Wizards’ medical staff determined disc herniation was causing severe nerve irritation and gluteal pain.

Washington signed the free agent center to a two-year, $11 million contract in July after trading longtime starter Marcin Gortat in June. The Wizards hoped Howard’s interior presence on both ends of the court would provide the team with needed low-post scoring, rebounding and rim protection.

Though he averaged 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds, Howard labored athletically. Washington struggled throughout the season on the boards.

His absence created an opportunity for second-year center Thomas Bryant, who has developed into an efficient scorer and energy provider.

The second season on Howard’s contract is a player option, an option he seemed likely to execute without returning to the court this season. For now, the question is how much can he help the Wizards with 24 games remaining.

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2019 NFL Mock Draft Roundup: Who are the Redskins taking at 15?

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2019 NFL Mock Draft Roundup: Who are the Redskins taking at 15?

As the calendar turns toward spring, one thing consumes the NFL: mock drafts. Leading up to the NFL Draft on April 25, many will try to predict which players each of the 32 teams will select. Though no one will know for sure until the names are called, it's still interesting to see what potential directions teams might go in.

Let's take a look at what some people believe the Redskins will do with their first round pick.

ESPN's Mel Kiper's NFL Mock Draft 2.0: Drew Lock (QB, Missouri) Kiper currently has Washington taking a quarterback in the first-round, but maybe not the one people were expecting. While Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins are viewed as first-round locks by many, the Missouri product's placement in the draft is not as certain. In this scenario, Kiper has Murray and Haskins off the board before Washington gets on the clock, making Lock the best available passer remaining. In his senior seaosn, Lock finished with 3,498 passing yards and 28 touchdowns.

CBS Sports' R.J. White: Devin White (ILB, LSU) Not a quarterback here. White has the Redskins using a pick on the junior linebacker. With questions surrounding what will happen with Zach Brown as well as pass-rushing linebacker Preston Smith, White could fill a need for the Redskins. 

CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson and Chris Trapasso: Daniel Jones (QB, Duke) The Redskins take a passer in both of these mocks as well, just a different one. Jones, the junior from Duke, slides in at No. 15 behind both Murray and Haskins. However, Wilson also has Lock going before the Redskins pick, while Trapasso has him falling to No. 28. 

Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox: Daniel Jones (QB, Duke) More Jones here for the Redskins. The passer, who threw for 22 touchdowns in 2018, is the fourth quarterback off the board in this mock draft as Haskins, Murray and Lock all go in the top 10. 

USA Today's Luke Easterling: Daniel Jones (QB, Duke) Starting to see a theme here? Not only does this mock draft have the Redskins selecting Jones, but it has them moving up to No. 12 to make the selection. Easterling describes Jones as, "a raw but promising passer." 

NFL Analyst Charley Casserly: Daniel Jones (QB, Duke) Describing him as a passer with "excellent field vision, anticipation and accuracy," Casserly likes Jones in Washington.

NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig: Montez Sweat (DE, Mississippi St.) As mentioned earlier, Preston Smith's time with the burgundy and gold could be coming to an end. Sweat, who recorded 11.5 sacks last season, impressed at the Senior Bowl and could make an impact from Day 1. While many see the Redskins taking a quarterback, Standig sees inside linebacker as a priority

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