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Penn State offense looks for better communication

Penn State offense looks for better communication

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Playing at Beaver Stadium in front of loyal blue-and-white fans would seem to be the last place where Penn State would have a problem with noise.

It turns out that support was louder than even the Nittany Lions offense expected, leading to problems for the up-tempo offense against Ohio State's front seven.

So quarterback Matt McGloin and the offensive line are focusing in part this week on improving communications when things get rough as Penn State (5-3, 3-1 Big Ten) looks to get back on track with a visit Saturday to struggling Purdue.

``We've tried to really work on that with the music, and with the loud noise during practice,'' O'Brien said Wednesday at Beaver Stadium. ``It really starts with me and coaching ... we've tried to coach it better and be more detailed with it this week.''

Some perspective might be in order first, though, between Penn State, Purdue and their respective venues.

Until Saturday's sellout crowd of more than 107,000 for the 35-23 loss to No. 6 Ohio State, Penn State had averaged about 97,000 this year - and that's considered low. Beaver Stadium can be one of the loudest venues in the country.

``Saturday was probably the only place in the country where at home you use a silent cadence,'' McGloin said. ``We really weren't expecting that.''

Contrast this to Purdue, which hasn't had a crowd at Ross-Ade Stadium larger than the 50,105 fans who showed up for a 44-13 loss Oct. 6 to Michigan. It was the start of a four-game losing streak that seemingly has the Boilermakers desperate. Coach Danny Hope might be under even more pressure to get things turned around.

The Nittany Lions are determined to avoid becoming Purdue's first Big Ten victim.

``We know it's going to be a tough environment going out there. They could easily have a few more wins than they've had,'' McGloin said. He was probably referring to the 29-22 overtime loss to the Buckeyes two weeks ago.

``We have to continue to move forward and match their intensity.''

There's no real magic fix to communications issues. In Penn State's own loss to Ohio State, that miscommunication up front in part led to poor protection of McGloin, the Big Ten's leading passer (264.4 yards). That, in turn, disrupted Penn State's high-scoring offense.

So at practice, the Nittany Lions will continue to practice with loud music and work on silent counts. It was part of a broader problem of uncharacteristic unforced errors that tripped up Penn State against the Buckeyes, which also included penalties.

Right guard John Urschel said part of the problem for him may have been being too excited for the big game against the Buckeyes. He's not using any of it as an excuse, though.

``The burden is on us to get things done,'' Urschel said. ``We need to make sure that we communicate with each other ... and make sure that we're precise about these things.''

Actually, Penn State has been playing well away from home of late. After a one-point loss to Virginia in September, the Nittany Lions have built big leads in back-to-back conference road wins in October at Illinois (35-7) and Iowa (38-14).

Sophomore defensive back Adrian Amos said the leadership established by seniors like linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges have helped keep the close-knit team focused on the road.

``It might be easier for us away from home,'' Amos said. ``You don't know anybody but your teammates.''

NOTES: Tight end Kyle Carter is listed as probable on the injury report after injuring his left ankle late in last week's game against Ohio State. O'Brien said Wednesday that Carter was day-to-day and coaches would check later in the week on how well he could cut in the open field to determine if his availability. The 6-foot-3 Carter (35 catches for 441 yards, 2 TDs) has turned into a top target in the passing game. ... K Sam Ficken (quad) has been limited in practice in recent weeks. ``We have had to monitor his leg over the last couple of weeks, so that's what we're trying to do here leading into this game, too and hopefully by the end of the week we will have a better idea of what his range can be,'' O'Brien said. ... Penn State has several players from the New York City area and New Jersey, which were hard hit by this week's storm. O'Brien said he thinks the families of players from those areas are doing OK. ``Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those who dealing with the storm,'' he said. ``It's a brutal deal.'' Penn State practiced indoors earlier this week and pushed back it normal media availability back a day to Wednesday because of the storm.

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Follow Genaro Armas athttp://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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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.

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