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Pick 6: Checking on teams that moved

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Pick 6: Checking on teams that moved

The realignment of conferences the past few years has made it so you almost need a spreadsheet to keep up with who went where.

Many of the schools did it to chase dollar signs, looking for a bigger piece of the NCAA pie. Others had no choice, left scrambling to find a slot as their conferences disintegrated.

On the football field, it hasn't always been a smooth transition.

A new conference often means adjusting to a new style of football. There are new teams and schemes to learn, trying to catch up on the fly against programs the coaches know little about.

And for some of the smaller schools, switching to a bigger conference usually means a big step up in competition.

It's no wonder so many teams struggle when they move from one conference to another.

With that in mind, here are six teams that have hit a few bumps in the road after switching conferences:

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UTAH: BCS busters while in the Mountain West Conference, the Utes were supposed to start challenging Southern California for supremacy in the newly formed Pac-12's South Division last season. Never happened. Utah got off to a horrendous start before pulling it together late in the season, finishing 8-5 and winning the Sun Bowl. The Utes have taken a step back in Year 2. After a lopsided loss to Washington last weekend, Utah (4-6) is 2-5 in the Pac-12, with four of those losses coming in a row. The Utes still have to face Arizona's juggernaut and close out the season against struggling Colorado, a team that beat them last season, so .500 in conference isn't even an option.

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MISSOURI: The Tigers won or shared the Big 12 North three times in five years under coach Gary Pinkel before making the switch to the SEC. It's been a struggle. Facing bigger, more defensive-minded teams than it had in the speedy Big 12, Missouri has won two of seven conference games and is 5-5 overall. Once one of the nation's highest-scoring teams, the Tigers have been middle-of-the-pack while facing SEC defenses, averaging just over 25 points per game. Missouri outlasted Tennessee, which plays more like a Big 12 team, in four overtimes its last game, but still has to close the season against Texas A&M, which also moved to the SEC this season.

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WEST VIRGINIA: The Mountaineers had a glorious start after switching from the Big East to the Big 12, opening with five straight wins, including shootouts over Baylor and Texas to open conference play. Scoring in bunches, West Virginia was considered a national title contender, quarterback Geno Smith a Heisman Trophy front-runner. Boy, how things have changed over the past month. Unable to stop anyone and with their once-vaunted offense stuck in neutral, the Mountaineers have faded from the national spotlight - taking Smith's Heisman chances with them - losing four straight games to Big 12 teams. West Virginia (5-4, 2-4 Big 12) has given up at least 55 points its past two games and has another tough game ahead, against No. 13 Oklahoma on Saturday.

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TEXAS CHRISTIAN: Like Utah, the Horned Frogs had been BCS busters before leaving the Mountain West Conference for the riches of the Big 12. TCU had won 24 straight conference games, 50 of 55 overall and the Rose Bowl to cap a perfect season two years ago. The Horned Frogs extended the conference winning streak in the Big 12 by beating Kansas, but lost to Iowa State two games later. TCU is already bowl eligible, but after a 23-10 loss to Kansas State last weekend, it has four losses, all in conference. The Horned Frogs (6-4, 3-4 Big 12) still have Texas and Oklahoma left, a tough finish to the schedule that could leave them under .500 in conference for the first time since going 3-5 in Conference-USA in 2004.

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COLORADO: The Buffaloes had a tough road through the Pac-12 the first go-round, winning two conference games and three overall last season. Colorado did end a 23-game road losing streak - against Utah, of course - and beat rival Colorado State in nonconference, so there was something positive. There hasn't been much good in Jon Embree's third season as coach. One of the nation's youngest teams, the Buffs lost to Colorado State and FCS school Sacramento State in nonconference play and have mostly been on the wrong side of routs in the Pac-12, including last weekend's 56-31 beatdown at Arizona. Colorado is 1-9 overall, 1-6 in conference and its only win was against Washington State, which is 0-7 in the Pac-12.

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TEXAS A&M: The Aggies and the quarterback they call Johnny Football shook up the nation, not to mention the SEC, when they knocked off top-ranked Alabama last weekend. Before that, though, Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M had a rough start in their first season in the power conference, losing two of their first four SEC games. Those were against Florida and LSU, a big reason the Aggies (8-2, 4-2 SEC) moved up to No. 9 in the Top 25 after beating the Crimson Tide. Hard to knock a team that beat the No. 1 team in the nation and could play for the conference championship, but it hasn't always been easy in the SEC for A&M.

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Brandon Clarke

2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Brandon Clarke

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Brandon Clarke

School: Gonzaga
Position: Forward
Age: 22 (turns 23 in September)
Height: 6-8
Weight: 207
Wingspan: 6-8
Max vertical: 40.5 in.

2018/19 stats: 16.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.2 spg, 3.2 bpg, 68.7 FG% (6.8/9.7), 26.7 3PT% (0.1/0.4), 69.4 FT%

Player comparison: Montrezl Harrell, Dominic McGuire

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 17th, NBADraft.net 23rd, Bleacher Report 19th, Sports Illustrated 25th, Ringer 11th

5 things to know:

*Clarke is a forward who probably swings more towards the four-spot at the NBA level. He is considered one of the best defensive players in this draft, having won the West Coast Conference defensive player of the year award this past season. He averaged 3.2 blocks and 1.2 steals per game for Gonzaga and was known for his versatility to guard multiple positions. 

*There are questions about whether Clarke's shot-blocking will translate to the next level. There aren't a ton of 6-foot-8 rim protectors in the NBA and there have been many before Clarke who racked up blocks in college but then couldn't in the pros. His height suggests a potential problem and also his lack of a plus-wingspan. But working in Clarke's favor is his 40 1/2-inch vertical leap. Only three players had better numbers at this year's combine and all were guards. That type of jumping ability is rarely seen with players at Clarke's size.

*A big concern for Clarke is that at this point he can't shoot from the outside. He attempted only 24 threes in his three years in college and made six of them. If he can't develop a three-point shot, he will need to live in the midrange and around the rim and that's just not how the best players his size play these days. Clarke doesn't need to become a sharpshooter, but a respectable three would open up his game.

*Clarke is going to be 23 years old by the time the season tips off. That is quite old for an NBA prospect, as many of the top players will only be 19 at the start of the year. That could mean he will contribute right away in the NBA, but it could also tell teams that his ceiling is limited compared to younger, less-polished players. Clarke just took a little longer to develop into a pro prospect after starting his college career at San Jose State. He transferred and played one year at Gonzaga. Dropping a guy's stock just because of his age, though, can be risky. Malcolm Brogdon has been making teams pay for that decision for years.

*He is from Canada. The country continues to pump out top NBA prospects and this year alone can claim Clarke, R.J. Barrett of Duke and Nickeil Alexander-Walker of Virginia Tech. Though many have come from the Toronto area, Clarke hails from Vancouver, in the western part of Canada. He also spent much of his youth in the United States, having moved to Arizona when he was three.

Fit with Wizards: The Wizards like Clarke, as evidenced by their interview with him at the NBA combine. And there are reasons to suggest he would fit in quite well with what they are looking for.

He would be plug-and-play and provide an instant impact at a position of need. Depending on what they do with their free agent forwards, he could even start as a rookie at the four.

They also need a complete overhaul defensively and he would help them improve on that end of the floor. He would provide rim protection and help shore up their midrange defense as well. 

Clarke plays smart, team-oriented defense and the Wizards need more of that. He could help them change their mindset on that end of the floor. Clarke seems like the type of player good defensive teams like the Bucks and Pacers would covet, that too often in recent years the Wizards have overlooked.

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Team meetings like the one the Nationals had this week are no guarantee of a turnaround – but it can happen

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Team meetings like the one the Nationals had this week are no guarantee of a turnaround – but it can happen

Sometimes the doors shut on the outside world and struggling teams find clarity inside the sanctuary of a locker room. Sometimes they do not. 

The Nationals experienced the downside of a players’ only meeting this week when a clear-the-air session on Wednesday at Citi Field in New York was followed by two horrifying losses to the NL East rival Mets.

Now 12 games under .500, the season slipping away, their manager facing daily questions about his job security, the hardest part is here: Where do the Nationals go after a team meeting doesn’t solve the problem? 

Washington doesn’t need to go too far back into the history books to see that team meetings are often just exercises in frustration, They held one after a 3-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox last July 4. It capped a 9-20 stretch where they were shut out eight times in 34 days. 

You know what happened next. The Nationals drifted through an 82-80 season and failed to reach any of their preseason goals. A team 10 games over .500 and tied for first place in the NL East on May 31 was a game under .500 (42-43), seven games out and never got closer than five again. 

Of course, if there were no problems there would be no meetings. But sometimes players can root out issues by shutting out everyone, including the coaches. The Capitals did it each of the past two seasons. 

It’s easy to forget in the wake of winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 and a fourth straight Metropolitan Division title in 2019 that the Capitals had plenty of problems to work through. Former coach Barry Trotz blistered his team after a 6-2 loss at Colorado on Nov. 16, 2017 and left his players to sort things out. Washington was floundering at 10-9-1. 

The message got through. They won 12 of their next 15 games and finished the rest of the season 39-17-6. They went on to win the Cup – though there were a few more bumps in the road and a defensive overhaul following another team meeting in March. 

This year an embarrassing 8-5 loss at Chicago left the Capitals in third place in the Metro at 27-16-5. Maybe that doesn’t seem too bad, but they were in the midst of what would become a seven-game losing streak. They were teetering. Again the brutally honest talk after the loss to the Blackhawks eventually helped turn the tide.

“At the end of the day we’re pretty close, we’re a team. This group isn’t guys yelling,” Capitals forward Tom Wilson said after that Jan. 22 game. “We’re close, we know how we need to play. We just needed to address it, we needed to talk it out a little bit, get on the same page.

 But it took two more losses – one a brutal 7-6 overtime defeat at home to San Jose where they coughed up a two-goal lead twice, gave up the game-tying goal with one second to go and lost in overtime. Even productive team meetings rarely have linear results. 

 But they can also make things worse. The Wizards had a team meeting in January 2018 and soon after got destroyed by Charlotte 133-109. They rallied and beat Detroit two days later and their record was 26-20. 

But the fruitless meeting couldn’t solve Washington’s underlying issues. And while injuries played a factor, the Wizards only made the playoffs as the No. 8 seed and lost to Toronto in the first round in six games. 

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