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Rutgers and Louisville to play for BCS berth

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Rutgers and Louisville to play for BCS berth

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) The Big East Conference football season has come down to a game between one school headed to the Big Ten and another off to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Louisville (9-2, 4-2) visits Rutgers (9-2, 5-1) on Thursday night with the conference's bid to the Bowl Championship Series berth on the line.

Both will likely be leaving the Big East after next season.

The Scarlet Knights announced last week they would be joining the Big Ten. The Cardinals made it official on Wednesday that they are going to the ACC. The exact exit dates are still to be determined. The conference requires 27 months' notice, but has been willing to negotiate early departures for other members.

Conference realignment has set a strange backdrop for what has been a somewhat odd season on the field, too, for the Big East.

Louisville and Rutgers seemed primed to both come into this game nationally ranked not too long ago.

But Louisville has dropped two straight after winning its first nine and Rutgers was embarrassed by Pittsburgh last weekend in what could have been a title clinching game. .

If Rutgers wins, it will earn its first outright conference title and its first BCS berth.

If Louisville beats Rutgers for a third straight time, and Cincinnati beats Connecticut on Saturday, there will be a four-way tie for the conference title with the Cincinnati and Syracuse. Louisville and Rutgers would emerge from the tiebreaker, and Louisville would most likely get its second BCS bid based on a higher BCS ranking.

The bowl berth would likely be either the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 or the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2.

``I had no idea it would come down to this game,'' said Louisville coach Charlie Strong, whose team was the preseason favorite to win the title. ``I don't think anyone in this room would've said it would be us having a chance with the limited number of seniors we have, feeling like we're a young team and being a year or two away from where we need to be.

``But now the opportunity's here is here for us and you don't ever pass up an opportunity,'' Strong added. ``You can always say next year is our year, but now you have a chance this year for it to be that year, so let's take care of business.''

This is familiar territory for Rutgers. It missed a chance to win a BCS berth in 2006 when it dropped a triple-overtime decision to West Virginia in the regular season finale, ironically, giving Louisville the crown.

``We don't want to share it,'' said Scarlet Knights linebacker Khaseem Greene, who was the conference's co-defensive player of the year last season. ``Sharing is not a good feeling. I know firsthand from last season, sharing Big East player of the year was horrible. It was almost sickening. I try to tell the guys that. I don't want this team to experience that because we deserve it. We worked very hard since the season ended in Pinstripe Bowl to be in this position. And now it's time to take the next step and win.''

Louisville comes into the game with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater being a major question mark. The sophomore, who leads the league and ranks sixth nationally in passing efficiency and is second in the league in total offense (296.1 yards), broke his left wrist - his non-throwing hand - against Connecticut last weekend.

Bridgewater is expected to play but his cast probably will force him to take snaps in a shotgun position the entire game.

The Cardinals also have to get more out of their running game. It has been limited to 75 yards over the last two games, including 27 against the Huskies Saturday.

``There's a big sense of urgency this week,'' said quarterback Will Stein, who would take over if Bridgewater can't go. ``If we go in and get the win, these last few losses won't mean a thing because we'll be Big East champs and we'll going to a BCS bowl. It's the same on the line for Rutgers and they'll be playing their tails off just like we will be.''

Rutgers has its own quarterback problems. Sophomore Gary Nova has thrown 10 interceptions in the last four games and the offense has scored only 16 points in the last two.

While it has a 1000-yard rusher in Jawan Jamison, Rutgers' strength is its defense, which has allowed 71 points in six conference games. It ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense (13.7 points), 14th in total defense (317.4 yards) and 11th in run defense (110.7 yards). It is tied for third nationally with 17 touchdowns allowed, including six on the ground, which is fourth best nationally.

``The stakes are definitely out there for us,'' senior defensive tackle Scott Vallone said. ``Winner goes on. Those are the things we're definitely excited for. Pressure is on but this is why we play, for this kind of atmosphere.''

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AP Sports Writer Gary Graves in Louisville contributed to this report.

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Follow Tom Canavan at www.Twitter.com/APTCan

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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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