Redskins

Stifling defense, winning ways have Gators on rise

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Stifling defense, winning ways have Gators on rise

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida center Pat Young knows something is coming.

It could be a speech. It could be a video session. It could be a grueling practice.

Following an eight-game winning streak, a dominant start in the Southeastern Conference and the program's highest ranking in nearly six years, Young figures coach Billy Donovan will do something to get his team's attention.

``I know coach Donovan's going to humble us,'' Young said Monday. ``He's going to find something to make sure we don't get too lifted up on this attention that we're getting now. We want to be great for being recognized as a good team, but we want to make it all the way. We want to win it all. Then we'll finally be satisfied with what we've got.''

Florida moved up four spots to No. 4 in the latest Associated Press college basketball poll, jumped to sixth in the latest Ratings Percentage Index and have been projected a top seed in the NCAA tournament. That's a lot of love for a team that fell to No. 14 after losing close games away from home against Arizona and Kansas State.

How the Gators (16-2, 6-0 SEC) handle their recent success and raised expectations could be key to avoiding the kind of letdowns that have plagued so many other top-five teams this season.

``I almost liken it to driving a car,'' Donovan said. ``You go out and drive in a country field and there's nothing to look at. You're looking at the road. Then all of a sudden, you get into the city and there's a bunch of sights and sounds and things you start looking at. You're not paying attention to what's in front of you and you drive the car right off the road into a pole.

``Our guys have got to understand that the chatter and stuff around them is on the peripheral. It's got nothing to do with us preparing to get ready for the next game. I think that any good team or any team that moves up in the rankings, you have to deal with that.''

Florida is home for four of its next five games. The Gators host South Carolina (12-7, 2-4) on Wednesday night, three days before fellow SEC-unbeaten and 16th-ranked Mississippi comes to town.

The No. 4 ranking is Florida highest since the 2006-07 season, when the Gators won the second of back-to-back national championships. Florida spent much of that season atop the polls, but was ranked third heading into the NCAA tournament.

``It's good for the school, but honestly as a team, we're not worried about it,'' guard Kenny Boynton said. ``Whether we're ranked or not, we're going to get a team's best game. So we've just got to go out there and play.''

Defense has been the catalyst of Florida's rise.

Donovan's squad has held 10 teams opponents under 50 points and 14 under 60. Florida ranks third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 51.2 points a game.

It starts with Boynton and fellow guard Scottie Wilbekin, suffocating on-ball defenders. Young and fellow big man Will Yeguete have provided plenty of help defense on pick-and-roll plays and drives through the lane.

``Being in the right position, staying in the white lines, help defense, that's the main things,'' Boynton said. ``And containing the ball, basically giving up no open 3s and trying to make teams take tough 2s.''

The Gators have been at their best in league play, winning six games by an average of 26.5 points.

The team has shot at least 44 percent in all of those, including at least 35 percent from 3-point range, and allowed no opponent to shoot better than 41 percent from the field.

Now, though, the Gators will try to continue their streak with a few extra distractions that come with more attention.

``We've got to drive our car with two hands on the wheel inside the lane and looking at what's in front,'' Donovan said. ``And what's in front of us right now is South Carolina. So that's the challenge that they need to understand. ...

``No team's perfect. Everybody's got flaws, everybody's got things they've got to work at. I think the biggest mistake you can make as a player or as a coach or inside your team is to say, `OK, we're playing really, really good basketball, we're great, we're OK, everything's going to be fine.' Really, all that stuff is in the past. What about today? We don't want to slip and go backwards. They've worked hard to get to the point now. Can you keep working hard to continue to grow and develop?''

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Reflections on Rich Tandler and a life well lived

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NBC Sports Washington

Reflections on Rich Tandler and a life well lived

I haven’t felt this way since my father passed last April. I’m not comparing the two, at all, but there were some similarities.

Rich Tandler had life experience. Few people accomplish what he did; total life reinvention. 

Think about that. 

After raising his two successful children and a lifetime in the restaurant business, Tandler created a blog. That blog became big enough to eventually become a full-time job, and over time, put him on television and send him all over the world. 

That’s wild. 

We get so caught up in the “startups” and “disruptors” from Silicon Valley that we missed a true internet success story in Rich Tandler. Our world has become extra cynical. The loudest snark wins, especially on the internet. 

Tandler didn’t trade in those currencies. 

He provided good, quality information. He provided insight and analysis from six decades of obsessing over a football team. 

And fans loved him for it. 

The outpouring from folks that read "Need to Know" or listened to the podcast has been incredible. I’ve been flooded with messages from people, and one overwhelming response is that while they didn’t really know Tandler, they feel like they did.

Well, I was lucky to know him pretty well. And his persona on air was the same way off air. 

Tandler helped me a in a lot of ways. I can be impulsive and have a temper, Tandler would calm me down. Whenever I had something important to say, news to break or a sharp angle of criticism, I would run it by Tandler first. Sometimes, maybe often, I would say too much, and he would reign me in. 

Tandler loved pointing out mistakes. If the universe gave honorary degrees for pointing out minor math errors in salary cap blog posts, Tandler would have a Ph.D. 

He was smart and he was sharp. Good natured but feisty. 

He could dish it out plenty in a media room full of alphas. And he literally dished it out; Tandler controlled all the plastic utensils and paper plates that every media member used at Redskins Park. When we were running low on forks, Tandler would put out some not too subtle calls to action. 

I think for a while he considered the podcast an annoyance, but somewhere along the way, we had a breakthrough. He realized its potential, and everywhere we went, listeners came up and told us how much they enjoyed it. 

That made an impact on RT. And seemingly overnight, he was all in. That’s when things really started to gain steam. Wherever I am in my career, Tandler played a huge role in it. 

But that kind of doesn’t matter now. We will keep the pod going but it will never be the same. Not better, not worse, but way, way different. Same thing with writing and TV. The show will go on, but it won't be the same. It will never be the same. 

In the hours since I learned of Tandler’s passing, I’ve done some reading. I drank a bunch. And I ended up landing on some YouTube videos. 

The one I kept going back to was Jimmy V’s famous ESPY speech. Before he died, Jimmy V implored us all to think, laugh and cry every day, and that would lead to a good, full life. 

If there was ever a dude that laughed, it was Rich Tandler. 

His belly laugh was contagious, and his wit was superior. There were the wacky Tandler’s Got Jokes, and the sly one liners about players, plays and our road antics. 

It wasn’t all laughter either. Tandler was smart as hell, and he was always thinking about new ways to present content for Redskins fans. 

Seriously, our organization employs an army of young and talented digital-first thinkers. And Tandler generated more web traffic than all of them. He constantly tried to figure out why people would read something, or the optimal time for us to drop a new podcast. 

Where I’m an idea guy, Tandler was all execution. I’m a terrible planner and constantly late. Tandler would be on time and busting my chops about our lack of schedule. It’s just how we operated. 

As for crying, Tandler didn't do it much. I did see him tear up from laughing a few times, and once because it was real windy when we were taping a segment and something got in his eye. 

I’m not much of a crier either. I’m glad that Jimmy V was, but it’s just not me. 

Thinking about Tandler though in the last 36 hours, there have been some truly hard moments. He was kind and gracious. A true gentleman. 

He never took personal shots at the team we cover, or their front office. Plenty do. He would certainly say when things were bad, and say it loudly. He was binary in a world full of context. 

He was a good dude. He was my coworker, my partner and my friend. 

And damn if it isn’t getting dusty in here all of a sudden. 

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Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

The Washington Wizards open their regular season on Thursday night against the Miami Heat. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Just one week ago, it would have seemed near impossible that Dwight Howard, the Wizards' biggest offseason acquisition, would be ready to play in the season opener, but after three solid days of practice, it can't be ruled out. The Wizards plan to evaluate him throughout the day on Thursday to determine if he can take the court in what would be his first live game action with his new team.

Howard, 32, missed the entire preseason and nearly all of their practices leading up to the opener with a strained piriformis muscle. Though reports have been encouraging from his three practices, he is not yet in game shape. Even if he can play, expect him to be limited. If he can't play, Ian Mahinmi will get the start.

Heat are banged up

Miami is not only coming off a game the night before, as they lost in their season opener to the Orlando Magic, but they are missing some key guys. Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow are out due to injuries.

That will leave Miami perilously thin at the guard and small forward position. That happens to be an area of the roster where the Wizards are especially deep, now with Austin Rivers as the backup shooting guard behind Bradley Beal and with first round pick Troy Brown Jr. behind Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

That said, Waiters and Ellington being out means Dwyane Wade may get more run and, as we saw in the preseason, he is still very hard to stop. He is capable of a big night, especially given it's so early in the year and he doesn't yet have the wear-and-tear of a long season.

Can Beal reach the next level?

One of the most important indicators of how much better the Wizards will be this season is the continued improvement of their young players. John Wall, Porter and Oubre are included in that and particularly Oubre, who is entering an important season in the final year of his contract.

But the guy who improved more than anyone last year and has a chance to take another big leap this season is Beal. Now with one All-Star nod under his belt, what does he have for an encore? 

If Beal can get his scoring average up even higher from the 22.6 he put up last season, he could enter the All-NBA conversation. And he now has more help than ever with Rivers behind him. Beal should, in theory, be more fresh each night with Rivers taking away some of his workload. 

The Heat offer a good matchup defensively for Beal with Josh Richardson. He is one of the more underrated players in basketball and is a menace on the perimeter.

"I've been a fan of his since I played him in college at Tennessee," Beal said. "He's always been a pest. He's super athletic, sneaky athletic. And I feel like he developed his shot to where you have to respect it. If you go under [on screens], he's shooting it."

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