NCAA

Stress test? Broncos use practice to keep it real

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Stress test? Broncos use practice to keep it real

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Last year, the Denver Broncos had plenty of practice - fall behind, stay close, go into hurry-up mode late and find some way to pull out a game with hardly any time left.

This year, about the only thing the Broncos are perfecting late in games is how to line up in victory formation.

With a game against the Chiefs (2-13) coming up Sunday, odds are against the Broncos (12-3) finally getting a dose of late-game drama. That means they could very well go into the postseason without having once endured the stress of needing the make-or-break score in 2012.

Not even Peyton Manning, who loves to rehearse every situation and every scenario as many times as possible with his new team, can give the Broncos the real-time practice they need in that department.

``You can't do anything about changing the outcome of the game,'' Manning said. ``You try to simulate game-like scenarios in practice. It's not quite the same as a game, so that's something coach Fox and the staff have tried to do all season long.''

Through 15 games, the Broncos haven't faced a single one that has come down to the wire. Two of their three losses came by less than a touchdown, but in the 27-21 loss to Atlanta, they didn't have the ball at the end, and in the 31-25 loss to Houston, they got it back with 20 seconds and no timeouts at their own 14-yard line - only time for a completion, a spike and one desperation play.

Meanwhile, the Broncos' 10-game winning streak has come by an average margin of 14 points. They've won three of those games by eight and another by seven - close enough to give the defense practice at some version of the prevent and the offense work on the run-heavy, clock-killing ``four-minute drill.''

But when it comes to that desperation drive with the clock running out, the kind perfected in this city by John Elway in the 1980s and 90s - nada.

Practice situations, says offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, can take a team only so far.

``The most important thing as a coach is to prepare your players for that,'' he said. ``We talk about situational football every day. If this situation comes up, what would we do? On the weekends after you see certain games, as a staff you talk about certain situations in other games and then you try to relay that message to the players.''

Last season, the Broncos had no shortage of real-life, late-game stress situations. With Tim Tebow at quarterback, they got the winning score in six games in the last two minutes of regulation or overtime.

This season, Manning has, in fact, engineered three game-winning drives in the fourth quarter to bring his career total to 48, the most in the NFL since the 1970 merger. But none of these has been a nail-biter. The latest go-ahead score came with 9:03 remaining in the Oct. 15 game against San Diego - the Broncos overcame a 24-0 deficit for a 35-24 win to start their winning streak.

Eric Decker, who has been in Denver for both Tebow and Manning, said every practice this year includes two-minute drills and lots of scenarios ``just to make sure we have things planned before we get into it.''

``But we have a lot of guys in this locker room who were here last year,'' Decker said. ``To be able to play from behind is something you can't practice but it's something you build as you have experience and have success with it. I think we've had success with it so the confidence is there.''

``But really,'' Decker said, ``our mindset is to get ahead and not have to worry about it.''

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No. 7 Maryland takes down Northwestern for 9th straight win

No. 7 Maryland takes down Northwestern for 9th straight win

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) -- Jalen Smith had 22 points and a career-high 19 rebounds for his ninth consecutive double-double, and No. 7 Maryland extended its winning streak to nine games by defeating Northwestern 76-67 Tuesday night.

Smith achieved his 17th double-double of the season by halftime. In two games against Northwestern this season, the 6-foot-10 sophomore has 47 points and 30 rebounds.

Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 19 for the Terrapins (22-4, 12-3 Big Ten), who never trailed in improving their record at home to 15-0. The victory, combined with Penn State's loss to Illinois, left first-place Maryland with a two-game lead with five games to go.

Ryan Young scored 17 and Boo Buie added 15 for the Wildcats (6-19, 1-14) in their 10th successive defeat.

Down by 12 at halftime, Northwestern trailed only 50-46 with 10:45 left. It was 63-57 before a dunk by Smith, two free throws by Cowan and layup by Aaron Wiggins put the Terps up 69-57 with 3:23 remaining.

When the teams met at Northwestern a month ago, the Terrapins rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to win 77-66. This time, Maryland took charge at the outset.

Smith had 10 points and six rebounds in the opening seven minutes to stake the Terps to a 17-6 lead. After the Wildcats closed to 25-22, Darryl Morsell, Wiggins and Eric Ayala hit successive 3s and Cowan added a free throw for a 13-point cushion.

A late dunk by Smith made it 37-25 at halftime.

MOVING ON UP

Cowan passed Tom McMillen to move into eighth place on Maryland's career scoring list. Cowan, a senior guard, has 1,809 points and is 49 short of catching Lonny Baxter for seventh. The school record is 2,269 by Juan Dixon.

BIG PICTURE

Northwestern: The Wildcats can take solace in making a game of it on the road against a Top 10 team. But what Northwestern could use instead of a moral victory is a real one, a feat the Wildcats haven't accomplished since Jan. 11 against Nebraska.

Maryland: One week after squeezing past lowly Nebraska at home, the Terrapins left nothing to chance against an overmatched opponent. It wasn't a blowout, but the outcome was never really in doubt. Maryland now stands two wins away from a perfect season at home.

UP NEXT

Northwestern hosts Minnesota on Sunday, the rematch of a game the Wildcats lost 77-68 on Jan. 5.

Maryland faces No. 25 Ohio State on Sunday to begin a stretch in which the Terrapins play three of four on the road.

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If Georgetown wants to make the NCAA Tournament, they must beat Providence

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If Georgetown wants to make the NCAA Tournament, they must beat Providence

An improbable upset over No. 19 Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse suddenly vaulted the Georgetown Hoyas into the NCAA Tournament conversation over the weekend. 

They pulled out the victory with only seven scholarship players, missing their top two scorers on the season. But no matter how they accomplished the feat, they win drew attention across the country. Any team in the Big East conference that just pulled out a road victory against the ranked Butler Bulldogs has to have postseason aspirations, right? 

There was a surprising revelation when evaluating the Hoyas: The don't have that bad of a tournament resume. 

Yes, at 15-10 (5-7 Big East) the Hoyas can be considered a bubble team. They're ranked 46th in the NET, 47th in KenPom, 60th in BPI and are the last team in Joe Lunardi's bracketology projection as of this writing. Their surprising win over Butler, along with an atrocious bubble this season, has helped them get there.

Now is when the season gets important for the Hoyas, though. One loss to a subpar team could derail that. On Wednesday they host Providence for their second matchup of the season. If they lose, the Hoyas can kiss an at-large bid goodbye. 

Georgetown's resume is contingent on them avoiding bad losses. Their worst loss on the season was to a solid UNC Greensboro team. Every other one is qualified as a Quadrant 1 loss according to the NET. They are 10-1 in non-Q1 situations. 

Bad losses are abound in college basketball this season, even from the top teams. Those losses have Virginia, VCU and Alabama stuck on the bubble. Somehow, the scrappy Hoyas have kept them off their resume. 

Losing to Providence would be a bad loss for the Hoyas. It would be their worst loss to date, according to the NET. Providence (NET: 58) is, in fact, one of those teams with a handful of poor losses (9-4 vs. sub-Q1 opponents). And while Providence is also in consideration for the NCAA Tournament, it would crush the Hoyas' outlook since they don't have the Q1 wins to offset a loss like that. This contest being at home for the Hoyas makes it even more imperative that they come out on top.

Beating the Friars at home will not likely be enough for the Hoyas to make the tournament. They'll have to also beat Xavier, DePaul and likely find some magic in one of their other three games. 

The Hoyas can get there, but their quest for the NCAA Tournament starts by beating Providence. 

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