Nationals

Struggling Kentucky falls out of the Top 25

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Struggling Kentucky falls out of the Top 25

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky coach John Calipari's latest group of talented freshmen may have gotten a needed wake-up call on Monday - the defending champs fell out of the Top 25.

The Wildcats opened the season ranked No. 3, dropped to No. 8 and after back-to-back losses to unranked Notre Dame and Baylor, their 61-poll run ended. The stretch included 11 weeks at No. 1 under Calipari.

The coach hasn't seen the kind of commitment needed to get better but says there's nothing wrong that more gym time can't correct. Calipari has often said this freshmen class needs more time to develop than their predecessors.

Kentucky's 4-3 and Calipari wants his team to put in the work to improve. But he says he's not seeing many gym rats on his roster right now.

``I keep telling you, we have a long way to go,'' Calipari said Monday. ``Individual players have to fall in love with that gym. They haven't yet. So, do they have to keep falling until they realize that because you have Kentucky across your chest that it makes them play harder. It doesn't give you any kind of edge.''

Calipari said last year's title squad was frequently in the gym, and not just when it was time for practice. He's waiting for that same enthusiasm from the Wildcats' current roster that he said hasn't spent ``one day'' in there on their own.

The coach said the failure to put in extra effort has shown up in recent games. The Wildcats haven't been able to impose their defensive will on opponents or make adjustments when things aren't going well. And since they haven't shot the ball well in their last two games (40 of 118, including just 8 of 36 from 3-point range), they have managed to score just 50 and 55 points in those contests.

It added up to a quick exit from college basketball's penthouse.

According to STATS LLC, they are the highest-ranked team to fall out of the poll in one week since it expanded to 25 in 1989-90 season. And on top of that, the loss to Baylor on Saturday ended the Wildcats' 54-game winning streak at Rupp Arena, which was the nation's longest active run.

How they lost to the Bears was especially frustrating for Kentucky.

The Wildcats cut a 10-point second half deficit to three but never got closer in the final five minutes. They had their chances, but didn't match the Bears' physicality.

For Calipari, whose teams have a reputation being physical, that was unacceptable. He has made that clear to his players.

``We've just got to be more competitive and work harder than the other team,'' Kentucky freshman forward Archie Goodwin. ``That's something historically his teams have done. Watching those teams growing up and watching how they play, I can see the difference in the way that they play and how tough they are. Compared to our team right now, that's something we have to work on.''

The work began Sunday.

The Wildcats put in two hard practices preparing for Tuesday night's game against Samford (2-7). There was a lot of running - which they've had to do a lot of with all the disappointment early on. But the players said one thing different about the workouts was making each other more accountable.

``If somebody made a mistake, we ran as a whole team,'' freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein said. ``We ended up running a lot of suicides.''

Before the workouts the Wildcats held a players-only meeting in which they discussed what needs to change in order for them to get on track. Goodwin said it was mainly to make sure everyone's on the same page.

Cauley-Stein, sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer, freshman forward Alex Poythress and guard Julius Mays, a graduate student, deleted their Twitter accounts to help them get focused after an influx of negative comments following Saturday's loss.

``You can't say what you want to say on it anyway since it's all monitored,'' Cauley-Stein said. ``It was a lot more fun having Twitter as a high school kid.''

Calipari, who said fans should criticize him instead, was surprised to hear about the players' meeting. It could be a sign that his young players are willing to take some initiative.

Unlike last year's squad where freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist took on a leadership role, the Wildcats are still seeking that Type-A personality. Calipari warned that that leader might not emerge until February.

``Eventually someone will step up,'' he said. ``I'm still learning about the team and what it needs from me and what I need to instill in it.''

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Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

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USA Today

Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

Stephen Strasburg had the best hitting performance of his career against the Braves Thursday night, going 3-3 at the plate with two singles and a 420-foot three-run bomb. 

He didn't just set personal records but reached rare air in baseball history. He's the second pitcher ever with at least three hits, a HR, and five RBI since the DH debuted in 1973 and the fifth pitcher in the last 50 seasons to get two hits in an inning including a home run. 

Strasburg set franchise firsts with his performance, dating all the way back to the Expos. 

An extraordinary milestone for the Nationals' ace, hopefully Strasburg's performance will inspire the team during a crucial four-game series with Atlanta. 

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‘The Redskins love Alabama guys’: Washington could run old draft playbook in 2020 to fill huge need

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‘The Redskins love Alabama guys’: Washington could run old draft playbook in 2020 to fill huge need

Perhaps no position group on the Redskins has more questions or uncertainty than the wide receivers.

Josh Doctson enters the final year of his rookie contract, and has yet to record over 550 yards in any of his three professional seasons. Washington signed Paul Richardson to a five-year deal in 2018, but he just played in just seven games for the Burgundy and Gold in 2018 before having season-ending shoulder surgery. Second-year receiver Trey Quinn is expected to fill the role in the slot after Jamison Crowder departed for the New York Jets this offseason but has yet to prove anything on the NFL level. 

The Redskins addressed the position during the 2019 NFL Draft, selecting Terry McLaurin in the third round and Kelvin Harmon in the sixth round. But it's unclear how much either one will contribute to the Washington offense in 2019.

So, it's likely the Redskins will need to address the position during the 2020 NFL Draft, and probably very early on it. Well, this works in Washington's favor, because the 2020 wide receiver class is loaded. 

On a recent episode of the Redskins Talk podcast, J.P. Finlay and Pete Hailey spoke with NFL Draft expert Jordan Reid (no, not the Redskins' tight end) about the top wide receiver prospects heading into next year's draft, and which players the Redskins could potentially target.

Before diving into the top 2020 prospects, Reid gave an initial assessment of the current Redskins' receivers.

"The Redskins just don't have that headliner, top go-to guy," Reid said. "They were expecting Josh Doctson to be that when they did draft him in the first round of 2016. But he's had some injuries, and he's already come out and said he's looking forward to free agency. That just not something you want to hear."

Reid was high on McLaurin, though, the first receiver the Redskins selected in 2019.

"They drafted Terry McLaurin in the third round, I liked him a lot even going back to the Senior Bowl," he said. "I think he's going to have a really good year, not just as a receiver but the special teams phase as well. He's going to flash in a lot of ways."

As far as the 2020 draft wide receiver class, one school stands on top, and it's a school the Redskins are very familiar with: Alabama. The Redskins used their first-round picks in 2017 and 2018 on 'Bama guys and signed another Crimson Tide alumni this offseason in safety Landon Collins.

"We know the Redskins love Alabama guys, and there's a lot of [wide receivers] coming out this year," Reid said. "It's not just Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs is another guy that's getting a lot of steam. They're going to have the chance to get the receiver they want. This is a very special wide receiver class."

Crimson Tide receiver Jerry Jeudy is the consensus top receiver in next year's class, but Reid believes his speedy teammate could challenge him for that spot by season's end.

"With Ruggs, I think he's a bit more as far as polished a route runner [than Jeudy]," he said. "I think his hands are a bit better, and I wouldn't be shocked if he runs below a 4.3 at the combine. He can absolutely fly."

If the pair of Alabama receivers currently hold the top two spots for best wide receiver prospect, there's another guy who's right on their heels: Oklahoma's Ceedee Lamb.

"He reminds me a lot of DeAndre Hopkins coming out," Reid said on Lamb. "He's not a thick guy, but he plays much stronger than what he indicates. Very reliable hands, and his body control is out of this world. He had a one-handed catch against UCLA, it didn't count, but it's truly amazing."

As a true sophomore, Lamb totaled 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018. Sure, it may have helped to have Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray under center, but Lamb has proven he's an elite talent.

Two other prospects Reid is keeping an eye on are Colorado's Laviska Shenault Jr. and Texas' Collin Johnson.

"He's not as polished as some of these other guys, but he's more of a do-it-all type of receiver," Reid said on Shenault Jr. 

Where Shenault may be a do-it-all receiver, Johnson plays to his 6'6 size.

"He's a really good route runner," Reid said on Johnson. "It's just a matter of how consistently can he separate, and how fast he is. If he goes to the Senior Bowl, I think he can light it up."

While many of these guys seem like sure-fire guys, there's still a full season of football to be played before the draft. Players will rise, but just as many, if not more, will fall off.

"You just have to let this play out, that's what happens with the draft process," Reid said. "Guys fall off, and then you have guys that come out of nowhere. Quinton Williams from last year is a prime example. He was a 270-pound defensive end at this time last year; we had no idea who he was and he ends up being the No. 3 overall selection."

But if everything plays out close to how it's expected to, this wide receiver draft class will be one to remember. 

"This class is special man," Reid said. "I think it's going to rival 2014, with Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and all those guys, Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams too. It's going to be very similar to that. It's very special."

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