Nationals

Tar Heels, Hoosiers ready for showcase game

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Tar Heels, Hoosiers ready for showcase game

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) Tom Crean already has one major victory over North Carolina.

He got Cody Zeller.

Now Roy Williams must figure out how to defend the recruit that got away to avoid losing again Tuesday night when No. 14 North Carolina meets No. 1 Indiana in the marquee matchup of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

``He's the guy that makes everybody else change their defense and you have to be concerned about him,'' Williams said. ``He gave them a legitimate inside scorer that could foul out the other players. I just think he's a great player, a great player.''

In Bloomington, Zeller means more than that.

As a freshman, he helped put the Hoosiers back on the national map.

This year, he's considered the best big man in America, was a near-unanimous preseason All-America selection and is one of the favorites to be national player of the year.

His impact can be measured one way - in wins and losses. Without Zeller, Crean was 28-66 in three seasons. With him, the Hoosiers are 33-9 in a little more than two seasons.

On Tuesday night, he will be the center of attention again, though Crean has other concerns.

``They bring some things that we've not seen, and I'm not sure that we've ever seen here,'' Crean said. ``I'm not sure we've ever seen a fast break like there's here at Assembly Hall, and James McAdoo is as good a rebounder on the offensive end as anyone we've seen this year or any other year.''

The game pits two of college basketball's truest blood-blood programs against one another. The schools have combined for 10 national championships and 3,766 all-time wins - the most prominent being Indiana's victory in the 1981 national championship game.

But some of the biggest battles have come off the court.

When the Tar Heels last visited Bloomington in 2004, the Hoosiers had to deal with another recruit that got away - Sean May, who was booed mercilessly in his home city.

That won't happen this time, in large part because Indiana didn't let Zeller get away to North Carolina.

Williams was hoping to steal a second Zeller from the Hoosier State, and it almost happened. Zeller's older brother, Tyler, graduated from North Carolina last year and was a first-round pick in the NBA draft.

``It was real close,'' Cody Zeller said Monday. ``They were in my top three. I have a lot of respect for everything they do, the coaching staff is great and Tyler really enjoyed his time there. I just thought Indiana was the best place for me, and I have no regrets about that.''

But Williams knows that focusing solely on Zeller would be dangerous because the Hoosiers (6-0) are not a one-man team.

The Hoosiers are fourth nationally in scoring (88.7), lead the Big Ten in defensive rebounding, rebounding margin and scoring margin and are shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from 3-point range.

If the Tar Heels (5-1) learned anything from their loss last week to another team from Indiana, two-time national runner-up Butler, it's this: They must be ready to play 40 minutes.

``We tried to challenge them the last couple of days that we've got to play better than that,'' Williams said of the Tar Heels' trip to Maui where they finished third. ``I haven't noticed the extra energy or the bounce because I've worked the dickens out of them.''

The Hoosiers do know what to expect.

After surviving challenges from Georgia and Georgetown last week, Indiana made a defensive statement in Sunday's 48-point victory over Ball State.

And now, a little more than 48 hours later, they are preparing for a game the students have been anticipating for months.

How excited are the fans? Students started camping in front of Assembly Hall on Monday morning. It's not the first time the Hoosiers have seen it.

``It's probably going to be a lot like the Kentucky game last year,'' sophomore guard Remy Abell said. ``It might even be better. It's going to be crazy.''

Both teams will be short-handed.

Indiana will play again without 6-foot-9 forward Derek Elston, who is expected to be out until after Christmas following knee surgery, and 6-8 freshman Hanner Mosquera-Perea and 7-foot center Peter Jurkin, who were suspended nine games by the NCAA. That could create problems against the biggest foe Indiana has faced this season.

North Carolina will be without sophomore guard P.J. Hairston, who is averaging 10.8 points. He didn't travel with the team because of a knee injury.

Meaning the difference could be Zeller.

``I'm not going to put five guys on Cody. He is an emphasis and he would have to be the main emphasis, but we're not designing a defense for him,'' Williams said. ``I'm not going up there trying to stop Cody Zeller. I'm trying to go up there to beat Indiana.''

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2018 MLB Wild Card Playoff Race: The Dodgers are back

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USA TODAY Sports

2018 MLB Wild Card Playoff Race: The Dodgers are back

The Los Angeles Dodgers have flipped the National League West, the Tampa Bay Rays are making a valiant run, and the Washington Nationals are hanging in there.

Races heading into the 2018 Major League Baseball postseason still find a way to stay interesting after 150 games. 

The NL Central, NL West, AL and NL Wild Card battles are all going to be watched under a microscope with less than two week's worth of games remaining. Not too far away either is the NL East. 

Joining the Boston Red Sox, the Cleveland Indians are only the second team to clinch a postseason spot. They claimed the AL Central crown and will make the playoffs as the No. 3 team in the AL Bracket. No one though has clinched a position in the National League yet, and likely will not until the final week. 

Eight spots left unclaimed with the Astros and Yankees not being too far away from joining the list. At the rate the Dodgers are winning games (six of their last seven), they probably are not far off either. No matter what, Los Angeles is in a good spot after they once were at risk for missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012. 

One team that has fallen out of that conversation is the Atlanta Braves who were a game and a half from the top seed in the NL. Now they have lost four straight and leave the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals still holding out hope. 

National League Postseason Picture:

Central: Chicago Cubs 89-62

West: Los Angeles Dodgers 84-68 

East: Atlanta Braves 83-68 

National League Wild Card Standings (Games remaining against Wild Card teams): 

Milwaukee Brewers: 86-66         +3.5 (3)
Ramaining:
vs. Cincinnati (1)
@ Pittsburgh (3)
@ St. Louis (3)
vs. Detroit (3)
St. Louis Cardinals: 84-68         +1.5 (3)
Remaining:
@ Atlanta Braves (1)
vs. San Francisco (3)
vs. Milwaukee (3)
@ Chicago Cubs (3)
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Colorado Rockies: 82-69            -1.5 (10)
Remaining:
@ LA Dodgers (1)
@ Arizona (3)
vs. Philadelphia (4)
vs. Washington (3)
Philadelphia Phillies: 77-73        -6.0 (4)
Remaining:
vs. NY Mets (1)
@ Atlanta (4)
@ Colorado (4)
vs. Atlanta (3)
Arizona Diamondbacks: 78-74    -6.0 (3)
Remaining:
vs. Chicago Cubs (1)
vs. Colorado (3)
vs. LA Dodgers (3)
vs. San Diego (3)
Washington Nationals: 77-75      -7.0 (3)
Remaining:
vs. NY Mets (4)
vs. Miami (3)
@ Colorado (3)

Since the last update, the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals have not done much to add to their leads in the Wild Card. Milwaukee playing against lower teams at home in the division, only won two games in their past two series, with one being Christian Yelich's cycle. St. Louis lost three out of four to the Dodgers, but rebounded to take two against Atlanta.

Still, they hold the final two spots and have benefited with the Dodgers running through the NL West.

While the Dodgers jumped past the Rockies for the lead in the division, if Colorado can rebound it will make for a interesting finish in the National League as a whole.

However, the Rockies can't even beat the lower tier teams, shut out twice in the Bay. The Rockies will have a say in how the remainder of the season plays out, especially in the NL East, playing the Phillies and the Nats as both are grasping for straws with the Braves sinking. 

Once again the Nationals are on the way out, looking in. They remain in the update only because they have a slight chance in the division (6.5 games back), and a real favorable schedule. At the same time, write-off the Arizona Diamondbacks, they are 4-13 in their last 17.

American League:

East: Boston Red Sox: 103-48 -- clinched postseason spot

West: Houston Astros: 95-56 

Central: Cleveland Indians: 84-66 -- clinched division

American League Wild Card Standings (Games remaining against Wild Card teams):

New York Yankees: 92-58      +8.0 (4)
Remaining:
vs. Boston (2)
vs. Baltimore (3)
@ Tampa Bay (4)
@ Boston (3)
Oakland Athletics: 90-61        +5.5 (0)
Remaining:
vs. LA Angels (2)
vs. Minnesota (3)
@ Mariners (3)
@ LA Angels (3)
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Tampa Bay Rays: 84-66          -5.5 (4)
Remaining:
@ Texas (1)
vs. Toronto (4)
vs. NY Yankees (4)
vs. Toronto (3)

Just when it looked like the Yankees and the Oakland Athletics were going to be in a foot race for the top Wild Card spot, it evaporated. Losing once to the Baltimore Orioles, twice to the Tampa Bay Rays and another to the Los Angeles Angels, the Athletics faded. On the flip side New York got a huge win at home against the MLB-leading Red Sox.

The remaining schedule for each remain polar opposites as the calendar winds down. A race will still likely present itself.

Tampa Bay missed a golden chance to give themselves an outside shot. A sweep against Oakland, combined with the other results would have got them within 4.5 games. An extra-inning loss at home essentially ended their far hopes. Their record post All-Star break? 35-19.

MORE MLB NEWS: 

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Are the Redskins running the ball too much on first down?

Are the Redskins running the ball too much on first down?

After one loss, the play calling of Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is already under fire. After years of being criticized for abandoning the running game, some are saying that he is now running too often, at least on first down. 

The decision of what to do on first-and-10 is one of the basic quandaries of play calling. Running the ball is likely to get you ahead of the sticks but if the play gets stuffed you are facing second-and-8 or 9. Defenses often are geared to stop the run on first down so that affects the success rate. 

Passing on first down can be a more attractive option. Even a quick pass with a few yards after the catch can get you into second and short in a hurry. But passes are incomplete about a third of the time and that leaves the offense looking at second-and-10. The occasional sack or holding penalty can quickly kill a drive. 

This season, Gruden has leaned heavily towards taking the lower risk, lower reward route of running the ball on first down. The Redskins 39 first-down runs are the most in the NFL, one more than the Texans and considerably more than the NFL average of 27 first-down runs. (The numbers here are from Pro Football Reference and are complete through Sunday’s games.) 

Those are the raw numbers. When you break it down into first-down rush percentage, the Redskins are fifth in the league at 58.2 percent. Still, that leans heavily towards the run in a league that passes on first down (51.7%) more often than it runs (48.3%).

In looking at just 2018 we are dealing with a small sample size. The two Redskins games were very different. In their first game, they never trailed, and runs were called on 69 percent of first down plays (25 of 36). Against the Colts where they never led and ran on 45 percent of first downs (14 of 31). 

Looking at a larger set of data covering games from the start of the 2017 season through Sunday’s game, Gruden called runs on 58.5 percent of first-down plays. That was the fifth-highest percentage in the league. The league average seems to shift to more running as the year wears on as over the last full season plus two games teams ran on first down 52.4 percent of the time. 

Looking at the big picture, you might wonder why Gruden ran it so often on first down last year with such a poor (27thin NFL) rushing game. They averaged 3.16 yards per first down run. That was the worst average in the league.

We will track this occasionally as the year goes on. This year, again a small sample size, they are averaging a respectable 4.3 yards on first-down rushing attempts, 10th in the NFL. Let’s see if the strategy shifts, if the defense adjusts and keys to stop the run on first down, and/or if they are having trouble consistently moving the ball. 

Redskins analysis

-Running game struggles: No immediate answers
-Shuffling the receivers: Redskins acquire Floyd after signing Perriman

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler