TCU headed to new conference with new coach

TCU headed to new conference with new coach

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) TCU is going into a new conference with a new coach, someone who's been where the Horned Frogs want to be.

Trent Johnson has been to the NCAA tournament at each of his three previous head coaching stops. Big 12 newcomer TCU is coming off its first winning season in seven years but hasn't played in the tourney since 1998.

Before thinking about what happens in March, Johnson wants his TCU players to focus on what they need to do now.

``My expectations have always been the same, whether it's a new year, a new team or I've been in a program for three or four years,'' Johnson said. ``It's concentrate on competing and getting better every day.''

The Horned Frogs have nine returning lettermen, but the only starters back in that group are 6-foot-7 senior forward Garlon Green (9.9 points per game) and sophomore guard Kyan Anderson (9.3 ppg, 2.8 assists per game), the Mountain West Conference's top freshman last season. Gone are Hank Thorns and J.R. Cadot, the top two scorers and only players to start every game during an 18-15 season that ended with an opening-round loss in the College Basketball Invitational.

Amric Fields, a 6-foot-9 junior forward, was selected the Mountain West's top sixth man last season when he averaged 9.6 points while shooting 51 percent from the field. He will have a more prominent role this season.

Johnson became TCU's new coach right after his resignation from LSU, where he spent the past four seasons. He replaced Jim Christian, who left the Frogs after four years to return to the MAC as Ohio's coach.

In a preseason poll by the Big 12 coaches, TCU was picked to finish last in its inaugural season in the league.

``Everybody wants me to make a comparison to the SEC or the Pac-10,'' said Johnson, who also coached at Nevada and Stanford. ``My last two years in the Pac-10, there's like 25 guys that are starting in the NBA. ... But you look at Big 12 basketball, and it's so physical. Therein lies the challenges.''

The Frogs got a huge boost when 6-8 sophomore forward Devonta Abron was granted an NCAA wavier that will allow him to play right away this season after transferring from Arkansas to be closer to home. Part of a highly touted recruiting class at Arkansas, Abron started 22 games as a freshman last season for the Razorbacks. He averaged 5.7 points and led them with 4.2 rebounds while playing only about 16 minutes a game.

``He's going to help us,'' Johnson said.

Freshman center Aaron Durley also had a chance to make an impact this season. But the 6-10, 270-pounder tore his ACL during a non-contact drill the second week of preseason practice.

During the final weeks of the last season, the Frogs beat Top 25 teams UNLV and New Mexico at home. They took another ranked team, San Diego State, to overtime in the regular season finale before losing.

Johnson, 226-185 in his 13 seasons as a head coach, hasn't watched any of those TCU games on film. The only Frogs game he saw was one against Houston, a team LSU was playing.

``The past has always been in the past for me,'' the coach said. ``I tell these guys that is the past, and leadership and toughness is what we develop and what we grow into. ... Everybody here has a fresh start.''

TCU opens the season Nov. 9 against Cal Poly, the first of five consecutive home games that include an early meeting against SMU and new coach Larry Brown. The Frogs play their first Big 12 game Jan. 5, at home against Texas Tech.

``We're going to play as fast as we can play well,'' Johnson said. ``This team, I fully expect to play like all of my teams. I don't know how good a team we're going to be in terms of wins and losses but people are going to look out there and they're going to say, you know what, they play together, they act right, that's a good team.''

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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”


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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

1. Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

2. Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

3. Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

4. Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

5. Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.