Tubby leaning heavy on starters in Big Ten play


Tubby leaning heavy on starters in Big Ten play

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Tubby Smith drew some criticism in his first five seasons in Minnesota for a substitution pattern that often looked more like a hockey philosophy.

He would run groups of five players in and out, playing his starters almost the same amount of minutes as his bench players.

Now that he has a talented, versatile starting group that believes it can play with any team in the nation, Smith is taking an entirely different approach. He's riding his most talented players hard this season, a strategy that has taken Minnesota to the No. 9 ranking and a highly anticipated game against No. 5 Michigan on Thursday night.

In the first four Big Ten games, guard Julian Welch is the only reserve playing more than 10 minutes a game. Three starters are averaging at least 30 minutes, with point guard Andre Hollins' 28.5 the lowest number.

``As you get into conference play, there's going to be tighter games and better athletes,'' Smith said Wednesday. ``So you want your better athletes in the game at the same time. I don't have somebody measuring. This isn't Little League where everyone is going to play so many minutes.''

Gophers starters have accounted for 87 percent of the team's scoring, with Hollins leading the way at 19 points per game in the conference. The biggest producer off the bench has been Oto Osenieks at just 2.5 points per game.

So far, the imbalance hasn't been much of an issue. The Gophers won at Illinois last week even though they didn't get a single point from their reserves. But in the rugged Big Ten, where foul trouble and injuries await with every collision under the basket, Minnesota's depth is sure to get a test sooner or later.

``I think we can hold it up,'' senior starter Rodney Williams said. ``And then when he's ready to go to the bench, we know we've got guys that are ready to come off the bench as well.''

Where the Gophers appear to be most thin is the front court. Williams and Trevor Mbakwe are getting all the minutes, while big man Maurice Walker has been slow to come back from a knee injury and center Elliott Eliason has been inconsistent behind them. In such a physical conference, it will be key for Mbakwe, who at 6-foot-8 is an undersized starting center, to stay out of foul trouble.

Backup point guard Maverick Ahanmisi hit a couple of 3-pointers against Indiana, an encouraging sign for a second unit that has been lacking offensive punch to this point. He said going against the Gophers' talented starters in practice should have them ready once the games begin. They're trying to pattern themselves after the Los Angeles Clippers' reserves, widely considered the best bench in the NBA.

``We're playing against the first group all the time, so we're going to push them because that's going to make them better. That's going to help us out, too,'' Ahanmisi said. ``The other day, coach said we play like the Clippers. So I think that was a big part of what we do as a second group, coming in and pressuring the ball and things like that, also in practice helping the starting five bring their intensity as well.''

The Wolverines have used their athleticism and playmaking on the perimeter to get off to a 16-1 start, winning their first three Big Ten games before falling to rival Ohio State last weekend. The game will feature two of the best players in the conference in Hollins and Wolverines point guard Trey Burke in what is expected to be a rowdy Williams Arena. Burke scored 30 points to beat the Gophers in the Big Ten tournament last season and Hollins is ready for a rematch.

``I look forward to going against great players,'' Hollins said. ``I don't get too caught up in it, but at the same time it's like I have something to prove at the same time. It's going to make me better in the long run so I just take the challenge to go out and compete.''

Hollins knows he's going to need plenty of help if the Gophers are going to bounce back from a loss at Indiana. And it may have to come from the backups.

``We know our bench is important,'' Hollins said. ``Everybody's going to be expected to play 100 percent. Coach Smith has 100 percent trust in our bench and I do also. We trust in each other.''


AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this story.

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Report says Redskins were chasing after Joe Flacco before he landed in Denver

Report says Redskins were chasing after Joe Flacco before he landed in Denver

Baltimore traded quarterback Joe Flacco to Denver last week, and things might have moved quicker between the Ravens and the Broncos because another team had interest.

That team? The Washington Redskins. 

That's the story presented by a pair of Denver radio hosts last week. 

There are a few important things to note.

Redskins team president Bruce Allen handles trades for the team, and it's possible he reached out to Baltimore on Flacco. That could mean just one perfunctory phone call, or a real conversation. 

The reality, however, is the Redskins don't have close to the cap space needed to add Flacco.

In 2019, Flacco's contract will count more than $26 million toward the salary cap. The Redskins are only $17 million under the cap. Just on the most basic level, acquiring Flacco wouldn't have worked. 

Can teams move salary around or cut players to add room? Sure. But keep in mind, Washington already owes QB Alex Smith more than $20 million this season even though he's unexpected to play. Between Flacco, Smith and Colt McCoy's $4 million salary, that would have been about $50 million in quarterback salary on the Redskins roster this season.

That's preposterous. 

If you want to believe the Redskins were seriously looking into the trade, there are some loose ends. When the team acquired Alex Smith last season, the number one reason provided was that Smith wins games. Well, the same can be said about Flacco. 

A 34-year-old quarterback with a Super Bowl ring and a long track record of impressive playoff performances, Flacco has a career 96-67 regular season record and a 10-5 record in the playoffs. 

There's also this: Reports show Denver sent a fourth-round pick to Baltimore to get Flacco.

The Redskins don't have a fourth-round pick this year after acquiring Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in mid-season. Is it possible the 'Skins talked about a fifth-round pick for Flacco, especially because the team holds two selections in the fifth round? In turn, maybe Denver offered a fourth to beat the Redskins offer? Sure, it's possible.

But again, adding Flacco's contract to the Redskins salary cap situation would be insane. In the end, follow the money.


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The Capitals head to Anaheim looking to avenge their most shocking loss of the season

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The Capitals head to Anaheim looking to avenge their most shocking loss of the season

December was a pretty good month for the Capitals. Out of 13 games, Washington won nine of them. Of the four games the team lost, however, the worst of those losses by far was the Dec. 2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

Five different Caps players scored as Washington jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the second period. It looked like the Caps were going to cruise to the easy win…until Anaheim rattled off five straight goals to hand Washington a stunning 6-5 loss.

Wait, are we talking about the same Anaheim team that has lost 20 of its last 23 games? Well, technically yes, but for a brief period, they were one of the hottest teams in the league. The win over the Caps was one of 11 wins in a 13-game stretch for the Ducks.

That, of course, is of little comfort to the Caps.

Anaheim is now struggling considerably. Head coach Randy Carlyle was fired and general manager Bob Murray has taken over behind the bench.

Sometimes when an opponent is struggling, a team may take its foot off the gas and play down to the competition. Given what happened the last time these two teams met, however, Washington likely is not going to be looking past the Ducks when they meet on Sunday (9 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

Game notes

One away

Alex Ovechkin sits one goal away from No. 40 on the season. Once he scores, it will be the 10th time in his career he has reached 40 goals in his career. That puts him in pretty incredible company.

Ten seasons of 40+ goals would tie Ovechkin with Marcel Dionne and Mario Lemieux. Wayne Gretzky is the only player with more 40-goal seasons as he did it 12 times. That’s it. That’s the entire list.


With the Caps playing in Anaheim on Sunday and Los Angeles on Monday, expect to see both Braden Holtby and Pheonix Copley in these two games. Whoever starts on Sunday, the other netminder is likely to go on Monday. With no morning skate scheduled in Anaheim, it’s anybody’s guess who will start for Washington, but there is at least a chance Copley gets the nod so that Holtby can get what will presumably be the tougher matchup against the Kings.