Nationals

Unified basketball schools continue to plot future

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Unified basketball schools continue to plot future

VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) Villanova's Big East banner that hangs in the rafters already has a white patch stitched over West Virginia.

The Wildcats can now start putting Xs over most of the rest of the conference schools, as well.

The Big East - a proud league built on basketball moments like the 1985 Wildcats stunning conference rival Georgetown in the national championship game - will soon become extinct, even if the name lives on in some unrecognizable form.

On Saturday, Villanova, Georgetown, St. John's, DePaul, Marquette, Seton Hall and Providence all decided to officially separate from the conference many of them helped to build, so they can construct a league focused on basketball in this ever-changing landscape of college athletics.

The breakaway from the Big East was only the first step. It will be weeks and months of uncertainty, and possibly lawsuits, before the final structure over this transition period falls into place.

The seven schools must decide who will join them in the new hoops-heavy conference, when they want to depart, where they'll play a conference tournament, and whether they will attempt to keep the Big East name. Plus, the league will need a commissioner.

There is no true timetable for any of those decisions. Like so many of these reshaped conferences that stretch from coast to coast, this new league won't be confined to eastern teams. Xavier, Butler, Dayton, Creighton, and Gonzaga, way out in Spokane, Wash., also don't play major college football and would be natural fits to align with these Catholic schools. The league also will consider non-denominational schools, as well.

``They don't necessarily have to be Catholic, but it could happen,'' Patrick Lyons, Seton Hall's athletic director, said. ``We're not restricting it. We also have to consider our football-playing Big East partners and what they plan to do. But we're extremely excited about being able to shape our future.''

The seven departing schools have won three men's basketball national championships with 18 Final Four appearances. Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall and Providence helped form the Big East, which started playing basketball in 1979. Villanova joined in 1980, and Marquette and DePaul in 2005. The Big East began playing football in 1991.

``I just like the fact that our schools are being proactive and moving in a direction that I think will be just great,'' DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. ``I've always said DePaul will be fine because we'll be in a terrific basketball league and nothing's transpired in the last week or so that's changed my mind.''

For most of the schools, leaving is bittersweet, but it is a move necessitated by earlier defections like Syracuse (ACC), Pittsburgh (ACC) and West Virginia (Big 12), and the heavy emphasis on the cash-cow football programs.

``I think the tipping point in the mind of all seven of us was the most recent departure of Louisville and Rutgers,'' said Villanova's president, the Rev. Peter M. Donohue. ``There was a concern on all of our parts about where the conference was heading and where basketball was playing a part in the conference.''

Big East bylaws require departing members give the conference 27 months' notice, but the league has negotiated early departures with Orange, Panthers and Mountaineers over the past year. Those schools all had to pay exit fees. Big East rules do allow schools to leave as a group without being obligated to pay exit fees.

The seven schools could play one more year in the Big East or figure out a way to get started on their league a season early. No one wants to deal with the uncertainty and nastiness that can lead from a split for any more time than necessary.

The breakup, however, is almost guaranteed to get messy. The Big East name, after all, will be up for grabs in negotiations.

``The association has served us well, for sure,'' Villanova Athletic Director Vince Nicastro said. ``It's been part of the fabric of our programs. But we're looking forward.''

Villanova coach Jay Wright, a native of the area, and raised on the Big East, said the time was right for a change.

``All of us basketball schools (are now) able to get together and say, `OK, where are we going to go? How are we going to do this?''' he said. ``Not sit back and say, `Let's wait and see what the football schools decide, then let's see where we're going to go.'''

The latest hit to the Big East leaves Connecticut, also a founding member, Cincinnati, Temple and South Florida - the four current members with FBS football programs - as the only schools currently in the Big East that are scheduled to be there beyond the 2013-14 school year.

The Big East is still lined up to have a 12-team football conference next season with six new members, including Boise State and San Diego State for football only. Rutgers and Louisville, which both announced intentions to leave the Big East last month for the Big Ten and the ACC, respectively, are scheduled to compete in the conference next year.

Notre Dame, which is moving to the ACC, also is expected to continue competing in the Big East next season in all sports but football and hockey. Those two sports also won't compete in the ACC when the Fighting Irish land there.

Also joining the Big East next season are Memphis, Central Florida, Houston and SMU for all sports.

Villanova had toyed for years with moving its football program up from the FCS level. Obviously, those plans are finished.

``I'm pleased we didn't make that decision,'' Donohue said.

School officials haven't said much publicly because there are still so many pieces that need to come together. Will it be a 10 or 12-team league? What will the television deal look like? Will a conference tournament live on at Madison Square Garden?

``The commercial enterprise around this is going to be really important to us,'' Nicastro said. ``Make no mistake about that, we're in that game. We're going to be in the television business in a big way.''

Nicastro said the seven schools have only worked together in making the move but are starting to look outside for new leadership. The next step is simply getting organized in the transition plan.

About the only part of the defection the seven schools know for sure is that they're all unified as they journey onward.

``Right now, we're focused on moving forward together,'' Lyons said. ``All other decisions still have to be made, but we're going to stick together.''

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Follow Dan Gelston at www.twitter.com/APGelston

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Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

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USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Strasburg dominates Marlins, Nationals salvage a win

The Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins, 5-0, Sunday afternoon to move back .500 at 10-10.

Here are five observations from the game...

1. Sunday became of a day of salvage for the Nationals.

Washington lost the first two games of its initial series against the Miami Marlins. One of those losses included a subpar Max Scherzer start. Game three provided Miami a surprising chance to sweep. Stephen Strasburg snuffed out that idea with eight scoreless innings. Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, Brian Dozier once.

Kyle Barraclough was on the verge of peacefully pitching the ninth inning to close the game before he walked back-to-back hitters with two outs. Davey Martinez replaced him with closer Sean Doolittle who ended the game in his 10th appearance of the season.

And, guess what? The Nationals are back to even. Again. The upshot for them is how flawed and jam-packed the rest of the National League East remains. The downside is dropping any series against Miami can leave a mark.

Assume the division winner takes 13-15 victories when playing the Marlins 19 times during the season. That idea would force Washington to go between 12-4 and 14-2 the rest of the way against Miami. A run like that -- even against bad teams -- is extremely difficult. Being swept by the worst team in the major leagues would have made it even worse. So, a necessary win was delivered Sunday.

2. Strasburg spent Sunday down in the strike zone, throwing curveballs at his leisure, dominating all afternoon.

Eight innings. Ten strikeouts. Two hits. No runs.

Strasburg threw an astonishing amount of curveballs Sunday: 45 of his 104 pitches were bending toward the plate. He threw 41 fastballs (mostly two-seam fastballs) and 18 changeups. Strasburg came into the game throwing his curveball 21.4 percent of the time this season, just a tick above his career average of 19.7 percent.

The curveballs led to 12 swinging strikes, six called strikes and four foul balls. So, half of them were not put in fair play. That’s a dominating pitch.

Most opposition hitters will mark Strasburg’s changeup as his best pitch -- especially now that his fastball velocity is down to 92-93 mph, generally. Sunday, his curveball commanded the game, an interesting turn with Kurt Suzuki behind the plate a start after Strasburg mentioned he thought predictability was part of the issue when he was knocked around in his last start against the meager San Francisco Giants offense.

3. Anthony Rendon was out of the lineup Sunday because of a bruised left elbow.

X-rays on Rendon’s elbow were negative. Though, he told reporters in Miami on Sunday the elbow remained stiff. Washington played with a three-man bench in the series finale because Rendon has not been placed on the injured list. It also underwent a lineup shuffle.

Victor Robles moved up to the No. 2 spot. Howie Kendrick played third and hit cleanup. Dozier hit seventh and Wilmer Difo was in the eighth spot.

Rendon’s absence is another dig at an offense already without Trea Turner for an unclear amount of time because of a broken right index finger. Both were off to outstanding starts for a team that is not. Rendon’s 1.223 OPS was fourth in the National League coming into play Sunday.

The Nationals are in the midst of a brutal schedule stretch, which means they can’t play with a short bench for long. They have a three-game series starting in Colorado on Monday. If they think Rendon could play Tuesday, they could survive another day with a three-man bench. If they think he won’t play in that series, it makes sense to put him on the 10-day injured list retroactive to Sunday. Thursday is an off day. So, ultimately, Rendon would miss seven games he otherwise would not.

The rub there is potent San Diego and St. Louis are coming to Nationals Park next week. Washington is already laboring. Does it want to deal with those teams without Rendon?

4. Interesting in the sixth inning:

Juan Soto struck out on a changeup. That’s not the interesting -- or surprising -- part. Kendrick was next. He drove a second-pitch changeup from Trevor Richards to deep center field for a sacrifice fly. Only Lewis Brinson’s jump and speed kept Kendrick’s fly ball from being a two-run double.

Kendrick appeared to be sitting on the changeup from Richards, his out pitch and one he used almost as often as his fastball throughout the day. Zimmerman hit a changeup for a home run. Dozier hit a changeup for a home run. Those vetered hitters appeared to adjust in a way Soto did not: instead of trying to push Richards into a fastball count, they sat on the changeup. Big results followed.

5. How about a couple strange things?

Robles bunted against the shift in the sixth inning. It was simultaneously the worst and best bunt in history. Robles bunted the ball so hard, it went almost to the outfield grass...in the air. Marlins first baseman Neil Walker did not get it because he was holding a runner. Second baseman Starlin Castro did not get it because he was shifted toward the middle. Robles was easily safe as a result.

Then a scare from an oddity: an eighth-inning foul ball roared into the Nationals dugout. When Max Scherzer moved to avoid it, he tweaked an intercostal muscle in his left rib cage, according to reporters in Miam. He was in enough pain director of athletic training Paul Lessard came to check on him. Scherzer was all right. That would have been the capper for the Nationals recent run of bad injury luck where balls coming from the opposition are causing fluke injuries.

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Todd Reirden on TJ Oshie's surgery: 'It's a tough situation for our team'

Todd Reirden on TJ Oshie's surgery: 'It's a tough situation for our team'

ARLINGTON — Capitals forward T.J. Oshie had a surgical procedure Friday to repair a broken right collarbone and remains out indefinitely.  

Oshie was not at Capital One Arena for Washington’s 6-0 win in Game 5 of its Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. He was injured with five minutes to go in Thursday’s Game 4 loss in Raleigh when nudged from behind by Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele and slamming hard into the boards near full speed. 

“There's not one person who can take T.J. Oshie's spot for all that he is as a human being, player on the ice, off the ice all the stuff that he adds,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said at his media availability on Sunday afternoon. “But what I did notice is that everybody picked their level up last night. And that's what we're going to need going into Raleigh for [Monday]."

That’s when Washington, ahead 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, can eliminate Carolina in Game 6. It’s something it has done successfully on the road in recent years in Philadelphia (2016), Toronto (2017), Pittsburgh and Columbus (2018). All series the Capitals were up 3-2. In all four they won Game 6. 

But they won’t have Oshie this time and he is the emotional engine that has helped fuel some of those series-ending performances. There is still no exact timetable for Oshie’s return. The Capitals have avoided ruling him out for the season and Reirden artfully dodged a question about whether he’d be ready for training camp. 

A broken collarbone usually doesn’t take longer than two months to heal barring complications. But that’s almost certainly going to be after the playoffs ends even if the Capitals make a repeat run to the Stanley Cup Final. Last year they won it on June 7 in five games against the Vegas Golden Knights. 

“I do know that T.J. Oshie is going to do everything he can, and we're not willing to put a timetable on it right now with regard to any time,” Reirden said. “Just lots of these things take a different course in terms of how they rehab and don't rehab. I just know that I can tell you about T.J., he's all-in at all times, and that's a great person to have around our room at the very least." 

Oshie had 25 goals and 29 assists in 65 regular-season games. He missed 11 of 13 games with a concussion. He had eight goals and 13 assists in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. He also plays the “bumper” role on the top power-play unit and kills penalties.

Oshie tweeted thanks to fans both before and after Washington’s 6-0 win on Saturday. In the third period, periodic “T.J. Oshie!” chants rang from the sellout crowd at Capital One Arena. 

“It was nice to see the crowd give [Oshie] a little love,” center Nicklas Backstrom said on Saturday.  

Added Reirden: “That's obviously a tough loss for us, but we're prepared to go without him as we saw last night. It's a tough situation for our team, but I certainly liked our response last night and was proud of our effort in terms of how we played and how we were playing with him in the back of our mind."

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