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Xavier tries to dig out from nightmarish offseason

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Xavier tries to dig out from nightmarish offseason

CINCINNATI (AP) Nobody's had a worse offseason than Xavier.

The bad news started a month after the Musketeers' latest appearance in the NCAA tournament's round of 16. Returning senior guard Mark Lyons didn't see eye-to-eye with coach Chris Mack, who wanted him to become more of a team player this season. Lyons was gone.

A few months later, forward Dez Wells - the only returning starter - was expelled from the school for violating its code of student conduct. Just like that, the school that has dominated the Atlantic 10 found itself in an unaccustomed tough spot.

``It seemed like every week, personnel was changing,'' senior guard Brad Redford said. ``There was a new story for us to deal with. We had workouts and stuff to do, so we just tried to keep it in focus and take care of what we can as individuals.''

It was tough to see a team with high expectations come apart so quickly.

``I think part of it is discouraging,'' Redford said. ``Anytime you get news one of your teammates may have to leave the team or the school, you care about that guy, care about him, you've been in practice with him day after day. You're saying goodbye to a good friend.

``It's a matter of sticking together.''

What's left of the Musketeers is trying to hold on for what shapes up as Xavier's most challenging season in a long time.

The Musketeers won five straight A-10 regular season titles, a streak that ended last season when they finished third with a 23-13 record overall. They played their best at the end of a tough season that included a brawl against crosstown rival Cincinnati, advancing to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in five seasons before losing to Baylor.

Point guard Tu Holloway, center Kenny Frease and forward Andre Walker graduated, costing the Musketeers their top scorers on the perimeter and inside. When Lyons and Wells left, it was a complete sweep.

Xavier is picked to finish ninth in the A-10 because of the lack of experience and depth. The Musketeers opened the season with only eight scholarship players - in more bad news, freshmen Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds were ruled ineligible by the NCAA. Also, junior forward Isaiah Philmore has to miss the first three games because of a paperwork problem in his transfer from Towson.

There were so few Musketeers at the start of the season that Mack had to scale back on practice.

``We don't have a lot of scholarship bodies now,'' Mack said. ``For us to try to grind it out for three hours every day would be foolish. We want to be at our best when the season matters most. It's a fine line as a coach. You have to compete every day, you have to get players in game condition but at the same time, we're not trying to wear our kids down as the season goes along.

``That's been the biggest challenge, to practice efficiently to meet our objectives.''

Xavier expects a lot from its three seniors - forward Jeff Robinson (3.6 points per game), forward Travis Taylor (4.5 points) and Redford (3.2 points), a 3-point specialist off the bench who will be another year removed from reconstructive knee surgery. Sophomore Dee Davis, who averaged 11 minutes and 1.9 points last season, takes over for Holloway at the point. Freshman Semaj Christon is expected to start at shooting guard.

``We lost a lot of guys from last year that played a ton of minutes and played huge roles for us,'' Redford said. ``All the guys are figuring out our roles on this team, where we can help.''

Whenever the Musketeers needed a clutch basket last season, they could count on Holloway to take the shot or feed the ball inside for a basket. It'll be more of a collective effort this season instead of an offense that relies on its guards.

``In terms of production, I'd like to think we'll be a more balanced team than we have in the last couple of years,'' Mack said.

One other significant change: Mack expects to play a lot more zone defense because of his short-handed roster.

Mack has reminded his inexperienced players about Xavier's tradition of winning.

``You don't want to see yourself (picked) in ninth, 10th, wherever they have us ranked,'' Redford said. ``Here at Xavier, we've been at the top of the A-10. Every year I've been here, we've been first for the most part. Right now for this group, it's about taking it day by day.''

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Need to Know: Redskins stock watch—Three up, three down

Need to Know: Redskins stock watch—Three up, three down

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, June 22, 34 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins stock watch: Three up, three down

For some Redskins players, the outlook looks much brighter now than it did when last season ended. Others have seen their stocks decline. Here is a look at three players in each category.

Stock up

CB Quinton Dunbar—His rise started the day after the season ended when he signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract. It continued when the departures of Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland opened up more opportunity at his position. Then the only additions at corner were veteran Orlando Scandrick and seventh-round pick Greg Stroman. Dunbar has a clear path to a starting job, perhaps for the next few years. 

G Shawn Lauvao—At the end of the season, he was coming off of injured reserve. It was the second time in his four seasons in Washington that he finished the season on the sideline. He turned 30 last year and as the prime weeks of free agency passed he didn’t get much attention. His fortunes started to turn when the team didn’t sign or draft a guard. Then on May 4 when he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with Washington. Shortly after that Arie Kouandjio, his primary competition at left guard, was lost for the season with a quad injury. While there is no guarantee that the Redskins won’t look at other options at left guard, for right now it’s Lauvao’s job to lose. 

S Montae Nicholson—It was hard to make much out of his rookie 2017 season as he spent half of it on the sideline with injuries. But early in the offseason, Jay Gruden said that Nicholson was as important to the defense as Jordan Reed is to the offense. Given that Reed has made one Pro Bowl on his resume and could get more if he stays healthy and that his presence on the field tends to lift his teammates, that’s high praise. It means that Nicholson is at the top of the depth chart in Sharpie. He still needs to stay healthy but he is not a player who is at risk of losing his job due to an injury. 

Stock down

RB Rob Kelley—This one of pretty obvious. He finished the year on injured reserve and a couple of the running backs signed as injury replacements, Kapri Bibbs and Byron Marshall, looked pretty good. Then came the draft and Derrius Guice as the second-round pick. Right now, he looks like the No. 4 back and he will have to fight hard to keep a roster spot. 

DL Ziggy Hood—Most expected the Redskins to draft a nose tackle early and that’s what happened when they took Daron Payne in the first round. That didn’t hurt Hood’s stock much. But they followed up by taking Tim Settle later in the draft and that made the depth chart very crowded. Hood is the seventh D-lineman and they usually only keep six. Even if he makes it he could spend a lot of time on the game-day inactive list. 

S Deshazor Everett—Nobody expected the Redskins to draft a safety, but they found the speed and athleticism of Troy Apke too attractive to turn down in the fourth round of the draft. The rookie needs some work on his game, so it appears that Everett, who started eight games last year, will be the first safety off of the bench early in the season. But it’s likely that they will want to get Apke in games as soon as he’s ready and that could leave Everett on the bench. 

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

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Timeline 

Former Redskins Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey was born on this date in 1978. 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 34
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 48
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 71

The Redskins last played a game 173 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 79 days. 

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Breaking down the Wizards' 2018 draft class

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Breaking down the Wizards' 2018 draft class

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller analyze the Wizards' two picks the night of the draft.

They went in-depth on first round pick Troy Brown, Jr. and why the Wizards took him when some big names were still on the board. They also broke down why the Wizards chose to pick a draft-and-stash guy in the second round.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!