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Kizer: It’d help to have veteran QB in room

Published: Thursday, October 05, 2017 @ 9:08 AM

Cleveland Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer
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Cleveland Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer(7)

The Browns might’ve gone one step too far in their youth movement. Surprisingly, it could be at the quarterback position. 

Cleveland jettisoned veterans over the past couple seasons, and most recently dumped signal callers Josh McCown and Brock Osweiler. Osweiler isn’t exactly a prize, but McCown has been serviceable with the Jets and is a renowned locker room presence.

That’s where ditching him may have been a mistake. Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, who’s struggled mightily in four losses, admitted having a wiser player to turn to would help.

“It would be valuable to have a guy who has been through this and understands it all,” Kizer said. “But when you have a quarterbacks coach in coach (Hue) Jackson, essentially I already have that. The conversations that we have are more on a personal level where we can share thoughts and create dialogue. It is not just coach talking down to a player. That relationship in itself is something that I have used as a mentor tool, but also, I will go elsewhere. I have some good relationships with guys who have played in this league outside of this locker room, and I try to use them as much as I possibly can.”

The other Browns quarterbacks, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler, are fellow youthful signal callers. Perhaps Cleveland misjudged the importance of leadership in the second year of a major retool.

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Sean Miller: Deandre Ayton is ‘one of the country’s best players’

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 11:17 AM

The Deandre Ayton fan club is growing by the day and likely includes some NBA front offices. But it seems like Ayton’s coach, Arizona’s Sean Miller, is his number one fan.

The true freshman big man has quickly established himself as one of the finest players in all of college basketball. Through 27 games, Ayton has averaged 19.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game all while shooting over 60 percent from the field.

On Monday during his press conference, Miller detailed how Ayton’s consistency has made him one of the best players in the conference and the country.

Miller was asked whether Ayton is the best player in Arizona history, which Miller doesn’t really answer, though he mentions Sean Elliott. In terms of the best ever freshman at Arizona, Miller says that “if you’re looking at a freshman, somebody who has impacted this program, his team, being consistent, it would be hard to beat (Ayton).” Miller would add, “I think he’s one of the country’s best players.”

The Arizona coach says that individual accolades will work itself out with team success; however, there is no doubt that Ayton should be considered as a favorite to be named the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

The No. 14 Wildcats (21-6, 11-3) lead the Pac-12 by 1.5 games over UCLA and USC. The team travels to Oregon State and Oregon this weekend.

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TCU swimming coach Sam Busch resigns after internal inquiry

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 11:13 AM

TCU swimming coach Sam Busch resigned after less than six months on the job.

His decision came after he was placed on paid administrative leave several weeks ago while TCU’s athletic department “conducted an internal inquiry into program rules, policy and procedure violations,” according to a press release from the school.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Stefan Stevenson reports that the exact nature of the rules and policy violations have not been released.  New TCU athletic director Jeremiah Donati declined to comment to the newspaper after the news broke.

“Coach Busch cooperated with our internal inquiry,” Donati said  in a school release. “After reviewing the facts with us, he decided to resign. I have accepted his resignation, and we wish him the best in his future coaching endeavors.”

Busch worked as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Virginia before he was hired in August. He replaced Richard Sybesma, whose 38-year tenure at TCU stands as  a record for any coach in the program’s history.

Well-known family in swimming circles

Earlier, he was an assistant coach at Auburn, West Virginia and Arizona. His father, Frank Busch, recently retired as USA Swimming’s National Team director. His brother, Augie, is the head swimming coach at Arizona.

TCU assistant coach Keith Dawley directs the Horned Frogs in the upcoming Big 12 championships. The meet starts Wednesday at Texas.

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Timothy Settle of Virginia Tech gets surprising first-round mock draft love

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 11:13 AM

Former Virginia Tech nose tackle Timothy Settle made the difficult decision to leave Blacksburg after his redshirt sophomore season to enter the 2018 NFL Draft earlier this year and it appears his stock is trending upward.

WalterFootball.com has rated Settle as the No. 4 defensive tackle available in this draft class and projects that he’ll most likely go on Day Two. However, a recent mock draft from Mike Tanier of Bleacher Report actually has Settle going in the first round.

Tanier sends Settle to the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles with the No. 32 overall pick in the draft. And he’s got a pretty compelling reason for thinking it’s a fit.

“Decision-makers Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas like to mix Moneyball with old-school Bill Parcells reasoning: 330-pound defensive tackles who can move are rare commodities, so draft them whenever you can,” Tanier writes.  “Settle is a 330-pounder who can move.

“He battled conditioning issues at Virginia Tech, but the Eagles will only need him for a 30-snap rotation role in the short term, and Cox and Jernigan (and line coach Phillip Daniels and others in the tight-knit Eagles organization) will keep Settle from getting carried away with second helpings.”

Settle recorded an impressive 36 tackles with 12.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks in 2017 and at 6-foot-3 and 335 pounds he could become one of the darlings of the draft with an impressive combine performance.

He also is projected to go No. 26 by Chris Trapasso of CBSSportscom.

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Auburn basketball: Hang that SEC banner, because everything else is gravy

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 11:00 AM

Serious injuries are an unavoidable part of sports. But it’s impossible to shake the feeling they should not have been part of this Auburn basketball season.

Bruce Pearl’s Tigers have overcome the program being swept up in the FBI’s NCAA basketball corruption probe, and the immediate loss of assistant Chuck Person; overcome the subsequent loss of their likely best player in Austin Wiley and a certain starter in Danjel Purifoy; overcome preseason expectations that placed the Tigers so deep in the SEC pecking order they weren’t scheduled for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge; overcome a post-Wiley size disadvantage that made them one of the smallest teams in major college basketball.

The Tigers didn’t just overcome those obstacles to become an NCAA Tournament bubble team, either, which would have been a tremendous accomplishment all on its own — Auburn went to Columbia for its date Saturday with South Carolina as a projected No. 1 seed with a two-game lead in the SEC. Put simply, this Auburn team has worked too hard, has too much chemistry, has accomplished too much already to deserve another blow like the loss of Anfernee McLemore.

Season-ending injuries are never fair. But this one feels even more grossly unfair than most.

However just or unjust a hand Auburn has been dealt, though, it’s the hand they’ll have to play going forward. The question: How much is that hand worth?

Placing any expectations on these Tigers at this stage feels like demanding too much. McLemore was nothing less than the linchpin of Auburn’s defense, the nation’s third-ranked player in block percentage* per Kenpom and far and away the biggest reason the Tigers rank a healthy 60th in 2-point field-goal defense.

While Desean Murray is a vastly better defender than any 6-foot-3 power forward has any right to be, McLemore’s shot-erasing went a long, long way toward letting Auburn survive (and even thrive) on the defensive end with a “ four” of Murray’s size. Horace Spencer can do a reasonable McLemore impression when he’s on the floor — his block percentage also ranks in the Division I top-75, and his steal rate is exceptional for a post player — but frequent foul trouble could limit his minutes. (Spencer commits 6.8 fouls per 40 minutes according to Kenpom, by far the highest rate on the team.) If Spencer’s on the bench, asking freshman Chuma Okeke to anchor the defense at center is asking a lot.

Take the problems created by McLemore’s absence, multiply them by the limited amount of time to adjust to them, and divide by the complete lack of postseason experience on the Tigers roster, and no one will blame Auburn if their SEC and NCAA Tournament performances don’t match their stunning regular season. A few weeks ago, Pearl and Co. could justifiably look toward securing the best possible NCAA seed, with the aim of making the tourney’s second weekend. Now? With this much uncertainty, you can justifiably say anything the Tigers achieve in either tournament is pure gravy.

That Auburn won’t have the opportunity to charge into the postseason with the team that won 23 of its first 26 games — to say nothing of the team it began practice with in October — might be the cryingest of crying shames. The only one bigger? If the team that won 23 of its first 26 games comes away without a championship.

It’s worth remembering that as rare as postseason success might be for Auburn basketball, an SEC title is even rarer. The Tigers have claimed just two in 84 attempts (as compared to four Sweet 16 appearances). McLemore or no McLemore, Auburn is tantalizingly close to a third, with Tennessee’s loss at Georgia leaving the Tigers a  de facto three games ahead in the standings with only four games to play. Beat Alabama at home, beat South Carolina at home, and Auburn Arena will get a new banner.

Auburn will look to have a big home-court advantage against Alabama. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, “beat Alabama at home, beat South Carolina at home” is much easier said than done without McLemore. The Tide haven’t done much away from Coleman Coliseum, but they did thump Florida in Gainesville and of course are responsible for one of Auburn’s four losses to date. Auburn just got a taste of how dangerous the Gamecocks can be last Saturday. And it’s likely the Tigers will need both to clinch the crown — the Vols likely will be favored in all four of their remaining games**, while Auburn likely won’t be at either Florida or Arkansas.

But however easy it might be to say or do, finishing off the SEC title must be done. That’s not in the sense of expectation and/or disappointment, the way we’d say an NCAA Tournament berth or 20-win season were the expectations in preseason. It’s in the sense that this team, these players, after everything they’ve achieved, after all the odds they’ve defied, cannot  have this season defined by what they  didn’t accomplish. Whatever happens in the postseason, win the SEC and this season goes down as one of the greatest in Auburn history, full stop. Fall short, and without a big run either in St. Louis or the NCAAs, that  what could have been feeling will be unavoidable.

Here’s the good news: this Auburn team would never have reached the heights it’s reached already without Herculean levels of fight and commitment. We already know Harper, Brown, Murray, Mustapha Heron and the rest will scratch and claw as hard as they’re capable of scratching and clawing to bring that banner home. They deserve nothing less.

And if they do? Whatever comes after will be just the icing on one of the most delicious cakes any Auburn athletics team has ever baked.

* The 6-foot-7 McLemore is the only player in the nation’s top 40 by this metric listed under 6-foot-8. He’s got more hops than your local craft brewery’s overdone IPA.

** Albeit narrowly at Mississippi State.

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