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Lynx secure top seed as WNBA playoffs set

Published: Sunday, September 03, 2017 @ 8:05 PM
Updated: Sunday, September 03, 2017 @ 8:03 PM


            FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2017, file photo, Los Angeles Sparks' Candace Parker celebrates her basket against the New York Liberty during the second half of a WNBA basketball game in Los Angeles. The Minnesota Lynx secured the top seed in the WNBA playoffs while Los Angeles will be the two seed. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2017, file photo, Los Angeles Sparks' Candace Parker celebrates her basket against the New York Liberty during the second half of a WNBA basketball game in Los Angeles. The Minnesota Lynx secured the top seed in the WNBA playoffs while Los Angeles will be the two seed. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

The WNBA playoffs are set — finally.

Minnesota secured the top spot in the postseason while Los Angeles will be the No. 2 seed. Those two teams, who met for the WNBA Finals last season, have byes again until the semifinals. The Lynx had to beat Washington on the final day of the regular season to secure the top spot as the Sparks were a game behind them and held the tiebreaker. Minnesota finished with the league's best record for the fifth time in seven years.

"That was crucial getting the top seed," Lynx center Sylvia Fowles told The Associated Press in a phone interview Sunday. "We understood we made it hard for ourselves, but we came in and got those last three games."

New York and Connecticut had already clinched byes to the second round before Sunday's play. The Liberty earned the No. 3 seed by beating Dallas on Sunday and matched a franchise record with a 10th straight win. Both New York and Connecticut will host the winners of Wednesday's first-round games on Sunday, Sept. 10.

"You control what you can control," Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said. "We're just trying to peak at the right time heading into the playoffs."

The Sun, who have been the surprise team this season, lost two of three heading into the postseason.

"To our players' credit, there was a real belief in the locker room that we could overachieve," Connecticut coach Curt Miller said. "We had some special chemistry that we could be better than what many predicted us finishing. They never wavered after the start and the close losses that accumulated at the beginning of the year. I can't be more pleased. It's disappointing that we didn't come up with an Eastern Conference championship, but hats off to New York with 10 straight wins at the finish to catch us."

Seattle clinched a postseason berth on Friday, finalizing the eight teams in the playoffs. The Storm and seventh-seed Dallas were the only teams who knew their playoff position going into Sunday. Neither knew who it would face until the late afternoon.

The Storm will visit the Mercury in the first round Wednesday while the Wings play at Washington in the other playoff game that night.

The WNBA changed its format last season taking the top eight teams to the postseason instead of going with four from each conference. The league also changed the format so that the first two rounds are one game each. The semifinals and championship round are best of five.

The semifinals will begin Sept. 12 in Minnesota and Los Angeles with the WNBA Finals starting Sept. 24.

"It's going to be good to have some rest," Fowles said. "We had two of our starters that have been out. Lindsay Whalen's still trying to get her way back. That will be big to get her back and (having the time off) will help with that."

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Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg

Jay Z turns down offer to perform at Super Bowl 52

Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 1:20 PM

Being chosen to perform in the Super Bowl halftime show is considered one of the biggest stages in music. Rapper Jay Z does not care.

Jay Z, his real name is Shawn Carter, turned down an invitation to headline the Super Bowl 52 halftime show, according to The Source.

The rap mogul has expressed solidarity with free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick who is currently being blackballed by the NFL for kneeling during the national anthem to protect racial injustice. Jay Z hasn’t specified why he brushed the NFL off his shoulders. Yet, one could hypothesize that Jay Z has issues with how the NFL is treating Kaepernick as well as other matters.

Jay Z’s wife Beyoncé performed at Super Bowl 50. Michael Jackson and Prince have also at the coveted event.

The 47-year-old rapper won’t be adding the Super Bowl to his resume.

Jay Z might have 99 problems but the Super Bowl isn’t one.

NFL executive: Penn State RB Saquon Barkley ‘is better in every area’ than Ezekiel Elliott

Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 1:16 PM

The praise continues to flow in for Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. This time, it’s an anonymous NFL executive saying Barkley tops Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott “in every area.”

That quote comes from an anonymous polling of five NFL executives conducted by NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah on who they think is the best comparison to the Nittany Lions star.

The other names thrown out: David Johnson, “a better version of Kareem Hunt,” Corey Dillon and “a more explosive Joe Mixon.” The name Superman was also thrown out. But it’s the Elliott blurb that stands out.

“I was at the game a few years ago when Elliott and Barkley shared the same field. As impressive as Elliott was, Barkley was the better player. They have similar skill sets but Barkley is better in every area.”

Anonymous NFL executive on Saquon Barkley

That’s obviously high praise given that Elliott, an Ohio State alum, was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and led the league in rushing last year as a rookie. You’d really think that’s the best you can get when it comes to a young running back.

But Barkley’s hype train just keeps picking up steam. Todd McShay said he would take Barkley No. 1 overall in a college football draft and the Penn State star is shooting up both Heisman polls and draft boards.

On the South Carolina football beat: Gamecocks have little margin for error

Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 1:11 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. – For those who don’t work in the online publication world, the term SEO probably means absolutely nothing.

But if you own a laptop or smartphone and have ever told someone to ‘just Google it,’ then SEO is everything.

Just Google “ Will Muschamp Florida conservative” and see what pops up.

That SEO lights up like a Christmas tree and shares all sorts of stories from right around the time he was fired as the coach at Florida. It was the theme during Muschamp’s downfall in Gainesville.

Somehow, three games into his second season at South Carolina, a few folks are wondering why his current team didn’t run the ball more often in the 23-13 loss to  Kentucky. Imagine that. Times really do change, but then again, the boss from TV show The Apprentice is now the president of the United States.

So, yes, anything can happen in the year 2017.

To the slightly more astute South Carolina football observer, the real question about what’s going on with the running game is this: Why weren’t they more effective, especially where it matters most, on third-and short and fourth-and-short?

A.J. Turner is actually a reliable option between the tackles. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

“In those situations we have to evaluate, first of all, schematically what we’re doing and revisit some of those things, which we have done since the [Kentucky] game,” Muschamp said. “We look back first at scheme and then challenge the guys a little bit to understand the situational football and being able to get 1 yard. I think it’s a combination of both.”

In a roundabout way, that translates to this: South Carolina’s has to do a better job of making room for its running backs, whether that’s A.J. Turner going between the tackles on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1, or Rico Dowdle pushing it outside on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

When your running back gets hit before he comes close to sniffing the line of scrimmage, it doesn’t really matter who’s carrying the ball in whatever situation. While Turner has proven to be capable of picking up tough yards between the tackles, he weighs 184 pounds. Physically, Ty’Son Williams (215) and Dowdle (220) are a little more equipped for that type of work.

“In those situations, we certainly have revisited on who is in the game, but what we do in short yardage and goal line, we’ll continue to try and improve that situational football part of our game,” Muschamp said.

Will Muschamp (left) demoted Alex Woznick (right) from place-kicking duties. (Hale McGranahan/SEC Country)

Unfortunately for South Carolina, there were a few other issues to take away from that forgettable night against Kentucky— special teams and clock management, to be specific. Given the inexperience with the entire battery — holder, snapper and kicker — it should come as no surprise that special teams played a part in costing the Gamecocks a win.

Before the first 50-something-yard field goal attempt against Kentucky, Alex Woznick, the former-short-yardage-guy, was sent out, though he never attempted the kick. Muschamp burned the first timeout, presumably to sub in Parker White, the former long-yardage-only guy.

Even before hindsight made this thing a perfect 20/20, a Jake Bentley throw to Hayden Hurst or Deebo Samuel on fourth-and-5 could have worked, right? I’d take my chances there over a redshirt freshman walk-on attempting his first-ever college kick, which just so happened to be from 52 yards.

Additionally, burning that timeout may have cost South Carolina some points with 5 seconds left before halftime.

White made a kick from 49 yards, but a delay-of-game penalty negated the score and pushed the kick back to a 54-yard try. After the penalty, Kentucky iced White, who missed the attempt that actually counted.

For a team that has very little margin for error, the mistakes are magnified. Unfortunately, for the Gamecocks, those mistakes were compounded on Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Mississippi State podcast: National media thinks Dan Mullen should leave Starkville, and MSU fans should be happy about that

Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 1:11 PM

Welcome to More Cowbell, SEC Country’s daily podcast about Mississippi State   sports with host Brandon Walker.

Once again, Mississippi State is winning. Once again, Dan Mullen is off to a 3-0 start. And once again, Mullen is becoming a hot name nationally, as media members are racing each other to write stories about Mullen needing to leave Starkville. It’s nearly an annual tradition, and one that MSU fans should welcome with open arms.

At 3-0 and ranked No. 17 in the AP Top 25, Mullen has MSU positioned for another strong season. In his ninth year at MSU, Mullen has survived rumors of his leaving before, and likely will again. But in the onslaught of media members trying to coax Mullen out of Starkville remains something positive for MSU: If Mullen’s name is hot, that simply means MSU is a good football.