Washington Capitals

Whittington, Georgetown top Liberty

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Whittington, Georgetown top Liberty

One challenge presenting the Hoyas this season involved replacing their top three scorers from the previous campaign. No one said anything about getting by without All-American candidate Otto Porter. Through two games, that's been the task. Against Liberty, the burden was hardly a chore, though any sense of urgency disappeared early in the second half.

With the All-American candidate sidelined over concussion concerns, fellow sophomore Greg Whittington carried the scoring load as Georgetown moved past the visiting Big South program 68-59 on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center in the regional round of the Legends Classic.

Whittington scored 12 of his career-high 18 points in the first half and grabbed nine rebounds for the Hoyas, who led by 16 points at halftime and double digits throughout until the final minute.

Before tipoff, the school released a statement from Coach John Thompson III that Porter, the Hoyas (2-0) leading returning scorer and rebounder, would not play as he "exhibited symptoms indicative of a mild concussion," following Sunday's 61-55 win over Duquesne.

Porter played a scoreless six minutes against Duquesne, holding his head and wincing in pain as he left the game for good midway through the first half. The 6-foot-8 forward and Preseason All Big East first-team selection did not return to the bench, though he watched from the sideline against Liberty after playing in the first 34 games of his Georgetown career.

"I think he's coming along fine," Thompson said following the Hoyas final tune-up before facing No. 13 UCLA on Monday in Brooklyn. After the semifinal of the Legends Classic, Georgetown will meet either top-ranked Indiana or Georgia on Tuesday.

"I think he'll be available but that's up to our medical staff," Thompson said. "He's progressing. It's mild, it's not moderate, or it's not serious."

Against the undersized Flames (0-3), the black suit sporting Porter watched his gray-jersey wearing teammates handle their business, but also play down to their overmatched opponent in stretches. The Hoyas extended their lead to 55-32 with 13 minutes remaining, but took their foot of the gas and ultimately outscored 34-27 in the second half.

"With all due respect to Liberty, we've got some games coming up, we're preparing for some teams a little bit better than them," said junior Nate Lubick, who also set a career-high with 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds. "We use these games to find ourselves, to find what this team's identity is going to be...I think we've kind of struggled to do that the past two games. I don't think our sense of urgency has been there."

Liberty made its first two shots for a quick four-point lead only to see the Hoyas unleash an effective full court press that caused 11 first half turnovers and spark a 17-0 run.

Playing without three frontcourt options and with only one starter taller than 6-foot-5, the Flames found success from beyond the arc. Five first-half 3-pointers helped cut into the lead at 23-18, but the Hoyas closed the first half on 18-6 run.

Markel Starks' perfectly executed bounce pass to a streaking Whittington for a layup capped the first half scoring and gave Georgetown its largest lead of the half at 41-25. Whittington made 6 of 8 shots in the first half and the Hoyas finished 16 of 26 (61.5 percent).

"[Greg] has that responsibility slash burden to do a lot of different things," Thompson said of his other talented sophomore forward and the one who dominated the boards in Georgetown's season opener. "I don't think it's any surprise to see he scored points today no more than it was a surprise that he got 15 rebounds the last game."

Whittington's 3-point touch was not readily apparent, however, missing all five of his attempts. He was hardly an outlier from distance as Georgetown shot 2 of 15 overall from beyond the arc, missing eight of nine 3-pointers after halftime.

Defensively the Hoyas allowed Liberty to shoot 52.6 percent (10 of 19) from 3-point range. The Flames entered the contest making 27 percent of their 3-point attempts.

"They got Sunday, out at the park shots and they went in," Thompson said of the Flames from distance looks. "Our attention to detail at the defensive end, I don’t think was good all night. Our communication was not good all night, so regardless of the combinations coach has out there, we have to be better."

Casey Roberts led Liberty with 13 points.

"We probably caught Georgetown on a night that they weren't quite as inspired as they will be later in the year. It's understandable," Liberty coach Dale Layer said. "I thought we played our best that we've played, and it took every bit of our best just to kind of hang in there and not be a 30-point blowout."

Mikael Hopkins also tallied 13 points and freshman guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera had 11. On the boards, the taller Hoyas only finished with a 29-27 rebounding margin.

"[Liberty] fought and scrapped and that’s a credit to their coach," Thompson said. "From our perspective, we’re trying to get ready for the future. So sometimes, you have in different lineups that you want to see how they work and different combinations and people in different positions. It’s hard to go through that and say let’s not look at the scoreboard, let’s remember what we’re trying to accomplish right here."

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Thumbs up, thumbs down: Capitals defense overmatched by young Blues squad

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USA TODAY Sports

Thumbs up, thumbs down: Capitals defense overmatched by young Blues squad

The Caps dressed a young defense for their preseason home opener and the St. Louis Blues took advantage. The Blues scored twice in a 39-second stretch in the first period and rode that to a 4-0 win over Washington on Friday.

Here is who stood out:

Thumbs up

Mathias Bau: Bau was a player to watch coming into this game because of his size (6-foot-7). He was not supposed to play in the preseason, but his play in camp caught Barry Trotz's notice which led to him dressing on Friday. He quickly showed he was more than just a gigantic human. Bau set linemate Tyler Graovac up twice with great feed passes that could easily have turned into goals. He is a better skater and stick-handler than you would expect for someone of his size. He certainly will not make the Caps roster, but he has shown he is someone the team should keep an eye on in Hershey.

Tyler Graovac: Centering the fourth line, Graovac was the Caps’ best offensive player on the night. He showed good speed and drove the net very well, generating the team's best scoring opportunities. He finished the game with a team-high four shots on goal.

Lars Eller: Eller was one of the few veterans who took advantage of playing against youngsters. He had a strong night offensively and on the penalty kill with three shots on goal and five total shot attempts.

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Thumbs down

The defense: It was a very rough night collectively for the Capitals’ blue line. With a defensive lineup that featured only two players from last year’s NHL squad, John Carlson and Taylor Chorney, Washington looked completely overmatched by a youthful St. Louis squad in the defensive zone. Apart from a few good hits from Tyler Lewington, none of the defensive prospects fighting for a roster spot did anything to help their stock at all.

Anthony Peluso: Given the level of competition, Peluso should have been able to contribute more than two shot attempts and two penalties. The days of the enforcer are over. Players need to be able to do more than just drop the gloves. Peluso looks to be Washington’s response to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ acquisition of Ryan Reaves, but he needs to show he can provide the Caps with something other than just fists. The fact that he could not do that against a non-NHL roster is a bad sign.

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Cubs, Brewers, or Cardinals: potential postseason opponents for the Washington Nationals

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USA Today Sports

Cubs, Brewers, or Cardinals: potential postseason opponents for the Washington Nationals

The regular season is winding down and there is no drama in the nation’s capital.

With a stranglehold on the National League East for the entire season, the Washington Nationals were the first team in baseball to earn a playoff spot and their division. Since June, the Nationals’ lead has been hovering around 20 games. Their record against the division is 44-26 with three NL East series forthcoming.

Beyond that, positioning has not been a factor in the National League either. It was a near forgone conclusion that the Nationals were going to earn the No. 2 seed in the NL side of the postseason. There was a slight chance last week that Washington could pass the Los Angeles Dodgers with them losing 16 of 17 games. Alas, the Dodgers took two out of three in their series, solidifying their No. 1 seed hopes.

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Dusty Baker then basically threw in the towel for that race. He spread out his rotation to six pitchers and gave his players consistent rest. Focusing on the postseason more than the playoff race, he does not appear to care about their positioning.

With that, the Nationals are all but guaranteed to finish second behind the Dodgers. Floating between four and six games back, there is no sense of urgency.

There is no worry about the team in third either. The Chicago Cubs, as of September 22, sit seven games behind the Nationals and are in the thick of a Divisional race.

Either way, even if the Nationals were to collapse and the winner of the National League Central was to rocket up to second, the Nationals will play against whoever wins the division in the No. 2 vs. No. 3 match-up.

The Central has actually been the Nationals Achilles heel this year. They finished with a 17-13 record vs. NL Central teams. It is not the whole division the Nationals have to worry about though, just the one that comes out.

Entering Friday’s action the Cubs are well on their way to winning the division, according to fangraphs.com. Below are the current odds to win the division:

Chicago Cubs                     97.8%
Milwaukee Brewers          0.9%
St. Louis Cardinals            1.3%

This is slightly misleading though, because the Central could completely flip before the postseason. The lead is 4.5 over the Milwaukee Brewers and 5.0 over the St. Louis Cardinals. However of their final 10 games, three are against the Brewers, four against the Cardinals, all seven on the road.

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In the five-game NLDS the Nationals will face one of these teams. Even if it is the defending World Series Champions, you have to like the Nationals’ odds.

CHICAGO CUBS PREVIEW

Current record: 85-67
2017 Record vs. Washington: 2-4
Last head-to-head postseason series: Never
Starting pitchers: Jon Lester (11-8), Jake Arrieta (14-9), John Lackey (11-11), Kyle Hendricks (7-5), Jose Quintana (6-3)
Top position players: Kris Bryant (.292 BA, 28 HRs, 69 RBIs), Anthony Rizzo (.278 BA, 32 HRs, 107 RBIs)

If these two teams were to meet up, it would be easily the best starting pitching match-up in the National League. Likely the Cubs would only go to four guys, maybe three if they get desperate. With Jake Arrieta on the mind, that would be a dicey move to start the postseason. They have not played to the level that the 2016 did a year ago, but a majority of the position players are still in place and can still put together a run.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS PREVIEW

Current record: 81-72
2017 Record vs. Washington: 3-4
Last head-to-head postseason series: Never
Starting pitchers: Zach Davies (17-9), Chase Anderson (11-3), Brandon Woodruff (2-2), Brent Suter (3-2)
Top position players: Domingo Santana (.281 BA, 28 HRs, 80 RBIs), Travis Shaw (.274 BA, 30 HRs, 96 RBIs)

As one of the hottest teams in the first half of the season, the Brewers are only relying on their early success. Their team has quickly cooled off and their number two starter Jimmy Nelson is out the remainder of the season. The rest of the roster is shaky at best as they are trying to stay relevant in the postseason chase. If the Nationals are fully prepared for the playoffs there should be no worries if Milwaukee represents the Central.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS PREVIEW

Current record: 80-72
2017 Record vs. Washington: 3-3
Last head-to-head postseason series: 2012; Cardinals won 3-2 in NLDS
Starting pitchers: Adam Wainwright (12-5), Carlos Martinez (12-11), Lance Lynn (11-7), Michael Wacha (12-8), Luke Weaver (7-1),
Top position players: Yadier Molina (.276 BA, 18 HRs, 82 RBIs), Tommy Pham (.311 BA, 21 HRs, 168 RBIs)

With both the Brewers and Cubs you know what you are getting, with the Cardinals it could be anything. The starting pitchers have a history of success, just not in 2017. Also how Wainwright comes back will be a huge factor in how the Central race will play out and how their odds in the postseason increase. With a mix of a young and aging line-up, the Cardinals can both win with the long ball and piece runs together by playing small ball. St. Louis is easily the most interesting team of the three and could be the scariest if the Wainwright comes back at 100%.

Both the Brewers and the Cardinals have to rely on each other to win the NL Central. They cannot do it on their individual series's alone.