Preview: Alabama vs. Georgia

Top-ranked Alabama will undoubtedly be part of the four-team College Football Playoff but fourth-ranked Georgia isn’t a lock as the two squads prepare for Saturday’s SEC championship game at Atlanta. The Bulldogs can clinch a CFP spot by beating the Crimson Tide but risk being bypassed for the playoff if they should lose the contest.

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The two squads met in last season’s national title game with Alabama prevailing 26-23 in overtime in what was the coming out party for Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who came off the bench to throw three touchdown passes. “He can sit in the pocket and make every throw,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said during a press conference. “He’s very confident, and he’s got a presence about him in the pocket. He doesn’t fear rush; if he’s got guys bearing down on him, he sidesteps and gets the ball out, and that’s what makes him very special.” Alabama has been dominant all season but coach Nick Saban is very wary of Smart – his former defensive coordinator – and the Bulldogs. “Georgia is one of the most complete teams in the country,” Saban said at a press conference. “I think Kirby’s done a fantastic job there in terms of taking the players that were there and developing them in the style that he wants and doing a great job of recruiting to get new players to come and buy into their system. This is going to be the biggest challenge we’ve had to date.”

TV: 4 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Alabama -13.5

ABOUT ALABAMA (12-0, 8-0 SEC): Tagovailoa has thrown a school-record 36 touchdown passes against two interceptions and the sophomore fuels an offense averaging 49 points per game. Jerry Jeudy is enjoying a standout season with 56 receptions for 1,079 and 11 touchdowns while fellow sophomore receiver DeVonta Smith (27 receptions) will forever be remembered in Alabama lore for catching the game-winning 41-yard touchdown pass in the national championship game. The Crimson Tide give up an average of 13.8 points with sophomore nose guard Quinnen Williams recording a team-leading 16 tackles for loss and senior defensive end Isaiah Buggs notching a team-best 9.5 sacks.

ABOUT GEORGIA (11-1, 7-1): Sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm was intercepted twice in last season’s title game but has been picked off just five times this season while passing for 2,236 yards and 24 touchdowns. The attack that produces an average of 40.1 points per game also relies on two standout running backs in sophomore D’Andre Swift (962 yards, nine touchdowns) and junior Elijah Holyfield (896 yards, seven scores). The defense allows an average of 17.2 points with senior linebacker D’Andre Walker (team-high 6.5 sacks) and sophomore safety Richard LeCounte (team-leading 64 tackles) among the standouts.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Alabama has won the past four meetings.

2. Bulldogs junior WR Mecole Hardman leads the SEC with a 21.8 average on punt returns – he has one touchdown – and also averages 26.2 yards on kickoff returns.

3. Crimson Tide junior LB Terrell Lewis (knee) returned to practice from summer surgery and his availability will be determined later in the week.

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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Memphis at Central Florida

Seventh-ranked Central Florida attempts to finish the job after an emotional week and earn a second straight American Athletic Conference title when it hosts surging Memphis in the championship game Saturday. The Knights extended their national-best winning streak to 24 games with a resounding 38-10 victory at South Florida last Friday, but the triumph came at a cost as star quarterback McKenzie Milton was lost to a severe right knee injury.

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“Everyone in our program has great love and respect for McKenzie and our thoughts and prayers are constantly with him,” UCF coach Josh Heupel told reporters regarding the junior from Hawaii, who was responsible for 34 touchdowns this year. “At the same time, we’re gonna go out and play our hearts out. He’ll be part of who and what we’re doing on the field.” UCF, which is eighth in the College Football Playoff rankings, will hand out 40,000 leis to fans at the game to honor Milton, while freshman quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. gets the job of trying to lead the Knights to another title. Memphis comes to Orlando, Fla. with one of the nation’s best running backs in junior Darrell Henderson, a four-game winning streak and the confidence of two near misses against UCF during the Knights’ winning streak – but a 1-12 all-time record against the Knights. “We’ve competed extremely well against them, but at the same point, we always had mistakes late in games that have cost us,” Tigers coach Mike Norvell, whose team lost in double-overtime at last year’s title game and 31-30 against UCF on Oct. 13, told reporters. “They’ve made plays late in games that have helped them to victory.”

TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: UCF -3

ABOUT MEMPHIS (8-4, 5-3 American): Henderson is second in the nation in rushing yards (1,699), tied for second in TDs on the ground (19) and second in yards per carry (8.6) after gaining 178 and scoring twice in the 52-31 win over Houston last week. Junior quarterback Brady White is 53 passing yards from reaching 3,000 on the season, but has thrown four interceptions (seven overall) and three TD strikes (25 overall) in the last two games. Sophomore wide receiver Damonte Coxie is White’s top target with 63 catches for 1,062 yards and seven scores while junior Tony Pollard had career highs of eight receptions and 116 yards last week and is one of the top kick returners in the nation.

ABOUT CENTRAL FLORIDA (11-0, 8-0): The Knights will lean more toward the ground attack with the 6-3, 230-pound Mack at the helm as he has run for 281 yards (7.0 per carry) and completed just 48.8 percent of his passes in a limited role. UCF’s rushing attack has gotten better each game and sophomore Greg McCrae (895 yards, eight TDs on the ground) took the leading role at the end of October while junior Adrian Killins Jr. (1,023 yards rushing and receiving) is always a threat. The Knights’ defense, led by sophomore defensive back Richie Grant (team highs of 98 tackles, five interceptions) and senior lineman Titus Davis (six sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss), must step up again versus the talented Tigers.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Memphis junior RB Patrick Taylor Jr. needs 106 yards rushing to give the Tigers two players with 1,000 in a season.

2. UCF sophomore WR Gabriel Davis leads a balanced receiving corps with 44 catches for 655 yards and six TDs.

3. Tigers LB Bryce Huff is tied for 14th in the nation is tackles for loss per game (1.5) with 18 overall.

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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Rockets at Spurs

The Houston Rockets are one of the league’s biggest disappointments and they will look to halt a four-game slide when they visit the San Antonio Spurs on Friday. Houston has allowed an average of 124 points during the skid and was lambasted 128-108 by the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday.

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Star guard James Harden isn’t overly concerned about the porous stretch as he pointed out the team endured a four-game losing streak earlier in the season before winning eight of its next 10. “We’ve done it already,” Harden told reporters after Wednesday’s loss. “We went through a tough stretch, and then we regrouped and won five in a row – and we looked really good. We’ve just got to figure it out. We’ve got a lot of new guys, and it’s only 20 games into the season. We’ve got 60 more to go.” San Antonio is also coming off a forgettable outing as it scored nine second-quarter points while being walloped 128-89 by the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. “I thought we looked a bit lethargic in a lot of ways,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters of Wednesday’s defeat in the finale of a four-game road excursion. “Maybe part of it was the trip, but everybody has these trips. It’s no excuse.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN, AT&T SportsNet Southwest (Houston), KENS (San Antonio)

ABOUT THE ROCKETS (9-11): Harden recorded 25 points and season highs of 17 assists and 11 rebounds against the Mavericks for his first triple-double of the season and 36th in his career. But his productivity couldn’t keep Houston in a game in which point guard Chris Paul (hamstring) missed his third straight contest and the bench got outscored 61-25. “Obviously, it’s a problem,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters of the quality of the team’s reserves. “It’s something that I know that the front office tried to address. They’re going to do the best they can. No blame going around – it’s just the way it is.”

ABOUT THE SPURS (10-11): The San Antonio starters combined for only 35 points while being routed by the Timberwolves with power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan leading the way with 10 apiece. DeRozan’s output was a season low and he was greatly disturbed by the club’s poor showing. “It seemed like we let them do whatever they wanted,” DeRozan told reporters afterward. “We just weren’t good at all. … You don’t want to go out there and get embarrassed.”

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Aldridge recorded 27 points and 10 rebounds as the Spurs posted a 96-89 home win over the Rockets on Nov. 10.

2. Houston swingman Gerald Green (ankle) could miss his third straight game.

3. Popovich revealed that C Pau Gasol (foot) – who will miss his 13th straight game – has a stress fracture and will be sidelined indefinitely.

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Posted in NBA, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Stanford at California

Two weeks after poor air quality in the Bay Area forced officials to postpone the annual rivalry game between California and Stanford, the teams are set to close the regular season Saturday in Berkeley. Cal has lost its last eight meetings against the Cardinal, which rebounded from back-to-back losses to the Washington schools by recording wins over Oregon State and UCLA.

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Known for their run-first offense in recent years, the Cardinal have become a pass-oriented offense behind junior quarterback K.J. Costello, who ranks first in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and second in the conference in passing yards per game. Costello has thrown 15 touchdown passes over his last four games and continued to impress in last Saturday’s 49-42 win over UCLA, completing 23-of-37 passes for 344 yards and a career-high five scores. “Costello is coming into his own,” coach David Shaw told reporters. “Over the next year, he’s going to be one of the best quarterbacks in America.” The Stanford offense figures to be tested by Cal’s stellar defensive unit, which has allowed an average of 14.2 points over its last five games.

TV: 3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network. LINE: Stanford -3

ABOUT STANFORD (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12): JJ Arcega-Whiteside returned last week after missing one game due to injury and tied the school’s single-season record with 14 touchdown receptions after recording seven catches for 106 yards and three scores against the Bruins. Bryce Love had 22 carries for 85 yards and a score but has battled injuries all season and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, well below his 8.1 average from last year. Senior linebackers Sean Barton and Bobby Okereke have a combined 153 tackles to lead the defense, which needs to regroup after allowing 528 total yards against UCLA.

ABOUT CAL (7-4, 4-4): The Bears’ defense forced a season-high five turnovers in last Saturday’s 33-21 win over Colorado as Elijah Hicks and Ashtyn Davis each scored on interception returns for touchdowns. Freshman Chase Garbers (13 touchdowns against five interceptions) has settled in as a reliable starter for the Bears, who clinched their first winning season since 2015 with last week’s victory. Running back Patrick Laird had 153 rushing yards in last season’s 17-14 loss to Stanford but has been held under the 100-yard mark in his last four games.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Stanford holds a 63-46-11 lead in the all-time series – including a 27-21-6 advantage at Berkeley.

2. Cal linebackers Jordan Kunaszyk and Evan Weaver lead all FBS duos in solo tackles per game (13.7) and all Power 5 duos in total tackles per game (23.2).

3. Stanford is 7-0 this season when forcing at least one turnover and 0-4 when not recording a turnover.

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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Texas vs. Oklahoma

Lincoln Riley’s dynamic offense at Oklahoma has consistently been explosive enough this season to make up for one of the worst defenses in the country, but Texas knows all about the one time it wasn’t. The fifth-ranked Sooners hope to avenge their only loss of the season and impress the College Football Playoff committee enough to move up from the No. 5 spot in the CFP rankings when they meet No. 9 Texas on Saturday in the Big 12 Championship Game at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

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Oklahoma, which leads FBS in scoring (50.3 points) and total offense (583.8 yards), finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak despite surrendering 47.3 points per game in its last four contests – and at least 40 points in each contest – by averaging 53.3. The Sooners have failed to score at least 48 points in only three games, the last of which came on Oct. 6 when Oklahoma needed less than six minutes in the fourth quarter to erase a 21-point deficit before the Longhorns got a game-winning 40-yard field goal from freshman Cameron Dicker as time expired for a 48-45 victory. Texas has been living on the edge for most of the season, playing all but one of its last eight opponents within one score and winning six of them. The Longhorns are making their sixth Big 12 Championship appearance and first since 2009, while the Sooners are seeking their fourth consecutive conference crown and a ninth championship win in 18 league title games.

TV: Noon ET, ABC. LINE: Oklahoma -8

ABOUT TEXAS (9-3): Sam Ehlinger, who produced 386 yards of total offense and five total touchdowns in the first meeting, is responsible for the two highest total offense outputs by a Longhorn quarterback in the 113-game history of this rivalry (388 last season) but has been playing through a shoulder injury since Oct. 13. Lil’Jordan Humphrey (72 catches, 1,058 receiving yards and eight TDs) and Collin Johnson (57, 768, six) are one of only 14 duos in FBS with at least 55 catches, and Humphrey is only the fifth player in school history with at least 1,000 yards and eight receiving TDs in a season. Dicker’s 34-yard field goal against the Jayhawks tied him with Dusty Magnum (16; 2001) for the most made field goals ever by a Texas freshman.

ABOUT OKLAHOMA (11-1): Heisman Trophy candidate Kyler Murray is the first player in FBS history to average at least 300 passing yards (306.2) and 60 rushing yards (71.1) for an entire regular season and leads an offense that is the first in FBS history to record at least 500 yards of total offense in nine regular-season games. With Trey Sirmon (shoulder) still limited due to injury, freshman Kennedy Brooks took over the team lead in rushing with 993 yards and boasts an FBS-best 9.6 yards per carry (minimum five rushing attempts per game). Since returning to full strength prior to the Oklahoma State victory on Nov. 10, junior receiver Marquise Brown has caught 25 passes for 450 yards and three TDs.

EXTRA POINTS

1. This game marks the second in-season rematch between the arch-rivals and first since 1903.

2. Oklahoma’s eight-game streak of scoring at least 45 points is tied for the longest among FBS teams since at least 1980.

3. The Longhorns, who are the only school in the Big 12 with a winning record against the Sooners (62-46-5), are 6-3 in one-possession games this season.

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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Wisconsin at Iowa

No. 15 Iowa looks to keep its perfect record intact when it hosts 22nd-ranked Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener for both teams on Friday. The Hawkeyes, who were picked to finish ninth in the preseason Big Ten media poll, edged Pittsburgh 69-68 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Tuesday to improve to 6-0 for the first time since 2013-14, and hope to continue their encouraging start by beating the Badgers for the third consecutive time.

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“We’ve done some things we didn’t think we’d be able to do and that’s the kind of team we have,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery told reporters. “The only game that matters is the next one and that’s how we handle it.” Wisconsin is exceeding expectations after an impressive start to the new campaign. The Badgers, who saw their streak of NCAA Tournament appearances end at 19 in a row last season, have won six games, with their only blemish a 53-46 setback to fourth-ranked Virginia. They hope to build on their 79-75 victory against North Carolina State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Tuesday by knocking off the Hawkeyes for the first time since Feb. 24, 2016. “We’ve been able to find different ways to win and that’s usually the sign of a good team,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard told reporters. “They understand as they have grown through last year and what it took when you had to dig a little deeper.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network

ABOUT WISCONSIN (6-1): Ethan Happ scored 19 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in the win against North Carolina State to record his seventh double-double in as many games this season. Happ also blocked four shots against the Wolfpack to move into a third-place tie with Rashard Griffith (124) on the program’s all-time list. D’Mitrik Trice drilled four 3-pointers en route to 19 points as the Badgers went 11-of-21 from beyond the arc to finish over 50 percent for the third time this season, while Brad Davison was the third Badgers player to finish in double figures with 12 points.

ABOUT IOWA (6-0): Freshman Joe Wieskamp led the way with 18 points and 11 rebounds in the win against Pittsburgh to register the first double-double of his career. Nicholas Baer provided a spark off the bench as he scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, including 11 straight Hawkeyes points during a three-minute stretch, as the Hawkeyes held off the Panthers despite shooting a season-low 36.5 percent from the floor. McCaffery confirmed that Cordell Pemsl, who has averaged 7.2 points and 4.7 rebounds in 67 career games, will be sidelined for the remainder of the campaign as he gets set to undergo knee surgery in December.

TIP-INS

1. Wieskamp is averaging 19 points and eight rebounds over his past two games.

2. Happ leads the nation in double-doubles.

3. Trice is 24-of-40 (60 percent) from 3-point range this season.

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Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Utah vs. Washington

Without decorated quarterbacks Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Luke Falk, the Pac-12 took on a more defensive tone in 2018. And that’s certainly reflects in Friday night’s conference championship game which pits No. 17 Utah against No. 11 Washington in Santa Clara, Calif.

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Both teams boast top-20 FBS total and scoring defenses with the Huskies allowing 311.3 yards and 16.5 points and the Utes permitting 315.8 yards and 19.3 points per game. “You (had) better get your mind right,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said Sunday in his weekly news conference. “Our guys know it’s going to be (a defensive game). They (the Utes) don’t give you anything. Lots of man coverage, (they) pack the box and are extremely active and aggressive.” Washington will be playing in its second Pac-12 title game in three years while Utah is making its first appearance since joining the conference in 2011. “It’s our first trip to the championship, and I’m proud of our guys for continuing to persevere and fight this season,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said at his Monday media gathering. “We overcame so many obstacles and so much adversity. They are a great group to be around, and this has been one of the most enjoyable years of coaching for me.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Washington -5

ABOUT UTAH (9-3): The adversity Whittingham referenced centers mainly on the early-November injury losses of starting quarterback Tyler Huntley and tailback Zack Moss, who had accounted for 84 percent of the Utes’ total offense in the first nine games. Freshman Jason Shelley has stepped in at quarterback, and while he’s averaged only 208 passing yards over the last three contests, he’s also rushed for 112 yards and accounted for six touchdowns with no turnovers. Defensively, safety-turned-linebacker Chase Hansen has notched a conference-most 22 tackles for loss to pace a unit which has been the Pac-12’s stingiest against the run with 100.3 yards allowed (fifth nationally).

ABOUT WASHINGTON (9-3): Unlike Utah, the Huskies have the advantage of health and experience in the backfield with the senior duo of Jake Browning and tailback Myles Gaskin. Browning, despite averaging a career-low 224.3 aerial yards this season, is the school’s career passing yards leader and Pac-12’s all-time winningest quarterback, while Gaskin is averaging 107.6 yards on the ground and is the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns. Senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven is tied for the lead nationally with 155 tackles and paces a defense which ranks second in the conference against the run (121.8 yards allowed) and pass (189.4 yards).

EXTRA POINTS

1. With a 21-7 road win at Utah on Sept. 15, Washington has won five of the six meetings since Utah entered the Pac-12.

2. In the September contest, Gaskin rushed for 143 yards and a TD on 30 carries while the Huskies’ defense forced three turnovers and had a trio of fourth-down stops.

3. The Utes figure to have the edge in the kicking game, ranking in the top 14 nationally in field goals made (23) and net-putting average (40.6).

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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

Sporting KC vs. Portland Timbers | 2018 Conference Championship Preview

Sporting Kansas City vs. Portland Timbers
Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs — Conference Championship, Second Leg
Children’s Mercy Park — Kansas City
November 29 — 9:30 pm ET
WATCH: ESPN, TSN2, TVAS2, ESPN Deportes

It is all to play for at Children’s Mercy Park for the second leg of the Western Conference Championship after the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City played to a 0-0 draw at Providence Park on Sunday.

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Heading back home, where they were 10-2-5 during the regular season, Sporting KC will be confident of securing a first trip to MLS Cup since winning the title in 2013, while the Timbers know an away goal can go a long way toward their first MLS Cup appearance since lifting the silverware in 2015.

In a fiercely competitive opening leg, both teams laid claim to solid chances to score the lone goal, with Jorge Villafana firing off the post in the first half. David Guzman slipped the ball past Tim Melia on a set piece in the 70th minute, but the goal was called back following Video Review when it was ruled Liam Ridgewell was in an offside position.

SKC’s best opportunities were by Johnny Russell, who fired over the crossbar early in the second half and Daniel Salloi, whose stoppage-time attempt inside the box was blocked by Ridgewell.

Sporting Kansas City

Of course, it wasn’t a perfect result for Sporting, especially since they didn’t score an away goal, but they have the advantage of the “Blue Hell” on Thursday and the knowledge that a home win sends them back to the MLS Cup.

“It’s a final at home. You know you’ve got to win,” Peter Vermes said. “But at the end of the day, whether it’s here or there, it’s a final now for both teams and we have to be very disciplined going back, but it’s a good result going back home. Obviously, we would have preferred to win. It didn’t happen, but now we get to go home and have the next game.”

It was the third time SKC shut the Timbers out this season. And there’s a strong confidence in the Sporting locker room that they can keep Diego Valeri and Portland off the scoreboard again on Thursday.

“I can’t tell you other than that it’s a credit to the guys. They work hard,” Vermes said. “They were very disciplined here. I think they have been throughout the season. I think we’re a pretty good defensive team and we’ve been consistently that for a long time. And at the same time I think it also takes guys to be concentrated and a lot of hard work, and I think we did that tonight.”

Suspended: None
Suspended after next caution: None
International duty: None
Injury Report: OUT: D – Jimmy Medranda (knee surgery), M – Cristian Lobato (quad injury)

Projected Starting XI
(4-3-3, right to left)
GK: Tim Melia — Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic — Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez, Felipe Gutierrez — Johnny Russell, Diego Rubio, Daniel Salloi

Notes: Melia saved six shots against Portland in the first leg, tied for the most saves by a Kansas City goalkeeper in the MLS Cup Playoffs since 2007. He is the 20th keeper since 2010 to keep 3+ clean sheets against one team in a single season (inc. playoffs). … Sporting Kansas City are 15W-2L-4D at home all-time in the MLS Cup Playoffs, conceding an average of 0.8 goals per game.

Portland Timbers

The Timbers haven’t scored a goal against SKC all season, but they’ve found the back of the net multiple times in each of their last two Audi MLS Cup Playoffs games and believe they can do the same at Children’s Mercy Park.

Pressure after a scoreless first leg? What pressure, says Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese.

“I don’t see it as what kind of pressure. We have to go there and try to get a win,” Savarese said. “We have to go there with the mentality that it’s one game, like it is in the regular season, and we have to go there to try and get a win. Prepare the plan, prepare the players to make sure that we get there, recover a few of the guys that today were not available and then make sure we go there to win.”

Savarese was forced to make a change in the first half when central defender Larrys Mabiala went down with an ankle injury. It was the second change Savarese had to make, with Andy Polo suffering a calf strain.

“I’ve been very proud because anybody that steps on the field does the job and Bill did that,” Savarese said of Bill Tuiloma. “It’s very difficult to come in, having to replace a guy like Mabiala, coming in and I thought he did with the right mentality, did everything the right way. Unfortunately [he] could have had a goal right there, but a great save by Melia. I thought [Tuiloma] played very, very well.”

Suspended: None
Suspended after next caution: None
International duty: None
Injury Report: OUT: D – Roy Miller (right thigh injury), GK – Jake Gleeson (bilateral tibial stress fracture); QUESTIONABLE: F – Samuel Armenteros (thigh injury), M – Andy Polo (calf strain), D – Larrys Mabiala (ankle injury)

Projected Starting XI
(4-2-3-1, right to left)
GK: Jeff Attinella — Zarek Valentin, Bill Tuiloma, Liam Ridgewell, Jorge Villafana — Diego Chara, David Guzman — Dairon Asprilla, Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco — Jeremy Ebobisse

Notes: Valeri created seven chances in the first leg of the series, becoming the ninth player since 2007 to record 7+ chances created in a MLS Cup Playoff match and the first to do so since Sacha Kljestan against Montreal in 2016. … The Timbers are 4W-2L-2D on the road in the MLS Cup Playoffs, scoring multiple goals in all but two of those games.

All-Time Series (Regular Season)

Overall: Sporting Kansas City 7 wins, 15 goals … Portland Timbers 3 wins, 10 goals … 4 draws
At Kansas City: Sporting KC 3 wins, 10 goals … Timbers 1 win, 5 goals … 2 draws
Last meeting at Kansas City: Sporting Kansas City 3, Portland Timbers 0 (August 18, 2018)

Officials

Referee: Mark Geiger
Assistant Referees: Joe Fletcher, Matthew Nelson
4th Official: Baldomero Toledo
VAR: Dave Gantar

Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Saints at Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys have cobbled together three straight wins to alter the complexion of their season and vault into a share of first place in the mediocre NFC East. The Cowboys will encounter quite the litmus test on Thursday when they host the surging New Orleans Saints, who have won a staggering 10 in a row since their season-opening loss to Tampa Bay.

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Ezekiel Elliott leads the NFL with 1,074 rushing yards and has amassed 531 scrimmage yards (394 rushing, 137 receiving) and four touchdowns in his last three games, including 143 (121 rushing, 22 receiving) with a 16-yard scoring run in Dallas’ 31-23 win over Washington on Thanksgiving Day. The 23-year-old Elliott likely would need a similar performance against New Orleans’ top-ranked rush defense (73.2 yards) as a means to control the clock and keep NFL MVP candidate Drew Brees (league-best 76.4 completion percentage) on the sideline. With Brees under center, the high-octane Saints have scored an NFL-best 37.2 points per game and are fifth in yards (416.6). New Orleans had no issue continuing its frenetic pace last Thursday, as Brees tossed four touchdown passes in a 31-17 win over Atlanta and has 11 scoring strikes against one interception in his last four meetings with the Cowboys.

TV: 8:20 p.m. ET, FOX, NFL Network. LINE: Saints -7.5. O/U: 53

ABOUT THE SAINTS (10-1): The electric Alvin Kamara has shown no signs of slowing down with 575 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns (six rushing, three receiving) in his past six games. Fellow running back Mark Ingram has three scores in his last three outings and Michael Thomas has proven to be Brees’ most trusted target with an NFL second-best 86 receptions. While the offense receives its fair share of headlines, the defense is getting plenty of press too, as it forced four turnovers, registered a season-high six sacks and held Falcons running backs Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith to just six rushing yards on 10 carries last week. “We all know what Dallas is gonna want to do — hand it to Zeke as many times as they can and try to pound out a win,” defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. “So it’s gonna be fun.”

ABOUT THE COWBOYS (6-5): Louisiana native Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper look to exploit New Orleans’ 30th-ranked pass defense after the pair hooked up for two long touchdown passes against the Redskins. Prescott has a rushing score in each of his last three games while Cooper joined Kansas City speedster Tyreek Hill in recording his second 180-yard, two-touchdown performance in the last two seasons with his sterling effort versus Washington. Cooper has seen eight-plus targets in three of four games since being acquired from Oakland, giving Dallas a new version of a familiar three-pronged attack made famous by “The Triplets” of Pro Football Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. “I think the sky’s the limit,” the 24-year-old Cooper said. “Obviously we’ll have to wait and see, but Dak is a great player. Zeke is a great player. So who knows?”

EXTRA POINTS

1. New Orleans WR Tre’Quan Smith was limited in practice on Tuesday as he attempts to return from a one-game absence due to a foot injury.

2. Dallas DE Demarcus Lawrence has three of his team-leading 8.5 sacks in the last four games.

3. The Saints have a league low-tying nine turnovers, one fewer than the Cowboys.

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Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Warriors at Raptors

The Toronto Raptors host the Golden State Warriors on Thursday in what could be an NBA Finals preview – if the teams are at full strength. The Warriors could get some of their major pieces back in the lineup on Thursday with Stephen Curry (groin) and Draymond Green (toe) both participating in practice.

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Green and Curry are both expected to return sometime during the team’s five-game road trip, and Curry has progressed to the point that he is participating in team scrimmages. “He’s just trying to get his rhythm and his conditioning down,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr told reporters of Curry, who is averaging 29.5 points while shooting 51.5 percent from the floor and 49.2 percent from beyond the arc. “He’s doing well.” The Raptors are looking like the best team in the NBA and extended the current winning streak to six straight by recovering from a 17-point deficit to earn a 122-114 win at Memphis on Tuesday. “We didn’t really bring our game with us, but we found it,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse told reporters.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, TNT, NBCS Bay Area (Golden State), TSN (Toronto)

ABOUT THE WARRIORS (15-7): Golden State is 5-5 in the 10 games that Curry has missed, though they managed to win the last three behind some strong performances from Kevin Durant. The former MVP collected 49 points, nine assists and six rebounds in a 116-110 win over Orlando on Monday that capped a four-game homestand. “Incredible,” Kerr told reporters of Durant’s performance. “The guy is just amazing. He’s so talented. I think the last few games he just kind of knew he had to put us on his shoulders because of the four-game losing streak, the struggles.”

ABOUT THE RAPTORS (18-4): Toronto leans on its depth and got 18 points on 6-of-6 shooting, including 3-of-3 from 3-point range, from reserve point guard Fred VanVleet in Tuesday’s triumph. “Obviously, we all know I haven’t been shooting the ball well, so to get back on track is always fun,” VanVleet, who scored in double figures in each of the last four games after reaching the mark three times in the first 10 games this month, told reporters. The Raptors are third in the NBA in scoring at an average of 117 points and shot 60.9 percent from the floor in Tuesday’s win.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Warriors PG Quinn Cook is 5-of-21 from the floor over the last two games.

2. Raptors SF Kawhi Leonard posted his third straight double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds on Tuesday.

3. Golden State took the last eight in the series, including four straight in Toronto.

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Posted in NBA, Top Fantasy Picks

Everything You Need to Know About the Hero World Challenge

A year ago today, all eyes were on Tiger Woods and his surgically fused back. Woods, then ranked outside the top 1000, was making his first start since major back surgery and a year-long absence. Questions abound about his health and the state of his game. Given his recent injury history, most were understandably skeptical of the notion that Woods would return to world-class form.

A year later, Woods returns as the world’s No. 13 player, with reinvigorated and not-unfounded hopes of winning another major championship. What a difference 365 days makes.

It was at last year’s Hero Challenge—a tournament Tiger hosts, and one that benefits his foundation—where Woods laid the foundation for his comeback with a solid performance, finishing T-9 in the limited field of 18 players. Woods is back in action at this week’s Hero, where he’s making his first appearance since losing $9 million to Phil Mickelson and playing his first stroke-play event since winning the Tour Championship. He’s one of a number of big-name players teeing it up at Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas.

The Hero Challenge does not count as an official PGA Tour event—a victory doesn’t get you into the Masters, it doesn’t count for the money list nor a player’s career win total—but it does, controversially, offer world ranking points. Last year, Woods’ T9 propelled him from outside the top 1000 to 668th. The winner this week will receive 48 world ranking points, the same number Marc Leishman received for winning the full-field CIMB Classic earlier this year.

Here’s everything you need to know about the last 72-hole, stroke play tournament of 2018.

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The Course

The Ernie Els-designed course is part of a five-star resort in the New Providence area of the Bahamas. Woods and Els, as well as Justin Timberlake, were involved in the resort’s founding and all own part of it. Similar to the resort courses the Tour frequents in Hawaii, Albany is a relatively open track with wide fairways, big greens, little rough and lots of bunkers. It’s a visually stunning course, as most fairways are lined with either pearly-white sand or a water hazard. As with many courses close to the ocean, wind will be the chief defense. It should be a birdie fest, and the winner will be someone whose putter stays hot all week.

The course record is 61, set by Rickie Fowler in the final round of last year’s tournament. He made seven birdies in a row en route to a four-shot victory.

The Field

The 18-man field is usually determined mostly by world ranking, with the defending champion and two special exemptions also getting in. In the past, Woods has had to use a special exemption on himself. Not so this year, as his ranking of 13th is good enough on its own merits.

Four of the top five players in the world are teeing it up—Justin Rose (2), Dustin Johnson (3), Justin Thomas (4) and Bryson DeChambeau (5).

The rest of the field, with world rankings in parentheses.

Jon Rahm (8)
Rickie Fowler (9)
Jason Day (11)
Xander Schauffele (12)
Tiger Woods (13)
Tony Finau (14)
Patrick Reed (15)
Bubba Watson (17)
Alex Noren (18)
Patrick Cantlay (20)
Hideki Matsuyama (25)
Henrik Stenson (28)
Keegan Bradley (29)
Gary Woodland (32)

Tee times

All times eastern. Players wil be re-grouped based on score for each of the final three rounds.

Tony Finau, Gary Woodland – 11:10 a.m.
Keegan Bradley, Hideki Matsuyama – 11:21 a.m.
Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele – 11:32 a.m.
Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson – 11:43 a.m.
Jon Rahm, Alex Noren – 11:54 a.m.
Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods – 12:05 p.m.
Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson – 12:16 p.m.
Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson – 12:27 p.m.
Jason Day, Bryson DeChambeau – 12:38 p.m.

TV Schedule

All times eastern.

Thursday, Friday: 1:30-4 p.m. on Golf Channel

Saturday: 12-2:30 p.m. on Golf Channel, 2:30-5 p.m. on NBC

Sunday: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Golf Channel, 1-4 p.m. on NBC

Past Champions

Note: The Hero World Challenge was played at Isleworth in Florida in 2014, and at Sherwood in California from 2000-2013.

2017 – Rickie Fowler (-18)
2016 – Hideki Matsuyama (-18)
2015 – Bubba Watson (-25)
2014 – Jordan Spieth (-26)
2013 – Zach Johnson (-13)
2012 – Graeme McDowell (-17)
2011 – Tiger Woods (-10)
2010 – Graeme McDowell (-16)

The pick

Obviously every one of these guys is capable of winning this week, and most of these guys haven’t played a 72-hole stroke play event for a little while, so there’s not too much to go off of. Adding to the difficulty, the course doesn’t appear to fit one type of player over another. I’m going to go with an all-around stud in Justin Thomas, who will show out on Thursday while paired with Tiger and ride a hot putter to the victory. Gary Woodland (+2800) and Xander Schauffele (+1800) are also worth plays.

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Posted in Golf, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Purdue at Florida State

It may only be November, but No. 18 Purdue and No. 14 Florida State are ready to be tested Wednesday in Tallahassee in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Both schools went on rolls to start the season but ran into trouble in their biggest games, as the Boilermakers fell to No. 12 Virginia Tech 89-83 in the championship game of the Charleston Classic in their only contest against a ranked foe, while the Seminoles came up short 66-60 against No. 23 Villanova in the Advocare Invitational championship their last time out.

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The Boilermakers will have plenty of chances to redeem themselves as their visit to the Seminoles begins a daunting five-game run that also includes trips to No. 5 Michigan and No. 17 Texas along with a neutral site matchup with rival Notre Dame. “I think this is one of the stretches that can define how our season goes,” Purdue forward Evan Boudreaux said. “It’s not going to be the end-all, be-all, but if you look at these next four games, they’re games we definitely want to win and will look good if we win them come March.” While Purdue coach Matt Painter will certainly have a good idea what kind of team he has after this brutal stretch, Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton already knows what he has after Florida State embarked on a tough run of its own, culminating with the loss to Villanova. The Seminoles can score, but the backbone of their team is their intense defense that creates pressure and forces mistakes.

TV: 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

ABOUT PURDUE (4-1): The Boilermakers will challenge Florida State’s ability to cover long-range shots as they rank fifth in the nation in that department after hitting 41.6 percent of their 3-pointers over the last four games. Junior guard Carsen Edwards has scored 152 points, seventh most in school history through the first six games of a season, and he leads the team with 25.3 points and 4.2 assists per game. Ryan Cline (14.2) and Boudreaux (11.2) are the only other players to average in double figures, while Boudreaux (6.0) is one of the team’s top rebounders and he has tallied more offensive boards (20) than defensive (16).

ABOUT FLORIDA STATE (5-1): The Seminoles’ high-intensity defense needs fresh bodies and the team often goes deep into its bench, with nine players averaging at least 15 minutes per game. The team relies heavily, though, on Terance Mann, who tops the team in both points per game (12.8) and rebounds (7.0), although six players average at least 7.5 points per game. Sophomore forward Mfiondu Kabengele has emerged as a scoring threat, coming off the bench to score in double digits in all three games of the AdvoCare Invitational, including 15 in an OT win over then-No. 21 LSU.

TIP-INS

1. The teams have met just twice before, with the Seminoles winning both meetings, including a 97-57 decision in 2005 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

2. The Boilermakers and Seminoles are both giving up just 65.8 points per contest.

3. Purdue has won three of its last four road games in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

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Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: North Carolina at Michigan

Fifth-ranked Michigan looks to stay unbeaten when it hosts No. 13 North Carolina in one of the marquee matchups of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday. The Wolverines have shot up the national rankings on the strength of their defense, holding five of their six opponents to 55 or fewer points, including then-No. 8 Villanova in a 73-46 road win on Nov. 14, and hope to cement their place in the Top 5 by shutting down a prolific Tar Heels’ offense which averages 96.6 points per game.

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Michigan has won 15 consecutive non-conference home games and hopes to extend their streak while avenging an 86-71 road loss to North Carolina in the conference challenge last season. North Carolina bounced back from its first loss of the campaign with a 94-78 victory over UCLA in the consolation game of the Las Vegas Invitational. The Tar Heels, who opened the tournament with a 92-89 loss to No. 17 Texas before matching their season high with 11 3-pointers en route to a comfortable win over the Bruins, hope to notch their first signature win of the season by knocking off the Wolverines for the third consecutive time. “Michigan may be playing better basketball than anybody,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams told reporters. “Michigan is the number one defensive team in America.”

TV: 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (6-1): Coby White was named to the Las Vegas Invitational All-Tournament team after averaging 26 points, including a team-high 19 in the win against UCLA. Luke Maye added 16 points and eight assists while Kenny Williams scored a season-high 15 points, as five players finished in double figures for the Tar Heels. White was also named the ACC Freshman of the Week after averaging 22.6 points and four assists against Saint Francis, Texas and UCLA while point guard Seventh Woods is set to return to the lineup after missing the previous two games with a concussion.

ABOUT MICHIGAN (6-0): Canadian forward Ignas Brazdeikis continued the impressive start to his college career, scoring a team-high 20 points to go along with seven rebounds in an 83-55 win over Chattanooga on Friday. “I think he’s very coachable and he wants to be a great player,” Michigan coach John Beilein told reporters. “He is going to have a doozy of a matchup with Luke Maye that’s for sure as Maye just killed us last time.” Jordan Poole added 14 points and six rebounds while Isaiah Livers tallied 12 points in a reserve role as the Wolverines held the Mocs to 36.1 percent shooting from the floor.

TIP-INS

1. Michigan leads the nation in scoring defense (48.3).

2. North Carolina is ranked third in offensive efficiency.

3. The Tar Heels are 10-5 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge under Williams.

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Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks