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10 Things: VanVleet stepping up as the leader Raptors can always turn to

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Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 109-100 win over the Washington Wizards.

One — The Raptors have won their first four road games to start the season for the first time in franchise history. It wasn’t the sharpest performance, as the Wizards lived at the line with 30 free-throw attempts, and a few missed threes in key moments allowed the Raptors to get away with some mistakes, but this was a true professional effort by Toronto. They took care of the ball, won the possession battle yet again, managed the game with maturity, got huge contributions from their leaders, and played with all-out effort. It’s been the same story in every game of their five-game win streak.

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Two — Fred VanVleet is stepping up as the leader that the Raptors can always turn to. His steady confidence has propelled the Raptors over this run, and he’s always the player the team turns to during important moments.

When the Wizards tried to make their push in the third quarter, it was VanVleet who poured in 14 points to maintain control. When the Wizards cut it to single digits in the fourth, it was VanVleet who responded with a rainbow jumper to restore their confidence. When the Wizards had the Raptors stuck on a dwindling shot clock, it was VanVleet who banked in a fadeaway right at the buzzer which made his defender Deni Advija throw his arms up in disgust. And when the Raptors needed a bucket after a two-minute drought in crunch time, it was VanVleet who ripped down the rebound and beat three Wizards up the floor for a transition layup to secure their lead. He is the heart and soul of this team, just as Kyle Lowry was for the Raptors over the past decade, and the Raptors are extremely blessed to have such continuity at the point.

Three — The key improvement in VanVleet’s game is the midrange jumper. It was a necessary addition for VanVleet in a season where he would have to initiate more of the offence, and while it’s not the most efficient shot on paper, it’s forcing teams to adjust to him which is creating other openings.

Many teams employ the drop defensive coverage, which calls for bigs to retreat into the paint to prevent shots at the rim, and the Raptors don’t have a floor-spacing center to counter this move, so it’s up to VanVleet to unlock the paint. He’s making it a point to attack from the midrange early on, and he’s having so much success that defences are having to adjust.

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VanVleet nailed seven midrange jumpers tonight, which brings his total to 20-for-33 on the season, and similar to their wins over the Pacers, the Wizards changed their defence. Instead of sitting back in the paint, Washington flipped their coverage to trap VanVleet at the three-point line to deny any chances of him getting free for the jumper, and this is where the Raptors were able to counter in the fourth quarter.

Four — Nick Nurse made a brilliant call to bring Khem Birch back into the game early in the fourth quarter. VanVleet was starting to see double teams, and that presented an opportunity to attack with the Raptors holding a 4-3 advantage behind the play.

Birch happens to be a specialist in these types of scenarios, as he’s so clever with his movement to make a short cut after setting the screen, to give VanVleet an outlet to counter the trap, while also affording Birch the space to attack into. He scored two short floaters immediately after checking in when his man went to help on VanVleet, and on the third trip down, Birch saw an extra defender of his own which gave him the chance to find OG Anunoby open for three on the kick-out pass.

Washington was forced to change up their coverage for a third time, but the damage was already done. The two-man game between VanVleet and Birch provided the bulk of Toronto’s scoring in fourth.

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Five — OG Anunoby made a sensational play on defence which set the example for the entire team. Anunoby went all-out to block Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the corner off a smart kick-out pass from Bradley Beal, landed in the crowd, while still keeping the ball alive. Svi Mykhailiuk caught the rebound and fired it ahead to Gary Trent Jr. who streaked the length of the floor for an and-one layup with 0.3 seconds left.

Anunoby is the Raptors’ go-to scorer, being asked to play 40 minutes regularly, often while guarding All-Star scorers, and yet he’s playing that hard on defence at a low-leverage moment right before halftime. If Anunoby is giving that level of effort, it sets the tone for the rest of his teammates, and that’s a form of leadership. Trent Jr. said a few weeks back that he doesn’t want to be the weak link out there, and that’s coming from a guy who leads the league in steals. That, in a nutshell, is Raptors culture.

Six — Anunoby’s passing was very strong in this game, even though he was only credited for one assist. As a sign of respect to his career-high 36-point effort against the Knicks, Anunoby was met with consistent double teams from the Wizards in the first half. Anunoby has struggled at times with being aggressive in the paint which has sometimes left him trapped and prone to turnovers, but his approach tonight was perfect.

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He created six free-throw attempts for his teammates by getting downhill, drawing the crowd, then quickly flipping it to a cutter. First, he found Precious Achiuwa on a wraparound pass, then hit Mykhailuk twice on the cut, but none were recorded as assists. Finally, on his fourth feed, he was able to feed Mykhailiuk for a two-handed jam.

The next step in Anunoby’s development is being able to get downhill and being able to make a quick and efficient decision down low. He’s a smart and willing passer, but he’s also an efficient and powerful finisher. And within just the first month of the season, Anunoby is already showing tangible improvement in this area.

Seven — Achiuwa had a better game than his showing against the Knicks, even if his mistakes remain glaring. Nurse showed faith in Achiuwa by keeping in the starting five to start, although he replaced him with Birch to start the second half for a second-straight game. Achiuwa wasn’t all that impressive outside of a poster dunk in his 2-for-9 effort on the night, but he paid more attention to the little things.

Achiuwa was creating more contact with his screens, which helped to get VanVleet free and flowing early on. He was also active on the glass as always with 10 rebounds to lead the Raptors. Achiuwa also made the right read out of pick-and-rolls, spraying accurate passes out of the paint to find open shooters with his four assists. What Achiuwa should strive for is to be more like Birch, because if he can nail the fundamentals with the same efficiency as Birch, that’s when Achiuwa’s natural talent will truly shine.

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Eight — Nurse is also running a platoon with Dalano Banton and Malachi Flynn at point guard. Banton provides a change of pace and some added length, while Flynn is more of a perimeter threat and a natural option to counter the smaller and speedier guards. Neither player logged that much time, but both of them brought something positive to the table. Flynn found Mykhailiuk with a smart pass in transition, while Banton had back-to-back possessions where he got downhill and scored at the rim. Ideally, the Raptors can get 15 solid minutes from the two of them so that VanVleet doesn’t need to play north of 40 minutes per night.

Nine — Scoring remains a glaring weakness for the second unit. Chris Boucher’s struggles on both ends have really limited Nurse’s options in the second unit, and they’re subsisting entirely off force-feeding either one of Anunoby or VanVleet, who must be on the floor to supervise the group. This is where Pascal Siakam’s return will be a huge help, because splitting that load between three players is a lot more sustainable in the long run. VanVleet is already leading the league in minutes per game, and nobody is coming in to spare him.

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Ten — I really don’t understand what the Wizards were doing in the final two minutes. Montrezl Harrell intentionally grabbed Birch with under a minute left away in an apparent effort to send him to the line to extend the game, except Birch was nowhere near the ball which resulted in a technical free throw while the Raptors kept possession. VanVleet hit the freebie to extend their lead to eight points. After the Wizards came up empty, they once again rushed to grab Birch who did have the ball this time, but even that was a head-scratching tactic since Birch is a career 70 percent foul shooter. Birch went on to hit 3-of-4 from the foul line in the final minute to ice the win.





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How to watch Appalachian State vs. James Madison: NCAA Football live stream info, TV channel, time, game odds

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Who’s Playing

James Madison @ Appalachian State

Current Records: James Madison 2-0; Appalachian State 2-1

What to Know

The James Madison Dukes watched the action from their couches last weekend, but are set to take to the field. James Madison and the Appalachian State Mountaineers will face off in a Sun Belt battle at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The odds don’t look promising for the Dukes, but the bigger the opponent is, the harder they fall.

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A well-balanced attack led James Madison over the Norfolk State Spartans every single quarter on their way to victory two weeks ago. James Madison claimed a resounding 63-7 win over Norfolk State at home. The game was pretty much decided by the half, when the score had already reached 35 to nothing.

Meanwhile, Appalachian State didn’t have too much breathing room in their contest with the Troy Trojans last week, but they still walked away with a 32-28 victory. Appalachian State QB Chase Brice was slinging it as he passed for two TDs and 279 yards on 34 attempts. Near the top of the highlight reel was Brice’s 53-yard TD bomb to WR Christan Horn in the fourth quarter.

Their wins bumped the Dukes to 2-0 and the Mountaineers to 2-1. Watch the matchup and check back on CBS Sports to find out who keeps up the positive energy and who hits a stumbling block.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Kidd Brewer Stadium — Boone, North Carolina
  • TV: ESPN Plus
  • Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.)
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $40.99

Odds

The Mountaineers are a solid 6.5-point favorite against the Dukes, according to the latest college football odds.

The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Mountaineers as a 7.5-point favorite.

Over/Under: -111

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Series History

This is the first time these teams have played each other within the last seven years.



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UTSA vs. Texas Southern: How to watch NCAA Football online, TV channel, live stream info, game time

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Who’s Playing

Texas Southern @ UTSA

Current Records: Texas Southern 1-2; UTSA 1-2

What to Know

The Texas Southern Tigers will take on the UTSA Roadrunners at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Alamodome. Texas Southern isn’t favored, but they just beat the odds in their last game, so don’t count them out.

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The Tigers kept a clean sheet against the Southern University Jaguars last week and took the matchup 24 to nothing. The squad ran away with 21 points in the first half and mostly just sat on those in the second to pick up the victory.

Meanwhile, it was all tied up 17-17 at halftime, but UTSA was not quite the Texas Longhorns’ equal in the second half when they met last week. The Roadrunners suffered a grim 41-20 defeat to the Longhorns. This contest was a close 17-17 at the break, but unfortunately for UTSA it sure didn’t stay that way. A silver lining for them was the play of RB Brenden Brady, who threw one touchdown in addition to punching in one rushing touchdown.

Texas Southern’s win lifted them to 1-2 while UTSA’s loss dropped them down to 1-2. We’ll find out if the Tigers can add another positive mark to their record or if UTSA can shake off the defeat and take the spring out of Texas Southern’s step.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Alamodome — San Antonio, Texas
  • TV: STADIUM
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $69.00

Odds

The Roadrunners are a big 42-point favorite against the Tigers, according to the latest college football odds.

Bettors have moved against the Roadrunners slightly, as the game opened with the Roadrunners as a 44-point favorite.

Over/Under: -110

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Series History

This is the first time these teams have played each other within the last seven years.



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North Carolina vs. Notre Dame live stream info, TV channel: How to watch NCAA Football on TV, stream online

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Who’s Playing

Notre Dame @ North Carolina

Current Records: Notre Dame 1-2; North Carolina 3-0

What to Know

The North Carolina Tar Heels will be returning home after a two-game road trip. They will take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Kenan Memorial Stadium after a week off. UNC is expected to win — but not by much — so they will need to come into the game prepared for a fight.

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The Tar Heels beat the Georgia State Panthers 35-28 two weeks ago. Among those leading the charge for UNC was RB Omarion Hampton, who rushed for two TDs and 110 yards on 16 carries. Hampton put himself on the highlight reel with a 58-yard TD scramble in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame netted a 24-17 victory over the California Golden Bears last week. RB Audric Estime and RB Chris Tyree were among the main playmakers for Notre Dame as the former punched in one rushing touchdown and the latter snatched one receiving TD.

Notre Dame’s defense was a presence as well, as it embarrassed California’s offensive line to sack QB Jack Plummer six times for a total loss of 47 yards. It was a group effort with four guys contributing.

The wins brought the Tar Heels up to 3-0 and the Fighting Irish to 1-2. A pair of stats to keep an eye on: UNC enters the matchup with 310 passing yards per game on average, good for 21st best in the nation. But Notre Dame comes into the contest boasting the 34th fewest passing yards allowed per game in the nation at 184. These opposing strengths should make for an exciting matchup.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Kenan Memorial Stadium — Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • TV: ABC
  • Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.)
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $110.00

Odds

The Tar Heels are a slight 2.5-point favorite against the Fighting Irish, according to the latest college football odds.

The line on this game has moved quite a bit since it opened, as it started out with the Fighting Irish as a 1.5-point favorite.

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Over/Under: -110

See college football picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

Notre Dame have won all of the games they’ve played against North Carolina in the last eight years.

  • Oct 30, 2021 – Notre Dame 44 vs. North Carolina 34
  • Nov 27, 2020 – Notre Dame 31 vs. North Carolina 17
  • Oct 07, 2017 – Notre Dame 33 vs. North Carolina 10



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