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0-3 vs. ranked teams, Ohio State seeking answers

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0-3 vs. ranked teams, Ohio State seeking answers

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Thad Matta is happy with his team. He is just not happy with how it is playing right now.

``Coming off of Saturday's game, their awareness better be heightened,'' he said of his players.

The Buckeyes are 11-0 against unranked teams but now stand 0-3 against Associated Press Top 25 teams after sustaining a 74-55 beating at No. 12 Illinois on Saturday.

The inability to beat elite teams has dropped the Buckeyes from No. 4 in the preseason to No. 15 in the latest media balloting.

But they say they can fix things and turn it around before Tuesday night's game at Purdue.

``We've just got to take a better approach to it,'' backup point guard Shannon Scott said. ``Before the (Illinois) game, our minds weren't really there. We were all like, laughing around, not focused. If we come to Purdue more focused, we'll be fine.''

The common denominator in all three losses was poor shooting by the Buckeyes. They shot under 34 percent in each defeat.

Compounding their misery in the loss to the Illini, they also were unfocused on defense and played sloppy with the ball. But Matta said that defeat was different.

``I have to be honest, I have to throw Saturday out,'' he said. ``We did things that were so uncharacteristic. As I told them, `Look, I'm not sure who was in your jerseys in this game.'''

Some Ohio State fans - a small segment, mind you - have been exceedingly critical of the team's play so far. Naysayers to the end, they don't think the shooting will come around. They don't believe any of the big men - Amir Williams, Evan Ravenel or Trey McDonald - will be able to hold their own. They look at the lack of offense from point guards Aaron Craft and Scott and worry about the lack of production.

In the rough-and-tumble Big Ten, they're afraid that other teams will prey on the Buckeyes' weakness.

Deshaun Thomas, the leading scorer in the conference, remains confident that things will turn around.

``I just stay positive. We were in this situation last year, when we lost at Illinois,'' he said of the team that went on to a 31-8 record, a share of the Big Ten title and a trip to the Final Four. ``I don't think this team is falling apart. There's some things we need to work on. We're going to get there. We know now what it's going to take and what we have to do to play hard and win ballgames.''

The Buckeyes (11-3, 1-1 Big Ten) had 16 turnovers against Illinois, many of them unforced. Even though they average only around 10 a game, they opened against Illinois with two turnovers and had 11 by halftime.

Matta is toying with the idea of making lineup changes. With his team trailing by 20 or so most of the second half in Champaign, Ill., he tinkered with different combinations. At one point, he didn't play a true center, instead going with Thomas underneath the basket, with thin shooting guard LaQuinton Ross at power forward and Scott at the point.

Don't be surprised if he doesn't continue to mix and match players.

``The motivation is I want to attempt to get off to a good start'' at Purdue, Matta said. ``Finding those five guys who have a flow to them is what I'm still looking at.''

The Boilermakers (7-7, 1-1) shocked Illinois in their Big Ten opener before losing at Michigan State.

Ohio State is in dire need of some good news before it hosts No. 2 Michigan on Sunday.

``We know we can't play like we did last week,'' Scott said. ``We know the way the rest of the Big Ten is going to play. We have to have a better approach. I think we're going to play a lot better.''

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Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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