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Many unhappy OSU can go 12-0 but still stay home

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Many unhappy OSU can go 12-0 but still stay home

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Any other year Ohio State is unbeaten and ranked No. 4 coming into its annual rivalry game with Michigan, its fans would be trolling the internet for the best airfares to the BCS title game.

Not this time.

Due to NCAA sanctions, Ohio State is banned from playing for the Big Ten championship next week and going to a bowl, and isn't a factor in the national title picture.

So a wondrous and surprising season - 11-0 heading into Saturday's home game with the 20th-ranked Wolverines - will come to an abrupt and premature end on Saturday.

Many of the faithful blame athletic director Gene Smith, who gambled and lost that the NCAA wouldn't levy a bowl ban.

Letters to the editor in the local newspaper, calls to sports talk shows and posts on fan websites all spew vitriol at Smith, who had served on the NCAA's committee on infractions and believed the penalties he and Ohio State's administrators had proposed would be sufficient to appease the ruling body of intercollegiate sports.

``At the time we made the decision we felt confident that we would not receive the bowl ban,'' Smith said on Tuesday. ``Obviously, when we received it we were shocked and devastated.''

The sanctions stem from former coach Jim Tressel learning in April 2010 that several players had likely received free tattoos and cash from the subject of a federal drug investigation. NCAA rules require coaches to notify the association or their superiors when they have any information that violations may have taken place, including improper benefits to athletes. Also, Tressel's contract clearly specified that he was required to report any hint of wrongdoing.

Yet he didn't tell anyone. It was only after the Buckeyes had completed a 12-1 record, won the Big Ten and the Sugar Bowl, that investigators looking into another matter came across incriminating emails which proved that Tressel had knowledge of potential violations.

Tressel was forced to resign in late May 2011. Ohio State officials worked closely with the NCAA in a lengthy investigation that also turned up evidence of other violations.

In July, roughly a month before Ohio State's hearing before the NCAA's committee on infractions, Smith said he believed the self-imposed sanctions, which included vacating the 2010 season, returning bowl money, five-game suspensions for several players, NCAA probation and recruiting limitations, would be enough to mollify the NCAA.

He said there would be no bowl ban ``unless something new arises.''

That proved to be prophetic. On the eve of the opening game of the 2011 season, with defensive assistant Luke Fickell taking over as interim coach, three players were suspended for each accepting $200 in cash from a booster at a charity event.

Midway through the season, several more players were found to have been paid too much for summer jobs. Starting wide receiver DeVier Posey would end up sitting out 10 games due to violations.

By late October of a mediocre season, Ohio State taking itself out of a bowl wouldn't have carried a whole lot of weight with the NCAA.

When final sanctions were announced shortly before Christmas, a month after Urban Meyer had been hired as coach, they included the 2012 bowl ban.

``All I know is a lot of the seniors were pretty bummed out,'' defensive lineman Garrett Goebel said. ``A lot of the guys were pretty disappointed.''

The NCAA does not explain its rulings. But it stands to reason that the violations which came to light after Ohio State's hearing may have resulted in stiffer penalties.

``I don't know what (the NCAA was) thinking. I appreciate the question, but you're asking me to project what they were thinking. And I can't,'' Smith said. ``I still don't think our case overall deserved the bowl ban.

``I've accepted that. I've moved on.''

Meyer and the Buckeyes had some fits and starts but have won every game this season. Should they beat Michigan, it would mark only the sixth unbeaten and untied season in Ohio State's 123 years of football.

Fans look at the Buckeyes' trip a year ago to the Gator Bowl - where they lost to Florida, 24-17, to complete a dreary 6-7 season - and wish Smith and Ohio State would have sacrificed that postseason trip to prevent losing the one this year.

Now, one of only two unbeaten teams left in all of major-college football, Ohio State is resigned to sitting at home after its last regular-season game.

Jim Lachey, an All-American lineman for the Buckeyes 1981-84, is now a radio analyst of Ohio State games.

``I don't know if anybody ever in the modern era of football dreams about going undefeated and not going somewhere. But that's the price we pay,'' he said. ``It's going to be weird after that Michigan game.''

A large segment of fans remain angry at Smith, who declined to reveal how much negative feedback he has received.

``I know it's difficult to move on when we're having so much success, but the reality is that there's nothing at this point in time that anyone at this institution can do about that,'' he said.

Ohio State will be commemorating the 10th anniversary of its 2002 national championship team during Saturday's game.

The coach of that team was Tressel. Almost everyone expects him to receive a cordial welcome from a crowd of more than 105,000 - even though he is the principal culprit in why the current team cannot also play for a national title.

Smith, who is 56 and has been at Ohio State since 2005, said he is not contemplating retirement. He still enjoys the job and believes he is making a difference.

Ohio State, although not listed in the BCS rankings because of its NCAA sanctions, is a long shot to still win an Associated Press national title if it is the nation's only unbeaten team.

If the Buckeyes can't win it all, Smith will quietly pull for his alma mater. He was a four-year letterman as a defensive end for Notre Dame when it won the 1973 AP national championship.

Smith has no regrets about decisions that were made during the NCAA deliberations. He stressed again that he has moved on.

``There's no doubt that people should have the feelings that they have relative to the bowl ban,'' he said. ``Of course. But there's other people who understand the reality of what we're dealing with and that we have to focus on what is in front of us. There's certain things that we can't change.

``That's where we are.''

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

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Jodie Meeks

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Jodie Meeks

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Jodie Meeks' season...

Player: Jodie Meeks

Position: Shooting guard

Age: 30

2017-18 salary: $3.3 million

2017-18 stats: 77 G, 14.5 mpg, 6.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.1 bpg, 39.9 FG%, 34.3 3P%, 86.3 FT%, 49.1 eFG%, 111 ORtg, 112 DRtg

Best game: 11/29 at Sixers - 21 points, 4 rebounds, assist, steal, 5-for-11 FG, 3-for-6 3PT, 8-for-9 FT

Season review: The Wizards took a flier on Jodie Meeks last summer in what seemed at the time to be a low-risk contract with a potentially high reward, if he could stay healthy and play to his career norms. They were in obvious need of help at backup shooting guard and three-point shooting for their bench.

Meeks fell short of those expectations for a variety of reasons. Though he stayed healthy for the first time in years, he could not make shots at the clip the Wizards were hoping for. His field goal percentage was not far off from what he posted in recent years, but his three-point percentage was nowhere near the 38.8 percent he shot in his previous four seasons.

Meeks bottomed out midseason, shooting 28.9 percent from three in December and 28 percent in January. Those numbers ticked up beginning in February, but Meeks never fully gained the trust of his coaching staff. He rarely got hot enough to alter games and his best stat-lines often came in blowouts. 

There was a domino effect from Meeks' struggles, as starting shooting guard Bradley Beal had no one to spell him. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any NBA player this season.

For Meeks personally, it was a bittersweet year because staying healthy was no small feat. He had a run of bad luck and finally broke out of it this season. On the other hand, he never made the impact he felt he was capable of and that wasn't easy for a guy joining a new team and a new locker room.

Meeks' 2017-18 season was ultimately defined by more than his shooting woes. First, he expressed interest in a trade in February and did not get his wish. Then, he was suspended for allegedy using performance-enhancing drugs after the regular season ended. He was out for the playoffs and will miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season without pay as he waits out a 25-game ban.

Meeks may or may not serve that suspension as a member of the Wizards. He has a player option for next season worth $3.5 million. He has yet to inform the team of his decision, but the expectation is that he will pick it up. Given how poorly his season went and ended, it would likely be the smart move financially for him to opt in and hope for better results next season.

Potential to improve: Shooting percentage, perimeter defense, passing

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Markieff Morris, PF

Marcin Gortat, C

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Tomas Satoransky, PG

Ian Mahinmi, C

Ty Lawson, PG

Tim Frazier, PG

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Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

The Caps stand just four wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup. To get those four wins, however, they will have to beat the Vegas Golden Knights.

Here are the keys to the series that will give the Caps the win.

Figure out how to beat Marc-Andre Fleury

No player has been as important to his team this postseason as Fleury is to the Golden Knights. He is reason No. 1, 2 and 3 why they have made their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final in the team’s inaugural season.

Fleury’s personal numbers are staggering. Through 15 games, he has a .947 save percentage and has recorded four shutouts.

Vegas has been a middle of the pack team in terms of offense this postseason scoring 2.87 goals per game. They have lost only three playoff games thus far, but, as dominant as they have been, they certainly are not blowing away the competition. Of their 12 wins, ten of them have come with a margin of victory of two goals or less.

This shows you just how important Fleury is to their success. They are not scoring opponents into submission, rather they are relying on Fleury to keep opponents at bay.

Fleury is the absolute key to the Golden Knights’ success. It’s easier said than done, but if the Caps find a way to beat him consistently, Vegas becomes exponentially more beatable.

Win the neutral zone battle

Much of this series will be determined between the blue lines. The Golden Knights are an incredibly fast team.

Just to get to this point, the Caps had to beat two other speedy teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They did it primarily by slowing down the offense in the neutral zone with a 1-3-1 trap. With so many bodies defending in the neutral zone, opponents have struggled to break the puck cleanly into the Caps’ defensive zone. The Caps are cutting off passing and skating lanes, creating turnovers and generating odd-man breaks in the other direction by catching opponents’ defensemen playing too aggressively on the rush.

As fast as the Penguins and Lightning were, however, the Golden Knights are even faster. Will the trap be as effective against Vegas?

Limit obstruction penalties

When playing against a team with speed, penalties often become a major issue. When trying to defend against fast players, if you get caught flat-footed or out of position, this tends to lead to obstruction penalties like tripping and hooking. When a player realizes he’s been beat, he does everything he can to prevent that from costing his team, leading to those type of penalties.

Vegas’ power play has not been lights out by any means with a success rate of only 17.6-percent this postseason, but you cannot continually give the opposition chances to score by frequently having a player sent to the penalty box.

Positioning is going to make all the difference in the world in this series to make sure a player is not forced into taking an obstruction penalty just to slow down the Golden Knights.

Get off to good starts

Vegas is 10-1 in the postseason when scoring first. Their secret to success is a mix between goaltending and speed.

Fleury has been phenomenal in net and the Golden Knights are a quick breakout team. It is very hard to get much sustained offensive pressure against them because once they get the puck, they are going down the ice at a million miles an hour.

Having to play from behind against a team like Vegas is not a recipe for success. Just getting the puck and keeping up with them is exhausting. Having to then find a way to then beat Fleury when he has a lead to protect is all the more daunting.

Strong starts will be vital to ensuring the Caps are not frequently having to play from behind.

Depth scoring

Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant likes to roll his four lines. It makes sense since there drop-off between his top line and fourth line is not as dramatic as it is on most NHL teams.

Consider how this team was constructed. The expansion draft did not give Vegas access to superstar players, but they also did not have to take any fringe NHL/healthy scratch players to fill the fourth line either. They filled their roster with the best players available to them which gives them four lines of much more comparative strength than most NHL teams.

While this means the Caps have a stronger top six, it also allows Vegas to roll four lines and take advantage of other teams’ bottom six.

You can never take a shift off against Vegas. There is no weak line to exploit. The Golden Knights come at you with four lines and relentless pressure and forecheck for 60 minutes.

Washington will probably get more production from its top six than Vegas will, or at the very least it will be a push. The question is what kind of production will each team get from the bottom six? If the Caps have the edge in depth production as well, they will be in good shape.

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