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Ohio State-Penn State still matters amid sanctions

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Ohio State-Penn State still matters amid sanctions

Only three teams in the Big Ten are unbeaten in league play - and two of them are ineligible for the postseason.

That takes a bit of the luster from this weekend's impressive slate of games - but not all of it.

No. 9 Ohio State and Penn State are both undefeated in conference, and they're playing each other this weekend. Thanks to sanctions, neither can compete for the Big Ten championship or go to a bowl - and because of that, it's looking exceedingly likely that Wisconsin will cruise to the league championship game.

Still, the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions can play for pride, and the winner of this weekend's game will have a decent chance to finish atop the standings in the Leaders Division.

A cosmetic distinction? Sort of. But that's the best these two programs can hope for after being beset by off-the-field problems.

``We've got great kids here. We've got a hell of a coaching staff,'' Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. ``It's never been doom and gloom in here.''

The sanctions have taken a bit of the luster off the Big Ten's postseason prospects. Ohio State (8-0, 4-0) is the conference's highest-ranked team in the AP poll. The only other team in the Top 25 is No. 20 Michigan, which is also without a conference loss.

But Penn State's resurgence after an 0-2 start has added some buzz to the division races. Not only do the Nittany Lions (5-2, 3-0) host Ohio State on Saturday, but the Michigan-Nebraska game could decide the Legends Division. The Wolverines (5-2, 3-0) finally snapped their four-game losing streak against Michigan State (4-4, 1-3) last weekend. Nebraska (5-2, 2-1) will try to avenge a 45-17 loss to Michigan last year.

Even the matchup between Iowa (4-3, 2-1) and Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) could be crucial in the Legends race, especially if Michigan stumbles.

About the only team that doesn't have much to worry about is Wisconsin. The Badgers (6-2, 3-1) are in the driver's seat for a spot in the championship game - Ohio State and Penn State aren't eligible, and nobody else in the Leaders Division has a conference win.

Still, there's no telling what will happen this weekend because Wisconsin takes on Michigan State. The Spartans beat the Badgers last year on a `Hail Mary' at the end of the game - and Wisconsin won a thrilling rematch in the Big Ten championship game.

The race for the Leaders Division title would be a terrific one if Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State were all in contention for a Rose Bowl berth.

Instead, the Nittany Lions were given harsh NCAA sanctions for the school's handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. They included significant scholarship cuts and a four-year postseason ban.

Penn State lost its first two games of the season to Ohio and Virginia but has won five straight since.

``It does start with players. ... From Day One, we just tried to get in here and explain our program to these guys and be truthful and honest with them,'' O'Brien said. ``We knew we could have played better, so it was a lot of frustration but there was a lot of resiliency.''

The Buckeyes, meanwhile, are on probation because of transgressions during Jim Tressel's coaching tenure. That hasn't stopped Ohio State from racing to an 8-0 start.

And the Buckeyes aren't satisfied. They may not be in contention for a bowl, but they can still finish undefeated and atop their division and become shadow champions of a sort.

``We're 8-0, but it's an 8-0 where we're working for every yard and every win,'' coach Urban Meyer said.

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Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

These are not the same old Caps.

Heading into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Monday, there was a lot of handwringing around Washington and with good reason. The Capitals were facing elimination for the first time this postseason. Of course the fans were on edge; no one wanted this run to end.

But even though the Caps are competing for the conference crown and have gotten past their archrivals to get here, the refrains leading into Game 6 were the same ones we’ve heard from past years.

 “They don’t want it enough.”

“There’s no heart.”

“Totally outcoached.”

“Chokers.”

And perhaps most damning, “Same old Caps.”

Stop it already.

Seriously, how can anyone have watched this postseason and walked away thinking this is the same Caps team?

Does no one remember the start of the season? Some people didn’t even think they would make the playoffs. Others were advocating the team trade Alex Ovechkin and start over. Yet here they are.

Finally, finally they got past the second round hump. They beat the Pittsburgh Penguins—ending their two-year reign as Stanley Cup Champions—and handed Mike Sullivan his first ever series loss as the Penguins head coach.

And no, Mike Wilbon, just because they made it past the second round doesn’t mean it’s OK to lose in the Conference Finals. But considering how they got there, they showed they have at the very least changed the narrative surrounding the Capitals.

Washington lost the first two games of its series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round and went on to win four straight to advance. In the second round, they faced the two-time defending champions, a team they had beaten only once in the playoffs in franchise history and a team that had not lost a playoff series since 2015.

And they won.

And yet, people are acting like nothing changed with the Caps. Why? Because they lost three in a row to Tampa Bay?

OK, you've got a point. What kind of a team loses three straight in the playoffs? Hard-nosed teams with tough coaches that play the right way like Columbus or Anaheim wouldn’t let that happen to them. Oh, actually Columbus lost four in a row to the Caps and the Ducks got swept in the first round. Never mind.

Well, certainly not a team with a championship history like the Los Angeles Kings. Oh wait, never mind, the got swept by Vegas. Bad example.

Well, surely an original six team with a championship pedigree like the Boston Bruins would never let that happen. Oh yeah, they lost four straight to the same Tampa Bay team.

OK, OK, but were any of those teams really contenders this year? I mean, none of those teams were as good as Winnipeg and they won’t let themselves lose three in a row in the playoffs.

That’s because they lost four straight to Vegas in the conference final.

You see where this is going, right?

It just boggles the mind that anyone could see the game plan Barry Trotz put together in Game 6 in Pittsburgh, without three top-six forwards including Nicklas Backstrom, and win in overtime and still complain that he is always outcoached in the playoffs. He certainly wasn’t outcoached in that game or that series.

It’s baffling that anyone can see how Washington rallied past Columbus after losing Game 1 and Game 2, recovered from a disastrous Game 1 to Pittsburgh and won the first two games in Tampa Bay against a favored Lightning team and complain that this team “doesn’t want it enough.”

Chokers don’t advance to the third round. Chokers don’t beat the two-time defending champions when no one else could. Chokers don’t force seven games against a Tampa Bay team that finished off both of their prior series in just five games.

Just stop. Find a new storyline to push because this one is lazy and played out. It’s been done.

Don’t get me wrong, losing four in a row after winning Game 1 and Game 2 on the road would have really stung. With the history this team has, the fact that they finally got past Pittsburgh gave this team a feel of destiny. If they go on to lose Game 7 and end their run without a Stanley Cup or even a conference crown to show for it, that would be disappointing. No question about it.

But to say these are the “same old Caps” if they lose to Tampa Bay? That’s ridiculous. They have already put those demons to rest. Three straight losses to the Lightning don’t change that and neither will whatever happens in Game 7.

Regardless of what happens on Wednesday, whether the Caps win or lose, no one should come out and say these are the same old Caps. They have already proven that’s not the case.

Those Caps are gone. Now let’s see how far these Caps can go.

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Ian Mahinmi

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Ian Mahinmi

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

Player: Ian Mahinmi

Position: Center

Age: 31

2017-18 salary: $15.9 million

2017-18 stats: 77 G, 14.9 mpg, 4.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg, 55.6 FG%, 00.0 3P%, 70.3 FT%, 55.6 eFG%, 107 ORtg, 107 DRtg

Best game: 1/12 vs. Magic - 17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, steal, assist, 7-for-8 FG, 3-for-4 FT

Season review: After missing 51 games in the 2016-17 season, the first of his four-year contract with the Wizards, center Ian Mahinmi managed to stay healthy for the entirety of 2017-18. He appeared in 77 games and gave the Wizards a good look at the player they signed to a $64 million deal in free agency.

Mahinmi was a mainstay in the Wizards' rotation as their backup center. While Marcin Gortat started all 82 games at center, Mahinmi at times got the nod late in games as head coach Scott Brooks favored his defense.

Though Mahinmi was available all season, he still fell short of the numbers he put up in his last year in Indiana, in 2015-16. Mahinmi's minutes per game were his fewest since 2010-11, and his points and rebounds were his fewest since 2013-14. 

Mahinmi's numbers were affected by his low minutes, as he could never quite crack the top six or seven spots in Brooks' rotation. His numbers per 36 minutes, however, were on par with how he played in Indiana before the Wizards signed him to a big contract.

2015-16 per 36: 13.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 1.3 spg

2017-18 per 36: 11.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 1.2 spg

That, of course, only means so much. Mahinmi may have been relatively efficient with his minutes, but the consistency wasn't there to convince Brooks and the coaching staff to increase his role.

It will be interesting to see what the team plans for Mahinmi next season, as this summer could bring changes to their frontcourt. Both of their starting big men - Gortat and Markieff Morris - have one year left on their contracts. If Gortat in particular is dealt, that could open the door for Mahinmi to earn more playing time.

The Wizards could also add to their frontcourt through the draft. If they get a rim-protecting big man in the first round, that could be bad news for Mahinmi's playing time. Like several Wizards players, Mahinmi's role is up in the air entering this summer.

Potential to improve: Finishing around rim, consistency, limiting fouls

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

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