The Cavs Have Played The Defense Of Their Lives So Far —

Through the first three games of the NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers have slowed down the Golden State Warriors’ offense to an extent that few teams have been capable of this year. The Warriors have been held to an offensive rating of 101.5 points per 100 possessions — a whopping 10.4 points below their regular-season average. And during Games 2 and 3 of the finals in particular, Golden State was limited to offensive ratings that both rank in the bottom 15 percent of its game-by-game output this season. Reigning MVP Stephen Curry has mostly been neutralized,1His personal offensive rating in the series is nearly 40 points below his season average. and aside from Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala, his teammates — so superior on paper before the series began — have struggled to pick up the slack.In short, it’s been a masterful defensive performance by Cleveland. Indeed, since 1985, only the 1998 Chicago Bulls in their matchup with the Utah Jazz have done a better job holding an opponent below offensive expectations2In this case, the efficiency we’d expect based on a team’s regular-season ratings and whether the games were played at home or on the road. through the opening three games of an NBA Finals. But how much of it can we expect to hold up as the series goes on?To answer that, I looked at every best-of-seven NBA playoff series from the past 30 years, tracking how much a team’s defense defied expectations through the first three games and how much of that carried over into the remainder of the series:Weighted by the leverage of each series, the answer is 23 percent. So if a team (like Cleveland against Golden State) suppresses its opponent’s offensive rating by 12.5 points relative to expectations3This is different from the 10.4 figure above because we’re accounting for home-court advantage in the formal calculation. during a series’s first three games, we’d expect it to reduce that opponent’s offensive rating by about 2.9 points over the rest of the series.Twenty-three percent doesn’t sound like a lot, and this may speak a bit to what seems like one of the central debates of these finals so far — how much of Golden State’s struggles can be attributed to Cleveland’s defensive skill versus merely a run of bad shooting luck by the Warriors. History tells us that a team’s defensive performance over expectations through the first three games of a series is more than three-quarters ephemeral.But 23 percent of 12.5 points is nothing to sneeze at. Suppressing the Warriors’ offense by 2.9 points per 100 possessions brings them much closer to the NBA pack at that end. And while the Warriors have also done well defensively against Cleveland in the finals,4The Cavs’ 101.2 offensive rating for the series is running 5.7 points below expectation, although some of that should be tempered by the absences of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. the overall effect of a 23 percent carry-over from Games 1-3 would reduce Golden State’s chances of winning the finals by about 8 percentage points.Given the current circumstances of the series (Cleveland leads 2-1, with the remaining home games split evenly if the series goes to seven), that adjustment could be the difference between being favored to win the NBA championship and not. While our power ratings suggest that the Irving-less Cavs have a mere 40 percent chance of winning from here out despite the 2-1 edge, an 8-point tweak to those odds would make the series a virtual coin flip. And, perhaps not coincidentally, that’s essentially how Vegas currently views the finals.CORRECTION (June 12, 10:06 a.m.): A previous version of this article misstated the team with the best defensive performance compared to expectations in the NBA Finals since 1985. It was the Chicago Bulls in 1998, not the Utah Jazz. read more

Derek Jeter Placed Back on Yankees Disabled List

Derek Jeter is once again out of the New York Yankees’ lineup.The Yankees captain was placed on the disabled list for a third time on Monday. This time Jeter was placed on a 15-day DL with a Grade 1 strain of his right calf.The all-star athlete has only played five games this season because of recurring injuries.“It’s been terrible,” Jeter said on Sunday. “It’s been like a nightmare. The whole season has been a nightmare. I wish that wasn’t the case and we were sitting here talking about something besides another injury. We’ll see what happens. I have no idea.”Since his return from the first injury, Jeter is hitting .211 with one home run and two RBIs. He said the recurring injuries have been affecting his play.“It feels like you were hit with a ball or something,” he said. “It’s like a deep bruise, maybe. That’s the best way to put it. I don’t know how else to describe it.” read more

LeBron James Signs Deal with Warner Bros Space Jam

Those who remember the classic era that is the 1990s must remember the smash hit movie, Space Jam, featuring basketball superstar Michael Jordan and a collection of Looney Tunes characters.The 1996 film grossed over $90 million at the box office, and ultimately stitched itself into African American culture by becoming a staple in our movie collections with its combination of hip hop, basketball and animation. Jordan’s presence in the movie gave fans a chance to see him a different light, while his performance gave its audience a nostalgic feeling that’s still relevant today.Now there’s talk that there could be a sequel to the film starring NBA star LeBron James.Warner Bros. announced yesterday its partnership with James’s company, SpringHill Entertainment. The objective of the deal is for James to create original film, TV, and digital content.“LeBron James has one of the most powerful, well-known brands in the world, and we are excited to be in business with him and his partner, Maverick Carter, and SpringHill Entertainment,” Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara said in the statement.“Connecting with my fans and telling meaningful stories have always been my passion,” James said in the same statement. “In everything I’ve done, from Nike commercials to Uninterrupted and Survivor’s Remorse, it’s always about connecting with people of all ages and providing unique content they can all enjoy. And I’ve always loved movies, which makes Warner Bros. the ultimate partner to help us continue to push the envelope. I can’t wait to see what we come up with.”There has been talk about James doing the sequel to Space Jam for over a year now, so the partnership between him ad Warner Bros.— the original movie’s home— has fans wondering if it’s actually going to happen this time around.Adding further excitement, Warner Bros. filed new trademarks for Space Jam a month ago, which makes the James’s new deal not seem so happenstance. The original Space Jam raised a generation of kids and impacted Black culture significantly, spawning games, toys and even influencing a shoe through Nike and Jordan’s Air Jordan shoe line.Both James and Jordan have both made their mark in basketball in their own remarkable and record breaking ways. Fans are extremely excited about James possibly starring in the sequel of the film, and if released, it could shape a generation the same way its predecessor did. read more

The Unlikely Resurgence Of Baseballs Aces

This baseball season seems to have the makings of an unpleasant one for pitchers. Hitters are focusing on hitting deep fly balls, and more of them are leaving the yard than ever before, possibly thanks to a batch of baseballs that are bouncier than usual. As a result, scoring has increased to 4.65 runs per game, the highest it’s been since 2008. But despite all of that, star hurlers are quietly experiencing a renaissance in 2017.In fact, several of them are butting their way into the MVP conversation. Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale has the most wins above replacement of any player — pitcher or otherwise — in the major leagues, with 6.6,1All uses of WAR in this story refer to an average of the and FanGraphs versions. and Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals leads the National League with 6.1.That wasn’t the case last season. According to WAR, the top pitcher of 2016 was the New York Mets’ Noah Syndergaard, who clocked in at eighth overall with 6.7 WAR — 0.8 of which came from his bat, not his arm.2Syndergaard hit for a .673 OPS (on-base plus slugging), good for fourth among pitchers. To find the last time baseball’s top pitcher ranked worse in overall WAR, you’d have to go back to 1983, when Steve Carlton and John Denny of the Philadelphia Phillies finished tied for ninth overall. Between then and last year, only one top pitcher has finished as low as eighth by overall WAR, San Diego Padres ace Jake Peavy in 2007.With Syndergaard injured since May, it might have seemed as though top pitchers were in for an even worse fate this season. But instead, they’ve flourished: In addition to Sale and Scherzer, Cleveland’s Corey Kluber ranks among baseball’s top 20 players this season (seventh), as do Arizona’s Zack Greinke (17th) and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers (19th). (And that’s even though Kershaw headed to the DL in late July.)On pace for 9.1 WAR over a full schedule,3The Red Sox have played 118 games. Sale is having one of the most dominating seasons by a pitcher in recent memory. If Sale keeps it up, the only campaign better by WAR in the past 15 years will have been Greinke’s 9.5-WAR season in 2009. And for his part, Scherzer is tracking for one of the best seasons by a runner-up pitcher, ranking as the 28th-best among No. 2 pitchers in a season since 1901 and 10th-best since MLB lowered the mound in 1969.Of course, all of this means only that the top of the pitching heap has been stellar this season. Because there’s a finite amount of pitching WAR to go around, if the best pitchers are accumulating more of it, lesser pitchers must be doing worse. Indeed, if you look at a ranking of this year’s pitchers by overall WAR, most of those between Nos. 10 and 75 are doing worse (in terms of WAR per 162 team games) than the average for their ranking slot since 1998.41998 is the last time that MLB expanded and thus is the first year the major leagues began allocating the same total WAR per season as in 2017. (For example, Jimmy Nelson of the Brewers ranks 18th in baseball with a 3.9-WAR pace. The typical No. 18 pitcher records 4.3 WAR, so Nelson is running nearly a half-WAR behind average for his ranking slot.) In other words, there are more legitimately great pitchers this year, but fewer good ones. Even so, the numbers pick up again around the 100th-best-pitcher slot, and many pitchers who rank in the range between Nos. 100 and 200 are outpacing the historical average for their rank. So the class of “solid pitchers” seems to be doing just fine, thank you very much.Either way, with such great pitching performances leading the pack, you can expect this season’s MVP debates to be complicated by the old (and really dumb) argument over whether hurlers should be allowed to win the award. Scherzer is currently a half-WAR clear of Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt for the NL lead, while Sale is in a slightly tighter race with Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve for the AL lead. And although I’d like to think we’ve come a long way since Pedro Martinez finished second and fifth in MVP voting during two of the greatest pitching seasons ever,5And maybe we have: Kershaw and Justin Verlander both won the award this decade. there is probably still some anti-pitching bias in the minds of MVP voters. (“They have their own award, the Cy Young,” is the common justification.) But unlike last season, there have at least been pitching performances outstanding enough to warrant the debate.Check out our latest MLB predictions. read more

How To Build A Bracket For This WideOpen NCAA Tournament

South region Favorites: The West is probably the weakest of all the regions in this year’s bracket. Its top seed, Xavier, ranks as only the 10th-best team in the country by the FiveThirtyEight power ratings — which would typically only fetch a No. 3 seed. The Musketeers are plenty good on offense, but a defense that ranked just 59th in Pomeroy’s ratings is among the reasons why our model assigns them only an 18 percent chance of making the Final Four, by far the worst of any No. 1 seed in the bracket.In fact, our projections say the West’s most likely Final Four team is the defending champion, North Carolina, which has a 25 percent probability of advancing to San Antonio despite getting a No. 2 seed from the committee. The Tar Heels had something of an up-and-down season, losing 10 games (including seven in conference play), but they looked solid in the ACC tourney and boast one of the country’s deadliest two-man scoring combos in Joel Berry and Luke Maye.Then there’s fourth-seeded Gonzaga, last year’s national runners-up, which also checks in with a better Final Four probability (24 percent) than Xavier. The Zags were badly underseeded here — we have them ranked ninth in the country by power rating — and their draw could have them set up for a very deep tourney run. According to Pomeroy, the Bulldogs were one of only three teams in the nation (alongside Duke and Michigan State) whose offense and defense each ranked among the top 20 in efficiency. Dark horse: Because of how strong its top-line teams are, the Midwest doesn’t really lend itself to dark-horse bids. But if you had to pick one, Auburn might be the one to emerge from the field. Led by the undersized trio of Mustapha Heron, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, the fast-paced Tigers should be entertaining regardless. Auburn will probably have to tangle with a strong Clemson team in the round of 32, however, before potentially running through the gantlet of all those favorites listed above. Fun or not, that is why our model sets Auburn’s Final Four odds at a measly 3 percent.Don’t bet on: Sixth-seeded TCU. The Horned Frogs rank 22nd in Pomeroy’s ratings and enjoyed one of their best seasons in decades under coach Jamie Dixon. But no matter whether Syracuse or Arizona State wins their play-in game, they’ll give TCU a tough game in the first round — and it only gets harder from there, with Michigan State likely waiting in the wings. A deep run by the Frogs, playing in their first tournament since 1998, doesn’t appear to be in the cards this year.Cinderella Watch: Of all the Midwest’s double-digit seeds, No. 12 New Mexico State is most likely to find itself playing with the big-name programs on the tournament’s second weekend. The Aggies won 28 games this season and had the nation’s 14th-best defense according to Pomeroy. Our model thinks they have a fighting chance (38 percent) against Clemson and gives them an 18 percent chance of sneaking into the Sweet 16.Likeliest round-one upsets: Syracuse* over TCU (46 percent); Oklahoma over Rhode Island (42 percent); New Mexico State over Clemson (38 percent); NC State over Seton Hall (37 percent)(* – Must win play-in game first.)West region Favorites: According to the FiveThirtyEight model, top seed Villanova has the best chance of advancing to the Final Four in the entire field, with a 50 percent probability of winning the East. The Wildcats are an exceptionally strong offensive team, with guard Jalen Brunson leading ‘Nova to the nation’s top efficiency mark in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings during the season. But their 22nd-ranked defense is no slouch either, spearheaded by do-everything wing Mikal Bridges. The only thing keeping Villanova from being our overall favorite is the way the bracket has situated the East region on the same side as the Midwest, which contains three of the top eight teams in the field according to our power ratings.No. 2 seed Purdue has the potential to make some noise, but a tough matchup with Texas Tech or Florida could loom in the Sweet 16 — if the Boilermakers make it past likely second-round opponent Butler first, that is. (More on the Bulldogs later.) Purdue’s difficult path is a big reason why it has only a 20 percent probability of making the Final Four, which ranks last among No. 2 seeds. Favorites: The Midwest is nothing if not top-heavy. While most regions have a clear favorite, this one has three that combine for an 85 percent total probability of making the Final Four. First among these near-equals is No. 1 seed Kansas, with a 31 percent chance of making it to the national semifinals. Like their top-seeded counterparts in the East, Villanova, the Jayhawks are an explosive offensive team led by a standout guard — in KU’s case, Devonte’ Graham. One big concern for Kansas is the availability of big man Udoka Azubuike, who led the team in Box Plus/Minus during the season but who hasn’t played since March 3 because of a knee injury. (He’s listed as questionable for the start of the NCAAs.) KU will also have to contend with a tough early draw that includes potential matchups with Seton Hall, Clemson or Auburn. (First-round opponent Penn is no pushover, either, at least as far as No. 16 seeds go.)The second co-favorite out of the Midwest is — sigh — Duke, at 29 percent. The Blue Devils lost some close games down the season’s final stretch. But none were by more than 5 points, and they were one of only two teams in the country to rank among Pomeroy’s top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. (The other? No. 3 seed Michigan State. Again, the Midwest is stacked.) Rooting against Grayson Allen and Co. will once again be a top springtime ritual for most of America, but barring, say, something special from Oklahoma’s Trae Young,1Assuming the Sooners can pull out of their death spiral long enough to win their first game. Duke might not have much trouble until the Sweet 16.There, the Blue Devils might have to face Michigan State, our third co-favorite. Sparty is solidly No. 3 in the pecking order with 25 percent Final Four odds, but that’s also easily the highest of any team seeded lower than second in the entire bracket. This is your classic strong all-around Tom Izzo squad, with four players — Cassius Winston, Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Nick Ward — who ranked among the Big Ten’s top 16 in Win Shares according to MSU and Duke’s potential Sweet 16 showdown is the game everyone is already circling in the second week. Dark horse: Underseeded at No. 5, West Virginia ranks 11th in our power ratings and could be a team to keep an eye on. The unfairly low seed means the Mountaineers will potentially have to unseat fourth-seeded Wichita State (always a tough out) and Villanova in back-to-back games, but West Virginia is a constant threat with its swarming, turnover-inducing defensive style. Even though WVU might have peaked too early with its terrific run around New Year’s — it has lost nine of its last 18 games — don’t count out Bob Huggins’s crew just yet.Don’t bet on: No. 3 seed Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are a fine team that plays some of the nation’s stingiest defense, but they’ll probably have to make it through an unusually strong No. 6 seed (Florida) in the round of 32 just for the right to face Purdue (or possibly Butler). Our model only sees a 6 percent Final Four chance for Texas Tech, easily the worst mark for any No. 3 seed.Cinderella Watch: Slotted in as the No. 10 seed by the committee, Butler probably deserved better. We have them ranked as the 23rd-best team in the field, thanks in large part to an offense that sits at No. 32 in the nation according to Pomeroy. The Bulldogs should be solidly favored (60 percent) over Arkansas in round one, and they could give Purdue trouble in the next round.Likeliest round-one upsets: Butler over Arkansas (60 percent); Alabama over Virginia Tech (41 percent); UCLA* over Florida (39 percent).(* – Must win play-in game first.) After a chaotic regular season in men’s college basketball — during which 18 separate teams ranked among the AP’s top 5 at various points — it’s finally time for the real Madness to begin. And that means we’re breaking out the FiveThirtyEight NCAA Tournament model to help you make all of your bracket picks, as always (you can read about how the system works here). Below I’m highlighting the key teams and matchups to watch in each region, including dark horses and cinderellas who could bust up the bracket. With overall favorite Virginia only boasting an 18 percent chance of winning it all, this year’s Big Dance should be as crazy as ever. East region Dark horse: Does Gonzaga count here? If not, and you’re looking for a sneaky Final Four bid out of the West, look no further than sixth-seeded Houston. The Cougars pushed Cincinnati to the brink in the American Athletic championship game Sunday, showing a national audience just how stifling this team’s defense can be. Houston is a solid favorite to beat San Diego State in round one; in Wichita, they’d also be playing comparably closer to home against Michigan in round two. From there, UNC likely awaits, but our model gives the Cougars a 33 percent chance of getting that far — and, as a result, a 7 percent chance of making the Final Four.Don’t bet on: No. 3 seed Michigan. It’s an unfortunate draw for a team heading into the tourney playing as well as just about anybody in the country (the Wolverines actually rank third in our pre-tournament Elo ratings, behind only Virginia and Villanova), but the selection committee did Michigan zero favors here. First-round opponent Montana is unusually strong for a No. 14 seed — check out the sea of 10, 11 and 12 seeds around them in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings — and likely second-round foe Houston was underseeded as a No. 6, too. Then, if the Wolverines survive opening weekend, they’ll probably be treated to a rematch of their 15-point loss to UNC from late November. Michigan has fought through similarly tough tourney paths before, but right now we give them only a 14 percent shot at a Final Four berth.Cinderella Watch: Sadly, this isn’t a very promising region for Cinderella bids. For instance, No. 11 seed San Diego State is the kind of good, solid team (it ranks 50th in Kenpom’s ratings) that you’d ordinarily pencil in for an upset or two, but Houston and Michigan are too difficult to realistically expect a Sweet 16 berth from the Aztecs. And the other teams in classic upset seeds — 10th-seeded Providence and 12th-seeded South Dakota State — are each the weakest at their seed-line in the whole field. Blah.Likeliest round-one upsets: Florida State over Missouri (61 percent); Providence over Texas A&M (42 percent) Midwest region Favorites: After a storybook 31-2 regular season, Virginia is a 47 percent favorite to make the Final Four out of the South — and an 18 percent favorite to win the whole tournament, tops among the entire field. You’ll hear a lot this month about how the Cavaliers play basketball: Yes, they’re painfully slow and they grind teams to a pulp with their defense. Yes, those kinds of teams have some history of coming up short in the postseason. These are questions Virginia must answer. But you have to give the Cavs credit: This is also a team whose only blemish in its last 24 games was a 1-point overtime loss. On paper at least, Tony Bennett’s team is set up well to silence its doubters this year.If that doesn’t happen, Cincinnati might very well be the reason. The second-seeded Bearcats are the fifth-best team in the country according to our power ratings, so they’re nearly top-seed-worthy in terms of quality. More importantly, they also play a similar style to Virginia — taking the air out of the ball and fighting every defensive possession to the bitter end — so a matchup between the two would be fascinating. We give Cincy a 53 percent chance of making the regional final and a 23 percent probability of pushing its way into the Final Four. Dark horse: Laden as Kentucky perennially is with top recruits, we used to ask whether it was fair to slap the “dark horse” label on the Wildcats. But the SEC champs do seem to have perfected a certain formula under coach John Calipari: enter the season ranked highly, struggle around midseason, and then pour it on late in the schedule and slip into the NCAA tourney as a so-so seed before making a deep run through the bracket. This year’s squad has all the earmarks — from a No. 5 preseason ranking and a four-game February losing streak to an impressive run through the SEC tourney. Our model knows this kind of team, and it gives a little extra credit to highly touted preseason squads with inconsistent regular seasons. It’s no coincidence that we’re giving the Wildcats a solid 7 percent chance at making the Final Four.Don’t bet on: Fourth-seeded Arizona. Was the NCAA doling out early punishment for the Wildcats’ alleged recruiting scandal with this draw? The committee stuffed Arizona into a first-round matchup with Buffalo, which our power ratings easily consider the strongest 13-seed in the bracket. If they win, the Wildcats will then have to play either Kentucky (see above) or a dangerous Davidson team that easily rates as the strongest No. 12 seed in the bracket. And that’s just leading into a potential Sweet 16 matchup with No. 1 overall seed Virginia. Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton might be the best player in the country — he leads all major-conference players in Win Shares this season — but the odds of us seeing much of him in the tournament aren’t very high.Cinderella Watch: Keep an eye on No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago in this region. We give it a 40 percent chance of knocking off an overseeded Miami squad in the opening round of the tourney, and it wouldn’t have terrible odds against Tennessee in round two, either. Of course, Loyola would have an even better Sweet 16 shot if there were any chance the No. 3 seed Volunteers would lose in round one, but Tennessee’s first-round opponent, Wright State, is worse than two No. 15 seeds and a No. 16 seed.Likeliest round-one upsets: Texas over Nevada (60 percent); Kansas State over Creighton (42 percent); Loyola-Chicago over Miami (40 percent)Check out our March Madness predictions. read more

Ohio State prepares for winningest Wildcats

While the Big Ten carries rich basketball history in its own right, there are only a few select programs across the country that deserve to be mentioned with the North Carolinas, Dukes and UCLAs of the world. Ohio State’s opponent in the Sweet 16 is one of them. Kentucky owns placement in college basketball’s pantheon of elite programs — not only because it’s second in the history of the NCAA with seven National Championships, or fourth in Final Four appearances, with 13, but because it’s the winningest program in the history of college basketball. The Wildcats are tops in the NCAA both in all-time wins, with 2,050, and winning percentage, at 76 percent. Some would argue Kentucky deserves to be placed above North Carolina, Duke and UCLA based on those numbers, along with the level of obsession held by its fan base. The Wildcats’ prominence can be compared favorably to the Buckeyes’ stature in football. “I think fanatically … that their fans are do-or-die down there, basketball-wise,” OSU coach Thad Matta said Wednesday. “They seem very, very passionate about everything that’s going on.” The allure of the storied program was enough to get heralded coach John Calipari to resign from his job with Memphis after the 2008 season, when he took the Tigers to the national title game behind starting point guard Derrick Rose. It was the rich history, likely combined with the contract he received. The school wanted Calipari enough to offer an eight-year contract worth up to $31.65 million that included two cars, membership to a country club of his choosing and incentives for reaching the Sweet 16, Final Four and bringing another championship to Lexington, Ky., along with ticket benefits for both basketball and football games. Giving Calipari the most lucrative deal in the country was the price for reaffirming a winning tradition and return to national prominence after the Wildcats played in the NIT the season before he signed on. “I mean, it’s Kentucky, when you think about all the history that they have,” OSU forward David Lighty said. “(Calipari’s) just brought that much more attention to the Kentucky basketball lure. “They had a couple years when they were a little down; then Calipari came. Over time, you build your legacy … build your reputation, so that time is now for us.” After OSU reached the National Championship game in 2007 and earned a No. 2 seed in last season’s NCAA Tournament, Lighty said he hopes the Buckeyes’ continued achievement can help turn the program in something that resembles Kentucky’s. “It’s going right now, I would say, especially going from my freshman year to now,” he said. “It’s becoming bigger and bigger, and I think it’s going to continue to be that way as long as we keep having success. Although the Wildcats hold the 7-1 advantage in national titles, the Buckeyes own the tournament’s top overall seed, and will be favored over Calipari’s fourth-seeded team come Friday night in Newark, N.J. One of the consequences of running a top-flight program is being forced to deal with players turning pro and leaving their teams early. Matta and Calipari are no strangers to such difficulties. OSU has lost numerous players to the NBA early under Matta’s watch, including top draft selection Greg Oden, Mike Conley and last year’s National Player of the Year, Evan Turner. Although it’s only Calipari’s second season with Kentucky, he lost No. 1 overall pick John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton last year — his first year with the school. All five players were first-round picks. “I think he’s probably one of the best,” Matta said. “(He) understands how hard it is when you lose guys. … I admire the job he’s done. X’s and O’s-wise, he’s one of the best in my mind with what he’s done.” While Turner beat out Wall for the Naismith trophy last season, OSU forward Jared Sullinger is a candidate for this year’s award. Being thrown into the national spotlight has been an unfamiliar adjustment for the Columbus native. “Off the court, it’s been kind of weird. It’s changed,” Sullinger said. “Normally I could walk the street and get a burger, but now normally I can’t. Sometimes I stop and sign autographs … but that comes along with the territory.” Tipoff is tentatively scheduled for 9:45 p.m. Friday at the Prudential Center. read more

Rain dampens baseball season not Buckeyes conference run

Tuesday afternoon’s scheduled game between the Ohio State baseball team and Toledo was canceled because of inclement weather, increasing the season total to seven canceled games. The grounds crew worked to ready the field for about a half-hour past noon, the scheduled start time. But with more rain projected to come later in the afternoon, the game was called and will not be rescheduled. This was the last time the Buckeyes would have played on the grass at Bill Davis Stadium. This summer, synthetic turf will be installed. The non-conference matchup would have had little effect on the Buckeyes’ effort to clinch a berth in the Big Ten Conference Tournament. The top six teams earn a spot in the tournament, which will be held from May 25–28 at Huntington Park. OSU is 11-10 in conference play, 23-24 overall, in a three-way tie for fourth place with Indiana and Purdue. Michigan State leads the pack, followed by Minnesota and Illinois tied for second. Coach Greg Beals did not let the team take a day off. The Buckeyes used a brief break in the rain to take the field for infield practice after the game was called. The Buckeyes travel to Minnesota (20-20, 12-9) for a three-game series to finish the regular season. They will play a doubleheader starting at 4:05 p.m. Thursday and also play a 7:05 p.m. game Friday. OSU likely would need to win two of three games against the Gophers to lock up in a chance to play at the conference tournament, but there still are plenty of scenarios in which they could clinch a spot with one or no wins. read more

Soccer Tennis Club gets kicks on court

As Richard Ansley and his friends make their way to the RPAC tennis courts, they finds themselves without a racquet or a can of tennis balls. That’s because Ansley, a third-year in accounting, and his friends aren’t playing tennis, they are part of the Soccer Tennis Club at Ohio State. A combination of soccer and tennis, the sport relies heavily on soccer skills, especially juggling, said Ansley, who is also the president and co-founder of the club. Each team can consist of one to three players and the game is played to 21 points. To start the game, an oversized tennis ball is placed on the ground behind the tennis courts serving line, and the match begins when the ball is kicked over the net. From there, players are allowed two bounces before they must return the ball to the other side of the net in the field of play, using anything but their arms or hands. Ansley was introduced to the sport in high school after he and a friend started kicking around an oversized tennis ball. “My friend went to the U.S. Open (tennis) and got one of those huge tennis balls, and since we played soccer all the time, we just started kicking it around.” Vice President and co-founder, David Blocher, a third-year in human development and family science, was also introduced to the sport in high school. “I never played a lick of soccer growing up,” Blocher said. “But after I started playing (soccer tennis) in high school, I got hooked.” The club was founded when Ansley, Blocher and a group of friends decided to team up with the university to promote the sport the group had become so fond of. “When I came (to Ohio State) I knew I wanted to make a club,” Ansley said. “I thought other people would like the sport and would want to know about it.” The club, which is considered a student organization, was required to apply for acceptance with the university recreational sports program. In order to be accepted as a student organization, Ansley said there were three requirements. A new organization must have a constitution, a minimum of five members and an adviser. After meeting all of the qualifications for acceptance, the club became official in August 2010. “It was exciting when we started,” Blocher said. “And we’ve gotten a lot of help from our adviser and that’s made it even better.” Blocher said he designed the soccer-tennis rulebook for the club at OSU. “I drafted up a set of rules and we edit them whenever we find a loophole in the sport,” he said. Blocher said after experimenting with different rules since high school, he believes they have found a rule set that has made the sport fun and competitive. And that competitiveness and fun has brought in new participants. “We have about 20 (paying) members of the club and around 40 total participants each week,” Ansley said. And although growth is a good thing within the university, Ansley and Blocher hope to expand outside of OSU. “We want to continue to grow,” Ansley said. “But we also want an opportunity to play against other schools. That’s where we want to go.” Ansley said an annual membership to the club costs $10, and members receive their own oversized tennis ball and an opportunity to compete in tournaments. But if students don’t want to pay for membership, Ansley said all are still welcome. “We allow anyone to come out and play,” he said. “We usually get people from the turf fields walking by wondering what we’re doing. We just want people to know about it.” Jamie Sanders, a fifth-year in mechanical engineering and Spanish, is one of those people. “I’ve been coming out for about a month now,” she said. “I play hacky sack, so I figured it’s a skill set I could use, so I wanted to try it out.” Sanders said the sport is for anyone who wants a fun, laid-back way to exercise. “It’s fun and it’s a good workout,” she said. “It’s a sport anyone can play.” The club plays on the RPAC tennis courts on Wednesdays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. read more

Commentary Big Ten road night games a hurdle for the Buckeyes

As Ohio State is scheduled to travel to Northwestern Saturday night, the Buckeyes will face the game that could make or break their national title hopes.Losses in games like this have spoiled the hopes and dreams of past Buckeye teams, as the Big Ten road night game can be seen as the gatekeeper to a national championship contending team.Since the 2002 national championship season, the Buckeyes have been a modest 7-5 on the road in the Big Ten at night. Four of the five losses for those OSU teams were when the Buckeyes were ranked in the top-10, with one of them actually coming at the hands of Northwestern in 2004. The Wildcats knocked off then-No. 7 Ohio State 33-27 in overtime.I believe three of those teams, 2003 2005, and 2010, even though the latter was vacated, were worthy of playing in the national championship game in their respective years, had they not been knocked out of the race. Each of those teams would finish with at least 10 wins and a BCS bowl appearance, but because of the loss on the road at night, they were unable to reach the promised land.On the other hand, in seasons where the OSU passed the road night game test, it was able to achieve high goals by the end of the season. In 2002, the Buckeyes conquered a scrappy Northwestern team at night 27-16 en route to a national championship.In 2006, the Buckeyes knocked off a ranked Iowa team under the lights, and the following year they beat Minnesota, Purdue and Penn State at night, with all four of those wins by at least two touchdowns. The 2006 and 2007 teams each made an appearance in the BCS National Championship game at the end of the season after completing the night game hurdle during the year.With the rise of Northwestern’s football program and ESPN’s College GameDay scheduled to be in Evanston, Ill., for the game this weekend, some Wildcat fans and bloggers are calling this potentially “the biggest game in (Wildcat) history.” Sure, we might learn about Northwestern this weekend, but we will also learn about the Buckeyes and if they are ready to take the next step in their race to a title by conquering the daunting Big Ten road night game. read more

Football Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker declares early for the NFL draft

Ohio State junior linebacker Jerome Baker (17) celebrates with Sam Hubbard after bringing down USC quarterback Sam Darnold (14) in the third quarter of the 2017 Cotton Bowl against University of Southern California on Dec. 29 in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Ohio State won 24-7. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorOhio State will have to replace a member of its linebacker corps for the second year in a row because of an early entree into the NFL draft.Junior linebacker Jerome Baker announced his intentions to enter the 2018 NFL Draft Monday afternoon on Twitter in a letter addressed to “Buckeye Nation.”“After a considerable amount of time and endless conversations with my loved ones, I have decided to forgo my senior year at Ohio State University to pursue my childhood dream of playing professional football,” Baker wrote.Baker was a two-year starter at Ohio State, having burst onto the scene during his sophomore season in 2016 when he finished second on the team with 83 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss, and finished tied for third with 3.5 sacks. He also had two interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown.In 2017, however, Baker didn’t see the same success. He struggled against the pass and at defending opposing tight ends. He led the team this season with 72 tackles and had eight tackles for loss and three sacks, but his ability to defend the pass will be highly scrutinized throughout the draft process.He finished the Cotton Bowl with five tackles and 1/2 sack.For everything!— Jerome Baker Jr. (@Lastname_Baker) January 8, 2018 read more