Embed Code More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed FiveThirtyEight Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s show (June 28, 2016), we discuss legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, who died Tuesday. Kate Fagan describes what she meant to generations of young women desperate to play the sport. Then, The Wall Street Journal’s Chris Herring joins us to chat about the trade of Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks, and we wonder why the Knicks never seem to acquire quality talent. Finally, Chris sticks around to talk about this year’s NBA free agents and whether the Golden State Warriors would be set up for an 82-0 season if they got Kevin Durant. Plus, a significant digit on Buddy Ryan, the NFL defensive coordinator who helped lead the New York Jets and the Chicago Bears to Super Bowl titles. He died Tuesday at the age of 85.Links to what we discuss are here:Kate Fagan tells us what Pat Summitt meant to her and generations of women basketball players.Neil Paine dives into the numbers that show Summitt built the best women’s college basketball program of all time.Gary Smith’s 1998 profile of Summitt in Sports Illustrated looks at her through the eyes of a 16-year-old college basketball prospect.In 2012, Dave Zirin asked in The Nation: Are we brave enough to say goodbye to Pat Summitt?Chris Herring wonders how Derrick Rose will fit in with the Knicks.Chris also writes that the Knicks are setting their sights on Kevin Durant now that Rose is on board.But Matt Borcas at The Ringer thinks Durant will never go to the Knicks.Neil Paine thinks a Durant-led Thunder will be a better team without Serge Ibaka.The Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg agrees.Significant Digit: 72. That’s the number of sacks Buddy Ryan’s 1984 Bears put up — the most in a single NFL season. If you’re a fan of our podcasts, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts and leave a rating/review. That helps spread the word to other listeners. And get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments. Tell us what you think, send us hot takes to discuss and tell us why we’re wrong.
Month: September 2019
The 34-game winning streak of Serena Williams ended after the top seed, defending champion, and world No. 1 lost at Wimbledon today.German player Sabine Lisicki got an early lead on Williams and survived a late surge of an eight-game drought to defeat Williams in three sets 6-2, 1-6, 6-4.Williams won 34 consecutive tennis matches before being knocked out by Lisicki, who equaled Serena Williams’ power and capitalized on the former champion’s mistakes.
Hank AaronA University of Southern California (USC) professor has launched an ambitious project to catalog the thoughts of every Black baseball player who played major league baseball from 1947 to 1971.The 25-year period includes integration and the turbulent post-integration years.Daniel Durbin, the USC professor who created the project, is being assisted by graduate student Neftalie Williams. Although Williams, a skateboarding aficionado, didn’t know much about baseball when he started the project, he has a way of drawing information out of the retired players.“You come away thinking, why did I tell that guy all of that?” said Dusty Baker, who played for the Dodgers, Atlanta, Giants and A’s. He also managed the Giants for 10 years. “He prods without pushing.”Williams said he sees his work documenting the players’ stories as living Black history.“I want to go back and let those dudes say how they felt, what was happening; yalk about how much they loved baseball, talk about how much it meant to them,” said Williams in a Los Angeles Times interview.Durbin said some of the stories revealed painful experiences from the past. Baker recounted a story about being visited by the FBI because of an anthrax scare. He also said Hank Aaron told him not to get too close him when he was about to break Babe Ruth’s homerun record, because he was getting death threats.Don Buford, who played for USC and the Chicago White Sox, tells a story of going into retrieve a teammate, Deacon Jones, who had gone into a gas station in the Deep South. However, the man behind the counter had pulled a shotgun on Jones. Back on the bus, Buford chastised his teammate for forgetting where he was.“Deacon just said, ‘Man, I forgot,” Buford told The Los Angeles Times.Williams said he is able to connect with the players because he shares a similar experience with them. He grew up in Springfield, Mass. and was bused into an all-white school as part of a desegregation program. His mother made him wear a suit on his first day, because she wanted to show white people that Black people could be just as good as them. He was ostracized and spent much of the time fighting, until he discovered skateboarding and bonded with his classmates.“These guys matter,” Williams said. “Black America, they had them on their backs. And the players knew it. They might not say it, because these guys are all really humble, but they know. And I will tell you that when the camera’s off and I’m breaking down and we are talking, that’s the thing, they say: ‘You knew you had it on your backs.’ Just like I had it when I was a kid and my mom said, ‘Hey, you have to wear a suit and you have to do well because you have the culture on your back.’”
TORONTO — With just more than four and a half minutes left and the Toronto Raptors nursing a 97-94 edge over division rival Boston, budding Celtics star Jayson Tatum had a 1-on-1 matchup against Danny Green on the right wing. Green cheated left, allowing Tatum to get to his dominant hand with a potential path to the basket. But the opportunity to trim the deficit or even tie the score on that possession vanished in an instant, when Kyle Lowry, the Raptors’ All-Star guard, swiftly slid in front of Tatum, drawing a charging violation.On the left wing just over two minutes later, with Toronto leading by five, nearly the exact same scenario played out: Tatum got a step on Kawhi Leonard after a well-executed flare screen and barreled into the paint, only to meet Lowry, who’d gotten there a hair quicker. Offensive foul;1The third one Lowry had drawn in a two-minute, 20-second window if we include the illegal shove called on Marcus Morris. Raptors’ ball. The play essentially ended any hope of a Boston comeback in the Oct. 19 Toronto win.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/TATUM.mp400:0000:0000:27Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Somehow, in a league flowing with more 3-pointers than we’ve ever seen, Lowry has found a way to make momentum-shifting plays without hitting dagger jumpers. Instead, he’s taking dagger charges — stifling an opponent’s last-ditch comeback efforts. He all but sealed Wednesday’s victory by taking one against Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox with a little more than three minutes left. Three days prior, he drew one on the Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma in the final two minutes of an eventual win in Los Angeles.“It just feels like he always takes them at the right moment, when the other team has some momentum going,” point guard Delon Wright, one of Lowry’s backups, told me after the team’s Monday win in Utah. “He steps in there and gets the call, and it’s kind of defeating for the other team.”There’s no doubt that Lowry has impeccable timing on such plays, and not just in the waning minutes of close games. Since the start of the 2017-18 season, Lowry has drawn a league-high 49 charges2In the regular season and playoffs combined. — an eye-popping number for anyone, but especially for someone who earns upwards of $30 million a year and plays a position that isn’t known for welcoming physical punishment. Nonetheless, this past Sunday, he drew one on runaway freight train LeBron James, who enjoys an 8-inch, 45-pound advantage on the 6-foot Lowry.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/LOWRY1.mp400:0000:0004:35Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.“You get hit in the private area. You might get hit in the gut,” said Lowry, who also led the NBA in assists heading into Thursday’s games with 135 — a whopping 38 more than Jrue Holiday, who ranked second. “You’ve just got to be willing to take the hit and can’t be scared of the consequences. You’ve gotta say, ‘All right, cool — I’m willing to do to help my team win games.’”Not everyone is an ideal candidate to take charges. Aside from the fact that certain players are horrible at selling officials on bang-bang plays of that nature, there’s also the possibility of getting hurt, all for the sake of trying to force a single turnover.Raptors coach Nick Nurse doesn’t seem too worried when Lowry puts himself in harm’s way — largely because he’s shown an expertise in knowing how to do it.“His instincts are unbelievable. He sees that stuff coming way ahead of time and gets himself in position. That’s just being a super smart, high-IQ player,” Nurse said. “He’s pretty good at knowing how to take them. Every now and then, he takes a pretty crushing blow. But you know how it is: The good [charge-takers] kind of start to fall just before they take a hit, and hopefully don’t get hurt on those [sorts of plays]. But his instincts to play hard amaze me almost nightly.”While taking that many charges speaks to Lowry’s next-level anticipation, the teamwide strategies of the 11-1 Raptors — still incorporating two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard — are playing a role here as well. Toronto has had a help defender, the one most often in position to draw a charge, present during an opposing player’s drive to the basket 36 percent of the time, the NBA’s third-highest rate, according to Second Spectrum.When Lowry is the player serving as the help defender, the club allows just 0.86 points per direct drive — a number that would lead the league if it carried over for all team minutes. This is part of why the Raptors figure to be such a tough out, especially now with Leonard in the fold: Lowry, Green, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka3Who, while clearly diminished from his days as a first team All-Defense selection, is still a solid defender. can all slide over and at least hinder, if not completely halt, the progress of a player trying to get to the rim.As for Lowry himself — who’s taken more charges this year than 23 entire teams — his knack for generating these types of turnovers can be traced to Villanova, where he played for Jay Wright. Villanova started a program known as the Attitude Club, a point-based recognition system that rewards players for different types of hustle plays, including diving for loose balls, tapping back an offensive rebound and, yes, drawing charges on defense.4This sounds similar to a college upbringing we’ve reported on in the past, that of perhaps the league’s most efficient charge-taker, Anthony Tolliver.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/LOWRY2.mp400:0000:0004:47Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Lowry said he took charges even during his high school days but became more committed to it during college and upon reaching the NBA, where it’s nearly impossible for him — at his size — to make the sorts of high-flying plays that can truly ignite a crowd.“I can’t normally block a shot, and I can’t energize my team with a crazy dunk,” he said. “But I can take a charge at a big moment in a game, and I think my teammates appreciate me laying myself out there. That’s my energizing play.”Check out our latest NBA predictions.
Seven games. Seven draws. And the World Chess Championship in London, between the two top-rated grandmasters in the world, remains level with five games to go.Magnus Carlsen of Norway, 27, is No. 1 and trying to successfully defend his title for the third time. Fabiano Caruana of the U.S., 26, is No. 2 and trying to become the first American world champion since Bobby Fischer in 1972. On Sunday, Carlsen marshalled the white pieces and Caruana the black.The first nine moves of Game 7 exactly matched those of Game 2, which ended in a 49-move draw this past weekend. These moves fall into a category of chess opening called the Queen’s Gambit Declined, Harrwitz Attack. In 1858 in Paris, Daniel Harrwitz deployed his eponymous attack to victorious effect in a game against Paul Morphy, the great American player and unofficial world champion. But “Attack,” in Sunday’s case, was a bit of a misnomer.“What I did was just way too soft,” Carlsen said after the game.Caruana’s 10th move — retreating his queen back to its home on d8 after it essayed an aggressive journey to a5 — was a rarity. And after the 11th move, the two grandmasters were in completely uncharted chess territory, according to the ChessBase database. That looked like this: The game’s brakes locked in this complex position, and moves 12, 13 and 14 alone took an hour and a half to complete as the players each contemplated a number of plans.But the game never really appeared to anyone like anything but a draw. (I’ll renew my pro tip here: If you want to sound smart about a championship chess game, just say it “looks drawish.”) In an interview at the venue in London, Demis Hassabis, the co-founder of DeepMind and co-creator of the impossibly strong chess-playing program AlphaZero, predicted a draw at this point. Bookmakers put the live chances of a draw at around 97 percent. The supercomputer assessed it at 0.00 — dead level. And Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, the world No. 6, predicted a draw within the next half hour on a Chess.com broadcast.But Carlsen wasn’t quite done yet.“Magnus likes to play these positions until he’s sucked the life out of them,” Vachier-Lagrave said. Such is Carlsen’s reputation at the board. The position in question was a bishop-versus-knight endgame with constellation of pawns that looked like this after the 36th move: 87654321abcdefgh Someone will win eventually. If the 12 games end with the score tied — a possibility that is drifting toward a probability — the two grandmasters will play a tie-breaking series of much faster “rapid” and possibly “blitz” games — and possibly even an “Armageddon” game. According to the live world ratings, Carlsen is the No. 1 rapid player and the No. 1 blitz player in the world. Caruana is No. 8 and No. 16, respectively. Given that Carlsen would be the heavy favorite in the tiebreakers, meta-match strategy seems to dictate that Caruana should favor the gas pedal in the five lengthy games to come. If he has any secret attacking weapons, the time has come to fire them.Watching every second of this match has taken on the cast of a Buddhist meditation — the games are drawn and the mind is cleared and the mantra is repeated. It is, frankly, a rather lovely routine and a cheap bit of self-care. I’ve also been starting to dream about this match. Last night’s installment featured Caruana and an unidentified friend sitting on the ground in the center of a large complex of tennis courts, with me on the outside of its chain link fence, looking in. Players on these courts were equipped with strange wooden spatulas, rather than racquets, and white tennis balls. Caruana and friend had given up playing this weird quasi-tennis, cast their spatulas aside and sat playing with purple Gameboys. What does this augur for the rest of the match? I do not know. Freudians, get in touch.Game 8 begins Monday at 3 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time — that’s 10 a.m. Eastern. I’ll be covering it here and on Twitter.
Even among those lucky teams, the Rangers’ fall this season has been especially steep. They’re on pace for a 15-win decline from 2016, in part because their luck has actually turned in the opposite direction. So far this season, they’ve managed to win one fewer game than they would have with neutral sequencing and normal luck in close games. And this fickle twist of fate is basically the difference between Texas comfortably returning to the playoffs and being on the outside looking in: The Rangers are currently two games out of the American League’s second wild-card spot, with five teams ahead of them to leapfrog as well. If they had last year’s luck again, they’d be five games clear of the New York Yankees for the first wild-card.Instead, the Rangers serve as yet another reminder of just how unpredictable baseball can be. A team can boast practically identical talent in consecutive seasons,4According to The Baseball Gauge’s meta-metric that mixes the various types of WAR available online, here were Texas’ 2016 ranks in batting, fielding, starting pitching and relief pitching value: 16th, 9th, 13th and 21st. Those same ranks in 2017: 14th, 13th, 9th and 22nd. and still see their record fluctuate wildly from one year to the next. In the face of such a cruel and random universe, the best a team and its fans can do is to relish the breaks when they go their way, and enjoy the small blessings of a season when they don’t.Check out our latest MLB predictions. 1987Twins8577+5+6+11+6 2016Rangers95670+13+13-15 After the luck has goneMLB teams with the most extra wins of luck from sequencing and close games, 1961-2017 YEARTEAMWINSLOSSESSEQUENCINGCLOSE GAMESTOTALCHG. IN WINS NEXT SEASON 1961Reds9361+1+10+110 1977Orioles9764+2+9+11-7 2013Yankees8577+6+6+12-1 Change in wins is the difference in wins between this season and the next. In cases where an uneven number of games were played, the change is derived by pro-rating the team’s change in winning percentage over the number of games they played during the “lucky” season.Source: The Baseball Gauge 1984Mets9072-1+12+11+8 ACTUAL RECORDWINS OF LUCK 1985White Sox8577+8+2+11-13 1962Reds9864+6+5+11-12 1972Mets83730+11+11-4 2008Angels10062+5+12+17-3 1969Mets10062+6+8+14-17 1963Dodgers9963+6+7+13-19 1985Angels9072+5+6+11+2 1987Cardinals9567+10+3+13-19 Just about everything that could go right for the 2016 Texas Rangers did. Flying in the face of preseason projections that called for them to finish around .500, the Rangers rode stellar seasons from Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels and Elvis Andrus (among others) all the way to 95 wins, the AL West crown and the league’s best record. At the same time, however, they relied on a combination of metrics that confounded sabermetricians all season long: a 36-11 record in one-run games — the best mark in MLB history — and on top of that, a better run differential than we’d expect from their underlying stats, too.In other words, number-crunchers suspected the Rangers had been massively, historically lucky last season — and were probably due for a downturn in 2017. But even the statheads didn’t see Texas’s fortunes reversing quite as much as they have. After that record-setting mark in close games a year ago, the Rangers somehow have the league’s second-worst winning percentage in one-run contests this year, and they’ve also scored fewer runs (and allowed more) than their statistics would predict. All the things that went right last season are now going wrong; as a result, Texas is in fourth place with little chance of making the playoffs.Here’s the funny thing, though: Deep down, the Rangers’ 2017 squad is probably every bit as good as its 2016 iteration, and possibly a little better, despite the huge decline in winning percentage. According to wins above replacement (WAR),1Averaging together the Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com versions of WAR. Texas had the 16th-best team in baseball last season with 32.4 total WAR. (For a sense of scale, the average team has about 33 WAR,2A .500 record in 162 games is 81-81, and WAR sets the replacement level at about 48 wins for an entire season. 81 minus 48 equals 33 WAR for the average team. meaning the 95-win Rangers were basically a middle-of-the-road ballclub after stripping away their good fortune in high-leverage situations.) This season, the Rangers are on pace for 32.8 total WAR over 162 games — ever so slightly more than they posted a year ago, and good for 13th-most in MLB.Some Texas players have been even better than last year (Andrus) and some disappointingly worse (Rougned Odor), but on the whole they’ve played basically the same at an individual level. The only real difference between the two versions of the Rangers has been in sequencing — that is, scoring more (and/or allowing fewer) runs than the underlying stats would predict, because events were timed right within an inning — and performance in close games. As Texas is learning, those categories can be extremely fluky, and teams who overachieve in them one year tend to see their records dramatically regress to the mean in the following season.We can measure how much a team benefited from each kind of good fortune with a couple of metrics: Base runs, which estimate how many runs a team “should have” scored and allowed based on its underlying stats, and the Pythagorean expectation, which estimates how many games a team “should have” won based on its run differential. Deviations from each estimate come, respectively, from fortunate sequencing and good luck in close games. And by those standards, last year’s Rangers — who beat their estimated record by a staggering 13 wins — were one of the luckiest teams in baseball history. According to TheBaseballGauge.com, they tied for the third-biggest difference between a team’s actual and expected records during the expansion era.3Since 1961. 2006Athletics9369+6+8+13-17 1973Reds9963+7+5+12-1 1982Red Sox8973+7+4+11-11 2012Orioles93690+11+12-8 2007D-backs9072+2+11+13-8 1989Astros8676+3+7+11-11
Notre Dame redshirt freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer scores a touchdown against Pittsburgh at Heinz Field on Nov. 7. Notre Dame won 42-30. Credit: Courtesy of TNSOn New Year’s Day, two of the most storied programs in the history of college football, Ohio State and Notre Dame, are set to square off on the gridiron.The Buckeyes and Fighting Irish last played each other in 2006 in the same game they’re playing on Jan. 1: the Fiesta Bowl.This year’s game is considered by many to be the best matchup outside of the College Football Playoff semifinals, as the teams’ three combined losses have all come against opponents ranked in the top 6.OSU’s lone loss came via No. 3 Michigan State on Nov. 21, while Notre Dame’s first defeat was at the hands of top-ranked Clemson by just two points on a rainy, sloppy Oct. 3 in South Carolina.The Fighting Irish’s second loss was again by a mere two points, but this time against sixth-ranked and Rose-Bowl-bound Stanford on Nov. 28.A lot of the hype focusing on the game is due to OSU and Notre Dame’s history, but a decent portion of it is because a missed kick or a successful two-point conversion might have been enough to put both teams in the playoff.But instead, they’re slated for a date in the desert to welcome in the new year.Here is a deeper look at coach Brian Kelly’s team.Injuries wearing offWith each passing week, it seemed like another key cog for the Irish fell victim to the injury bug. As it stands, five players sustained season-ending injuries that will keep them out of the Fiesta Bowl. That number should be higher, except the long layoff is allowing two major contributors to get back in the lineup after initially being ruled out for the year.The first of that duo is tight end Durham Smythe. The redshirt sophomore tore his MCL during Notre Dame’s win over Virginia on Sept. 12, resulting in an operation on his right knee, as well as a minor procedure on his right shoulder.Spring practice was originally set as his return date, but his rehabilitation has gone quicker than expected. In early December, Kelly said he was at “full strength” and had been cleared to practice immediately.Smythe had been the starting tight end for the first two games of the season prior to being hurt. He had two catches for 13 yards and one touchdown. The 6-foot-4 Texan will be a big boost to the Notre Dame passing game that, at times, has struggled to find a secondary target beyond junior wide receiver Will Fuller.Rejoining the active roster alongside Smythe is redshirt junior Jarron Jones. The defensive tackle tore his MCL during fall practice and has yet to play in a game for the Fighting Irish. The Rochester, New York, native was projected to start at nose tackle, but instead, Kelly was forced to look elsewhere to fill that spot.Jones had appeared in 12 and 11 games in his first two seasons, respectively. Sophomore Daniel Cage, who is from Cincinnati and had been recruited by OSU, filled Jones’ void for the most part, doing a decent job. Cage will likely start the Fiesta Bowl, but Jones will be in the rotation on the defensive line.OSU junior running back Ezekiel Elliott has the ability to wear teams down as the game progresses, so Notre Dame getting Jones back adds to the depth, allowing Cage and his fellow defensive linemen to stay more fresh throughout the game’s 60 minutes.Players coming back from injury doesn’t just stop with Smythe and Jones, though. Two more contributors, linebacker James Onwualu and running back C.J. Prosise, are trading their spots on the injury report for a place on the depth chart.Onwualu, a junior and former wide receiver, missed the final two games of the season with an MCL sprain, but he will be back at his outside linebacker spot in Arizona. On the year, Onwualu has 36 tackles, five of which were for a loss.The Notre Dame defense has, by no means, been impenetrable this season, but it still ranks 39th nationally, surrendering 362 yards per game. It has dealt with a gaggle of injuries throughout the year, but getting two contributors in Jones and Onwualu back will certainly help the unit in its quest to slow down the Buckeyes.For Prosise, the redshirt junior will be back after missing the third-to-last game against Wake Forest, as well as the regular-season finale versus Stanford, with injury.A concussion and upper body injury kept him sidelined against Wake Forest, but he returned the next week against Boston College, only to suffer a high ankle sprain, causing him to leave the game prematurely, while also missing the loss to Stanford.Prosise wasn’t even supposed to be the starter this season, but Tarean Folston tore his ACL on his third carry of the year against Texas, elevating Prosise to the No. 1 spot. He responded nicely to the promotion, carrying the ball 156 times for 1,032 yards and 11 scores.He might not get the same percentage of carries prior to the injury, but for Kelly’s offense, having Prosise back alongside freshman running back Josh Adams is another crucial addition.Players being lost to injury dominated the narrative surrounding this Notre Dame team during the regular season. If the Fighting Irish are victorious against the Buckeyes, players with injuries again might be part of the discussion. But this time, it might be about the players’ contributions after returning, instead of their departures.Counting on KizerUnder center for the Fighting Irish on New Year’s Day will be redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer. Fitting with the theme surrounding the rest of his team, Kizer was not supposed to be the starter, but Malik Zaire fractured his ankle against Virginia in Week 2 and has been out ever since.Kizer assumed the starting position with questions swirling about whether the freshman was ready to lead the Fighting Irish.He answered them.The Toledo native, who was not offered a scholarship from OSU, has been rock solid for Kelly’s squad — even sensational at times — throwing for 2,600 yards and 19 touchdowns on a 63 percent completion rate.Kizer supplemented that with 499 yards and nine scores on the ground. He has developed exceptional chemistry with Fuller, the team’s leading receiver with 1,145 yards and 13 touchdowns. Smythe returning helps Kizer, too.When Kizer took over for Zaire, it was, essentially, sink or swim for Notre Dame. The Irish would either go down in flames with the inexperienced Kizer, or he would flourish, keeping the team in the discussion as one of the nation’s elite.The latter happened.Kizer has proven that despite being 19 years old, he was ready for the limelight associated with being at the helm for Notre Dame. The OSU defense will definitely be a test for him, but based on his performance throughout the year, the expectation is he will not sink under the pressure.OSU and Notre Dame are set to kick off at 1 p.m. in Glendale, Arizona, on Jan. 1.
OSU junior forward Nick Schilkey (7) during a game against Minnesota on Feb. 12 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Evan Szymkowicz | Sports DirectorThe Ohio State men’s hockey team (8-16-2, 3-7-2) will want to put a disappointing weekend at home in the past as it gets set to travel to Penn State (18-8-4, 8-5-1) for the first time this season.The last time the two sides met was back on Jan. 23 in Columbus. That contest ended in a 5-1 Buckeye victory, and OSU will be looking for a repeat performance at the Pegula Ice Arena in State College, Pennsylvania.OSU coach Steve Rohlik said the team is looking to get off to a strong start this weekend to avoid the large deficits early on, which is what happened against Minnesota on Saturday.“If we’re determined and we play desperate, we’re a pretty good hockey team,” Rohlik said. “We just kind of ran out of time there on Saturday, but we put ourselves in a big hole against a team like (Minnesota), a 4-1 lead. It’s tough to come back even though all of us believed we could’ve.”Consistency countsThe Nittany Lions enter the series with a three-game unbeaten streak. The nation’s fifth-ranked offense scored five goals or more in two of those contests. Penn State’s last time out was a 2-2 tie against Michigan State, but eventually, it would grab the victory in the shootout.OSU senior defenseman and co-captain Craig Dalrymple said he isn’t stressing too much about any drastic changes to the game plan despite the Nittany Lions’ offense prowess.“We’re just going to keep to our game,” Dalrymple said. “We know they shoot the puck.” Because of that, OSU will try to keep Penn State’s offense outside of the area right next to the goal. Outside shots and those from the safe areas are the ones the Buckeyes are “OK with,” Dalrymple said. “We know shots are going to come, but we’ve just got to limit the Grade-A opportunities,” he said. Rohlik said he hopes to bring some uniformity to the Buckeyes’ play. The last five games have been a mixed bag for the Scarlet and Gray, with two wins and three losses, including Friday’s overtime defeat.“You guys can see it. We play good then all of a sudden, it’s like a turnover you just can’t explain, and it ends up being in the back of our net,” Rohlik said. “It’s some of the little things that end up costing us. If you could take back 50 seconds of a hockey game, all of a sudden that’s three goals.” On the other hand, an example of consistency is junior forward David Gust, who has 16 points over his current 15-game point streak. He currently leads the Buckeyes with 20 assists and 27 points this season.OSU forward Tommy Parran (6) tries to clear the puck in front of the Buckeyes’ goal in a game against Minnesota on Feb. 12 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Evan Szymkowicz | Sports DirectorPower play powersIt will be a battle of power play offense versus shorthanded defense in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions currently lead the Big Ten in penalty kills with 46. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are tied for second in the conference with 10 power play goals. The Nittany Lions are also dangerous offensively while shorthanded, leading the nation with 10 shorthanded goals. Gust currently leads the Buckeyes with 11 power play points, coming from two goals and nine assists. Fellow junior forward and co-captain Nick Schilkey leads OSU in power play scoring with five goals.Schilkey highlighted his disappointment with the lack of points gained from the Minnesota series, but he said he is looking forward to facing the Nittany Lions once again.“We’ve got to get back out there and get back to our game,” Schilkey said. “It’s frustrating to drop another two games to Minnesota. They’re a good team in our league, but we have another chance to play another good team in our league this weekend. We’re going to get back out there and get those points back.”The goals keep comingDespite their struggles on defense, the Buckeyes have still been scoring goals at a high rate. They have scored three goals or more in four of their last five games, which includes the 5-1 win against the Nittany Lions back in January.The Buckeye offense will have to challenge Penn State’s standout junior goaltender Eamon McAdam once again, who currently leads the conference with a .931 save percentage. Even with his solid play, the plans put in place to score goals stays the game, Schilkey said. “You’ve got to get shots on them, work them down low,” he said. “Get them moving side to side. Just like any other goalie.”The puck is set to drop at the Pegula Ice Arena at 6:30 p.m. on Friday and again on Saturday at 3 p.m.
The accolades just keep coming for members of the Ohio State football team. A day after being named first-team All-Big Ten by the media, sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller and senior defensive end John Simon were recognized as the Big Ten Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, respectively, on Tuesday. The award comes three days after OSU completed its undefeated season by defeating Michigan 26-21. Miller, who was also named the Greise-Brees Quarterback of the Year for the Big Ten, joins elite Buckeye company in being honored as the Big Ten’s Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year. Former OSU greats Eddie George, Orlando Pace and Troy Smith are the only other Buckeyes to have received the award, established in 1990. Simon sat out the Michigan game with a knee injury, ending his streak of 37 consecutive starts, but his nine sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss were enough to earn him the Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year in addition to being named the Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year. “It means a lot to win this award,” Simon said in a release. “It is truly a great honor, but first and foremost it is a team award. I wouldn’t be given this award if it weren’t for the great play of my teammates … great coverage in the back end and guys taking up blocks on the front end. I praise those guys for helping me get this and that is what it is all about.” Coach Urban Meyer has called Simon “the heart and soul” of his team and said the awards are well-deserved. “I think everyone knows how highly I think of John Simon,” Meyer said of the two-time OSU captain in a release. “He is absolutely one of the finest young men I have had the privilege to coach. His determination and effort and selfless approach are second to none, and there is no better player or person to be honored with this player of the year award.” OSU’s coach was complimentary of his quarterback as well. “Winning this award is quite an achievement for this young man because he can still get better,” Meyer said. “I am happy for him and very proud. This is a terrific honor for a Buckeye to receive.” In his opening season at the helm of Meyer’s offense, Miller thrived while propelling OSU to a 12-0 record – the school’s first undefeated mark since 2002. The sophomore quarterback set a Buckeyes’ record for total offense, throwing for 2,039 yards while running for 1,271, surpassing the former mark of 3,290 yards that was set by former OSU quarterback Bobby Hoying in 1995. Miller had 28 touchdowns on the season, the most by an OSU quarterback since 2006, when Smith, a Heisman Trophy winner, had 31. “I’m appreciative of everything that went down this year,” Miller said Tuesday. “The work we put in in the offseason with coach Mick (Mickey Marotti), it paid off at the end. So I’m pretty appreciative of that.” After a dismal 6-7 season in 2011 that saw Miller and the Buckeye offense put up about 25 points per game, OSU exploded in 2012. Led by Miller, the Buckeyes averaged 37.1 points a game in 2012, a figure that ranked best in the Big Ten. The sophomore quarterback seemed to improve greatly from his freshman campaign, too. He threw for 880 more yards, upped his rushing total by 556 and got in the end zone eight more times, in just three more starts. Miller attributes most of his growth to the new coaching staff, specifically Meyer and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman. “Coach Meyer and coach Herman, they helped me a lot since (freshman year),” Miller said. “A lot of things outside of football (too), I learned a lot.” Miller said he got stronger and faster in the offseason, but the sophomore quarterback didn’t truly realize how much better he and the rest of the Buckeyes had gotten until the Nebraska game Oct. 6. OSU blew past the Huskers at Ohio Stadium, 63-38, with Miller accounting for 313 yards of offense and two touchdowns. “It was crazy. The first night game, I believe, the guys were hyped and everybody was excited to get out there (in front of) the home stands and just light it up,” Miller said. Following that performance, Miller started to receive serious Heisman consideration from the media. He said he never really paid attention to it, though, besides the occasional teasing from his teammates. “I heard (Heisman talk) a few times, in the front side of the season. I didn’t really pay attention to it. The guys, they always make a joke about it and see it on TV,” Miller said. Since then, the talk of Miller holding the bronze trophy has quieted, with Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, or “Johnny Football,” emerging as the favorite. Miller said he’s seen Manziel play, and that the two young quarterbacks have a similar style of play. Regarding the nickname, Miller said, “it’s smooth.” But does Miller need a nickname to compete with the Aggies’ star? “I don’t know about a nickname,” Miller said. Miller’s first name, Braxton, seems to stand on its own fairly well. “The only person that I know (named Braxton) was one the Jamie Foxx show, the dude, ‘Braxton.’ He’s the only one I know,” Miller said. Nickname or not, Miller’s head coach said there is plenty of room for him to improve next season. “Our quarterback fundamentally, he wasn’t the best fundamental quarterback in America,” Meyer said in his postseason news conference Monday. Miller agrees, saying he needs to improve on his footwork, which is “jittery” at times, along with his passing mechanics. But when he does get technically sound, OSU’s offense – the best in the Big Ten this season – and its quarterback could be even scarier. “I still have no idea where his ceiling is. Pocket awareness, comfort, just the fundamentals of throwing the ball, I don’t see the ceiling yet. He’s got that much further to go,” Meyer said. “Braxton, if he becomes fundamentally the best quarterback in America, I think he will be the best quarterback in America. It will be comical what he’ll do.” Miller’s offensive coordinator feels similarly. “The sky’s the limit for him,” Herman said. Miller recognizes what his coaches see in him, too. “Just the potential I have, I haven’t really reached all the things I can accomplish yet. Just taking it one day at a time and getting better,” he said. When he does get better, Miller and OSU can likely expect a few more awards and trophies to come their way.
Junior forward Sam Thompson dunks the ball. OSU beat Minnesota, 64-46, Feb. 22 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editorFor 20 minutes, it looked like Minnesota was the only team that wanted to be on the court in a critical Big Ten Conference game.Unfortunately for the Golden Gophers, they still had 20 minutes to play against Ohio State Saturday at the Schottenstein Center.Led by junior forward Sam Thompson, who scored 16 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, the Buckeyes surged out of their first half funk with a 25-5 run to beat Minnesota (17-11, 6-9, seventh in the Big Ten), 64-46.“In essence I just said, ‘There’s nothing I can draw up on the board. There’s nothing we can really talk about until we play better basketball,’” OSU coach Thad Matta said after the game about his halftime speech. “For whatever reason … we didn’t have what we needed. We weren’t attacking the way we needed to attack.”The Gophers led, 28-18, at halftime after a sluggish start by OSU (22-6, 9-6, fifth in the Big Ten). Minnesota scored the first seven points in the game, and the Buckeyes failed to score their first point until the 16:04 mark on a layup by junior forward LaQuinton Ross.That started a 7-0 run by the Buckeyes, who never took the lead in the opening 20 minutes after shooting 6-22 from the field and committing eight turnovers.“The first half was definitely the worst we’ve played (this season),” Thompson said after the win. “Coach Matta said that at halftime. Up to this point in the season, we hadn’t come out and just laid an egg, but we did that in the first half of the game. We came out in the second half, we played some of the best basketball.”After Gopher junior guard DeAndre Mathieu scored the first points in the second half, the Buckeyes would finally come to life, taking the lead after a free throw by Ross with 14:24 left.OSU never trailed again.After the game, Ross said the reason the Buckeyes were able to get going “was a combination of everything.”“Big plays spark this team, especially on the defensive end so any time we get the steal and you are getting out there you can see everybody in the crowd, they was up on their feet knowing that we was about to do something exciting,” Ross said. “I think our defense is what this team is based on and how we win.”Thompson snagged an alley-oop from junior guard Shannon Scott at the 10:42 mark to give OSU a 45-35 lead, and the momentum for the Buckeyes continued as the Golden Gophers struggled to find their groove offensively.Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino said the reason for his team’s collapse was basic: turnovers.“Second half — very simple. I think we had nine turnovers,” Pitino said after the game. “And they made us pay on every single one of them.”The lead swelled to as much as 21 after a jumper by Scott with 1:33 remaining, signaling the end of a complete turnaround by the Buckeyes, who held Minnesota to just 18 points in the second half.Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. finished the game with 13 points while grabbing six rebounds, and Scott chipped in 10 of his own. Junior center Amir Williams was a force inside during the second half, and finished the game with seven points, four rebounds and four blocked shots while altering many others.Junior guard Andre Hollins finished with 13 points in a losing effort for Minnesota.Matta said the way that his team was able to respond in the final 20 minutes to avoid dropping its fourth game at home this season was because it played desperately in the second half — something that has to be done night in and night out in the Big Ten.“I think just from the standpoint of quite honestly every game is like the biggest game of your life in this league,” Matta said. “Obviously the way we played in the first half, if you’re not ready to compete, if you’re not ready to fight, if you’re not ready to execute, you can get embarrassed.”OSU is scheduled to head to Penn State (13-14, 4-10, tied for 11th in the Big Ten) Thursday. The Nittany Lions gave the Buckeyes arguably their most disappointing loss of the season Jan. 29, when they came to Columbus and won, 71-70, in overtime. Tipoff for Thursday’s game is set for 7 p.m.