The great home run mystery of 2015-17 has been solved. Maybe.Yesterday, former FiveThirtyEight writer Ben Lindbergh and prominent sabermetrician Mitchel Lichtman published a piece at the Ringer with evidence showing that alterations to the ball might partially explain the spike in home runs over the past two seasons. By physically testing the balls, they found that in addition to changes that make the ball come off the bat faster, the seams were made flatter in a way that could affect the ball’s aerodynamics. With their findings in mind, I examined the rate of home runs per fly ball and found further evidence suggesting that the ball itself may be the culprit.Just after the All-Star Break in 2015, MLB’s home run rate increased without warning or explanation. Since then, it has continued rising, and it now threatens the all-time record set in the heart of the steroid era. In a series of articles at FiveThirtyEight, Lindbergh and I ruled out various explanations for the home run surge, including weather, a wave of young talent, and steroids, leaving alterations to the ball as the most likely answer. It’s either that, or 750 MLB players woke up one morning in 2015 with more pop in their bats. Despite MLB’s repeated denials, Lindbergh and Lichtman reveal that the 2016-17 baseballs have different physical properties — and those changes could explain the record-breaking home run rates. The primary alteration to the ball affected its bounciness, making it come off the bat faster. But Lindbergh and Lichtman also uncovered evidence that the ball’s seams are lower and that its circumference has decreased. Those changes should decrease the ball’s air resistance, so that a new ball should go farther than an old ball that leaves the bat at the same speed.And it turns out the new balls do tend to travel farther. I built a model to predict whether a given fly ball would go over the fence in 2015, based on the launch angle, exit velocity and stadium.1I defined a fly ball as one hit with launch angle greater than 20 degrees. Then I used that model to predict how many home runs there were in 2016.2I used a random forest to produce the results discussed in this article. I also ran a logistic regression, which produced similar findings.If the ball stayed the same, the model should be able to forecast the right number of homers. Instead, the league hit about four percent (201 total) more home runs hit than expected in 2016, even accounting for the higher exit velocities and better launch angles. That’s significantly more than you’d see by chance.3The p value was less than 0.01. The changes can also be seen in the trends of the last few years: If you focus on balls hit with launch angles of between 20 and 40 degrees and exit velocities higher than 100 miles per hour (roughly corresponding to the league’s definition of “barreled balls”), 72.9 percent of those flies ended up over the fence in 2015, compared to 74.7 percent in 2016 and 76.4 percent so far this year. Of course, another possibility is that MLB recalibrated Statcast, the radar tracking system that maps the trajectory of every batted ball, which could cause the same ball to be listed with different exit velocities in 2016 to and 2015. But even if that did happen, it would not resolve the mystery, it would only shift responsibility for the home run spike to inexplicably harder hitting, instead of more favorable ball aerodynamics.It’s possible that weather (temperature, wind or humidity) could be affecting home run rates, but when I examined only domed stadiums, I found the same increase in dingers. I asked baseball physicist Alan Nathan to calculate what effect the new balls could have, and he found that the changes in the seam height and circumference would increase average batted-ball distance something like 1 or 2 feet, raising home run rates by approximately 4 percent — identical to what I observed.Reached for comment, Major League Baseball noted that the league regularly tests baseballs to ensure that they meet established standards, and that recent tests have found that the balls are within those standards. MLB also said that an outside consultant has examined their results and found no reason to suspect that the baseballs in use today would cause an increase in offense.To be sure, the league-wide impact of tweaking the ball’s aerodynamics is small. According to Lindbergh and Lichtman, who note that their experiments are not definitive, the seam height and circumference changes only appeared in 2016, well after the midyear adjustment in 2015 that kicked off the home run surge (that part of the increase is likely attributable to increases in the balls’ bounciness). It’s likely that many factors are contributing to the ongoing spike in home run rates, including hitters adjusting their approaches and favorable weather conditions, but we now have a compelling explanation for the bulk of the spike.
No other team is closeMost total timeouts within the first two minutes of a game, 2009-18 Chicago Bulls17 San Antonio Spurs30 In a way, the numbers highlight the degree to which this has been an unusually trying year for a Spurs club that’s widely considered the gold standard for consistency in pro sports. San Antonio has reached the playoffs in 20 consecutive seasons — a span in which it won five NBA titles — largely because of its unparalleled injury prevention and perhaps also its ability to enjoy peace and quiet from the drama that threatens so many other franchises.But that hasn’t been the case this year — particularly with injuries. It’s no coincidence that San Antonio, after a rough 6-11 patch over the past 17 games, finds itself in an unfamiliar battle for one of the West’s last playoff spots.4As of Monday morning, FiveThirtyEight’s NBA projection model gave the Spurs — who are on a three-game win streak — a 78 percent probability of reaching the postseason, a vastly improved position from just a week earlier, when the model gave them a 54 percent chance. All this while being unsure of when and whether franchise cornerstone and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard will come back from a troubling quad injury that’s kept him out nearly the entire season.“If you have different lineups every night and different players, it’s going to be more challenging,” said Popovich, whose team still boasts the third-best defense in the NBA this season. “But you know, quit your crying and just play. And that’s what we’ve done. No one’s crying. No one’s making any excuses. Everybody has problems they have to overcome with their teams.“With us, it’s been the injuries. And it’s very disappointing because we wanted to pick up where we left off last year after 61 wins and going to the conference finals. We had really high hopes. Even without Tony and Kawhi to start, we did very well. Then we kind of hit a wall.”Popovich attributes some of that stagnation to “running out of fuel,” a nod to the less-experienced players he’s had to lean on more than he expected to heading into the season.The surplus of youngsters — and the challenging nature of the season — may explain why Pop has been so quick to call timeouts this season compared with others. Aside from having a military-like focus on the details, he has seemingly felt more of a need to point out veteran players’ miscues so they aren’t repeated by reserves who could someday replace them as the team’s leaders.“He expects us, as veterans who’ve been here long enough, to know these things. To lead more, and to do more,” Green said. “Our leash is exactly the same as everyone else’s. Maybe even shorter. So it’s on us to get those (younger) guys in gear as well. The timeouts are kind of designed to say, ‘If these (starters) can fall in line and take the criticism, you better fall in line, too.’”Popovich said there was no true rhyme or reason to the nature of his timeout calls, other than something looking out of place. “It’s just by the seat of my pants,” he told me. “If I see something that’s particularly egregious based on what our game plan was supposed to be, then I try to do something to get them focused a little bit quicker. It mostly depends on the level of execution deficit, I suppose.”5In fairness to Popovich, while the timeout against the Cavs might have seemed a tad quick, it is unusual for a team to hit a three in the game’s first 10 seconds. Crowder’s three against the Spurs is the only such play in the NBA this season, per Basketball-Reference.com’s Play Index.Popovich’s dedication to precision and his highly choreographed style haven’t always gone over perfectly with his players, of course. Creative playmakers Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, both of whom figure to reach the Hall of Fame someday, have said it took time for them to adjust to Popovich.But the 69-year-old has never been shy about deviating from established coaching norms — sometimes in ways that aren’t immediately recognizable. In the past, Popovich would call timeouts a minute or two ahead of first-quarter commercial breaks that were scheduled to happen anyway — a practice that allowed him to sit his starters and buy them a little bit of extra rest. He’d then bring those players back much earlier in the second quarter than most opponents would, often allowing the Spurs to dominate second periods as a result. (Something easier to recognize: He isn’t afraid to sub all five of his starters out at once if he’s unhappy with effort or execution.)Popovich also doesn’t hesitate to let his players do some of the coaching from time to time. He allowed Parker to walk into the coaches’ huddle during a timeout, then sent Parker to relay the plan to his teammates on the bench — an occurrence that wouldn’t have been that unusual had it not been during the NBA Finals.6Popovich also gives his players quizzes about current events and world history in hopes of having them connect with one another better. TeamQuick timeouts Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/pop_new.mp400:0000:0000:54Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.“You want the clean version or the unedited version of what he’s telling us?” a smiling Green asked me after a recent practice. “In a nutshell, when he calls us over that quickly, it’s to say: ‘Wake up — get your head out of your butt. This is a big game. You can’t fall asleep on defense and fail to execute on the very first play of the game.’ He uses language that’s a little stronger than that, but if he has to call timeout that early, it’s pretty much to chew you out for not really being in the game mentally yet.”Popovich, the longest-tenured coach in American professional sports, has never been shy about burning an early timeout to get his point across. In fact, the Spurs have called 50 percent more timeouts during the first two minutes of games than the next closest team over the past 10 regular seasons, according to analysts Vincent Johnson and Ken Woolums of ESPN Stats & Info. Popovich has called an NBA-high five timeouts within the first two minutes of a game this season — an eye-popping number given that more than a third of the teams in the league haven’t used even one such timeout — and is currently on pace to call more than he ever has in a single season.3As of Monday morning, the Spurs had 12 games left in their season. Golden State Warriors18 Philadelphia 76ers18 SAN ANTONIO — The game against the Cleveland Cavaliers had tipped off only 10 seconds earlier, but as soon as Jae Crowder’s 3-pointer fell through the basket, San Antonio guard Danny Green knew what was coming. The Spurs hadn’t even run an offensive play yet, but as soon as he crossed half-court, Green began walking toward the bench, knowing that his coach would call a timeout.To most watching that nationally televised game in January, the stoppage 14 seconds in seemed out of place. It marked the quickest timeout in an NBA game in almost three years,1Interestingly, Cleveland was the last team to call a timeout this quickly. In March 2015, during a matchup with the Brooklyn Nets, the David Blatt-led Cavs called a timeout just 11 seconds after the game started, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group. according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group. But to Green, it was nothing new. He’s come to expect this sort of thing from Gregg Popovich, who’s called more abrupt timeouts than anyone in recent years — in some cases to shout at Green specifically.2The Spurs’ timeout in January marked the fastest Popovich has called for time in the 21 full seasons he’s been on the job. Prior to this one, you’d have to go back to the 2011-12 season, in which he called a timeout 18 seconds into the action to yank DeJuan Blair, who committed a bad defensive foul after being out of position. Dallas Mavericks20 Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group Popovich’s tinkering this season may have been for naught if Leonard doesn’t return. The Spurs have begun to look like a car that had just enough gas to get home but then had to make a run to the store while still on fumes. Similar to last season, Leonard was the difference between San Antonio potentially contending in the playoffs and simply being another solid NBA team.But regardless of whether the Spurs make the playoffs, one thing is clear: Popovich will always get his points about precision across to his players — even if it means calling a timeout 14 seconds into a game to do so.Check out our latest NBA predictions.
Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group The Rockets shoot from (way, way) downtownNBA teams with the most 3-point attempts from 28-35 feet, 2017-18 Miami Heat70– Houston Rockets178– Portland Trail Blazers108– Cleveland Cavaliers93– DALLAS — The Houston Rockets, who at the moment seem to be the only team worthy of challenging the defending champion Warriors, just might be the NBA’s most unapologetic club.The team set fire to the record books last season by launching more than 40 3-point attempts per night, which shattered their own record from 2014-15 and was over six 3s a night more than the team with the second-most attempts. Yet entering this campaign, reigning Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni still wanted more, saying that Houston could realistically take 50 per game. Houston may not be quite that extreme so far, but they are on pace to become the first team in history to shoot more 3s than 2s — which is mind-boggling in its own right.Yet for all the attention paid to how many 3s the Rockets are taking, there’s been less attention paid to where, exactly, the club is hoisting them from, and the positive difference it’s making for their offense even if the shots don’t all go in.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/andersonspace.mp400:0000:0000:10Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/gordonhorse.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Going into their nationally televised matchup Friday night with the Pelicans, the Rockets were spotting up from a different zip code far more than any other team. Houston’s taken a whopping 178 three-point attempts from the 28-to-35 foot range, according to data from James Jackson of ESPN Stats & Information Group. For context, the teams right behind Houston on this list, Portland and Indiana, have taken just 108 and 107 attempts from this distance which is at least 4 feet behind the line. But after those three teams, no one else has even managed to crack 100 so far. This number is unusually high for the 3-point-obsessed Rockets, too: They’ve already taken more 3s from that range in 46 games this season than they took during last year’s entire 82-game slate. Boston Celtics93– Golden State Warriors84– Charlotte Hornets78– Indiana Pacers107– Team3-point Attempts Of course, it’s not like Houston — which entered Friday as the No. 2 seed, at 34-12 — is regularly canning these looks. The Rockets are connecting on just under 30 percent of their shots from that deep,1When the Rockets take 3s from above the break, their average shot distance is 25.8 feet from the basket, the second-farthest in the NBA. a far cry from the 36 percent league-average mark from 3-point range in general.Still, there are several reasons that those shots help the team even if they don’t go in, and just about all of those reasons stem from the spacing these long shots create. Chris Paul and James Harden certainly benefit from the extra room, and they already rank among the NBA’s best playmakers, even without the help.Watch this pick-and-roll play against Utah, where Paul comes down and finds big man Clint Capela for a dunk. Jazz swingman Joe Johnson was prepared to help at the rim, but began scrambling back toward sharpshooter Ryan Anderson, even though he was standing nearly 30 feet from the basket. Johnson’s recognition that Anderson can make shots from that distance was enough to send him rushing away from Capela.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/spreadpr.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Capela, who’s in the middle of his best season and is currently leading the NBA in field-goal percentage, has been perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the additional spacing. Harden and Paul, two of the best no-look passers, have had a field day throwing him lobs (He’s second in the league in dunks). His average shot attempt this season is coming fewer than 2 feet from the basket.“Having all that extra space definitely enhances Clint’s game,” said D’Antoni, who told me he gave a handful of players (namely Anderson, Harden and Eric Gordon) the green light last season to experiment with the longer 3-point tries.The importance of Capela’s vertical floor-spacing role within the offense can’t be overstated. For starters, the Rockets run an NBA-high 62 direct2Meaning an action that led directly to a shot, foul or change of possession. pick-and-rolls per 100 possessions, according to Second Spectrum and NBA Advanced Stats, meaning he’s involved in dozens of scoring opportunities each game, with both Paul and Harden. One thing worth noting about this trio: Paul, Harden and Capela have led the Rockets to a 19-0 mark this season when all three suit up and play. The team is just 15-12 when one or more of them doesn’t play.When I asked Paul what it’s like playing in an offense with so much space, he explained that he’s still learning to adjust to how open some of his teammates are. “My friends joke with me and tell me I’m a new player now, but it’s a cool way to play,” he told me. “Nobody argues about shots or anything. When you see us get frustrated, a lot of the time it’s because we’re not defending. The offense is free-flowing, and guys just let (long shots) go.”Giving players like Paul and Harden more space to work with is almost cruel. A weak-side defender’s inability to help leaves primary stoppers on an island, and the star point guards are happy to take their chances with those matchups. The result so far: The Rockets go 1-on-1 more than any other NBA team and are the league’s most efficient isolation team by a wide margin.3Their current scoring rate is the highest on record in the Synergy Sports database, which goes back 14 years. Similarly, Harden and Paul rank No. 1 and No. 2 in isolation efficiency among those who go 1-on-1 at least three times per contest. (Harden is somehow scoring nearly 53 percent of the time in iso scenarios to this point.)But the isolation plays are just one way the extra spacing has helped Harden this year, after he showed himself to be perhaps the NBA’s best passer last season. The extra room has also enabled him to toy with defenses at times. In this first video of the Rockets playing against Sacramento, Harden draws three defenders at once — two of whom run into each other — and feeds the ball to Capela after the Kings fail to account for him in the paint. Less than two minutes later, knowing that the defense won’t make the same mistake and leave Capela open again, Harden makes it look as if he’s going to throw the ball back to his center but instead swings the ball to a wide-open Anderson, who’s waiting 5 feet above the top of the key.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/capelakings.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/andersonkings.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.In just those two plays, the Rockets illustrate how easily they can break a defense. If you pay too much attention to Harden or Paul, they’ll simply go over the top to Capela. Pay too much attention to someone cutting through the paint? There’s a good chance it’s going to cost you 3 points, given the caliber of shooters they have lining the perimeter. And it goes without saying that if you neglect Harden or Paul driving into the paint, Houston will either score or draw a shooting foul, which the Rockets do better than anyone.All of this explains why Anderson likes to stand so far off the line: It forces the defender to make a choice: Am I going to come out and guard him up to 30 feet from the basket and be too far away to provide help on James or Paul, or do I want to be in position to guard against the drive and risk letting Anderson or Gordon get an open 3 from basically another county?“I kind of like shooting it from that deep. Most times, no one wants to come out that far, so it feels kind of like a free throw, where there’s no pressure,” said Anderson, who was prodded by D’Antoni to start taking that shot based on what his coach had seen in shootarounds and practices. “And if they do hug up on me, like Harrison Barnes was doing tonight, all it does is leave room for James and Chris.” (Harden finished Wednesday’s game with 25 points, 13 assists and one turnover.)You might think this sort of dilemma might send a defense scrambling, but opposing teams sometimes treat the court like a minefield: Often they’re a bit too confused about who they should shade toward and wind up unwilling to make a definitive step in any direction. Houston’s opponents move at the league’s seventh-slowest rate on defense, according to Second Spectrum. On the flip side, the Rockets know exactly what they want to do when they have an open look, regardless of how far away they may be from the basket.“They’re really comfortable out there,” D’Antoni said of his players, who get more wide-open 3s per game than any other team. “If it’s just as comfortable [as a shorter 3], why not shoot it? I’m willing to live with that.” Brooklyn Nets70– Detroit Pistons77–
2015ManhattanMAAC164364-74 vs. Hampton* Penn is the best No. 16 seed ever (according to Elo)Highest Elo rating for No. 16 seeds going into the NCAA Tournament, 1985-2018 2008Portland StateBig Sky169861-85 vs. Kansas 2010Vermont1619Syracuse1986-366 There are only a few things left in sports that have never happened: five homers in a game, a sub-two-hour marathon, a quintuple double. Probably the most famous, though, is the knocking off of a No. 1 seed by a No. 16 seed in the men’s NCAA Tournament. (A 16 vs. 1 upset has happened once on the women’s side, when Harvard beat Stanford in 1998.) It’s actually kind of weird that it hasn’t happened yet; although No. 16 seeds are usually pretty bad, you’d think at least one would have broken through over the course of 33 years and 132 tries. The 133rd No. 16 to take a crack at it will be the Ivy Leaguers from the University of Pennsylvania, which faces Kansas on Thursday — and Penn’s chances of beating a No. 1 are among the best a No. 16 seed has ever had.For starters, Penn is a lot better than the usual No. 16 seed. According to our Elo ratings — which measure a team’s strength based on (among other factors) who it’s beaten and by how much — the Quakers rank 76th in the country, with an even 1700 rating. How good is that? By definition, the typical D-I team rates around 1500, and since they first became a thing in 1985 (excluding this season), No. 16 seeds have had an average Elo rating of 1483.1This number includes No. 16 seeds that lost their play-in games before the round of 64. By the way, if that number seems strangely close to average, remember that there are a ton of teams in Division I — 351, to be exact — so even lowly No. 16 seeds are around the mean for all D-I schools. Before Penn this year, the highest-rated No. 16 seed of all time was Portland State, which carried a 1698 rating heading into the 2008 tournament. (It ended up losing, to Kansas of all teams, by 24.) Penn is officially the first No. 16 seed ever to break the 1700 barrier in Elo: 1990Arkansas-Little Rock1607UNLV1990-382 1985SouthernSWAC163659-83 vs. St John’s (NY) 2018PennsylvaniaIvy1700— 2006Oral Roberts1629Memphis1931-302 2006Oral RobertsMidCont162978-94 vs. Memphis 2017South Dakota State1621Gonzaga2029-408 2011UNC-Asheville1594Pittsburgh2008-415 2012VermontAEC162958-77 vs. North Carolina YearTeamConf.Elotournament loss 2017S. Dakota StateSummit162146-66 vs. Gonzaga No. 16 seedNo. 1 SEED Is this the 16-vs-1 matchup we’ve been waiting for?Smallest differentials in pregame Elo ratings for No. 16 seeds against No. 1′s in the NCAA Tournament, 1985-2018 * Play-in gameSource: Sports-Reference.com 2010VermontAEC161956-79 vs. Syracuse There is one big catch, however. The game will be played in Wichita, Kansas, just two-and-a-half hours down the road from the Jayhawks’ campus in Lawrence. Because our full-blown tournament model — which contains many accuracy-boosting bells and whistles that pure Elo differential ignores — takes travel distance into account, it gives Penn only a 5 percent shot at the historic victory. That’s still really high by 16-seed standards — the best chance since the current iteration of our model rolled out in 2013 — but comparing that to the typical No. 16’s win probability is like saying the Cleveland Browns had a better winning percentage in 2016 than in 2017. Sure, it’s true, but neither number is especially good.In other words, the Quakers probably won’t win. Unlike practically every other 16-vs-1 matchup, though, this one should give you a millisecond of doubt when filling out your bracket. We always say that, eventually, a No. 16 seed will beat a No. 1 seed. For Penn, there might be no time like the present.Check out our latest March Madness predictions. 1985Southern1636St John’s (NY)1948-312 YearTeamEloTeamEloElo Diff. 1985North Carolina A&T1544Oklahoma1963-420 2012LamarSouthland163559-71 vs. Vermont* It’s also worth noting that Ivy League schools are usually not relegated to being first-round cannon fodder. According to the NCAA, the Ivy’s 43 all-time NCAA Tournament wins makes it the most successful conference outside of the six major conferences and the top mid-majors.2Specifically: the American Athletic, Atlantic 10, West Coast, Mountain West, Missouri Valley and Conference USA. Ivy teams have won three of their last five games in the round of 64 (and that doesn’t even include Cornell’s Sweet 16 bid in 2010). And the two first-round losses were by a combined 4 points. Some of that is a function of seeding, but that’s also the point. The last time an Ivy League team was seeded as low as 16th was 1989, when (coincidentally enough) Pete Carril’s Princeton squad came the closest to knocking off a No. 1 seed of any 16-seed ever, losing by only 1 point to Georgetown:Of course, even if Penn is the best No. 16 seed ever, the Quakers aren’t playing another No. 16 seed on Thursday; they’re playing Kansas, which just earned its 14th No. 1 seed in program history. KU has wiped the floor with No. 16 seeds by an average margin of 25 points per game, with only one (Western Kentucky in 2013) keeping the final score within single digits.One piece of good news for Penn, however, is that this year’s Jayhawks aren’t quite as strong as they’ve tended to be in their other top-seeded seasons. With an Elo of 1985, Kansas is well below the historical average (2071) for No. 1 seeds in the 64-team-bracket era. Only nine other No. 1 seeds have had a lower pre-tournament Elo in that span than KU has this season.So Penn-Kansas might be the perfect storm we obsessive 16-over-1 hopefuls have been waiting for: a combination of the best No. 16 seed in history and one of the weaker No. 1 seeds. According to Elo, the 285-point gap between the Quakers and Jayhawks is the smallest for any 1-vs-16 game in tournament history. 2013James Madison1574Indiana1986-412 2012UNC-AshevilleBig South161965-72 vs. Syracuse Source: Sports-Reference.com 2008Portland State1698Kansas2102-404 2018Pennsylvania1700Kansas1985-285
By Neil Paine and Kyle Wagner More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Embed Code Welcome to The Lab, FiveThirtyEight’s basketball podcast. On Thursday’s show (April 26, 2018), Neil and Kyle talk about two Western Conference series: Oklahoma City vs. Utah and Golden State vs. New Orleans. Russell Westbrook helped the Thunder force Game 6, but can his team really win two more consecutive games against the Jazz? And can the Pelicans take advantage of the Warriors while Golden State is without Stephen Curry?The Lab will be back with another episode next week. In the meantime, keep an eye on FiveThirtyEight’s NBA predictions, which are updated after every game.
OSU junior forward Nate Kohl (27) fights for a ball during a game against Akron on Oct. 26. Credit: Harrison Reber | For The LanternComing off a big win over Michigan in Ann Arbor, the Ohio State men’s soccer team looked to take down a rival of a different sort on Senior Night in-state foe Akron.The Buckeyes would not be as fortunate in this one, however, dropped a 2-0 contest against the Zips in their final regular season home game.“Akron is an explosive team with very good athletes and a lot of pace,” said OSU coach John Bluem. “We knew that would trouble us going in. We conceded a couple of bad goals early on. It put us in a hole that, against a team like that, you are probably not going to get out of.”Akron opened the scoring early in the first half.In just the 5th minute, Zips freshman forward Jonathan Lewis received the ball on a deflected pass and fired it into the back left of the net from 12 yards out, giving the Zips an early 1-0 lead.Later, in the 24th minute, freshman defender Nick Hinds received a pass at midfield and beat the keeper from the right wing, extending the Akron lead to 2-0.The two goals proved to be more than enough for the Zips, as they were able to hold the Buckeyes scoreless through 90 minutes. Akron outshot OSU 15-8, with both teams garnering five corner kicks apiece.The Buckeyes were without sophomore midfielder Abdi Mohamed and senior forward Danny Jensen, who both sat due to injury.Despite the loss, coach Bluem felt good about the intensity the team played with until the final whistle.“Its senior night and we just asked our guys to give it the best effort we possibly can and make sure we don’t give up,” Bluem said. “I think this team has given us that all year through a lot of adversity and a lot of challenges. We have never given up hope and always give it our best effort.”As part of the Senior Night festivities, the eight seniors on the roster were honored with their families before the start of the match, giving them time to reflect on their time at OSU.“It is crazy,” senior defender Tyler Kidwell said. “I just think about all the memories I’ve made in this stadium. I’ve had a little bit of success, but the friendships I have made have been awesome. I’ve met some lifelong friends. That’s the biggest part of it.”Senior defender Austin Bergstrom echoed his classmate.“It has been great,” Bergstrom said. “Coming in as a freshman I looked at the seniors and didn’t know how I was ever going to get to where they were. Now that I’m here, it’s pretty strange but it was really nice.”For the Buckeyes, there is only one game remaining on the regular season schedule: an away match against Wisconsin. For OSU, a win in the game could mean capturing a top-four seed in the Big Ten tournament.“We have a lot to look forward to still,” Bergstrom said. “The season isn’t over. I think we will go up to Wisconsin and give them a run for their money. We should come back with a win.”
Ohio State junior forward Jae’Sean Tate loses the ball heading toward the rim against Nebraska on Feb. 18 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorIt had been trending in this direction for a while, but now it seems the Ohio State men’s basketball team has truly hit rock bottom.Since the conclusion of the 2013-14 season, the Buckeyes had been in a downward spiral toward the bottom of the Big Ten Conference. With Saturday’s 58-57 home loss to Nebraska, dropping OSU to 15-13, 5-10 in the Big Ten, the Scarlet and Gray have reached their lowest point in the 13 years coach Thad Matta has been in charge of the program.“I’m like you — dumbfounded,” Matta said.OSU led by seven at the final media timeout with 2:52 remaining on the clock. Over that stretch, Nebraska outscored the Buckeyes 11-3 and forced four OSU turnovers. OSU led by five with 32 seconds left. But a turnover off a jump ball and a 3-point play conversion by Nebraska sophomore guard Glynn Watson Jr. quickly turned the tide against the Buckeyes.The final punch was when senior guard Tai Webster blew up junior forward Jae’Sean Tate’s attempted handoff to senior forward Marc Loving, and Tate threw up a wild shot that missed.With that loss, the 2016-17 season effectively became the first time under Matta that the Buckeyes will finish below .500 in the Big Ten, and the first time OSU will miss the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years — barring a miraculous run to a Big Ten tournament championship.When told in the press conference that OSU would finish below .500 in conference, redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson let out a deep sigh, his anguish showing through. So, what was the mood like in the locker room following the loss?“I don’t know,” Thompson said.Understanding the nature of the descent of the basketball program for fans is puzzling, and definitely is also the case for Thompson. Nebraska was just a sliver of the decline, and was all the more perplexing.“That little stretch right there, it wasn’t just the shot — that last war, you know,” Tate said. “Sending him to the line, getting the jump ball, turning it over, not communicating. When you do things like that back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back, the outcome is going to be difficult to swallow.”Since the 2013-14 season, OSU has won just one NCAA Tournament game and has finished as high as fifth in the conference over that span. Gone are the times OSU competed for a conference titles and were consistent participants in NCAA regionals. Now records are scarred by home losses to Northwestern and Nebraska — not to mention nonconference home losses to Texas Arlington, Louisiana Tech and Florida Atlantic the past two years. Northwestern’s win in Columbus was the team’s first since 1977, and Saturday was Nebraska’s first-ever win in Columbus.OSU currently sits in 13th place of 14 teams in the Big Ten.Matta couldn’t answer why OSU struggled against the zone on Saturday, when tearing it apart the first time around against Nebraska. Tate attributed it to a lack of thinking and not being on the same page — something that has become commonplace for a program rich in history.“We got to be smarter,” Tate said. “We beat ourselves (Saturday). And we deserve it.”
1. Can Ohio State control its emotions? Common sense suggests the Buckeyes were already fired up to play Purdue after their embarrassing 26-18 loss last Oct. 17 in West Lafayette. Ind. Now, following a loss at Wisconsin after only one week ranked at No. 1, the team will be chomping at the bit to take the field. Coach Jim Tressel preaches a communal mentality to his team, but obviously, he doesn’t know what each player is thinking. “We talk a lot about what we should be collectively thinking,” Tressel said. But “I’ve never pretended to know what every individual is thinking.” 2. Will the OSU offensive line handle Purdue’s version of J.J. Watt? Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt wreaked havoc at times last Saturday against the OSU offensive line, finishing the game with four tackles and two sacks. The men who man the trenches will get no off-day on Saturday against Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan. In last season’s game, Kerrigan tortured the Scarlet and Gray offense for nine tackles and three sacks. So far this season, Kerrigan has six sacks despite being the focal point for opposing teams’ offensive lines. 3. Is ‘Boom’ Herron ready for a No. 1 running back role? Even though Dan Herron and Brandon Saine continue to be listed as co-starters on the team’s depth chart, make no mistake about it, Herron is now the featured back. In the last three games, Herron has carried the ball 54 times. In that same span, Saine has rushed the ball eight times, including no carries in the past two games. As OSU heads into its eighth game, the offense seems to be more comfortable with Herron carrying the load on the ground and using Saine as a hybrid wide receiver. 4. After a subpar showing last week, will the OSU defensive line rebound? Before the Wisconsin game, the OSU defensive line had held its own through the first six games of the season. Things changed Saturday night. Wisconsin manhandled the OSU defensive line at times and surrendered 184 yards on the ground to the Badgers, 104 of those to 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay. In most years, OSU rotates about eight players along the defensive line to keep fresh legs in the game and create a solid push on the line. In the first quarter, Wisconsin embarked on a 19-play, 89-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown. The only player substituted for one of the starters on the defensive line during that drive was freshman Johnathan Hankins. “I can remember many times we’ve talked since last February that one of the concerns was that five of our eight in our eight-man rotation were graduating or going out early,” Tressel said. “What you get into in a ball game like (last Saturday) is, is it the right time and the right place to put someone in?” 5. Are injuries becoming a serious concern for the defense? The “Silver Bullets” have quickly become the walking wounded. They are already without safety C.J. Barnett and hybrid linebacker/safety Tyler Moeller for the season. Barnett’s replacement, Orhian Johnson, is banged up. Moeller’s replacement, Christian Bryant, has a foot infection that requires hospitalization until at least Friday, Tressel said. Starting linebacker Ross Homan will be out a few weeks with a foot injury. His backup, Dorian Bell, suffered a concussion against Indiana and is still out. Although Tressel essentially said the next man in line needs to step up, the injuries are not only depleting the defense but also the special teams, where many of the backups play. The last thing a struggling OSU special teams unit needs is new and untested faces.
Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s lawyer would not disclose who is paying the quarterback’s legal bills, but he did tell The Lantern on Thursday that he does not anticipate any further sanctions for his client regarding the cars he has driven while at OSU. Larry James, a Columbus attorney who represents Pryor, explained the quarterback’s vehicle history and said his client did not commit any infractions. “In order to have infractions, he would have to receive something of a benefit that other students or the public would not normally receive,” James said. James said Pryor’s mother, Thomasina Pryor, purchased a Hyundai Sonata in 2008 for her son, then a high school senior in Jeanette, Pa. James said the car died sometime during the first year and a half, and was traded in for a Dodge Charger, for which Thomasina also paid. When the Charger began having problems, Pryor traded it in for about $7,800, and purchased a Nissan 350Z for about $11,000 after trade-in. “The monthly payments are $289,” James said. “That is about a nickel difference between the Charger and the 350Z.” Pryor drove three or four loaner cars while the Charger was being serviced, James said. “The idea of getting a loaner when your car is being serviced is pretty standard,” he said. James would not identify who is paying for his client’s legal bills. “I can’t tell you and wouldn’t tell you, and it’s inappropriate to tell you,” James said. “The public does not get to know that.” OSU spokesman Jim Lynch, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, would not say whether the university is funding Pryor’s legal counsel. “Student-athletes can get their own counsel when their eligibility is at issue,” Lynch said, “but NCAA rules also allow us to provide legal representation.” James said Pryor had his license reinstated since receiving a ticket for running a stop sign Feb. 17. “He has his license as we speak,” James said. “He went down (Thursday) to show proof of insurance.” James said he doesn’t understand the current media scrutiny. “Particularly for a young student-athlete, I think it’s been awful,” James said. “If you look at allegations about the cars, they have been anything but factual. It has been punitive and I don’t get that.” Multiple reports have indicated that Pryor, who is facing a five-game suspension, is the subject of an independent NCAA investigation for receiving deals on cars and other improper benefits. Lynch, citing FERPA, could not specifically comment on Pryor’s involvement. “We have an active investigation with the NCAA,” Lynch said, “and we will be working cooperatively with them until the investigation is resolved.” The NCAA and OSU’s compliance department are conducting a separate investigation into allegations that Pryor received discounts on cars, and are questioning his relationship with Ted Sarniak, a 67-year-old business man from Pryor’s hometown of Jeanette, who has been described as Pryor’s mentor. Pryor has been connected with the purchase of as many as eight vehicles since he arrived at OSU in 2008. He has been stopped three times while driving cars owned by car salesman Aaron Kniffin, or a Columbus dealership where Kniffin worked. In a sworn affidavit released by OSU on Tuesday, Kniffin said there were no special deals. “The deals that I did for Ohio State student-athletes were no different than any of the other 10,000-plus deals that I’ve done for all my other customers,” Kniffin said in the affidavit. Pryor, along with teammates Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Solomon Thomas and Mike Adams, was suspended for the first five games of the 2011–12 regular season for receiving improper benefits, but was allowed to participate in OSU’s 31-26 victory against Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. It later was revealed that Tressel knew about the infractions and failed to report them. Tressel resigned Monday. A Sports Illustrated report published Monday night said Pryor personally took more than 20 items, including helmets, Nike cleats and game pants to Fine Line Ink tattoo parlor. In 2008, Pryor was investigated for the ownership of a vehicle before he arrived on campus for his freshman year. He later won the starting quarterback job from then-senior quarterback Todd Boeckman, becoming the first true freshman quarterback to start at OSU since Art Schlichter in 1978. In 2009, Pryor raised eyebrows for his defense of Michael Vick after the NFL quarterback was accused of participating in illegal dog-fighting rings. “I mean, everyone kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me, whatever,” Pryor said at the time. “I think that people need a second chance, and I’ve always looked up to Mike Vick, and I always will.” Pryor won the Rose Bowl MVP in 2010 and passed for 266 yards and two touchdowns as the Buckeyes defeated Oregon, 26-17.
A national tournament is coming to Ohio State. The sport involves throwing a round ball. If you guessed baseball, you’re wrong.The Ohio State club dodgeball team is set to host the sport’s national tournament at the RPAC Saturday and Sunday.Ohio State (6-5) is a founding member of the National Collegiate Dodgeball Association, which started in 2002. OSU has attended every national tournament and has two championships, 2005 and 2006.The Buckeyes have played in three tournaments so far this season including the Round Robin tournament at OSU, the Redhawk invitational at the University of Miami University (Ohio), and the Ohio Dodgeball Cup at Kent State University.Jeff Starr, a second-year engineering student and club dodgeball member said OSU should have won more games this year and that the team is better than its record reflects. He is expecting a good result this weekend at nationals.“I think that we will actually do amazing,” Starr said. “We’ve been really close with a lot of the top teams and a lot of those tournaments, we didn’t have all of our guys. We weren’t all 100 percent. I think everyone is going to be ready to go, 100 percent.”Currently there are between 25 and 30 active members, coach, and OSU alumnus, Jude DuPart said.DuPart said not all members travel to tournaments because of midterms or scheduling conflicts, which is the reason some teams play more matches than other teams.“It really varies on how much traveling you can do. So the teams up in Michigan that are a stone’s throw away … there’s four teams up there that are all about two hours to 30 minutes away from each other,” DuPart said.DuPart said the biggest benefit of having the tournament at home is getting more players involved.“We’ll definitely be able to see a lot more kids get out there and play,” DuPart said. “A lot of kids have other obligations and can’t make the travel commitments to be able to play and see a large competitive style game.”Aside from not having to travel, Starr said another advantage of hosting the national tournament in Columbus comes with team members having the comfort of sleeping in their own beds.“Last year, we were sleeping on a motel floor, so having our own beds will be nice,” Starr said.OSU team captain Josh Connor, a second-year in logistics management, agreed with Starr that home court advantage is a big deal, especially in a big tournament.“With any sport you’re playing in, having the crowd behind you will win you the momentum. Having your friends and family behind you goes a long way,” Connor said.Starr added it’ll be nice to hear cheers for the home team.“We definitely get a lot more home fans cheering for us and not for the other teams, that’ll help,” Starr said.DuPart said OSU finished fourth in the national tournament last year. This year he is hopeful for a good result despite the more experienced teams.“Despite being a younger squad I think we’ve picked up (play) well. We’re looking pretty good,” DuPart said. “I do think there are a lot more mature teams and a lot of other teams that play pretty well, especially Grand Valley and Kent (State) is looking good this year.”Connor expects to do better at nationals than last year with a young but confident squad.“We had a pretty good season last year, I think we’re going to do better than that,” Connor said. “We’ve grown a lot, I can speak for myself I’ve become a lot more aggressive and that carries across the board. I think we have a lot more guys who feel comfortable. I think the camaraderie is even strong than it was.”The tournament is set to begin Saturday with group play from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the lower RPAC courts. It continues Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with single elimination tournament style play.