As they approach the playoffs, the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat should be worried about their recent slumps, but probably no more than if these rough patches had arrived earlier in the season.In their last February game, the Pacers beat the Milwaukee Bucks — their third consecutive win — to improve to 44-13. They were a game and a half in front of Miami in the East, after the Heat’s sixth straight win that same night over the New York Knicks. Since then, Miami is 12-11, which is mediocre but better than Indiana’s weak 10-12 run, which the Pacers reached after beating the Bucks, again, Wednesday night. Indiana coach Frank Vogel had benched his starters, and his reserves pulled out a two-point win over the team with the worst record in the NBA.Up next for Indiana and Miami: each other. They play Friday in a game that two months ago looked like a preview of the Eastern Conference finals. Now it must feel more like a reprieve, a chance to face a struggling opponent.How far the East’s titans have fallen. But the historical record suggests that bad play in March and April, the last two months of the season, hurts teams’ playoff chances no more than earlier slumps do.Using Basketball-Reference.com’s Play Index, I searched for playoff teams that played an 82-game schedule since 1983-84, when the postseason expanded to 16 teams. That left me with 446 teams. (That’s 16 teams for each of the 28 seasons with a full schedule, except for two teams last year — the Boston Celtics and the Pacers — that missed one game.)I broke down these playoff teams’ regular seasons into two parts: the games through February and those in March and April. Then I ran a linear regression, seeking the relationship between each team’s playoff results and two variables: its overall regular-season performance, and whether it improved or declined in the last two months of the season. The result: Teams’ regular-season winning percentage was a highly significant indicator of postseason success. Every increase of one percentage point in regular-season winning percentage boosted postseason winning percentage by 1.4 percentage points (p<10^-15).But the timing of teams’ regular-season wins didn’t matter. There was no statistically significant relationship between a team’s winning percentage before March subtracted from its winning percentage in March and April, and how the team did in the playoffs (p>0.8).In other words, while the slumps aren’t yet distant memories for Indiana and Miami fans, they’re no more damaging to the teams’ playoff hopes than if the slumps had occurred in the season’s first 22 or 23 games.The basketball stats site Hickory-High.com similarly found no particular importance for the playoffs for a team’s March performance relative to its results the rest of the season.This doesn’t mean the East leaders’ slumps are irrelevant. If either team had won more games, it would have a big lead for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and a better chance at home-court advantage in the finals.Their late slumps also are unusual for teams as good as they are. Miami and Indiana have 53 and 54 wins, respectively, with a handful of games remaining. Just one playoff team in our sample with more than 50 wins had a losing record in March and April: the 54-win Detroit Pistons in 1996-97, who lost in the first round of the postseason. And just two teams with more than 50 wins were outscored in March and April. (Each one, the 2003-04 Sacramento Kings and the 2004-05 Seattle SuperSonics, won one playoff series.)It’s also notable that Miami and Indiana have slumped differently. Miami has been unlucky, losing close games while otherwise winning by big margins: The Heat have outscored opponents by about four points per game in March and April, not far off their season mark of 5.45.But Indiana has been lucky to win 10 of its last 22 games: The Pacers have been outscored by nearly five points per game, thanks to offensive woes outlined by my Grantland colleague Zach Lowe last week. That’s by far the biggest scoring deficit this late in the season for a 50-win playoff team in our sample. Perhaps the encouraging results of prior playoff teams don’t apply as far down the charts as Indiana has fallen.The table below shows the 50-win teams in 82-game seasons with the worst winning percentages in March and April, and how they did in the regular season and the playoffs.
Victim No. 2 – the abused boy witnessed by Mike McQueary that eventually led to the demise of arrest of Jerry Sandusky, the demise of the legacy of Joe Paterno and harsh sanctions to the Penn State football program – has come forward after months out of the pubic spotlight.And he has come seeking some form of retribution from the school for the heinous acts committed on him by Sandusky, the former assistant coach convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse.The man’s lawyers said Thursday they have done an extensive investigation and gathered “overwhelming evidence” on details of the abuse by Sandusky, who used his now-disbanded Second Mile program to recruit victims and the Penn State campus to abuse them.Jurors convicted Sandusky last month of offenses related to so-called Victim 2 largely on the testimony of McQueary, who was a team graduate assistant at the time and witnessed Sandusky’s assault on the youth in the shower of the football training building.“Our client has to live the rest of his life not only dealing with the effects of Sandusky’s childhood sexual abuse, but also with the knowledge that many powerful adults, including those at the highest levels of Penn State, put their own interests and the interests of a child predator above their legal obligations to protect him,” the lawyers said in a news release.They did not name their client. The university said it was taking the case seriously but would not comment on pending litigation.Penn State president Rodney Erickson and the board of trustees, a school spokesman said, “have publicly emphasized that their goal is to find solutions that rest on the principle of justice for the victims.”Trust that Victim No. 2 will not be the only one Sandusky damaged that will come forward seeking financial restitution.The statement from the man’s attorneys said Victim 2 suffered “extensive sexual abuse over many years both before and after the 2001 incident Michael McQueary witnessed.”McQueary testified in December at a hearing that he had seen Sandusky and a boy, both naked, in a team shower after hearing skin-on-skin slapping sounds.“I would have described that it was extremely sexual and I thought that some kind of intercourse was going on,” McQueary said.McQueary reported the abuse to school officials, including Paterno, but none of them told police. In a recent report conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh and commissioned by Penn State, the investigators excoriated Paterno and the other administrators for not attempting to identify Victim 2, saying it showed “a striking lack of empathy.”Trustees fired Paterno, who since has died, because he failed to do more about claims against Sandusky, and the scathing independent review said several top school officials looked the other way because they were afraid of bad publicity.
Wow.I mean, wow.Mississippi State’s victory over UConn was a great game, and a great upset. Mississippi State will go down in history as the team that ended the longest win streak in basketball (and possibly college team sports) history, and they did it in style.First off, let’s be clear that this is not the most improbable upset of all time. The FiveThirtyEight March Madness predictions gave Mississippi State a 13 percent chance of winning, which — if accurate — wouldn’t even make the dais in the celebration of greatest upsets in history. It wasn’t even the Bulldogs’ biggest upset this week, as our model gave them only an 11 percent chance of beating Baylor, who they beat 94-85 in the Elite Eight. Yes, some people (like this idiot) thought 13 percent was crazy high given UConn’s history, not to mention the 98-38 beatdown the Huskies gave the same Bulldogs team in last year’s Sweet 16.But if I went into this game thinking the model was too optimistic for Mississippi State, by halftime it started looking like that 13 percent might have been low. Not only was UConn not dominating, they were getting outplayed.For me, this is what made this upset even more amazing. Sometimes the better team’s shot goes cold or the underdog’s heats up at the right time, and there isn’t much to do about it except try to do better next game. That was not this game.Shooting and shooting opportunitiesTo my eye, the UConn offense looked frustrated all night, yet they were easily still the better shooting team. UConn shot 42 percent on 2-point shots and 47 percent on 3-point shots, while Mississippi State shot 42 percent and 27 percent, respectively. All together, the Huskies scored 1.12 points per shot (counting 2-point shooting fouls) compared to 0.90 points per shot for the Bulldogs.That should be a recipe for a nice comfortable win. But the Huskies had only 57 shooting possessions (46 shots from the floor, plus 11 shooting fouls), while the Bulldogs had 73 (67 plus 6).How did Mississippi State get 16 more shooting opportunities? Like so:According to the play-by-play of the game on ESPN, the Bulldogs had 16 rebounds on offense to the Huskies’ six, creating ten more scoring opportunities.1You may notice the ESPN box score gives Mississippi State only 14 offensive rebounds. The reason for the discrepancy between the box score and the play-by-play data is unclear to me without knowing more about the nuances of NCAA scoring methodology, but those two extra scoring opportunities happened.The Bulldogs had 13 turnovers to the Huskies’ 17, which created four more opportunities for Mississippi State.2Note the box score records 14 Bulldogs turnovers, but one of those is referring to the flagrant-1 foul that gave Connecticut two shots and the ball, which did not lead to a change of possession.The Bulldogs had the last offensive possession in all five periods, and started with the ball in the second and third quarters, netting them two extra “fencepost” possessions.To recap: Mississippi State netted ten extra shot opportunities from rebounding, four from steals/ball protection, and two from clock management.UConn’s offensive failureThose possession stats are the “what” of “what happened” – the Bulldogs made up a sizeable shooting gap by edging the Huskies in the other aspects of the game. But why did it happen?The story of this game was the UConn offense continuously trying — and failing — to penetrate Mississippi State’s interior defense. This was reflected in a few ways:The Huskies made just 42 percent of their 2-point shots, compared to 58 percent in the regular season.Despite all those misses, they got only six of 29 possible offensive boards, for 21 percent. Compare that to 36 percent in the regular season.The Huskies turned the ball over 17 times (eight stolen). With just four steals themselves, they forced 13 fewer turnovers than they committed. In the regular season, they forced 1.7 fewer turnovers from steals than the total number of turnovers they committed per game, on average. Much of the deficit Friday night resulted from interior passes that the Bulldogs got their hands on.The irony is that UConn was shooting better than average from beyond the arc, making 47 percent of its threes, compared to their regular-season average of 40 percent. Despite being frustrated all night trying to get to the basket, they just kept trying and trying. As I saw it, it looked like the Huskies responded to their struggles by trying to get back to “fundamental” rim-attacking basketball, when they probably should have gone less fundamental and bombed away from the perimeter.Oh, and Connecticut also missed a couple of free throws that probably could have sealed the deal. This could have been nerves, but who knows. If the teams were who we thought they were, the game shouldn’t have been close enough for that to matter.After Mississippi State beat Baylor, a team we though had a real chance of beating UConn, my main thought was that Baylor probably wasn’t as good as I thought they were. But I should have been giving Mississippi State more credit. Against UConn, they earned it all, with full backpay.Correction (April 3, 4:06 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the sources of some of Mississippi State’s extra scoring opportunities. The article incorrectly said that six of those opportunities came from their three fewer turnovers, when three fewer turnovers would only account for three extra opportunities. Using the play-by-play data to account for the remaining discrepancy, we determined that Mississippi State netted four opportunities from turnovers instead of six, and 10 opportunities from rebounding instead of eight.
Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 14Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 14 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction. YEARTEAMQUARTERBACKWINSBACKUP QBTEAM PLAYOFF RECORD HOU76%HOU64%SF 26, HOU 16+13.9– 2016OaklandDerek Carr12Connor Cook0-1 CIN71CIN71CHI 33, CIN 7-1.2– DAL61DAL67DAL 30, NYG 10+1.9– DEN50NYJ55NYJ 0, DEN 23-7.9– TB50DET57DET 24, TB 21+4.2– Source: ELIAS Sports Bureau, Pro-Football-Reference.com BUF72BUF69IND 7, BUF 13-3.9– 2005ChicagoKyle Orton10Rex Grossman0-1 There’s some hope here for Foles and the Eagles in the form of Jeff Hostetler, who stepped in and led the 1990 Giants to a Super Bowl victory after New York lost starting quarterback Phil Simms to a fractured foot in Week 15. Granted, that New York team rested heavily on their defense to claw them to glory — and last time we checked, the Eagles don’t have Lawrence Taylor. The Giants gave up the fewest points in the league that year and succeeded by not asking Hostetler to do too much.With this in mind, Philly should probably channel any remaining optimism toward its defense, which ranks fifth in the league in points allowed this season. Since he took over the defensive playcalling in 2016, Jim Schwartz has quickly turned his unit into one of the top defenses in the NFL: The Eagles ranked 18th in defensive EPA the season before Schwartz took over and rank fourth in the league through 13 games this year. The D could be the team’s best hope of making a deep run in January.The 2017 season might be remembered as “the year of the injured quarterback,” and in Week 14, it was Philadelphia’s turn feel the bite. The Eagles will be fine with Wentz as their franchise quarterback of the future, but in the present, Philly fans can only hope their team mimics the 1990 Giants and their defense comes through for them.FiveThirtyEight vs. The ReadersWeek 14 in our NFL predictions game — in which we invite you to outsmart our Elo algorithm — saw the readers suffer three heavy defeats. The Chiefs rebounded from four straight losses to beat the Raiders, which gave the readers a net loss of 10.4 points. Miami shocked New England on Monday night and won at home 27-20 to give the readers a loss of 11.5 points. And on Thursday night, the readers incorrectly predicted that the Saints would beat the Falcons, handing them a net loss of 11.7 points. There was only one victory over our Elo algorithm in which the readers scored double-digit points: San Francisco beat Houston 26-16, and because the readers had less confidence in the Texans than Elo did, the readers netted 13.9 points.Make sure you get your Week 15 predictions in early, and thanks for playing! 2015CincinnatiAndy Dalton10A.J. McCarron0-1 LAR52PHI52PHI 43, LAR 35+2.1– TEN53TEN57TEN 7, ARI 12-6.0– 1990ChicagoJim Harbaugh10Mike Tomczak1-1 SEA53SEA55SEA 24, JAX 30-4.2– PIT71PIT70BAL 38, PIT 39-3.1– Will Nick Foles keep Philly flying?Quarterbacks that won at least 10 games in a season for their playoff-bound teams but didn’t make a playoff start, since 1970 MIN53MIN58MIN 24, CAR 31-8.1– LAC69LAC68WAS 13, LAC 30-2.5– 2012MinnesotaChristian Ponder10Joe Webb0-1 OUR PREDICTION (ELO)READERS’ PREDICTION 1999BuffaloDoug Flutie10Rob Johnson0-1 KC67KC57OAK 15, KC 26-10.4– When Carson Wentz entered the blue sideline tent of doom on Sunday, he took close to 60 years of unfulfilled football dreams in Philadelphia with him. At that moment, the 10-2 Eagles had just taken a lead on the road against one of the NFC’s best teams. Shortly thereafter, the second-year quarterback limped down the tunnel at L.A. Memorial Coliseum, forcing backup quarterback Nick Foles to take over for the remainder of the game. In just a few minutes, the Eagles’ unexpected dream season was seemingly cut down by hard luck — something that comes with the territory in Philadelphia.We now know that Wentz tore the ACL in his left knee and will miss the rest of the season. It’s a huge blow to the Eagles’ Super Bowl hopes, and they’ll have to lean on someone other than Wentz and his MVP-caliber offense. The sophomore quarterback has been so good this season that the Eagles ranked third in the league in offensive expected points added — behind only the Patriots and Saints — and his 33 touchdown passes through 13 games are third-most in NFL history for quarterbacks in their first or second year, behind only future Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Kurt Warner.Fortunately for Doug Pederson’s men, the win over the Rams secured a playoff berth with three weeks to spare, and their remaining games against the Giants, Raiders and Cowboys should give Foles enough time to feel comfortable as the leader of a playoff team again. Foles is uniquely familiar with this position: In Week 5 of 2013, he was forced into action when starter Michael Vick suffered an injury. Foles became the unlikely savior that year, as he steered the Eagles to an 8-3 record for the remainder of the season and a wild-card berth. Along the way, he compiled an eye-popping passer rating of 119.2, the third best in NFL history, and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 13.5, the second-best of all time.While there’s little doubt over whether Philly will bypass the wild-card round — one more regular-season win will secure a first-round bye for the Eagles — let’s not kid ourselves about their overall playoff chances: History is not on Philadelphia’s side. No one is expecting Foles to repeat his 2013 performance and keep the team’s run going. We’ve seen this scenario unfold before. In fact, a backup being thrown into the fire of playoff football is quickly becoming an annual NFL tradition. Last year, Connor Cook, a third-stringer, started his first game ever for the Raiders, who lost star Derek Carr (then backup Matt McGloin) as their dream season turned into a nightmare. And two seasons ago, Alabama-star-turned-professional-clipboard-holder A.J. McCarron started a wild-card game for Cincinnati in the wake of the Bengals losing Andy Dalton in Week 14.As expected, this usually doesn’t go well. Cook and McCarron both lost in the playoffs, posting passer ratings of 30 and 68.3, respectively. Neither has started a game since. In total, Wentz will be one of only eight quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to win 10 or more games for a future playoff team and not appear in the postseason, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Among the backups for these teams, only two won at least one playoff game. GB77GB76GB 27, CLE 21-3.2– 2017PhiladelphiaCarson Wentz11Nick Foles? Check out our latest NFL predictions. 1990N.Y. GiantsPhil Simms11Jeff Hostetler3-0 ATL56NO54NO 17, ATL 20-11.7– NE81NE87NE 20, MIA 27-11.5– PICKWIN PROB.PICKWIN PROB.RESULTREADERS’ NET PTS
In filling out the men’s NCAA Tournament bracket this year, you might have noticed that fewer obvious upsets are popping up than in previous seasons. According to the FiveThirtyEight March Madness model, only one game in the first round — No. 9 Oklahoma vs. No. 8 Ole Miss in the South region — features the worse-seeded team as an outright favorite (at 53 percent), compared with three such upset picks last season, two in 2017 and a whopping six in 2016. At the same time, truly promising Cinderellas are more difficult to identify in this year’s bracket as well, with the most probable double-digit seeds to make the Final Four being major-conference members Florida (No. 10 in the West region) and Ohio State (No. 11 in the Midwest). Did the committee get things weirdly right this year? And for bracket-pickers, is that even a good thing?Certainly the seeds this year more closely follow what the statistics would recommend. The Spearman rank correlation coefficient between a team’s overall seed (according to the selection committee’s list) and its place in our Elo rankings is 0.941 this season, higher than in the 2018 (0.926), 2017 (0.912) and 2016 (0.893) tournaments. One reason for the lack of instant upset picks is that the committee appears to have done a better job seeding this year — even if Tom Izzo and Michigan State fans might feel differently.Moreover, this year’s top seeds are generally stronger than in recent seasons — at least outside the No. 1s. According to Elo, each seed number from No. 2 through No. 7 contains a significantly stronger team this year than it did in the previous tournaments this decade: Relative to the field, this year’s No. 1 seeds are basically the same level of strength as usual. But a much stronger crop of teams on the next six seed lines naturally makes it harder to find good upset picks, particularly in the early rounds.One very interesting component of that, however, is that it hasn’t been caused by seeding more power-conference schools in the top half of each region’s seeds. If anything, the opposite is true: Headlined by tiny Wofford as the No. 7 seed in the Midwest and Buffalo as the No. 6 in the West, small-conference schools were acknowledged by the committee as much as ever. Since 2010, there hasn’t been a season where more teams outside of major conferences1Defined as we’ve done before — teams from conferences with fewer than 100 all-time NCAA tournament appearances. got top-seven seeds in the tournament than in 2019. (Plus, the Ohio Valley managed to get two teams into the tournament — Belmont and Murray State.) At the same time, major-conference schools are getting an abnormal number of bad seeds: Using the same definition as above, 11 different major-conference teams have double-digit seeds this season, tying 2012 for the most in any tournament since 2010.All of this paints a picture of college basketball’s changing landscape, with better mid-major schools getting more credit for their accomplishments, leading to a better bracket overall. The only hitch in this development might just be for fans of interesting tournament-pool picks. Nonchalky brackets are inherently more fun than ones in which the better-seeded teams are constantly picked to win, and choosing against chalk requires finding inefficiencies in the committee’s original seeds. Better seed choices cut down on those possibilities, making “fun” brackets more risky and chalky ones more likely to win pools. So in some ways, we as bracket-pickers should want a return to the era of worse seedings, to make upsets easier to spot (or at least more tempting to pick).Maybe the selection committee’s better seeds were a one-off this year. Its new “NET” rankings have come under heavy fire, even as the NCAA has tried to modernize and replace the old ratings percentage index (RPI) as its chief statistical guideline for ranking teams. But maybe the improved seedings are a sign of an improved selection process, whatever the reason behind it. (For instance, the committee also appeared to reward regular-season performance over conference tournaments in several cases, which would tend to favor teams that have proved themselves better over a larger sample of games.) Either way, this year’s bracket has made it tougher to pick upsets — and whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your perspective as a fan.Check out our latest March Madness predictions.
“Time heals all wounds” is kind of a nonsense saying when it comes to sports. If it were true, rivalries wouldn’t exist and 35-year-olds on the brink of retirement wouldn’t hang on for one last World Cup. More than half the likely starters on the U.S. and Japanese national teams in the Women’s World Cup final this Sunday were there for the agony and ecstacy — depending which team you were on — of the 2011 final game, when Japan defeated the U.S. on penalty kicks. Japan now has a chance to repeat history, and join Germany and the U.S. as the only countries to win two World Cup titles. The U.S. is looking to break its 16-year World Cup drought and secure its place in history as the greatest World Cup dynasty of all time (in either the women’s or men’s game).This championship game might not be the greatest of all time, but it’s one with a lot of still-fresh wounds, so here’s a look at how it’s shaping up.Things are more even than they seemBack in 2011, some betting lines put Japan’s chances of beating the U.S. around 28 percent, not so far from where they are this time around. Coming off a huge semifinal win over Germany, FiveThirtyEight’s model says the Americans should win 67 percent of the time, but the two teams’ performances in this World Cup have been pretty similar. Both teams have created the same number of chances (59) and scored the same number of goals (nine), despite having traveled very different paths to the final.It’s likely that goals won’t come easily for either side. The U.S. hasn’t been scored on since its opening game, and Japan has conceded only three goals in six games (one of which was an egregious keeper error). It may very well come down to who can capitalize on the few good opportunities the defense allows, and which team doesn’t miss early chances like the U.S. did in the 2011 final.A battle of two very different stylesJapan is arguably the most technical team in the world; it has had the highest pass completion percentage of any team at the World Cup (80 percent compared to the Americans’ 74 percent) and its players have touched the ball and attempted almost 1.5 times as many passes as the U.S. players. Japan plays a quick, one-and-two-touch style of soccer that is different from the styles of most teams the U.S. has faced so far. The closest comparison is probably Colombia — and the U.S. struggled a bit to win the ball back in the midfield in that game.Where the U.S. will excel against Japan is with its physicality and speed; by pressuring the defense and surprising Japan by playing the ball in behind. This is how the first U.S. goal came at the 2011 World Cup: The midfield collapsed to win the ball back, Megan Rapinoe played a long ball in behind, and Alex Morgan outran her defender and scored with just two touches. In the semifinal game against England this year, Japan struggled when the Lionesses pressured and stepped to win the ball back, and the U.S. must do the same thing if it hopes to break down Japan’s tremendous organization. The Americans are undoubtedly faster and stronger than Japan, but they’ll also need to be able to win the ball from a team that hardly loses it.Slow and steady wins the race (at least for one team)Both teams’ chances of winning didn’t change significantly throughout the tournament aside from a bump after the semifinal games; the U.S. hovered around 30 percent and Japan around 10 percent for the majority of the World Cup. Neither team looked stellar during the group stage — eyes were on Germany, France and even Brazil’s early dominance — but these are the two teams that have made it to the World Cup final.“These are two talented teams with a lot of history and rivalry, and I think it will be a classic matchup,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said about Sunday’s final. The score in head-to-head matchups is one to one right now — one World cup victory for Japan to one Olympic gold medal for the U.S. — but everyone knows a World Cup trophy tastes sweeter than gold.
Then-redshirt-sophomore running back Bri’onte Dunn (25) carries the ball during the 2014 OSU Spring Game on at Ohio Stadium.Credit: Lantern file photoThe dismissal of Bri’onte Dunn from the Ohio State football team has become much more clear, as today new details arose about an alleged altercation between Dunn and a woman who is thought to be his girlfriend.Dunn, 23, was dismissed from Urban Meyer’s team on Monday for a “violation of team rules” according to the coach of the Buckeyes. First reported by 10TV, a 911 call placed by the woman early Sunday morning outlined a series of events that ended with a protection order against Dunn and his dismissal from the team. The dialer claimed Dunn had struck her, then began to choke her when she returned some time later.“He hit me the first time at 4:40. I left,” the caller told police. “Then I was just calling my friend and see if I could sleep somewhere and nobody answered. So I made a circle back around and came back here and he was still here. So I came upstairs and I said, ‘You need to leave before I call the cops.’ He saw that I had my phone out cause I was going to try to record it because this isn’t the first time that this has happened and that’s when he started going crazy.”There have been no criminal charges filed against Dunn other than the protection order.Dunn was entering his final year of eligibility with the Scarlet and Gray after graduating at the end of the 2016 Spring Semester.
A “say hey” to Ohio State’s outfielder Dee Dee Hillman might mean more than just a greeting.Hillman compares her softball prowess to Major League legend Willie Mays.“We have the same mentality that wherever the ball is hit, I’m going to get it,” Hillman said. “That is my outfield mentality. I love to make the plays that seem to be impossible. I love the challenge.”Not only can Hillman play defense like Mays, making only one error this year, but she hits like him as well.In a two-week span from April 21 to May 2, Hillman had a .524 batting average from the leadoff position.The team went 7-1 during this stretch, including a split series over the No. 2 team in the country, Michigan.Batting first in Ohio State’s lineup is an important role, which she considers an honor.“It’s my responsibility to get everybody off to a good start and set a good tone,” Hillman said. “I think it’s my job to break the ice.”Coach Linda Kalafatis has simple expectations for her leadoff hitter when she approaches the plate.“Get on base and challenge the defense,” Kalafatis said. Hillman’s role as the leadoff hitter is enhanced because of her ability to put the ball in play.She has only struck out 12 times all season.“It comes down to being relentless and knowing that (the pitcher) is not going to get me out,” Hillman said.Though Kalafatis has simple expectations, Hillman has had to work hard to fulfill her coach’s wishes.“I know I have been putting a lot of extra work in and all the extra swings in the (batting) cages is really starting to pay off,” Hillman said.Hillman’s work ethic spotlights her versatility. She is the only player listed on the roster as a switch hitter. “I switched over from a righty hitter to a lefty when I was about 14 and it has its advantages,” Hillman said. “The fact that you are two steps closer to first base is really huge. Another advantage is that you can mis-hit and still beat it out.”As the junior’s confidence has been increasing with every game, she has made big strides compared to last year.In 2009, Hillman hit .297, whereas this season she is second on the team with a .361 batting average. Her big strides are evident in the batter’s box, but much shorter on the base paths. Hillman led the team last year with 17 stolen bases. This season, she only has five.One reason Hillman has not been able to “run like Mays” is because of a lingering hamstring injury, but her coach believes there is a bit more strategy to worry about.“We don’t want to open up first base and invite teams to walk Sam Marder,” Kalafatis said. “We don’t want to open the base up.”As the regional tournament approaches, Hillman is already looking to change up her game for next year.“As I am getting older, other teams start to know you a little bit better and start to scout you more.” Hillman said. “So, if it comes to bunting or just working more on power-slapping to hit it more in the gaps, I’ll do whatever.”In the end, Kalafatis is aware of Hillman’s big goal.“She wants to be an All-American,” Kalafatis said.
Quinn Pitcock Dallas Lauderdale Last week: 3-1 Overall: 12-5 Picks: Ohio State, Michigan State, Florida James Laurinaitis Last week: 3-1 Overall: 12-5 Picks: Ohio State, Michigan State, Florida Last week: 3-1 Overall: 9-8 Picks: Ohio State, Michigan State, Florida Zack Meisel Last week: 3-1 Overall: 12-5 Picks: Ohio State, Michigan, Florida Little changed standings-wise last week, as all five participants in the Weekly Picks Challenge correctly predicted three out of the four games. This week, the only game featuring different predictions is Michigan State-Michigan. Justin Zwick remains atop the leaderboard with a 14-3 overall record. A three-way tie for second place has James Laurinaitis, Dallas Lauderdale and defending champion Quinn Pitcock at 12-5. THIS WEEK’S GAMES Indiana @ No. 2 Ohio State No. 17 Michigan State @ No. 18 Michigan No. 14 LSU @ No. 12 Florida Last week: 3-1 Overall: 12-5 Picks: Ohio State, Michigan, Florida Justin Zwick
Ohio State basketball coach Thad Matta knew what he was getting in Deshaun Thomas. The junior forward is a scorer, but ever since Matta could remember he’s also had a bit of a loose trigger. When Thomas played in the 2009 Class 2A state championship game in his home state of Indiana, OSU’s coach was there to watch. The game’s opening tip went to Thomas who immediately threw up a deep 3-pointer. Air ball. “You haven’t seen anything yet,” Matta said to the person sitting next to him at the game. Thirty-four points and 15 boards later, Thomas’ Bishop Luers High School was hoisting the state championship trophy. Now, the same guy who hurriedly threw up an ill-advised air ball in his high school’s state championship game and admitted that he used to “chuck threes, just play to get that shot up” during his freshman year at OSU is the man who will lead the Buckeyes’ offense this season. Is Matta comfortable with that notion? “Yeah,” Matta said. “I think so.” He might not have any choice. With former forward Jared Sullinger now with the Boston Celtics and guard William Buford playing professionally in Spain, much of the night-to-night scoring load will be thrust onto Thomas’ broad shoulders. After the Buckeyes’ 2011 tournament run to the Final Four, it appeared Thomas might join his two teammates in the professional ranks. “It was close,” Thomas said of his decision. “I was thinking about it … because I had a great season so I was very close. But then I sat off in my room by myself and I made that decision myself, and I think I made a perfect decision by coming back.” His return is a big reason the Buckeyes – which are playing in what is expected to be the most difficult basketball conference in the country – are ranked No. 4 in both major preseason polls. For the Buckeyes to live up to those expectations, Thomas – who was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press – will have to play a major role. The OSU forward showed he had the capabilities to be a major player last season, averaging 15.9 points and 5.4 rebounds for the season, and 19.2 points in the NCAA Tournament. Most of his production though, came with the defense focused on Sullinger, giving Thomas a little more freedom. As the only returning Buckeye to average more than nine points per game, the ire of opposing defenses will be fixed upon Thomas. “I’m pretty sure in the Big Ten it will be different,” Thomas said. “I seen how they played Jared last year and I think this year I’ll probably get some of that.” To prepare him, Thomas’ teammates tried to simulate the added defensive pressure he’ll face during summer workouts. His teammates employed double teams, triple teams and traps in scrimmages, and tried to make things as difficult as possible for him on the offensive end. “That’s going to help us big during the season when he realizes that guys are keying in on him,” said junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. “It’s not going to phase him because he’s going to be so used to it from our open gyms that he’s not going to think twice.” How did Thomas deal with the added pressure? “Believe it or not, there’s two people guarding him, pulling on his jersey and he still scores the ball,” Smith said. “I mean, I don’t doubt him.” His coach doesn’t either. Matta said Thomas has reined in his free-shooting ways and has turned into a more complete basketball player. “When he came in here as a freshman, if you weren’t sitting on the rim he couldn’t see you when he caught the ball,” Matta said. “He’s added a lot of different things to his game and his basketball IQ just continues to expand. “He’s making himself a complete player.” Thomas and OSU are set to tip off their season Friday against Marquette as part of the Carrier Classic on board the USS Yorktown in Charleston, S.C. Tip is set for 7 p.m.