The first time I saw my boss, Nate Silver, give a talk was at the 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. As usual, he was going on about numbers and statistics, but what stuck with me longest wasn’t quantitative. Pointing to the practice of relegation in European soccer leagues, he said European sports tend to be more capitalist by nature, while their American counterparts tend to be more socialist.“It’s kind of ironic,” Silver said. “American sports are socialist.”That may be true, but Stephen Curry is a pure basketball capitalist.Nate’s framework was right: With provisions like “salary caps,” “revenue sharing” and drafts that generally allot the best new talent to the worst teams, American leagues intentionally promote parity while suppressing the natural tendency for some clubs to dominate others. But Curry and his teammates are unapologetically destroying Adam Silver’s Bolshevist basketball state. The Golden State Warriors are 15-0. If they win Tuesday against the lowly Los Angeles Lakers, they will break the record for the hottest start in NBA history; no NBA team has won its first 16 games.How are they doing this?Well, the Warriors have by far the most efficient offense in the NBA, logging a massive 112 points per 100 possessions. They shoot well above league averages from every spot on the floor, especially in the areas beyond the arc. That’s pretty good, right? But while their offense deserves a lot of attention, don’t sleep on their defense, which ranks fifth in the NBA by giving up just 97 points per 100. Everyone already knows that Curry is a savant beyond the arc; the most noteworthy improvement in his repertoire is his ability to get buckets in the paint. As a young player, Curry struggled in that area. Just three seasons ago, he was one of the league’s least-effective close-range scorers. Out of 168 players with at least 200 shots inside of 8 feet that season, Curry ranked a dismal 151st in field goal percentage. But those days are gone, and the new Curry is suddenly one of the league’s best volume scorers in the paint. So far this year, 27 players have made at least 50 field goals within 8 feet of the rim, but only two of those guys — Hassan Whiteside and DeAndre Jordan (both giants) — are converting those close-range shots as frequently as Curry, who has made a ridiculous 68 percent of his 83 tries inside of 8 feet this season.Curry is an emblem for his team at large. He’s a young, perimeter-oriented genius who is reforming how we think about dominance in the NBA and making the rest of the league look feckless while doing so. He’s already a champion, but, just like his team, he is still getting better. Curry and the Warriors are just getting started, and what a golden start it’s already been.CORRECTION (Nov. 24, 12:55 p.m.): A chart in an earlier version of this article incorrectly labeled the Warriors’ defensive proficiency for some shots. A color on the chart suggested the Warriors were at about the average league level in limiting opponents’ scoring from the left elbow and right baseline 3-pointer, but the data showed opponents are shooting above average from those zones.Read more: NBA Player Career Projections It’s as if at some point in the past few years, the Warriors solved contemporary basketball, at least perimeter basketball. They know that 3-pointers are the best way to rack up points on offense, so they developed talent and tactics to master that. But they have also employed defensive principles to prevent their opponents from doing so on the other end.As of today, they are the only team averaging at least 12 threes per game on offense; they are also the only team giving up fewer than six threes per game on defense. Remember when a team won games by controlling the paint? These Warriors win by controlling the edges of the scoring area. By scoring 37.5 points per game beyond the arc while allowing opponents just 17.7 from out there, Golden State isn’t just tweaking how we value court real estate, its best players are forcing us to rethink how we value personnel as well.It used to be that the most valuable guys in the NBA were interior giants who dominated the paint. Now the most valuable player in the NBA is a point guard with the sweetest stroke in the league.Curry leads the league in scoring, and if he wins a scoring title this season, he will be the most perimeter-oriented player to ever do so. As I wrote last season, he’s transforming the way we see point guards and 3-point shooters in the NBA. That may seem like hyperbole, but it’s not; between Curry’s volume, his efficiency and his quickness, it’s easy to argue that he is the best 3-point shooter the NBA has ever seen.So far this season, Curry has made 74 threes — the most in the NBA. Damian Lillard ranks second, with 45. To say that Curry is an outlier would be an insult to the word outlier. So far this season, 84 percent of NBA threes have come off assists. But for Curry, that number is just 62 percent, and his ability to get his own deadly looks beyond the arc is arguably his signature weapon as a scorer. For context, only one of Klay Thompson’s 33 threes has been unassisted this season.
8Tobias Harris33Tracy McGrady 9Yi Jianlian34Serge Ibaka 22Tyson Chandler47Shaquille O’Neal 4Kevin Love29Derrick Williams 16Michael Beasley41Jared Sullinger 3Derrick Favors28Al Jefferson 15Kwame Brown40Marvin Williams 5Anthony Randolph30Tim Thomas The New York Knicks’ future once looked very dismal indeed. It looked that way for a very long time, for a great many reasons — but that was before the arrival of the Great Latvian Hope. Kristaps Porzingis, the 7-foot-3 rookie whose selection was resoundingly booed at this summer’s draft, has instead very quickly become the most popular athlete at Madison Square Garden1Sorry, Carmelo Anthony and Henrik Lundqvist. after barely more than a month on the job.Porzingis detonated onto the NBA landscape with a series of putback dunks in his first handful of games; more importantly for Knicks fans, he’s since maintained a level of play that’s ranged between solid and spectacular. On the season, Porzingis is averaging 17.9 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes and draining threes at a rate that would make fellow Giant Baltic Person Arvydas Sabonis proud.2Porzingis has made the typically painful adjustment to NBA 3-point range rapidly, raising his percentage to 35.4 after early season struggles. No player in NBA history, in fact, has possessed quite this combination of youth, height, quickness and outside shooting skills. Porzingis’s play has been so strong and so dazzling that he’s that rare rookie on whom airy basketball aesthetes and turgid statistical fundamentalists can agree: This kid is the real deal.The Porzingis projectionSo what does his future hold? We have a (probabilistic) basketball-shaped crystal ball called CARMELO,3No relation to Carmelo Anthony, although we took some inspiration from him. our NBA projection system. Before the season began, we ran CARMELO projections for more than 500 players; this included rookie projections for players such as Karl-Anthony Towns, the No. 1 overall pick and Porzingis’s opponent Wednesday night, based on their college statistics. But we didn’t run one for Porzingis or other international draft picks who didn’t play NCAA ball. Let’s fix that!Below, you’ll see a CARMELO projection for Porzingis based on his first 25 NBA games. It makes one heroic assumption: extrapolating out that 25-game performance to a full 82-game season. In other words, it assumes not only that what Knicks fans have seen from Porzingis so far is about what they’ll get from the rest of the year, but also that he’ll stay healthy. The diversity of Porzingis’s scoring portfolio is also an encouraging sign for his development. Although he converts his shots at just average rates from virtually every spot he shoots from, the fact that he can do that as a 20-year-old 7-foot-plusser is remarkable. While the league is full of bigs who can shoot the ball, it’s rare for a rookie to enter the league as such a competent shooter. Shooting was the Achilles heel of young bigs like Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin, who have since developed range out to the 3-point line.The good news extends to the defensive side of the ball as well; Porzingis is already an effective rim protector. Considering that many were worried that he was “soft” entering the league, these numbers, perhaps more than his offensive ones, should put the doubters to bed. He blocks multiple shots per game, opponents shoot just 47 percent near the basket when he is present, and he is a big part of why the Knicks are among the most efficient rim-protecting teams in the NBA right now. The Knicks!Then again: The Knicks! A franchise whose glory days are more than 40 years behind it, and which has squandered more than a few good opportunities in the past. What could go wrong this time around?A strictly limited run?The one looming issue could be Porzingis’s durability. Among his top 50 comparables, about 20 percent7Excluding very recent comparables who haven’t had time to complete six full seasons. played fewer than 1,000 minutes (or were out of the league entirely) by their sixth NBA season. Usually, this is a sign of a serious injury. Furthermore, among his comparables, there was an inverse correlation between height and durability: The tallest players on Porzingis’s list were more injury-prone.That’s a potential problem because Porzingis isn’t just tall but gigantic: one of only 25 players ever to play in the NBA at 7-foot-3 or taller. That produces some cool factoids — among players 7-foot-3 or taller, Porzingis has already drained the fourth-most 3-pointers in league history (behind Sabonis, Manute Bol and Zydrunas Ilgauskas) — along with some worrying trends. For instance: no player 7-foot-3 or taller has ever made it to his 1,000th NBA game. (Mark Eaton, with 875 career games, came closest.)Is there really such a thing as being too tall for the NBA, as Phil Jackson asserted when he drafted Porzingis? Well … maybe. The chart below tracks the height distribution of NBA players since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, weighted by minutes played, and compares it against a normal distribution. 7Spencer Hawes32Rashard Lewis 19Anthony Davis44Thaddeus Young 2Joe Smith27Cliff Robinson 1Brook Lopez26Ryan Anderson 18Shareef Abdur-Rahim43Chris Webber If those assumptions hold, the Knicks have a hell of a prospect on their hands. The NBA is a tough league for rookies, so merely staying in a team’s rotation at age 20 is often a sign of a bright future. So far, however, Porzingis has not just been a rotation player but an above-average one4According to the blend of Box Plus/Minus and Real Plus-Minus that we use as part of CARMELO — usually a sign of superstar potential. In fact, Porzingis’s long-term upside score, based on his wins above replacement projection from 2016-17 through 2021-22, is 36.3. That’s very good; at the start of this season, it would have made Porzingis the 17th-most-valuable franchise player in the league, in the same vicinity as Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Wall and Jimmy Butler.But Porzingis’s projection also involves tremendous uncertainty. In 2018-19, for example, his 90th percentile projection5According to CARMELO, Porzingis has a 10 percent chance of achieving a WAR at or above his 90th percentile projection. is 13.3 WAR, good enough to put him on the fringes of the MVP discussion. Meanwhile, his 10th percentile projection is just 0.0 WAR (exactly replacement level), or roughly the same range as Quincy Acy. The error bars around CARMELO’s forecasts for young players are often wide, but these are especially so.OK, but is he Dirk?What gives? Part of it is the problem we alluded to before. CARMELO works by identifying comparable players, and Porzingis is a hard guy for which to find historical precedents. Only one player, Brook Lopez, achieves a similarity score of 50 or higher with Porzingis6A score of 50 is the point at which we consider a player to be “extremely similar.” — and if we’re being frank, the Lopez-Porzingis connection doesn’t have the “eye test” appeal that CARMELO comparisons often do.But faced with unusual players like Porzingis, CARMELO has to make some sacrifices. In the case of Lopez, it ignores the fact that Lopez almost never shoots from behind the arc (although he does have a decent midrange game). In the case of Kevin Love, Porzingis’s No. 4 comparable, it finds another big man with a good outside shot and strong rebounding numbers — but ignores that Love is shaped much differently than Porzingis, 5 inches shorter but quite a bit bulkier, especially in his youth. And since CARMELO relies on metrics that utilize box score stats, it can be difficult to translate calling-card traits like “quick feet in defensive transition” to on-the-stat-sheet comps, which in turn means the model may promote the formal similarity of Porzingis’s defensive numbers to those of Shawn Kemp, when he’s closer to Andrei Kirilenko stylistically.You can get a fuller sense for the range of possibilities when sorting through Porzingis’s top 50 CARMELO comparables, a list that includes everyone from Shaquille O’Neal to Darko Milicic. There’s also a cameo appearance from Porzingis’s idol, Dirk Nowitzki, who checks in at No. 17. Why doesn’t he rank higher? Because, as Nowitzki correctly points out, Porzingis has been considerably better so far at age 20 than Nowitzki was at the same age. CARMELO “thinks” the Porzingis-Nowitzki comparison is unflattering — to Porzingis.The 50 NBA players most comparable to Porzingis RANKPLAYERRANKPLAYER 14Lamar Odom39Antoine Walker 11Rudy Gay36Darius Miles But Porzingis’s offensive approach does bear some resemblance to today’s Dirk Nowitzki. Porzingis is frequently compared to Jahlil Okafor and Towns, and that’s unsurprising considering that they play the same position and were all drafted so high. However, Porzingis is the only one in that trio who, like Nowitzki, has 21st-century range. In fact, his basic spatial shooting distribution closely mirrors that of the NBA itself as about a quarter of his shots come from downtown, a third come in the midrange and the rest come near the basket. 13DeMarcus Cousins38Andrei Kirilenko 6Amar’e Stoudemire31Jonas Valanciunas 10Shawn Kemp35Zaza Pachulia 24Luol Deng49Nene 21Kevin Garnett46Eddy Curry 17Dirk Nowitzki42Harrison Barnes 12Elton Brand37Greg Monroe 25Enes Kanter50Al-Farouq Aminu 20Josh Smith45Paul George 23Chris Bosh48Darko Milicic There are some interesting discrepancies: the most conspicuous is that there are far fewer players listed at exactly 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 than you’d expect from a normal distribution. That could reflect the fact that such players are “tweeners” — too small to play forward, but not necessarily fleet or agile enough to play guard — or that their heights are exaggerated upward to avoid the tweener label. Charles Barkley, officially listed at 6-foot-6, was probably more like 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 instead, for example.There is also a comparative absence of players listed at 7-foot-1 or taller. Based on the normal distribution, you’d expect about 6 percent of NBA minutes to be played by these supergiant players; instead, about 3 percent of them have been. There are lots of plausible explanations for this — for instance, there may be diminishing returns to height beyond about 7 feet, and some very tall players may actually round their heights down instead of up. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the most durable players in league history, was listed at 7-foot-2, and opponents swore up and down that even that number was missing an inch or two. Still, looking at the broader trends, perhaps there is some reason to be concerned about players carrying such large frames.But having “some reason to be concerned” is unavoidable in neurotic New York — and a heck of a lot better than the state of absolute despair that preceded it. And the upside is having a player who, like Anthony Davis, has a chance to redefine his position. Porzingis! is the most exciting show to hit the Knicks since Linsanity.Read more:CARMELO NBA Player Projections2015-16 NBA Predictions
The strike zone shrinks by as much as 20 percentage points in the top and bottom. With two strikes, borderline pitches — those that are ordinarily 50/50 calls — become 30/70 calls (30 percent strikes, 70 percent balls) for the average umpire. And with two strikes, the most biased umpire calls balls on borderline pitches almost every time. On close calls, umpires act as if they would rather give the batter another chance than call a third strike.In both maps, the biases are greatest where the boundaries of the official strike zone are least apparent. What matters most is the vertical location of the pitch. Standing behind the plate, the umpire can easily tell whether a pitch is too far inside or outside. But it’s harder to know where the pitch is relative to the batter’s knees and chest. We would expect this uncertainty to breed inconsistency. But it also seems to induce the greatest bias. The highest peaks and the deepest parts of the moat are at the top and bottom of the strike zone.Finally, we see that the strike zone shrinks again when the previous pitch in the at-bat was a called strike.Change in the Probability of a Called Strike When the Previous Pitch Was a Called Strike The official strike zone is the red rectangle beneath the heat map. The color and height of the heat map measure the change in the probability of a called strike when the count has three balls versus when there are two or fewer balls. The deep blue signifies no change — these are the pitches that are so obviously a ball or strike that not even a three-ball count changes them. In the center of the official strike zone, obvious strikes are still strikes; on the periphery, obvious balls are still balls. But on the edge of the official strike zone — in the band of uncertainty — a ring of mountains rises from the plane. The strike zone expands in three-ball counts, particularly at the top and bottom of the zone’s vertical axis. Borderline pitches, which are normally called strikes 50 percent of the time, are called strikes about 60 percent of the time with three balls in the count. Umpires act as if they would rather keep an at-bat going on a borderline pitch than issue a walk.In two-strike counts, we see the inverse effect. For close pitches, a strike is now less likely to be called, which makes our heat map look like a moat.Change in the Probability of a Called Strike With Two Strikes The plane at the bottom of the figure is the plane that rises from the front of home plate — the same one on which the official strike zone is occasionally rendered in television replays. The thick red lines on the axes denote the strike zone. The red on the horizontal axis is the width of home plate; the red on the vertical axis is the normalized distance between the batter’s chest and the bottom of his knees.3MLB’s Pitch f/x system provides measurements of the top and bottom of each batter’s strike zone, which we used to normalize the height of the strike zone for each batter. If you were a home-plate umpire, you’d be looking down through the plane, over the catcher’s head and towards the pitcher.The 3D heat map rising from the plane measures the probability of a called strike at each location on the plane. Home-plate umpires are good at calling the obvious. Pitches that travel right down the center of the official strike zone — through the red at the top of the heat map — are called strikes more than 99 percent of the time. Pitches that cross the plane well outside the official strike zone — where the heat map is its deepest blue — are called strikes less than 1 percent of the time.Umpires are inconsistent at the edges of the official strike zone, where the heat map turns green. Here, pitches that cross the plane in the same location are sometimes called strikes and sometimes called balls. This band of uncertainty is wide: about six to eight inches separate pitches that are called strikes 90 percent of the time and pitches that are called balls 90 percent of the time.There’s a difference between an umpire being inconsistent and an umpire being biased. Inconsistency usually takes place within that band of uncertainty, when the umpire makes different calls on pitches at the same location. But he is biased when those differences correlate with factors other than pitch location, like the count. Where umpires are inconsistent, they also happen to be biased. To see this, consider two versions of the figure above: one for when the count has three balls, and one for when the count has fewer than three balls. These heat maps should be the same. Whether there are three balls in the count shouldn’t matter. All that should matter is the location of the pitch.When we look at the difference between these two heat maps, we should see no difference — a flat plane. But we don’t. We see an expansion of the strike zone in three-ball counts.Change in the Probability of a Called Strike With Three Balls Here, the shrinkage is more uniform — about the same on the sides as on the top and bottom. The blue tips of the moat are about 15 percentage points deep: 50/50 calls become 35/65 calls when the last pitch in the at-bat was a called strike. Umpires appear reluctant not only to end the at-bat but also to call two strikes in a row. (Interestingly, there is no change in the probability of a called strike when the last pitch was called a ball.)These mistakes are frequent — pitchers tend to pitch to the borders of the official strike zone. And they are consequential — they happen in the most pivotal calls. When a 50/50 call becomes a 60/40 call, as it does with three balls, umpires are mistakenly calling strikes on 10 percent of borderline pitches. When a 50/50 call becomes a 30/70 call, as it does with two strikes, umpires are mistakenly calling balls on 20 percent of borderline pitches.Major League Baseball has embraced technologies that are meant to make calls on the field more consistent. The league has long used pitch-tracking technology to encourage home-plate umpires to behave more like machines, evidently without complete success. This past offseason, the MLB extended replay review to cover essentially all umpire decisions — except ball and strike calls. Now as before, no justice will be served when a pitcher throws a strike and the umpire drops the ball.This article is adapted from “What Does it Take to Call a Strike? Three Biases in Umpire Decision Making,” which the author wrote with David P. Daniels. Consider a forgotten game in April 2010 between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox were up a run with two outs in the eighth. Their set-up man, Matt Thornton, was on the mound, protecting a lead with a runner on first and the right-handed Jhonny Peralta at bat. Ahead in the count with one ball and two strikes, Thornton froze Peralta with a slider on the outside half of the plate, a couple inches below the belt. For a pitch like that, the umpire, Bruce Dreckman, would normally call a strike — 80 percent of the time, the data shows. But in two-strike counts like Peralta’s, he calls a strike less than half the time.Sure enough, that night Dreckman called a ball. Two pitches later, Peralta lashed a double to right, scoring the runner and tying the game. Neither team scored again until the 11th, when Cleveland scored twice to win the game. Had Peralta struck out to end the top of the eighth, Chicago almost certainly would have won.1When the home team carries a one-run lead into the bottom of the eighth, it wins 89 percent of the time.This one call illustrates a statistical regularity: Umpires are biased. About once a game, an at-bat ends in something other than a strikeout even when a third strike should have been called. Umpires want to make the right call, but they also don’t want to make the wrong call at the wrong time. Ironically, this prompts them to make bad calls more often.That’s according to research I did with David P. Daniels showing that the strike zone changes when the stakes are highest. We looked at more than 1 million pitches, almost all ball and strike calls from the 2009, 2010 and 2011 regular seasons, and found that the strike zone expands in three-ball counts and shrinks in two-strike counts.2Baseball observers have previously documented how the strike zone changes with the count. Other researchers have shown that the count changes how likely umpires are to call a strike outside of the official strike zone or a ball within it. It also shrinks again when the preceding pitch in the at-bat was a called strike. To put it another way, on close calls, umpires are unlikely to call a fourth ball, a third strike, or a second strike in a row. Umpires call balls and strikes as if they don’t want to be noticed.The umpire’s job is simple: Call a strike when the pitch crosses the official strike zone; call a ball when it doesn’t. When the right call is obvious, umpires make it almost every time. One way to see this is to look at the probability of a called strike by pitch location.Probability of a Called Strike
The game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers will have a bigger impact on the Dolphins’ playoff chances than Miami’s game against the Minnesota Vikings. The Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens playoff chances actually improve with a Steelers victory over the Chiefs; this despite the fact that they are battling the Steelers for the division title. With 143 percent of playoff “swing” at stake, the Chiefs-Steelers game figures to be one of the most important matchups this week.At the top of the AFC, the picture is relatively certain. The New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos are virtual locks for the top two seeds and byes in the first round. The Indianapolis Colts’ fate as a third or fourth seed was effectively sealed in Week 11 with their loss to the Patriots. In the NFC, there are still five teams in contention for both the top seed and the bye week. As we mentioned above, a victory would guarantee the Cardinals the top seed. But a loss would drop their top-seed probability to just 7 percent — a swing of 93 percent.CORRECTION (Dec. 18, 9:23 a.m.): The initial version of the “Which Teams To Root For In Week 16” graphic included three instances where a game in one conference (e.g. a matchup between two NFC teams) affected the playoff odds of a team in the opposite conference. These effects are not statistically meaningful and have been removed.CORRECTION (Dec. 20, 2:13 p.m.): Because of a programming error, this analysis miscalculated the outcomes of “head-to-head sweep” tiebreakers involving multiple teams. This miscalculation had a large effect on the race for the top two NFC seeds and a smaller effect on the AFC wild card race. The interactives, tables and text have been updated. The Arizona Cardinals continue to get no respect. Despite an NFC best 11-3 record, Las Vegas has them as eight-point underdogs, at home, against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Similarly, our rankings, which are derived from point spreads, have the Cardinals pegged as just the 19th best team in the NFL. Their “generic points favored”1Generic points favored is what you would expect a team to be favored by against a league average opponent on a neutral field. is essentially zero.The Cardinals are, quite literally, average.Of course, this is largely a reflection of the Cardinals’ starting quarterback situation. Because of injuries to Carson Palmer and backup Drew Stanton, Arizona will start Ryan Lindley against the Seahawks defense. If Lindley and the Cardinals pull off the upset, power rankings, point spreads and “respect” become meaningless, at least when it comes to playoff positioning. A win for Arizona would not only clinch the NFC West title, it would also guarantee it the top seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.A loss keeps the Green Bay Packers in contention for the top seed. Their opponent this week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are in no hurry to win: As you can see in the table above, we’re simulating each team’s chances of getting the top pick in the NFL draft. The Buccaneers are in the lead.With their decisive Monday night victory over the Chicago Bears, the New Orleans Saints re-established themselves as the front-runner in the NFC South. They host the Atlanta Falcons this week in a game that is truly a must-win for Atlanta. A loss would eliminate the Falcons from the playoff race. Although not quite a must-win for New Orleans, the Saints’ chances of winning the division and making the playoffs would drop to 11 percent with a loss to the Falcons. The Carolina Panthers can also afford to lose this week, but a loss to the Cleveland Browns would drop their playoff chances to just 3 percent.As it stands, the probability that the NFC South winner finishes with a losing record is slightly better than 50 percent. And there is about a 1 percent chance that Carolina will win the division with a 6-9-1 record. As if that wasn’t unfair enough, the NFC South winner may also find themselves with a favorable draw in the first round of the playoffs. If Arizona loses this week, they will most likely finish as the fifth seed and face the fourth-seed NFC South winner in the wild card round. The third seed plays the sixth seed in the first round, and that sixth seed would probably be a much tougher opponent than the fifth seed. In the event of an Arizona loss, the most likely sixth-seed teams would be the Detroit Lions, Packers or Dallas Cowboys, all of whom place higher in our rankings than the Cardinals.While all four divisional races are undecided in the NFC, in the AFC, only the North remains up in the air. But with three teams still vying for the AFC North title, and an additional five teams in the wild card race, things are far from settled in the conference. The Miami Dolphins are clinging to a 0.2 percent playoff probability going into Week 16 and will need a lot of help to make it to the postseason. The best case scenario for every team is included in the graphic below, which also includes “top pick” chances for the teams lousy enough to have a shot.
Members of OSU women’s volleyball team celebrate after a point during a match against Nebraska on Oct. 14 at St. John Arena. Credit: Jenna Leinasars | Assistant News DirectorThe Ohio State women’s volleyball team is trying to rebound following a 3-1 upset at the hands of the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday and a loss to Wisconsin at home prior to that.The Buckeyes will have two opportunities for redemption when they host back-to-back home matches this weekend at St. John Arena. OSU clashes with Rutgers on Friday and No. 10 Penn State on Saturday. The loss to the Hoosiers put OSU outside of the American Volleyball Coaches’ Association poll for the first time this season. Upcoming opponent Rutgers holds a 4-23 record and has yet to win a Big Ten match this season, while the Penn State Nittany Lions have maintained their powerhouse presence in the conference and stand at 18-7 overall. Penn State also swept the Buckeyes 3-0 the last time the two teams met on Oct. 19 in University Park, Pennsylvania.Senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe said the team’s loss to Indiana was just the nature of the beast that is the Big Ten conference. “They played really good defense against us, and I don’t think we were able to respond,” she said. “It’s just part of being in the Big Ten. You can’t underestimate anyone, and everyone has something to offer.” OSU coach Geoff Carlston said the Buckeyes have been in a rut for the past couple of matches. Prior to Indiana, OSU took a tough loss to Wisconsin at St. John Arena by a margin of just 11 total points. “The last couple matches, we’ve struggled finding rhythm. We make two or three good plays and then we’ll miss a serve at a crucial time or we just won’t make a play,” Carlston said. “We need to be able to string those runs together.”Putting the past aside, the Buckeyes – from the newcomers to the veterans – are choosing to stay optimistic heading into weekend play. “I really believe we can do it. We’re ready,” said freshman outside hitter Bia Franklin. “We’re going to practice hard this week, and it would be really nice to (get) that revenge (on Penn State).” Sandbothe is looked at as one of OSU’s senior leaders, and the team turns to her in times of trouble. Her strategy relies on keeping everyone calm and collected in the huddle. “It’s just taking a deep breath and refocusing, letting everyone know that we’re all on the same page,” she said. “The middle is a really great time for us to reset.” Sandbothe isn’t just leading by her words. Her play is speaking volumes about her and the team that surrounds her. During the Buckeyes’ last match with Wisconsin, she locked down the OSU record for most career blocks in history with 518 rejections. Sandbothe said the record has only added fuel to her competitive fire. “Now I want to slaughter it. Now I’m going to make sure that it’s not going to be broken for a lot longer,” she said. “It (breaking a record) gives you a greater appreciation for what this program means and the fact that there are people who put the jersey on before you and there’s going to be people who put it on after you.” Sandbothe is confident that OSU can put on a strong performance this weekend. She said back-to-back Friday and Saturday matches are good for the team’s pace. There is also the advantage of playing on home court. Carlston is looking a little farther than the weekend with the NCAA tournament coming up in December. All members of the Buckeyes’ teams have mentioned throughout the season their anticipation to be in the Final Four, which will be played in Columbus at Nationwide Arena. Carlston feels that 12 out of the 15 teams in the Big Ten have the ability to make it into the NCAA tournament, and this is the time for his team to make a statement that OSU should be one of them.“For us, taking care of our business this weekend at home is important,” he said. The Buckeyes will first take on the Scarlet Knights on Friday at 7 p.m. followed by the Nittany Lions at 7 p.m. on Saturday, both at St. John Arena.
Ohio State athletic director and vice president Gene Smith was named 2010 Sports Business Journal Athletic Director of the Year.Over the past year, Ohio State has enjoyed much on-field success, including a victory in the Rose Bowl over Oregon in January.Off the field, the Buckeyes recently celebrated the accomplishments of 503 scholar-athletes, who achieved a grade point average of 3.0 or higher. Smith beat out other athletic directors from the University of North Carolina, Boise State University, UCLA and the University of Alabama. Other winners on the night included Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones as Sports Executive of the Year, Super Bowl XLIV as Sports Event of the Year, CBS Sports as Best in Sports Television, and the Seattle Sounders of the MLS as the Professional Sports Team of the Year. Smith was named athletic director in 2005 and was a finalist for the AD of the Year Award in 2008. The event was held in New York City on Thursday night. The awards are presented annually by the SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily and judged performance from Jan. 1, 2009, to Feb. 28, 2010.
For the first time in seven years, the Ohio State men’s tennis team lost the Big Ten tournament title. But players said they’re using their championship-match loss to Illinois as motivation heading into the NCAA Championship. The No. 3-ranked Buckeyes will serve as host to the first and second rounds of the Division I NCAA Championships Saturday and Sunday. Sophomore Blaz Rola said the Illinois loss was tough to take, but he hopes he can use his disappointment to help the team become NCAA Championships. “After the finals it hurt us, we put a lot of effort and work into it in the last two weeks,” Rola said. “Just trying to stay focused and in shape because we are going to play hopefully in Georgia.” The Buckeyes were selected as the overall No. 5 seed in the field of 64 and will welcome Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and East Tennessee State to Columbus this weekend. Coach Ty Tucker said every team is going to be tough to beat. “The mindset is to get the doubles point and come out in the first sets of singles and try to establish a lead,” he said. Senior Chase Buchanan will compete doubles with Rola as the No. 1 seed. The duo is one of 32 doubles teams competing for the national championship title. “We play all the time together and try to help each other continue to grow,” Buchanan said. “We have a great relationship and we play together everyday.” Tucker said both players have been great team leaders and captains. “The good thing about it is they won two nationals in the fall and consistently got better over the last six months,” Tucker said. “To see our two top guys get together, play as a team together has been great.” Rola said hosting the tournament early on would give his team an advantage. “To have that home-court advantage heading into the NCAAs … and with the crowd support, it gives some confidence going into the Sweet 16, it’s really good,” Rola said. Buchanan said even though this is a very exciting time in his career, he is in no race to finish. “I also want to savor these last few weeks and try to enjoy it as much as possible, because there is really nothing like college tennis,” he said. “It’s so much fun and I hope to enjoy it.” OSU will play in the first round on Saturday against East Tennessee State at 1 p.m.
Ohio State redshirt junior goalie Kassidy Sauve (32) goes for a save in the first period of the game against Minnesota on Jan. 19. Ohio State won 3-2. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorThe No. 5 Ohio State women’s hockey team (17-6-4, 10-3-4 WCHA) was swept in both matchups to Minnesota Duluth (11-13-2, 7-10-2 WCHA) on Friday and Saturday to end its five-game win streak.Game 1Ohio State dropped the series opener 4-1 Friday despite outshooting Minnesota Duluth 39-28 in the game. Just four minutes in the first period, Minnesota Duluth redshirt senior forward Katerina Mrazova scored the first goal of the game, and the only goal of the period.Ohio State responded by evening the game at one goal apiece when freshman forward Tatum Skaggs found the back of the net five minutes into the second period. Junior defender Lauren Boyle and freshman forward Emma Maltais were credited with assists.Minnesota Duluth sophomore defender Jalyn Elmes scored the go-ahead goal to take a 2-1 lead 8:55 into the second period..The Bulldogs were not finished in the second period. Sophomore forward Sydney Brodt and freshman forward Naomi Rogge scored two goals in the period to pull away 4-1, a score which held for the remainder of the game.Ohio State attempted 14 shots in the third period, but none found the back of the net, dropping the first game 4-1. Game 2Ohio State held Minnesota Duluth scoreless through the first two periods of the series finale, but a pair of third period goals pushed the Bulldogs in front for a 2-1 win against the Buckeyes Saturday. The Buckeyes could not find the back of the net in the first period, despite taking 19 shots. But 11 minutes into the second period, Skaggs gave Ohio State a 1-0 lead with her second goal of the series and the first goal of the game.After being shut out through the first two periods, Minnesota Duluth struck early in the third period, scoring a goal from freshman forward Anna Klein 3:52 into the period.Klein followed her goal up with a second score late in the third period to give Minnesota Duluth a 2-1. The Bulldogs held on for the win, rebounding from Ohio State’s October sweep of Minnesota Duluth.
Ohio State freshman offensive lineman Josh Myers prepares for practice at fall camp on Aug. 5. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Sports Editor.The Ohio State football team will head into the 2018 season without many familiar names. There will be no J.T. Barrett at quarterback. No Billy Price at center. No Marcus Baugh at tight end. Instead, there will be somewhat of a young team with only a handful of returning starters.Though the wide receiving corps and running back duo remain largely the same, there will be other young players competing for playing time during the spring game that will be worth watching. Here are a couple of players to keep track of in Saturday’s Spring Game.Jaylen HarrisOhio State began the 2017 season with six starting wide receivers: Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin, Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor, K.J. Hill and Parris Campbell. All will return in 2018.Every wideout brings something different to the table, but none seem to be the top target a passing team needs. Mack has at times looked the part, but he still has more left to prove.Second-year Jaylen Harris, however, could be the missing top target Ohio State needs. Though he caught just two passes for 27 yards last season, Harris offers the Buckeyes a massive target at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds with the speed to be an impact wideout. The former four-star recruit ranked as the 177th-best prospect, 28th-best wide receiver and fourth-best player in the state of Ohio in the 2017 class.He will likely face an uphill battle trying to force playing time in a large group of returning veterans. However, he could get a chance to see ample playing time in the Spring Game with Hill sidelined and the other veterans potentially receiving more rest early. Harris still has plenty to prove, but he could be the top wideout for the Buckeyes if given the playing time.Josh MyersOhio State head coach Urban Meyer has expressed concern in the past with how the battle for center is going with no one between the trio of Brady Taylor, Josh Myers and Matt Burrell yet stepping up in practice to fill the void left by Price.While it appears Taylor remains the favorite to win the starting job, Myers has the skills needed to take on such a role. He was a four-star recruit in the 2017 class and the top prospect in Ohio. Known best as a powerful run blocker, the 6-foot-6, 306-pound lineman just needs to prove that he can handle taking on larger defensive tackles and can effectively snap the ball to whichever quarterback is under center.Myers will likely be slotted as one of the two starters at center during the Spring Game, and it will be interesting to see whether the interior lineman can handle Ohio State’s defensive tackles. The Spring Game won’t be a deciding factor in the decision for Meyer, but it could lend a glimpse to others into how well he is faring at the position.Luke FarrellThe tight end position has historically been one relied upon by Ohio State, but the usage of the role has declined in the past several years. Baugh never was able to produce consistently and there wasn’t anyone to edge him out.While Ohio State added the second-best tight-end recruit in the 2018 recruiting class in Jeremy Ruckert, head coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday that Luke Farrell might be in front of both the four-star tight end and last year’s backup, Rashod Berry.“Luke Farrell has kind of advanced in front of the other guys,” Meyer said on Wednesday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference. “But we’re still trying to finalize that.”Farrell had only two catches for 19 yards in 2017, but was once considered the seventh-best tight end prospect in the 2016 recruiting class. The 6-foot-6, 244-pound tight end was unable to force his way into playing time in 2017. But the redshirt sophomore has a lot to offer Ohio State if he can make himself a reliable receiver.He has never been viewed as an obvious starter at Ohio State. If he starts to show more speed in the Spring Game with the hands needed to be a full-time player at the position, Farrell could go a long way in solidifying his spot as the starting tight end.
Ohio State freshman defensive end Tyreke Smith (11) moves in to tackle a Rutgers player during the second half of the game on Sept. 8. Ohio State won 52-3. Credit: Amal Saeed | Assistant Photo EditorJunior defensive end Chase Young described the Ohio State defensive line as a train. He said when players leave, like Dre’Mont Jones or Nick Bosa, there is always a great pass rusher in the class to continue the production. Some of the younger guys handle that expectation in different ways. Incoming freshman defensive end Noah Potter embraced it, asking for No. 97, the same jersey number worn by the two Bosa brothers. Freshman Zach Harrison was a little more low-key about it, taking whatever jersey number he was given, No. 33. With No. 11 on his back, Tyreke Smith was in the position this past season. He said he felt part of the Ohio State defensive line from the moment he stepped onto campus, but that this year, his sophomore season, feels different. This year, he feels like a key piece of the defensive line. That’s why Young is talking up Smith as the next big thing. “Every great defensive end had that sophomore year, Tyreke Smith can have that year,” Young said. “I would say watch out for Tyreke Smith.” This is the expectation that Smith has for himself, saying he has to “fill the gap” left by Bosa and Jones next season. But that has been an expectation Smith has had from Day One, an expectation heightened by the presence of defensive line coach Larry Johnson. Smith said he wants to achieve greatness with Ohio State, to be the best defensive lineman he could be. Johnson has the same confidence for the sophomore, and that is what Smith likes about his position coach. “I think, every day, I’m getting better out here training with him,” Smith said. “When I am doing good, that’s not enough for him. I like that about him. He is pushing me to a limit. He thinks I can be elite.”For Smith, he knows this is the year to do it. After recording seven tackles for loss and five sacks in his freshman season, Bosa broke through in 2017, leading the team with 16 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Young did the same thing in his sophomore season, accumulating 14.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks this past season. Smith, in limited playing time, has yet to record a tackle for loss or a sack, coming into 2019 with nine tackles to his name. But Young sees the same type of player he was training for his sophomore season that Smith is now. “Last year, this spring, I was a dog: hungry. That’s just how Tyreke is,” Young said. “I told him that’s what I expect. I expect for, after me, after Nick, then after me, it’s you.” It’s the next-man-up mentality Johnson has made into the mantra of Ohio State, and it’s something Smith has really latched onto. He said Johnson has the ability to turn an average player into a great one. This is the place Johnson thinks Smith is in: a young player who is beginning to come along. “Tyreke has always been quick. He’s always been in great shape, and now it’s just learning to play football,” Johnson said. “Last year was big learning experience, I can tell you that. Now, we see the player he’s possible of being. Tyreke has a great future ahead of him.” Young said Smith has been showing this in practice, and that his personal expectations are sky high, saying he expects a Smith sack on every play, and if not, he’s going to “be in his grill about it.” Smith does not seem to need the extra motivation. “I feel like this year, this year is the year I have to show out and show the country what I’m made of,” Smith said. Because the train needs to continue to move. Young is already looking past his time at Ohio State, and who will become the next leader. Young sees that in Smith. “He don’t have no choice but to rise up,” Young said. “If he keeps going as hard as he can and gives great effort, he has no choice but to rise.”