The Golden State Warriors and their fans are (rightly) focused on celebrating a championship right now. But with their 105-97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night, the Warriors put the finishing touches on a run that was no ordinary title-winning season. The Warriors’ 2014-15 campaign should go down as one of the greatest single seasons in league history.Golden State’s journey started with the unrealized potential of previous years. The 2013 team overachieved under second-year head coach Mark Jackson, but an ousting in the first round of the 2014 playoffs and a lack of harmony between Jackson and management sent Golden State looking for new leadership going into this season. After Steve Kerr spurned the New York Knicks1In retrospect, an outstanding decision! to take the Warriors coaching job and the smoke cleared on the rest of the offseason’s transactions, our numbers said the Warriors had the most talented team in basketball.But our crystal ball didn’t foresee how dominant the Warriors would be. During the regular season, Golden State crushed their competition in a way that hadn’t been seen since the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls. Golden State won 67 games, tied for the sixth-most in league history, and its schedule-adjusted points-per-game margin (as measured by Basketball-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System, also known as SRS) ranked seventh all-time. The team became just the fourth in NBA history to outperform the league average by 6 points of efficiency on one side of the ball — in the Warriors’ case, offense — and by 4 points on the other. Moreover, the team’s Elo rating at the end of the regular season was second only to that of the record-setting 1996 Bulls.After those 67 wins, though, there were lingering concerns about Golden State’s ability to win in the postseason.Unlike other dominating squads from the past, the Warriors were relative greenhorns on the postseason stage — in a sport in which playoff experience does seem to have a tangible effect. Their 288 dynasty points2A measure of playoff experience. over the preceding five seasons3Leading up to 2015. were the fewest ever by a team with an SRS of +8 or better and tied the 2014 Clippers for the second-fewest by a +6.5 SRS team. Out of the 95 historical teams with anywhere near as much regular-season success as the Warriors had in 2014-15, Golden State owned (at best) the fourth-worst postseason pedigree over the half-decade beforehand.Relatedly, while the Warriors dominated our power ratings all season long, their talent level was less proven than that of their stronger peers atop the all-time SRS list. For instance, while the aggregated multiyear Statistical Plus/Minus talent projection was an absurd +10.9 for members of the 1996 Bulls, +10.4 for the 1997 Bulls and +9.2 for the 1992 Bulls, Golden State’s +7.5 rating was more akin to the 2009 Cavaliers’ +7.1 mark. Simply put, the Warriors hadn’t been good enough for long enough to generate a higher talent rating, which might also suggest the potential for postseason regression.Not to mention that the Warriors also played a fast-paced, 3-point heavy style that traditionalists were still not convinced could win an NBA championship. While there’s little evidence that such a team is more prone to slumps, no team that led the league in pace had won a title since the 1972 Lakers, and no team had ever won after using more than 29 percent of their field-goal attempts on 3-pointers. The NBA’s conventional wisdom was that those types of teams couldn’t win a title because their supposedly gimmicky strengths would surely abandon them when the pressure was on.The Warriors hopefully put those myths to rest with a championship run that counts among the best of the past three decades. It wasn’t without its moments of concern. Golden State trailed 2 games to 1 against both Memphis and Cleveland. But on the whole, the Warriors’ postseason performance ranks eighth among champions since 1984 after accounting for their scoring margin, the SRS ratings of their opponents and the location and leverage index of each game:If we don’t adjust for leverage and therefore have the ability to measure playoff SRS going back to 1950, Golden State’s 2015 title run ranks 16th among all 66 NBA champions in that span. By that measure, the Warriors might not pass the 1971 Bucks or 1996 Bulls — both of whom followed up the two best regular seasons of all time by SRS with two of the three best playoff runs ever4The other belongs to the inconsistent 2001 Lakers. — on the list of best single-season teams ever, and it might even open up the door for the 1986 Celtics to slip ahead of them on the basis of a superior postseason performance.(Although, it’s worth noting that Golden State wrapped up the playoffs with the second-highest Elo rating on record and that they played in a league with nearly twice as many teams as Milwaukee did in 1971. But I digress.)Half the fun of these GOAT arguments is splitting hairs with different stats, but the most important thing to realize is that these Warriors firmly belong in that conversation. This might be the start of something even bigger for the franchise, or it could be a stand-alone championship. But for at least one season, we just witnessed a team that could legitimately be compared to Jordan’s Bulls, with hardly any hyperbole necessary.For fans of basketball history on this championship morning-after, that’s worth appreciating and celebrating.
92013Seahawks8.013-3Won Super Bowl NYG51LAR62LAR 51, NYG 17+9.5– GB66%DET54%DET 30, GB 17+18.8– 72009Jets8.99-7Lost in conference championship PHI75PHI77DEN 23, PHI 51-1.0– 102011Ravens7.912-4Lost in conference championship Jaguars defense could end up being the best in a decadeTop 10 defensive expected points added per game since 2006 62008Eagles9.09-6Lost in conference championship ATL51ATL52ATL 17, CAR 20-2.7– 20122930223028 HOU72HOU73IND 20, HOU 14-4.5– The Jags’ rapid ascent to the top of the league’s defensive rankings has been sudden, so you’d be forgiven for missing it. Of their eight games so far this year, they’ve held opposing teams to 7 points or fewer in four of them (most in the NFL), compared with zero all of last year. And they’re not just the best in 2017. Seth Walder of the ESPN Stats & Information Group neatly detailed before Week 9 that the Jags’ secondary is on pace to become the best pass defense since 2006 — yes, better than the Legion of Boom. From an overall view, of the 10 defenses with the highest expected points added per game since 2006, only Ray Lewis’s 2008 Baltimore Ravens rank ahead of Doug Marrone’s defense. JAX62JAX65CIN 7, JAX 23+0.1– RANKYEARTEAMEPA/GAMERECORDPLAYOFFS 12008Ravens11.611-5Lost in conference championship 22017*Jaguars11.05-3 201625651913 42008Steelers10.212-4Won Super Bowl Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 9Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 9 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game 20132827252927 20142626222718 PER GAME *Through Week 9Source: ESPN STATS & INFORMATION GROUP OUR PREDICTION (ELO)READERS’ PREDICTION We would like to use this moment to offer a formal apology to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Over the past few years, pointing out Jacksonville’s many hilarious inadequacies has been one of our favorite hobbies (like we did here, here and here). And on occasion, we’ve gone out of our way to insert jokes about the Jaguars into articles that weren’t even about them (such as here and here). In our defense, they did deserve it: Between 2011 and 2016, Jacksonville won just 22 games — the fewest in the NFL. But this season, no one is laughing about the Jaguars, who are 5-3 and tied for first place in the AFC South. For the first time since 2010, the Jags have an Elo rating of more than 1500, meaning that after seven years, they’re finally an above average team again.1An Elo rating of approximately 1500 is considered average.The last time Jacksonville was this good, the Apple iPad was just a few months old, “The Social Network” had just been released, and the Chicago Bears were playoff-bound. And the Jaguars aren’t just above average. With their 23-7 win over the Bengals in Week 9, the Jags now have an 83 percent chance of making the postseason for the first time since 2007, according to our NFL Elo predictions. While much-maligned (by us) quarterback Blake Bortles has shown marginal improvements this year, it’s been the defense that’s had the biggest influence on the Jaguars’ winning ways. (“Jaguars” and “winning ways” sounds so strange to say aloud.)In the past two drafts, almost two-thirds of Jacksonville’s picks have been on the defensive end, including Yannick Ngakoue, who has 6.5 sacks so far this season. In free agency this year, the Jags signed Calais Campbell to a four-year, $60 million deal, and Campbell currently leads the league in sacks with 11. The dividends this season of the team’s focus on defense have been tremendous: Through Week 9, the Jags rank No. 1 in the league in points per game allowed with just 14.6 and expected points added with 11 per game. Another half of the football season still remains, and Jacksonville has work to do to ensure a playoff berth. But their chances of making the postseason are partly predicated on the strength of their remaining schedule: Of their eight remaining games, the Jags have a higher Elo rating than seven of their opponents. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll finish with a 12-4 record — they do play four of those remaining games on the road, and they are still the Jaguars after all. (Sorry, we had to slip one more in.)FiveThirtyEight vs. The ReadersWeek 9 in the NFL saw plenty of teams fighting for their playoff spots — in some cases quite literally. Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green’s double ejection sparked an all-out brawl. And things got heated in New Orleans when the Saints and Buccaneers got into it on the Tampa Bay sideline. In our NFL prediction game this week — in which we invite you to outsmart our Elo algorithm — the readers had a couple of double-digit wins, the largest of which came as the Lions beat the Packers on the road to net the readers a whopping 18.8 points. For some reason, Elo picked Jay Cutler and Miami and was punished for doing so in the Raiders’ 27-24 win over the Dolphins, which netted readers 12.4 points. Make sure you get your Week 10 predictions in early — see you next week. 32006Ravens10.813-3Lost in divisional playoffs 20153124291524 2017*131271 Jacksonville (yes, Jacksonville) has the NFL’s best defenseThe Jaguars’ defensive ranks since 2012 NO79NO74TB 10, NO 30-4.2– 52006Bears9.113-3Lost Super Bowl 82012Bears8.410-6Missed playoffs YEARPOINTSYARDSPASS YARDSRUSH YARDSEPA BUF59BUF64BUF 21, NYJ 34-8.4– SEA76SEA73WSH 17, SEA 14+1.8– *Through Week 9Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group KC52KC59KC 17, DAL 28-10.1– MIA60OAK54OAK 27, MIA 24+12.4– 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. TEN56TEN55BAL 20, TEN 23-2.6– PICKWIN PROB.PICKWIN PROB.RESULTREADERS’ NET PTS ARI66ARI62ARI 20, SF 10-5.7–
Jordan Spieth80031127.3 Zach Johnson100021216.7 Bubba Watson101121414.3 Does not include Champions Tour or Web.com wins.Source: GolfStats Ernie Els1317243611.1 Phil Mickelson363254610.9 Tiger Woods48618158717.2 Brooks Koepka2104757.1% PlayerPGA TourEuroWGCMajorsTotalShare From Majors Angel Cabrera1302633.3 Wins Rory McIlroy97242218.2 Vijay Singh30213368.3 Retief Goosen59021612.5 Brooks Koepka bashed and buried the field over the first three rounds at Bethpage Black, and then held on for dear life Sunday to win the 2019 PGA Championship. While Long Island’s ostentatiously difficult public golf course chewed up the world’s best players — only six players in the 156-man field finished below par — the 29-year-old finished with an eight-under-par 272 and fought off a huge scare from Dustin Johnson — the world’s No. 1 player. With the wire-to-wire win, Koepka is the first golfer to hold back-to-back, concurrent major titles. And of the last nine championships played, the hulking West Palm Beach native has claimed four.Koepka entered Sunday with a seven-stroke lead, a lead no golfer had ever blown at the tournament after 54 holes. He nearly blew it anyway. Johnson, who has similar ball-shaping skills, uses an equally intense workout regimen and is one of Koepka’s best friends, mounted a furious comeback, firing a 69 while leading the field in strokes gained off the tee (2.32), according to Data Golf. Johnson pulled within a single stroke of the lead with three holes remaining, but bogeyed two consecutive holes to fall out of contention. Koepka rallied to stem the tide and ended his day by hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy.This was quite the departure from Thursday, when Koepka carded a course-record 63, a showcase he aptly described as “a crazy day.” With Koekpa four shots clear of the field, Las Vegas bookmakers installed him with 5-to-4 odds to win after one day of competition. He quickly made those odds seem conservative as he followed it up with a 65 to extend the lead. Paired with Tiger Woods in the opening two rounds, Koepka steamrolled golf’s prodigal son by 17 strokes across two days.Golf has become a power-driven sport, and few, if any, people on tour supply more than Koepka, who frequently appears to be taking a machete to his ball. He certainly set the standard this week, leading the field in strokes gained tee-to-green in each of the first three rounds and in total, according to Data Golf. But even that undersells how precise his irons were, as Koepka also led the tournament in strokes gained on shots approaching the green.On golf’s biggest stages, Koepka shows up to win. It makes you wonder: Why doesn’t he collect more trophies in the PGA Tour’s garden-variety events? With two non-major PGA Tour wins and one European Tour title, Koepka’s major wins now outnumber his minor ones. More than half (57.1 percent) of his career wins have come at major championships, which is a higher share than any other active golfer who has won at least two majors. For comparison, less than 18 percent of Woods’s career victories have come at majors. Padraig Harrington311031717.7 Brooks is a major playerShare of professional wins that came at majors for active golfers who’ve won at least two majors since 2000 Martin Kaymer19021216.7 In most of Koepka’s victories, the entire tournament feels calculated, as though he’s playing out a simulation that he ran through a thousand times before he took the course. Get-off-your-seat moments are few and far between with Koepka, who looks as though he was engineered in a lab and delivers relentless power while leaving events largely lusterless. Some of that is because Koepka has the demeanor of a world-class poker player. Some of it is how easily he lays waste to a golf course. But on Sunday, we learned that golf’s RoboCop can still bleed. The wheels fell off, and he had to dig deep to finish off his best friend. But Koepka did just that, making history as he evolved into a new type of champion: one who’s proved he can survive.
With the MLB trade deadline approaching, texts are pinging between front-office executives, general managers are holding hushed phone calls, and amateur internet sleuths are breaking major stories. But swapping players isn’t just a deadline pastime these days. Whether it’s the result of rule changes, smarter front offices or the natural ebbs and flows of the market, the last few years have featured more trades than ever before, both before and after the deadline, making the deadline less relevant in relation to the rest of the year.Regardless of your rooting interests, it’s always entertaining to watch the buyers and sellers jostling to make the best deadline deal. On a day-by-day basis, this part of the season has always been the busiest part of the baseball calendar for trades, and it shows few signs of slowing down.However, the percentage of all trades taking place at the deadline has actually gone down in the past eight years, with teams trading up a storm throughout the entire year. Since 2009 (the first year for which Baseball Prospectus has transaction data), the total volume of trades across MLB has increased by an average of 14 percent every season. Deadline deals used to make up about quarter to a third of all trades; in the last four years they only represented roughly one-sixth of of all trades. There isn’t an immediate or obvious reason why trades have spiked so dramatically. Rule changes — especially those included in a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) — could have contributed. Before 2012, teams were eligible to receive a draft pick in return for a free agent who left the team, even if he was traded to that roster midseason. Under the new CBA, which went into effect in 2012, the value of those potential free agents dropped, since a team could no longer get draft-pick compensation for them. But the increase in trade volume appears to be a gradual rise, not the one-time bump we’d expect to see immediately after the CBA was adopted if the change in rules was responsible for the rise.Likewise, we might expect the recent dramatic increase in front-office jobs (particularly in analytics) to help boost trade volume because all those new workers could increase a team’s ability to juggle multiple potential offers. (The older, smaller front offices likely would have been forced to focus on only one deal at a time.) But there’s also very little correlation between the number of analysts in a front office and the frequency of trades, so it seems like front-office expansion isn’t to blame.Two more legitimate contributing factors, however, might be the second wild-card slot (instituted in 2012) and the newfound prevalence of tanking in MLB. The additional playoff spot encourages more teams to try to contend, which has sometimes resulted in an arms race of acquiring talent at the trade deadline. Last year’s American League East featured three teams (the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles) buying pitching in July, presumably with the hope of vaulting into contention.Tanking works in the opposite direction: When teams are forced to decide between the playoffs and rebuilding, they have more incentive to either trade their valuable players or gain additional strength. The White Sox were frozen in mediocrity for a long time, but in the last year, they unloaded all their stars, from Adam Eaton to Jose Quintana, for prospects. Those kind of abrupt sell-offs have changed the structure of the league and moved dozens more players between teams.Quintana is an especially representative example, because more pitchers are getting moved than in previous years. Hurler trades reached a nadir in 2013, when only 41.6 percent of traded players were pitchers. Last year, however, that percentage had risen to 52.6 percent, a big swing in only a few years. And although we saw a buildup in bullpen swaps last year, with the Indians grabbing Andrew Miller and the Cubs obtaining Aroldis Chapman, the increase in pitcher trades seems to be evenly divided between starters and relievers. In the new, juiced-ball MLB frontier, it may be that teams put an extra premium on acquiring good pitching.Trades can sometimes reveal the strategies a team is employing or the type of players they value the most. But just as often, they are mysterious, the outcome of negotiations to which the public is not privy. Whether due to tanking, the wild card, or some other factor, trades are way, way up and more pitchers are switching teams than before. That makes the deadline more exciting than ever, but it’s also just another block of time in MLB’s trade-happy calendar.
In retrospect, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 6-5 loss to the Miami Marlins on May 16 was probably the low point of their 2018 season. It was the Dodgers’ sixth consecutive defeat and their ninth in 10; it dropped their overall record to 16-26, then only the fourth-best in their division; and it brought their playoff odds to a season low of 22 percent.For a team that had won 473 regular-season games over the previous five seasons (the most in baseball during that period), came within a game of winning the World Series last year and was expected to waltz to a sixth consecutive division crown this year, the season’s ugly start was hard to understand or explain. After that loss to the Marlins, L.A. manager Dave Roberts could only reach for Winston Churchill. “When you’re going through hell,” he told the L.A. Times, “keep going.”Roberts and his team did exactly that. Beginning with a convincing 7-0 win the next day against the same Marlins club that had just beaten them in two straight, the Dodgers promptly rattled off a streak of 22 wins against just nine losses, through games played on June 20, and increased their playoff chances by 37 percentage points — an improvement bested only by the Seattle Mariners over that period.The team has improved its hitting since May 16, driving its overall weighted runs created plus (wRC+), a catchall offensive statistic, from 94 before that date — meaning the team was 6 percent below league average offensively, on the whole — to 117 since then. L.A. has benefited from a standout performance by the pleasantly alliterative Max Muncy, whose 13 home runs and 163 wRC+ on the season lead the team. It hasn’t hurt, either, that Joc Pederson seems to have recovered from an early season slump and is now contributing as expected.The starting pitching, meanwhile, has held serve, moving from a 3.37 mark in fielding-independent pitching (FIP)1FIP is a measure of pitching performance scaled to ERA that strips out the contributions of team defense. before their recent surge to 3.29 since it began. Even that small improvement was far from a given, of course, because injuries to an astonishing number of Dodger starting pitchers — at least five, depending on how you count it, including the best pitcher in the world in Clayton Kershaw — left the Los Angeles rotation to be held together by a combination of (Alex) Wood and duct tape.But the real heroes of L.A.’s recent surge — and, to be fair, also some of the key contributors to the team’s early season struggles — have been the men of the Los Angeles bullpen, who have curbed a worrying early season tendency toward allowing home runs, especially late in games, and collectively improved their FIP from 4.40 before the surge (26th in baseball) to 3.17 after it (sixth). The central player in that turnaround story has been Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers’ star closer who for the early part of the season looked like anything but. Jansen made just five spring training appearances, slowed by a hamstring injury, and his early season numbers were the kind that might make Dodger fans wish he’d stayed on the DL. Since May 16, he’s been lights out: His 1.06 ERA is by four-tenths of a run the best in the game among relievers with at least as many innings.That improvement has probably helped drive a significant increase in the Dodgers’ success in one-run games after May 16 — 6-3, compared with 4-7 up to that date — which has helped bring L.A.’s actual winning percentage (.521) somewhat more in line with its higher-order winning percentages, which strip out the effects of sequencing and luck often manifested in bullpen meltdowns.In a sense, none of this is particularly surprising stuff. The Dodgers had a spate of injuries and underperformance early in the season that would sink most clubs, and they still managed to win nearly 40 percent of their games. Now that their bullpen has regained its elite status, their hitters have started hitting for power again (their 35 home runs so far in June are the most in baseball), and their starting pitchers have started to return to the rotation, the Dodgers look more like the club everyone expected them to be early on — and perhaps always were.Every good team has bad months, after all. Even the 104-win Dodgers of last season had a 25-game stretch in which they went 5-20, at one point losing 11 straight. It’s just that this year’s Dodger slump came at the beginning of the season, when nobody had banked wins to fall back on and every sportswriter in America was looking for a narrative to focus on. The simple and boring story here is probably that the Dodgers weren’t bad at the beginning of this year — they were just unlucky.It’s now almost July, and the Dodgers’ bad luck appears to be over. They’re heating up just in time for the official start of summer, and in no mood to concede a division title that’s been theirs since before Max Muncy was a glimmer in Dave Roberts’ eye. The early part of the season may have felt like going through hell for Dodgers, but they’ve played themselves out of it.Check out our latest MLB predictions.
OSU senior attackman Cian Dabrowski (14) charges forward with the ball while Penn State senior Ally Heavens (26) plays defense during a game in Columbus on April 9. OSU won, 16-13. Credit: Evan Szymkowicz | Sports DirectorIt was all about the Ohio State women’s lacrosse team’s senior class on Saturday. The nine players were honored on the field before the game against Penn State, and then they stole the show during it, helping lift the Buckeyes to victory. Cian Dabrowski tied a career-high with seven points, attacker Rainy Hodgson added eight points and goalie Katie Frederick stopped 13 shots, one shy of her career-best, to help No. 12 OSU upset ninth-ranked Penn State 16-13 on a blistering cold day in Columbus. “I’m at a loss for words right now,” said Dabrowski, who had four goals and three assists. “I think it means a lot to the whole senior class, and the whole team. We all contributed to this win. We had something to go against there from losing in (the Big Ten tournament) to them. We were all really fired up for the game.” With the win, the Buckeyes added to the best start in program history at 11-1, while the Nittany Lions dropped to 9-3. It’s also just the second time in 11 games that OSU has beaten Penn State.“Every year this game with Penn State is such a battle,” Hodgson said. “We were really hyped to get back out here.” The Buckeyes mounted a six-goal lead 10 minutes into the second half and it looked like they might be able to run away from the Nittany Lions. But not so fast. The Nittany Lions ripped off four unanswered goals to trim OSU’s lead to two with 14:12 remaining in the game. Both teams traded shots over the next five minutes, keeping Penn State within striking distance.“You’ve got calm them down in those moments,” said OSU coach Alexis Venechanos. “I think we got a little too emotional. We needed to get back to the gameplan, do what we’ve been doing.”And that’s what happened. The Buckeyes regained their momentum, scoring the game’s final four goals to secure the win, which is the 45th victory for the senior class, tying a program record.“It was important for us to have the lead then come back after they had their big run,” Venechanos said.The Buckeyes jumped out to a quick 3-1 lead to start the game behind goals from Dabrowski, senior midfielder Christine Easton, who would score twice more later on, and Hodgson.Yet the early hole didn’t phase Penn State. The Nittany Lions remained composed on offense, taking time to move the ball around their attack area to set up high-percentage looks. It paid off. Penn State netted three goals in less than three minutes — with a Dabrowski goal sandwiched inside — to tie the game at 4-4 with 16:54 left in the half.But from there until the halftime buzzer, it was all Scarlet and Gray. OSU seized momentum, using two goals from Dabrowski and sophomore attacker Molly Wood, three timely saves from Frederick and a last-second goal from Easton to lead 9-5 at the break. “That was huge for us,” Dabrowski said. “Our defense made some great stops, and Frederick in the cage was huge. Lacrosse is a big game of momentum, so it really helped us out.”The Buckeyes’ offensive barrage resumed promptly once the second half began. In the first two minutes, OSU found the net twice, first from Hodgson and then from a cutting Easton, who received a lob pass from Dabrowski and rifled it past senior goalkeeper Emi Smith. Penn State freshman attacker Madison Carter answered less than a minute later to make it 11-7. The Buckeyes responded with two consecutive goals, including Hodgson’s third of the game, to make it 13-7, although it almost wasn’t enough to withstand Penn State’s ensuing four-goal run. Sophomore midfielder Katie O’Donnell lead the Nittany Lions with four goals, while Carter added three. Penn State was just the second team all season to score in double figures against the Buckeyes, a statistic Venechanos pointed out. The coach said the Buckeyes will look to clean their defense up during the week as a result, although she’s happy with the overall effort.“I think every game we’re learning from and getting better,” Venechanos said. “This group is really hungry.” The Buckeyes are set to get back in action on Saturday against top-ranked Maryland (10-0). OSU will try replicating the success it had against the Terrapins in the Big Ten semifinals a season ago. In that game, Maryland was also undefeated and ranked No. 1, but that didn’t stop OSU from upsetting them 11-10. Play is scheduled to start at noon in College Park, Maryland.
The No. 19 Ohio State softball team will welcome California, Bucknell and Kentucky to Buckeye Field this weekend when it hosts one of the 16 NCAA regional tournaments.The Buckeyes will open up the double-elimination regional against the Kentucky Wildcats at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Bucknell will play No. 11 California at 5 p.m.Last season, the Buckeyes defeated the Wildcats, 7-2, in the Columbus Regional, earning them a trip to the Super Regional for the first time in program history.“We have to do some homework on all three teams,” coach Linda Kalafatis said in a press release. “I have been on a rankings committee this season so I have seen a lot of what Cal and Kentucky have done this season, so I know they will be very competitive.”This is the seventh-overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament for the Buckeyes.The winner of the Columbus Regional will face the winner of the Athens Regional next weekend, May 28 and 29.
“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual,” Vince Lombardi said. Since 2000, the owners of the NFL’s four best regular season records are the Indianapolis Colts (121-48), New England Patriots (119-50), Pittsburgh Steelers (109-59) and Philadelphia Eagles (109-59). Between them, the NFL’s “big four” have 30 playoff appearances, nine Super Bowl appearances and six Super Bowl titles. Also telling is the number of coaches who have managed these four teams in that span: six. Not only have the coaches of these NFL powers re-invented themselves throughout the years, they’ve managed to earn and maintain the respect of professional football players. That’s no easy task. A big part of the four’s success is that each organization drafted a franchise quarterback. Peyton Manning holds the NFL-record Most Valuable Player awards with four. Tom Brady has three Super Bowl rings, and Ben Roethlisberger has two. Donovan McNabb led the Eagles to five NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl appearance. But what’s more telling is the success they had with the receivers at their disposal. Yes, Manning had Marvin Harrison, Brady had Randy Moss, Roethlisberger has Hines Ward, and McNabb had Terrell Owens. They’ve also gotten it done with guys like Austin Collie and David Patten, players willing to sacrifice for the greater good. A stable coach. A talented, driven quarterback. A collection of team-first players. That’s how the “big four” have stayed among the NFL’s elite year after year. This season has brought more of the same. The Steelers, Patriots and Eagles are tied for first in their respective divisions. The Colts are all alone at the top of the AFC South. On the other hand, this season has been a disappointment for three teams with preseason Super Bowl aspirations. This trio now appears to have nothing more than rosters teeming with un-coachable talent headed by talent-less head coaches. I’m looking at you, Vikings, Bengals and Cowboys. Minnesota has endured an offseason hijacked by the teary-eyed and turnover-prone Brett Favre and a regular season torpedoed by Moss, whose off-the-field antics (three teams in 10 weeks) have generated more buzz than his on-field numbers (23 catches, five touchdowns, 100 routes half-assed). Players don’t believe coach Brad Childress supports them. Cincinnati has three players — Dhani Jones, Owens and Chad Ochocinco — who star in their own reality television shows. Cincy has two wins this season. That’s one more reality show than wins, by my count. Its franchise quarterback, Carson Palmer, hasn’t progressed. He still stares down receivers and is wildly inaccurate at times. Furthermore, Palmer hasn’t asserted leadership over the team. If he had, Ochocinco’s in-game whine fests would have ended long ago. Coach Marvin Lewis, the 2009 NFL Coach of the Year, looks apathetic both on the sideline and in his game-planning. Dallas’ downfall has been comical, sans Tony Romo’s broken collarbone. The fans who expected America’s team to be the first squad to host a Super Bowl in their home stadium have instead spent their time booing their boys off the field multiple times. And rightfully so — Dallas quit at home against Jacksonville, and on the road in Green Bay, which ended up costing coach Wade Phillips his job. These NFL diva squads should heed Lombardi and follow the blueprint of team-oriented success laid down by the “big four.”
To those who remain disheartened by OSU’s first loss of the season, the idea of challenging in the Leaders Division may seem farfetched. However, the fact remains that it was a non-conference loss, albeit one that damaged our collective ego. We all watched the same game, and it wasn’t pretty. Despite the agony that Saturday’s loss held for members of Buckeye Nation, it’s still too early to jump off the OSU bandwagon. The reason you should bunker down with the Buckeyes is simple: they can still win the Leaders Division and the Big Ten. “There’s a lot of areas where we know we need to go back and take a real hard look at.” Several members of the team, including junior defensive lineman John Simon, said as much after the loss. “We’re only going to get better from here,” Simon said. “We can still accomplish our goals. We can still be Big Ten champs.” If you were watching the Buckeyes’ 24-6 loss to Miami at your home, no one would fault you for shouting expletives, throwing things at your TV, or simply changing the channel. Similarly, if you made the trip down to Miami for the game, you had every right to leave your seat and walk out of Sun Life Stadium before the final whistle. The team needs to take a methodical approach to dissecting its weaknesses through week three of this season, and first-year head coach Luke Fickell said the team would do just that. There’s a case to be made that Fickell has already improved parts of his team through its first three games, namely the special teams unit. Sophomore kicker Drew Basil entered the Miami game 0-for-2 on field goal attempts, but nailed two field goal attempts against the Hurricanes. One week after having a punt blocked by Toledo, redshirt junior punter Ben Buchanan kept the Buckeyes competitive against Miami as he averaged 46.5 yards on six punts. Buchanan also blasted a career-long 60-yard punt and pinned the ‘Canes inside their own 20-yard line three times. You might still be in for a wild ride by when Big Ten conference play begins. If special teams’ play improved that much in just a matter of days, who is to say Fickell can’t implement immediate improvements to other areas of his team? Also, don’t forget that DeVier Posey, Dan Herron, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas will return from suspension in time for OSU’s final seven Big Ten games. It’s a long season, and I don’t know about you, but my calendar still reads “September.” There’s just too much football left to play in 2011, so dust yourself off, tape up your bruises and hop back on the bandwagon. “We’re not going to jump to any conclusions,” Fickell said. “I think we really have to do a great job at sitting down and trying to figure out how we need to move forward and where our focus is going to be.
The Ohio State men’s hockey team has been playing so well lately, even head coach Mark Osiecki is a little surprised. The No. 14 Buckeyes swept No. 7 Michigan in a two-game series this weekend in Ann Arbor, Mich., and are currently riding a seven-game winning streak and a nine-game unbeaten streak. “I think it’s amazing. When you combine the work ethic that they have with the determination to compete that they have, I think anything can happen,” Osiecki said. “Yeah, sure, we’re probably a bit further ahead, if we were betting, where we thought we would be.” The sweep of the Wolverines was the first for OSU in Ann Arbor since 1986, and the first against Michigan in any arena since 1989 in a home-and-home series. Michigan struck first in Saturday’s game, but OSU scored twice in a three-minute span for a 2-1 lead after the first period. Sophomore forwards Alex Lippincott and Chris Crane scored for the Buckeyes in the opening stanza. The Wolverines tied the game early in the second period. OSU freshman forward Ryan Dzingel answered Michigan’s score with two goals in a 16-second span on an OSU major power play for a 4-2 lead. Michigan added a power-play goal at 12:03 to cut the Buckeye’s lead to one, but freshman forward Max McCormick scored at 15:58 and OSU lead, 5-3, after 40 minutes. Lippincott scored early in the third period after Michigan tied the game at five , to preserve the win and series sweep, as OSU won the second game of the series, 6-5. OSU senior goalie Cal Heeter had 26 saves in the win, though the Buckeyes allowed more than two goals in a game for the first time since their 3-0 loss at Michigan State on Oct. 20. The Buckeyes won the first game of the series Friday night, 2-1. Michigan scored first at 15:26 in the first period, but the Buckeyes were quick to respond with a goal of their own. OSU freshman forward Darik Angeli tied the game at 1-1, 2:16 after the Wolverines’ goal. Following a scoreless second period, OSU took the lead for good with a goal from Angeli 7:53 into the final period. Angeli took a pass from freshman defenseman Al McLean and fired the puck off Michigan goalie Shawn Hunwick, which bounced into the net. Heeter had 29 saves in the win, and the Buckeyes killed all four of Michigan’s power plays. The Buckeyes’ freshmen accounted for five of OSU’s eight goals in the two-game series. Osiecki praised the performances of his freshmen following the weekend series. “I thought our freshmen played outstanding,” he said. “Our young guys did very well. I think if you look at stat sheet for (Saturday), our freshmen did a lot of the work. I think that speaks volumes.” “This was excellent for our team. We’re taking another step to continue to get better,” Osiecki said. “It’s fun to see our guys playing hard for each other.” OSU is now 10-3-1 on the year and moved into sole possession of first place in the CCHA with a 7-2-1-1 conference record. Michigan dropped to 7-5-2, 3-5-2-1 in the CCHA. After a week off, the Buckeyes will play No. 12 Lake Superior in a two-game series in Columbus starting Dec. 2 at 7:05.