Pretty much every team that survives its first two games and advances to the Sweet 16 has the right to be pleased with its performance. But four men’s teams — Duke, Arizona, Michigan State and Gonzaga — should be especially giddy. Their odds of winning the championship have improved the most so far.In the table below, I’ve compared the 16 surviving teams in two ways: First, by the change in their power rating in the FiveThirtyEight forecast since before the tournament began, and second, by the change in their probability of winning the tournament.Teams’ power ratings can change for two reasons. Our model updates the power ratings at the end of each game based on how a team performs relative to its expectations. A team that wins by an especially wide margin, or that wins as an underdog, will see the largest gains. By contrast, a team’s power rating may decline if it wins by a smaller-than-expected margin.We’re also continually updating the model with new data on player injuries. Two injury situations are the most critical so far: North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks’ Sweet 16 status is uncertain after he hurt his knee in the Tar Heels’ Saturday win against Arkansas. And Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson has yet to play despite hopes that he might have returned.Apart from the changes in its power rating, a team’s chances of winning the tournament can change because its draw becomes harder or easier. Michigan State’s probability has improved not just because they beat Virginia, for instance, but also because the No. 1 seed in the East region, Villanova, was ousted by North Carolina State.Here’s a quick look at the teams with the largest shift in their probability:Duke’s championship probability has roughly doubled to 11.9 percent from 5.7 percent. The Blue Devils won their first two games easily, and they were helped by losses elsewhere in the bracket, especially to Iowa State, their one-time potential opponent in the Elite Eight.Arizona’s chances have improved to 14.5 percent from 9.5 percent. The Wildcats have also been helped by an upset: Instead of facing No. 3 seed Baylor in their Sweet 16 game, they’ll get Xavier. It helps, too, that Wisconsin, Arizona’s potential Elite Eight opponent, has not looked as strong as the model had them originally.Almost everything has gone Michigan State’s way: The Spartans beat the No. 2 seed in their region, Virginia, and got a lot of credit for it in the model. But the No. 1 seed in the East, Villanova, was eliminated too. The Spartans are now the favorite to reach the Final Four from the East and have some chance to go further than that — they were underseeded to begin with, and will stay reasonably close to home for the rest of the tournament with the remaining games in Syracuse and Indianapolis. (Plus, there’s Tom Izzo’s amazing run of postseason success, although the model doesn’t give them any extra credit for that.)Gonzaga won easily on Sunday against an Iowa team that looked excellent in its opening game. Its path has also gotten easier because of the elimination of Iowa State, a team they could have played in Sweet 16. Instead, they’re 75 percent favorites to win their grudge match against UCLA.By contrast, Wisconsin and North Carolina’s probabilities have declined slightly, partly because of their injury issues and partly because Arizona looms large in the West regional, which will be played in Los Angeles. Wisconsin also played a closer game against Oregon than the model expected.Still, Wisconsin retains the fourth-best overall chance to win the tournament, after Kentucky, Arizona and Duke. And even if the Badgers don’t win the tournament, their chances of winning an NCAA spelling bee are up after they learned all about stenography this weekend. What’s a 10-letter word for “in the hunt?”Check out FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was always more than just a basketball player. He had a mature intelligence and a head for politics, even at a young age, and today’s brand does not fit his tastes.In an article he wrote for Time.com, Abdul-Jabbar expressed his dismay at both political parties for what he called “deceit.”Abdul-Jabbar wrote:“Giving the people the freedom to elect their representation is a core American ideal that is being abused. Instead of educating Americans, the mudslinger ads just create more confusion and chaos for the voters to sift through. How are Americans to make the best decisions for themselves when both of their options spend more money and time lying about one another instead of articulating how voting for them is the right decision?”Abdul-Jabbar points out that just 16 states consider making false political statements a crime and that a federal judge in Ohio decided that criminalizing over misleading or false statements infringed on free speech.The Hall of Fame center known for the “sky hook” wrote that in Mitt Romney’s 2011 Presidential campaign, he edited a clip from President Obama’s 2008 campaign against John McCain to make it seem as if Obama said, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”“That was a lie,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “The President’s actual comment stated that ‘Senator McCain said, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’ Subtle, yet effectively misleading people in order to steer them away from President Obama.”Abdul-Jabbar’s criticism was not limited to Republicans.“The Democrats are guilty too, as they spent nearly twice the amount of money Republicans did on advertisements that focused on convincing seniors that Republicans were trying to take away their Medicare benefits.“Lying isn’t the only tool that politicians use to skew the votes in their favor. Shorter voting hours, voter identification laws, and redistricting are different ways that politicians try to influence voter outcome. Shorter hours make it increasingly difficult for people who can’t afford to leave work to get to the polls in time. Voter I.D. laws, in theory, are to protect against the ultra-rare cases of voter fraud. Redistricting is where the district lines are redrawn in order to encircle the area that would give the candidate a favorable advantage.”He added his call to action is about “holding the men and women in public office to a higher standard. Instead of preying on the weak and disadvantaged, allow the voting process to be fair for all citizens. Sneakily silencing voters is a crime against America and the freedoms we boast so proudly.”
Even though they held a one-point lead with just more than a minute left in Game 4, Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors found themselves with their backs against the wall on Sunday in Philadelphia.The Sixers and their raucous home crowd at Wells Fargo Center could almost taste a victory, one that would have given them an enormous 3-1 series advantage over Toronto heading into Game 5. And they would be accomplishing that despite getting a poor scoring effort from Joel Embiid, who was under the weather for the second time during the series.But as the clock ticked down to that final minute, Leonard, who’d gotten almost everything he’d wanted Sunday, had other plans. He used a screen from teammate Marc Gasol, and four dribbles to his right, but both of Philly’s pick-and-roll defenders — Embiid and Ben Simmons — opted to follow Leonard to the right wing. Where another player might have passed the ball, Kawhi chose to elevate, lofting a rainbow 3-pointer over the outstretched left arm of the 7-foot-2 Embiid.Aside from all but assuring that Toronto would knot the best-of-seven series at two games apiece, the shot punctuated yet another virtuoso performance by Leonard, who logged 39 points on 13-of-20 shooting and 14 rebounds, and is so far having one of the most efficient postseason runs we’ve ever seen from an NBA player, let alone a wing player specifically.In this series against Philly, Leonard is somehow averaging 38 points on 62 percent shooting, with a perfect-looking shot chart. He’s drained an unthinkable 21 of his 24 uncontested shot attempts through the four games, including hitting 6-for-6 on Sunday.Leonard did all this while continuing to have an impact on the defensive end, where he held Simmons in check during the first half before sliding over during the third period and heavily limiting swingman Jimmy Butler, who had scored efficiently up until that switch occurred.Leonard wasn’t solely responsible for Toronto’s win Sunday. Gasol — who’d been held to eight points or fewer in Games 1-3 — was more aggressive and finished with 16 in Game 4. Similarly, Kyle Lowry looked for his shot early and finished with 14 points after having just seven in Game 3. Danny Green was a perfect 8-for-8 from the line. All of these contributions were helpful in light of Pascal Siakam, arguably Toronto’s second-best player, shooting 2-of-10 from the floor while playing through a calf injury, and Serge Ibaka being the only Raptor to score off the bench.But make no mistake: Kawhi has played as if he were content to do this all by himself if need be. And in many ways, that spectacle is still noteworthy considering how far a cry it is from what Leonard was earlier in his career, before he became a clear-cut franchise player.During this postseason, just 33 percent of Leonard’s baskets have been assisted, according to NBA Advanced Stats, while the other two-thirds have been self-created. Snapshots over time illustrate how that’s flipped almost entirely, as he’s become more of a 1-on-1 player. During the 2012-13 regular season, for instance, 65 percent of Kawhi’s makes were assisted. That share of assisted baskets dropped to 54 percent during 2014-15, and to just under 48 percent in 2016-17 before dwindling to just a third during these playoffs.The question to raise here, of course, is whether it’s possible for Leonard to keep this up. He can’t keep shooting 70 percent from midrange when he was a 46-percent shooter from there during the regular season, right?On some level, the answer to that may depend on whether the Sixers are willing to be more aggressive about forcing the ball out of Leonard’s hands. We’ve written before about what makes Leonard so different from the other stars in the NBA (aside from how mysteriously quiet he seems to be): He does just about everything at an above-average level, while defending and scoring better than almost anyone. But if there’s one area to test, it’s his playmaking, which generally pales in comparison to LeBron James’s or even Kevin Durant’s. (Both contemporaries regularly enjoy 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratios, while Leonard has yet to post such a season.) Leonard, who had five assists and seven turnovers Sunday, has closer to a 1-to-1 ratio this postseason, with 31 assists and 29 turnovers so far.Going one level deeper, Kawhi was the NBA’s least efficient wing player1Among the 60 players who faced at least 25 traps and blitzes. this past regular season when opposing defenses either blitzed or trapped him in pick-and-rolls, with the Raptors scoring just 0.46 points per chance in such situations, according to data from Second Spectrum.So while Philadelphia hasn’t been able to stop The Terminator-like Kawhi yet, the Sixers at least have something they can try in hopes of slowing him down as the series moves back to Toronto.
Shaquille O’Neal56.325.435.0 Nobody combined offense and defense like Tim Duncan 8Larry Bird41,329120.353.674.2 Wilt Chamberlain35.849.041.4 18Pau Gasol41,57281.438.552.2 4David Robinson38,492100.680.389.3 Includes all NBA regular seasons and playoffs from 1973-74 to the present.Source: Basketball-Reference.com 14Magic Johnson40,783149.134.656.2 11Jason Kidd56,19994.855.470.0 20Patrick Ewing45,80141.265.350.5 7Kareem Abdul-Jabbar50,840144.453.578.0 Kevin Garnett50.033.039.8 10Scottie Pippen49,17487.462.372.7 Hakeem Olajuwon30.638.534.1 The post-Jordan NBA era unofficially ended Monday, when San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan announced his retirement after 19 seasons as a pro. Duncan was at the forefront of the league for the past two decades, winning five championships and a pair of MVPs as the best player of the generation that entered the league as MJ was on his way out. But for whatever reason — be it playing in small-market San Antonio, his relatively low-key public persona or all the things that go into a nickname like the Big Fundamental — Duncan’s greatness remains undersold in many quarters. So here are a couple of ways in which he made a case for being the best player in modern NBA history.All-around greatnessDuncan never scored more than 25 points per game after age 25, and he didn’t crack 20 PPG after turning 30. His low-post game, premised around that classic bank shot, was solid but rarely feared, particularly later in his career. But Duncan augmented his point totals with good efficiency, great rebounding and a nice passing touch for a big man that allowed him to anchor the Spurs’ offense even when his days as a big-time scorer were in the past.And on defense, Duncan was uniformly incredible throughout his career. He was named to 15 All-Defensive teams — the last of which came at age 38 — and led the league in defensive Win Shares five times, to go with nine other top-five finishes. In terms of suppressing offensive efficiency (relative to league average), Duncan’s Spurs were the NBA’s best defensive dynasty since Bill Russell’s Celtics. And even in the twilight of his career, Duncan consistently ranked among the league’s top five defensive players according to the plus/minus metrics. He’s undeniably on the shortlist of the best defenders in basketball history.Put it all together, and it’s hard to find a modern player with a better combination of offensive and defensive résumés than Duncan. To measure this, I used a couple of statistics from Basketball-Reference.com: value over replacement player (VORP) and Win Shares, both of which strive to capture a player’s total on-court influence over his team’s success.1Since VORP only goes back to 1973-74, that’s the earliest season included in my sample. I converted both metrics to a figure representing wins above replacement (WAR), and broke down each into its offensive and defensive components, zeroing out seasons where a player dipped into negative-value territory. Then I summed up offensive and defensive WAR for a player’s entire career — including the playoffs, where Duncan built a good amount of his legend — and took the harmonic mean (which favors balance between the two instead of a lopsided total in one category) of a player’s offensive and defensive tallies.By that standard, Duncan has no peers among modern NBA players: 13Charles Barkley44,179154.941.064.9 Moses Malone40.933.136.6 15Clyde Drexler43,109118.235.654.7 2Kevin Garnett55,701107.387.296.2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar61.582.670.5 Paul Pierce36.337.436.8 19Horace Grant44,79368.341.351.5 6LeBron James46,861196.252.582.8 WINS ABOVE REPLACEMENT 3Karl Malone62,759162.567.595.4 Great both young and oldDuncan also performed those acts of all-around greatness for just about two decades straight, playing like a Hall of Famer as both a young player and an old one. Back in 2014, my colleague Nate Silver was curious about how rare that combination was for a player:I wondered which other players in the NBA, and in the other major team sports, have had so much impact over their full professional lives. In other words, which of them were both very effective as young players and as old players?For an answer, Nate looked at each player’s Win Shares before age 25 and after age 32, taking the harmonic mean (yes, that again) of the two numbers to find players who matched Duncan’s career path. There weren’t many.Since Duncan has only added to his post-32 totals since then, let’s re-run the same exercise, updated through the end of Duncan’s career: NBA WIN SHARES PLAYERTHROUGH AGE 24AGE 33 ONWARDHARMONIC MEAN Tim Duncan47.855.051.1 1Tim Duncan56,738108.1110.3109.2 Michael Jordan53.643.648.1 12Michael Jordan48,485206.541.669.2 PLAYERMINUTES PLAYEDOFFENSEDEFENSEHARMONIC MEAN 9Shaquille O’Neal50,016133.850.273.0 17Robert Parish51,88170.941.452.3 5Hakeem Olajuwon49,97179.593.385.9 The NBA’s best full life-cycle players Dirk Nowitzki53.037.543.9 Sorted by harmonic mean of NBA Win Shares through age 24 and from age 33 onward.Source: Basketball-Reference.com 16Shawn Marion43,93463.047.053.8 In the end, Duncan still trails Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — it’s really tough to beat that guy in longevity-based measures — but he did pass Michael Jordan for No. 2 all-time in Nate’s metric, another feather in Duncan’s cap as one of the best and truly unique players in NBA history.Better than the raw numbers?And as great as Duncan looks according to the numbers above, both studies were conducted using derivatives of the basic box-score stats. Those can be fine for estimating a player’s value in a broad sense, but they have a tendency to misfire in some areas — such as defense, or even the more subtle aspects of offense like screening or space-creation — where Duncan happened to excel.Perhaps that’s why, when Real Plus-Minus creator Jeremias Engelmann released a bank of adjusted plus/minus data encompassing the 2001-2014 seasons, Duncan ranked as the third-best player of that era, trailing only Kevin Garnett and LeBron James. That’s slightly higher than Duncan placed according to Player Efficiency Rating (he was fifth), Win Shares per 48 minutes (also fifth) or even Box Plus/Minus (sixth), which is designed to emulate plus/minus ratings derived from more granular data.In other words, Duncan’s contributions might be somewhat underrated when we line up his stats against those of other greats from history. The NBA won’t be the same without him in it next season.
It’s never been more dangerous to be a major league hitter. Through Thursday’s games, batters had been plunked by pitchers 457 times, struck with a fast-moving projectile made of cowhide and densely wound yarn. Considering that MLB pitchers are throwing harder than at any time in recorded history, it’s safe to assume that getting hit by a baseball has never stung worse.The current rate of 0.41 batters hit by a pitch per team game is the highest since 1900, the same year that the Brooklyn Superbas led by Wee Willie Keeler won the Chronicle-Telegraph Cup. (There was no American League yet and thus no World Series.) This level of plunkings has given us some interesting results — and inevitable dust-ups. On Monday, four Reds were hit by pitches — in one inning, tying a record set in 1893. Mets batters were hit seven times on the hands just through April. Presumably in retaliation, reliever Jacob Rhame threw at the head of Rhys Hoskins, who retaliated himself with the slowest home-run trot since 2015. Rhame was suspended two games.While the rate of HBPs has fluctuated across the game’s history, it was just 0.34 per team game three seasons ago, which is more in line with where it was for most of the 1990s and 2000s. So what is causing the recent spike? It’s a bit of a mystery.There’s one simple explanation: There are more opportunities to hit someone now because hitters are extending counts and pitchers are throwing more pitches. The past two full seasons saw the highest number of total pitches (721,282 in 2018 and 721,279 in 2017, according to Baseball-Reference.com) on record.1Pitch count data goes back to 1988. But even though the raw counts are higher, the share of total pitches that hit a batter last season is also going up: 0.266 percent of all pitches in 2018 hit a batter, the second-highest share on record. Through Thursday, this season has seen a share of 0.274 percent — which would be the highest that we’ve seen.Some speculate that pitchers are just wilder than ever because of a focus on throwing hard in lieu of command. Walks per game (3.44) are well above the average since 1900 (3.19), but pitchers are throwing only fractionally more balls as a percentage of pitches this year (36.7) than the 2009-to-2018 average (36.6).Of course, one specific reason for an HBP is that the pitcher meant to do it. Retaliation is as old as the game itself. And nothing gets a pitcher more snippy than giving up a homer. Balls are flying out of ballparks more than ever before, giving pitchers more opportunities to throw at the offending players. But it’s not just the act of hitting a home run, it’s what can come next: Don’t flip your bat or stand too long watching it or lollygag around the bases or trash talk the opposition in mid-trot. This year, Tim Anderson was beaned for flipping the bat too aggressively at his own dugout.Furthermore, with home runs all the rage, pitchers may seek to expand the strike zone by moving batters farther away from home plate, effectively making the outside part of the plate more out of reach. Miss just a little in to a hitter in midlean over the plate and … kerplunk.While we can’t measure the pitchers’ intent, we can measure where pitches are being located. According to data from Baseball Savant, more pitches than ever before are being thrown on the inside third of the plate and off the plate to the inside. Through Tuesday’s games, more than 32 percent of pitches were inside, which is the highest rate since pitch location was first tracked in 2008. This rate is up more than 3 percentage points from 2008, which may not seem like much on first blush but would equate roughly to an increase of more than 30,000 inside pitches.With more pitches directed inside, more batters are bound to get hit. But how much of that is on the batters themselves? Even as far back as 1997, players were bemoaning how hitters could treat the batter’s box like they owned it.”Today’s game, you see guys digging a little trench in there,” Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn told The New York Times. “I just get flashbacks and wonder if they would do that if [Bob] Gibson or [Steve] Carlton or [Nolan] Ryan or [Tom] Seaver were out there. You can’t let a hitter go up there and think he controls both halves of the plate. If you bust a guy in, keep him honest, get him off the plate, you might be able to get him out away.”Gibson, a Hall of Famer and the man largely responsible for the lowering of the mound, was viewed as a tiger on the field. He once dusted Reggie Jackson at an old-timer’s game. (Jackson had homered off of Gibson in a similar game the previous year.) After his close friend and teammate Bill White was traded, “Hoot” immediately plastered him on the elbow. And slugger Dick Allen said, “Gibson would knock you down and then meet you at the plate to see if you wanted to make something out of it.”But Gibson hit “just” 102 batters in 3,884.3 career innings, or 0.24 per nine frames. That ranks 359th out of the 471 pitchers who threw at least 1,000 innings and hit at least 50 batters, according to Baseball-Reference.com. So the guy whose Hall of Fame bio says he “may well have been the most intimidating pitcher in MLB history” hit batters at a rate well below the hurlers of today’s game.The pitcher today placing opposing trainers on the highest alert is Charlie Morton of the Tampa Bay Rays, who has led his league in hit batsmen four times in the past six years — despite never pitching more than 170 innings in any of those years. Morton nails 0.78 batters per nine innings, a career rate last exceeded by Ed Doheny (0.90), who retired in 1903. Morton’s ERA this year currently stands at a career-best 2.64. And in 2018, with the Astros, his .833 winning percentage led all of baseball: His 15 wins were one fewer than the number of batters he tattooed.Neil Paine contributed research.Check out our latest MLB predictions.
Northwestern then-redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson (18) throws a pass in the first half of a game against Stanford at Ryan Field on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015 in Evanston, Ill. Northwestern won 16-6. Courtesy of TNSThe Ohio State football team walked into the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Sunday to dissect film on its last game — but it wasn’t business as usual. The Buckeyes had their first post-defeat film session of the 2016 season, after dropping a 24-21 contest at Penn State.A couple of late blunders by the special teams allowed the Nittany Lions to topple then-No. 2 OSU, but it was a culmination of big plays allowed and a lack of cohesiveness on the offensive side of the ball. Meyer said after the game that his team was not “a very good team, right now.” As they move on to Northwestern on Saturday, the Buckeyes hope that the first home game in three weeks will rid the errors that plagued them in Happy Valley.“It’s not business as usual,” Meyer said. “If you lose a game, you accept it. That’s the message to our players. We work so hard so that doesn’t happen. It happened; move on. Get ready for a very good team coming in here.”The Northwestern Wildcats (4-3, 3-1 Big Ten), started the season at 1-3, but have won their last three games, including victories over Iowa and Michigan State. Wildcats’ coach Pat Fitzgerald has his team playing its best football coming into a matchup with a No. 6 OSU team fresh off of a loss.OffenseThe Wildcat attack begins and ends with junior running back Justin Jackson. He leads the Big Ten with the most carries (171), the most rushing yards (792) and rushing yards per game (113.1). He also ranks fifth in the conference in rushing touchdowns (6).Last week, OSU faced one of the conference’s top backs in Saquon Barkley, who ran well against the Buckeye defense. Barkley gained 99 yards on 12 carries (8.25 yard average), with two rushes more than 20 yards. Jackson provides the OSU defense with similar challenges, however he doesn’t have the size Barkley has. Standing at 5-foot-11, and weighing 193 pounds, Jackson is coming to Columbus having gained 453 yards on 88 carries and having scored three touchdowns in his past three games.“They got a great running back,” said junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan. “I think he leads the Big Ten in rushing yards. (He was) second last year to (Ezekiel Elliott) in the All-Big Ten.”Redshirt sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson is in his second season as the starter for Fitzgerald and has shown significant improvement.Thorson has completed just 57.9 percent of his passes, but has thrown for 1,686 yards and 14 touchdowns, while running for three more scores. Like Jackson, Thorson is coming into Ohio Stadium playing his best football. He has thrown for three touchdowns in each of the past three games, which is a reason why Meyer said Northwestern is a thriving team.“That’s as improved a team as I’ve ever seen from beginning to now,” he said. “Three big wins, two on the road — Defining wins.”Redshirt defensive end Tyquan Lewis said on Monday that there’s a feeling inside the locker room, at least for the defense, that the team is ready to prove itself again on the field. Having the last game stand as an “L” on OSU’s schedule doesn’t sit well with Lewis or the team.“I feel more anxious to get out there,” Lewis said. “It’s not that big of a thing to me, to go to work. It’s more so getting over the feeling.”DefenseThe production of the passing game has been lacking during the past three weeks when compared with earlier games in the season. Against Northwestern, OSU redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett might be going up against the perfect defense to assert himself through the air.The Wildcats rank dead last in the Big Ten — and 111th in the NCAA — in passing defense, allowing 282.4 passing yards per game. As a whole, the defense averages 414.1 yards allowed per game, ranking near the bottom of the Big Ten.To make things worse, just this week, four-year starter senior cornerback Matthew Harris retired due to concussions. He has been out since suffering a concussion in Week 2.However, a big reason Northwestern is respectable against the run is because of redshirt senior defensive lineman Ifeadi Odenigbo. The 6-foot-3, 265-pound Circleville, Ohio, native has been terrorizing quarterbacks all season. He leads the Big Ten and ranks third in the NCAA with eight total sacks.Coming off of a game where the OSU offensive line allowed 11 tackles for loss and six sacks, this week may be just as tough as a task to give Barrett ample time to pass and create holes for redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber and junior H-back Curtis Samuel.“There’s not a question of ability within our team at all,” said redshirt junior guard Billy Price. “We got very talented guys in our room. You got to focus in on what we have and continue to develop and execute higher.”BreakdownCoach Meyer and the Buckeyes hope to answer several questions that arose from the loss to now-No. 24 Penn State. The past two seasons, OSU has had great success following a loss, especially on offense. Against Northwestern on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at the ‘Shoe, the Buckeyes should be able to re-establish their offense as one of the most potent in the conference.Last week, Samuel failed to get a touch in the first quarter and only ran the ball twice in the game. This week, there should be a higher emphasis on getting the ball to the team’s No. 1 playmaker.On the defensive side of the ball, the amount of big plays allowed last week overshadowed the defense giving up only 276 total yards. Going up against a more up-tempo offense might benefit OSU, which had success earlier in the year against that style of play.Barrett said that the team’s identity will be put to the test this week because they have a smaller room for error for the duration of the season.“We’re going to find out what we’re made of,” he said. “Everybody could be fine when we’re winning games … but as far as backs against the wall … that really shows your true colors.”
“He’s progressing day to day and getting better,” pitching coach Eric Parker said. “We’ll keep evaluating, especially in the middle of the week, and see where he’s at.”To this point, Wimmers — a Pitcher of the Year quarterfinalist — has only been lifting, rehabbing and throwing on flat ground. Tuesday marked his first bullpen session since the injury.Wimmers himself hopes he will be ready to return to game action as soon as this weekend.“I’m trying to get back for this weekend,” Wimmers said, “trying to get back for Saturday or Sunday.”The Buckeyes head to Iowa City, Iowa, Thursday to take on the Hawkeyes in a critical three-game series. However, the coaching staff isn’t as optimistic as Wimmers that he’ll be ready to go this weekend.To ask him to pitch this weekend “would be a lot to ask of anyone,” Parker said.Coach Bob Todd went even further, saying that he won’t know if Wimmers will travel with the team until they leave on Thursday.“He’s obviously got a bright future and we’re not going to do anything to jeopardize that,” Todd said.Wimmers acknowledged that he needs to recover fully before he can take the mound for the Buckeyes and that the coaching staff will ensure that.“I don’t think anybody would let me go out there if I was just 90 percent. I have to be 110 percent in order to go back out there,” Wimmers said.So far this season, Wimmers has been dominant, posting a 9-0 record with a 1.61 ERA.With just six conference games remaining, the Buckeyes could use their ace as they are just one game out of first place in the standings. Wimmers is all too aware of the team’s situation.“It’s killing me,” Wimmers said about not being able to pitch. “With the conference as close as it is, you just want to be out there helping your team as much as possible.” Ohio State pitcher Alex Wimmers threw off a mound Tuesday for the first time in nearly three weeks. The Buckeye ace has been sidelined since pulling his left hamstring during a pregame stretch at Michigan April 30.
Junior forward Chad Niddery (19) fights for the puck during a game against Bowling Green Oct. 29 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 5-3.Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editorFreshman goalie Logan Davis is expected to make his first collegiate start as the Ohio State men’s ice hockey team sets its sights on a two-game series against Canisius College.Originally third in the depth chart, Davis is set to take over the reins from fellow freshman Matt Tomkins, who won’t be in the lineup because of a lower-body injury he sustained in the first four minutes of OSU’S 6-1 win against Niagara Nov. 9. Tomkins’ playing status is day-to-day. Davis’ projected start also comes less than two weeks after Collin Olson, who was Tomkins’ backup, elected to leave the team to play junior hockey in the USHL.“At this point, I feel like I might’ve gotten over the nerves a little bit after getting that first game under my belt, but I’m still a little jittery,” Davis said.Coach Steve Rohlik attributed his team’s 4-1 and 6-1 victories against Niagara Friday and Saturday, respectively, to his defensive unit, and said he wants the team to carry the success over into the series with the Golden Griffins (2-5-0, 1-3-0).“You’re only as good as your D-zone. Our D-zone leads all of our offense,” Rohlik said. “We’re doing a decent job on the penalty kill now, and I think we’ve given up quite a few goals early in the year, so we’re trying to clean that part of it up, but everything starts in the D-zone. If we can shut down teams defensively and still put up three, four, five goals, then we’re doing something right.”Junior forward Chad Niddery said the Buckeyes have to continue to build on the momentum they’ve generated in the last few games.“We’re having upbeat practices, just making sure everybody’s still going hard and getting ready for the weekend. These teams are coming in, they’re fast. They work as hard as they can,” Niddery said. “We’ve got to match their work ethic, and we’ve got guys with a lot of skill, so as long as we show as much work ethic — and Logan (Davis) is there backing us up in the net — so we’ll definitely be on top of our game.”The series will conclude a seven-game homestand in which the Buckeyes (6-4-0, 0-0-0) have only lost once, a 3-1 decision against Minnesota Duluth Nov. 1. OSU is set to open up Big Ten play at Ann Arbor, Mich., against rival Michigan Nov. 29.The Buckeyes and Canisius are slated to face off Friday and Saturday at Schottenstein Center, with the puck set to drop at 7:05 p.m. for both games.
OSU then-sophomore offensive lineman Isaiah Prince (59) waits for the ball to snap during the first half of the Buckeyes game against Nebraska on Nov. 5. The Buckeyes won 62-3. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Former Photo EditorThey were all in redshirt sophomore right tackle Isaiah Prince’s head; the often-vicious criticisms, complaints and calls for him to be replaced. These critiques came early and often negatively affecting his mindset which, in turn, resulted in poor play. “Every time I’d make a mistake, I’d hang my head and I’d be so frustrated,” Prince said Monday. “It would just build up play after play after play.”But, Prince is different this year. At least that’s what his teammates and coaches say about the second-year starter.Prince, whose function resembled that of a turnstile against the Penn State defensive line in the fourth quarter of the Buckeyes’ only regular-season loss last season, was called one of Ohio State’s most improved players by coach Urban Meyer at a press conference Monday afternoon.“That’s not just out there in practice, but with (strength and conditioning) coach Mick (Marotti) with the bend and with all the things he’s struggled with,” Meyer said. “He’s a very serious player right now.”The long-term project to reinvigorate the offensive lineman’s mental psyche began months ago. After Ohio State’s thrilling 30-27 double-overtime win over Michigan on Nov. 28, 2016, Meyer sat down with Prince to reinforce the confidence he had in the right tackle entrusted to protect redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett.“(Meyer) was just like, ‘You’ve got to keep going, I still trust you to get the job done. It’s your first year starting and you’re going to make mistakes,’” Prince said. “He just gave me that reassuring confidence to go out there and keep going”According to his teammates, that message was well-received.In the days leading up to the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson and, once again, in spring practice, redshirt senior center Billy Price lauded his attitude. Senior left tackle Jamarco Jones barely let a reporter finish his question in an interview Monday after practice before jumping in to extol Prince’s confidence level heading into the 2017 season.“He’s very confident right now. Everybody in the program is confident in him too from what he’s done these first couple weeks,” Jones said. “We always knew what he could do, it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it whether it’s execution of fundamentals or whatever it was.”OSU junior offensive tackle Isaiah Prince (59) walks down the sideline during the Spring Game on April 15. Scarlet beat Gray 38-31. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Former Photo EditorOffensive line coach Greg Studrawa believes the solution to Prince’s struggles with confidence is simple: the right tackle must be shown why he made the mistakes.“When guys start making mistakes, the first thing they do is get down on themselves, Studrawa said. “What you’ve got to do is revert back to your training, trust your technique. And that was his first time starting. He made some mistakes. He saw those, he’s worked on those.”Studrawa said his attention to detail isn’t close to where it was last year. In 2016, the Buckeyes gave up an average of 2.15 sacks per game, the most per contest by the program since 2012. The 28 sacks allowed ranked them as the 71st-best at keeping the quarterback off the grass in the country. Prince wasn’t the only culprit in the weaker-than-normal Ohio State pass protection, but he stuck out in a line including Jones, a true freshman in right guard Michael Jordan and two first-team All-Americans – center Pat Elflein and Price.When looking back on the film, Prince said he has worked on playing lower and improving his footwork as he believed his pass protection skills weren’t where they needed to be last season.Jordan echoed Meyer, praising Prince as one of the most improved players on the team. He added that Prince has honed his ability to drop back in pass protection and has even been working with younger lineman, specifically freshman Thayer Munford.So, after dealing with a year’s worth of criticism, is Prince tired of talking about last year and ready to move on to the upcoming season? He claims he isn’t.“I learned a lot from last year,” Prince said. “I mean, without last year, I wouldn’t have had this growth. I’m just thankful for it.”
Colin and Wyatt look back at Ohio State’s 27-26 road win over Penn State, and look forward to what Indiana may bring to Ohio Stadium this week, while seeing if the Hoosiers are the Iowa Hawkeyes of this season, who the Buckeyes lost to last year. They also go into the rise of Izzy Rodriguez for women’s soccer, the fall of men’s soccer, women’s hockey’s undefeated start and women’s volleyball’s struggles in the Big Ten.