College basketball games can drag at the end. The last minute of the University of Kentucky’s one-point win over the University of Wisconsin on Saturday took about eight minutes — and that was relatively fast. The University of Connecticut, Kentucky’s opponent in the men’s national title game tonight, needed nearly 20 minutes to finish the last minute of regulation plus the five minutes of overtime of its opening game of the tournament, against St. Joseph’s University.Expect a similarly lengthy finale if Monday’s championship game is close late. Or even if it’s not.Stretching a minute of a close game into 15 with fouls and timeouts can break the rhythm of the game and agonize fans. The boredom can be excruciating if you’re watching on TV, when every timeout means more ads — or shots of huddles around a coach.That sense of frustration is heightened because most of the delays come at the end of the game. Basketball, and the other major U.S. team sports, generally deliver a relatively fixed length of product: Blowouts and nail-biters take roughly the same amount of time until the last couple of minutes of clock. Soccer and rugby, with their real-time clocks, have even more uniform durations, except for the occasional match that must produce a result and therefore adds extra time.For broadcasters and traffic planners, a predictable length of game is a good thing. For fans, it can mean the most competitive spectacles are over nearly as quickly as the dullest ones. And that’s an unavoidable byproduct of the structure of most major sports. Here’s a look at how time plays out in some major spectator sports — including one that’s an exception to the rule.College BasketballThe six overtime games of this year’s NCAA men’s tournament through the Sweet Sixteen took an average of two hours and 28 minutes, according to Deadspin’s stopwatch. The six biggest blowouts? Two hours and one minute. That’s 18 percent shorter. The eight closest regulation games1One game in the group clocked by Deadspin was decided by one point, and seven by eight points. averaged two hours and 18 minutes.Time is so far from a central concept in college basketball that the NCAA doesn’t keep official time stats. That’s why we’re using Deadspin data, plus timestamps on a live blog. “The NCAA is currently exploring adding basketball tracking for next season,” said NCAA spokesman Ketrell Marshall. His colleague, Christopher Radford, said there are “no official plans,” adding, “My understanding is that we are more interested to track the information to see if any trends might be identified. This is not due to any one hypothesis or concern, but more of an evolution of the data we collect and track.”Pro BasketballThe NBA does collect time stats, which corroborate the story told by this year’s NCAA tournament: Most of basketball time is relatively inelastic. Since 1993, about 6 percent of games have gone to overtime, taking an average of two hours and 42 minutes, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The average length of the games at the opposite end of the competitive spectrum — the biggest blowouts2There were 1,592 overtime games in the data. I wanted to compare these to the same number of games at the other end of the spectrum — the biggest blowouts. The trouble is, there were 1,491 games decided by 26 points or more, and 1,742 games decided by 25 points or more. So I collected the times for the 1,491 biggest blowouts, along with time for a randomized group of 101 of the 25-point blowouts, and took the average of those games. I used similar methods when the numbers of games didn’t divide cleanly, for the NFL and MLB. — was two hours and nine minutes, or 20 percent shorter. And those blowouts were just 10 minutes shorter than the closest non-overtime games.3Data through Sunday, March 30 of this season. Time of game was missing for two games. Closest non-overtime games were those with the lowest margin of victory.Pro FootballNFL games, built into their three-hour television programming blocks, show even less connection between duration and competitiveness — partly because the bigger the blowout, the more scores by the winning team stop the clock. The roughly 6 percent of games to go to overtime since 1993 (yes, the same percentage as in the NBA) averaged three hours and 28 minutes, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The biggest blowouts averaged three hours and one minute, just 13 percent shorter. The same number of non-overtime games that were closest were, on average, a mere eight minutes longer than the blowouts.4Using the same method described for the NBA, I was comparing 339 overtime games with the 339 biggest blowouts and the 339 closest non-overtime games. In practice, for blowouts that meant all games decided by 29 points or more plus some decided by 28 points; for non-overtime games, I included all one-point games and some two-point games.Major League BaseballSome very long extra-inning games make baseball the major U.S. team sport for which duration of a game is most sensitive to how close it is. About 9 percent of games since 1993 have gone to extra innings, and these have averaged three hours and 42 minutes, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The same percentage of games that were the biggest blowouts averaged two hours and 56 minutes, or 21 percent shorter.5I removed one forfeit and 219 called games. The data includes the first 12 games of this season.Baseball games that finish in nine innings flip the duration-competitiveness balance on its head. The average nine-inning game since 1993 in which the home team lost,6I used home team losses to ensure the bottom half of the ninth was played to the end. and that was decided by just one run, took two hours and 57 minutes. The average duration of the same number of games that were the biggest blowouts was two hours and 58 minutes.7There were 23,124 nine-inning home losses in the data. Of these, 4,949 were decided by one run. To compare two like extremes, I chose 4,949 home blowout losses using the same method described above to handle cases where there were many games of the same victory margin near the cutoff. In this case, that meant all home blowout losses by seven runs or more, plus some of six runs. All those runs scored by the winning visitors mean more time for the home team to record 27 outs.Pro HockeyThe NHL doesn’t record time of game as an official stat. “We keep track of this internally, just to make sure that there are no macro changes that reflect anything evolutionary in our game,” said NHL spokesman John Dellapina. “But the fact is, from team to team and from year to year, the average length of our games is remarkably consistent. Bottom line, it never has seemed very relevant, interesting or illustrative to us.”Using the NHL’s internal tracking, Dellapina sent the time for the 11 games last Tuesday night. They ranged from two hours and 24 minutes for the New York Rangers’ win in Vancouver, to two hours and 49 minutes for the New Jersey Devils’ nine-round shootout loss in Buffalo.One Exceptional SportMany fans lament the lengthening of sporting events because of television breaks, officiating reviews and other delays. But what really drag are the bad games: the uncompetitive ones, where the outcome is never in doubt. Short of mercy rules or running the clock on blowouts, the structure of the games doesn’t allow for the bad ones to go by quickly.One major sport, though, has a sensitive internal clock, thanks to its unusual scoring mechanism. In tennis, the winner is the first to win a designated number of sets, almost always two or three. The winner of each set, too, is the first to a designated number of games, and that number depends on the competitiveness of the set.8Usually the winner needs to take six games, winning by two. If the set reaches six games apiece, it’s usually decided by a tiebreaker, whose length itself depends on competitiveness. The final set of most Grand Slam tournaments, plus Davis Cup and Olympic matches, isn’t decided until one player has a lead of two games. And the winner of each game is the first to four points, by two, so each game’s duration also depends on the competitiveness of that game.The result is that blowouts can be over very quickly. On the opening day of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s round of 64, the round of 128 at the Sony Open in Miami was underway. There, Jarkko Nieminen beat Bernard Tomic, 6-0, 6-1, in Tomic’s first match back from an injury, in just 28 minutes — the shortest match on record in men’s ATP World Tour tennis history. That same day, the University of Pittsburgh beat the University of Colorado by 32 points. It took two hours and three minutes.While Nieminen’s win was extreme, short match times are the norm in tennis. The 10 percent of the 503 men’s matches that were most competitive at the last four Grand Slam tournaments9Competitiveness was judged by the ratio of one player’s return-point winning percentage to his opponent’s return-point winning percentage. All matches in which each player won a return point were included, which omitted four walkovers and John Isner’s retirement loss at Wimbledon. lasted an average of three hours and 20 minutes, according to Tennis Abstract. The 10 percent of matches that were least competitive averaged just one hour and 31 minutes — 55 percent shorter.There are downsides to tennis’s time flexibility: It makes scheduling much tougher for tournament organizers, broadcasters and fans. But no one who was in Miami for the 28 minutes of Nieminen and Tomic would have wanted to see an hour and 35 minutes more — least of all, Nieminen and Tomic.
Month: September 2019
Russ Smith, the leading scorer for the champion Louisville Cardinals, just might return for his senior season after all. According to coach Rick Pitino, Smith is torn on the decision to enter the NBA draft, which is contrary to what his father told reporters after the Cardinals defeated Michigan for the national championship in Atlanta.On Monday night, the Louisville star’s father, Russ Smith Sr., initially said that his son had planned to enter the NBA draft, saying: “At this point, there’s no other reason for him to come back. He’s had two sound years and did it all. He could come back next year, but it might jeopardize his health. You’ve got to strike while the iron is hot.”Smith confirmed his father’s statement the following day when he told SiriusXM “College Sports Nation” radio hosts Mark Packer and Bruce Pearl that “this is the right time.”But Pitino, who had also confirmed Smith’s departure at the team’s pep rally earlier this week, said Thursday morning that the junior guard is still on the fence about going pro.“Russ, I think, is 50-50,” he told Sports Radio 790 in Louisville. “He’s a very confused young man in terms of his decision right now. He didn’t want his dad to say that about him coming out. He wanted time to think of it.”Smith struggled to find his shot in his team’s 82-76 victory over Michigan in the championship game. He went 3-for-16 and scored nine points. But he averaged 22.3 PPG overall in the NCAA tournament.The NBA’s early-entry deadline for the draft is April 28. Per NCAA mandate, however, players with remaining eligibility must withdraw from the draft by Tuesday (April 16) to preserve it.
Over the next few days, FiveThirtyEight will be examining each of the eight groups in the 2018 World Cup, which begins June 14 in Russia. Read about Group A and Group B.Group C is all about France. The issue isn’t so much whether the team will qualify for the knockout stage of the World Cup. Rather, it’s what France’s play over its matches with Peru, Denmark and Australia will say about its chances of winning the whole tournament.Paper tiger or legit contender?France ranks fifth in the world in FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index, behind Brazil, Germany and Spain and just a hair past Argentina. Les Bleus have stars distributed all across the field, footballers who play for the biggest club teams in the world at the absolute top of the game. Calling out each one by name would just be a list of their starting 11 players. And yet, despite all that, the French have still been somewhat disappointing.France’s major problem is that the team both plays slowly and crosses the ball a lot, meaning that the majority of its goal-scoring chances come from contested headers in a crowded penalty area. That’s a waste of all that talent. Crosses make up 23.5 percent of France’s successful passes into an opponent’s penalty area — the 15th highest share in the tournament. Its ratio of speedy direct attacks1Attacks of the penalty area when 50 percent of the ball movement in a possession is forward. to slow, methodical ones2When at least 10 passes are played before the ball enters the penalty area. is about 1-1. This ranks only 11th among the 32 teams in the World Cup, meaning France’s pace of attack is relatively average.Put all that together, and France is neither getting the ball ahead quickly for phenomenal attackers like Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe to work in space, nor is it patiently working the ball into the box and letting skilled passers like Paul Pogba and Corentin Tolisso find killer passes to free up those strikers. Rather, the side tends to play at a medium pace, feeding the ball out to the wings for attackers to play crosses into a set defense. That’s not a recipe for success. If Les Bleus fix that problem, they could win the tournament. If not, they’ll likely lose during the knockout stage to a truly great side.Underdog or also-ran?It’s hard to imagine the rest of this group making too much noise in the tournament. Assuming France wins the group, whoever else comes out will be playing the winner of Group D, likely Lionel Messi’s Argentina squad. That second team is expected to be either Denmark, ranked 14th in SPI, or Peru, ranked 19th. Likely to finish fourth is Australia, ranked 28th in the tournament; the Socceroos have only an 18 percent chance of making it through the group stage.A shock run to the quarterfinals wouldn’t be impossible for either Denmark, with Tottenham Hotspur star Christian Eriksen leading the way, or Peru, which just saw 34-year-old striker Paolo Guerrero reinstated after a drug ban controversy. Peru did manage to play Argentina to a draw twice in South American qualifying, but it would take something deeply unexpected for the Incas to overtake Messi & Co. in Russia. Denmark and Peru are both fun teams that have some attacking flair; Peru in particular played a high-scoring style in qualifying, but that’s precisely what makes it unlikely to stage a major upset. When big teams lose, it tends to be to smaller squads that play extremely defensively, and that’s just not these teams.Player to watchAt only 25 years old, Paul Pogba has already played in the finals of the UEFA European Championships and the Champions League. He won titles with Juventus, and after transferring to Manchester United for a whopping $116.4 million, he has become a fixture in the center of the midfield at Old Trafford. But no matter how much he accomplishes, there are still questions about exactly how big a superstar he is. His technical ability and range are a rare combination. Whether French manager Didier Deschamps unleashes him to get forward and contribute to the attack or keeps him chained to a more disciplined midfield role will likely influence perceptions of Pogba’s performance at this World Cup.Questions about just how great great players are can get tiresome. But this is Pogba’s moment on the international stage. By the time the next World Cup comes around, he’ll be 29 and starting the downslope of his career. He’s at the height of his ability right now. A big tournament, as part of an expansive French side that scores highlight reel goals by the handful, will cement his legacy. But if the team plays more conservatively and exits early without any signature Pogba moments, or if Pogba ends up with a more limited role, those legacy questions will continue to surround him — however unfair they may be.Check out our latest World Cup predictions.
The West looks absolutely insane next season. All but four of the conference’s 15 teams are projected to have a .500 record or better, and the average full-strength CARMELO rating for Western Conference teams is 1580, which equates to about 49 wins of talent in a vacuum. Our pick for the top seed — with a surprisingly comfortable margin over the rest of the conference — is the Rockets, who got better after snagging Russell Westbrook in a recent trade. A grand total of three projected wins then separates each of the next five teams in the West pecking order: the Nuggets, Lakers, Warriors, Jazz and Clippers. Out of that group, the Clippers, Warriors and Lakers have superior playoff projections thanks to better top-end talent (hi Kawhi, Steph, LeBron and AD) and postseason experience on their rosters. The final few playoff spots in the conference should be up for grabs, among the mainstay Trail Blazers (whom our model consistently underrated last season), the up-and-coming Mavericks and Pelicans, the ever–puzzling Timberwolves or a few fading postseason relics in the Thunder and Spurs.At the bottom, CARMELO thinks the Suns have improved quite a bit from last season, anticipating Phoenix to leap from 19 wins to 36 on the strength of better play from Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton, plus the acquisitions of better-rated talent such as Ricky Rubio, Dario Saric and even underrated big man Aron Baynes. It doesn’t have much faith in the Kings to replicate last season’s breakout; in fairness, it never had much faith in Sacramento to begin with. We’ll see if the Kings keep defying our computer. And finally, it is no surprise to see the Grizzlies in the basement after trading away franchise cornerstone Mike Conley. The NBA, it is often said, has no offseason anymore — and so, we are determined to keep pace. That’s why we have already reloaded the FiveThirtyEight NBA prediction model to include updated projections and probabilities for the 2019-20 season, three months before the regular season actually tips off. Because the NBA never stops.What’s new in this year’s version? Just like last season, our predictions are driven by a multi-step process, but this time we have included a new defensive metric, a boost for certain players in the playoffs and more. Here’s an overview of how the system works:Players are projected using CARMELO, our forecast system that uses comparable players from NBA history to predict a player’s future career arc. This year, CARMELO1Also known as the Career-Arc Regression Model Estimator with Local Optimization. incorporates DRAYMOND,2Also known as the Defensive Rating Accounting for Yielding Minimal Openness by Nearest Defender. our new defensive metric that better accounts for a player’s shot defense, in addition to the existing metrics that look at a player’s impact on team defense while on the court. All of the fancy projections boil a player’s contribution down to the expected number of points he’ll improve a team per 100 possessions on offense and defense, relative to an average player. It’s important to note that we plan to add more depth to these ratings before the season proper. Specifically, we want to overhaul the box score-based aspect of our blended stat, but we’ll have more on that in the coming weeks and months.Player projections are then compiled at the team level using a depth-chart algorithm that assigns minutes to each player at each position based on both past positional usage and a team’s rank-ordered preference3For example, a full-strength Brooklyn Nets squad would feature Kevin Durant at No. 1, followed by Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, and so on. for using its players at full strength. The composite of each team’s individual player ratings forms its offensive and defensive projections, which then feed into its CARMELO rating — an Elo-like representation of team strength in which an average team scores as roughly 1505. This offseason, the algorithm is authorized to assign minutes to a generic “replacement-level” player at any position if a roster is incomplete, a wrinkle we don’t use during the season itself.These depth charts and CARMELO ratings are then generated on a game-by-game basis for the entire season, factoring in who is available each game because of injuries, suspensions or rest. One new feature this season is a “load management” setting to account for reductions to regular-season minutes for players such as LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard as they conserve energy for the postseason. For playoff games, we generate different depth charts in which top players play more minutes; we also added a new feature to give players with a demonstrated history of playing better — or worse — in the playoffs a special boost or deduction to their base ratings.Finally, the game-by-game ratings are combined with adjustments for home court, travel distance, rest and altitude to form win probabilities for each game, which feed into our season simulations. Specifically, we get our projected records and team odds by running 50,000 simulations of the schedule.4At the moment, we are still using the 2018-19 schedule because the 2019-20 version hasn’t been released yet. When it is, we’ll switch the schedule used for our simulations. The Eastern Conference will be less of a bloodbath than the West, though the battle at the top should still be fierce. Similar to the Rockets out West, the new-look 76ers are CARMELO’s pick for the No. 1 seed by a decent margin over the Giannis-led Bucks. Behind them, the Celtics, Heat and defending champion Raptors form the next bloc of teams, and all have at least an 86 percent chance of making the playoffs despite plenty of offseason roster shakeups. The Magic and Pacers round out the group of solid playoff picks in the conference. Orlando is building off of last season’s surprise playoff berth, while Indiana is hoping to bounce back after losing Victor Oladipo to injury for most of 2018-19. And the Nets, Bulls and Pistons each have about a coin flip’s shot at some of the last few playoff spots — which might be a shock given Brooklyn’s multiple high-profile offseason moves.After that trio of teams, the dregs of the East are pretty clearly delineated. The Hawks showed promise last season but are still some distance from contending; the Wizards and Hornets are trending down (particularly with John Wall injured for Washington and with Kemba Walker saying goodbye to Charlotte in free agency); the Knicks are, well, the Knicks; and the Cavaliers are still deep in rebuilding mode. Although there is always room for surprises, the East playoff field seems more certain (aside from the few teams fighting for the No. 8 seed) than the West. Eleven different Western Conference teams have at least a 36 percent chance of making the postseason, including five teams between 36 and 55 percent in CARMELO’s playoff odds. That’s just one part of an NBA landscape that should be fascinating to watch, even during the regular season. For now, we consider the Sixers and Rockets our NBA championship co-favorites, but that could very well change — and knowing this crazy offseason, it probably will.As difficult as it is to remember, we were lamenting the Warriors’ runaway dominance at this time last year. But after a series of unforgettable signings, trades and injuries that reshaped the league, this should be one of the most wide-open seasons in recent memory. And our prediction interactive can help you follow the race for the 2020 championship at every step along the way.Check out our NBA player ratings. Eastern Conference Western Conference In honor of our 2019-20 interactive officially launching, let’s take a tour through the predictions that have emerged from this way-too-early edition of our forecast:
In the seventh inning of Wednesday night’s Dodgers-Orioles game, Jonathan Villar hit a three-run blast into the left-field seats in Camden Yards. When he crossed home plate, there was a new Major League Baseball record for home runs in a season: It was the 6,106th of 2019, breaking the record set two years ago. The usual suspects are widely cited for this year’s power surge: The balls are livelier, with even commissioner Rob Manfred admitting that there’s less drag, and average launch angle is up to a Statcast-era high of 12 degrees as more hitters join the “Fly-Ball Revolution.” Strikeout rates suggest batters might be employing more all-or-nothing approaches, and fastballs are being thrown higher in the zone, making them easier to elevate. And there’s another characteristic of the home run record: Batters may be making a higher quality of contact, as it relates to the spin rate of batted balls.The spin rate of the baseball has been a focus of late, but primarily in regard to pitching. New ball-tracking technology allows pitchers to measure their spin rates and spin axis to create better pitch movement. But it turns out that spin rate matters for hitters, too — a little less of it might help.Backspin often works in favor of the hitter, as it creates a Magnus effect, which pushes up on the baseball to create lift. But there can also be too much of a rise effect. When studying golf balls, researchers have found that when too much spin is added at certain launch angles, there is a “ballooning” effect. For baseball hitters, that means that excessive spin might lead to batted balls traveling higher, but not farther.Alan Nathan, physics professor emeritus at the University of Illinois and MLB consultant, says there are optimum spin levels in baseball for batters. “Not only does the lift increase with the spin, but it’s really only been in the last few years that we’ve realized that the air drag also increases with the spin,” Nathan told FiveThirtyEight. “So that slows the ball down.”Exit velocity off the bat is at a record level this season since Statcast began ball-tracking in 2015, but this year spin rate has actually declined, according to Statcast data analyzed by FiveThirtyEight.1Data is through Aug. 1, 2019. On line drives and fly balls hit at between 15 and 39 degrees of launch angle, backspin has declined for two consecutive seasons and by 2.3 percent since 2017.There are different types of spin: topspin, which usually produces ground balls; backspin, typically accompanying balls hit in the air; side spin, which ends in balls that hook or slices; or a mix of sidespin and either backspin or topspin. Spin rates on batted balls with a blend of back and side spin are also down this season. Generally, the greater the launch angle, the greater the backspin, in revolutions per minute. But there are diminishing returns when it comes to backspin.“Certainly by 2,500 rpm it starts to level off, meaning with additional spin you don’t get any increase in distance [as a hitter],” Nathan said. “Then if you go even higher, maybe above 3,000 or 3,500 rpm, that’s the [range] where distance actually starts to decrease with spin as the drag starts to overwhelm the good benefits that you get with the additional lift.”Players are starting to pay attention. Seattle Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger, who says he’s always been interested in new ideas and information, had his batted-ball spin rates measured last winter to better understand his own underlying performance.“I think the way the ball is spinning off your bat can tell you a lot about how your barrel is working through the zone,” Haniger told FiveThirtyEight in May, before injuries derailed his season. “I think everyone is convinced that hitting a line drive is a good result. I think certain hitters have to hit more on top, others more underneath [the ball]. It depends on what swing characteristics you have.”Cody Bellinger, among the MLB leaders in wins above replacement, is also hitting the ball with less spin this year after retooling his swing in the offseason. In 2018, on batted balls with launch angles of 15 to 40 degrees,2On the balls for which Statcast data is available. Bellinger averaged 93.9 mph in exit velocity and a projected distance traveled of 326.8 feet, all with 2,992 rpm in spin rate. This season, entering August, Bellinger had increased his average exit velocity on those balls in the air to 95.4 mph and his overall distance to 336.2 feet. His spin rate had decreased to 2,550 rpm. He has hit fewer pop-ups and ground balls and owns a career-high rate of line drives in his best season to date.Nathan says drag reduction from lowered spin rates is likely small, but that factor combined with added exit velocity could speak to more and more hitters making better contact via more optimized swings — and adding distance at certain launch angles. Since 2017, the batted balls with the most average distance, as projected by Statcast tracking, are those hit with a launch angle of between 25 and 30 degrees and with backspin. Balls hit in that launch range this year are traveling slightly over a foot further than that of the same launch range in 2017, with an exit velocity 0.33 mph greater and a spin rate of over 100 rpm less, on average. And no — spin rates wouldn’t be affected by any changes to the ball, Nathan said.“If you want to have a high exit velocity, you want to have a squared up ball-bat collision, which means the bat is moving right through the center of the ball, you are hitting the ball more squarely. That would lead to lower spin,” Nathan said. “The kind of contact that will give you the highest exit velocity will give you lower spin. It could be that batters are simply squaring up better.”Check out our latest MLB predictions.
Brutus waves the American Flag after an Ohio State touchdown during the first game of the 2016 season against Bowling Green on Sept. 3 in Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes won 77-10. Credit: Mason Swires | Assistant Photo EditorOn Aug. 26, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sent a shockwave through the sports atmosphere when he sat during the national anthem in protest of recent violent events involving black Americans and police. Since then, Kaepernick has gained support, and criticism, from celebrities on sports and non-sports platforms.But Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, the rest of the coaching staff and the players had a discussion about protesting police violence against African Americans before the season.“We have addressed it, some of the issues going across this country in the summer with the players,” coach Urban Meyer said on Monday. “And a couple of our coaches spoke.”Meyer also said that no players have come up to him asking to sit or raise their fists in protest.The trend is increasing in popularity throughout the NFL and spreading into college. Former Buckeye Malcolm Jenkins raised his fist during the national anthem during Week 2 of NFL season, and recently three Michigan State players and several Michigan players, including All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis, raised their fists during the national anthem this past week.Both Spartans coach Mark Dantonio and Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh supported their respective players.Redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett said that the topic came up during a team meeting one day. Barrett said that it was a very productive conversation, with every player taking a nuanced thought away from the experience. However, there was a general consensus from the players. They are trying to control what they can control, but understand that the issue of police violence against African Americans is a serious one.“The main thing was saying that these things happening are all real. They’re not something that you can turn your head and look the other way so with that we opened up for conversation,” Barrett said. “I think the main concept behind it is shedding light on an issue that is happening in our home of the United States and that’s a real issue and that’s all he’s trying to do is shed light on it and let people realize that this is what’s happening and that we can change it so it takes everybody too. I think that’s the main thing he’s trying to get it. I wouldn’t do it, per say. But if a teammate did, I wouldn’t have any problem with it at all.”The support from the coaches of athletes who have made a non-violent protest have mostly been positive, but players have experienced backlash. Nebraska’s senior linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey said he has received racially-charged, negative comments after his protest along with two other Nebraska players.Redshirt junior Tyquan Lewis said the Buckeyes were educated on freedom of speech during Patriot Week back in May. Lewis said that he doesn’t believe the protests affect them at OSU, but he believes it’s a great cause.“We certainly respect (the players) rights as a citizen in this great country,” Meyer said. “But that has not come up to me, and if it does, we’ll have a chat about it.”The No. 2 Buckeyes play Rutgers on Saturday at noon at Ohio Stadium.
The Ohio State men’s basketball team set a goal at the beginning of the season to win the Big Ten title outright. With a win Sunday at the Schottenstein Center, the Buckeyes (28-2, 15-2 Big Ten) would achieve that goal, and they’d do it against a school that has been a thorn in the side of OSU sports fans for months: No. 10 Wisconsin (22-6, 12-4 Big Ten). A win Sunday would not only secure the outright Big Ten title, but also lock up a No. 1 seed for the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Tournament. If OSU loses and Purdue wins its last game, the Boilermakers would be the top seed by virtue of their 1-1 record against the Badgers. The Buckeyes are headed into their final regular-season game with some momentum, coming off Jon Diebler’s 3-point-record-setting performance against Penn State on Tuesday. Seniors say goodbye For senior forward Dallas Lauderdale, senior guards Diebler and Eddie Days and fifth-year senior forward David Lighty, this is the last hurrah. Lauderdale, Diebler and Lighty were part of the first class Thad Matta and his coaching staff recruited and had the ability to see through to the end. “I think Senior Day is always, for a moment, a little bit emotional,” Matta said. “Once it’s over and they break center court, it’s back to business as usual.” There most likely will be a plethora of emotions and applause emanating from the stands thanks to the Buckeye faithful, but Matta isn’t concerned about the players losing their focus or letting the moment overcome them. “I think these guys have a maturity about them; they know we’ve got a tremendous challenge right around the corner after they go through the ceremony,” Matta said. “I think from that standpoint, they’ll be ready to play.” Still, Matta said he wants his guys to enjoy the moment while it lasts. “As I told our players after the Penn State game,” he said, “I think going home on Sunday will probably be maybe the greatest environment they’ve ever played in.” Revenge game For the second time this season, the Buckeyes are the No. 1 team in the country headed into a game against the Badgers. OSU lost the first game, 71-67, in part because of Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor’s 27-point performance. “I think that Wisconsin has a great point guard, one of the best in the country,” Matta said. “They have two bigs that can step out and shoot, but they can also post you up. … You’re just playing a really, really sound basketball team.” At one point during their last meeting, the Buckeyes extended their lead to 15 in the second half. Then, the Badgers started using a pick-and-pop offense that freed up their shooters and led to a surplus of points from beyond the arc. “(Wisconsin) extended their shooting range against us,” Matta said. “We’ve got to push up a little bit higher and challenge shots a lot better than we did in that game.” The Badgers have won seven of their last eight games, with their loss coming against Purdue on Feb. 16. Molded in his image When the Buckeyes visited the Kohl Center on Feb. 12, the Wisconsin fans in the stands rushed the court after their team’s triumph that evening. In the ensuing fracas, a fan might or might not have spit on freshman forward Jared Sullinger. Accusations and stories followed about what took place after the game. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said in a teleconference: “All I know is we won the game. Deal with it.” Still, Matta stressed that the incidents weren’t the driving force behind the team’s desire to win. “I think the biggest motivating factor for this is winning basketball games and playing as well as they possibly can,” Matta said. “And I honestly think that they kind of follow my lead and my approach to each game. “From that standpoint it’s like, ‘Hey, this is a team that’s beaten us, and we have to play better than we did the last time we played them.’” OSU and Wisconsin are scheduled to tip off at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Schottenstein Center.
While the main focus of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Course was on 44-year-old Steve Stricker’s 10th PGA Tour victory, Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy, both 22 years old, were the center of attention for many spectators throughout the entire weekend in Dublin, Ohio. Both players finished the week under-par, and McIlroy finished in fifth place, five shots behind the champion, Stricker. “Yeah, when you’re five behind going into the last day, you know you’re going to have to do something pretty special,” McIlroy said. “I’m happy with how I played. I could have been a little bit better, but it’s been a good week.” Fowler, who was in the second-to-last group on Sunday at Muirfield in 2010, and finished in second place behind Justin Rose, finished this year at 4-under-par for the tournament. Fowler said he is in good shape heading into the U.S. Open, which begins June 13 at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. “I’m hitting a lot of good shots,” Fowler said. “(I’m) hitting a lot of solid golf shots, driving the ball a lot better than I have been all year.” Youth was a theme that extended beyond Fowler and McIlroy — there were 34 players in their 20s, which accounts for nearly 29 percent of the field. Jack Nicklaus, Memorial host and record holder for the most major tournament wins, said the PGA Tour goes through cycles of good players, and that for awhile, Tiger Woods was the only player under 30 winning on a consistent basis. “We went a long time where Tiger was the only multiple victor on the Tour,” Nicklaus said. “All of a sudden, we got a rash of young player that have come along.” Nicklaus said the success of the younger players, such as Fowler and McIlroy, encourages young people to take up golf. “The young kids say ‘Hey, if they can do that, I can do that,’” Nicklaus said. Fred Couples, PGA Tour veteran and captain of the 2011 U.S. Presidents Cup team, said there are many young players making an impact on the tour this year. “There’s so many young players,” Couples said. “It used to be young players were in their late 20s, a good player who developed and then started to win,” Couples said. “Now you have … all these guys who are barely in their 20’s.” McIlroy had a share of the lead after Thursday’s round, shooting a 6-under 66. On Friday and Saturday, McIlroy struggled to repeat his first-round performance, shooting only 1-under par during the ensuing two rounds. Entering Sunday, McIlroy was five shots off the lead, but was unable to catch Stricker. McIlroy shot a 4-under 68 on Sunday to put his four-day total at 11-under-par. “When (Stricker) turned in 6-under and went to 18-under par, what do you do?,” McIlroy said. “You’re just trying to play as best you can and finish as high up on the leaderboard as possible.”
The Ohio State softball team’s bats stayed hot Wednesday evening at Buckeye Field and helped the Buckeyes win both games of the doubleheader against Buffalo. The Buckeyes combined for 13 runs on 13 hits in the two-game set to beat the Bulls, 5-0, and 8-5. In game one, senior pitcher Mikayla Endicott shut down the Bulls offensively giving up just two hits and no runs in six innings on the mound. The top of the order did most of the damage for the Buckeyes as freshman outfielder Taylor Watkins, senior outfielder Vanessa Spears and senior shortstop Alicia Herron, combined for three hits and four RBIs. Herron attributes the consistent hitting to the team’s hard work so far this season. “I think midseason, things are starting to come together,” Herron said. “We get in here every single day and we try our hardest and I think when we do that things click.” Game two did not come as easily for the Buckeyes. After only registering two hits in the first game, the Bulls doubled that total in the first inning and jumped to an early 1-0 lead. Buffalo added another run in the third and was leading 2-0 until sophomore first baseman Evelyn Carrillo and freshman infielder Maddy McIntyre each homered with runners on base and two outs in the bottom of the third inning to put the Buckeyes up 5-2. The Buckeyes added one run in the fifth on a double steal and two in the sixth off a Herron double to left centerfield. The Bulls scored once in the fourth and threatened in the seventh by scoring two runs, but were ultimately denied when Endicott entered and struck out he final two batters to end the game. Coach Linda Kalafatis said that even when the team isn’t on top of their game, they’re still good enough to win on any given night. “Even when we’re not playing our best, we can come back and win,” Kalafatis said. Although she believes that her team is capable of doing it, she said that in upcoming games they have to be ready to play. “From here on out we have to give teams our best,” she said. OSU moves to 23-11 on the season and has won eight consecutive games heading into its weekend series against arch rival Michigan. Both teams are 5-1 in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes said they know what it means to play against Michigan and know what they will have to do to win. Watkins only needed one word to describe what it’s going to take to beat the Wolverines. “Heart, it’s gonna take a lot of heart to beat them,” Watkins said. Herron didn’t downplay the significance of the series. “They’re a tough team and it’s always a huge rivalry,” Herron said. “We look forward to it though, we love it.” The Buckeyes square off against Michigan in the first game of the series at Buckeye Field Friday at 5:30 p.m.
Redshirt senior defensive end Tyquan Lewis poses for a picture with his mother, Tyronda Whitaker, at AT&T Stadium before Ohio State’s 42-20 win against Oregon in the national championship on Jan. 12, 2015.It’s never easy for a mom to see her kids leave and move off to college. That doesn’t change when your son heads to Ohio State to play football.For Jeny Borland, redshirt freshman linebacker Tuf Borland’s mother, her son moving off to college meant the end of their pregame meals at Jimmy John’s.Gwen Wade, freshman cornerback Shaun Wade’s mom, missed sneaking off to eat and shop with Shaun, who she described as a “mama’s boy.”For others, like Tyronda Whitaker, the mother of redshirt senior defensive end Tyquan Lewis, she missed just having her son around to talk to.As the mother of a college football player at an elite program, life can be easier or more difficult than that of a mom of an average student. But it’s always different.“Mommy, who has possession?”When Lewis was five or six years old, he asked his mother if he could play football. Her answer was simple: No. She was worried he would get hurt. Not until Lewis entered seventh grade did his mother allow him to play the contact sport.“He’s always been bigger than everyone else,” Whitaker said. “But the main reason was because he really wanted to. He showed a true interest in it and I’m one of those parents that whatever my kids are interested in, I try to support.”Whitaker didn’t understand football when Lewis began playing. A single mother of four boys, she relied on her then-8-year-old son, Kenai, to teach her the sport.“He asked me, ‘Mommy who has possession?’ I’m like, ‘Possession of what?’ He’s like, ‘Mommy, who has possession of the football?’ Then, I realized my football IQ was way too low,” Whitaker said.By the time Lewis was an upperclassman in high school, he had grown to be 6-foot-4. OSU and many other schools around the country came calling, recruiting the four-star defensive lineman from Tarboro, North Carolina. But his mother worried about her son attending a school like OSU that would require a 10-hour drive. Whitaker and Lewis each made top-10 lists. Hers was so detailed that she included the exact distance in miles from her driveway to the each school’s doorstep. It wasn’t until the duo visited OSU that she was convinced it was his best option. She said she literally couldn’t find anything wrong with it.Even still, when Lewis eventually enrolled at OSU in the spring semester of 2013, Whitaker was distraught. She missed her oldest son who she had become so used to having around the house.“I’m going to get the boys from daycare and when I walk in the house, the boys are home from daycare, the house is pretty much clean to a standard that all I’d ever have to do is go to the kitchen to make dinner, if he didn’t make dinner himself,” Whitaker said. “He plays such an intricate role in all of our lives.”She could no longer call him whenever she wanted. He was too busy with practice, tutoring, workouts, homework and meetings to be as available as she would have liked. It’s better now, as the two text often and talk on the phone once every few days. She said she needs the calls, even if they’re just two minutes.Whitaker understands the massive time commitment is necessary, but she has had to work to help Lewis’ three brothers understand why the family can’t see the 2016 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year as much as the group would like. In the fall, Whitaker’s family travels to home games on Fridays, and is able to see Lewis for 10-30 minutes before he reports to the Blackwell Inn with the rest of his team. Then, on Saturdays, Whitaker can get dinner with her son if the game isn’t a night game. And on Sundays, they begin the long trek back to North Carolina in the morning.“We have to talk to ourselves and say, this is your son and he’s in a primetime position,” Whitaker said. “So we have to share him with the rest of the world and you just have to remember that no matter what, you love him and he loves you.”Without a father in the house, Lewis has acted as a role model, even a father figure at times, to his three brothers according to Whitaker. She said they look up to him. “It gives them someone to look up to, someone that they can strive to be like, and any time that they have a question about what it takes to get to that point in life or what that journey will entail, they can call him,” Whitaker said.She said she leads by example. She understands that children pattern the behavior of their parents, so she has tried to live her life in an upbeat, positive way. She worked to instill empathy in Lewis and his brothers.Even still, she understood, as a woman, that there were some things she couldn’t teach her sons. So, she assembled a team of men, including former coaches and family members, to serve as positive role models and mentors.“With me being a single mom, my thing was I never wanted them to feel the void of not having both parents in the house so, I’ve done whatever has needed to be done to make sure that they never felt that,” Whitaker said.Ohio State redshirt sophomore linebacker Justin Hilliard plays gold with his mother, Diane Hilliard. Courtesy: Diane Hilliard“I’m in a totally different zone – the Justin zone”Though his brother C.J. Hilliard left the state to play football for Iowa, redshirt sophomore linebacker Justin Hilliard never wanted to go far away for college. The Cincinnati native and former St. Xavier High School standout was a five-star prospect with offers from schools spanning the country.But despite Justin eventually deciding to stay in his home state to play college football, his mom, Diane Hilliard, wasn’t prepared for him to leave.“That’s my entire life for 18 years. So when C.J. left, that was OK because I still had Justin the whole year to myself. And when Justin left, I had no idea what to do,” Diane said. “It was really difficult. That empty nest was really difficult.”His first year away, she had to talk to him on the phone at least twice a day and FaceTime him three times every week. But Justin understood. He would make time for her, returning on the weekends to study, do laundry and watch their favorite show,” Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”. It wasn’t long into Justin’s career at OSU that he had to overcome his first bout of adversity. As a freshman, he tore his left meniscus during the season then tore his right lateral biceps tendon, forcing him to miss spring practice. A year later, as fall began, he inexplicably tore his left bicep.Unlike many people in his situation, he was prepared for it. Diane said she instilled perseverance in her kids when they began playing, knowing it would eventually pay off.“When they started playing football and ice hockey, I would be talking to them like that. And then when it finally happened – he had the surgery – I just came up like, you know, you’ll come back. It’s OK. It’s painful now, but it’s going to get better,” Diane said.She said she worked to find examples of people who dealt with similar injuries as Justin’s, such as NFL linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, and sent texts of their stories to the linebacker, hoping to inspire him. “One injury can’t end all of it,” Diane said. “(Justin and his brother have) seen stories where that happened and I just didn’t want them to ever feel consumed or (feel like) this is what I am, this is who I am.”One injury didn’t end it. Nor did his second or his third. On April 15, he suited up with with his teammates in the 2017 spring game and led both teams with seven tackles, earning praise from OSU coach Urban Meyer after the game. Diane was thrilled to see him back on the field. She even had a special name for how she watched the game.“If Justin’s on the field, I’m locked in on Justin. I’m in a totally different zone – the Justin zone. That’s where I am. I’m not really focused on anything else, I’m just focused on Justin,” Diane said.Jeny Borland hangs out with her son, redshirt freshman linebacker Tuf Borland. Credit: Jeny Borland“It’s something that we all love”Football comes naturally for Tuf Borland.“He’s always dreamed of playing in the Big Ten,” Jeny said. “He’s kind of unique. He’s one of those kids who was really serious. He was years ahead of his peers.”It makes sense. The sport is in his blood.His father, Kyle Borland, played football for Wisconsin. Jeny’s father and Kyle’s father each coached football teams. Jeny believes the game brings the Borland family closer together.“It’s something that we all love,” Jeny said. “All the way from when my husband was growing up to when I was growing up, it’s been a big part of our family.”Considering Kyle’s legacy playing for the Badgers and the school offering Tuf a scholarship, many recruiting analysts expected the linebacker to commit to Wisconsin. But Jeny said she and her husband made it a priority not to pressure their son to attend any particular school.When Tuf and his mom were in Columbus for a group visit during his junior year, former linebackers coach Luke Fickell, who is now the head coach at Cincinnati, pulled the Borlands aside and took them into his office, telling them he’d been trying to talk to him all day. It shocked Jeny.“We didn’t even know that Ohio State, like, knew of him because we’re down in Illinois,” she said. “Tuf didn’t go to any camps or anything.”Tuf committed to OSU before his senior year of high school began. His first year in Columbus, he redshirted.It was difficult for Tuf because he had previously never been forced to watch his team from the sidelines. But, Jeny said, early in the season, redshirt junior defensive end Sam Hubbard and a few other starters pulled Tuf aside and told him they understood the year was tough. But they also told him he had been doing a great job and to keep doing what he was doing.“It’s hard because you know what your son wants and you want it for him. But at the same time, it’s good because he going to have that extra year,” Jeny said. “I think it’s good for him mentally to not have everything come easy. For him to really have to work hard, I think that’s good for him as personal growth.”Though Tuf has yet to suit up in uniform for a game in the fall, he’s played in two spring games and took part in pregame festivities as a freshman, including Jeny’s favorite, the team’s walk from the Blackwell Inn to Ohio Stadium.“The fans, family and friends line the path for the players and Tuf will stop and give me a hug as he passes by,” Jeny said. Though she enjoyed attending games during his first year as a Buckeye, Tuf’s mother is eager to watch him suit up in scarlet and gray and play in the fall.“I just look forward to him being on the field so that his hard work that he’s been putting in since the day he decided he wanted to play in the Big Ten when he was 8, all that work that he’s put forth comes to maturity and he’s able to really get out there and compete and show people what he has to be successful,” Jeny said.Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton poses for a picture with his mom, Sabrina Hamilton, prior to the season at media day in 2016.“The next logical step was football”Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton’s career in sports didn’t begin on the football field. Instead, it began on the soccer pitch at the age of 5. But it lasted just one season.“He was bigger than all the other kids and he kind of bullied them. So, the next logical step was him playing football,” said Sabrina Hamilton, DaVon’s mother.As someone who isn’t interested in football when her sons aren’t playing, Sabrina said she had him play the sport because it was just something to do. Every year, until middle school, she asked him whether he wanted to play, as she never wanted to force her son to play a sport he didn’t want to.Over a decade after playing his first snap, DaVon starred on Pickerington Central’s defensive line as a senior. In the Tigers’ game against rival Pickerington North, Sabrina remembered she had to leave the stands and began pacing down below. While away, DaVon blocked a field goal.“I didn’t really see it. But, when I heard about it, I was really excited. I had to look it up on Hudl and watch it,” Sabrina said.That year, DaVon became a hot commodity in the world of recruiting. He committed to three schools – Ohio University, Pittsburgh and Kentucky – before flipping from the Wildcats to the Buckeyes less than two weeks before signing day in 2015. “It was like the fastest year of my life and probably his dad’s life too,” Sabrina said. “He started his senior year and it was like hitting the ground running and it didn’t let up until he graduated.”Two years and two months after DaVon committed to OSU, while on spring break vacation in Sandusky, Ohio, with their two other kids, Sabrina’s husband, Damian, received a call in late March from DaVon with bad news. DaVon needed surgery on a broken foot.“I was thinking, why would you wait until we were out of town and not even able to get there right away?” Sabrina joked. “Definitely, like I said, not the best moment. But he said he was OK, so we got there as soon as we can and it all worked out good.”She felt lucky that DaVon would be going through the healing process nearby, as the Hamilton family lives just a half-hour drive from campus. But moreso, she felt like she wouldn’t have to worry because she trusted the OSU coaching staff.“I feel like his coaches – Larry Johnson, Urban Meyer – have always made sure that we knew that DaVon was an important part of the team so I had no reason to even doubt that when he got hurt that they would do everything that they could to make sure that he got back to 100 percent,” Sabrina said.The doctors explained the break in his foot and called to let her know the surgery was a success and what to expect during the healing process, she said. Sabrina talked to her son on the phone three or four times per week to check in. He never complained.Since DaVon has been in college, Sabrina’s favorite moment was when DaVon recovered a fumble on the 1-yard line in last year’s game against Michigan. She didn’t miss that play.“I saw that one. I was right there, front and center for that one,” Sabrina said. “I haven’t had to leave the stadium. It’s a different experience since he’s in college.”Ohio State freshman cornerback poses with his mother, Gwen Wade, during his senior year of high school. Credit: Gwen Wade | Facebook“You never call me!”Gwen Wade, the mother of former five-star recruit and early-enrollee freshman cornerback Shaun Wade, remembers the first time she sat down and spoke with Meyer.“When I first went there to sit down talking to coach Meyer in his office, he was just himself. He was just straight up,” said Gwen, an Alabama native and Crimson Tide fan. “He told (Shaun) what he would do, what he won’t do. And I appreciated that.”Tired of she and her son wearing name tags during visits to colleges, Gwen enjoyed the personal touch she felt from OSU.“They know who we are. They even know about our other kids and stuff. So it was more past football,” Wade said. “We sat down and we talked a little about education, Shaun doing what he needed to do as far as getting a degree and everything.”Meyer isn’t the only coach who made an impact on Wade and her family during the recruiting process.Kerry Coombs, the cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator, visited the Wade family home to sit down, watch TV and chat. Gwen said her mom immediately fell in love with Coombs, who she said says some crazy things sometimes.“He expects for him to graduate no matter what, even if in three years he’s going to the draft, he still expects for him to walk and to get his degree to have on the wall back home,” Gwen said.Shaun committed to OSU on Jan. 12, 2015, the day of the Buckeyes’ 42-20 win over Oregon in the national championship.Since then, because the OSU coaching staff no longer must stay in constant contact as it did while recruiting the Jacksonville teenager, Gwen said she communicates with the coaches less frequently.One day during the spring, Shaun’s first semester on campus, Gwen got a call from a familiar person: Meyer.“He was like, ‘You never call me!’ And I was like, “You’re busy! It’s getting time for football time, it’s time for football time. I’m not leaving you alone,’” Wade said.Now, she sometimes texts Meyer, or he texts to ask how she’s doing. But she doesn’t want to bother him because, she said, she wants the team to get a ring.When asked about what she is looking forward to in the fall, her son’s first season as a Buckeye, her answer was simple.“The football.”