There are fans and then there is Jared Weiss, who apparently is such a staunch supporter of icon Muhammad Ali that he purchased “The Champ’s” rickety childhood home in Louisville, Ken.Louisville realtor Dave Lambrechts told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Weiss, a Las Vegas real estate investor, closed on the property, paying $70,000 for the small white house with a sagging front porch overhang in a western Louisville neighborhood made up of mostly neat, modest homes.“The guy’s a huge Ali fan, and that’s what kind of spurred this,” Lambrechts said.The home already has a state historical marker out front recognizing the residence as the home of Ali when he was a boy named Cassius Clay. The marker says Ali lived in the mostly black neighborhood with his parents and brother and attended local public schools.It was at the home where the future boxing champion’s “values were instilled,” the marker says.“Ali’s childhood home is really symbolic for the area,” Lambrechts said.Ali and his wife, Lonnie, have multiple residences but do not live in Louisville. However, they remain linked to the city by the Muhammad Ali Center, a downtown museum and education center that is one of the city’s prime tourist attractions. Ali came home for a 70th birthday bash in January.Lambrechts says the new owner wants to restore the home to how it looked when Ali lived in it.He said Weiss hasn’t finalized his plans but won’t use it as rental property. Among the options being considered are turning the home into a museum or using it for some charitable function.The house had been under private ownership and was assessed at $23,260, according to the Jefferson County Property Value Administrator’s website. Former owner Steve Stephenson had said he was asking $50,000.
Last year, coach Tony Bennett and his Virginia Cavaliers earned the embarrassing distinction of becoming the first No. 1 seed in men’s NCAA Tournament history to lose to a No. 16 seed in the opening round. Bennett may end up being tied to that ignominious bit of trivia for the rest of his life, but he also has a real shot at redemption this year. Virginia is a No. 1 seed once again, and the reigning coach of the year will have another chance to win his (and the school’s) first national championship. But the questions linger: Was last year’s loss to the underdog Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers just a one-off fluke for Virginia, or was it symptomatic of a fatal flaw in Bennett’s system? Will this be the year that one of his teams finally breaks through?Broadly speaking, Bennett has been very successful at Virginia. He has racked up multiple 30-win seasons, recruited a string of NBA-quality players and fixed the Cavaliers firmly in the AP Top 10. It took him just three seasons to transform a 10-win team into an NCAA Tournament participant. And yet — despite five subsequent tourney appearances, including three No. 1 seeds — victories in the Big Dance have been few and far between for Bennett, as his Virginia teams have notched a total of just seven tournament wins. In fact, Virginia’s performance against seed expectation of -1.30 wins per tournament is the second-worst of any team over the past five years. Gonzaga19113Finalist1x+0.8812th of 160 UNC16915Champion2+0.6621 Wichita St.1666Sweet 161-0.41119 Arizona1688Elite Eight1-0.54127 Virginia has been successful lately, just not when it countsTournament wins vs. average for seed* for the 10 Division I NCAA teams with the most total wins since 2013-14, through the 2018 tournament Kentucky17915Finalist1+1.187 Villanova19015Champion3+0.0549 SCHOOLTOTALTOURNEYBEST FINISHNo. 1 SeedAVG.Rank Playing at a fast or slow pace tends to nudge a good team’s range of outcomes one way or the other by about a quarter of a win. So, yes, Virginia’s slow pace of play puts it at a relative disadvantage compared to other, higher-tempo No. 1 seeds. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Virginia should start playing faster.After all, Bennett knows a low-possession team can succeed in the tourney. He witnessed it firsthand in 2000 as a member of his father Dick’s coaching staff, when their methodical Wisconsin squad reached the Final Four despite playing at a snail’s pace. Now, Tony has implemented the same pace-defying pack-line defense that Dick once used to stifle Wisconsin’s opponents and tempo alike. That conservative defensive scheme is so integral to the Bennetts’ coaching identity that playing at a slow pace has basically become a family tradition.In the end, a team’s efficiency margin is still a much better predictor of tournament success than its tempo. And, in practice, Virginia’s huge efficiency margin may be inextricable from its slow pace of play. A faster-paced Virginia team might also become a less efficient Virginia team, especially on the defensive end.Theoretically, Bennett would maximize Virginia’s tournament chances by having his team play at a faster tempo. But in reality, his best bet may be to continue following in his dad’s slow-paced footsteps in the hopes that they will eventually lead him back to the Final Four.The journey will start for Bennett and Virginia on Friday afternoon against Gardner-Webb of the Big South. On paper, the Cavaliers will be 35 points better than the Runnin’ Bulldogs, at least on a per-100-possession basis. But we will just have to wait and see if 59 possessions will be enough for the Cavs to prove they are better than a No. 16 seed this time around.Check out our latest March Madness predictions. Michigan St.1629Final Four—+0.3529 WINSWins Vs. expected Virginia1727Elite Eight3-1.30159 Kansas17212Final Four3-0.55131 * Seed averages since 1985. Game totals through March 17, 2019.Source: sports-reference.com So, what gives? Why has Virginia — a team that has so thoroughly dominated the regular season lately — disappointed so much in March? It may have something to do with the glacially slow pace at which Bennett has his team playing.A team’s efficiency margin (i.e., the amount by which it would outscore an average Division I opponent over the course of 100 possessions) is generally a good predictor of wins and losses. Teams that score efficiently and make it hard for their opponents to do so tend to win a lot of games. According to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, Virginia has hovered near the Top 5 in adjusted efficiency margin during its recent period of excellence, finishing each of the past five seasons somewhere in the ballpark of +25 to +30 points per 100 possessions. This year, the Cavs have the best margin of any Division I team at an eye-popping +35.Of course, Virginia never actually has a chance to play 100 possessions in any individual game. The typical 40-minute college game has only about 70 possessions in each direction. And because the Cavaliers play at the slowest pace of any Division I team (353rd), they typically use even fewer possessions than that — just less than 60 on average.Reducing the number of possessions available to each team puts a greater emphasis on randomness; each stroke of bad luck — a cold-shooting snap, a blown call, a bounce of the ball in the wrong direction — matters a bit more when the pace is slow. Extra randomness puts the favorite at greater risk and bolsters the underdog’s chances at an upset. By playing at a slow pace, the Cavaliers are essentially giving themselves fewer opportunities to prove that they are the better team in any given game. This is especially problematic if the Cavs find themselves trailing by a large margin, as they were early in the second half last year against UMBC.But does it actually matter? We know that pace has only a very modest influence on the predictability of postseason outcomes in the NBA. That’s because each NBA game is 48 minutes long, each team uses about 100 possessions per game, and each playoff matchup is decided over a best-of-seven series. However, in a single elimination tournament with shorter games and fewer possessions, playing at a slower pace has much greater potential to introduce some wild volatility — hence, March Madness.We ran a simulation to gauge just how big of a problem Virginia’s slow pace might be in the NCAA Tournament. Starting with the Cavaliers’ per-100-possession stats, we broke down the likelihood of the various potential outcomes for each possession on offense and on defense — how often they would score or allow 3 points (3-pointer made, 3 free throws or a 2-pointer and a free throw), 2 points (2PM or 2FTs), 1 point (1 FT) or 0 points (0FG, 0FT or a turnover) against an average opponent. Then, by sampling randomly from these distributions of potential possession outcomes, we created 10,000 simulated games for a range of different pace scenarios — from 50 to 80 possessions per game — to find the ratio of points scored to points allowed in each simulation. These simulations assume (undoubtedly unrealistically) that Virginia’s offensive and defensive efficiency would be unaffected by a change in the pace of play. Duke17212Champion1+0.1145 Under this assumption of a stable efficiency margin — where the digital Cavaliers are programmed to score an average of 1.3 times as many points as they allow regardless of the tempo — we find that Virginia wins slightly more simulated games when playing at a faster pace. Visually, you can see the orange band of simulated results narrowing from left to right as the range of likely outcomes shrinks toward the average with an increasing number of possessions. The Cavs lost 9.7 percent of their simulated games when they played at a 59 possession-per-game tempo (equivalent to their usual pace), but the more their pace increased, the fewer upsets there were.This is an interesting thought experiment, but is there any empirical evidence to support the idea that playing at a slow pace is tied to underachievement in the tournament?To find out, we examined game results from the 17 NCAA Tournaments from 2002 to 2018, for which there are team-tempo stats available from KenPom. We created a model for expected win totals based on tournament seed and adjusted efficiency margin. Next, we compared the expected win totals from the model with the actual win totals for each team in each tournament, excluding the First Four and other play-in games.164 teams per tournament x 17 tournaments for a total of 1,088 distinct team-year combos. From there we sorted the teams by quality (i.e., expected to win more or less than two games in a single tournament) and by adjusted tempo (possessions per game, divided into tertiles), forming six groups. We found that, among the teams that were expected to win the most games (two or more), those that played at a slow pace tended to underachieve, while those that played faster were most likely to outperform their expected win totals.
2013Russell Wilson36.739.02.73.91.2 42016Aaron Rodgers28.871.8 RANKSEASONPLAYERPRESSURE %QBR 2011Tim Tebow37.1%184.108.40.206.0 2011Joe Flacco22.8220.127.116.11.3 12016Jameis Winston34.9%80.7 2011Mike Vick18.104.22.168.71.3 62009Peyton Manning15.761.2 2011Ben Roethlisberger25.422.214.171.124.2 82015Tyrod Taylor31.757.9 SECONDS 2013Aaron Rodgers25.019.42.54.01.5 52015Ryan Fitzpatrick22.571.5 Rodgers’s performance through the regular season and two postseason games this year has been exceptional. His 71.8 QBR when pressured this season is the fourth-highest since 2009, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. On Sunday, Rodgers was pressured on 18 of 51 dropbacks, and while he was sacked three times and gave up an interception, he went 7 for 14 for 149 yards, including the 36 that brought the Packers into field goal position. His unadjusted QBR actually went up on these plays, from 79.4 on plays where he wasn’t pressured to 89.7 on plays where he was.We only have QB pressure data going back to 2009, so that table isn’t exactly a complete survey of the situation. But six of the best eight individual seasons of QBs performing under pressure have come in the last two years.A few possible explanations for that: First, random noise is always a possibility. Second, something in the collection or interpretation of the pressure numbers may have changed over the years. (I asked around at Stats & Info about this, and the folks there said nothing changed under the hood, but they did note that the stat doesn’t differentiate between duress that comes at the beginning of a play, before a QB escapes to relative safety, and duress that comes just as a QB throws.)One more caveat: Different shops have different ways of defining “pressure,” so numbers can shift slightly from site to site, but the unifying thread among all the methods is that the QB has to be affected by the rush. So some plays that simply require the QB to step up in the pocket to avoid the rush may be left out of the overall tally. That would seemingly underrepresent mainstays of passing-leader charts such as Drew Brees or Tom Brady, who excel at beating the blitz by throwing the ball before pressure can arrive.So if the Geriatric All-Pro wing isn’t cracking the pass rush, it should be obvious who is — the guys who can move. Here’s a table showing QBs since 2011 who created the most time outside the pocket. I took the average time to throw and subtracted time in the pocket, leaving us with those magical few seconds when a player such as Rodgers or Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick is rolling around the edge looking for a target: 2011Aaron Rodgers126.96.36.199.01.4 2012Colin Kaepernick188.8.131.52.11.6 32013Josh McCown27.673.8 Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group 2012Russell Wilson31.9184.108.40.206.6 2012Aaron Rodgers23.4220.127.116.11.6 102013Ryan Fitzpatrick23.952.5 22015Jay Cutler30.975.0 Source: ESPN Stats & Info Group QBs under pressure, regular season and playoffs 2011-16 92014Carson Palmer27.452.8 2011Kevin Kolb18.104.22.168.91.5 2012Ben Roethlisberger24.744.92.54.01.5 2015Aaron Rodgers32.434.72.54.01.5 SEASONPLAYERPRESSURE %QBRIN POCKETBEFORE PASSSCRAMBLING 2015Russell Wilson22.214.171.124.01.5 2012Robert Griffin III25.5126.96.36.199.5 2012Nick Foles188.8.131.52.01.5 2013Colin Kaepernick184.108.40.206.01.3 72016Dak Prescott29.958.4 2016Aaron Rodgers29.471.82.64.01.4 A certain number of things that happen during a football game come down to skill, and a certain number to luck, and it’s important to be able to tell one from the other. Aaron Rodgers dropping deep in the pocket on a free play and rifling a 34-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Richard Rodgers, under-throwing him but threading it precisely between linebacker Sean Lee’s outstretched arm and his earhole against the Cowboys last weekend? That takes some baseline NFL skills, but mostly it’s a bad pass getting a lucky break. But Aaron Rodgers slipping the pocket, rolling left, pausing, waiting for his receivers to come back across the field, and hitting Jared Cook for a 36-yard catch that was inbounds by a toenail and set up the game-winning field goal? Now that’s a little bit of luck and a whole lot of skill.Aaron Rodgers is unusually good when pressure comes his way. One of the bedrock principles of defense in the NFL is that pressuring the quarterback works. It worked on Tom Brady and the 18-0 Patriots in 2008, and God knows it worked on Cam Newton and the Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Get to the quarterback, the thinking goes, and you’re in good shape, failing a stroke of luck or the spectacular. But these days there’s a group of quarterbacks, Rodgers included, who are defying that conventional wisdom.Since 2009, the league average QBR1I’m using the “raw” version of QBR for this post, since Total QBR isn’t calculated at the split-level. The raw version is just the Total QBR number before it’s adjusted for strength of opponent. on plays with QB pressure is just 18.5, according to ESPN Stats & Information — just barely better than the worst quarterbacking season of the century, Jimmy Clausen’s catastrophe in 2010, which came in at 14.5 QBR. This season, QB performance has seen a modest bump to 29.3 — better, but still not very good. The notable difference, however, is now there are a few quarterbacks who are finding ways to thrive.Here’s a chart showing the quarterbacks since 2009 who performed best on plays flagged as QB pressures: 2014Colin Kaepernick31.524.42.44.01.6 2014Russell Wilson220.127.116.11.01.5 2016Tyrod Taylor35.518.104.22.168.3 2013Terrelle Pryor22.214.171.124.41.8 There are two types of quarterbacks who consistently create significant amounts of time between when they break the pocket and when they throw the ball: the bootleg and read-option acolytes and the guys who are (and must be) good at running for their lives. Along with a slightly younger version of Ben Roethlisberger and an always-battered Russell Wilson, Rodgers is one of the few QBs on that list who combine out-of-pocket moves with excellence at the more traditional in-pocket throws.But Rodgers has always been able to buy time once the pocket breaks down, and it’s only recently that he’s turned those moments of brilliance into sustained performance.Since the start of the 2014 season, Rodgers has thrown for 28 touchdowns and just five interceptions while under pressure. The league average over that span is 3.2 touchdowns per season to 3.2 interceptions. For the season, Rodgers’s QBR when he was pressured was 71.8, which would have put him ninth in the league on all plays, not just pressured ones.So the big question then: What did Rodgers change?Rodgers’s pressure numbers look very similar to his old ones on depth of pass, time to pass, and many other stats. The only difference by the numbers is that he appears to be completing more of the same passes he’s been throwing for years.A critical part of this improvement seems to be that Rodgers is even more comfortable getting out on the edge early in his progressions. Here’s a play against the Vikings in Week 7 of 2011, Rodgers’s first MVP season:He looks a like a traditional quarterback, going through his progressions until the pocket finally folds, and he busts out and finds an open man.And now here he is this season:In part out of necessity, Rodgers no longer bounces around the pocket, or slides around blockers while keeping his feet set. These days, he often makes one or two reads and books it to the outside, where he essentially sets up a secondary pocket. It’s almost a bizarro version of the simplified offense many young mobile QBs run, in which they make one read and then bolt if their man isn’t open.Who knows if Rodgers will keep this up. Maybe this is unsustainable. Maybe the magic outside the pocket really is just fortuitous but still random chance converging in one season. But Rodgers has had enough success this season that if he keeps on doing what he’s doing, it’ll be hard to argue it’s just luck, no matter how unlikely it might seem.Check out our latest NFL playoff predictions.
Things That Caught My EyeOne game moreThe 0-15 Cleveland Browns play the 12-3 Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday, and a loss will make them the second 0-16 team in NFL history. Browns Coach Hue Jackson has promised to make good on a vow he made to swim in Lake Erie if the Browns went 1-15 yet again. Overall, Cleveland is 1-30 under Jackson. Elo suggests that the Steelers have a 95 percent chance of winning on Sunday, and their bye week position in the playoffs is already locked up. [ESPN, FiveThirtyEight]Okay, so this one settles it.Surprise: Clemson and Alabama will play in the College Football Playoff again, their third such meeting in three years. That pair of games was a dead heat: each took a national championship, and the aggregate scoring was 76-75, Alabama. Stakes are high, but these aren’t the same exact teams we’ve seen in the playoff before: Alabama’s once ironclad defense has been deemphasized, but it has a stronger offense to compensate. [FiveThirtyEight]The case for Gurley as MVP comes down to how many voters played Fantasy FootballTodd Gurley, the Rams star running back, has been making a highly persuasive case for why he should be the NFL MVP over other contenders, like water pitchman Tom Brady. One component of the pro-Gurley argument is his incredible December performance, in which he has scored eight touchdowns in three games. This comes as no surprise to anyone playing Fantasy Football, where Gurley’s 107.1 fantasy points gave him the best postseason ever. [ESPN]Georgia D vs. Oklahoma OOklahoma has the best offense in the college football playoff, and on New Year’s Day they’ll play Georgia’s remarkable defense in the Rose Bowl. The winner goes on to face one of the two most recent national champions. Oklahoma’s quarterback, Baker Mayfield, has a completion rate of 53 percent when under pressure compared to 71 percent overall. [ESPN]Try out our fun new interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?Manziel Desired By Football TeamThe Canadian Football League approved Johnny Manziel — former Heisman Trophy winner, Cleveland Browns quarterback and cautionary tale — for a 2018 contract. His CFL rights are owned by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who will now be able to sign him or trade his rights. [ESPN]Sisters on opposite sides of the OlympicsMarissa Brandt and Hannah Brandt, two sisters from Minnesota, will be playing ice hockey in the Olympics, but not on the same squad. Marissa will be playing for South Korea, the country of her birth, while Hannah made Team USA. [NBC Sports]Make sure to try your hand at our fun NFL game: Can you beat the FiveThirtyEight predictions?Big Number61 percent chanceThere are six teams competing for three remaining spots in the NFL playoffs, but none of them are playing each other so it’s going to be a very weird Week 17: a bunch of teams with lots on the line are playing a bunch of teams with not a lot on the line. In the AFC, the contenders are the Ravens (94 percent chance of making the playoffs), Titans (58 percent), Chargers (31 percent) and Bills (17 percent), all playing squads with nothing on the line. In the NFC, it’s the Falcons (70 percent) and Seahawks (30 percent) fighting for the last spot. At least Atlanta is playing Carolina, a playoff-bound team still fighting for seeding. Atlanta has a 61 percent chance of winning that game. [FiveThirtyEight]Leaks from Slack: cwick:This 0-13 Basketball Team Is A Favorite To Make The NCAA Tournamentloved this, and wondered if there’s a ranking for us of the small-conference teams that most lean-in to their underdog nature. would help us see if texas southern is really the harshestchris.herring:What a cool idea.neil:Yeah this is kind of amazing, they’re easily #1 in average opponent Elo so far this year(non-conf only)Predictions NFL See more NBA predictions All newsletters College Football See more NFL predictions Oh, and don’t forgetSome hockey team had a weiner dog race on ice. We’re launching a sports newsletter. 🏆 Join the squad. Subscribe See more college football predictions NBA
OSU junior H-back Curtis Samuel (4) attempts to break a tackle during the first half of the Buckeyes’ season opener against Bowling Green on Sept. 3 at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes won 77-10. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorThe Ohio State Buckeyes opened up their 2016 season with an explosion of offense, routing the visiting Bowling Green Falcons 77-10. Junior H-back and running back Curtis Samuel did more than his part.Dubbed the team’s No. 1 playmaker by Meyer in August, Samuel touched the ball 22 times on 13 carries and nine catches. Either out of the slot, out wide or next to redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett in the backfield, Samuel was undoubtedly the go-to player for coach Urban Meyer’s offense.Samuel’s first score came at the end of the first quarter when he caught a pass over the middle from Barrett, then dashed another 60-some yards to the end zone, putting OSU ahead 21-7.Samuel said he saw a one-on-one opportunity with the safety and knew that he can win that battle.“You see that matchup, the way we train in this program, we feel like we can win that matchup 100 percent of the time,” he said.OSU opened the second half with the ball featuring a strong dose of the Brooklyn, New York, native. Samuel caught a 37-yard pass from Barrett, then two plays later Barrett found Samuel for a 21-yard score, and the rout was on.Samuel carried the ball three times on the next drive for OSU, ending in a 12-yard scamper off of redshirt freshman right tackle Isaiah Prince to pad the score to 49-10. Samuel had seven touches for 100 yards in the third quarter, five touches for 106 yards in the first quarter and 10 touches for 56 yards in the second quarter.Meyer said he didn’t envision 22 touches for Samuel before the game, but was more than pleased with the workload he handled.“I had 15 (touches) in mind,” Meyer said. “He’s a tremendous talent and it was great to see him have success. He’s the first true hybrid I’ve had in awhile.”Samuel carried the ball 13 times for 84 yards and a score, while he caught nine passes for 177 yards and two scores.Last season, it was no secret OSU would rely on Ezekiel Elliott to take up a considerable amount — if not all — of the workload. Samuel was Elliott’s backup, but even he hardly touched the ball. Defenses could gameplan against OSU’s run game, but this season, opposing defenses have to account for more than one, or two, or three guys to get the ball out of the backfield.Redshirt freshman Mike Weber held his own rushing for 136 yards on 19 carries, but simply having Samuel — or even senior H-back Dontre Wilson — in the backfield taking snaps next to Barrett or straight from the center provides new challenges for defenses that Meyer and Co. didn’t present last year.Weber even made the comparison of him and Samuel together in the backfield to a fairly successful duo from USC.“Lendale White and Reggie Bush,” Weber said. “If we can get there, I think we could even be better. We could be a really good one-two punch.”While the confidence is sky high, the likelihood of Samuel and Weber reaching that level is unlikely. But the speed and athleticism might be comparable, especially with Wilson taking reps with Barrett in the backfield and in the wildcat formation.For now, Samuel is content with his performance but quickly pointed out he should have hit a few holes better than he did today. But to the naked eye, Samuel was the most dominant performer on an offense which fed off of his explosiveness.“The great thing about Curtis (Samuel) and Dontre (Wilson) is that they’re able to do so much. They’re able to find mismatches on the opponent’s defense and try to exploit those things,” Barrett said. “We always try to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands.”After Samuel’s performance on Saturday, it appears he will have a massive role at nearly every skill position on offense. Samuel believes he has had that capability since his arrival in Columbus in 2014.“I feel like I always had the skill set and mentality to go out there and be a great player,” Samuel said. “It was just up to my coaches to feel whenever I was ready. This year they give me the ball a little more and I’m excited about it.”
Fans wave a flag on the field after the Buckeyes’ game against Michigan on Nov. 26 at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes won 30-27. Credit: Mason Swires | Assistant Photo EditorThe Big Ten Championship game will come and go without a glimpse of the No. 2 Ohio State football team. As the Buckeyes watch and wait for the outcome of the matchup between No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 7 Penn State, the situation might be more favorable than meets the eye for OSU. After falling to the Nittany Lions 24-21 in State College, Pennsylvania, the Buckeyes are a perfect 5-0, and have averaged a margin of victory of 25.2 in the last five weeks. Penn State is hitting its stride at the perfect time as well, giving up an average of 86 rushing yards per contest, and have given up a total of 12 points combined in two weeks.However, an extremely tough Wisconsin team lies in wait for coach James Franklin’s Nittany Lions. The Badgers gave OSU a run for their money, forcing overtime in Madison. While the Buckeyes have struggled with both units, neither side seems to have the upper hand.Even with all eyes on Indianapolis this week for who will wear the Big Ten crown, OSU might just be finding themselves in a spot that has already given them a playoff berth. Here are a few of possible scenarios for the Scarlet and Gray and the postseason.Penn State loses in blowout fashion to WisconsinGiven how both teams are playing right now, it would seem unlikely to see one team rollover the other. However, this scenario is a little more realistic when one thinks about other performances by the Badgers this season.Wisconsin not only pushed OSU to the brink, but was just a touchdown away from pushing Michigan to overtime. While the Badgers lost 14-7, Penn State was on the wrong end of a 49-10 drubbing at the hands of the Wolverines.Wisconsin lost by a touchdown to two, top-five ranked opponents. The Nittany Lions, on the other hand, have lost to Pitt. The Panthers, even with a win over Clemson, are far from an excusable loss, as their 8-4 record has been padded with wins over the likes of Villanova and Marshall.If Penn State were to be blown out, it would boost the resume of Wisconsin, making a convincing case for a playoff spot. However, that overtime loss in primetime to the Buckeyes would be looming over Wisconsin, and gives OSU a spot in the final four.Wisconsin loses in blowout fashion to Penn StateThis creates a bit more of a problem for the Buckeyes, as the red-hot Nittany Lions would most likely be out of the top 10 with a blowout loss to Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions, representing the lone loss for OSU, picking up a win over a team OSU struggled with at times would shed a bad light on the Buckeyes, considering Wisconsin would fall from the top 10.Penn State isn’t known for blowing out quality teams, but has picked up some solid wins and stayed competitive with tough, competitive units. A gritty team always creates some tension in games, and would create some drama that always drives up television ratings.With a win over OSU, and a win over the Badgers by a margin greater than seven, Penn State would be a tough team to leave out of a playoff spot. This scenario seems the most likely to keep the Scarlet and Gray from the playoffs.Neither team impressesRemember Iowa’s win over Michigan? A drawn-out, gritty game that ended with a last second field goal and neither side being relatively impressive on offense was the outcome. A flat Big Ten title game is one of the best possible scenarios for OSU to make the playoffs.With neither side showing much in terms of life, the College Football Playoff committee would be reluctant to put in such an uninteresting team just to get them destroyed by a superior opponent.If Wisconsin and Penn State put forth a disappointing show, expect to see OSU in either Phoenix or Atlanta.One of the other potential playoff teams loses this weekNo. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington are all going to be playing in conference title games this weekend. The Crimson Tide face No. 15 Florida, Clemson faces No. 19 Virginia Tech and Huskies square off against No. 9 Colorado.All games have the potential for fireworks, with stiff competition throughout. Although Alabama appears to be an invincible force at this point, teams like Clemson and Washington have been swapping places with other teams for the last few weeks in the No. 4 spot.A loss by one of these two teams would cause No. 5 Michigan to rise back into the top four spots, and OSU will not be dropping below a team they beat just a week prior. This scenario would be the best chance for OSU to reach the playoffs.Only time will tell where the Buckeyes end up. The final selection show by the College Football Playoff committee will air on Sunday on ESPN at noon.
Big-time players step up in big-time games. It’s an adage that can be traced to every imaginable competitive sport.For the Ohio State men’s tennis team, ranked No. 3 in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, senior Justin Kronauge and sophomore Chase Buchanan delivered at critical moments Sunday in OSU’s 5-2 victory over No. 9 Kentucky.Kronauge, ranked 43rd in the country, won his No. 2 singles match 6-4, 6-3 to put OSU up 4-1, thereby clinching the victory for the Buckeyes. Buchanan, down 5-2 in the first set in his match against No. 8 Eric Quigley, rallied for a 7-5 first set victory and dominated the second set 6-2 to win at No. 1 singles.“I just stepped my game up,” Buchanan said. “I was nervous at the beginning because my shots weren’t falling. I had to buckle down because it’s not good [for the team] if I go down.”OSU’s win improved its record to 9-1 and extended its home-match winning streak to 96. Two crucial points defined the match for the Buckeyes.At subsequent moments in their respective first sets, Buchanan went up 6-5 and Kronauge won 6-4, sending the crowd into a frenzy and putting the Wildcats on their heels.“Justin’s probably my best friend, so we know each other really well,” Buchanan said. “Seeing him get pumped up is great, it helps the team to see the top two guys playing well.”Coach Ty Tucker knows he doesn’t have to worry about his top two players playing to their highest capabilities.“They’re good players. They spend 20 hours a week together,” Tucker said. “They like to mix it up and compete. You don’t have to worry about [Buchanan and Kronauge] coming to fight.”The Buckeyes got off to a slow start, losing two of the three doubles matches to fall behind 1-0. The No. 2 doubles team of freshman Dino Marcan and junior Balazs Novak rallied from a 5-2 deficit to win 8-6 for OSU’s only doubles win.“[Kentucky’s] No. 1 doubles team is capable of winning the national title,” Tucker said. “Doubles isn’t our strong suit, but hats off to them [for winning the point].”Kentucky arrived in Columbus a confident bunch. The Wildcats had achieved their highest ranking in seven years and were coming off one of their biggest wins in school history, as they scored a 4-3 victory over then-No. 2 (and current No. 1) Virginia on Feb. 6, snapping the Cavaliers’ 63-match win streak.However, there would be no Cinderella story Sunday as the Buckeyes flexed their muscles in the singles match after dropping the doubles point.Junior Matt Allare evened the score at one by handily defeating Graeme Dyce 6-3, 6-4. Marcan, down 2-1 in both sets, won his No. 3 singles match against Brad Cox 6-4, 6-2.Shortly after Buchanan and Kronauge won their matches, Novak captured his ninth singles win of the year by defeating Anthony Rossi 6-2, 6-4 for the Buckeyes’ fifth point.
MIAMI — The Miami Hurricanes won the battle of embattled football programs Saturday. Previously suspended Hurricanes’ senior quarterback Jacory Harris threw two touchdowns to sophomore wide-receiver Allen Hurns and junior running back Mike James added a touchdown late in regulation. The Miami (1-1) defense held the No. 17-ranked Ohio State’s offense down throughout the game. OSU went on to drop its first contest of the season to Miami, 24-6. After forcing a punt on OSU’s first drive of the game, senior running back Lamar Miller broke a 54-yard run and was finally brought down inside the Buckeyes’ 10-yard line. Miller finished the first half with 128 yards on 15 carries. Harris took center stage on Miami’s first drive, completing a three-yard touchdown pass to Hurns to put the Hurricanes up, 7-0. Harris, along with senior linebacker Sean Spence, junior defensive tackle Marcus Forston, junior defensive end Adewale Ojomo and senior receiver Travis Benjamin returned to the Hurricanes’ lineup Saturday after serving a one-game suspension. Eight Miami players were suspended for at least one game for receiving impermissible benefits from former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, who is now serving a 20-year prison sentence for his involvement in a Ponzi scheme. Harris went back to work on Miami’s next drive, and found Hurns for a second 3-yard touchdown pass to Hurns that put the Hurricanes up, 14-0. Freshman Braxton Miller saw his first game action in two weeks when he went under center on the Buckeyes’ third drive of the game. Miller’s first pass of the game was deflected and intercepted. Luckily for the Buckeyes, the first pass Harris threw on Miami’s next drive was intercepted by redshirt sophomore safety C.J. Barnett. Junior running back Jordan Hall, one of three OSU players making their 2011 debut after serving a two-game suspension, featured on the Buckeyes’ first scoring drive of the game. Hall carried seven times on a 16-play drive, which sophomore kicker Drew Basil capped with a 22-yard field goal that cut the Hurricanes’ lead to 14-3. Hall, along with sophomore defensive back Corey Brown and junior defensive back Travis Howard, were each suspended for the Buckeyes’ first two games for receiving white envelopes containing $200 from a university booster at a Feb. 19 charity event in Cleveland. Redshirt freshman Bradley Roby intercepted a pass by Harris on Miami’s next drive and returned it to within 23 yards of the end zone.. Bauserman went without a completion on the drive that followed, however. The quarterbacking duo of Bauserman and Miller finished the half 1-of-11 passing with one interception, and OSU was forced to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Basil to bring it within eight points at 14-6. Miami responded with a 25-yard field goal by junior Jake Wieclaw as time expired in the first half and took a 17-6 lead into the locker room. Both teams were slow to produce offensively after the intermission. OSU stopped Miami on a fourth-and-2 play near midfield with 5:18 remaining in the third quarter, but Bauserman’s struggles continued on the Buckeyes’ ensuing drive. Miami fans, called to cheer by the sound of a mock hurricane siren, cheered louder still when Bauserman overthrew freshman wide receiver Devin Smith on third down. With more than three quarters played, OSU quarterbacks had accumulated only 13 yards on 2-of-16 passing. Miller didn’t fare much better, and fumbled on an improvised run with 9:21 left in the game. Despite missing safety Ray-Ray Armstrong, defensive end Olivier Vernon and tight end Dyron Dye, who remained suspended for Miami for also receiving impermissible benefits from Shapiro, the Hurricanes wouldn’t be denied. James put the finishing touches on Miami’s 24-6 win with a 1-yard touchdown run with 33 seconds remaining in regulation. The Hurricanes went on to win by the same score. The Buckeyes (2-1) finish the non-conference portion of their schedule on Saturday against Colorado at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and the game will be televised by ABC.
While the Ohio State football team has started its season with nine consecutive wins, its next opponent, Illinois, is currently riding a streak of its own. The Fighting Illini, however, have lost five consecutive games, including all four of their games thus far against Big Ten competition. Wins have been hard to come by for Illinois this season, but that has not deterred junior linebacker Jonathan Brown’s confidence going into Saturday’s matchup with the No. 6 Buckeyes at 3:30 p.m. at Ohio Stadium. “I think we have a very good chance of winning the game,” Brown said. “We’re a good team despite what our record says. I think we got enough weapons to go out and win this game.” With a 2-6 record, and all of its losses being by at least 14 points, Illinois will be considered underdogs in a road contest against the 9-0 Buckeyes. Redshirt junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said it does not matter to him if the team’s opponent is favored to win. “It’s more about the team that goes out there and executes and is more consistent throughout the game,” Scheelhaase said. “I’m sure nobody really talks about projections and who was favored, this and that, but who did a better job executing play to play, quarter to quarter and the game.” Scheelhaase acknowledged, however, that the competition will be a challenge on Saturday. “We’re meeting a team that is as good as anyone we’ve played, and you know, really as good as anyone in the country,” Scheelhaase said. “We know we’re going up against a tough team. It’s going to take great execution … to knock off a team like Ohio State. But there’s no doubt that we have the potential to go in there and compete with these guys.” The Illini have not won since Sept. 15, but rather than dwelling on their losses as they prepare to face a team that has not lost since last season, Scheelhaase said the team is taking the season “one game at a time.” “It’s one game, and that’s definitely the mantra that we’re taking going into the game, and that’s what everybody should be thinking about, just this game,” Scheelhaase said. Illinois first-year coach Tim Beckman echoed his quarterback’s sentiment. “We understand that Ohio State’s a good football team, but the only thing that we can control is what we do,” Beckman said. “We understand that we got four football games, four opportunities left … we’re going to take one at a time.” Offensively, Scheelhaase said the key to a victory is consistency. “We have to execute in critical downs,” Scheelhaase said. “On those critical downs, you got to make plays … that’s what it comes down to for any great offense.” Through their first eight games, the Illini have converted less than 35 percent of their third-down conversion attempts this season, which ranks just 102nd nationally. That is consistent with Ohio State’s defense, which ranks 33rd nationally, holding opposing offenses to a conversion rate of just under 35 percent on third-down plays. Beckman said the OSU defense is “fairly talented,” while Scheelhaase said the OSU defensive line is “as tough as anyone in the country.” “They’re really good just with getting push off the ball, beating people at the point of attack, getting pressure on the quarterback,” Scheelhaase said. “It’s something that’s important to take note of and make sure that we try to get after those guys early and definitely send different looks at them, send different things at them so they’re not playing as fast and as aggressive as they’re accustomed to. They’re great players, you know they’re going to make plays, you just try to limit them in different ways, slow them down a little bit.” On the other side of the ball, Brown said the Buckeyes offense, which ranks 21st nationally with 38.6 points per game, is a “well-oiled machine.” “They do make mistakes, but there’s few and far between,” Brown said. “They capitalize on your mistakes, and they got a lot of playmakers, a lot of guys that can go up and get the ball. So it’s going to be a fun challenge for us trying to stop them.” Going into last year’s contest in Champaign, Ill. against the Buckeyes on Oct. 15, 2011, the Fighting Illini were 6-0. But including their 17-7 loss on that day to OSU, the Illini have won just three of their last 15 games. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes were just 3-3 heading into that game last season. Scheelhaase said he is not drawing much from last year’s loss going into Saturday’s game, because the two teams are in positions “about as opposite as possible” from last year’s game. “You don’t think too much about stuff like that going into the game, you just think about how you can execute and how you can prepare to play one of the best teams in the country,” Scheelhaase said. Scheelhaase did say, however, that the chance to play and potentially be the first team to defeat the Buckeyes this season gives him extra motivation for Saturday. “I think everyone in the (Big Ten) conference gets up for playing a team like Ohio State,” he said. “With as much history and tradition as they have … it’s hard not to be excited to get to go and play in that environment. That’s why you come play in the Big Ten conference, that’s why you choose to play college football in a conference like this because you get to play great games like that, and it’s something that I’m excited about and I think the rest of my team is.” Brown said that given the team’s struggles this season, a win at the Horseshoe on Saturday would be “better than anything.” “I don’t think it’s so much with being the team that gave Ohio State its first loss, as much as it’s just getting the win for us,” Brown said.
Ohio State redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop shot 5-of-17 from the field in the Buckeyes’ 74-62 loss to Michigan on Feb. 18 in Ann Arbor. Credit: Jacob Myers | Managing Editor for ContentANN ARBOR, Mich. — The path to a Big Ten championship always seems to go through Michigan for Ohio State. The 2011-12 and 2012-13 teams suffered losses in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that ultimately dashed any outright regular-season conference title hopes.The same likely happened Sunday at the Crisler Center.After vanquishing the Wolverines in a 20-point comeback at home on Dec. 4, the eighth-ranked Buckeyes didn’t have the same formula for a victory against their rival the second time around, losing 74-62 to No. 20 Michigan, therefore falling a game behind first-place Michigan State in the Big Ten standings.In October, it isn’t likely many people predicted back-to-back road games against Penn State and Michigan in February to be the most challenging stretch of conference play for the Buckeyes. It was equally difficult at the time to foresee the position in which the team was in coming into this stretch — leading the Big Ten with four games to play.However small those odds were, that was Ohio State’s reality. But it has proved a burden for one of college basketball’s biggest surprise teams of the season.“If you’re a college player and you go into a couple games on the road against good teams, and you expect it to be easy, or you expect not to deal with some adversity — we haven’t had a whole lot of that through the Big Ten season, but everybody goes through that,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said. “This is what we’ve signed up for. That’s what they signed up for when they signed up to play in the Big Ten. This is what we signed up for to coach in.”Back-to-back, double-digit losses in the home stretch of the season has put Ohio State in a position where winning its final games against Rutgers and at Indiana would not be enough to win the outright conference crown without a pair of losses from the Spartans and a loss by Purdue.Holtmann continued to stay quiet about the team’s prospects of winning the conference following his team’s latest defeat. But it’s clear there have to be adjustments moving forward when opponents get their second or third look at an Ohio State team that doesn’t overwhelm any team with athleticism, size or shooting.“If this beats us down, shame on us,” Holtmann added. “We’ve had a heck of a start and we got to figure out a way to make steps toward playing better.”Michigan is a sound defensive team with enough offense to possibly win the conference tournament in two weeks in New York, as well as make it past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. And Penn State has multiple NBA-caliber players, including potential Big Ten Player of the Year Tony Carr, and a legitimate shot to sneak into the field of 68 in March.Those losses are explainable, but they hurt nonetheless.“Like I said last [game] when we played Penn State, we’re either going to learn from it or it’s going to keep happening, and tonight it did,” senior forward Jae’Sean Tate said. “They came out more physical. They made the right plays and they got the win. It’s the same thing. We got to learn from this one.”Ohio State last swept Michigan in the regular season in the 2010-11 season, which featured arguably the best team the program has ever had and the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. This season, everything had been going right for the Buckeyes. To think they were possibly about to achieve something that hadn’t been done since that team would’ve added to the lunacy of trying to explain this team’s successes.But there is a feeling that reality is now setting in for Ohio State.Teams are beginning to pressure junior C.J. Jackson and redshirt senior Andrew Dakich at point guard, a known weakness for the Buckeyes. With the exception of Tate, Holtmann said the team is struggling to play through physicality in the half-court offense, which starts with Big Ten Player of the Year contender Keita Bates-Diop, who has shot 9-of-28 from the field the past two games.It’s not the end of the road for Ohio State. It remains one of the best teams in the conference and deserving of a strong seed in the NCAA Tournament, but this stretch has been realized as a potential killer to a regular-season title.“We got to continue to have the same mindset,” Tate said. “Hope it works out. If it don’t, it doesn’t. At the end of the day, we’re just trying to look at the game in front of us.”