Month: September 2019

NFL Week 4 Elo Ratings And Playoff Odds

Before scrolling down and peeking at the table, take a guess: Which team has the highest projected end-of-season win total according to FiveThirtyEight’s latest NFL Elo ratings and playoff odds?While you’re thinking, let me briefly explain what these numbers are all about. A team’s Elo rating represents its current strength — or at least an estimate thereof using a simple method that incorporates margin of victory, home-field advantage, strength of schedule and team quality in previous seasons. (For the really gory details of how the ratings work, click here.) To give you a sense of the scale, the average NFL team always has an Elo rating of 1500, and the ratings usually range from 1700 on the high side to 1300 on the low end of the spectrum.Anyway, once computed, they can be used to derive win probabilities for each game and even point spreads. That’s how we’re able to simulate the remainder of the NFL schedule thousands of times and track each team’s chances of winning the division or making the playoffs, right down to using the NFL’s actual, highly arcane tiebreaker rules.OK, so now that the explanation is out of the way, which team has the most predicted wins?Perhaps you’re thinking of the Seattle Seahawks, who won their Super Bowl rematch with the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon. You’d be close; Seattle once again checks in with the top Elo rating this week (see left), but their schedule is difficult enough — eighth-toughest in the league, to be exact — that they don’t have the league’s highest expected win total. Speaking of the Broncos, they had the most predicted wins in last week’s column, but their loss to the Seahawks was damaging — both because it took away about 0.38 expected wins for the Seattle game itself, and because their Elo rating was downgraded by 14 (or the equivalent of a little more than a half a point of victory margin per game), reducing their win probabilities in future games as well.New England, then? The Patriots did manage to win last week but only marginally improved their Elo rating after a seven-point victory over the Oakland Raiders in a game Elo thought they should have won by more than two touchdowns. They currently rank fourth in expected wins. And the Carolina Panthers, who had been pegged for 10.7 wins after a 2-0 start, dropped to a 9.1-win expectation in the wake of an 18-point home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.The answer you were looking for was actually the Cincinnati Bengals, who project to win a league-high 11.2 games, according to our simulations. The Bengals moved to 3-0 for the first time since 2006 (don’t ask what happened that year) by drubbing the Tennessee Titans 33-7, and they now have the NFL’s best point differential. They also have an easier remaining schedule than the teams above them in the Elo pecking order. Based on Elo, an average team would be expected to beat Cincinnati’s remaining opponents by about 0.1 points per game (taking into account where the games are being played), while an average team would lose by 0.6 PPG against Seattle’s slate, 0.4 PPG against Denver’s and 0.2 PPG against New England’s.The Bengals also have the league’s best playoff odds at 78 percent and its second-best shot at winning the Super Bowl. Cincinnati does not have the best division odds, thanks to the re-emergence of Pittsburgh and Baltimore (sorry, Cleveland). Before the season, we thought the AFC North would be up for grabs, and three of its teams had preseason Elo ratings above 1500, but they were all bunched at the fringe of the top 12. Now Elo’s fourth-, ninth- and 12th-best teams hail from the AFC North, making it the NFL’s second-best division (in terms of its members’ average rating) behind the fearsome NFC West.Either way, Bengals fans should enjoy their team’s newfound success. They’re in a relatively prosperous cycle of the franchise’s history; including the end of last season, the team is consistently producing its best Elo ratings since the end of the 2005 season. Let’s hope there isn’t another Kimo von Oelhoffen moment waiting to derail the momentum this time around.Here are the projected standings and playoff odds for every NFL team:Some other observations:After briefly pulling themselves up to a 1503 Elo with a win over the New York Jets in Week 2, the Green Bay Packers dropped below 1500 again and now have their worst rating since the beginning of the Aaron Rodgers era. It’s a far cry from the Packers team that boasted a 1780 Elo late in the 2011 season, just 145 short weeks ago.Like Cincinnati, the Arizona Cardinals are zooming up the expected-win charts. Our simulations have them winning an average of 10.6 games by the end of the season, which ranks third in the league. Interestingly, by Elo they aren’t even the second-best team in the NFC West — San Francisco is barely ahead despite losing to Arizona last week — but they are expected to win 1.8 more games than the 49ers because they are already two games up in the standings (though they play the fourth-hardest schedule in football from now on).San Diego shouldn’t be forgotten in the Super Bowl derby. Although the Seahawks are the clear favorites, with a 14 percent chance of winning it all, the Chargers are at the periphery of the next tier of contenders — a group that also includes Cincinnati, New England, Arizona, Denver and possibly the Philadelphia Eagles. And along with the Bengals and Cardinals, the Chargers have added the most to their Elo score since the preseason ratings, improving from a 1555 to their current 1602 mark over the course of three straight victories.Although their 1999 incarnation was pretty extraordinary, the 2014 St. Louis Rams — along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars — seem to be deteriorating. No teams have shed more points off of their Elo ratings since the season began, with each losing in excess of 49 points (the equivalent of about two points per game of expected scoring margin) compared to their preseason ratings.As I mentioned, Elo ratings can also be used to generate point spreads for future games. It is our staunch recommendation, however, that these be used for “entertainment purposes only” — especially after a performance like last week. Going up against the point spreads listed at Pro-Football-Reference.com, Elo’s picks were a dreadful 4-11-1 in Week 3. (They did have a 12-4 straight-up record.) But we’ll soldier on anyway and list the matchups for this week, along with their predicted win probabilities and point spreads:The best matchup of the week in Elo’s eyes is Philadelphia at San Francisco, which matches Nos. 6 and 10 in our rankings. But as far as marquee games go (measured by the harmonic mean of the two teams’ pregame ratings after adding half the home-field advantage to each side), it’s the worst week-leading matchup of the season yet.Even so, there are some interesting pairings to be had, in addition to Eagles-Niners. Elo considers Washington and the New York Football Giants to be a classic “pick ’em“, while Vegas sees Washington as three-and-a-half point favorites, perhaps underestimating just how bad of a period this is in the franchise’s history. Likewise, Green Bay is a one-and-a-half point favorite at Chicago despite Elo pegging the Bears as five-point favorites. How much of that is owed to the Bears’ banged-up defense, and how much simply stems from a refusal to believe the Packers aren’t the same team they were several years ago, is tough to say.Finally, a couple of NFC South teams are getting a lot more love in Vegas than the ratings say they deserve. The books have both Atlanta and New Orleans favored by 3 on the road this week (the Falcons visit Minnesota; the Saints go to Dallas), while Elo thinks Vegas is off by about 5 points in each matchup — enough to swing the expected winner of both games. In general, Elo has the NFC South as the fifth-best division in football, but if both teams buck the odds and live up to those spreads on the road, our computer might have to change its tune. read more

US Mens Soccer But Not Womens Gets To Play All Its Games

The U.S. men’s national soccer team (USMNT) has played on perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass and Latitude 36 Bermuda grass, but it hasn’t played a game on artificial turf in the U.S. in the past two years.1Possibly longer; the U.S. Soccer website has matches only since 2014. Compare that with the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT), which was forced this weekend to either refuse to play in a friendly match against Trinidad and Tobago because of unsuitable field conditions at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii, or to play in front of Hawaiian fans for the first time but risk injury.The argument surrounding turf versus natural playing surfaces is ongoing, but there wasn’t much nuance to the situation at Aloha Stadium: “The artificial turf was actually pulling up out of the ground,” the team wrote in a collective post on The Players’ Tribune. “There were sharp rocks ingrained all over the field.” The women chose not to play. The playing conditions for the USWNT are baffling when compared with those for the men’s team — both are overseen by governing body U.S. Soccer (USSF), and yet the men’s team has played 100 percent of its U.S. games on grass (or turf overlaid with grass) since 2014. During the same time period, the women have played less than 70 percent of their U.S. games on grass.Both teams have played fewer than 30 games in the U.S. in the past two years, so a difference in surface for a few games can dramatically change these percentages. And that’s what happened with the USWNT: In the run-up to the Women’s World Cup this summer, the USWNT had played only two games on turf since 2014, the last of which was in September 2014 at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, New York. But after losing its legal battle against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association over artificial turf fields at the Women’s World Cup, the women returned home world champions and were awarded a 10-game victory tour — with eight matches scheduled to be played on artificial turf.Claims of sexism and discrimination have dogged the federation as the issue of playing surfaces has gained attention, and it’s not hard to see why. For instance, the USSF does not vet venues before matches for the USWNT, as it does for the USMNT. But whatever is motivating the decisions, they send a message: indifference to the preference of USWNT players, in particular when compared with the men.That preference is at root here. FIFA and other governing bodies say there is no greater risk of injury playing soccer on artificial turf than on natural grass (a recent ESPN report suggests that there might be other risks, though). The study FIFA cites is lacking, as it’s based on a small sample of mostly male teams playing on FIFA-certified turf, but it’s also irrelevant to the broader concern. Players vigorously prefer natural grass to artificial (if you’ve ever tried a slide-tackle on turf, you know the feeling), but only one set of preferences has been taken to heart. If USSF has deemed turf unsuitable for the men’s team, the women shouldn’t be playing on it either.The next game on the USWNT victory tour is a friendly Thursday at the Alamodome in San Antonio. When the USWNT last played there against Australia in 2013, Australian forward Kyah Simon tore her ACL in a noncontact play within 30 seconds of entering the match. It’s the same field that was overlaid with grass for a USMNT friendly against Mexico in April (which has its own shortcomings), but as of Monday, the USSF had no plans to remedy the Alamodome turf for the women. read more

Chess World Celebrates A Sensational Move … That Leads To A Championship

87654321abcdefgh After snacking nervously with this chess idea in our heads, my parents and I emerged from a serviceless restaurant worried (or at least I was) that we may have missed the final Norwegian triumph and the de facto end of the world championship. Someone may have won! We found instead that we hadn’t missed many moves and that Caruana hadn’t bit on Carlsen’s aggressive pawn sacrifice. No devastating attack had come. The position (my phone told me) was once again level. It looked drawish.Wine store: drawish. Whole Foods: drawish. Elevator: drawish.When we arrived at last at my sister’s apartment, her boyfriend already had both the chess game and the football game on large screens, thereby forever cementing his value to the family. He’s not much of a chess player, but he did have some interesting thoughts on rook endgames. Lucky thing, too, because by that point the game looked like this. read more

Meet The Spurs Sharpshooter Who Refuses To Shoot Straight

Marco Belinelli has been one of the NBA’s more successful marksmen from deep the past decade. But few would suggest emulating the Italian’s often unsightly approach to shooting. The 11-year veteran has a curious habit of leaning into his jumpshots “Smooth Criminal”-style. The move puzzles even Gregg Popovich, who, as the longest-tenured American professional coach in sports, has seen just about everything by now.“It’s not a sometimes thing — he always is leaning somewhere,” said Popovich, who is coaching Belinelli for a second stint. “I don’t know who taught him that, but it can’t be untaught at this point. It’s just there.”But watch the 32-year-old dart around on offense long enough, and it becomes more clear why he does what he does. Much like an armadillo curls into a ball for protection, Belinelli leans to safeguard his shot from being blocked from behind, particularly as he comes around teammates’ screens.“It looks crazy when I’m off-balance all the time, but I just want to be quick with the ball,” said Belinelli, who’s had just two of his 265 jumpers blocked this year.1Of those two blocks, per Second Spectrum data, one resulted in an immediate putback and basket for the Spurs, while the other drew a loose-ball foul on Jimmy Butler, who’d blocked Belinelli’s shot just before. “That’s the life of a shooter, I guess.”Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/MarcosLeaners.mp400:0000:0003:45Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.It’s hard to overstate Belinelli’s offensive importance off the bench in San Antonio, which not only came into the year short-handed but also had several new faces in its experienced rotation. Aside from the trade of star Kawhi Leonard,2Danny Green was also sent to Toronto, while Tony Parker signed with Charlotte in free agency. Manu Ginobili — the 16-year warhorse who gave the Spurs’ reserves stability — retired, leaving Belinelli with even more scoring to replace.The Spurs are the NBA’s biggest shot-selection outlier, with long, midrange jumpers making up a league-high 17 percent of their shots while 3-points are an NBA-low 27.7 percent of their shots. Because of that, Belinelli’s production as a reliable perimeter shooter is welcome.His return from an early season hibernation — he shot a frigid 35 percent from the field over San Antonio’s first 25 games — lines up with the Spurs’ streak of 13 wins in 16 games, which put the team squarely back in the Western Conference playoff race. During this hot streak, Belinelli has connected on 46.8 percent of his field-goal tries, including almost 41 percent of his threes.A handful of Belinelli’s most successful tendencies are used more often by the game’s elite ball-handlers. His desire to come off screens aggressively (and with almost no space between him and his screener) is an art that Kemba Walker perfected some time ago. And he sometimes makes use of the perimeter give-and-go, which Steph Curry employed to blister the Cavs in last year’s NBA Finals.But few players, if any, shoot as well as Belinelli while using such unorthodox leans and angles. He initially developed the tendency to lean forward on a number of his jumpers when he first entered the league with Golden State, playing for Don Nelson’s up-tempo Warriors club. Because the team was always in transition, Belinelli often had forward momentum as he’d launch threes in Golden State’s offense — something that would become a habit elsewhere.As for his penchant for leaning as he comes around screens, Belinelli said that was something he took from his lone season in Chicago, where the Bulls needed him to serve as a point guard of sorts in the absence of Derrick Rose. The team didn’t have many players capable of creating their own offense, so his coaches there told him to be aggressive — and quick — about shooting when he saw daylight after getting a pick at the top of the key.Belinelli acknowledges that a fair number of his misses stem from being too off-balanced. But similar to Klay Thompson, the Spurs swingman suggested that it’s usually most important for him to square his shoulders — and less important to think about where his feet or toes are pointed as he lets it fly.Having the occasional embarrassing miss (or a seemingly impossible, completely redeeming make) simply comes with the territory in this day and age, according to J.J. Redick, the Sixers sharpshooter who was teammates with Belinelli in Philadelphia last season.“The game’s changed too much for us to stand still and wait for open shots. If we did that, we’d get maybe a shot or two each game,” Redick said of his and Belinelli’s perpetual movement. “We’re not getting many swing-swing passes where we can come straight up and down. When you’re on the move and beating someone to that spot, you’re going to be a bit off-balanced.”So next time you see Belinelli nearly falling over on a jumper, as strange as it might seem, just remember that it’s likely not an accident. More often than not, he feels like the unusual look gives him a split-second advantage on his defender.Check out our latest NBA predictions. read more

Ohio State womens hockey wraps up Thanksgiving weekend series in Vermont with

Ohio State offensive junior Claudia Kepler (24) controls the puck during a game against Bemidji State University on Nov. 6 at St. John Arena. OSU lost 2-1. Credit: Eileen McClory | Senior Lantern ReporterThe Ohio State women’s ice hockey team split its series at the Windjammer Classic in Vermont over the weekend to conclude out-of-conference play.OSU defeated Vermont 5-2 on Friday and fell to Boston University 5-3 on Saturday. After the split, the Buckeyes (6-10-0) have one series remaining in 2015 before they resume play on Jan. 2.“It was a good experience for our kids, it was a little bit out of excitement playing out of conference opponents in a new environment and new building,” assistant coach Carson Duggan said. “But it was a lot of fun to coach in today.”On Friday, OSU fell behind early with Vermont’s sophomore defender Taylor Willard‘s third goal of the season, but OSU junior forward Katie Matheny’s second and third goals of the season powered the Buckeyes past the Catamounts in the first game of the inaugural tournament.The next day, OSU again fell behind when Boston senior forward Kayla Tutino scored on the power play at 3:58 into the game. The Terriers would score again on a buzzer beater at the end of the first, which was reviewed to determine if the puck crossed the line before time expired. “That’s why you don’t stop playing,” Duggan said. “It’s a little frustrating when you think the video says something different, but that’s why you play.”Despite dropping the second game of the invitational, the team held its collective head high after an emotional weekend. “We went in there knowing we play in the best conference out of the three in the NCAA, and we wanted to show that,” senior forward Julia McKinnon said.McKinnon, who played with fellow forwards freshman Maddy Field and sophomore Lauren Spring this weekend after playing 12 games on the blue line for the first time in her life, feels this weekend was a positive step.“Just getting our lines together and making sure that we communicate better has been huge,” McKinnon said. McKinnon, who recorded one of the first shots on goal for OSU on Saturday, said she feels the team is cycling from defense to offense with greater efficiency than it was early in the season.“Everyone is buying into the system we’ve put in place here,” McKinnon said. “And getting back on back-checking is so important, so it’s good to have some success at it.”Losers of five of six entering the weekend, the team was in agreement that the weekend away from physical conference opponents was good to assess its performance thus far.“It’s a little different playing the teams out of conference,” senior forward Kendall Curtis said. “There are some different things you see and we were switching things up today.”Curtis, along with the coaching staff, was happier with the team’s effort despite trailing early both games.“They left it all out there,” Duggan said. “They knew they weren’t going to get to play again for another two weeks or so, so they played with reckless abandon. I think they’ve come along way.“I told them after the game today I thought they played with a lot of grittiness. It was a lot of fun to be a part of and watch.”Despite scoring eight goals and splitting its series, OSU did not find its unfamiliar opponents any easier than its conference ones.“I didn’t notice a difference,” Curtis said. “I think we still really try to focus on our game, and these teams this weekend showed us something different to work on, but it didn’t really challenge us any differently than a team in our league.”Stat sheetWith two goals on Saturday, Matheny has tied her career-high of three, set last year. She has also established a new career-high in points with six so far in 2015-16.With two goals this weekend, Curtis leads with team with nine. She has eclipsed her previous career-high of eight in 2013-14.The team will return to Columbus for practice on Monday and will have its second off-week of the season. The Buckeyes are then scheduled to return to the Ice Rink for their final series of 2015 against Minnesota-Duluth on Dec. 11 and 12.  Puck is scheduled to drop at 7:07 p.m. and 4:07 p.m., respectively. read more

Ohio State womens lacrosse edges out Michigan for programrecord 8th straight win

OSU women’s lacrosse members celebrate a win over Maryland on May 1. Credit: Courtesy of Ben SolomanThe No. 15 Ohio State women’s lacrosse team started its in-conference season on the right foot with a 10-9 win over Michigan in snowy Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Saturday. The hard-fought battle between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines allowed OSU to improve to 10-1, setting the program record with eight consecutive wins and the best start to a season.Senior attackman Cian Dabrowski led the Buckeyes with three goals on the day, while sophomore attackman Molly Wood and junior midfielder Paulina Constant each contributed two.OSU trailed 3-1 in the first half, but the defense held the Michigan attack while the offense tied it up with consecutive goals from Dabrowski and Wood. The Buckeyes led 4-3 going into halftime when senior attackman Rainey Hodgson found Wood for the score with two minutes left.The Buckeyes lost the lead again after the intermission, though, trailing 6-5 with 21 minutes left. But the Buckeyes clicked from there.Over the next 12 minutes, OSU scored five consecutive goals to give it a 10-6 lead. Constant started the trend with an unassisted goal with under 19 on the clock before Dabrowski and Hodgson added one each. With 10 minutes left, freshman midfielder Mackenzie Maring got into the action by scooping up a rebound from Wood’s shot to make it 9-6. Constant then added the 10th and final goal about a minute later.It certainly seemed like with the four-goal lead and all the momentum in the Buckeyes’ favor, the game was pretty well at hand. But, desperately trying to defend its home turf against its archrival, Michigan clawed back to make it a game again.The Wolverines notched three goals over the final seven minutes, the last of which put them one goal behind the Buckeyes with 23 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Dabrowski came in clutch with a draw control to help OSU run out the clock and hold on to the victory. Senior goalkeeper Katie Fredrick made four saves on the day.OSU beat Michigan for the fourth consecutive time, and the Wolverines fell to 5-7 on the season and 0-1 in Big Ten play.Up nextThe Buckeyes are next scheduled to return to Columbus to welcome No. 9 Penn State at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The game is set to be played at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. read more

Softball 5foot5 Alex Bayne has Texassized power preparing for senior season

OSU then-junior Alex Bayne (2) is welcomed by her teammates at home plate after hitting a home run during a game against Penn State on April 6 at Buckeye Field. Credit: Lantern File PhotoAbout 20 miles south of Houston, in the small town of Manvel, Texas, Edith Applegate walked her 10-year-old granddaughter Alex Bayne home from elementary school.As the pair walked up the driveway, a young Bayne pranced up toward the house that stood on 5 acres of land. She patiently sat, waited for her parents to get home from work, and thought about her upcoming dance recital.Later that night, she would play catch with her father, David, as her mother Joni looked on. As the ball hit the glove that was bigger than her head, Bayne knew almost immediately this was something she would want to do for a long time.Fast forward to a decade later, Bayne crosses home plate at Buckeye Field, pauses at the dish, firing an imaginary bow and arrow into the outfield. She just hit her second three-run home run of the game against Maryland, giving the team a 12-2 lead in the 2016 Big Ten opener.These would be just two of the 19 home runs she slugged in her junior season for the Ohio State softball team, leading the team and tying a single-season school record.But before Bayne was leading the Buckeyes in home runs, she was told by multiple schools that she was just too small to succeed in their programs.“It’s kind of ironic now,” said Bayne, who is now entering her senior season. “There were times when schools would literally tell me they were looking for someone with bigger stature or someone with a little more power in their bat.”At 5-foot-5 inches tall, Bayne might not be the biggest player on the field, but she sure does pack a punch. What she lacks in size, she makes up for in drive and determination.“With a small stature, she is still our strongest player in the weight room,” said coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly. “She absolutely crushes it in there.”Bayne learned her drive and focus from an early age.As an Associated Press and Texas scholar during her high-school career, Bayne was able to excel in both academics and athletics, while still maintaining a social life. She learned to prioritize what was most important with the help of her parents. It also helped that Bayne had an immense interest in learning.“It sounds kind of geeky, but I loved it and I still do,” Bayne said. “My parents helped me to learn that education is the most important thing. They taught me that if you excel in your education, you’ll be able to play softball and still hang out with friends.”Joining an 18-and-under league by the age of 14, Bayne realized she had the talent to play at the next level. After what felt like hundreds of emails and handwritten letters to coaches all across the country, she found herself at Marshall University for her freshman year of college.While falling in love with the community atmosphere of Marshall University that reminded Bayne a lot of home, the program wound up not being the right fit. As a result, she would take the year off from softball during what would have been her sophomore season, giving Bayne time to refocus and regain a passion for the sport.It was during this time that Bayne discovered OSU. After numerous visits with her then-boyfriend, now-fiancé Bryce Calvin, who was a student at OSU, Bayne felt a special connection with the university.“I fell in love with the school, the traditions and how everyone strives for excellence here,” Bayne said. “You don’t come to Ohio State to be average. You come here to be awesome academically and athletically. I knew this is where I wanted to be and the people I wanted to surround myself with.”Having already made her transfer academically, Bayne then looked to join the Buckeyes’ softball team. After numerous emails with the coaches, Bayne came in for one of the team’s open tryouts, where she impressed enough to become a member of the team.“At the time we really didn’t have a lot of room on our roster, but there was something about Alex; a spark and determination that we couldn’t turn down,” Kovach Schoenly said. “I really didn’t know how she would fit in or develop, but we took the chance.”The rest is history. Through long hours and steady focus, Bayne has made herself into one of the best power hitters Ohio State has ever seen. She attributes much of her success to the advice she has received from hitting coach Jenna Hall and strength coach Andres Britton.“She bought into the training program and puts all her energy and focus into it and it has paid off,” Britton said. “She takes her time and makes sure she gets the most out of every training session. She embraces the process, trusts in the program and has a tremendous work ethic and positive attitude.”While acknowledging the schools that overlooked her for her lack of power, Bayne does not hold a grudge. Rather, she is grateful.“I’m very happy with where I am,” Bayne said. “If they hadn’t have passed on me, I wouldn’t have worked my way here to where I am today. Now I’m just like ‘Hey, I’m still 5-foot-5, but I do have power.’”With just one year of eligibility left, Bayne has big goals for herself and her team in her final season. While wanting to limit strikeouts, make herself a harder out and become a better leader, the main thing on her mind is making the postseason. “The most important thing to me in my senior season is knowing I helped this team get to where we wanted to go, regardless of my recognition,” Bayne said. “That is what would make me have a happy and fulfilling senior year.” read more

Reds secure National League playoff spot

The day Reds fans have been waiting for since 1995 has arrived. Cincinnati is going back to the playoffs. This year, there will be no repeat of 1999, when the Mets’ Al Leiter tossed a complete game, two-hit shutout in a one-game playoff game to slam the door to the playoffs shut on a Reds team that won 96 games. No promise unfulfilled of the Ken Griffey Jr, Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns era. 2010 was supposed to be the “year before the year” for the Reds. All signs pointed to contending in 2011. Another year for Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs to acclimate themselves at the plate. Another year for Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez and Homer Bailey to adjust to major league hitters. A year for top prospect and $30 million man Aroldis Chapman to marinate in the minors. But something happened in 2010: Joey Votto became a left-handed hitting Albert Pujols. Votto’s 2010, likely to result in the National League MVP, has been full of moments that will go down in Reds lore. His three-run, game-tying bomb off Phillies closer Brad Lidge in the bottom of the ninth inning in early July. His 10-pitch, mono-a-mono at-bat against flame-throwing Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton in August, which resulted in a two-run single. His flirtation with the National League Triple Crown. But let us not forget about the man that fills up the lineup card. Perhaps the best indication of manager Dusty Baker’s influence on this team has been his guiding through some incredibly traumatic losses. He’s been as much of a therapist this season as a strategist. The Reds lost to the Braves in late May on Brooks Conrad’s pinch-hit grand slam that went off Laynce Nix’s glove at the wall. The Reds allowed seven runs in the ninth to lose 10-9. They dropped four in a row in Philadelphia to end the first half. In one game, Travis Wood took a perfect game into the ninth inning, but the Reds couldn’t scrape a run off ace Roy Halladay and the Phillies won in 11. They were the victims of a four-game sweep earlier this month by the Rockies, the last loss particularly painful after Colorado shortstop Chris Nelson stole home in the eighth inning to give his team a one-run lead and complete a comeback from a 5-0 third-inning deficit. It’s been an up-and-down campaign that’s led the Reds somewhere few thought they would be at the end of the year: the playoffs. At times in their hunt for a Red October this season, Cincinnati invoked some magic of the Big Red Machine era. Perhaps they can continue playing with rose-colored sunglasses deep into October. read more

Justin Rose looking to defend his Memorial Tournament title

Justin Rose returns to Muirfield Village Golf Club as the defending champion of the Memorial Tournament, and looks to build on his well-rounded performance from last year’s tournament. Rose, a native of England, won his first PGA Tour event last year at the Memorial at age 29. Rose’s final-round, 6-under-par 66 proved to be enough to mount a comeback against rookie Rickie Fowler. “Obviously, it’s really nice to come back to a tournament that I have had great memories from last year,” Rose said. “(The Memorial has) always been one of my favorite stops.” Rose’s success last year started at the tee. He hit 82 percent of fairways during the four-day tournament last year, which tied for 10th best in the field. “I felt like I drove the ball much, much better than I have done recently in the last month or so,” Rose said. “What I love about this golf course is that you can hit the driver, and you feel like it’s not taken out of your hands. But if you do miss, you’re going to be in trouble.” Last year, Rose hit 74 percent of the greens in regulation, which tied for 14th in the field. Rose also avoided bunkers last year, finding himself in only eight during the weekend. “My short game is turning around, chipping,” Rose said. “Bunker play is feeling really, really sharp.” In 2010, Rose was on fire with his putter, averaging 27 putts per round, which was good enough for second best in the field. “I believe I’m a good putter,” Rose said. “Deep down, I believe that’s why I have high expectations in my putting. I know I can make a lot of putts, but I’m being a little bit streaky.” Rose led the field with 14 putts from outside of 10 feet. “Making the right putt at the right time, which is what I managed to do in this stretch last year,” Rose said. “That’s what gets it done.” Rose said he likes his chances of defending his Memorial title. “My chances are good, and it’s going to be a matter of making putts,” he said. “What better course to come to than this with the greens the way they are. If you roll the ball well here, you can get on a great run.” read more

No 12 Ohio State tops Morehead State 8771 in Thad Mattas 500th

Freshman guard D’Angelo Russell (0) drives the lane during a game against Morehead State on Dec. 13 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 87-71.Credit: Muyao Shen / Lantern photographerIn his 500th game as a collegiate head coach, Thad Matta led the No. 12 Ohio State men’s basketball team to a 16-point victory over Morehead State for his 385th career win.Matta is 282-84 in his 11 seasons at OSU and 385-115 overall. He’s just 15 wins away from tying Fred Taylor for the most wins in program history.After the game, Matta said he feels like he’s coached even more than those 500 games over his career.“Yes it does, maybe a 1,000,” Matta said. “I didn’t know that (it was 500 games) until yesterday. I was joking when I gave the pregame speech today, I walked out and I said ‘god, it feels like the 500th time I have done that.’”After taking a 19-point lead at halftime, the Buckeyes (8-1) polished off a 87-71 victory over the Eagles (4-8) on Saturday afternoon at the Schottenstein Center.“We jumped out quick, got a quick lead on the team,” senior center Amir Williams said after the game. “And I think we just didn’t look back from there.”OSU turned the ball over six times in the first 8:13 of the second half, allowing Morehead State to cut the deficit to 14. By that time, the Eagles were still shooting 50 percent from 3-point range and 54.5 percent overall.Going into the game, OSU opponents had averaged a .359 shooting percentage this season.A layup from freshman guard Jae’Sean Tate followed by a jumper from senior guard Shannon Scott stopped the Eagles’ run, giving the home team a 66-48 lead with about nine minutes to play.With 6:51 to play, the Buckeyes held an 18-point advantage when Williams left the game with an injury before heading back to the locker room. At the time, Williams had registered 12 points on five-of-six shooting and nine rebounds.Williams returned to the OSU bench with 5:31 left in the game but didn’t re-enter the game.After the game, Williams said his injury was just a rolled ankle, and nothing he hasn’t gone through in the past.“A little sprain, nothing serious,” Williams said. “It’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before, so I’ll be practicing tomorrow.”Morehead State cut the lead to 78-65 with 2:26 to play, partially because of sloppy play from OSU. After turning the ball over just three times in the first half, the Buckeyes had turned it over 14 times in the final 20 minutes.Senior forward Sam Thompson said OSU’s mindset in the second half and increased intensity from the Eagles led to the higher number of turnovers.“They definitely turned up their pressure, that was big-time pressure,” Thompson said after the game. “But our minds just weren’t right. I think that they just didn’t press us much in the first half, and then we sort of came out with the first half mindset in the second half.”The teams traded baskets as the clock ticked past two minutes, and the Buckeyes extended the lead to 18 points with just 38 seconds remaining.Morehead State shot 62.5 percent in the second half, and ended up outscoring the Buckeyes, 43-40, after the break.Thompson said Matta was “not too happy” after the Eagles shot such a high percentage, and outscored his team, in the second half.“First of all, Morehead State’s a really good team, not taking anything away from them,” Thompson said. “We had a really good first half, and we sort of let our guard down in the second half. We didn’t have that same type of energy and intensity and execution in the second half on both sides of the floor.”Matta stressed that his guards have to take better care of the ball, and added the Buckeyes’ play in the second half wasn’t up to the standard that he expects.“D’Angelo (Russell) and Shannon can’t combine for 10 turnovers in a game and only nine assists. We were sloppy. We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be on really both ends,” Matta said. “We did some things that lead one to believe that we weren’t as tuned in as we needed to be.”OSU jumped out to an early 12-2 lead, but Morehead State kept it close for much of the first half, partially because of the play of redshirt-sophomore guard Corban Collins.Collins started off five-for-five from the field, including a four-of-four mark from beyond the 3-point line. He finished the first half with a game-high 14 points, but a late OSU run helped the Buckeyes to their big halftime lead.The Buckeyes’ leading scorer — freshman guard D’Angelo Russell — didn’t register a point through the first 16:31 of the game as OSU held just a nine-point advantage with 3:29 on the clock. Russell followed up two free throws with a 3-pointer just over a minute later before closing out the half with a mid-range jumper with just three seconds to play.Russell’s seven-point burst helped OSU to a 47-28 lead at the break as the Buckeyes opened and closed the first half with 12-2 runs.When the teams entered the locker room, Thompson had 11 points to lead OSU while Williams had 10 points and four rebounds.Williams said he has room to improve, but added that he came into the game hoping to help spark the Buckeyes from the start.“Still some errors to be corrected, but I just tried to get out to a good start,” he said. “Coach always tells me, and the players tell me as well, if I come out with energy it gets my teammates going as well, so I try to come out and play with as much energy as I can.”Russell and Thompson led OSU with 15 points apiece, while Tate and Williams each finished the game with 12 points. Russell led all players with seven assists and Williams’ nine rebounds were a game high, as were his five blocks.Thompson said Williams’ play inside helps set the tone for the rest of the team, especially on defense.“Amir does such a great job blocking shots, and we put a lot of pressure on him because our zone really funnels everything to him,” he said. “He’s always a big force in the middle, he’s always blocking shots and getting rebounds.”Collins led all players with 22 points as he made six of seven 3-point attempts.OSU is scheduled to return to the court on Wednesday against North Carolina A&T. That game is set to be played at Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus at 7 p.m. read more