In the third quarter of Oklahoma City’s Thursday night win over Los Angeles, Thunder coach Scott Brooks, long maligned for doing the same old thing, discovered something new: a lineup of Nick Collison, Steven Adams, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson could bend the court to its will.The group had rarely played together before — just six minutes during the regular season and just seven minutes in the playoffs. But that didn’t seem to be a problem. Over the next 15 minutes of play Thursday night, they scored 42 points and allowed just 24 points on 41 percent shooting, turning a 7-point deficit into an 11-point lead. Extrapolated to a 100-possession pace, the lineup’s point differential was +64.3.Small sample size, of course, but whoa, what a sample. The Thunder’s most-played lineup in the regular season (with Jackson in place of an injured Westbrook) had a per-100-possession point differential of +5.8. If we look at just the Thunder’s most frequently used front-court pairing, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, we find a per-100-possession point differential of just +2.0.Something about the fresh lineup on Thursday spaced the floor for Durant to do his best work of the night, scoring 13 points on just six shots. Neither Collison nor Adams is a particularly dangerous offensive player, but they are both good offensive rebounders. When they were on the floor together for 494 minutes in the regular season, the Thunder rebounded 33.4 percent of their own misses, compared to 26.5 across the whole season. Collison and Adams can also set screens and roll hard to the basket, allowing the Thunder to spread the defense even without a great perimeter-shooting big guy on the floor.Durant has played just a small percentage of his minutes with a Collison-Adams front-court pairing this season, but he’s been remarkably effective when he does, netting his highest true shooting percentage.Front Court Combinations Playing With DurantIt’s hard to suss out whether playing this group together was a shrewd and intentional move by Brooks, or whether he stumbled upon the lineup after Ibaka’s calf injury. But it’s an important development as the Thunder get ready for the San Antonio Spurs. Going into Thursday night’s game, seven of the Thunder’s 10 most-used lineups in the playoffs had a positive point differential. With the emphatic arrival of this group, it’s now eight of 10.Lineups matter especially for the Thunder, a team whose starting five tend to start slowly. That group finished the series with a negative first-quarter point differential and was outscored to begin four of the six games in the series. Inserting Collison and Adams into the starting lineup is probably not the solution to those slow starts, but the Spurs are waiting with a deep and versatile matchup nightmare. Every opportunity Brooks has to experiment with a seldom-used but potentially explosive lineup gives him more options to handle the varied scenarios the Spurs will throw at the Thunder.
For the fifth time and in one of the most dominating fashions the NBA Finals has ever seen, the San Antonio Spurs won the title on Sunday night. The Spurs beat the Miami Heat, 104-87, their third consecutive double-digit win.How dominant were the Spurs? San Antonio led the league in per-100-possession point differential during the regular season at +8.1. The Spurs were +13.0 or better in all four of their Finals wins.The ascension of finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, the decline of Miami’s defense, the battle of the role players going emphatically to San Antonio, Manu Ginobili immersing himself in the fountain of youth — many elements explain this Spurs breakthrough. But perhaps nothing was more important than San Antonio’s ball movement.As I’ve highlighted before, the Heat play an aggressive, trapping style of defense. If the Spurs maintained composure and continued to swing the ball during the finals, they would stretch Miami’s defense to the breaking point.That’s exactly what happened.In the Finals, the Spurs had 127 assists to just 76 for the Heat. Even if we account for their many more made field goals and instead compare the percentage of assisted baskets, the Spurs still have an enormous edge: 66 percent to 45 percent.More revealing: The Spurs had 42 secondary assists in the series (tracked by the NBA’s SportVU Player Tracking System, these are passes that led directly to an assist). That means that a third of the Spurs’ assists in the series were part of a sequence of two or more passes. Looking at the numbers game by game, we can see the stark difference in the way the Heat and the Spurs went about their business.The secondary assist percentage shown here is the percentage of each team’s baskets for which a secondary assist was recorded. For the Heat, those numbers dropped off significantly from the regular season, when Miami had an assist percentage of 59 percent and a secondary assist percentage of 16 percent. The Spurs defense was disruptive enough that it forced the Heat toward relying on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to create offense, often singlehandedly.One might imagine that the Spurs would have a harder time executing against an NBA Finals-caliber team (not to mention a two-time defending champ) than they did in the regular season. But the Spurs pretty much met their regular season numbers: an assist percentage of 62 percent and a secondary assist percentage of 18 percent. The Heat’s defense wasn’t able to shake the Spurs out of their rhythm, and Miami paid the price, over and over again.
Embed Code More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s show (March 15, 2016), we discuss all things March Madness. Neil Paine explains why he has a feeling about Villanova on the men’s side. Kate Fagan tells us why no team has a hope of beating the mighty UConn Huskies on the women’s side and why, when she’s picking her bracket, she never picks to win. Plus, we answer some of your listener mail and ponder whether it might be a good idea to make the slam dunk worth 3 points.Most importantly, we want you to join our ESPN Tournament Challenge bracket pool! We have groups for the men’s and women’s tournaments, and the winner and loser of each will get a Hot Takedown T-shirt. Yes, you can own a shirt that depicts Adam Silver riding a bear into a pool full of fish.Stream the episode by clicking the play button, or subscribe using one of the podcast clients we’ve linked to above. Links to what we discussed are here:FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions. This year, we’ll be updating games with live, in-game win probabilities.Nate Silver and Jay Boice explain how FiveThirtyEight is forecasting this year’s tournament.Neil Paine on the seeds that will wreak havoc on your bracket.Hot Takedown’s men’s bracket group in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge.Hot Takedown’s women’s bracket group in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge. If you’re a fan of our podcasts, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts and leave a rating/review. That helps spread the word to other listeners. And get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments. Tell us what you think, send us hot takes to discuss and tell us why we’re wrong. Hot Takedown
The controversial decision that took Manny Pacquiao’s welterweight crown has sparked outrage in the Philippines, so much so that the fallen superstar’s own mother has come out demanding a rematch.“I wanted him to retire before, but now I want to see this rematch happen,” Dionisia Pacquiao told GMA television. “I want to let all of Manny’s fans know there will be a rematch, and he will get back his belt.”Pacquiao’s success in the ring has propelled him to cult status in his native land. The former champion has forged successful careers in music, film and politics all while becoming one of the most prominent boxers on earth.
Led by Kawhi Leonard, the Toronto Raptors completely shut down the Bucks offense in Game 3, slicing Milwaukee’s Eastern Conference finals lead to 2-1 in the process. Mike Budenholzer’s crew finished the 2018-19 regular season ranked fourth in offensive efficiency, so holding them to just 93.1 points per 100 possessions across six periods1 Game 3 went to double overtime. stands as a highly impressive accomplishment for Toronto. Somewhat overshadowed in the discussion of that game, though, is that the Raptors’ own highly ranked offense struggled as well, continuing a concerning season-long trend against the Bucks.Toronto finished the regular season one spot behind Milwaukee in offensive efficiency, scoring at a rate of 113.1 points per 100 possessions. The Raptors hit that mark despite Leonard and Kyle Lowry each missing around a quarter of the season, among numerous other injuries, and despite having to incorporate new players both at the start of the season (Leonard and Danny Green) and on the fly after the trade deadline (Marc Gasol).That they were able to score so efficiently despite all those potential hurdles is a testament not just to the offensive design of coach Nick Nurse but also to the sheer magnitude of talent the Raptors assembled — and especially to the ability of Toronto’s players to solve whatever problems a defense posed for them throughout the year.But the one defense the Raptors consistently could not solve during the regular season was the Bucks’. And unfortunately for Toronto, they haven’t solved it in the conference finals so far either.Now 15 games into their playoff run, the Raptors have played 97 total games this season. Among those 97 contests, their offensive efficiency ranks in seven games against the Bucks are as follows: 22nd, 74th, 83rd (Game 2), 84th, 86th (Game 1), 89th (Game 3) and 96th.2The game that ranked 22nd actually saw the Raptors post their lowest Quantified Shot Quality of the season, per Second Spectrum, which means that their expected effective field-goal percentage based on the location of their shots ranked 97th out of their 97 games. They just happened to outshoot that expectation by 11 percentage points in that game. Put another way: Toronto has played a big chunk of its worst offensive basketball against Milwaukee.This is not necessarily all that shocking. The Bucks finished the regular season with the league’s best defense, after all. But even accounting for Milwaukee’s general defensive talent, there’s also a specific reason why the Bucks have been so effective at shutting down this Toronto team: No NBA defense is better than the Bucks at providing help against opponent drives, and the Raptors are one of the most drive-dependent teams in the league.Toronto ranked seventh in the league in drives per 100 possessions and fifth in points per drive during the regular season, per Second Spectrum. The Raptors were also the only team in the league to sport five different players who averaged at least 7.5 drives per game3One of those was late-season acquisition Jeremy Lin, but only a few other teams had four such players anyway.. And Toronto’s primary drivers were not just high-volume; they were also extremely effective.Leonard and Pascal Siakam drove to score, respectively ranking seventh and fifth in points percentage on the drive4The percentage of potential drive points that a player actually scored on his drives. among the 72 players who averaged at least 7.5 drives per game. Lowry and backup Fred VanVleet drove to pass, ranking first and seventh among that same group of 72 players in assist percentage5The percentage of a player’s drives that resulted in an assist. on the drive.Against the Bucks, though, the engines of Toronto’s drive-based attack too often ran into roadblocks: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. Per Second Spectrum, there were 70 NBA players who were credited as the help defender on at least 350 drives during the regular season. Among that group of 70 players, Antetokounmpo ranked first in team points allowed per possession (0.95) when he helped contain a drive, and Lopez (1.02) ranked seventh.Driving the lane before encountering help in the form of Antetokounmpo or Lopez has often proven too much for the Raptors to handle, especially Leonard and Lowry. During Leonard’s three regular-season games against Milwaukee, he was both less likely to shoot on the drive and less effective at converting those shots than he was against other teams. That trend has carried over to the conference finals, where Leonard is shooting just 11 of 28 on the drive through three games.While Lowry was a pass-heavy driver throughout the regular season, he was almost comically averse to shooting on the drive during the three games he played against the Bucks. His pass rate on the drive against Milwaukee was 18 percentage points higher than the most pass-happy high-volume driver in the league this season, Indiana’s Darren Collison. This aversion to shooting has also carried over to the conference finals, but his passing also just isn’t working right now. Of his 20 drives in Games 1 through 3, only one of his 12 passes resulted in an assist — and this is the guy who led the league in assist rate on the drive during the season.Isolating Leonard and Lowry’s drives to the ones on which Lopez or Antetokounmpo provided the help, as Second Spectrum allows, shows that the Raptors have scored only 30 points on 38 such direct drives during the conference finals,6A direct drive is a play in which the driver either shoots, is fouled, turns the ball over or passes to a player who shoots within one dribble. “good” for an anemic 0.79 points per drive. That simply won’t do — not when you’re trying to defeat the team with the NBA’s best record, led by the probable MVP and coach of the year winners.The good news for the Raptors is that they got themselves back into the series with their Game 3 win. The bad news is that unless they figure something out offensively, they’re going to have to play perfect defense again in Game 4 tonight to even the series 2-2, and beyond that, to advance to the NBA Finals. Against Giannis and these Bucks, that’s a whole lot easier said than done.Check out our latest NBA playoff predictions.
Members of the OSU women’s volleyball team during a game against Nebraska on Oct. 3 at St. John Arena. OSU won 3-2. Credit: Ed Momot / For The LanternComing into the 2015 season, the Ohio State women’s volleyball team was picked by Big Ten coaches to finish eighth in the conference.The team has talked about using that as motivation all season long, and with victories against No. 18 Purdue (15-4, 6-2) and Indiana (12-8, 2-6) in St. John Arena over the weekend, the No. 7 Buckeyes (18-2, 7-1) now find themselves tied for first place in the Big Ten.With the wins, OSU also extended its winning streak to seven. The Buckeyes haven’t lost since their first conference game of the year against Minnesota on Sept. 23.In Game 1 of the weekend on Friday, OSU staged a comeback victory over the Boilermakers, who were previously undefeated in conference play.After a hot start by the Buckeyes, they dropped the second and third sets to the Boilermakers, and looked to be in danger of having their five-game winning streak snapped when Purdue jumped out to an 8-2 advantage in the fourth. OSU was able to close the gap, however, forcing a fifth set, which it won decisively.“We fought and we executed well in that last set,” junior libero Valeria León said. “Our tempo was really good. We got them a little bit off balance. It was a fight that game; it was not pretty at all.”Senior middle blocker Andrea Kacsits said it was huge for the Buckeyes to escape with a win after not playing their best volleyball.“Every win matters, but those are the ones that build your character and build your résumé,” she said. “Those ones are incredibly important in the end.”Coming into the game, coach Geoff Carlston emphasized serving as a key to slowing down Purdue, and OSU responded with its best game of the season from the service line, racking up 13 aces. Sophomore outside hitter Luisa Schirmer led the Buckeyes with a career-high five aces, while freshman setter Taylor Hughes also set a personal-best with three.The Buckeyes were also powered by a stout defensive performance, holding Purdue — which came into the game leading the Big Ten in attack percentage and kills per set — to a .197 attack percentage.OSU tallied 12 total blocks, six coming from senior middle blocker Tyler Richardson (one solo) and four each from junior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe (two solo) and senior outside hitter Elizabeth Campbell. León picked up 16 digs, while Schirmer and Hughes added to their big serving nights with 15 apiece.“People always notice the blocking and the hitting, but the little things like coverage and serving (are also important),” Sandbothe said.To complement her blocking efforts, Sandbothe also led the OSU offense — which was held to a .232 attack percentage — with 16 kills and two aces. Campbell added to her four blocks with 11 kills and one ace. Sophomore outside hitter Ashley Wenz, who had appeared in only 12 sets all year, tied a career-best with six kills, four coming in OSU’s fourth-set comeback.Against the Hoosiers on Sunday, the Buckeyes rebounded from a slow start to take home their seventh straight win (22-25, 25-18, 25-23, 25-18).Behind seven kills from junior outside hitter Amelia Anderson, Indiana took an early lead as it fought off OSU in the first set. The Buckeyes would bounce back, never trailing in the second set to tie things up at the intermission. After winning a closely contested third set, OSU dominated the final set by leading the whole way.Similarly to Friday’s match, the Buckeyes didn’t have their best game offensively with a .218 attack percentage, but dug in on defense to hold Indiana to a .160 mark.León once again led OSU with 17 digs, while Schirmer and freshman outside hitter Audra Appold contributed 13 and 12, respectively, as the Buckeyes out-dug the Hoosiers 77-62.OSU had 7.5 blocks — four coming in the final set of the match — led by Sandbothe’s three and two each from Campbell, Richardson and Wenz.Sandbothe had 14 kills on offense, and did not make an error until the final set as she hit at a .565 attack percentage. Campbell (15 kills, two blocks) was the only other Buckeye to reach double-digit points.After Wenz stepped up to lift the OSU offense in Friday’s match, senior setter Emily Ruetter did the same on Sunday. Ruetter took over for Hughes midway through the third set and picked up 19 assists, seven digs, one block and one kill.It will be a quick turnaround for the Buckeyes, as they are scheduled to travel to East Lansing, Michigan, on Wednesday to take on Michigan State. The match is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
Fikayo Idowu. | Courtesy of Ohio StateTragic news reached the ears of Buckeye soccer fans and Ohio State alumni on Saturday, as word of the sudden death of junior defenseman Fikayo Idowu circulated around Columbus. A spokesman from the university released a statement from the OSU Department of Athletics, which stated the team was devastated to learn about his passing.“His family and loved ones are in our hearts and in our prayers during this time of grief,” read the statement.Idowu had been a member of the men’s soccer team for the last two years.He was majoring in health and rehabilitation sciences.The two-time OSU Scholar-Athlete appeared in two games last season for the Scarlet and Gray.Funeral arrangements are currently pending. A small memorial is scheduled to be held Saturday evening at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, with teammates and friends of Idowu’s expected to be in attendance.
OSU redshirt freshman quarterback Joe Burrow (10) hands the ball off during the spring game on April 16 at Ohio Stadium. Credit: Lantern File PhotoIn 2015, redshirt junior Cardale Jones and then-redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett were firmly No. 1 and No. 2 on the depth chart at quarterback. It was a matter of who would win the job. But there was another quarterback behind them. Enter sophomore Joe Burrow who is now the most likely among potential candidates to serve as backup to starting quarterback Barrett this season.In the spring, the race appeared to be a much more tightly contested battle between Burrow and redshirt junior Stephen Collier. But a season-ending ACL tear to Collier gave Burrow his opportunity in the spring game.In his first action with the Buckeyes, Burrow led the Gray team to victory while impressing the crowd of 100,000-plus with 196 passing yards for three touchdowns.“I took a big step this spring,” Burrow said following the spring game. “And I’m going to have to take a big one before fall camp.”Freshman quarterback Dwayne Haskins arrived on campus in June for the summer to battle for the No. 2 quarterback spot behind redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett. At least in the eyes of quarterback coach and co-offensive coordinator Tim Beck, Burrow is viewed as the favorite.“That battle is moving along,” Beck said. “I think Joe is ahead because of his experience. I’m really pleased by his development right now.”Coach Urban Meyer knows better than anyone that a consistent backup quarterback is a vital piece in the team’s success.In Meyer’s first season with OSU in 2012, then-quarterback Braxton Miller went down with a shoulder injury in a home game against Purdue. Backup Kenny Guiton stepped in to deliver an improbable come-from-behind victory to preserve an undefeated season.In 2014, Barrett took over the starting role just a couple weeks before the first game when Miller reinjured his shoulder. Barrett racked up the Big Ten offensive player of the year accolade and then was replaced by Jones who led the team the rest of the way to a national title.The No. 2 quarterback must constantly be prepared to enter into the game and perform at an adequate level once called upon or his team could suffer for it. At the moment, Burrow said he’s still making strides to get to that level.“The backup’s job is to be ready at any moment, and if I’m not ready then I’m not doing my job,” Burrow said. “I’m not ready yet.”There are many things a quarterback must do to prepare for this situation. As Burrow has noted, it is important that to be ready, he must put in “more reps, more studying, just everything” to be sure he is ready to get in the game should he receive the call.“After spring, I still had a lot to prove and I still have a lot to get better,” Burrow. “I think it was like the second scrimmage in the spring when I threw three or four touchdowns. That’s when I knew I could play here and play here at a high level.”A big part of his preparation process is to learn from the veterans on the team. That starts with taking notes from Barrett.“(Barrett’s) really understanding and he’s a really smart guy,” Burrow said. “How he goes about the game, how he watches film, how he takes notes, how he reads the defense.”Of course as exciting as Barrett is, many have been waiting to see what the new guy brings to the table. 247sports.com ranked the four-star Burrow 305th best of all class of 2015 prospects and 14th best in the state of Ohio. Of course, acquiring the nickname “Mr. Football” in the state of Ohio has done little to lessen the excitement.But despite all the hype from evaluators, he has somehow flown under the radar. To Burrow, this has not been a hinderance, but rather something to help his performance.“From the start in high school recruiting, I was under the radar from Athens, Ohio,” Burrow said. “That’s how I kind of played my entire career. I played with a chip on my shoulder.”From a scouting perspective, Burrow is not the typical college-style quarterback. Instead of a dual threat like Barrett, Burrow has been described as a ‘Pro-Style Quarterback’ by 247sports, and most evaluators agree that his legs are not as much of a threat as most other college signal-callers.This is further enhanced by his stats from high school. Between 2012 and 2013, Burrow accumulated 94 touchdowns and 6,971 yards while completing 420 passes in 631 attempts. In that time span, Burrow attempted 262 rushing attempts and racked up 1,425 rushing yards, an average of 5.44 yards per carry, a modest average for most high school quarterbacks. “No, I can’t be a run-first guy,” Burrow said. “I could break one for maybe 15 or 20, but I won’t break one for 40, 50 or 60. I can be effective, but I can’t break a big one.”Burrow and the rest of the OSU football team will take on Bowling Green on Sept. 3 at noon.
OSU junior forward Nick Schilkey (7) during a game against Michigan on May. 6 at Nationwide Arena. Credit: Lantern File PhotoOhio State senior forward hockey captain Nick Schilkey wishes he had a dollar for every time he has been asked why he came to OSU from his home state of Michigan. If so, he said he would be as rich as another Buckeye: L Brands owner Les Wexner. The constant questioning will be worth it, however, if Schilkey is successful in his pursuit of a Big Ten championship and the program’s first berth into the NCAA tournament since 2009. A native of Marysville, Michigan, Schilkey grew up playing in the Detroit area primarily with the nationally recognized HoneyBaked AAA program. It was his parents, Glen and Michelle, along with his other family ties that instilled the love for the game of hockey in him.“My dad always joked that he put me in skates before I could walk.” Schilkey said.His speed and agility — which led him to score 87 goals and assist on 85 others between the ages of 13 and 16 against NHL players Alex Galchenyuk of the Montreal Canadiens and Jacob Trouba of the Winnipeg Jets — caught the attention of OSU.It was not until his final year with HoneyBaked in 2010-11 that he realized college hockey was a legitimate option.“I don’t think I could ever look back at one of those teams and thinking to myself as being one of the best guys because we were so good,” Schilkey said.OSU was the first school to approach Schilkey about furthering his career in hockey. The program’s commitment to Schilkey, facilities and campus life sold him immediately, he said.“I go to different schools around the country and play and nothing beats what we have here,” Schilkey said. “I came down here and the coaches really wanted me to be here and I wanted to be here. This was the spot for me.”Before he moved to Columbus, Schilkey played junior hockey for two years, a common prerequisite for hockey players before beginning their college endeavors.After two seasons with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League, the top junior league in the U.S., Schilkey was ready to showcase his talents at OSU.The team he was recruited by, however, had changed by the time he arrived. In April 2013, OSU coach Mark Osiecki was fired and replaced by Steve Rohlik, who had been an Osiecki assistant.Schilkey was not deterred.“I was comfortable with the coaches because (Rohlik) was here,” Schilkey said. “For me, I didn’t think anything would change too much.”Rohlik recalled the recruitment of Schilkey, who stood out like maize and blue in a sea of scarlet and gray.“When you walked into the rink, you knew who Nick Schilkey was,” Rohlik said. “He’d get that puck and he’d be Mach 10 down the ice. He could score. One thing that always grabbed me is that he wanted it. He wanted the puck, he wanted to be involved, he wanted to be ‘the guy.’ There was no hesitation in his game.”Rohlik has continued to be impressed by Schilkey’s performances weekend after weekend.“You know what you’re getting when he touches the ice,” Rohlik said. “I know if I throw him out there, he’s going to give me everything that he’s got.”And it shows in his production, Rohlik said.In 108 career games, Schilkey has 43 goals and 48 assists. He has been voted team captain twice due to leadership that has rubbed off on his teammates.“Right away freshman year, I noticed that he never quits,” senior defenseman Josh Healey said. “He goes out there every shift and every time in the weight room and goes until he can’t go anymore. It really pushed me to be my best when I was around him … He’s a leader by example and guys follow that, it’s a credit to him.”So far this season, the team has followed him to an upset win over No. 3 Denver last Friday on its home ice, followed by a tie with Air Force the next night. As the Buckeyes head into the heart of the 2016-17 season, Rohlik said there is no one he would trust more to lead the team.“I think it’s in him right now that he wants to do something special before he leaves here,” Rohlik said. “He’s already had such a huge impact on this program, not only by being a great player, but by being a great person. I can’t say enough about him. He’s one of those guys, as a coach, you love having him in your program.” As for Schilkey, the legacy he wants to leave behind is a championship in his home state. The conference tournament will be hosted at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit for the final time in March.“To get this team back there and obviously it’s going to take a lot of leaders in the room, it’s going to take the team to accomplish that goal,” Schilkey said. “I think we’re excited for it. I think we’re confident in that this is one of the best opportunities we’ve had in my four years here. To leave on top is something everybody wants to do.”Ranked No. 19 in the latest uscho.com poll, Schilkey and the Buckeyes head to Oxford, Ohio, on Saturday to take on in-state rival Miami at Goggin Ice Center with the puck drop scheduled for 8:05 p.m.
When a professional sports team in America has a bad season, as the old saying goes, there’s always next season – but not in European soccer. End-of-season discussions around some European professional soccer leagues are about survival. Mainly, which teams are going to survive to play another year in a given country’s top league. The English Premier League, the world’s most prominent soccer league, is among those leagues where suspense almost always carries into the final minutes of the season. The EPL has a stipulation in place that relegates or downgrades its bottom three teams in any one season to the Football Association’s Championship division. In return, the top three teams of the Championship are promoted to the Premier League. Conceptually, it would be like the Columbus Clippers having the best record in Triple-A baseball and then moving up to play Major League Baseball the following season. And the same goes for the Championship, as well as the two divisions below it – the FA’s League One and League Two. The top and bottom three teams from each of England’s four divisions shuffle back and forth season after season. With its season concluding on Sunday, this year’s EPL relegated teams are Wolverhampton F.C., Blackburn F.C. and Bolton F.C. No club is safe from the relegation rule as Blackburn (1995 EPL Champions) becomes the first former Premier League champion to be relegated. How harsh is that? 17 years removed from a championship and you’re deemed not good enough to compete in the league. Harsh or not, the rule is ingenious on some levels. It creates a level playing field and makes every game in a season matter. There certainly isn’t any talk of “tanking” game in the Premier League for any reason. So, what if American sports leagues adopted its European counterparts relegation and promotion rules? Would it be a good thing? Is it even possible? Would the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats have lost 23 games in a row to end the season? Whether it would be good for leagues like the NFL, MLB, NBA and the NHL to adopt the relegation-promotion rule is purely subjective. It would be good in the sense teams likely wouldn’t tank, and every regular-season game matters, but at what cost? Would the playoffs have to be eliminated? The EPL crowns its champion based solely on regular season performance. If there were no Super Bowl or World Series, would that be a good thing? The question of whether it’s even possible to have a relegation-promotion rule in American professional sports is interesting. As it stands now, only two of the top four leagues have the type of minor-league system in place to piggyback off the system used English soccer. The NHL has the American Hockey League (AHL) below it as an incremental level and MLB has Triple-A baseball with the International League and Pacific Coast League. Even then, those leagues would need adjustment. The NHL or MLB teams couldn’t have ties to the AHL or Triple-A teams as they do now using the lower level teams as a means of producing players within a farm system. The Premier League’s relegation and promotion rule is something American sports fans envy, and although some fans wish it would be adopted tomorrow by America’s sports leagues, it’s not a simple as it may seem.
During Ohio State’s annual Homecoming football game Saturday, many OSU alumni will be back in Columbus to cheer on their Buckeyes. One alumnus, however, will be representing the Buckeyes’ opponent. That alumnus is Bo Pelini, the coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who will be playing the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium at 8 p.m. Saturday. Pelini, who played free safety at OSU from 1987-90, will be going against his alma mater in Columbus for the first time in his head coaching career. Pelini said his history at OSU will not affect him on Saturday. “I have pride in where I went to school and my career there. But that has nothing to do with Saturday,” Pelini said in Nebraska’s press conference Monday. “I’m in a different time in my life and a different place. I have a job to do and that’s all I’m concerned with.” As for the game itself, the No. 21 Cornhuskers (4-1) will be hoping to upset the No. 12 Buckeyes for their first loss of the season. Pelini acknowledged that the game will not be easy. “We know we’re going to have to play our best football on Saturday,” Pelini said during the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference on Tuesday. “We’re playing a really good football team.” Cornhuskers senior running back Rex Burkhead said the physical play of OSU’s defense stood out in the Buckeyes’ win against Michigan State. “I saw they were getting a big push on the offensive line. They were making it tough to make reads in the backfield and have lanes open up,” Burkhead said during Nebraska’s press conference. “I think penetration was the key thing they were getting.” As for the Buckeyes’ offense, Pelini said “we’ll see on Saturday” whether his defense is able to match up with OSU sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes’ offense. “Braxton Miller does a really good job,” Pelini said. “He’s a real threat to run, pass, they do a lot of different things to feature him. It puts a lot of stress on you.” Pelini added that while Miller might stand out, he is not the sole reason for the Buckeyes’ offensive success. “Everyone, and deservedly so, gives a lot of credit to Braxton Miller, but they, first and foremost, they do a lot of good things to enable him to make plays and they have a lot of good pieces around him,” Pelini said. “He’s not out there playing by himself. It’s a team game.” OSU coach Urban Meyer said the game will be a challenge, and that the team will have to make some changes to win this game. “We’re going to have to do some things that we haven’t done, and I’m not sure how we’ll adapt to that,” Meyer said. “I’m glad it’s (at) home.” Meyer knows the coach on the other side well: Meyer was a graduate assistant with the Buckeyes in 1987, Pelini’s freshman season. Meyer said he had a lot of respect for Pelini as a player, and that he has not changed much as a coach. “I have a really good relationship with Bo,” Meyer said. “(As a player, he was) just a real tough guy, just like his personality is now.” Pelini, who knows first-hand what it’s like to play inside Ohio Stadium, said it will be a “great environment” on Saturday. Cornhuskers senior safety P.J. Smith expressed his excitement to play in the Horseshoe during Nebraska’s press conference but added that his team must keep its “emotions normal.” “It is going to be crazy, it is going to be wild, but it will be fun,” Smith said. “We just got to go out there and execute the game plan.” The Buckeyes, who have won their first five games of the season, will be trying to avenge their loss to the Cornhuskers from their first-ever matchup as Big Ten opponents last season. In that game, the Buckeyes held a 27-6 lead in the third quarter, but gave up 28 unanswered points to lose 34-27.
For all intents and purposes, the 2012 Ohio State football senior class is gone, never to wear scarlet and gray in meaningful competition again. “It’s almost like you’re losing some of your children when they go away to college,” said first-year OSU coach Urban Meyer after the team’s season-ending win against Michigan on Saturday. “Our house is going to be empty.” Gone? Perhaps, but not to be soon forgotten. After all, it was the contributions of the seniors that made the team’s run at perfection a possibility. Behind the strength of many of those 21 departing seniors, the No. 4-ranked Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten) clinched the sixth undefeated and untied season in program history and the first since 2002 Saturday with a 26-21 win against archrival Michigan (8-4, 6-2 Big Ten) at Ohio Stadium. The 109th edition of The Game saw OSU, the Big Ten’s Leaders Division champions, claim its 44th win against the Wolverines. UM, eliminated from Big Ten title contention after Nebraska beat Iowa on Friday, still owns the all-time series advantage with a 58-44-6 record. With Saturday being the final game of the season due to the NCAA-imposed postseason ban, one thing was evident within minutes of the final whistle following victory against UM – no more seniors. Meyer handed out several “thank you’s” during his postgame remarks, but the biggest thank you went out to those whose eligibility is up, players like Zach Boren, Etienne Sabino and John Simon. Theirs was an effort worthy of remembrance, Meyer said, and he plans to ensure that their memory doesn’t fade away. “I’m going to see to it when you walk into that Woody Hayes (Athletic Center) this team will never be forgotten, because they deserve that,” he said. It’s not hard to imagine why Meyer feels so strongly. Boren switched positions midseason, jumping from offense to defense when he left the fullback spot to join a depleted line backing corps. Boren hadn’t played linebacker since high school but, in just six games, he tallied 50 tackles, including a team-high nine in the win against UM. One of those tackles was a bone-jarring sack of Wolverines junior quarterback Devin Gardner. Boren stood above Gardner after the hit, shouting and rattling his face mask just above Gardner’s. Sabino broke his leg during OSU’s Oct. 6 win against Nebraska but returned in time to join the team for its divisional-clinching win against Wisconsin on Nov. 17, as well as the game against the Wolverines. The redshirt senior linebacker said the 2012 season was indeed a dream. “I wouldn’t want it to end any other way,” he said. And there was Simon, a defensive end and the team’s emotional leader throughout the perfect campaign. Simon missed Saturday’s Senior Day activities, as well as the game itself, with a right knee injury sustained one week prior against Wisconsin. “John Simon – the heart and soul of who we are as the 2012 football team,” Meyer said. Simon was not made available for comment following the game. There were other major contributors from the senior class, relatively unheralded compared to Boren, Sabino and Simon, but whose contributions likely went just as far in helping the team achieve an undefeated season. OSU redshirt senior punter Ben Buchanan walked off the Ohio Stadium field for the final time at peace with what he gave to the program. His final play was a 41-yard punt that pinned UM on its 8-yard line with less than 10 minutes to play in the game. Given the moment, Buchanan said, the punt was as good as it gets. “I think this team will be remembered as a very unselfish team, a team that really had to come together with some tough circumstances, there’s no doubting that,” Buchanan said. “I was proud of the way these guys just rallied and, they did, we just refused to lose and to be a senior on this team was truly on honor.” Sensing that he wouldn’t fit in Meyer’s offensive system, OSU senior Reid Fragel went to his then-newly hired coach and volunteered to switch from tight end to right tackle. For his selfless act, Fragel was plunged into a preseason battle for playing time with freshman Taylor Decker, which Fragel later won. Months later, Fragel attempted to address his teammates in the locker room following the season-ending win against the Wolverines. He struggled to articulate he feelings. “I wanted to thank (my teammates) and, really, tell them how I feel about this whole year, but it’s hard to put words to this season we’ve had,” Fragel said. “It’s something out of a movie … Just to see us come out 12-0, beating Michigan, that’s something I couldn’t have wrote up before the game.” As Buchanan and his teammates enjoyed the climactic day of the season, OSU football converged with its troubled past as former coach Jim Tressel, the man responsible for the 2012 team’s postseason ban, returned. Once shamed by the “Tattoo-Gate” scandal in which he knowingly fielded a team of ineligible players during the 2010 season, Tressel was hoisted onto the shoulders of players from his 2002 national championship team, which was honored for the 10-year reunion of its great feat between the first and second quarters. But with Tressel came memories of his unceremonious exit from the university – he was forced to resign in May 2011 – as well as the Buckeyes’ agonizing 2011 campaign where they posted a 6-7 record. The loudest cheers during Saturday’s short, in-game ceremony for the 2002 team came during the moments that featured Tressel, the man that each member of the 2012 senior class signed on to play for. Louder still were the cheers for the current players themselves, now under Meyer’s direction, during actual game action, and particularly when the clock struck “00:00.” Meyer will hold a “season wrap-up” press conference on Monday, according to an OSU athletics release. The Buckeyes will then turn the page on the 2012 season and set their sights on 2013. “After our team meeting on Tuesday, we start a new journey,” Meyer said. The strong foundation that has been laid at OSU exists because of the 21 dedicated Buckeyes that hung up their pads and cleats for the final time on Saturday. For those seniors who won’t rejoin the Scarlet and Gray in pursuit of championship glory, their last gasp as active members of the Buckeye Brotherhood couldn’t have been sweeter. “It’s unbelievable, man, I couldn’t ask for anything more other than a chance to play a couple more weeks,” said OSU redshirt senior defensive lineman Nathan Williams. “This is how the 2012 team is going to be remembered by, you know, going undefeated … going 12-0 and beating Michigan at home. I really wouldn’t want to go out any other way than that.”
Kent State’s Darrell Hazell might become Purdue’s next football coach, according to multiple reports Tuesday. After guiding the No. 25 Golden Flashes to an 11-2 mark this season, Hazell is reportedly the Boilermakers’ first pick to replace former Purdue coach Danny Hope, who was fired Nov. 25, after going 23-27 in four seasons. Hazell led Kent State its first winning season since 2001 – a feat that earned the second-year coach the Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year. The potential move to West Lafayette, Ind., though, could bring him back to his old stomping grounds in the Big Ten. From 2004 to 2010, Hazell served as an assistant under former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel – first as the team’s wide receivers and kick returns coach before becoming the Buckeyes’ assistant head coach and wide receivers coach. Cincinnati’s Butch Jones has reportedly also been in talks with Purdue about their coaching vacancy. According to multiple media outlets, the Boilermakers are expected have a decision by Wednesday. After losing to Northern Illinois in overtime, 44-37, in the MAC Championship Game Saturday, the Golden Flashes are set to face Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Jan. 6 in Mobile, Ala.
“There is a little nudge around here because they beat us, and really the way they beat us,” he said. “Offensively right now there is a lot of distaste for the way that thing happened.”In last year’s meeting between the schools, OSU was decimated by the talent of the Virginia Tech defense. Then-redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, making the second start of his collegiate career, completed just nine of 23 passes and was sacked seven times. He also threw three interceptions, including two by then-senior safety Kyshoen Jarrett and a late 63-yard pick-six by then-junior safety Donovan Riley.Powell said a big reason for the Buckeyes being unprepared for Virginia Tech last year was their season opener the weekend before against Navy. The safety said the Midshipmen, a team known for running the triple option on nearly every play, forced the Buckeyes to spend their entire practice time preparing for that untraditional offense rather than a more typical one used by teams like Virginia Tech.“Last year we spent a lot of time trying to master that triple option offense. It was really difficult to go from that then jump straight to a regular spread offense,” Powell said. “It’s good to finally just focus on one thing and that’s kind of what we’re going to see all year, instead of focus on one thing for one game that we’re never going to see again.”Schutt added that with no Navy game ahead of Virginia Tech in 2015, he expects the team to be better adjusted and then some, when the extra motivation is factored in.“For this game specifically, I think we put in more than we would for a normal game just because of what happened last year,” Schutt said. “We felt unprepared last year coming into that game, both offensively and defensively, and this year we’ve been working on this game plan all summer and are excited about next week.”OSU’s rematch with Virginia Tech is scheduled for an 8 p.m. kickoff on Monday in Blacksburg, Virginia. Then-redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) lies on the ground after being tackled during a game against Virginia Tech Sept. 6 at Ohio Stadium. OSU lost, 35-21. Credit: Lantern File PhotoOhio State might have won the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship in 2014, but the one thing the team cannot hang its hat on is a perfect season.While the Buckeyes won 13 straight games to end the season, a 35-21 defeat at home to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6 put an early but permanent mark in their loss column.Now, 366 days after the upset loss, OSU is set to have a chance to return the favor to the Hokies on their home field of Lane Stadium.“Due to the fact that we did lose to them last year … that’s something that we can’t get back at them, because although we won it all last year, still in our loss column there was a ‘one’ in there, and they’re the ones that unfortunately gave it to us,” redshirt junior safety Tyvis Powell said. “So it’s just about going out there and making sure that doesn’t happen again.”While members of the team said they vividly remember the 2014 matchup and have been studying tapes from that game for weeks, senior defensive lineman Tommy Schutt said the extra motivation the team feels is not completely revenge-based.“I wouldn’t necessarily call it revenge, but it’s something that’s been in the back of our heads since that game,” he said. “I think we definitely have a little extra chip on our shoulders knowing what happened last year, how we finished the season last year knowing they were the one team that was able to beat us, so we definitely have a little extra chip on our shoulder going into this one.”OSU coach Urban Meyer echoed his players’ sentiments and said Monday’s game is one the Buckeyes have been looking forward to for a long time.