USA Draws The Group Of Death In 2015 Womens World Cup

The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Draw that concluded Saturday was the first ever to feature 24 teams; previous World Cups had only 16. Eight countries will make their debut, possibly paving the way for new talent to make a splash, and four champions will return stronger and more experienced. Here’s how the draw shook out, followed by our initial reactions to each group:Group A: Canada, China, Netherlands, New ZealandGroup A has the second-highest combined FIFA points score, 7522, and is likely to be exceptionally difficult to advance from. It’s led by host nation Canada (currently ranked eighth), and even the lowest-ranked team in the group, New Zealand, has an aggressive style of play that’s proved to be tough for Brazil and other strong squads. The young, technical Chinese team features standout forward Yang Li (nicknamed “Young Sun Wen,” after China’s all-time leading scorer), and the 15th-ranked Netherlands is making its World Cup debut after beating the higher-ranked Italy to qualify.Group B: Germany, Norway, Thailand, Ivory Coast Second-ranked Germany leads Group B. The Germans, having won back-to-back World Cups in 2003 and 2007, are regimented and unaccustomed to losing, as well as notorious for playing their best soccer at the World Cup. Norway clinched a World Cup title in 1995 but has yet to do it again. The Norweigans’ style of play is very direct (meaning they don’t focus on possession), but look for Olympique Lyon standout Ada Hegerberg to hold the ball up top. The Europeans should cruise through to the next stage — Thailand and Ivory Coast are relatively inexperienced and making their first World Cup appearances.Group C: Japan, Switzerland, Ecuador, CameroonSimilar to Group B, Group C features two top-ranked teams and two much weaker opponents — Cameroon and Ecuador — with Ecuador barely qualifying by beating Trinidad and Tobago 1-0 last week. The 2011 champions, Japan, are currently ranked third and play a highly technical style of soccer; the crafty midfielder Aya Miyama allows Japan to connect beautifully between the back and front lines. Switzerland is an exciting addition to the World Cup — the newcomers can compete against the strongest European teams. Swiss Ramona Bachmann has been likened to Marta and is nominated for the 2014 player of the year in Sweden’s Damallsvenskan, one of the top women’s leagues in the world.Group D: USA, Australia, Sweden, NigeriaThis group is being called the Group of Death — it has the highest total of combined FIFA points, 7786, and includes three teams in the top 10 FIFA rankings. The No. 1-ranked U.S. will again face Sweden in group play; the Swedes defeated the Americans 2-1 in the 2011 World Cup, and this time Sweden will be led by former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage. Australia is an athletic team that could give the U.S. and Sweden tough games, especially with explosive forward Lisa De Vanna leading the offense. And Nigeria should not be overlooked. Its young, talented team includes Asisat Oshoala, the winner of the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Adidas Golden Ball.Group E: Brazil, South Korea, Spain, Costa RicaSixth-ranked Brazil hasn’t looked as strong as it once did, losing 2-0 to France last month in a friendly, but it’s the strongest team in the rather weak Group E. First-timers Spain are led by forward Vero Boquete, a 2014 FIFA women’s player of the year nominee, and could match up well against Brazil — both teams are creative and patient. And South Korea is technical and organized, which could cause problems for the often disorganized Brazilians. But don’t count out Costa Rica, which placed second in the CONCACAF qualifiers (but was handedly defeated by the U.S. in the final). Some of its players, including Shirley Cruz Traña (who plays for the French club Paris Saint-Germain), have moments of brilliance.Group F: France, England, Mexico, ColombiaFoes France and England will face off in Group F, the third-strongest group based on combined FIFA points. France is a not-so-dark horse for 2015; it’s technical, physical and fast, and its players alternate between direct and possession-style play almost seamlessly. Élodie Thomis, Louisa Nécib and Eugénie Le Sommer are some of the top women’s players in the world. Meanwhile, the seventh-ranked England will be looking for retribution — France knocked out England in the 2011 World Cup quarterfinals. CONCACAF and CONMEBOL teams Mexico and Colombia will be hoping for a point against England and France, but lately Mexico has looked unfit and disorganized from the team that beat the U.S. in 2010. read more

We Just Saw The Most Lopsided Playoff Openers In Modern NBA History

16199312.03320116.1 200512.85.1+7.7198810.07.3+2.7 SEASONAVERAGE MARGIN OF VICTORYSEASONAVERAGE MARGIN OF VICTORY The NBA playoffs are all about tough, grueling battles between evenly matched teams.Well, the late rounds of the NBA playoffs are, at least. The opening round doesn’t usually offer much in the way of drama, and this year was shaping up to offer a particularly lopsided set of first-round matchups — particularly in the Western Conference:Sure enough, the weekend rolled around and six of the eight Game 1s finished with double-digit scoring margins, with five decided by 20 or more points and three of those decided by 30 or more. The average point differential of this season’s opening playoff games was 20.5, the highest of any season since the NBA expanded to its current playoff format in 1984. Includes opening-round Game 1s starting in 1984SOURCE: BASKETBALL-REFERENCE.COM YEARACTUALEXPECTEDDIFFERENCEYEARACTUALEXPECTEDDIFFERENCE 5199916.322199410.4 The NBA playoffs with the most lopsided opening games 7200915.62420029.8 Again, though, this wasn’t entirely unexpected. Our Elo power ratings (which estimate each team’s strength at any given moment) called for last weekend’s Game 1s to end with an average margin of 8.1 points per game — which would rank fifth-highest since 1984 — before the ball was ever tipped off. Most lopsided NBA playoff openers, relative to expectations 2199519.619200810.9 4199716.421201510.6 1201620.518201211.3 199716.48.2+8.220109.15.3+3.8 200610.95.7+5.220116.18.2-2.0 10200414.82720078.5 201211.35.9+5.419897.57.6-0.1 201620.58.1+12.4200810.96.3+4.6 14199812.93119897.5 6201316.023198810.0 9198514.92620018.8 AVERAGE MARGIN OF VICTORYAVERAGE MARGIN OF VICTORY 3198616.520200610.9 11199614.82820038.1 Source: 13198714.53020147.5 200414.87.6+7.219847.85.9+1.8 8199115.02520109.1 199115.06.9+8.1199312.08.4+3.6 17199011.8 198616.58.6+7.920029.86.8+3.0 15200512.83220006.6 199519.67.0+12.6199410.45.7+4.7 199812.98.1+4.8 201316.07.7+8.3199011.87.6+4.1 198514.97.4+7.520038.15.7+2.4 199214.57.8+6.720006.66.40.3 12199214.52919847.8 198714.57.3+7.220147.55.5+2.0 200915.67.6+8.120018.85.2+3.5 199614.88.1+6.720078.57.4+1.1 199916.36.7+9.6201510.66.4+4.2 If we adjust for this, 2016’s blowouts look a little less impressive. In the opening games of the 1995 playoffs, for instance, the victors won by an average of 19.6 against an expected margin of only 7.0 points per game, for a difference of 12.6 PPG — a more lopsided set of Game 1s, relative to expectations, than this year’s, though just barely.But even if this weekend wasn’t No. 1 relative to expectations, its games signaled that we could be in for some pretty unbalanced playoff basketball in the early going. As ugly as things could get, however, keep this in mind: If the favorites prevail, especially in the West, the reward for an unexciting first round could be one of the most competitive, talent-rich second rounds in NBA history.Check out our latest NBA predictions. read more

The Way Everybody Measures NFL Schedule Strength Its Wrong

After Thursday night’s two-hour special on the NFL Network, we now know exactly what every NFL team’s schedule looks like for the upcoming season. But what we don’t know is how hard any of those schedules will be.Every year when the schedules are released, NFL analysts ritually compare the strength of the 32 teams’ slates. And every year, they do it the one way we know doesn’t work.This year is no exception: Analysts are adding up last year’s wins and losses for each team’s 2018 opponents. That approach might make sense if we had no data about how NFL teams perform from year to year — but we have an awful lot, and it says that NFL win-loss records are significantly influenced by luck and are a terrible predictor of themselves.Twelve years ago, Doug Drinen of saw the annual crop of strength-of-schedule articles spring up and decided to test their merit. He compared NFL team records from the prior year (Year N) with the year before that (Year N-1) and their opponents’ win percentage from Year N-1, and he repeated the process all the way back to 1990.Drinen found that prior-year wins by a team’s opponents are “essentially irrelevant” to following-year success — and while how well the other team plays absolutely matters when toe meets leather, “these strength-of-schedule estimates that are being thrown around right now seem to have no role at all in determining teams’ (upcoming year) records.”In a league where about half the teams that make the playoffs in any given year miss them the following season (a whopping eight 2016 playoff teams missed the cut in 2017), assuming every team’s record will remain the same never really made any sense.But there is a stat that does correlate with upcoming-season wins: Pythagorean wins, based on points scored and points allowed rather than win-loss record. Developed for baseball by Bill James and modified for other sports by current Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, this equation is where’s “expected wins” number comes from. In a 2007 blog post, Drinen found that this stat significantly correlates with next-season wins.If we compare actual wins to expected wins for 2017, we see which teams are most likely to improve in 2018 and which are most likely to regress. Seattle0.52350.50912-7 Indianapolis0.484220.47825-3 TeamWinsExpected WinsDIFF Tennessee97.4-1.6 Philadelphia0.492190.49618+1 Kansas City0.492190.51010+9 Houston45.7+1.7 N.Y. Jets0.477250.45829-4 As we wrote before the season, going 0-16 takes not just terrible talent but also terrible luck — and the 0-16 Cleveland Browns’ 3.3 expected wins point toward a rebound in 2018.On the other side of the ledger, the Buffalo Bills have the biggest negative gap between the number of games they won and the number of games they’d be expected to win. This isn’t a shock: We also wrote about how the 2017 Bills squad was actually bad.Here’s how the 32 teams’ 2018 opponent slates stack up in terms of actual 2017 win percentage and expected 2017 win percentage, sorted by the difference between the two: Cincinnati0.473290.48922+7 Carolina119-2.0 Pittsburgh1310.5-2.5 New Orleans0.53520.5261+1 Source: Tampa Bay56.8+1.8 Arizona86.1-1.9 Tampa Bay0.53140.5186-2 2018 may not be as hard (or as easy) as it seemsEach team’s 2018 schedule by the 2017 win percentage of their opponents, original and adjusted by expected wins Atlanta0.509130.49816-3 Miami0.500150.47726-11 Washington0.504140.49320-6 Dallas0.500150.5252+13 Though 23 of the 32 teams had a difference of less than 1.5 games between expected wins and actual wins, those small differences add up quickly when using the NFL’s division-based schedules. For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Browns and Ravens twice each. Baltimore joined Cleveland among the five biggest underperformers last season, and the two teams’ combined difference in expected wins adds 9.4 wins to the total for the Steelers’ opponents. It’s no wonder, then, that Pittsburgh had the biggest increase between actual and expected 2018 opponent win percentage, jumping from a 25th-ranked 0.477 to the eighth-strongest, at 0.512.All four of 2017’s 13-win squads — New England, Philadelphia, Minnesota and Pittsburgh — had expected-win values below 12 according to the Pythagorean method. This gives a boost to the schedules of the non-Minnesota NFC North teams, which are slated to play the AFC East: The hard end of their schedules (Minnesota twice, New England) projects as a little less intimidating, and they also draw overachievers like Buffalo and Miami.Straight opponent win percentage gives the Packers the hardest projected 2018 schedule, and the Detroit Lions are tied for second-hardest. But using expected wins, they drop to seventh and 15th, respectively.The team that supplants the Packers with the toughest road is the New Orleans Saints. Their degree of difficulty fell slightly with the change from actual win-loss record to expected wins, but it’s still high enough to capture the top spot.There’s no model that can account for player age, coaching changes, free agency, the draft or player injuries before they happen. Many teams will defy what 2017’s expected-win value suggests about their 2018 outlook. But history tells us that expected-win values do correlate with what’s going to happen this autumn — and raw win-loss numbers don’t.CORRECTION (April 20, 2018, 3:17 p.m.): An earlier version of a chart in this article incorrectly identified the Arizona Cardinals as the St. Louis Cardinals. Denver0.477250.49816+9 Tennessee0.465310.48623+8 Houston0.453320.45231+1 Detroit0.53520.49915-13 Biggest Droppers Source: TeamWinsExpected WinsDIFF N.Y. Giants0.52080.5119-1 Buffalo0.496180.50014+4 Carolina0.512120.5205+7 Chicago0.52080.49320-12 Minnesota0.52080.49618-10 Cleveland03.3+3.3 originalAdjusted Revisiting the 2017 NFL seasonThe teams that had the biggest discrepancies between their actual win totals and their expected win totals based on points scored and allowed Green Bay0.53910.5137-6 Jacksonville0.477250.45032-7 Arizona0.52080.5243+5 L.A. Rams0.52350.51010-5 teamOpp. Win %Difficulty RankOpp. Win %Difficulty RankDiff Biggest Climbers Baltimore0.488210.47527-6 L.A. Chargers0.480240.46828-4 New England0.484220.45630-8 Jacksonville1011.8+1.8 Buffalo96.4-2.6 San Francisco0.500150.50113+2 Cleveland0.52350.5214+1 Baltimore910.4+1.4 Oakland0.473290.48424+5 Pittsburgh0.477250.5128+17 read more

LeBron Cant Do It All Alone

J.R. Smith54.061.6+7.552.544.4-8.0 The Cavaliers aren’t making their shotsHow well Cleveland players shoot off of passes from LeBron James based on quantified shot quality (qSQ), actual effective field goal percentage and quantified shooter impact (qSI), 2016-17 and 2017-18 2016-172017-18 SHOOTERQSQACT. EFGQSIQSQACT. EFGQSI Every Cavalier but Korver is struggling to shoot off the catch from James. They’re struggling in general, shooting just 48.8 percent eFG1Last season that was 57.9 percent eFG. on all catch-and-shoot plays as a team, but the James drive-and-kick engine sputtering out undermines the team’s best go-to move. The good news is that the results aren’t necessarily going to stay this bad. Love is performing only slightly above his expected rate, and Smith is shooting far below his. Both are proven shooters and could easily rebound going forward.But even if those two recover, the team has to be concerned with Jae Crowder, another piece of the Irving trade. The offseason rotation shuffle has caused the bulk of Frye’s shots (as well as Kyrie Irving’s) from last year to be redistributed to Crowder, who has been awful and is less likely to rebound, considering he’s a career 34.5 percent 3-point shooter. The team is also working other players who aren’t 3-point shooters, like Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, into the rotation, which was always going to be painful.The point here isn’t that the Cleveland offense is broken — Tuesday’s win launched it from seventh in offensive efficiency to second, and the Cavs can find points when they need them. The problem is, if Cleveland is going to rely on flipping a switch on defense once the playoffs roll around, which it certainly appeared to do a season ago, the offense can’t be merely good: It has to be phenomenal. Maybe Thomas’s return will change how this all works, but for now we’re seeing evidence that LeBron at his best may no longer be enough to float his team to the top of the conference.Check out our latest NBA predictions. It’s been the better part of a decade since the early weeks of November could signal crisis for a LeBron James team. His Cleveland Cavaliers have been a mess at 5-6, 10th in the East, including a loss Sunday to the now 2-9 Atlanta Hawks, but it’s hard to drum up much genuine concern given the team’s history of getting its act together just in time for the postseason. It’s especially tough to make any proclamations until guard Isaiah Thomas, who was acquired in the Kyrie Irving trade, returns from a hip injury, and we find out how much he’ll be able to contribute.A 124-119 win Tuesday over the Milwaukee Bucks — playing without newly acquired Eric Bledsoe — stanched the bleeding, for now. But issues remain, some predictable and some less so, and the early season has left some clues about what the team will need from Thomas and the rest of the roster in order to get back on track.The Cavs aren’t rebounding (16th overall rebound rate, 14th on the defensive glass), aren’t defending (dead last in defensive efficiency), and aren’t doing much moving whatsoever (23rd in both average movement speed and average distance traveled). Which is to say, they have all the outward appearances of a team mailing it in during November knowing full well it can turn on the jets when it needs them. So maybe it will all fall into place come spring? But there’s one complicating factor for the Cavs-aren’t-trying explanation: LeBron has been as good as he’s ever been these first 11 games — and the surrounding cast has been unable to capitalize.James has been remarkable this season, even by his standards. He’s shooting 65.7 percent on 2-pointers, including 80 percent within 3 feet of the rim. That’s enough to give him a career-best true shooting percentage of 67.3 percent even though he’s drawing fouls at a career-worst rate. And not only is James scoring efficiently himself, but he’s assisting on 45.8 percent of his teammates’ field goals when he’s on the floor, another career high.Over the past three seasons, James has improved his teammates’ shots at a tremendous rate by leveraging his practically unstoppable drive-and-kick game into high-value opportunities for himself and others. According to data from Second Spectrum, the average shot off of a LeBron pass from 2014-15 to 2016-17 would have been converted at a rate of 55.9 effective field goal percent by an average player. The Cavs had a 60 percent eFG on those shots, meaning they turned good shots into great ones.Based on shot location and distance, defender location and other variables, we would expect the average player to shoot 55.5 percent eFG on James’s passes this year — functionally the same as the last three seasons. But the team is converting them at a rate of just 56.6 percent eFG.It’s not hard to pin down what is happening. A season ago, the shooters James passed to the most were Kevin Love, Channing Frye, Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith and late-season addition Kyle Korver. Each took those passes and added value to them — Korver was the standout with a 69 percent eFG when LeBron passed to him, but Love, Smith and Frye all had big positive effects. This season, that hasn’t really been the case: “Quantified shot quality” is determined by how likely an average player would be to make a shot given the shot location, shot distance, defender distance and other variables. “Quantified shooter impact” is the quantified shot quality subtracted from the actual eFG.Source: Second Spectrum Channing Frye56.666.4+9.862.750.0-12.7 Jae Crowder— Kevin Love54.359.3+ Kyle Korver51.569.0+17.551.979.4+27.5 53.648.4-5.1 read more

The US Draws An Easy Group At The 2019 World Cup France

DScotland45.250.1 CItaly58.368.2 ANorway66.879.7 Group avg.—78.6 Japan98.389.3 Brazil96.089.7 Australia95.390.2 BSpain74.380.3 Canada91.289.5 Netherlands89.488.7 Group avg.—78.9 South Africa23.758.2 groupteamMAKE ROUND OF 16SPI Rating It was fitting that Didier Deschamps drew the first lottery ball for the 2019 Women’s World Cup, which placed France in Group A. He’s lifted the FIFA World Cup trophy for France on two occasions, as team captain in 1998 and as team manager of France’s men’s team in 2018. But what first felt poetic felt anything but by the time the rest of Group A had been fleshed out: He couldn’t have known it ahead of time, but Deschamps had doomed his beloved French to the dreaded group of death.Joining the French in Group A are Norway and South Korea — each ranked in the FIFA top 15 — and Nigeria, three-time defending champion of the Africa Women Cup of Nations. According to our Soccer Power Index (SPI), the French are the second best team in the world at the moment,1FIFA has them ranked third. ranked behind tournament favorites the United States.Host nations have never failed to advance to the knockout stages of the Women’s World Cup, and the French roster, led by creative midfielder Eugenie Le Sommer, will be full of class. The French will almost certainly make it out of the group stage and challenge for the hardware next summer. Our projections give them a 94.9 percent chance of advancing past the group stage, which is the second lowest number of any top team in a group. (Only Canada at 91.2 percent is lower.) Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg’s absence from the Norwegian team will make it less a threat to France’s chances of finishing at the top of the group — but playing in the group of death will ensure France’s path isn’t an easy one. Chile22.343.8 Germany95.292.6 China78.283.2 Sweden93.283.1 Group avg.—69.3 South Korea72.181.9 Group avg.—75.3 Cameroon24.957.7 Group avg.—65.1 United States99.896.4 The hardest (and easiest) groups in the Women’s World CupEach team’s chance of advancing to the Round of 16 and each group’s average Soccer Power Index* rating FThailand38.053.8 Nigeria37.767.7 Jamaica22.053.3 France94.9%93.4 England98.787.9 * FiveThirtyEight’s measure of team strength on a scale of 0-100. Argentina14.732.9 Despite underperforming at the youth level, the U.S. still boasts the best senior-level women’s soccer team on the planet.2Both our SPI and FIFA put the Americans in the top spot. The Americans have won the most World Cups (three), and they’ve played in the past two finals, but they’ve never repeated as champions.3Only Germany has done so — it won the championship in 2003 and 2007. That could change this year, as they’ve been drawn into Group F with Sweden, Thailand and Chile. According to our SPI, it’s the second-easiest of the six groups. At 99.8 percent, the Americans have the highest chance of advancing to the Round of 16 of any of the 24 teams in the tournament.The Swedes are always strong at the World Cup — they’ve finished in third place twice and were runners-up in 2003 — but the same cannot be said for the other two teams: Thailand didn’t advance out of the group stage in its first World Cup appearance at Canada 2015, and Chile is making its first ever World Cup appearance. If U.S. stars like captain Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe bring their goal-scoring boots to France next summer, fledgling teams like Thailand and Chile will be in a world of trouble.The weakest group in terms of average SPI is Group D, which contains England, Japan, Scotland and Argentina. England and Japan are two of the best teams in the tournament,4According to both our SPI and FIFA’s rankings. but Scotland and Argentina5Unlike their male counterparts, the Argentina women’s team is without a Lionel Messi. are two of the weakest. SPI has them ranked as the third-worst and worst teams in the tournament, respectively.That said, Group D still promises to be interesting: England will get the chance to avenge its semifinal loss to Japan at Canada 2015, and Scotland will get the chance to spoil the plans of its neighbors to the south. If the feelings of the England squad reflect those of its star winger Karen Carney, they won’t be looking forward to playing their rivals.“I wouldn’t want them,” Carney told BBC Radio 5. “It’s good to have the rivalry, but you want to win the group. They’d have a lot of fans coming over, and the rivalry can be a leveler.”The Scots better hope that’s true — the last time they played England in a major tournament, they lost 6-0. But even if they do get shellacked again, Scottish women will be able to say something Scottish men haven’t been able to say for two decades: They played at the World Cup. ENew Zealand69.779.5 Group avg.—80.7 read more

Brazil deserves to host Olympics more than US

Last Friday the International Olympic Committee was in a very tough position — four countries from across the globe were vying for the chance to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. The voters were in a crux, ultimately handed with the decision of whether to give this honor of hosting the Olympics to the same typical economic power or to take a chance with a spectacular, albeit unproven city. That city was Rio de Janeiro and it really didn’t matter who was up against it in the voting.It just so happened that Tokyo, Madrid, and our beloved Chicago were the three other cities seeking the same spot. One could argue that Madrid couldn’t happen because London, a European city, was already hosting the 2012 Olympics. Similarly, Tokyo was a long shot not only because the city already got its chance to host the games (1964) but also because the recent Olympic spectacle that occurred right next to it in Beijing.Dismissing Chicago as the host city is a more difficult task. First of all, the United States hosted the Olympic summer events four times in the past 100 years. Also, it just wasn’t the right time for the United States to hold an international event of this caliber. Hosting the Olympics in Chicago was so filled with qualms that even the powerful triumvirate of Oprah, Barack, and Michelle couldn’t help out in the end.Rio, though, deserved to win and the decision to choose them as the host was the right one.On a small scale, it was about how Brazil really deserved to host an Olympic event. Try as they might (and they already tried four times to host it), it just seemed like the international community harshly dismissed Brazil time and time again. The advancements and triumphs the country of Brazil had in the past few decades more than show just how ready it was for this.And of course on a much bigger scale, one must bring up the point that in the more than one hundred years of the modern Olympics’ games, South America has hosted them exactly zero times. This crucial decision not only marks an acceptance of this continent and brings it into the international fold, but also gives much needed hope to Africa, the other continent that has yet to host.Rio was the right host. It just couldn’t be denied much longer and it truly deserved hosting, even if that means it would trample over our city. Everyone has known that in their heart, perhaps for years, and the IOC ended up doing the right thing. Finally. read more

Bucks to boast army of backs

The Ohio State Buckeyes are used to having quality running backs, just not having several of them at one time. Throughout Jim Tressel’s tenure at OSU, the Buckeyes have usually had a top ball carrier in the backfield, but little depth beyond that. “As far as numbers, we went a few years with really shaky numbers in 2001, ‘02, ‘03, ‘04,” Tressel said about his lack of depth at tailback. “In ‘05 we were OK.” This season, however, depth should not be a problem for the Bucks, as they will have an army of quality running backs to carry the football. Although it looks like OSU should be set at the position, Tressel was quick to point out that running back is the one position where you can never have enough options. “I hesitate to ever talk about depth at tailback because it takes two sprained ankles and a bruised thigh and a broken hand and you end up being empty again,” Tressel said. “But we’ve got a chance there.” At the top of the depth chart, OSU returns both players who shared the starting role in 2009. “Boom” and “Zoom” is how they are most often known. Daniel Herron and Brandon Saine were the players who led OSU to the Rose Bowl when the Buckeye offense became primarily run-oriented late in the season. Herron can get the tough yards, while Saine is a home-run threat whenever he touches the football. Together, they are a two-headed monster that opposing defenses have struggled to contain, Tressel said. “I do think we have some real solid guys in ‘Boom’ and ‘Zoom,’” Tressel said. “Those guys are really good.” Saine took strides last season when Herron went down with an ankle injury and the two combined to be an effective duo in sharing the role of starter. This spring, however, it has been Saine who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury. “I want to be out there,” Saine said. “You see the competition, all the yelling and everybody getting into it. I’m just over here standing and I can’t do anything, saying, ‘Please don’t run into me.’” Behind the tag team, the Buckeyes have a plethora of quality young players who will be looking to make an impact. Last year, Jordan Hall found himself thrust into the lineup early in his career. This season, he should continue to improve as one of OSU’s best young talents. “Jordan, he’s a great back,” Saine said. “He might look small if he walks by you, but he’s one of the strongest of the group. He might have the strongest bench out of all of us. He’s able to hide behind the linemen and he’s real shifty.” Herron cited Hall’s vision as the one thing he thought set him apart from the rest of the running backs. In addition to Hall, Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde are two other young backs who could be in the mix to get carries. “Jordan and Jaamal have been good,” Tressel said. “I’ve been very impressed with Carlos Hyde, the way he moved in the winter drills, and he looked very fluid out here for 230-some pounds.” Behind those five options, the Buckeyes also have Jermil Martin and incoming freshman Roderick Smith, who could figure into OSU’s future plans. The fact that all of OSU’s options bring something unique to the position is a good thing. The stable of running backs OSU now possesses can help take pressure off quarterbackTerrelle Pryor and the running backs will be a big part of the Buckeyes’ attempt to win the national title.“It’s safe to say we have a lot of options,” running backs coach Dick Tressel said. “I would go one step further and say lots of good options, so that’s even better.” read more

Commentary Sophomore kicker proving to be surefooted force

After hitting 12 straight field goals, sophomore Drew Basil is quickly becoming the sure-footed kicker Ohio State is looking for. To begin the year, Basil was struggling to find his groove, missing two attempts in the Buckeyes’ first two games. Since then, the right-foot from Chillicothe, Ohio, has not missed an attempt. In the first game of the season against Akron, Basil had two opportunities to convert the first field goal of the season. He missed an unofficial 45-yard attempt because of an offside penalty against the Zips. After resetting five yards closer, he missed the 40-yard attempt. In the second game against Toledo, Basil missed a 47-yard attempt. Through two games, Basil had failed to convert. Since then, he’s been perfect. Hitting 12 field goals in a row, Basil is the kind of reliable option OSU has been used to thoughout the years. In the past ten years, OSU has not had a problem making just about every field goal it attempts, thanks to Aaron Pettrey, Devin Barclay and Mike Nugent. Basil has converted on all 26 extra point attempts on the season. Including the 12 field goals, he has accumulated 62 points on the season. Despite his recent success, Basil apparently had not shown the OSU coaching staff everything they needed to see in order to trust him fully. On Oct. 8 against Nebraska, OSU was leading Nebraska by seven points when they had the ball in Nebraska territory. OSU had the ball for a second-and-13 at the Nebraska 32 yard line. From that point, a 49-yard field goal try was an option. After two incomplete passes, the Buckeyes opted to punt instead of trying the field goal. Basil’s long field goal on the year was from 47 yards against Colorado. Talking with Basil during media day, Basil said he was very consistent from 52 yards. However, the coaching staff has not given him an opportunity all year longer than 47 yards. Head coach Luke Fickell said after the game at Nebraska that a field goal try from 49 yards was “a little out of our range.” Basil has now converted on 12 straight, and each of them have been splitting the uprights and have had distance to spare. Basil, only a sophomore, will be that reliable special teams force the Buckeyes are used to. read more

Still sliding Ohio State mens ice hockey struggles against Ferris State

Coming into its weekend series against Ferris State, the Ohio State men’s ice hockey team was struggling, and after two games against the No. 13-ranked Bulldogs, not much changed. The No. 5-ranked Buckeyes’ three-game losing streak ended Saturday night when OSU tied Ferris State 3-3. Their winless streak, however, increased to six games following a 4-3 loss Friday night and the tie Saturday. OSU came into the weekend struggling on both ends of the ice. The Buckeyes gave up eight goals in two games to Michigan on Jan. 13 and Jan. 15, and only managed to score once against the Wolverines during those games. The Buckeyes’ offensive woes were somewhat corrected, scoring six goals in two games against the Bulldogs. The defense, however, continued to struggle, giving up seven goals total Friday and Saturday night. “We have to do some things well in front of our goaltenders,” said OSU coach Mark Osiecki of the defensive effort in Friday’s 4-3 loss. “We did not help on three of their four goals. It made it tough for (junior goalie Brady Hjelle).” Due to the poor play of the defense, OSU fell behind early in both games. Trailing for most of the game is something the Buckeyes are getting accustomed to, as OSU has now gone 10 games without holding a first-period lead. OSU senior defenseman and co-captain, Sean Duddy, placed the blame of the slow starts on himself and fellow senior co-captain, forward Cory Schneider. “It starts at the top,” Duddy said of the early deficits. “Me and (Schneider) have to do a better job of getting guys going. We have to figure it out. We’ll talk and we will figure it out, I’m sure of that.” Ferris State got things started at the 7:02 mark in the first period on Saturday night. Senior defenseman Derek Graham tapped in the puck from the far post after receiving the puck from freshman defenseman Simon Denis. OSU answered with a tally from freshman forward Tanner Fritz. The freshman got the puck after Buckeye freshman forward Darik Angeli knocked it toward the net following a faceoff in Ferris State’s zone that was won by OSU senior forward Danny Dries. The Bulldogs took the lead again early in the third period following a scoreless middle stanza in which senior OSU goalie Cal Heeter made 12 saves. Ferris State junior forward Kyle Bonis scored from the slot on a 2-on-1 break at 1:10 into the final period after Graham found him. Dries tied the game with a shorthanded goal at the 10:10 mark. Dries received the puck just outside the Bulldogs’ blue line and he ripped a shot once he entered Ferris State’s zone that flew into the back of the net. Less than three minutes later, the Bulldogs took the lead once again, tapping in a loose puck just outside the crease at 13:09 in the third. OSU had another answer in them, as freshman forward Max McCormick backhanded a shot in to tie the game, 3-3, with 3:22 remaining in the game. The game went into overtime, in which neither team scored. In the shootout, both teams’ shots were stopped in the first round, but the Bulldogs scored in the second and third rounds to get the extra point after OSU’s shot was stopped in the second round. Dries said even though the Buckeyes only gained one point Saturday night, he saw signs of improvement. “We scored with five minutes left to get to overtime, so that was good,” he said. “We’re taking baby steps at this point. We’re back to square one now and we have to try and get things going again.” In Friday night’s 4-3 loss, the Bulldogs took a 2-0 lead after one period, and led 4-0 midway through the second period. The Buckeyes rallied with goals from Fritz, sophomore forward Chris Crane and Angeli, but the rally fell short as OSU wasn’t able to tie the game during a five-minute power play late in the third period. OSU fell to 14-7-4, 10-6-4-1 in the CCHA and holds a one-point lead in the conference. Ferris State improved to 15-8-3, 9-6-2-1 in the conference and are four points back from OSU in fifth place in the CCHA. The Buckeyes will take the ice again with a two-game series against No. 19 Lake Superior State (13-11-4, 8-9-3-3) starting at 7:05 p.m. Friday in Michigan. read more

Potential threat of violence in Ohio State cafeteria moves past the window

An investigation by the Ohio State University Police Division into a potential shooting threat on campus is pending. Police believe the initial threat to be over with, but have not yet identified the perpetrator of the crime. “Ohio State University Police have been investigating postings to fantasy, role-player game sites which referenced a potential public safety threat of a shooting at OSU,” said OSU Police Chief Paul Denton. “We continue to investigate and are taking this seriously.” University Police released a public safety notice via email and text message to faculty, staff and students between 11:30 a.m. and 12 p.m. Wednesday, warning the university community of the threat, which Denton said was “specific to a cafeteria at the Ohio State University and today.” “We felt it important to notify the university community to heighten awareness and to stress the importance of ‘if you see something, say something,’ and report suspicious activities or individuals to the appropriate authorities,” Denton said. The public safety notice stated that anyone with information concerning the threat should contact University Police or Columbus Police. “I want to encourage anyone who knows anything about this situation to notify University Police immediately for further information,” said Jay Kasey, OSU senior vice president for Administration and Planning. Denton said police will continue to monitor the situation until they are certain the threat is over. “We have expert police and security presence on or around campus dining facilities,” Denton said. “Although we have moved past the window of concern, we will continue to have additional resources and presence for as long as necessary. The safety of our campus is our top priority.” Kasey said the person responsible for the threat has not yet been determined. “The matter will not be considered complete or closed until we’ve identified the individual or individuals who are responsible for this incident,” Kasey said. Denton said police will continue to have a presence at campus dining facilities throughout the evening. When asked whether the security presence will continue into tomorrow, OSU Director of Public Safety Vernon Baisden said they are handling the situation “one day at a time.” University Police sent another notice at approximately 4 p.m. Wednesday to inform the university community that it has moved past the window of concern but will maintain “security presence and heightened awareness for as long as necessary.” The increased police and security presence applies to areas on or around campus dining facilities, including at the Wexner Medical Center. Officers at OSU’s regional campuses were also informed of the threat and took necessary precautions, according to the afternoon notice. read more