As Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas celebrated their inductions in Cooperstown this weekend, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced a change that will make it harder for others to join them. Instead of having 15 years of eligibility for consideration by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), players will now be limited to 10.1A player becomes eligible five years after retirement. If he doesn’t receive at least 5 percent of the votes the first year, he’s excluded from future ballots.One theory is that the change is designed to exclude players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who are known or suspected to have used performance-enhancing drugs.2Retired players such as Alan Trammell who have already appeared on at least 10 ballots will be exempt from the rule. But Bonds and Clemens, who joined the ballot in 2013, won’t be. But an attempt to target Bonds and Clemens could produce collateral damage. Players such as Curt Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and Larry Walker — who are not strongly associated with PED use — could also be less likely to get in.Take the case of Mussina, who received 20 percent of the vote on this year’s ballot, his first year of eligibility. He might seem like a hopeless case — players need 75 percent of the vote to be elected to the Hall of Fame. But players generally gain ground the longer they remain on the ballot. Sometimes they need the full 15 years to get there.Consider other players who received somewhere between 15 and 25 percent of the vote in their first eligible season. There were 16 such players between 1966, when the Hall of Fame began holding elections every year instead of every other one, and 2000, the most recent class of players to have exhausted their 15-year eligibility window:Two of these players, Don Drysdale and Billy Williams, gained ground quickly enough to be elected to the Hall of Fame within their first 10 eligible seasons.Another three — Bruce Sutter, Bert Blyleven and Duke Snider — were elected by the BBWAA at some point between their 11th and 15th eligible seasons.One player, Red Schoendienst, was elected later by the Veterans Committee.The 10 remaining players — Gil Hodges, Jack Morris, Roger Maris, Tommy John, Mickey Lolich, Jim Kaat, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Thurmon Munson and Tony Oliva — have not yet made the Hall of Fame, though some are plausible candidates for election by the Veterans Committee at a later date.So by a quick-and-dirty rendering, Mussina’s chances of getting elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA have been sliced from 5 in 16 (representing the five players who made it within 15 seasons) to 2 in 16 (only Drysdale and Williams made it within their first 10 seasons). He might also have some chances with the Veterans Committee. But the Veterans Committee has been stingy about electing players in recent years. The point is that players like Mussina need all the chances they can get.We can formalize this analysis by running a set of logistic regressions that estimate a player’s likelihood of eventually making the Hall of Fame based on his performance in his first year on the BBWAA ballot. First, I ran a regression to consider whether players were selected by the BBWAA within 15 seasons.3As in the Mussina example, this regression considered all players who first appeared on the ballot between 1966 and 2000. I excluded players who were elected in their first year, or who received less than 5 percent of the vote in the first year, as these players have been automatically dropped from the ballot since 1985. Then I ran another regression to evaluate whether players made it within their first 10 eligible seasons. (Among players who first appeared on the ballot in 1966 or later, those who were elected by the BBWAA somewhere between their 11th and 15th seasons were Snider, Sutter, Blyleven and Jim Rice.)4For this regression, I included players who first appeared on the ballot from 2001 through 2005, in addition to those between 1966 and 2000, since they’ve had 10 years to be elected. Finally, I considered whether players made the Hall of Fame at all — whether through the BBWAA or the Veterans Committee.5In this case, I included all players who first appeared on the ballot from 1966 through 1995 — players who began appearing on the ballot after 1995 have not yet been eligible for consideration by the Veterans Committee, as best I can tell. For this regression only, I also included players who received less than 5 percent of the vote in their first year on the ballot — a few of these players (Richie Ashburn, Larry Doby and Ron Santo) were eventually elected by the Veterans Committee. The results are represented in the chart below.To read the chart, scan across until you find a player’s vote share in his first year of eligibility — then scan up to see where the various curves intersect it. For instance, for a player like Mussina who got 20 percent of the vote in his first year:There is a 10 percent chance he gets elected within his first 10 years of BBWAA eligibility, according to the regression analysis. (This is the yellow curve.)There is a 23 percent chance he gets elected within the 15-year eligibility window. (The red curve.)There is a 34 percent chance he gets elected by either the BBWAA or eventually by the Veterans Committee. (The blue curve.)These answers aren’t too far from the quick-and-dirty numbers that I came up with before. They suggest that Mussina is an underdog to make the Hall of Fame — but more of an underdog now that he’ll have only 10 years of eligibility to do so.What about a player — such as Bonds — who got 36 percent of the vote in his first season of eligibility?He’d have a 53 percent chance of being elected by the BBWAA within 10 years.His odds of being elected within 15 years are higher — 69 percent.He has an 89 percent chance of being elected by some means — either the BBWAA or the Veterans Committee.So a player like this will also see his chances of being elected by the BBWAA decrease with the rule change. But he has a much better backstop: The Veterans Committee has usually elected players like this even when they were bypassed by the writers. That hasn’t been true for players like Mussina.Of course, Bonds and Clemens are no ordinary cases — and this method may not do a very good job of describing their chances. There are a couple of other objections that we need to consider first, however.One is that the change in rules could affect voter behavior. Players sometimes receive a boost in their vote share in their 15th and final year of eligibility. Now, knowing that it’s their last chance, the writers could rally around a player in his 10th year instead.That might protect a few players — Snider, for instance, got 71 percent of the vote in his 10th year of eligibility and might have made it then if a few more writers thought it was their last opportunity to elect him. But Blyleven had only 48 percent of the vote in his 10th year. His case, which was pushed by stat-savvy baseball fans for years, needed some extra time to marinate.Another consideration is that rotating players off the ballot sooner could clear slots for more recently retired players. BBWAA voters are limited to naming 10 players on their ballots. A few of them might have run out of room for Mussina this year, for instance, because they were reserving space for Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, or other players between their 11th and 15th years of eligibility.Indeed, this could be of some help to players like Mussina. But there would be a more direct means of providing relief — by liberalizing or eliminating the 10-player limit. Players from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s are badly underrepresented in the Hall of Fame relative to players who had the good fortune to be born earlier.The rule change, in other words, seems designed to make the Hall of Fame more exclusive, not less so. But how might it affect Bonds and Clemens in particular?As I mentioned, they aren’t ordinary cases. For a player like Mussina, a large fraction of the BBWAA electorate might be thought of as “swing voters” — they could live with him in the Hall of Fame or without. Given how strong feelings are on the issue of performance-enhancing drugs, the choice is likely to be much more binary for Bonds and Clemens. For that reason, their vote shares might not increase as much in future seasons. (Another PED user, Mark McGwire, has been on the ballot for eight seasons and has seen his vote share decrease in almost every one.) Personally, I’d wager a fair amount of money against Bonds or Clemens ever being elected to the Hall of Fame by the writers, whether in 10 years or 15.Nevertheless, baseball’s hive mind could change its stance on PED use with the benefit of hindsight. It’s not that hard to conceive of alternate realities. NFL players who were suspended for PED use, like the former San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, barely seem to suffer any lasting damage to their reputations. (Merriman made the Pro Bowl in 2006, the same year he was suspended for four games.)One scenario could involve a known PED user who is otherwise a more sympathetic case than Bonds or Clemens making the Hall of Fame.6Or a player who is already in the Hall of Fame could disclose his PED use. For instance, Andy Pettitte, who admitted to using human growth hormone, is due to become eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2019. Pettitte’s case is not clear-cut on the statistical merits, but suppose he made it in 2023, his fifth year on the ballot. Under the old rules, Bonds and Clemens would have had a few years left on the ballot with that precedent in place. Now, they’ll already have exhausted their eligibility.Bonds and Clemens would still be eligible for consideration by the Veterans Committee. But whatever misgivings you might have about the BBWAA, the Veterans Committee has been far more problematic. Its rules are constantly changing, its process is not very transparent, and it has oscillated from being far too liberal to being very stingy about letting in players. Depending on the rules it drew up, the Hall of Fame could design a Veterans Committee that was relatively sympathetic to Bonds or Clemens — or firmly opposed to their election.Another theory is that the Hall of Fame doesn’t have strong feelings about Bonds and Clemens per se, but implemented the rule change in the hopes of putting the PED issue behind it sooner. It’s certainly not good advertising for Cooperstown when discussions are dominated every year by arguments over steroids.But these cases won’t go away anytime soon. Pettitte will become eligible in a few years — and a few years after him, Alex Rodriguez. Ryan Braun, another known PED user who could eventually build Hall of Fame statistics, is many years from retirement. In the meantime, players like Mussina could be caught in the crossfire.
Unlike last year, the 2016 NBA trade deadline was a bit of a snoozer. Nineteen players were dealt on Thursday, deadline day itself — the 12th-most since 1987. In the traditionally busy two weeks leading up to the cutoff, however, only seven others were moved, which means the raw activity around this year’s deadline was basically average. Quality wasn’t exactly bursting out over quantity, either. As a group, the traded players averaged almost exactly zero wins above replacement per 82 games this season, the eighth-lowest rate among trade deadlines since ’87. (Of course, it could be worse — sometimes an entire crop of trade targets can average out well below the replacement level, as happened in 1992.)Most of this year’s trades were made by teams jockeying for playoff position (Charlotte’s Courtney Lee pickup comes to mind), collecting future assets (Detroit snagged Tobias Harris and Donatas Motiejunas in separate deals this week) or dumping disgruntled players (Markieff Morris and Lance Stephenson were sent packing by the Suns and Clippers, respectively). These are the kinds of incremental moves that help a franchise in the long run. But nobody would characterize them as blockbusters, and hardly any involved the handful of teams that have a chance to win the 2015-16 NBA championship.If any contender received consensus praise at the deadline, though, it was Cleveland, which snagged Channing Frye for Anderson Varejao, Jared Cunningham and a couple of draft picks. The advanced analytics have always crushed hard on Frye — he currently ranks eighth among power forwards in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, ahead of Anthony Davis (!) — with his classic stretch-big mix of long-distance shooting, decent-enough rebounding and surprisingly solid defensive metrics. (To that last point, RPM actually thinks Frye’s defense is a far bigger contributor to his bottom-line impact than his offense.) Let’s face it — nobody will be shocked if Frye ends up hitting a huge shot or two for the Cavs during what’s probably going to be another deep run in the Eastern Conference playoffs.And when it comes to deadline pickups, players like Frye often make a more indelible postseason mark than the types of big-name superstars everyone was hoping to see moved Thursday, anyway.Statistically, the best deadline acquisition of the past 30 years1Including players acquired within two weeks of each season’s deadline. was Clyde Drexler — clearly not a role player, even in his twilight — who produced 5.5 WAR for the Rockets after getting shipped to Houston for Otis Thorpe in 1995. Drexler went on to help Houston capture its second straight NBA title, but that makes him an exception among hyper-productive deadline pickups: W. Williams1996MIA2.2+7.5-1.0Lost first round B. Davis2005GS3.1+11.0-1.9Missed playoffs J. Kidd2008DAL3.9+1.4+1.4Lost first round J. Mashburn1997MIA2.8+2.2-4.3Lost conf. finals D. Mutombo2001PHI2.2-2.2-2.6Lost NBA Finals T. Kukoc2001ATL2.2+5.0-8.9Missed playoffs TEAM EFF. CHANGE L. Nance1988CLE3.3+3.8-3.0Lost first round A. Robertson1993DET2.8+2.5-0.9Missed playoffs PLAYERYEARNEW TEAMPOST-TRADE WAROFFDEFPLAYOFF OUTCOME V. Radmanovic2006LAC2.2+1.1-0.7Lost conf. semis M. Camby2010POR2.6+0.8+1.8Lost first round C. Drexler1995HOU5.5+2.4-5.9Won NBA Finals R. Allen2003SEA5.5+4.6+1.2Missed playoffs B. Miller2002IND2.6+2.3+0.6Lost first round S. Marbury1999NJ2.8+11.6-6.6Missed playoffs G. Wallace2011POR2.6+2.6+0.8Lost first round Historically, productive deadline pickups don’t often go hand in hand with deep playoff runs. They can help their new teams’ bottom lines — since 1987, each additional WAR produced by a newcomer after the deadline has been associated with a 0.9-point improvement to his team’s efficiency differential, compared with the team’s differential before the trade. But oftentimes those players are shipped into situations where no amount of productivity can keep the ship from sinking or drag an average roster to playoff greatness.And even the stars who go to good teams can arrive to mixed results. Drexler, like Jamal Mashburn in 1997 and Dikembe Mutombo in 2001, played well after landing in his new destination, but his team’s net efficiency sank dramatically down the stretch of the regular season before righting itself in the playoffs.Furthermore, because trades involve, uh, trade-offs between teams, sometimes star deals simply re-allocate strengths from one side of the ball to the other. The biggest post-deadline boost in offensive efficiency since 1987 belongs to the 1999 New Jersey Nets, which added offensive dynamo Stephon Marbury and improved their efficiency at that end by 11.6 points per 100 possessions … but also got worse on defense by 6.6 points per 100 possessions. (Marbury didn’t exactly lock opponents down on D.)Likewise, the biggest boost in defensive efficiency belongs to last year’s Jazz, which improved by 10.6 points per 100 possessions on D after jettisoning defensive sieve Enes Kanter and installing Stifle Tower Rudy Gobert as starting center … but also got worse by 2.3 points per 100 possessions on offense. That’s still a clear win for the Jazz, but it shows that blockbuster deadline trades rarely come off perfectly clean, without some downside to go with the benefits.Which brings us back to Frye and the Cavaliers. Frye’s no superstar — his wins added are modest despite his impressive RPM because he logged only 17 minutes a night in Orlando, a number that isn’t likely to increase given Cleveland’s existing frontcourt situation. But he’s in what’s historically been a sweet spot for deadline pickups: He’s coming to an existing title contender at very little cost, where he’ll be asked to fill a specific (yet important) role. There are no guarantees on the NBA trade market, but low-risk/moderate-reward moves like the one the Cavs made to grab Frye are often the deadline deals most associated with solid playoff outcomes. T. Ratliff2004POR3.5-0.8+3.6Missed playoffs M. Thornton2011SAC2.4+1.2-1.1Missed playoffs T. Kukoc2000PHI2.2+2.7-0.5Lost conf. semis T. Gugliotta1995MIN3.3+5.1-1.8Missed playoffs P. Gasol2008LAL3.5+4.1-2.3Lost NBA Finals T. Hardaway1996MIA2.8+7.5-1.0Lost first round J. Hornacek1994UTA2.2+3.3-1.5Lost conf. finals J. Salmons2010MIL2.4+2.7+3.2Lost first round B. Sura2004ATL2.2+8.5-6.7Missed playoffs D. Ainge1989SAC2.6+4.9-0.7Missed playoffs The best trade deadline pickups rarely swing the playoffs R. Jackson2015DET2.2+2.1-0.4Missed playoffs Source: Basketball-Reference.com
Ken Burns Tells Colbert Why Racism Dominates American History. Ken Burns Tells Colbert Why Racism Dominates American History. According to the filmmaker, Trump taking two days to disavow the Ku Klux Klan is just one of many signs that racism still exists in America.
IND67%IND57%HOU 37, IND 34+9.8– DAL37.810.9HOU6.43.814.71450 Going into this season, the biggest questions surrounding the Atlanta Falcons had to do with the team’s inexplicably anemic offense under new coordinator Steve Sarkisian in 2017. So if somebody had told you that, through four weeks, Atlanta would be averaging 29 points per game in 2018 — about a touchdown more than last year — and that Matt Ryan would once again rank among the league’s most efficient quarterbacks, you might have assumed that the Falcons were back to their high-flying, Super Bowl form of a few seasons ago.Unfortunately, things haven’t exactly followed that script so far. Instead, Atlanta is 1-3 and ranks last in the NFC South, a division it was a co-favorite to win before the season. Now our Elo projections have the Falcons on pace to finish 8-8 with just a 33 percent chance of making the playoffs. The reason is easy to pinpoint: Just as Atlanta’s offense has returned to greatness, its defense has deteriorated completely, giving away all of the gains made by an offensive attack that looks genuinely scary again. The end result could be another wasted Falcons season — and Ryan might not have many more of those left before his prime ends.Defensively, the Falcons have never been the most fearsome outfit under coach Dan Quinn, who made his name as an architect of the Seattle Seahawks’ Legion of Boom defense. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, Atlanta ranked 25th in defensive expected points added (EPA) even while they nearly won it all in 2016.1They made up for it that season with the league’s top overall offense and a top-10 special teams corps. However, defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel had the unit performing better last season, his first year at the helm. Aided by breakout second-year defenders Deion Jones and Keanu Neal, Atlanta was much better up front against the run and applied more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, upping its adjusted sack rate from 5.4 percent to 6.6 percent.In terms of defensive EPA, the Falcons improved from 25th to 18th a year ago — modest but encouraging progress. This season, though, they’ve fallen down to 30th, including 28th against the pass and 31st against the run. Early long-term injuries to both Jones and Neal robbed Atlanta of two Pro Bowl playmakers, and few of the remaining regulars have impressed. According to ProFootballFocus.com, eight of the Falcons’ nine veteran starters grade out worse in 2018 than in 2017, with DB Damontae Kazee standing out as the lone exception. By Football Outsiders’ calculations, the Falcons’ front seven have allowed the NFL’s sixth-most adjusted line yards per carry, and they also have the sixth-worst adjusted sack rate of any team.The result has been a defense letting up a staggering 30.5 points per game — including 43 in an overtime loss to the Saints in Week 3 and 37 in a last-second defeat against Cincinnati this past Sunday.The cruel irony is that even a repeat of last year’s mediocre-but-not-terrible defensive showing would have worked wonders for the Falcons in concert with their rejuvenated offense. Although stellar wideout Julio Jones still can’t find the end zone (he somehow has only three TD catches in his past 20 games, including zero so far this year), Ryan has been much more efficient throwing the ball than he was last season, and rookie receiver Calvin Ridley (who has six TD grabs already) appears to have emerged as the complementary threat Atlanta has been trying to line up across from Jones for years. The Falcons’ running game isn’t what it used to be — leading rusher Tevin Coleman is averaging only 3.9 yards per carry2Regular starter Devonta Freeman has been out since Week 1 with an injury, so things should improve some when he returns. — which in turn has often left Atlanta in unfavorable down-and-distance situations. But the team’s big-play potential in undeniable. The trouble is, opponents have been able to say the same thing all too often.What might be most frustrating for Atlanta is that each season it fails to sync up a great offense with a serviceable defense is one fewer year left in Ryan’s prime. He’s the best player in franchise history — but at age 33, he won’t be able to play at an elite level forever. Although we’ve seen a number of recent passers (such as Tom Brady and Drew Brees) remain hyper-productive into their late 30s and beyond, the historical aging curve for QBs sees a rapid decline after Ryan’s current age. That’s why, among the 20 QBs most similar to Ryan last season (according to my modification of Football Outsiders’ similarity scores), the average retired member of the list3So, excluding currently active QBs such as Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers because we don’t know how many years they have left as starters. had just 3.4 seasons left in his career as an NFL starter — and that’s including the equivalent of Ryan’s 2018 campaign.With the window to capitalize on Ryan’s greatness closing faster than you might think, the Falcons’ disappointing start is an even greater concern. Of course, below-market QB contracts are seen as the formula for success in 2018, so some of the Falcons’ defensive struggles do come back to Ryan’s own record-setting contract preventing the team from stockpiling the rest of the roster with talent. But if Atlanta can’t find some way to right the ship, it could have serious negative implications for the best sustained era in franchise history.All of which brings us to Week 5, when the Falcons will face the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. It’s a game our Elo model considers the third-most important of the week (by the potential swing in playoff odds) and fourth-best overall in terms of matchup quality — despite the two teams’ combined 2-5-1 record to begin the year. OAK71OAK52OAK 45, CLE 42-17.5– MIN34.710.9PHI68.910.321.21580 PHI60PHI65TEN 26, PHI 23-8.8– LAC68LAC76LAC 29, SF 27+2.4– ATL32.611.3PIT29.011.222.51556 PIT63PIT58BAL 26, PIT 14+4.0– CIN57.714.2MIA48.713.928.01504 LAR83.110.0SEA44.016.126.11574 OUR PREDICTION (ELO)READERS’ PREDICTION PICKWIN PROB.PICKWIN PROB.ResultREADERS’ NET PTS LAC42.011.0OAK5.13.914.91477 The best matchups of Week 5Week 5 games with the highest average Elo rating, using the harmonic mean, plus the total potential swing for the two teams’ playoff chances, according to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL predictions JAX74JAX75JAX 31, NYJ 12-1.1– BAL71.99.4CLE1.51.410.81441 NE70NE64NE 38, MIA 7-6.7– Home teams are in bold.The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction. LAR65LAR66LAR 38, MIN 31-1.5– Pittsburgh is another team that’s disappointed so far, starting the season 1-2-1 after its Sunday night loss to the archrival Baltimore Ravens. Unlike the Falcons, the Steelers haven’t really been able to figure things out on offense without star RB Le’Veon Bell, dropping from third in offensive EPA to 16th. But with each team’s playoff odds rapidly dwindling, this game could represent something of a last stand for both clubs. The Steelers, currently sitting at 29 percent playoff probability, could see their chances drop to a mere 16 percent if they lose to Atlanta (they’d go up to 39 percent with a win). And the Falcons would fall to 23 percent with a loss — or, conversely, could build themselves back up to a respectable 46 percent playoff probability with a win.That’s still behind where Atlanta was at the start of the year (59 percent). But it would go a long way toward salvaging the season — and helping the Falcons actually capitalize on the great offensive performance they’re getting from Ryan and Co.FiveThirtyEight vs. the readersOn top of our NFL Elo prediction interactive, which updates after every game to help you keep tabs on the league’s pecking order, we also offer a prediction game, in which you can pick against our model (and your fellow readers). Each week, we take a look at where Elo made its best — and worst — picks against the field, so here’s how it did in Week 4: IND6.43.1NE66.27.010.11497 DEN15.88.3NYJ8.34.512.91433 CHI53CHI52CHI 48, TB 10-3.2– JAX66.2%+/-10.2KC94.0%+/-4.114.31605 ATL68ATL63CIN 37, ATL 36+4.1– GB53GB67GB 22, BUF 0+8.8– Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 4Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 4 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game Game quality is the harmonic mean of the Elo ratings for the two teams in a given matchup.*Average change is weighted by the likelihood of a win or loss. (Ties are excluded.)Source: ESPN.com NO61.810.7WSH31.310.521.21542 KC65KC69KC 27, DEN 23+0.4– Playoff ChancePlayoff Chance Team ACurrentAvg. Chg*Team BCurrentAvg. Chg*Total ChangeGame Quality CAR53.58.4NYG4.32.711.11475 DET18.49.0GB184.108.40.20688 BUF18.48.5TEN62.412.521.01498 SEA57SEA62SEA 20, ARI 17+2.3– DAL62DAL51DAL 26, DET 24-12.2– NO65NO67NO 33, NYG 18-0.4– ARI1.31.3SF16.06.67.91429 Elo capped off a surprisingly strong first month of the season with another solid week, beating the average reader by 19.6 points. Although the field was right to doubt Indianapolis at home against Deshaun Watson and the Texans, and correctly brushed off Buffalo’s bizarre thrashing of Minnesota to call a Bills loss at Green Bay, Elo picked up big points with home wins for the Cowboys and Raiders. Now the average reader is down a whopping 154 points to Elo for the season as a whole — time to pick it up, folks!Congrats to reader Shaun Anderson, who led all users in points for Week 4, and to Scott Duhaime, who leads all (identified) users on the season in total. Thanks to everyone who played last week — and if you didn’t play, it’s not too late to get in on the game. You can make picks now and still try your luck against Elo, even if you missed the first month of the season.Check out our latest NFL predictions.
After Kentucky’s 97-92 loss to UCLA last weekend at Rupp Arena, a stunned John Calipari was asked which possessions hurt the most. Calipari sputtered, “I can remember the two that bothered me … the throw ahead for the layup and then the 3 back to back.” He was describing buckets early in the second half by Bryce Alford and T.J. Leaf, the Bruins’ 6-foot-10-inch freshman. The key to each field goal? Lonzo Ball, UCLA’s freshman ball handler whose vision and passing virtuosity have vaulted the Bruins up the top 25 rankings.Standing 6 feet 6 inches tall, Ball is a constant offensive mismatch: Put a smaller guard on him, and he’ll use his height advantage to find an open teammate; guard him with a forward, and he can blow by the defender or unleash a variety of step-backs and feints to clear enough space for his broken-looking jump shot, which is actually a thing of beauty.Few players have ever shot the ball exactly the way Ball does, at least ones playing at a level higher than the church-basement rec league circuit. His motion starts near his left hip; rather than straighten his form as the shot progresses, Ball slingshots the ball, his long arms cradling it until the last second when he flicks the wrist and imparts a backspin-like effect. This shouldn’t work, no matter how many hours Ball spent practicing against bigger and older defenders in the playground.And yet, this funky motion is also one of the game’s most efficient: He’s converting 43.5 percent of his 3-pointers, and per Hoop-Math.com, 55 percent of his attempts come from beyond the arc (63 percent, if we count only half-court possessions). That’s astounding. Overall, he sports an offensive rating of 1.34 PPP (meaning the team scores 134 points per 100 possessions he uses) and utilizes more than 20 percent of the team’s offense while on the floor: That’s the lion’s share of an All-American’s personal production and a huge chunk of the No. 2 team in the country’s offense hinging on a jump shot that more closely resembles a chest pass than a scoring attempt.But Ball isn’t just a jump shooter. The consistent accuracy of those shots consistently creates space, and Ball has used it well. Whether UCLA’s guards are running off screens or cutting through the lane, Ball finds them — he has a 37 percent assist rate, the third most of any DI freshmen who has used more than 50 percent of his team’s minutes — with dazzling passes flung from his hip pocket or zipped one-handed just outside the reach of a defender.That passing instinct shows up most starkly in transition — or more accurately, semi-transition. As soon as a UCLA big man grabs a rebound, he’s got his head up, looking for Ball, who is usually leaking out and pressuring the defense. The Bruins score 1.19 points per fast break, which would rank third among the high majors that run on at least 20 percent of their possessions, behind just Arkansas and Memphis, and ninth overall. UCLA runs on 19.6 percent of their possessions, and their efficiency ranking would drop to 36th if we were to lower the threshold to, say, teams with 15 percent of possessions in transition, but that’s the point: Transition possessions are inherently more valuable than half-court ones. And because the Bruins are wholly committed to the defensive glass (they’re grabbing more than 70 percent of opponent misses, an all-time high under coach Steve Alford, Bryce’s dad), they’ve looked to run more in 2017 — about 50 percent more often than last season — and they’re succeeding. UCLA looks to run even if an opponent scores — per Hoop-Math.com, the team makes 60 percent of its attempts within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock after an opponent’s make.Ball has not only redefined UCLA’s fast break, but his vision, athleticism and the general sense of not-quite-rightness to his game make Ball a unique player in college basketball this season and certainly one of the most entertaining. In a win versus UC-Riverside, Ball sent a crosscourt Eephus-like lob over the head of the defense to Isaac Hamilton, who stepped into and connected on a 3 from the left elbow.What’s perhaps most intriguing about Ball is that he could be the greatest college pick-and-roll player ever. He’s got it all: size, handle, vision, shooting. But so far, at least, the team has been content to let him feast on drive-and-kick possessions. This works fine, since Ball is skilled — he almost always “traps” his defender on his hip, forcing help from an opposing big — but clearly, something’s being left on the table. Paired with Leaf, UCLA can either pick and pop (50 percent on 18 attempts), or let Leaf roll to the rim (1.18 points per roll, according to Synergy Sports).Calipari expected UCLA to hurt Kentucky in P&Rs, but just 9 percent of the team’s possessions include a P&R (a sharp dip from 21 percent in 2015-16). When even the opposing scouting departments are worried about the stuff you’re not doing yet, it’s probably worth looking into. And when that opponent is John Calipari, and he’s disturbed by how well you’re executing what he believes to be a secondary, even tertiary part of your game, you might just have something special on your hands.
OSU freshman guard JaQuan Lyle (13) during a game against Northwestern on Feb. 9 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Mariesha Gibson | Lantern PhotographerA frustrating first half for the Ohio State men’s basketball team appeared to be a telltale sign of the start of another disappointing home loss. But thanks to the leadership of junior forward Marc Loving and tenacious play from freshman point guard JaQuan Lyle, OSU was able to pick up win No. 13 on the season, as it overpowered the Northwestern Wildcats 71-63. Lyle scored 13 of his game-high 16 points in the second half to pair with Loving’s 15 points and five assists. OSU coach Thad Matta said he had hoped the team would avoid another slow start, but he was proud of how his team fought back.“We found a way to win the basketball game,” Matta said. “It wasn’t pretty at times, but we are trying to find some constants with this team, and hopefully we can find that channel and stop channel surfing on a nightly basis.” The first half could be described in one word — ugly — with Loving being the lone bright spot. He scored 10 of OSU’s 26 points as the Buckeyes shot a lackluster 35.7 percent (10-of-28) from the floor. For most of the opening 20 minutes, the home team looked puzzled on how to attack Northwestern’s (16-9, 4-8) zone defense.With Matta working like a mad scientist to find the right combination of players, OSU’s players appeared to start to get frustrated with the outcome as they headed to the locker room trailing 33-26.Lyle, who has played inconsistently for the Buckeyes (15-10, 7-5) for much of the season, showed his frustration on the court by yelling at redshirt sophomore center Trevor Thompson after he dropped a razor-sharp pass from Lyle, which subsequently lead to a turnover and ensuing foul on Lyle.Matta, noticing the frustration on Lyle’s shoulders, pulled his point guard aside the break and gave him an earful.“JaQuan and I had a one-sided conversion at halftime, and I was leading the charge about that,” Matta said. “I give him credit, I think he responded and did a nice job. He had a very good control of what he was doing, and he was giving off positive energy, which was a good thing for us.” Rejuvenated, Lyle and the Buckeyes found their offense, going on an 8-0 run midway through the second half to trim the Wildcat lead to 48-47. The newfound momentum continued to push OSU forward, as Loving hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 50. OSU then took the lead on a jumper by sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop with 5:58 left in the game — a lead which it would not relinquish.“We just needed to find some type of spark,” Loving said. “We were able to get the tempo going and then (forced) some key turnovers.”Thompson, who poured in 12 points and nine rebounds, said the team never thought about giving up and remembered the message Matta delivered to his players to “lose yourself playing for Ohio State basketball.”Matt’s unselfish motto, which he said he has been preaching for the last 12 seasons, resonates as the reason OSU has been having a tough time during this up-and-down season.“I think sometimes we get where our thought process is strictly on ourselves,” the coach said. “And we’ve proven that when we’re thinking not big picture, we’re not thinking about the other guys, we’re not a very good basketball team. When you lose yourself just playing the game of basketball, and whatever happens, happens, we’re a better basketball team.”OSU sealed the game late, hitting a dozen free throws over the final 2:40 of the game. The foul line played a big role in the Buckeyes pulling off the victory, as they shot 94 percent from the charity stripe in the second half (16-of-17).Loving said he and his teammates knew they had been working too hard in their preparation to lose on Tuesday.“We just kept telling one another that the shots were going to fall,” Loving said. “We had faith in one another. We were never going to quit.”The Buckeyes are set to get back in action on Saturday against Rutgers on the road. OSU took care of the Scarlet Knights earlier in the season, winning 94-68 on Jan. 13. Tipoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 4 p.m. Side notesOSU had all five starters score in double figures.OSU committed a season-low five turnovers in the win.The Buckeyes’ 82.6 free-throw percentage was their second-best performance of the season.Matta is now 19-1 in his career versus Northwestern
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, right, is stopped after catching a pass for a short gain by Cleveland Browns defensive back Joe Haden at FirstEnergy Stadium Sept. 29. The Browns won, 17-6. Credit: Courtesy of MCTThe Cincinnati Bengals look to win their second straight road game Sunday when they travel to Detroit to face the Lions in what will be a matchup of two teams with a great deal of similarities.The Bengals (4-2) have not won a playoff game in 22 years. The Lions (4-2), hold the second lost playoff drought, having not won in the postseason in 21 years.Both teams feature two of the top receivers in the league. Calvin Johnson (24 receptions, 337 yards, four touchdowns) of the Lions is widely considered the best pass catcher in football while the Bengals’ A.J. Green (37 receptions, 464 yards, four touchdowns) is a budding star closing in on Johnson’s heels.The two defenses are charged by rare athletes on the defensive line. Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh (2.5 sacks, one forced fumble, four stuffed runs) is a rare talent while Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins (four sacks) is one of the strongest, most gifted interior defensive linemen in the game.And both squads feature quarterbacks who are strongly reliant upon their respective star receivers. The Lions’ Matthew Stafford struggled when Johnson sat out of their game against Green Bay earlier this season, and the team team failed to score a touchdown. The Bengals’ Andy Dalton, meanwhile, has only had two strong games this season, both games in which Green topped 100 yards receiving (week one and week six). While it is only natural for a passer to look towards a supremely gifted player of the caliber of Johnson or Green, both signal callers must learn to spread the ball around. After all, some of the league’s best passers, such as New England’s Tom Brady and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, have been more consistent with far less talent at wide receiver.While the Lions have struggled against the run this year (surrendering 124.8 yards a game), the Bengals will most likely have to air it out on Sunday in order to keep up with Detroit’s offense, which is averaging 27 points a game. On defense, while it is not clear how healthy Johnson is at this point, as he has been recovering from a minor knee injury, a fully-recovered Johnson may just have a wildly successful day against a Cincinnati secondary that has struggled on the road. The week seven matchup between two up-and-coming teams should be a high scoring affair that will allow the winner to remain atop its division.
Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) attempts a shot during a game against the Chicago Bulls Jan. 22 at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavaliers lost, 98-87.Courtesy of MCTTo the casual NBA fan, it would be surprisingly reasonable to think the Cleveland Cavaliers are heading in the right direction and that the team is on its way to its first playoff appearance since LeBron James donned Cleveland jersey.A playoff berth is vital if Cleveland hopes to convince All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to stay in Cleveland.Irving is coming off a 31 point, 14 assist and five rebound All-Star game MVP performance while his teammate, shooting guard Dion Waiters, is coming off a strong showing in the NBA Rising Stars Challenge, gathering 31 points and dishing out seven assists.The Cavs also made two of the biggest moves before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline. The team traded center Andrew Bynum and a draft pick to the Chicago Bulls for the rights of small forward and former All-Star Luol Deng Jan. 6. Two weeks later, the move was followed by the Cavs trading forward Earl Clark and center Henry Sims along with two second round draft picks to the Philadelphia 76ers for center Spencer Hawes.The hope is these two veteran players will help provide leadership for the team in its goal of reaching the playoffs, one of the few qualities Irving has yet to add to his game.The organization also recently fired general manager Chris Grant, which was followed by a six-game win streak, the first in Irving’s three year NBA career.All of these signs point toward immediate improvement for the organization, however Cleveland fans know to tread lightly.A strong showing for Cleveland during the All-Star break might appear as a positive, but Cavs fans know all too well that All-Star week performances mean little to nothing. During last season’s All-Star break, Irving propelled himself to superstar status after winning the 3-point contest and crossing then-Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Knight into the history books in the NBA Rising Stars Challenge.Unfortunately for Cavs fans, that success didn’t follow Irving when he came back to Cleveland. Instead, his stats began to drop, including his points per game which fell by 3 1/2. The team failed to reach the playoffs and earned the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.Rumors have been swirling that Irving isn’t happy in Cleveland and wants out. While the rumors have continuously been denied by the organization and Irving himself, Cavs fans can’t help but cringe at the mere possibility of “The Decision 2.0.”Add to the fact that the Cavs third leading scorer and arguably the NBA’s best sixth man, Waiters, has been noted as having problems developing positive relationships with his teammates and one starts to notice the Cavs have some obvious issues that need to be fixed soon if the team wants to make the playoffs.Another one of these issues is the team’s health. Currently, the Cavs have three crucial players missing games because of injury. The injury bug seems to bite starting center Anderson Varejao every year and this year has been no different as he has missed six straight games because of a sore back. Starting shooting guard C.J. Miles has missed two straight games for a sprained ankle and Waiters has missed three straight after hyperextending his left knee. Coach Mike Brown said there is no timetable for the return of any these players in an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer.A recent bright spot for the Cavs is the progression of the 2013 No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett, who averaged 8 points and 5.5 rebounds in the month of February, both of these are up from his regular season averages of 4.1 and 3.2 respectively. Bennett also accumulated his first two double-doubles in his NBA career in February.Reaching the playoffs this year would provide fans with a glimmer of hope that Irving will decide to stay in Cleveland, and recent trades show that management realizes this. Behind all the clutter that is in the way, there is still a chance the Cavs make the playoffs. Just 6 1/2 games back of the Atlanta Hawks, who currently hold the 8th seed in the sluggish Eastern Conference, the Cavs could make the playoffs if the team finds a way to come together and turn things around. With only 25 games remaining, this needs to happen sooner rather than later.
Sophomore guard Ameryst Alston (14) dribbles down the court during a game against Penn State Feb. 9 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU lost, 74-54.Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editorAs the regular season winds down, the Ohio State women’s basketball team is gearing up for a late run.The Buckeyes were able to send the seniors out with a victory Sunday in their final home game, defeating Northwestern 71-62, but they still have some business to take care of — two road games. With just those two games left in the regular season, OSU (15-15, 5-9) is trying to avoid its first losing season since finishing the 2001-02 season 14-15 overall and 9-9 in the conference. Although there are two games left, coach Kevin McGuff emphasized that his team is taking it one game at a time and is currently focusing on Thursday’s matchup against No. 25 Iowa (21-7, 9-5).“They (the Hawkeyes) are really good on offense,” McGuff said. “They have a style of play that their players really fit. They have done a good job recruiting to that style.”That style has produced the highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten, as Iowa averages 79.2 points per game. The Hawkeyes scored just above their average in their first game against OSU, when they defeated the Buckeyes 81-74 Jan. 19 in Columbus.In that game, the Hawkeyes had five players score in double figures and shot 48.3 percent from the field, something that was a cause of concern to McGuff and something he said will be addressed in this week’s preparation.“We have to really focus and concentrate on a lot of defense,” McGuff said. “The defense will have to be constant through 40 minutes for us to have a chance against Iowa.”That was not the case in the first meeting, as Iowa outscored OSU 49-36 in the first half.OSU sophomore guard Cait Craft said the loss to Iowa was disappointing but also something the team look toward to improve.“We have proven all year that if we would just play two (good) halves, that we could play with basically anybody that we have had on our schedule,” Craft said. “It is just a matter of executing.”Leading Iowa’s top-tier offense is junior guard Samantha Logic, who was named a finalist for the Nancy Lieberman Award, given annually to the nation’s top point guard.If OSU plays man-to-man defense, it is likely Craft will draw the assignment of guarding Logic, something she said she would look forward to doing.“Defense is what I like to do. It is what I am best at,” Craft said. “I take pride in frustrating people as best as I can … hopefully, I have a chance to guard her.”While Logic leads the Iowa offense, OSU sophomore guard Ameryst Alston has been productive of late, having put together two straight 30-point games against Nebraska and Northwestern, respectively. Although she is pouring in the points, Alston said her recent success is not simply all her doing.“I do not really think too much about it,” Alston said of her back-to-back 30-point games. “I was just out there playing hard with my team. They help me get my 30-point games by giving me the ball at the right times … I am not out there doing it by myself.”Alston echoed her coach’s mindset and said finishing the season above .500 would mean a lot to her and to the team.“We are just taking it one game at a time,” Alston said.The Buckeyes are set to tip with No. 25 Iowa at 7 p.m. Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Ohio State freshman forward Dorkha Juhasz attempts a free throw at practice. Credit: Daniel McNatt | Lantern ReporterWhile experience in Big Ten play might be limited for the Ohio State women’s basketball team this season, a few additions to the roster could use its overseas experience to help push the team further.Freshman forward Dorka Juhasz, a first-year player from Hungary, and redshirt senior guard Carmen Grande, a graduate transfer from Ball State who is originally from Spain, look to use their international experience as a means to help their new team. The team is returning only four players from last year — junior guard Jensen Caretti, redshirt senior forward Makayla Waterman, senior guard Karlie Cronin and sophomore forward Savitha Jayaraman. But Juhasz and Grande look to bring something new to the table. Juhasz is the No. 12 international player and No. 5 forward in the 2018 recruiting class, according to Prospects Nation. Juhasz also played for the Hungarian national team beginning in 2015 before coming to Ohio State. She averaged 11.7 points and 9.4 rebounds in seven games at the FIBA U19 Women’s Basketball World Cup in 2017. “I would like to be a leader here,” Juhasz said. “I feel like I got some professional experiences because I played at home [Hungary] in a professional team. I had a chance to play against WNBA players, so I think that can be an advantage.” Head coach Kevin McGuff and the Ohio State coaching staff could certainly use a player to step up into a leadership role as the season begins. The roster features more questions than answers right now, and with a healthy level of competition for starting spots, someone with professional experience who is willing to take on a leadership role early could bode well for the Buckeyes. Another player who could be bringing something new to the table is Grande, the graduate transfer point guard by way of Madrid. Grande had the second-most assists in the country in the past three years with 697. She started in all 96 games in three seasons and was No. 2 in the nation in 2017 with 9.2 assists per game. Grande was also a member of the U16 Spanish national team and played for two top professional clubs, Estudiantes and Rivas. Having had professional experience at such a young age, Grande is looking to use that experience to her advantage as a Buckeye. “I was able to train and play with and against professional players, professional point guards,” Grande said. “That just gives you more toughness, more relentlessness. You just gotta keep going and you just have to figure it out regardless of the situation. I think being in those situations has helped me just grow as a player.”While women’s basketball faces some questions, Duhasz and Grande hope to bring some added experience to this new roster. Bringing in players who pride themselves on leadership, toughness and relentlessness isn’t a bad way to start in Ohio State’s first season without former three-time Big Ten Player of the Year Kelsey Mitchell.