September, 2019

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Roger Goodell Upholds Jonathan Vilmas Suspension Reduces 2 Others

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the season-long suspension of New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma while reducing the punishment of two others who were a part of the alleged bounty pay-for-injury program.Goodell’s decision is a blow to Vilma, who has maintained his innocence in the case, saying he never put up cash as a bounty over a player’s head. Vilma has sued Goodell for defamation of character and has been the most vocal in challenging the commissioner’s authority.Meanwhile, Goodell reduced Scott Fujita’s three-game suspension from three games to one while defensive end and Anthony Hargrove’s eight-game penalty was cut to seven.The defensive end Will Smith’s suspension will remain the same.Vilma is on the Saints’ physically unable to perform list and will not be eligible to play this year but can keep the money he has been paid for his six weeks on the PUP list.The NFL Players Association was not happy with Goodell’s decision.“For more than six months, the NFL has ignored the facts, abused the process outlined in our collective bargaining agreement and failed to produce evidence that the players intended to injure anyone, ever,” the statement said. “The only evidence that exists is the League’s gross violation of fair due process, transparency and impartiality during this process. Truth and fairness have been the casualties of the league’s refusal to admit that it might have made a mistake.”The four players have 72 hours to begin the appeals process. Should they choose to do that, the understanding is they would be allowed to play until the appeals process is completed.“We will review this decision thoroughly and review all options to protect our players’ rights with vigilance,” the NFLPA said in its statement.Goodell appoints the person who will hear the appeal and last time chose to hear it himself.With Goodell’s decision Tuesday, Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns), Hargrove (free agent) and Smith (Saints) get a total of $1,042,649 back in salary, according to ESPN.com.The players had been suspended as a result of a bounty pool that league investigators have said the Saints ran from 2009-11, but the bans had been vacated on technical, jurisdictional grounds by an appeals panel operating within the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement. That decision had led to the re-instatement of the four players and has forced Goodell to begin the disciplinary process for the players over again.In addition to fighting their previous suspensions through procedures called for by the NFL’s labor agreement, the four players also have sued in federal court in New Orleans. Vilma has his own attorneys, while the NFLPA has represented the other three. Only Vilma has sued for defamation. The other federal claims, made by all four players, generally state that Goodell violated labor law by failing to act as an impartial arbitrator. They also asked the judge to bar the commissioner from punishing the players in the bounty matter.Vilma’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, issued a statement in which he said Goodell’s decision was “not justice, nor just.“The suspension has the fingerprints of lawyers trying to fit a square peg into a round hole to appease an Appeals Panel decision ordering the Commissioner to pay attention to his authority under the CBA,” Ginsberg said.Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo have provided the NFL with signed declarations in which they stated they observed Vilma offering what they believed were $10,000 rewards for knocking then-Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and then-Minnesota quarterback Brett Favreout of 2009-10 playoff games.Vilma denied to Goodell that he put a $10,000 bounty on Favre and provided statements from teammates. But Goodell stated Tuesday that he does not believe Vilma or his teammates.In an attempt to refute testimony that he offered $10,000 to any teammate that knocked Favre out of the NFC Championship Game, Vilma told Goodell that he has never had a New Orleans-based bank account from which he could have withdrawn the funds, a source told ESPN.Vilma provided bank statements from January 2010 in order to prove that he never withdrew $10,000 from any of his personal accounts, the source told Werder. According to the source, Vilma argued that he had no access to the money because the Saints paid him via direct deposit and he pays using his credit cards during the season.“Consistent with the Commissioner’s disregard of the evidence, he did not even request to see the bank records showing this fact,” Ginsberg said in a statement. read more

Kobe Bryants Foot Injury Threatens His Status As Season

Kobe Bryant‘s strained foot could keep him out of  next Tuesday’s season-opener against the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown said.Bryant tripped over the foot of rookie Thomas Robinson of Sacramento in Sunday’s exhibition game, and said the pain was so strong that he would have missed Wednesday night’s preseason game against the L.A. Clippers even if it were a regular-season game. Considering Bryant’s amazingly high threshold for pain, that’s saying something.A 17-year veteran, Bryant missed several practices earlier in training camp because of discomfort in the same right foot. However sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com Wednesday night that this injury is a different injury, in a different place on his right foot, and is considerably more painful.Lakers center Dwight Howard also sat out of Wednesday’s game after feeling sore on Monday and Tuesday following his first game action in six months, but Brown said he will “probably” play on Thursday night. Reserve forward Jordan Hill, sidelined since the first game of the preseason with a herniated disk, scored 12 points in 26 minutes in his return to the court.Bryant’s injury means that the Lakers’ new-look starting five with him, Howard, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and Steve Nash will have played just one game together in the preseason before the regular season opens at home against the Dallas Mavericks on Oct. 30. Jodie Meeks, who came over from Philadelphia, started in Bryant’s place on Wednesday.“Obviously it would have been great if they would have had more on-court time against a different-colored jersey,” Brown said. “But, again, I’m a long-term guy and not a short-term guy, so, they’ll be ready when it counts.”The preseason does not count, but it is worth noting that the Lakers have lost all seven of their preseason games to this point. In the end, though, it is about Bryant getting healthy. The new-look Lakers do not work without Bryant.“I don’t know if he’ll be ready,” coach Mike Brown said Wednesday. “So yeah, I guess there is question. I’m just going to wait for [Lakers trainer] Gary Vitti to tell me he can play because there’s nothing I can do about it until they release him anyway.” read more

Breaking Down The Jimmy Butler Trade

The Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves completed the biggest draft-day trade, swapping draft picks and moving Jimmy Butler to Minnesota in exchange for a couple of lesser players. In the video above, Kyle Wagner breaks down the trade and wonders what the Bulls were thinking.

The Tournaments Most Likely FirstRound Upsets

More often than not, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is defined by upsets that occur in its first two days. An average fan may struggle to recall all the teams that made last year’s Final Four but will remember Middle Tennessee, Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast for years to come. It happens each year like clockwork: At least five underdogs seeded No. 10 or higher pulled out a first-round win in each of the past 10 years.Because of this, filling out a bracket becomes an exercise in sussing out who will be this year’s Cinderellas. And this is no simple task: Taking the same span of 10 years, there were 168 underdogs seeded No. 10 through No. 15 that fell quietly into bracket oblivion, along with anyone who bet big on them.The internet is filled with heuristics for deciphering which obscure mid-majors are dangerous in the round of 64 and which overseeded brand names are vulnerable. The more analytically minded of these often highlight particular statistics that show up in teams that have pulled off stunners in the past — such as solid offensive rebounding or turnover rates. But these attributes tend to correlate not with underdog success specifically but with success in general, and they don’t translate well across conferences and leagues.Fortunately, this is nothing a little machine learning can’t fix.Looking for a way to apply my graduate coursework in data science to March Madness upsets, I designed a model that was inspired by results from computer image recognition. My Localized Upset Classification model (LUC, pronounced “Luke”) is trained to find upsets using team-to-team similarities instead of raw statistics such as offensive rebounds or turnover rates.In image recognition, if you’re trying to decide whether a certain image is a dog, you’re more interested in how similar it is to other images of dogs than you are in the image’s “raw statistics,” like brightness and hue. This sort of thinking lends itself to local insights, as opposed to global ones.A global insight is one that attaches general importance to individual characteristics, as in, “As brightness increases, the image becomes more likely to be a dog,” or in basketball terms, “Teams with high offensive rebounding rates are more likely to win as a high seed.” By contrast, a local insight is much more modest: “Images similar to this image of a dog are likely to be dogs.” In computer vision and in LUC, similarities are calculated with something called the Gaussian kernel, and leveraging these similarities allows a modeler to capture signals that are present in small regions without making generalizations. By looking at local trends in basketball data, LUC is essentially searching for the mathematical equivalents of statements like, “These guys remind me of that George Mason team that reached the Final Four.”1In LUC, each statistic is normalized and further adjusted for the average in each year to account for differences in magnitude and macro trends. These statistics are then weighted by relative importance before being used to calculate similarity scores.One added component of my model: LUC does not just calculate similarities, it also learns the predictive power of each similarity.2Specifically, I calculated predicted probabilities using a random forest classifier. In other words, it investigates whether teams that remind us of the George Mason team really do perform better than teams that don’t.Back-testing LUC on the past four tournaments,3For each of these tests, I retrained the model using data up to the year of the tournament in question, so these are true out-of-sample predictions. we can see its propensity to pick upsets often and with prescience. Here are two metrics for judging the model: the percentage of the upsets predicted by LUC that turned out to be correct (upset precision) and the share of upsets predicted by LUC among all upsets that actually occurred (upset recall). How the model has faredLUC model share of predicted upsets and share of actual upsets predicted, 2014-17 NCAA men’s tournaments 201669.290.0 The model envisions a mad, mad, mad MarchUpsets predicted by the LUC model for the first round of the men’s 2018 NCAA Tournament 10Butler7Arkansas52.7 YearShare of ACTUAL upsets predictedAccuracy of predicted upsets 9Florida State8Missouri52.2 11Syracuse*6TCU51.9 201766.7%66.7% 14Stephen F. Austin3Texas Tech51.9 Based on data from ESPN Stats & Information, Kenneth Massey 12Murray State5West Virginia64.8% 11San Diego St.6Houston57.9 11Loyola-Chicago6Miami (FL)58.6 Lower SeedHigher SeedUpset Probability The early returns are promising. For those four tournaments, LUC scored a precision of 70.3 percent while also identifying 59.4 percent of all upsets, including those of No. 9 seeds over No. 8 seeds. The model had some risky calls that worked in its favor. It gave the 2014 Mercer team a 57.1 percent chance of beating No. 3 Duke. Two years later, it gave No. 13 Hawaii a 55.4 percent chance of beating Cal and No. 14 Stephen F. Austin a 61.5 percent chance of beating West Virginia. Any of these picks would be enough to catapult LUC to the top of most office-pool standings in the first week.So what does LUC think of the 2018 tournament? The model favors 10 teams that the committee seeded as underdogs. Here they are ranked by the likelihood of an upset, which can be interpreted as the model’s confidence. 12South Dakota St.5Ohio State56.0 201540.033.3 9NC State8Seton Hall60.4 Since these predictions were based on measures of similarity among all teams in Division I, we can get a glimpse into the model’s internal logic by examining the “neighbors” of the underdogs that LUC promotes. As a demonstration, let’s look at what LUC identifies as the most likely upset of the 2018 first round: fifth-seeded West Virginia’s matchup against double-digit underdog Murray State, an automatic qualifier from the Ohio Valley Conference. Murray State’s three nearest neighbors, the teams that most resemble the Racers statistically, are the 2007-08 Xavier Musketeers, the 2004-05 Florida Gators and the 2010-11 Villanova Wildcats. That is startlingly good company. That Xavier team reached the Sweet 16, and the fourth-seeded Florida team included Al Horford and much of the core of the following year’s team that won the championship. Even that Villanova team, which was not one of Jay Wright’s best squads, still made the tournament as a No. 9 seed.West Virginia’s neighbors, on the other hand, are a bit of a mixed bag: the 2012-13 Santa Clara Broncos, which didn’t make the tournament (but did win the CBI, which is like the NIT of the NIT); the Kyle Lowry-led 2005-06 Villanova Wildcats, which reached the Elite Eight; and the 2008-09 Marquette Golden Eagles, which won a single tournament game as a No. 6 seed. LUC compares each team with hundreds of historical cases, but just by looking at a few comparisons, we can see that the region of teams near West Virginia contains squads with a huge range of postseason success (CBI to Elite Eight) and the region around Murray State has more winners than their seed might suggest.The similarity scores sometimes tell an interesting story themselves. The 2018 Arkansas Razorbacks, for example, are most similar to the 2016 Arkansas Razorbacks, the 2013 Arkansas Razorbacks and the 2017 Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas’ fifth nearest neighbor? The 2007-08 Missouri Tigers coached by Mike Anderson, who’s been coaching since 2011 at — you guessed it — Arkansas. Unfortunately, these Razorbacks have been consistent in identity but inconsistent in the postseason, and LUC is betting instead on Butler.Picking Butler this year might not make LUC seem risky or unique (the Bulldogs are a slight favorite in Las Vegas), but LUC is much more aggressive elsewhere. Right now FiveThirtyEight’s predictions give Stephen F. Austin, Buffalo and Murray State an 11, 15 and 16 percent chance to win, respectively, but LUC assigns probabilities over 50 percent to each of these underdogs, and even suggests that Murray State has nearly a 65 percent chance to win. This model picks with such brazenness because it was trained specifically to hunt for upsets.LUC and the FiveThirtyEight model have comparable accuracy in picking first-round games, but they make mistakes differently. LUC captures most of the upsets, but it does occasionally recommend ill-timed bets against powerhouses. More conservative models like FiveThirtyEight’s often seem as if they are doing a better job because their mistakes align with outcomes that no one considered plausible. LUC’s false positives, in which an underdog is favored but defeated, seem avoidable. But that is not how fans bet on March Madness in their brackets. No one wants to be stuck rooting against Cinderella in the middle of a miracle.Check out our latest March Madness predictions. 201450.080.0 13Buffalo4Arizona59.6 *Must win First Four game Wednesday.LUC does not factor in injuries or a player’s return from injury.Based on data from ESPN Stats & Information, Kenneth Massey read more

Another World Chess Championship Draw — Its Time For Caruana To Attack

The sucking took more than half an hour, but the vampiric approach drew no blood on Sunday. All four rooks had came off the board in quick succession around move 20, and the queens were cleared a dozen moves later. Caruana, for his part, was playing like he was happy with a draw, and why not? He’d survived a mid-series gauntlet where he had to play two games in a row against Carlsen and the white pieces and their first-move advantage.Carlsen and Caruana agreed to a draw on the 40th move after about 3.5 hours of play. We’ll keep the chart below updated throughout the match. Seven games. Seven draws. And the World Chess Championship in London, between the two top-rated grandmasters in the world, remains level with five games to go.Magnus Carlsen of Norway, 27, is No. 1 and trying to successfully defend his title for the third time. Fabiano Caruana of the U.S., 26, is No. 2 and trying to become the first American world champion since Bobby Fischer in 1972. On Sunday, Carlsen marshalled the white pieces and Caruana the black.The first nine moves of Game 7 exactly matched those of Game 2, which ended in a 49-move draw this past weekend. These moves fall into a category of chess opening called the Queen’s Gambit Declined, Harrwitz Attack. In 1858 in Paris, Daniel Harrwitz deployed his eponymous attack to victorious effect in a game against Paul Morphy, the great American player and unofficial world champion. But “Attack,” in Sunday’s case, was a bit of a misnomer.“What I did was just way too soft,” Carlsen said after the game.Caruana’s 10th move — retreating his queen back to its home on d8 after it essayed an aggressive journey to a5 — was a rarity. And after the 11th move, the two grandmasters were in completely uncharted chess territory, according to the ChessBase database. That looked like this: 87654321abcdefgh read more

Whats Behind MLBs Bizarre Spike In Contract Extensions

While veteran stars including Nolan Arenado, Chris Sale and Mike Trout all signed massive extensions this spring, players with little major league experience made up the majority of the deals. Fourteen of the players — including reigning NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna, who signed a $100 million extension last week, and fellow Brave Ozzie Albies, who signed a much-discussed extension Thursday — were so early in their careers that they were not yet eligible for salary arbitration, which generally requires a player to accrue three years of major league experience before becoming eligible to negotiate for significant raises. Eight others were at least a year shy of six years of service time, the amount required to become a free agent. In 2019 to date, players signing extensions have forfeited 51 combined arbitration-eligible seasons and 69 future free-agent years. The deals also include club options covering 25 seasons.Buying out the arbitration and free agency years of younger stars for the purpose of controlling and reducing payroll costs was a practice pioneered in the early 1990s by John Hart, then general manager of the Cleveland Indians, who watched great Pittsburgh Pirates teams broken up prematurely because of escalating player costs. While extensions had since become common practice, the activity had slowed in recent seasons as young stars like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado seemed intent on hitting the open market as soon as possible.So what’s behind the extension surge this spring? Why are MLB teams intent on avoiding arbitration and locking up young stars? It may be because arbitration wasn’t working to begin with — at least from the perspective of the teams.Under arbitration, a player and a team each puts forth a salary amount to a panel of arbitrators, who then must decide on one of the two figures. In the past two offseasons, players have totaled more wins than losses in arbitration cases against the owners — the first time that’s happened in back-to-back years since 1989-90. Through 2015, owners had won 58 percent of all arbitration cases, according to Forbes.This winter, Gerrit Cole ($13.5 million) and Trevor Bauer ($13 million) were among the six players to win their cases against their clubs. Arenado and the Rockies avoided a hearing, which is common practice, by signing a one-year, $26 million deal — a record for a player eligible for arbitration.“We’re going to be seeing $20 [million] and $30 million salaries regularly in arbitration,” one agent told us. “They [MLB teams] are going to try and push back on that. How do you do it? You pull those guys out of the system.“Every time the teams see a seam in the defense, they exploit the shit out of it and they are really good at it,” the agent said. “They are capitalizing on good players they have been watching through the draft, through the minor leagues, and who are represented largely by unqualified or under-qualified agents. The teams have scouting reports on agents the very same way they have on opposing hitters and pitchers. They have heat maps. They know our tendencies, they know who will go to arbitration, who won’t, whose business is failing and they need to vest their fees.”The agent noted that teams look at arbitration as an important battleground and have scores of analysts that compile data for these cases. By taking players out of the arbitration system, the teams not only cap earning potential for those players, but they also reduce salary comps for other players. Agent Scott Boras described the MLB’s aggressive approach with young players and extensions this spring as “snuff contracts” — or an attempt to snuff out future markets.Greg Dreyfuss, an associate general counsel for the union and the MLBPA’s director of analytics and baseball operations, also sees a link between the wave of extensions and players’ recent arbitration wins. The union and players have closed the data gap between clubs in making their cases. Dreyfuss says agents and players are educated on the market. While MLB payrolls remain stagnant, the records for largest arbitration salaries have been set in the past two years. The average salary of an arbitration-eligible player in 2011 was $2.73 million; that increased to $3.97 million this year, a 45 percent jump, according to analysis of MLBTradeRumors.com data.The total dollars and players in the arbitration system has jumped from $393.6 million and 144 players in 2011 to $789.6 million spread among 199 players this last offseason, growth in part due to the game trending younger — meaning that there will be more 20-somethings entering arbitration.“Nine of the 10 largest one-year contracts in the history of salary arbitration have come in the past two years, and overall, arbitration salaries have kept pace with the rise in industry revenue over a 10-year period,” Dreyfuss told FiveThirtyEight. “Recently a lot of really good players in that process have stood up and said, ‘No, I’m not just going to take what you give me,’ and they’ve fought for what they consider a fair salary. So, I do think there’s some correlation between players succeeding in arbitration and clubs wanting to take players out of that process.”While spending efficiently is always a goal for teams, how these clubs have handled free agency in recent winters may be a motivating factor in some players’ decision-making. Even Trout, the game’s best player, expressed reservations about entering the open market when he signed a record extension (which is also a bargain for the Angels) this spring.“I kind of saw what Bryce and Manny went through and it drew a red flag for me,” Trout said. “I talked to Manny and Bryce. It was a tough couple months in the offseason. They put it perspective in my mind.”Not all extensions are club-friendly. Drefyuss notes that there have also been a number of veteran players who have agreed to extensions that will pay them lucratively into their mid-30s.“Players agree to extensions for a variety of valid reasons, and there are any number of factors involved in their decisions,” he saidOne key decision a player must make when considering an extension is how much financial upside to concede for the sake of job and financial security. In dealing with future risk, teams face less downside than individual players do. While a team can absorb a poor contract, a player is one injury or decline in performance away from having his career trajectory significantly altered.Acuna and Albies look like future superstars, yet they signed deals that could potentially cost them nine figures in future earnings. White Sox top prospect Eloy Jimenez signed a six-year deal with two club options before he ever took a major league at-bat, limiting his financial upside. Those are the types of club-friendly deals that some on the players’ side have criticized. There is also an argument that individual players ought to consider not just themselves but their peers and future major leaguers when considering a long-term deal — and that they should wait until they are at least arbitration-eligible.“If guys aren’t going through the system, if all the young [stars] are signing before they get there, then we are not going to have those posts to hold on to,” the agent said of salary comps. “I don’t think this is teams trying to screw with the free agent market. They are trying to take the best young players out of the arbitration system.”Toronto outfielder Randal Grichuk, 27, said the Blue Jays began negotiating with him last month during spring training in the midst of the extension spree. He eventually signed a five-year, $52 million extension.“The way I looked at it was taking guaranteed money, setting my family up for life, it’s hard to turn down,” Grichuk said. “If I leave a few dollars on the table now, I’m going to just be finishing my 31 season [after his deal expires] going into free agency. If I produce well, I’m going to be young enough to make some more. And if I’m not able to, whether due to injuries, failures, anything happens, I’m still set for life.”Grichuk was into his arbitration years when he signed his extension, but he didn’t take issue with young stars like Acuna opting for financial security earlier along in the process.“He could have probably waited and got more, but it’s tough to talk negatively about a guy who just got $100 million and is set for life,” Grichuk said. “What’s the difference between $100 [million] and $200 [million]? His kids’ kids’ kids won’t have to work? … I think it’s one of those things where his life changes completely.”Neil Paine contributed researchCheck out our latest MLB predictions. On Feb. 13, 25-year-old ace Aaron Nola agreed to a four-year contract extension with the Phillies. A day later, 26-year-old Max Kepler and 25-year-old Jorge Polanco agreed to five-year extensions with the Twins. The following day, Yankees ace Luis Severino, who turned 25 a few days later, signed a pact with the Yankees. The deals marked the beginning of a historic spree of extensions.From mid-February through Thursday, 27 players had agreed to extensions worth a total of 132 years and $2.045 billion, according to data from the MLBTradeRumors.com extension database analyzed by FiveThirtyEight. There has never been a flurry of activity like this: March represented the most dollars ($1.126 billion) and years (58) awarded in contract extensions in a one-month period that we’ve seen. read more

Little guys more worthy than Gee suggests

Perhaps Gordon Gee should loosen his bow tie. Ohio State’s president told the Associated Press on Wednesday that Boise State and TCU, the prettiest of college football’s ugly stepsisters, were undeserving of a berth in the BCS Championship Game. Boise State’s overtime meltdown against Nevada on Friday night made Gee’s point half-moot. The Broncos’ first regular season loss since 2007 subtracted them from the national title equation. “I don’t know enough about the X’s and O’s of college football,” Gee told the AP. “I do know, having been both a Southeastern Conference president and a Big Ten president, that it’s like murderer’s row every week for these schools. We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor. We play very fine schools on any given day. “So I think until a university runs through that gauntlet that there’s some reason to believe that they not be the best teams to (be) in the big ball game.” Every school schedules cupcake opponents. Gee can’t hide the fact that the Buckeyes hosted Marshall (5-7) and Eastern Michigan (2-10). Even No. 2 Oregon beat up on New Mexico (1-11) and Portland State (2-9), and No. 1 Auburn shellacked Arkansas State (4-8) and Louisiana-Monroe (5-7). Teams can’t survive by heaving rocks at goliaths every Saturday. They need a few weeks of the season to regroup and get healthy by hosting an inferior opponent. That’s one of the few beauties the BCS system creates: Every week of the season is a playoff, with one slip-up capable of marring an entire season. Gee knows that all too well after a loss at Wisconsin knocked the Buckeyes from the top spot in the polls in mid-October. With no room for error, teams can’t afford to schedule a series of championship contenders. Finishing a battle-tested 8-4 doesn’t mean anything in college football. In basketball, where the regular season attracts as much attention as a 4 a.m. infomercial, a daunting non-conference slate helps prepare a team for the true test of the season, the NCAA Tournament. Some would argue that Boise State played a more competitive non-conference slate than OSU. The Broncos beat Virginia Tech (10-2) and Oregon State (5-6). Where Gee’s argument loses steam is with his suggestion of a “murderer’s row.” OSU’s best victory this season is at Iowa against a five-loss Hawkeyes team that lost Saturday to lowly Minnesota (3-9). And the Buckeyes were lucky to escape Iowa City with a win. OSU feasted on Indiana (5-7), Purdue (4-8) and Minnesota. Would those bottom feeders hold their own on Boise’s blue turf? Only three Big Ten teams, including the Buckeyes, hold conference records better than .500. That isn’t indicative of the gauntlet Gee suggests. Utah was ranked No. 5 in the BCS standings when it hosted TCU on Nov. 6. The Horned Frogs won, 47-7. No, the rest of TCU’s schedule isn’t representative of the tests a national championship team should face between September and December. However, that’s partially the doing of the BCS. We leave it up to the voters to determine the most worthy candidates for the title game. Clearly, Oregon and Auburn are the most deserving teams and should they both win on Saturday, we’ll see the Ducks and Tigers play for the crystal football Jan. 10. Aside from those two schools, though, there aren’t any obvious favorites. That’s where the BCS system leaves us hanging. Every year during these autumn months, we prattle on about whether the “little guys” deserve the same opportunities that teams from BCS conferences are afforded. We’ll never have a definitive answer until an unheralded team such as TCU or Boise State gets a chance, and even then, arguments will persist. In a typical year with a handful of heavyweights vying for entry into the BCS Championship Game, the Broncos and Horned Frogs should end up where they belong: at best, a BCS bowl game against a formidable opponent. But in a year with only two teams from major conferences carrying unblemished records, it might be time to let TCU in and see what happens, should one of the undefeateds falter. Every team controls its own destiny — except for schools like Boise State and TCU, who are at the mercy of the BCS conferences. Even Gee should be able to see that through his little, round glasses. read more

Despite blurry vision Lenzelle Smith Jr helps see Ohio State through to

BOSTON – The famous Syracuse 2-3 zone is a tough enough challenge when fully healthy.But imagine facing it with one eye.That’s basically what Lenzelle Smith Jr. did Saturday.The Ohio State sophomore guard came back from having his eye patched together with four stitches to score 18 points as the Buckeyes beat Syracuse, 77-70, Saturday and earned a trip to the Final Four.With 17:28 remaining in the first half, Smith Jr. was cut above his right eye. Even though he said he immediately wanted go back in the game, the blood flowing from what OSU team doctor Grant Jones called a “laceration” forced him to go back to the locker room and get stitches.But for Smith Jr., the stitches weren’t the difficult part. When he reentered the contest with 13:06 remaining in the half, he could barely see.“I couldn’t see,” he said. “The court lights, something was messing with my contacts or something. It was causing a lot of pain when I tried to force it.”When Smith Jr. looked to his right, he said he felt a sharp pain. It was so bad that he had to adjust his play on both ends of the floor.“I’m normally on the right side (on offense),” Smith Jr. said. “I had to stay on the left side because looking right was a blur for me. We switched it up and it was able to work.”Defense wasn’t any better.He told his teammates he was going to force the guy he was guarding to go left because “if they went right I was going to lose them.”It was a struggle at first.To start the second half, he lost his man on defense and gave up a 3-pointer. Then on offense he threw a pass that Syracuse almost intercepted.“I was literally saying he doesn’t have it at the moment, let’s get him out,” OSU coach Thad Matta said.But Matta stuck with Smith Jr. and eventually it paid off.OSU’s lead swelled to as many as 10 points in the second half, but whenever it looked like Syracuse was threatening to take control of the game, it was Smith Jr. who made a big shot for his team.When the lead was cut to three points with less than 12 minutes remaining, Smith Jr. made a 3-pointer to extend the lead to six.When the lead was down to one with less than eight minutes to go, he hit another three.He swished a high-arching floater in traffic and made all four of his free throws down the stretch to help clinch OSU’s first trip to the Final Four since 2007.In all, Smith Jr. made three 3-pointers and scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half.And he did it with one eye.“The strong survive,” Smith Jr. said. “I told our team from the (get-go), we had to be the toughest team. We were the youngest so we had to definitely be the toughest. We had to come out here and fight for each other.”Smith Jr.’s performance didn’t just help his team win the game, though. It also helped him win a contest with his teammate and fellow sophomore guard Aaron Craft.The two players have had a contest to determine who was the toughest on the team. Apparently Craft was ahead before the Syracuse game because of a black eye he suffered a couple weeks ago.The stitches were a game changer.“I kind of went to him and was like, ‘Hey look at this,’” Smith Jr. said. “I’m winning right now. I doubt he can top this because the pain it took to do this, I doubt he wants to do this.”Craft admitted defeat ­- gladly.“He definitely beat me on the toughness meter for that one, but I’ll take it,” Craft said. “He did a great job. I’m really proud of him sticking in there and knocking down good shots.”Sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas said he was impressed with how Smith Jr. handled the adversity, even comparing his performance with the famous Michael Jordan flu game.“Jordan had the flu, some people play with a bad wrist, and this is what big players do,” Thomas said.It was the second game in a row Smith Jr. had a big scoring night for the Buckeyes.He had 15 points in OSU’s win against Cincinnati in the Sweet 16. He averages just 6.1 points per game.Smith Jr. said he’ll probably have to continue his high-scoring ways in New Orleans where the Buckeyes will play Kansas Saturday. Tip is set for about 9 p.m.He said he was still in a lot of pain after the game, but has no doubts he’ll play.Matta doesn’t either, and said he expects his strong play to continue.“Lenzelle has learned the value of commitment, the value of hard work,” Matta said. “I couldn’t be happier with how he played.” read more

Commentary Dont forget field hockey Ohio State sports fans

By the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, behind the new Ohio State tennis facilities, is a hidden gem. Veiled is Buckeye Varsity Field, the home of OSU field hockey, and the sport hosted there is worth the drive or bus ride out to Olentangy River Road. I am the beat writer for the Buckeyes field hockey team, and I have attended four of the team’s five field hockey home games. From watching these games, I have realized I would rather have a daughter play field hockey than soccer, and here’s why. The games sometimes take half of the time other sports do. The average game time of the 2012 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder was slightly more than two hours and 37 minutes, according to box scores from ESPN. The 2012 BCS National Championship game between Alabama and LSU took three hours and one minute, according to Alabama’s athletic site. The average game during the 2011 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers lasted almost three hours and 32 minutes, according to box scores from ESPN. Such is not the case at a field hockey game. Each game is split up into two 35-minute halves with a five-minute intermission. Field hockey has more time on the clock in comparison to NBA games and NCAA football but takes less time than both. At OSU games, the halves are still 35 minutes long, but halftime is extended to 10 minutes. Still, games usually take one hour and 30 minutes, barring overtime. Visit www.thelantern.com to read the rest of this story. During the four OSU games I have attended, the matches have lasted from 90 minutes to two hours, but I have never been to a game with overtime. Games with extra time can last up to two 15-minute periods but end immediately when one team scores a goal, according to National Field Hockey Coaches Associations’ rules. If the game is still tied after that, it goes to a shootout where five players from each team take shots with a goalkeeper in net, and the team with the most goals wins. I don’t know about you, but I fell in love with shootouts as a child thanks to such movies as “D2: The Mighty Ducks” and “The Big Green.” Field hockey is not as popular as football in the U.S, but on a global scale, field hockey has a larger following. Field hockey’s governing body, the FIH, has almost twice as many member countries in comparison to the International Federation of American Football (IFAF). According to their websites, the FIH’s website they have 126 members and the IFAF has 64. Field hockey is one of the most popular sports in the world. Its federation has teams from six continents, and at the 2012 London Olympics, teams from all six of those continents competed, between the men’s and women’s competition. National teams are not restricted to Olympic play; the FIH also hosts other events like the World Cup, held every four years, and the Champions Trophy, held every year. The final three games on OSU’s schedule are Friday versus No. 20 Michigan State, Sunday versus Ball State and Oct. 19 versus No. 7 Penn State. read more

Ohio State footballs Curtis Grant blossoming in spring

Coming out of last season’s spring practices, junior linebacker Curtis Grant was tapped as the Ohio State football team’s starter at middle linebacker. Three disappointing games into the season, Grant was relegated to the bench and found himself in the shadows of junior Ryan Shazier and, later in the season, converted fullback-turned-linebacker Zach Boren. After not recording a tackle since Week 6 of the 2012 season – and completely missing out on the final two games – one of the big questions heading into this spring was if Grant was ready to make the jump back into the starting lineup. An eight-tackle performance for the Gray team in the Buckeyes’ annual Spring Game and a strong performance during spring practices might just have been the final push Grant needed to make his way back to the top of the depth chart. OSU defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell has watched Grant mature this spring and noticed the re-emergence of his passion for the game. “You saw him love to play the game, you saw his passion and energy,” Fickell said Thursday during interviews with the media. “For all the things that he needs to work on when he’s on the field and he’s playing like that with that passion and energy, those things shine above the things that he really needs to work on.” Co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said he thought Grant’s effort has been one of the highlights for the defense this spring. “A guy that I’ve been really pleased with in the front seven is Curtis Grant,” Withers said Thursday. “Curtis, to me, had a productive spring, got better at a lot of things.” OSU’s defense – in particular its front seven – might be a little inexperienced after graduation took 10 starters, including stars from last season such as Boren, defensive end John Simon and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who decided to skip his senior season and make himself eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft. “The reality is that when you have some young guys, there are some different things that you do. When you have some young guys in the spring, sometimes that is the most exciting time,” Fickell said. But even with the return of Shazier and the growth of sophomore defensive linemen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, the question of who would step up as OSU’s middle linebacker seemed to be one of the most important in the offseason. Withers said he wants to see Grant, who was not made available Thursday, grow as a player and a leader. “The knowledge of what’s expected at his position,” Withers said. “The ability to play fast at his position, the ability to be a leader at his position, I felt like those things were improved in Curtis’ corner this spring.” Fickell said the linebacking corps, while young, are ready to step up and take on their new responsibilities. “I think we’re still growing, we’re behind where we have been in the past, but that’s obvious just based on our numbers and the guys that we’ve got and the youth that we have,” Fickell said. “But I could not complain one bit about how they came out every single day, the things that we graded on a daily basis their fundamentals, their passion, their energy for the game, their work ethic. Just young, just behind in those senses but there are some guys that really are maturing and stepping up.” Now back in the starting lineup after a battle with sophomore linebacker Camren Williams in the spring, Grant will be looking to live up to his high ranking as a recruit coming out of high school. Considered the No. 2 overall football recruit according to Rivals.com in 2011, Grant’s performances have yet to live up to the lofty expectations set for him, only compiling a total of 10 tackles over his first two seasons. Grant, and his fellow defenders, will get their chance to prove themselves when the team’s season starts at Ohio Stadium on Aug. 31 against Buffalo. read more