30 Sep
2019

Auburn to Honor Charles Barkley with Statue Outside Arena

? | It’s official, former @AuburnMBB great Charles Barkley will be honored by #Auburn with his own statue.His reaction⬇️#WarEagle pic.twitter.com/GgkW8RIYqg— Auburn Tigers (@AuburnTigers) October 22, 2016Barkley played at Auburn from 1981-84 and went on to win All-American honors on his way to becoming an Olympic gold medal winner, AuburnTigers.com reports. He began his career in the NBA as a first-round draft pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1984. Barkley became a Hall of Fame hooper and was later named as one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players during the league’s 50th anniversary season.Auburn officials said the new statue will recognize the former athlete’s many accomplishments during his time at the university and beyond. The school retired Barkley’s jersey in 2001.“It’s more than about what Charles Barkley accomplished here at Auburn, which is certainly historic, but it has been about his life’s work and contribution,” said Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl. “We want to recognize one of the most respected, philanthropic NBA legends, Hall of Famer, for his lifetime achievements.“Our Auburn Family is so blessed to have an Auburn man like Charles Barkley in the public eye representing us,” Pearl continued. “A statue and a symbol like this serves to bring attention to that and will stand the test of time.”According to the Washington Post, Barkley averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds for Auburn as 1983-84 SEC player of the year, which earned him the nickname “The Round Mound of Rebound” for his unusual physique. Barkley has since gained notoriety as an entertaining, and oftentimes sharp-tongued sports commentator for TNT.“More than anything, Charles Barkley has become a global icon and this award honors the contributions he has given to Auburn both on and off the floor,” said Chuck Person, Auburn basketball’s associate head coach who played with Barkley at the university. “What an honor, and Auburn couldn’t have done this for a better man, my friend, Charles Barkley.” Charles Barkley. Photo by Brett Davis, USA TODAY Sports.Retired basketball star Charles Barkley is set to receive a statue outside Auburn Arena — making him the first former athlete who wasn’t a football player to be immortalized on the university’s campus.According to the Washington Post, the school announced plans to a erect a statue in Barkley’s name during Auburn’s 56-3 win over the University of Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday. The retired basketballer will be the fourth former Auburn athlete to have a statue built in his honor, joining the Tigers’ Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley told AuburnTigers.com. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”Watch as Charles Barkley learns he’ll soon have a statue at Auburn Arena (from @BoJackson on video board), then Bo appears in Groves jersey. pic.twitter.com/ESRTl81b8J— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) October 22, 2016 read more

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29 Sep
2019

Will Buyout Season Help The Cavs And Warriors

Related: Hot Takedown It’s buyout season in the NBA, meaning that washed-up, out-of-favor or otherwise disgruntled veterans have begun to make their way to contenders. Specifically, Deron Williams and Jose Calderon have (or will soon have) new teams. Williams appears to be headed to Cleveland, where he’d become the latest in a long line of faded stars and aged role players to team up with LeBron, while Calderon seems likely to wind up in Golden State.Neither move would likely change how deep Cleveland or Golden State goes in the playoffs, but both players could fill key roles for the defending finalists.Deron WilliamsWilliams, who has already cleared waivers and has reportedly informed the Cavs that he’ll sign with them, has had a rough year in Dallas, being displaced in the rotation by Seth Curry, Devin Harris and Yogi Ferrell. He’s averaging 13.1 points and 6.9 assists in 29.3 minutes on the season but has seen his role cut considerably since January. But even though Williams’s overall stats remain down and he clearly isn’t the player he was earlier in his career, there’s a chance that he’ll fill the specific needs of the Cavs.LeBron James has publicly called for Cleveland to add another point guard to its roster after the departure of Matthew Dellavedova to restricted free agency, and the stats bear out the claim: The Cavaliers have only three players with an assist rate over 10 percent:1Basketball Reference.com’s assist rate is an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor. LeBron (41.9), Kyrie Irving (30), and 21-year-old backup point guard Kay Felder. This season, Williams has a 40 percent assist rate, which may not be the best gauge of point guard play on its own but could be a good indicator that he can help the Cavs.While the Cleveland offense is known for ball movement and numerous 3-point shooters, it also relies on having a player initiate the offense using ball screens and drives. That’s what draws the defense’s attention away from the other, off-ball actions that spring Kyle Korver or Richard Jefferson open. Williams should help to keep those skills on the floor when James and Irving take a rest. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Williams scores 89.9 points per 100 possessions as a pick-and-roll ball handler (this is fairly good) and outperforms Felder in nearly every scoring category.Williams obviously won’t solve all of the Cavs’ problems — for that, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith will need to return healthy and ready for the playoff run, and Andrew Bogut, who has secured his release from the Philadelphia 76ers and is expected to sign in Cleveland, will have to help hold down the fort until they return. But if Williams can do even a passable job at alleviating the playmaking deficiency that’s forced James into long minutes, he may prove just as crucial as either of those players.Jose CalderonCalderon was waived by the Los Angeles Lakers and is reportedly leaning toward the Warriors as his preferred destination. Calderon would be the Warriors’ third point guard, behind Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston, so his role would be smaller in Oakland than Williams’s would be in Cleveland, but adding shooting off the bench is key for Golden State, which has surprisingly few dead-eye shooters on the roster behind Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. When Did Sports Become So Political? Calderon has never been a lockdown defender, and rarely even a serviceable one, but he’s always balanced that out by being one of the most efficient offensive players in the game, picking up a 50-40-90 season along the way. This season, his shooting numbers are all way off of his career norms — 41.6 percent from the field, 35.3 percent from three, and a 50.8 true shooting percentage — though he’s also played fewer than 300 minutes on the season.During his longest stretch of extended action — an eight-game run in November and December during which he was pressed into starting — Calderon looked more like himself, posting a 60.2 true shooting percentage and 34.6 assist percentage. He also put up a 116 defensive rating to a 107 offensive rating, and the Lakers dropped five of those eight, so he wasn’t exactly a game-changer. But in a spot-role for the Warriors, he wouldn’t need to be.Most relevant to a job with the Warriors is Calderon’s 39.3 percent shooting on spot-up threes, making him, at worst, one more piece of shooting on a team that runs on the stuff.Check out our latest NBA predictions. read more

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28 Sep
2019

Even If They Dont Win Tonight the 76ers Are Getting Better

The Philadelphia 76ers are one loss from tying the NBA record for longest losing streak. And barring an enormous upset on the road against the Houston Rockets on Thursday, they’ll tie the 26-game run of futility by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010-11. The Sixers have a better chance of losing their last 11 games of the season than they do of beating the Rockets to avoid matching that ignominious record.But in a lost season in Philly, fans have two reasons to hope the 76ers can keep from setting a new losing-streak mark. First, up next after Houston is a home game Saturday against Detroit. The Sixers have a 1-in-3 chance of winning that one. Second, they’ve played well recently, in the latest demonstration that wins and losses alone don’t show how well a team is doing.An NBA team’s probability of winning a game depends on its performance level as measured by Basketball Reference’s Simple Rating System, its opponents’ SRS, and home court. Incorporating all three factors,1I used SRS — a formula based on teams’ margin of victory and schedule strength — regressed to the mean by adding seven games of league-average play, as suggested by my colleague Neil Paine last year. Then I used the formula for win probability outlined by Justin Kubatko last year on his blog. I found that Philadelphia has a 4 percent chance of beating the Rockets on Thursday. Houston is more than five points per game better than league average, and will play with home-court advantage against a Sixers team with a typical level this season of 11.5 points per game below average.So, let’s say the Sixers lose to Houston as expected. Then Detroit comes to Philadelphia, with a losing-streak record on the line. The Pistons are three points below league average, and will be playing on the road. Philadelphia has a 34 percent chance of winning the game, and a 33 percent chance of breaking its losing streak. (I’m accounting for the minuscule probability that the 76ers beat the Rockets first.)Detroit is the second-easiest game left on Philly’s schedule, after a home date with Boston in the season’s penultimate game. The Sixers have a 38 percent chance of winning that one, but just an 8 percent chance of breaking their streak in that game, because most likely it will have ended before then.I ran the numbers on Philly’s chance of winning each remaining game, as well as of breaking the streak in each game. The latter probability is lower than the former for each game after the one against Houston, because two conditions must be met: Philly must win, and must not have won before. Based on these calculations, Philadelphia has a 12 percent chance of finishing the season on a 36-game skid — or three times its probability of beating Houston on Thursday.Some factors might make it easier for Philly to win than these probability calculations suggest. Opponents that have clinched their playoff spot and seed, or that have been eliminated from the postseason, might rest their stars. Then again, no team wants to lose to an opponent with a losing streak of 25 games — or longer.There’s another reason Philly’s chances might be better than they look: In the Sixers’ last five games, they’ve been closer to mediocre than terrible. I evaluated their performance level by taking their margin of defeat in each game, adjusting for home-court advantage2The average home team wins games this year by 2.57 points per game, through Monday, the day Philadelphia last played. and opponent strength.3Based on SRS, regressed to the mean with seven league-average games. In four of the last five games, the Sixers have played better than their typical level this season.4Again, regressed to the mean with seven average games. Without that step, Philadelphia is an even worse 11.5 points below league average. They were within five points of league average in their one-point home loss to the Knicks, and were even better in a nine-point road loss to the East-leading Pacers. In that game — in which Philadelphia trailed by three with under two minutes left — the 76ers performed at a level just two points below league average.Moral victories don’t end losing streaks. But they could bode well for Philly’s chances. Already, the Sixers have attained their best average level over five games since the five games that immediately preceded the start of their losing streak, in which they went 2-3.5The last of those five games was their last victory, and it could easily have been a defeat: Philadelphia trailed Boston by a point before Evan Turner’s last-second shot. If Boston had won that game, and all subsequent events were unchanged, Philly’s losing streak would now stand at a record 29 games. Philadelphia’s average level over its last five games — 7.2 points below league average — is 10.5 points better than its level during the 25-game losing streak. It’s also better than the 76ers’ average level during three separate 2-3 stretches earlier in the season.So, over the last five games, the Sixers have improved to a level somewhere between the Orlando Magic and the Milwaukee Bucks, the two teams just above them near the bottom of the league power ratings. Does that mean the chances of the 76ers winning their remaining games, and of ending the streak, have gone up? History doesn’t provide many precedents. Just six other NBA teams have had losing streaks of more than 20 games. Two of those streaks extended over two seasons, and any effect of the team’s level at the end of the first season was unlikely to carry over to the start of the next season. The Charlotte Bobcats lost their last 23 games of the season in 2011-12, and showed little sign of winning a game near the end: Their performance in four of their last six games was more than 20 points below league average.That leaves three teams that broke losing streaks of longer than 20 games during the regular season: the 1995-96 Vancouver Grizzlies, in the first year of the franchise; the 1997-98 Denver Nuggets; and the 2010-11 Cavs. The Grizzlies suffered the worst loss of their 23-game losing streak two games before ending it. The Nuggets showed no signs of improvement near the end, performing at least eight points below average in each of their last eight losses. The Cavs, though, signaled their potential toward the end of their record 26-game streak: Their best five-game run of the streak came in the last five games, including a three-point loss in Dallas against a strong Mavericks team two games before Cleveland finally won, beating the Los Angeles Clippers in overtime.These streaks had at least one thing in common: All three teams won their first game in more than 20 against teams performing at a level more than two points below average. So circle that game against Detroit, Sixers fans — and be ready to circle the home game against Boston if Philly doesn’t get it done against the Pistons on Saturday. read more

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28 Sep
2019

Quantifying the That Guy Is Still in the Major Leagues Phenomenon

While watching Tuesday’s spring training game between the Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves, some of us in the FiveThirtyEight office were surprised to see Tigers shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Didn’t Gonzalez retire years ago?He was Atlanta’s everyday shortstop in 2011, but over the past two seasons, Gonzalez was thoroughly forgettable, playing just 65 games for the Milwaukee Brewers (hitting .211 and producing -0.8 wins above replacement). If you go back to 2009, when Gonzalez was 32, he seemed particularly unlikely to be in the majors five years later.This got us thinking: Could we quantify the “Wait … he’s still playing?” question. Our idea was to use a player’s age and WAR to predict whether he would be an active major leaguer a half-decade later. To that end, we plugged every player from the designated hitter era (1973-present) into a logistic regression model. The result will tell us the likelihood of a given player being in the league five seasons later. For example, here’s the arc of a generic Major League Baseball player who peaks as an All-Star (5 WAR) at age 27:So for players in MLB this season (a list taken from Fangraphs’ depth charts), we looked at the odds at the end of the 2009 season that they’d still be playing today. Here are the most unlikely major leaguers:Gonzalez is not the most improbable player in the game. That honor belongs to catcher Henry Blanco, who was 37 in 2009 and had been hovering around replacement level for the previous three seasons. All else being equal, a player of that profile would have just a 3 percent chance of still being in the majors five years later, and yet Blanco is slated to be in the mix for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ backup catching role this season.Blanco underscores one of the themes of the list. The probabilities listed above don’t take into account the player’s position (beyond the positional adjustments in WAR) — just his age and performance. For most players, that’s enough, but backup catchers are a different breed. No other position is so well-represented among the “I can’t believe he’s still playing” set.One reason for this is that WAR, for all of its strengths, doesn’t incorporate a catcher’s receiving skills. Recent research suggests that elite pitch-framers such as the Tampa Bay Rays’ Jose Molina have a startlingly large impact on the game, far beyond what was originally believed in the sabermetric community.Another explanation, though, is that on-field performance isn’t necessarily the first thing managers look for in their reserve backstops. Instead, managers may place more value on intangibles such as clubhouse presence and leadership. How else to explain how backup catching became what Sports Illustrated once called “the cushiest job in baseball”? read more

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28 Sep
2019

2015 NBA Playoffs Preview

Derrick Rose is back in time for the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Bulls, he’s not the Derrick Rose of four seasons ago, the one who won the MVP award and led the Bulls to their only conference finals since Michael Jordan’s second retirement. Since then, Rose, slowed by injuries, has played just 100 regular-season games and one playoff game. Now he is the only Bulls starter who rates below league average. That’s not enough to make Milwaukee the favorite in this series. Two Bucks starters are below league average, and Milwaukee will have trouble scoring with an offense that is well below league average. The Bulls should win this series — and enjoy the win, because in half of our simulations of the playoffs, they go out in the next round, most likely to LeBron James and the Cavs. — Carl Bialik Western ConferenceEach team is led by one of the best players in basketball: Stephen Curry on Golden State and Anthony Davis on New Orleans. So why do we think Golden State has a 92 percent chance to advance? Because Curry is better, and has much better teammates. Draymond Green, a top contender for Defensive Player of the Year, rates higher than Davis in the Real Plus-Minus player ratings we’re using from Jeremias Engelmann and Steve Ilardi. Warriors sub Andre Iguodala would be the second-best Pelican. But this might not be a sweep: In their two games against Golden State in New Orleans, the Pelicans won once and forced overtime in the other. But Golden State’s formidable offense should dominate the Pelicans’ subpar D. The Warriors look a lot more like a team for the ages — with an impressive 48 percent chance of winning it all — than like first-round upset fodder. (We were a little stunned by that 48 percent number, but Basketball-Reference.com gives the Warriors about the same odds.) — Carl Bialik You might think the Celtics should just be happy to be here. After all, in late February, they only had a 12 percent probability of making the playoffs, according to the FiveThirtyEight NBA Power Ratings. But rather than merely showing up, getting their souvenir T-shirt and accepting a first-round loss, Boston could give LeBron James and the mighty Cavaliers more trouble than they bargained for. While we can’t derive much meaning from the Celtics’ combined 216-168 margin over Cleveland in their two April matchups — the Cavs were mostly resting their key players — Boston is solid at both ends of the floor, with a great group of guards and a lot of depth. Over the course of the entire season, they were better offensively (relative to the league) than the Cavs’ defense was, and that only includes a few months of Isaiah Thomas. Our model says the Celtics are still unlikely to pull the upset, but they have the ingredients to be much more of a pest than they seemed to be a few months ago. — Neil Paine Portland won fewer games than Memphis (51 to 55) during the regular season, but because the Blazers won the comparatively weak Northwest division, they are the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and the Grizzlies are the No. 5. But that seed advantage isn’t worth much. Since the Blazers had fewer wins, they will still be on the road for four of their seven potential games against Memphis. Making matters even more complicated, this series is so close that the question of home court could end up making all the difference. Only a tenth of a rating point separates them in our most recent power rankings. Our model gives the Grizzlies a 54 percent probability of winning, but that number would flip around to 53 percent for Portland if the Blazers had home court. Of course, the Grizzlies earned their home-court advantage by winning more games (against a tougher schedule, no less), and this arrangement is good for Portland, too — a 46 percent chance against Memphis is preferable to a 24 percent chance versus the Clippers, which is who they’d face if the conference were seeded purely by record. But this inverted 4-versus-5 matchup is another example of how convoluted and arbitrary the seeding process is in the NBA. And it’s another argument that the league should perhaps just ditch divisions (if not conferences) entirely. — Neil Paine With the latest FiveThirtyEight Power Ratings ranking the Spurs and Clippers as second and fourth, respectively, this matchup is one of the most compelling first-round matchups in recent memory.The defending champion Spurs enter this tournament as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference — far lower than the No. 2 seed they could have had if they had won their final game against the Pelicans on Wednesday. Despite that loss, they had a 21-4 record over their last 25 games, reasserting that they’re contenders despite a 19-18 stretch in the middle of the season.The story of their year has been the breakout of last year’s surprise finals MVP and zero-time All-Star Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs went 46-18 with him in the lineup, with an average margin of victory of 7.8 points per game — which would be second to Golden State’s 10.0 and matches the 7.8 they put up last year. Leonard’s 2014-15 Real Plus-Minus of 8.35 was second in basketball behind Stephen Curry’s, ahead of well-known small forward LeBron James’s. Oh, and he led the league in steals per game.The Clippers are no slouches, either — their SRS3SRS is a team’s margin of victory, adjusted for its strength of schedule. of 6.8 is second-highest in the league behind Golden State’s 10.0 (San Antonio is third, with 6.34). They’ve now won either 56 or 57 games in every full season of the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era, yet their dynamic duo has not made it past the conference semifinals.Although the Clippers have home-court advantage, the FiveThirtyEight simulations give the Spurs the edge, with a 53 percent chance of advancing. In fact, despite being projected to play any Game 7 from here on out on the road, San Antonio has the third-best chance of winning the championship, at 12 percent. The model gives the Clippers the fourth-best chance, at 8 percent. — Benjamin Morris It’s current MVP contender versus aging MVP winner (but the current contender is the one with the beard). James Harden versus Dirk Nowitzki. The Beard led the league in WAR, according to ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus metrics. With Harden, Houston has the edge — a 66 percent chance of prevailing, according to FiveThirtyEight’s projections. Beyond Harden’s consistency, the Rockets have otherwise ridden the injury luck roller coaster. They enter the playoffs having lost two important starters: versatile big man Donatas Motiejunas and the feisty defender Patrick Beverley at the point. On the other hand, Dwight Howard has returned after missing half the season. The Rockets will need him to maintain their solid +3.2 defensive rating.For the Mavs, it’s been a tale of two seasons. After surprising the league with a hot start, Dallas stagnated after the All-Star break, going 14-13. In FiveThirtyEight’s latest NBA Power Ratings, the Mavs rated as the worst of the Western Conference teams to make the playoffs — even behind the No. 8 seed New Orleans Pelicans. — Andrew Flowers The NBA playoffs are finally upon us, and like the 16 teams vying for the Larry O’Brien trophy, we’ve come prepared — not with basketball skills, mind you,1We shudder to think about what the advanced metrics would say about a FiveThirtyEight pickup team. but with graphics and numbers. Using the latest (postseason-optimized) version of FiveThirtyEight’s NBA Power Ratings, we simulated the playoff bracket 10,000 times, counting how often each team won its first-round series (as well as tracking which teams won the NBA title most often). We also put together charts highlighting each team’s key players, along with their multiyear predictive Real Plus-Minus2This is a slightly different statistic than the RPM you can find at ESPN.com because it uses data from seasons prior to 2014-15. We like the multiyear version because, among individual player statistics, it is the best predictor of future team outcomes. ratings, plus a comparison of both teams’ strengths and weaknesses according to the four factors of basketball. (Note that in some of our write-ups below, we use single-season RPM, so those numbers will be slightly different than the multiyear RPM we list in the charts.) So get settled in, maybe throw some chalk in the air, and enjoy the brutal, glorious two-month journey that is the road to the NBA championship. Eastern ConferenceThe Brooklyn Nets will not win the NBA championship. No, really: We ran 10,000 simulations of the playoffs, and the Nets were the only team to never win it all. They have only a 10 percent chance of moving on from their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks. This is among the most lopsided matchups of the first round. The Nets, ranked No. 22 in FiveThirtyEight’s Power Ratings, are by far the worst team to make the postseason. With their 38-44 record and -2.9 point differential (the only playoff team in red), the Nets are lucky they’re in the Eastern Conference — further momentum for reform to the NBA’s postseason structure.Atlanta is coming off a franchise-record 60-win regular season; this should be a cakewalk for the Hawks (even after losing defensive stalwart Thabo Sefolosha to injury after a run-in with the NYPD). Atlanta is well-balanced: +2.9 points per 100 possessions on offense and +2.0 on defense. The Nets have a pedestrian offense (+1.1) but are a disaster on defense: At -4.7, their defensive rating is the fifth-worst in the league. If the Nets avoid a sweep, it’ll be an achievement. — Andrew Flowers This series features two teams that started out the season looking like they might be the next big thing (at least in the Eastern Conference). The fourth-seeded Toronto Raptors began the season 7-1 and made it all the way to 24-7 before a four-game losing streak started their 25-26 finish — with their final record only a one-win improvement on last year. The Wizards started out 4-1 and made it to 19-6, but have been 27-30 since, ultimately improving on last season’s 44-win campaign by just two wins.Both teams are led by All-Star point guards, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and Washington’s John Wall, with Lowry making the All-Star team for the first time in the eighth year of his career (his third with the Raptors). ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus for this season ranks them as the fourth- and sixth-best point guards in 2015. Lowry performed a little worse than last year; his RPM dipped slightly from 4.3 to 4.1 and his WAR (wins above replacement) dipped from 11.6 to 9.4. But for Wall, 2014-15 was a big improvement on the year before: His 4.7 RPM and 12.1 WAR were both up from 2.2 and 8.3 last year, respectively.The FiveThirtyEight simulations give the Raptors a 60 percent chance of winning this series but don’t see either team as a championship contender. They give the Raptors a 1 percent chance of winning the title and the Wizards an even smaller chance. In the 10,000 simulations we ran, the Raptors or Wizards won the championship only 108 times, the fewest of any of the eight first-round matchups. — Benjamin Morris read more

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28 Sep
2019

The 2018 Brewers Sure Look A Lot Like The 2015 Royals

When the Kansas City Royals made back-to-back World Series in 2014 and 2015 — coming agonizingly close in the former and winning the latter — they launched a thousand think pieces about whether manager Ned Yost’s brand of small ball would spread throughout the game. But then it looked like it might never get the chance: Right after the Royals’ revival, baseball embarked on a record-setting home run explosion, and the appeal of a team built primarily around speed, defense and a lights-out bullpen seemed to wane.1The Cubs and Astros shared some of those strengths, mind you, but each was also packed with ample power up and down the lineup.One of 2018’s top teams is taking a page out of K.C.’s championship playbook anyway. It isn’t just that the Milwaukee Brewers share the same center fielder with those Royals — although another All-Star caliber season from Lorenzo Cain hasn’t exactly hurt the comparison. The Brewers are also leading the NL Central with a strikingly similar combination of fielding, relief pitching and clever base running, even as the advanced metrics remain skeptical. (Sound familiar, Royals fans?) All that’s left is for postseason history to repeat — assuming Kansas City’s winning formula still works in a game that looks very different than it did just a few seasons ago.Going into the season, the Brewers were not expected to build much on last year’s surprising 86-win performance, despite loading up on players such as Cain and Christian Yelich over the winter. In fact, both the Vegas bookmakers and computer projections such as FanGraphs’ depth charts and Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA picked Milwaukee to take a step backward, averaging out to about 83 wins for the season with only a meager chance of making the playoffs. In theory, the 2017 Brewers had gotten slightly lucky both in terms of wins and losses — they overshot the record their statistics predicted2At least, according to Base Runs, which estimates how much a team “should” win with neutral luck, based on its raw statistics. by a couple of games — as well as in career seasons from both batters (Eric Thames, Domingo Santana, Travis Shaw) and pitchers (Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, Corey Knebel). So it wasn’t too hard to argue that a tumble would be on its way this summer.But remember, Milwaukee wasn’t supposed to be very good last year, either; all it proceeded to do was hang around the NL Central race far longer than anyone in the media — or on the presumptive division-favorite Chicago Cubs — thought possible. The Brewers led the Central well into late July before the Cubs (along with the Diamondbacks and Rockies) overtook them down the stretch. It was a good enough showing to convince general manager David Stearns to accelerate the club’s recent rebuilding project and raise the franchise’s expectations sooner than originally anticipated. And the result has been the best record in the National League through the season’s first two months.The Brewers aren’t alone in beating projections this year, but what stands out is how they’ve done it. Despite the new firepower in the lineup — and the emergence of hard-hitting first baseman Jesus Aguilar — Milwaukee ranks in the middle of the major league pack in runs scored, with middling numbers for both power and walks. Their starting rotation has also slipped, from ninth in MLB in wins above replacement3Using an average of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com’s WAR metrics. per game in 2017 to 20th this season, with Anderson struggling to replicate last year’s form and Nelson missing the entire season to date because of injury.Milwaukee is making up for the difference, though, with the majors’ 10th-best base running WAR per game, along with the third-best WAR per game from both defense and relief pitching. It’s a combination of metrics eerily similar to the one Kansas City produced during its own championship run three years ago: On the basepaths, the Brewers have the majors’ most successful rate of taking extra bases, a category the famously aggressive Royals also excelled in. Milwaukee’s ability to track down balls in the field, led by Cain in the outfield and Orlando Arcia at shortstop, easily recalls the rangy Royals of, well, Cain and Alcides Escobar. And with reliever Josh Hader rewriting the all-time strikeout record book (to say nothing of the 0.60 ERA season Jeremy Jeffress is having), the Brewers have been even more unbeatable with a lead in the late innings than the Royals were in their Wade Davis-led heyday. So far this season, Milwaukee is a perfect 27-0 when leading through six innings, making it the only team in baseball that can say it hasn’t blown such a situation yet. MLB Ranks in WAR from… 2015Royals58.616th12th1st21st2nd 2018 Season2014-15 Seasons 8NYY31391.28LAA1391590.3 Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com 2018Brewers61.7%17th10th3rd20th3rd This looks familiar …MLB-wide ranks in wins above replacement (WAR) per game from each category, 2015 Kansas City Royals vs. 2018 Milwaukee Brewers 4SF27293.14CLE1341391.2 The Brewers’ bullpen has been positively Royals-esqueBest record when leading after six innings, 2014-15 and 2018 seasons 3BOS32294.13MIA107992.2 SeasonTeamWin %BattingBase RunningFieldingStartersRelievers TeamWinsLossesWin % 2CHC24196.02SD108992.3 6PIT24292.37MIN1131290.4 5BAL13192.95NYY1331391.1 Includes postseason for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Through June 3 for the 2018 season.Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group 6ATL24292.36SF1441590.6 10CIN18290.010PIT1391689.7 9SD20290.99STL1401689.7 TeamWinsLossesWin % 1MIL270100.0%1KC1501093.8% Kansas City combined for a staggering 150-10 mark across those situations in 2014 and 2015, including the postseason, so the Brewers still have some work to do before catching up to their doppelganger. And the Royals comparison isn’t 100 percent perfect — Milwaukee isn’t quite the batting average machine K.C. was, for instance, because the Brewers strike out at a normal clip, not the freakishly low rate Kansas City did at its peak. But the Brew Crew might be the closest thing we’ll get in the homers-and-strikeouts world of 2018 baseball.Questions also remain about Milwaukee’s place among the pantheon of 2018 contenders. According to The Baseball Gauge, only the Seattle Mariners have gotten luckier this year, in terms of sequencing and winning close games (although the latter can be explained in part by the Brewer bullpen’s aforementioned dominance). After the Brewers dropped two of three to the lowly Chicago White Sox over the weekend,4Which, in fairness, the Royals also did twice in 2014 and 2015, plus they were swept by the White Sox on another occasion. our Elo forecast now thinks Milwaukee will go 54-48 over the rest of the season and be caught by the Cubs in the Central before too long — though it does give the Brewers a 67 percent chance of making the playoffs. (That projection is also on the high side; FanGraphs thinks the Brewers will go 48-54 from here on out, with less than a coin flip’s shot at the postseason.)But that’s just another way in which the Brewers evoke memories of Kansas City’s World Series-era teams. With their unconventional mix of strengths and weaknesses, those Royals squads spent multiple seasons bucking the odds and poking holes in the statistical arguments against them. Maybe now it’s Milwaukee’s turn to do the same.Check out our latest MLB predictions. read more

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28 Sep
2019

Ohio State womens basketball blown out ousted from Sweet 16 by Tennessee

OSU senior guard Ameryst Alston (14) dribbles the ball during a game against Wagner on Nov. 22 at St. John Arena. Credit: Elizabeth Tzagournis | Lantern PhotographerThe last time the Tennessee and Ohio State women’s basketball teams met before Friday was in the 2011 NCAA Sweet 16 round. Fast forward five years to Friday night, and the two had a rematch in that very same rebound.The No. 7 seed Lady Vols were not the favorite coming into the matchup with the Buckeyes in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but they disregarded the predictions from analysts and dominated the third-seeded Buckeyes 78-62.Tennessee came out of the gates strong and played with efficiency, taking quality shots from all areas of the court. Redshirt sophomore guard Diamond DeShields left the game for a stint with an injury, but would later return to contribute an all-around performance to the Lady Vols’ success.Tennessee took control of the contest in the first half by breaking the press with ease and using its height in the paint to its advantage.Tennessee’s post play was led by redshirt sophomore center Mercedes Russell who went a perfect 6-of-6 from the field, taking over the OSU forwards. The Springfield, Oregon, native showed poise on the block with her effortless post moves and displayed her clean shooting form, putting the ball through the nylon throughout the evening.Along with Russell’s success, senior forward Bashaara Graves also didn’t miss a shot in the first half, shooting 5-of-5.OSU, on the other hand, was far from perfect, struggling to get an offensive flow in the first 20 minutes of play. Only shooting 25 percent as a team in the first quarter, the Buckeyes had to find a solution to their offense if they wanted to keep it close going into the locker room.Missing their lead defender, senior guard Cait Craft, to a season-ending hand injury, the Buckeyes didn’t have a player to turn to shut down the Volunteers scorers.Senior guard Ameryst Alston, who has been struggling to perform because of a wrist injury suffered in the Big Ten tournament, did not want her senior year to end earlier than it had to be, ignoring the wrist pain and completing some of the acrobatic shots that she regularly converted before the injury.Sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell took matters into her own hands for the rest of the first half, knocking down a slew of 3-pointers and finishing the half with 11 points.Even though OSU trailed after the first half of play, the Buckeyes did not show the urgency that they needed to catch up to the Lady Vols. OSU ignored the offensive strategy that it typically followed throughout the year and lacked energy on defense, putting the Scarlet and Gray in even more of a hole as the second half of play got underway.Tennessee’s offensive movement continued to be pristine and showed shades of coach Pat Summitt’s rosters back in the day. The Buckeyes simply had no answer for Tennessee and were unable to enforce their high-velocity pace that has been their go-to all season long.Russell would go on to score a game high 25 points and grab 14 rebounds, while Graves finished with 14 points and nine boards.Despite her injury, DeShields ended her night with 10 points and dished out seven assists, while grabbing five rebounds as well.On the Scarlet and Gray side, Alston led the Buckeyes with 21 points, ending her collegiate career on a strong note. Mitchell would follow her with 20 points, though she shot just 5-of-15 from the field.With the loss, the Buckeyes will board the plane back home to Columbus to begin their offseason, while the Lady Vols are set to continue to the Elite Eight to take on Syracuse and compete for a chance to make it to the Final Four. read more

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28 Sep
2019

Ohio State womens golf eyes 3rd straight Big Ten championship

Members of the OSU women’s golf team. Credit: Courtesy of OSUIn each of the past two seasons, the Ohio State women’s golf team has celebrated a Big Ten championship — but with a catch. While OSU’s name has appeared on the trophy, it has done so as a co-champion.Now with a chance to stand alone as champion for the first time in the three-year span, the Buckeyes are gearing up for the Big Ten tournament this weekend.After securing a second-place finish at the Lady Buckeye Spring Invitational last weekend, the team will attempt to carry that momentum into the conference championship.“We are peaking at the right time,” said junior Jessica Porvasnik. “We just finished second at our home tournament, and we’re looking forward to the Big Tens this week.”Coach Therese Hession said she has been happy with her team’s solid season thus far but is hoping that the team can produce a couple of standout performances during the postseason.“We’ve had a pretty steady season. We’ve only really had one bad tournament in my opinion, so we’ve been very consistent,” Hession said. “If we can get one or two people to break out of the pack a little bit and post some under-par scores, I think that’s something we’re really going to need heading into this weekend.”One of the team’s goals is to win the Big Ten title outright. Despite being the two-time defending Big Ten champions, both team titles have been shared with other schools: Michigan in 2014 and Northwestern in 2015. Northwestern is currently ranked No. 15 in the country and has been the clear front-runner in the conference during the regular season.Despite the Wildcats being the favorite to win the conference title, Hession said they’re vulnerable.“Last week (Northwestern) shot 30 over par in a tournament, though, and lost by 42 strokes, so that’s the thing about women’s golf this year, there’s so many good teams,” Hession said. “You never know what’s going to happen week to week. So, you know, hopefully this will be our week.”OSU freshman Jaclyn Lee. Credit: Courtesy of OSUThe Buckeyes think a key to the weekend will be following their plan and knowing when to push for certain shots.“Be aggressive when you can be aggressive,” Porvasnik said. “Strategically, I think everyone needs to figure out when is the time to go for it and when not, and I think making the right choices is really going to benefit us in the long run.”Porvasnik, who finished fifth at last weekend’s home tournament, won the Big Ten tournament individual title as a freshman and is hoping to recreate her success from two years ago.“I definitely want to win the Big Ten again, but I’m just focusing on small goals and going into it just sticking to our game plan and playing smart golf,” she said.Four of the six Buckeyes competing have played on the course before, so they are familiar with its challenging elements. Hession said she thinks driving and putting execution will be critical components in the formula to win a Big Ten championship.“I would say hitting greens in regulation and staying out of the rough will be one factor,” Hession said. “You know it always comes down to if it’s your week, making some putts, and I feel like we’ve worked a lot on putting and trying to get the ball in the hole. Hopefully those two things come together, and it should work out pretty well then.”The Buckeyes are scheduled to begin play in the Big Ten tournament on Friday at The Fort Golf Course in Indianapolis. read more

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28 Sep
2019

Lavenders career day leads OSU to comeback championship

With the clock ticking toward zero and the game in the balance, the No. 10 Ohio State women’s basketball team had a decision to make.Needing a basket to win the Big Ten Tournament Championship, who takes the last shot for the Buckeyes?The decision wasn’t too difficult to make. Center Jantel Lavender drew a foul and nailed a pair of free throws with 1.9 seconds remaining to propel the Bucks (30-4) over Iowa (19-13) with a 66-64 victory and into the Big Ten Tournament title Sunday in Indianapolis.Lavender was firing on all cylinders against the Hawkeyes, scoring 35 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.She scored 23 of OSU’s 33 points in the second half, when the Buckeyes made a furious comeback, rallying from a 49-33 deficit to eventually tie the game at 60-60 with five minutes to play.The junior center from Cleveland, Ohio, made 14 of her 25 shot attempts and all seven attempts at the free throw line.The teams arrived at the championship bout on completely different paths.Ohio State won the regular season championship, its sixth in a row, with four games remaining on its conference slate.At 10-8, Iowa finished five games behind the Buckeyes in the final regular season standings. But the Hawkeyes beat Penn State 82-75 and upset No. 23 Michigan State 59-54 to reach the title game.It appeared they would finish off their Big Ten blindsiding when they jumped out to the 16-point advantage, but Lavender’s relentless effort in the post earned OSU its second consecutive conference tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. read more

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28 Sep
2019

Buckeyes part ways with head coach John Markell

Ohio State will not renew the contract of John Markell, the coach of the men’s hockey team. Athletic Director, Gene Smith, made the announcement Tuesday that the university will part ways with Markell after 15 seasons.The decision was announced to the team Tuesday morning, to the surprise of some of the players.“We weren’t exactly sure what was going on. You throw that idea around but we were a little bit surprised,” Sergio Somma said. “We’ve got to turn over a new leaf and start fresh with a new coach next year.”The search is to begin immediately for OSU’s next coach. Chris Schneider, associate athletics director for sports administration, said the search for the next coach will be nationwide.“We’ll post the position by the end of the week,” Schneider said. “We’ll leave it open through the end of the Frozen Four. At that point, we will evaluate the pool of candidates that we have and begin the interview committee process. We hope to have somebody in place by early May.”Schneider added that the decision to not renew Markell’s contract came from a lack of consistent success throughout his tenure at Ohio State.“What we’re looking for in our men’s ice hockey program is a coach that is consistently successful, consistently competing for collegiate championships and ultimately performing in the NCAA tournament,” Schneider said. “Coach Markell has done very good things with our student-athletes. And he’s done some good things with our program in the past. [The decision] goes back to being consistently successful.”Somma indicated that Schneider’s expectations for the program are not unrealistic.“The facilities and the opportunities here at this school are bar none, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t compete every year. I still think we have the personnel and the talent to have a great team next year.”Markell finishes his career with a record of 280-267-56 and led the program to its first Frozen Four appearance in 1998.“I appreciate the opportunity I had to coach at Ohio State,” Markell said. “I’m proud of the young men I had a chance to coach and watch grow up both as hockey players and in life. I’m proud of the accomplishments we had as a team over the years. I wish nothing but the best for the Buckeye hockey program and the people around it.” read more

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