Chris Bosh is listed as day-to-day for the Miami Heat. His team is on a life support.Tonight’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals could be the defining moment of a Heat team built for the championship. If it again wins on his home court to take a 3-2 series lead, then much of the speculation will be at least suspended.A defeat to the Boston Celtics would signal the largest panic alarm in league history.How did Miami get here? The Heat looked strong, even without Bosh (abdominal strain) in handling the Celtics in Games 1 and 2 at American Airlines Arena. Strong, but not invincible.In Boston, the Heat of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were a different, vulnerable club. Their weaknesses showed up for all to see, and James seemed to be operating with little consistent aid from anyone, including Wade.With the series tied at 2-2, Game 5 in Miami places considerable heat on the Heat.Bosh could provide some relief. He has undergone treatment throughout the series, and after various workouts to test his strained abdomen coach Eric Spoelstra that he is ready to play.Spoelstra, however, is still undecided about Bosh’s availability.“He’ll get a vote,” Spoelstra said. “Again. Everything is heightened right now. These are extreme circumstances. Everybody will be involved in the decision, if and when it happens. But you always have to take the player’s opinion with a grain of salt. They all say they’re ready. . . He said he was ready 10 days ago.”The addition of Bosh, even in a reserve role, would give the Heat an additional weapon offensively and an inside defensive presence to defend Boston’s Kevin Garnett. The Celtics are under pressure, too. They understand the importance of winning Game 5 and getting a chance to close out Miami in Boston on Thursday.But the Celtics are older and there was little expectation that they would conquer mighty Miami. They might not, but they surely have made the series far more interesting than most anticipated — especially the Heat.
Before Wednesday’s trade headlined by Paul Goldschmidt, the Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis Cardinals were relatively even on paper. But today, the two clubs inhabit completely different neighborhoods.Arizona and St. Louis ended last year separated by 25 points in Elo rating, and the teams entered Wednesday just two games apart in FanGraphs’ projected standings for 2019. With the trade of the six-time All-Star, the clubs have seemingly chosen different paths. The Diamondbacks appear ready to join the Seattle Mariners as teams that contended in 2018, fell short and have elected to become less competitive to restore their depleted talent bases. The Cardinals add a star talent with the hope that they can close the gap in the National League Central and return the club to the postseason after a three-year absence.The Diamondbacks are in a division with the powerful Los Angeles Dodgers, who are loaded with cash and talent and are heavy favorites in the NL West. Arizona already lost one key free-agent pitcher in Patrick Corbin, who agreed Tuesday to a deal with the Washington Nationals, and free-agent center fielder A.J. Pollock also figures to land elsewhere. The club has also expressed interest in trading ace Zack Greinke, whose contract accounted for 25.8 percent of the club’s opening day payroll this past season — the second-highest share in the majors. It’s a reminder that such contracts can hamstring teams’ abilities to build complete, competitive rosters.Conversely, the Cardinals do not have a clear super team in their way in the NL Central. The Cubs might have limited ability to improve this offseason, but the FanGraphs’ forecast has the Brewers regressing in 2019. The Cardinals entered Wednesday projected for four fewer wins than the Cubs, three more wins than the Pirates and six more wins than the Brewers. After the trade, the FanGraphs projection had the Cardinals picking up three wins to be just one game behind the Cubs and nine games better than the Brewers. (The Diamondbacks fell from 82 to 80 wins.) The Cardinals have been stuck in the standings purgatory — winning 88, 83 and 86 games the past three years — where no club wants to reside, but they could break that streak this year.The Diamondbacks went for it last year on the heels of a 93-win season and in the final year of control over Corbin and Pollock. St. Louis is now in a similar situation, as contributors like Marcell Ozuna, Miles Mikolas and Michael Wacha are free agents after 2019. Goldschmidt is under control for just one season before entering free agency. For the Cardinals, this is a win-now move.And what St. Louis received in the deal is not only one of the game’s best hitters but also one of its most consistent.In wins above replacement,1Using FanGraphs’ metric. Goldschmidt finished the past three seasons at 5.1, 5.2 and 5.0. He’s been worth at least 4.3 WAR every season since his first full year in 2012, when he finished at 2.8. Goldschmidt’s career slash line is .297/.398/.532. His slash line this past season? .290/.389/.533. He’s played in at least 155 games in five of the past six years.Goldschmidt, 31, is still near his physical prime and offers consistent star power for a club sorely lacking it. St. Louis thought it was landing a star in Ozuna last winter, but he had a mildly disappointing season. Since 2016, the only Cardinals to deliver seasons of 4 WAR or better were Matt Carpenter (5.0) and Mikolas (4.3) this past season and Tommy Pham, who was traded to Tampa Bay last season, in 2017 (6.1). Goldschmidt’s 4.3 projected WAR is a big upgrade over the Cardinals’ weakest projected starting infielder, Jedd Gyorko (1.7 WAR) — who could be supplanted in the lineup by Carpenter moving from first to third. And Goldschmidt may not even be the Cards’ final step: Ownership hasn’t ruled out a pursuit of Bryce Harper.While there is not a young star in the trade package, Goldschmidt didn’t come cheap. Some executives liked the return for Arizona, which included young major leaguers in pitcher Luke Weaver and catcher Carson Kelly, infield prospect Andy Young and the Cardinals’ Compensation Round B selection in the 2019 draft. The deal gives the Diamondbacks youth and a number of controllable years.The Diamondbacks had the fifth-oldest groups of batters (at an average of 29.2 years old)2Weighted by games played. and pitchers (29.6) last year. According to FanGraphs, Arizona entered the offseason with the game’s 26th-ranked farm system. Teams prize young, cheap, controllable talent — and now more than ever before, they are willing to endure deep, painful rebuilds to accumulate high draft picks and signing bonus pool space. The Astros and Cubs created a model to get to super-team status that other teams are following. Those clubs took rebuilding to extreme degrees, stringing together multiple 95-plus-loss seasons, but those paths resulted in World Series titles.The Diamondbacks consider themselves to be retooling rather than entering a deep rebuild, though that might be an optimistic assessment: Arizona third baseman Jake Lamb, outfielder David Peralta and starting pitchers Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker are all eligible to become free agents within the next two to three years.Kelly and Weaver immediately fill needs on the major league roster. They are not prospects that are years away from the majors, though they also lack star-level upside.3The Diamondbacks were in the market for a catcher after free agent Jeff Mathis signed with the Texas Rangers. “There are decisions that you want to do and there are decisions you feel like you have to do,” Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen said of Wednesday’s trade.More than ever, teams seem comfortable entering retooling periods, but not every rebuild is a successful project. For the Cardinals, perhaps they’ll have to consider such a path down the road. As for 2019, they’re going for it.
2012Ohio34.444.1+9.737.51 3-POINT PERCENTAGE YEARSCHOOLREG. SEASONFIRST 2 TOURN. ROUNDSDIFFERENCEREMAINING TOURN. GAMESNO. REMAINING GAMES Source: Sports Reference 2015UCLA36.851.7+14.923.11 2013Oregon33.348.5+15.235.71 2013Ohio State35.648.5+12.931.62 2013La Salle37.746.2+8.539.02 2014Iowa State35.848.8+13.037.51 2012Xavier35.148.0+12.920.01 Sweet 16 teams that ran hot through the opening weekend 2016Iowa State38.648.810.2—— 2016Villanova35.148.9+13.8—— 2015Xavier35.147.2+12.117.61 2012Louisville31.840.0+8.238.03 2011Wisconsin37.450.0+12.624.11 2013Syracuse33.542.9+9.429.33 2011San Diego State34.945.5+10.631.81 Jay Wright teams shoot a lot of threes. Since the 2006 NCAA Tournament, when Villanova went to the Elite Eight largely on the strength of Wright’s four-guard lineups, the team has been associated with perimeter offense. So when No. 2-seed Villanova plays No. 3-seed Miami tonight, it’s going to toss bombs. The question, given the team’s season-long shooting slump and its recent hot streak, is how many of them are going to fall.Some years, Wright’s team is very good from deep — last season’s squad made 38.9 percent of its attempts, the second-most for a Wright-coached Nova team. And others Villanova is just a bunch of chuckers — the 2012 team made 31.5 percent of its threes, and four Wildcats shot under 30 percent. But throughout Wright’s decade and a half on the Main Line, the team has dogmatically stuck with its perceived strength and has consistently ranked among the top half of Division I in 3-point attempt rate, or the percentage of field-goal attempts that are threes.This year’s team ranked 24th nationally in 3-point attempt rate, the most of any Big East team. Individually, several Wildcats have taken more than 100 threes a piece. In a lot of ways, this was a culminating season for the Wright-era Wildcats. Just one problem: The team wasn’t very accurate.During non-conference play, 49 percent of the team’s shots were threes, and the Wildcats connected on just 30.9 percent of those attempts. That didn’t get any better during the first month of conference play: 39 percent of Nova’s shots came from deep, and but just 33.5 percent were makes. What helped boost their offensive efficiency ranking, which topped the Big East for all but two weeks of conference play, and why VU could get away with such mediocre shooting and still win 16 games in the conference (and 27 overall) was the squad’s 2-point field goal percentage, which was 55.3 percent throughout league play.In February, a few more threes began to drop — 36 percent — and when Villanova entered March, the team’s offense consisted almost solely of a perimeter barrage. More than 41 percent of its attempts were from beyond the arc, led by Kris Jenkins, a Draymond Green-in-training who, at 6-foot-6, has the size to match up with opposing 4s but is an offensive nightmare because of how he moves around the perimeter. It was helped also by Ryan Arcidiacono, who’s become more and more consistent throughout his four seasons. From March 1, when Villanova played a home game against DePaul, through its annihilation of Iowa last weekend (1.26 points per possession), the team has converted 44.7 percent of its threes.Of the 16 remaining teams in the tournament, VU led the first two rounds in both 3-point percentage (48.9 percent) and differential between its perimeter shooting during the regular season and March Madness. Considering each Sweet 16 squad since the 2011 tournament, only four made a bigger leap in perimeter shooting than Villanova’s 13.8 percentage point improvement from the regular season to the first two rounds. The table below shows the Sweet 16 teams since 2011 with the most drastic improvement in 3-point percentage from the regular season to the first two rounds; of those, only five moved on to the Elite Eight. On the one hand, this is evidence that teams tend not to sustain out-of-character starts, which is obvious. On the other, two teams — 2013 Syracuse and 2012 Louisville — went on to the Final Four. 2014Virginia36.946.4+9.533.31 On their face, these results are a good reason to disbelieve the Wildcats’ streaky shooting — but the improvement has been steady and recently fueled by crisp ball movement and superb player spatial recognition just as much as it has by sheer coincidence. That’s good, because Villanova will need more than luck against Miami and potentially Kansas (its probable Elite Eight opponent), which are adept at guarding the perimeter and have skilled close-out and ball-screen defenders. 2011Marquette34.943.5+8.612.51 2012South Florida31.640.6+9.013.31 2012Baylor38.347.5+9.231.02 2015North Carolina35.852.9+17.161.51 2013Arizona37.1%56.3%+19.233.3%1 2013Miami (FL)36.244.7+8.530.81 2011Ohio State42.356.0+13.737.51
2014-159.855.1360.53 FIELD GOALS ON DRIVESTRUE SHOOTING ON DRIVES DeAndre JordanLAC51338474.973.4 Myles TurnerIND26519172.174.3 Montrezl HarrellHOU24118275.578.6 2016-179.562.4165.22 There are players in this group who shoot about as well down low as LeBron does, but generally, the most successful shooters within 3 feet are traditional bigs who need to be fed the ball in advantageous spots to get those looks. Most on this list were assisted anywhere between 60 percent and 80 percent of the time on such shots. That’s the tradeoff that the league has long made with its star big men — they provide efficient scoring and floor-spacing from the post but are reliant on other players to get them the ball. Not so for LeBron.James combines competent play out of post-ups with his utter dominance driving to the hole to provide the same impact on a game that once came from star centers. It isn’t just the scoring consistency and spacing, either: LeBron also piled up more and-one opportunities than anyone in the league this season. Some of the value of those and-ones is already captured in James’s impressive true shooting percentage. But the ability to keep pressure on a defense, inch it closer to the penalty and generate extra opportunities for 3-pointer shooters, all at the same time, is something no other player in the league has. T.J. WarrenPHX24617972.856.4 2015-169.254.5460.55 Tyson ChandlerPHX20514570.760.7 David LeeSA25417870.174.2 LeBron JamesCLE59546177.5%42.5% FIELD GOALS WITHIN 3 FEET Clint CapelaHOU44932271.783.2 Karl-Anthony TownsMIN57340170.058.1 Hassan WhitesideMIA44832773.060.2 PLAYERTEAMATTEMPTSSUCCESSFULPERCENTAGEASSISTED LeBron drives, 2013-present SEASONDRIVES PER GAMEPERCENTAGELEAGUE RANKPERCENTAGELEAGUE RANK Giannis AntetokounmpoMIL64044970.251.2 Nene HilarioHOU25718672.487.1 2013-147.663.0%167.5%3 Rudy GobertUTA54139172.373.4 Kevin DurantGS27421879.661.9 LeBron doesn’t need much help at the rim Richaun HolmesPHI20214873.377.0 Kristaps PorzingisNY20914770.371.4 Minimum 200 attempts and a 70 percent field-goal percentage during the 2016-17 regular season.Source: Basketball-Reference.com Dwight HowardATL47434372.465.3 Marcin GortatWAS35825170.172.5 Willie Cauley-SteinSAC22715970.076.7 James scores 135.2 points per 100 plays when he drives to the basket off of pick-and-rolls, according to data from Synergy Sports Technology. That number barely budges when he drives off of isolations — typically regarded as a low-efficiency play, the domain of hero-ball icons like Carmelo Anthony and DeMar Derozan — where he gets 128.1 points per 100. Now compare those numbers to the efficiency of a Stephen Curry spot-up jumper, which is just about the most feared play in the game today: Curry scored 132.5 points per 100 on spot-ups this season, right around the midpoint between a LeBron drive off the pick-and-roll and the “inefficient ones” off isolation.Of course, LeBron doesn’t drive just to score: There’s also the matter of finding all those open shooters. When James passes to spot-up shooters out of the pick-and-roll, his team scores 120.3 points per 100 plays — best in the NBA among players who made at least three pick-and-roll passes per game. That’s due in part to the Cavs simply having better shooters than other teams, but it’s LeBron’s vision and ability to hit teammates from anywhere on the floor that makes the whole thing hum. Kyrie Irving is a very good point guard, but in comparison with LeBron, the offense scores 7 fewer points per 100 plays when Irving passes to spot-up shooters on those drives; Irving also shot 11 percentage points worse on drives this season than James did, 51.4 to 62.4. And so the difference between James barreling into the lane and Irving doing so is not only the daylight between those two sets of numbers, but also the shift in the split-second calculations that opposing defenders must make.Splitting the pick-and-rollEven when opponents know what’s coming — that James is going to get a high screen and be asked to navigate the defense from there — the 32-year-old still manages to pull a rabbit out of his hat from time to time, befuddling defenders who’ve technically done everything by the book. Perhaps no play exemplifies this better than when James splits a pick-and-roll.When Cleveland sets up a high pick-and-roll for James, two defenders align themselves in a way that — they hope — keeps him from going to the basket with the ball. But James is often able to spot the slightest bit of daylight, ducking between the two defenders and beginning an unstoppable, downhill sprint toward the rim anyway.The play — which generally involves James crossing the ball over from his right hand to his left — has ended in a dunk a third of the time this season. While he only pulls this particular rabbit out of his hat occasionally — it only happened 15 times during the regular season — James averaged 1.87 points per play and scored on a blistering 87 percent of his possessions when he split the pick and roll, both rates that easily ranked as the highest in the NBA among players with at least 10 plays, according to Synergy Sports. (Interestingly, Irving had the league’s second-best rate in each category.)In those plays (a number of which came against Golden State and the Eastern Conference finalist Boston Celtics), James capitalizes on defenders not “closing the chain” to stop him from weaving between them with a dribble. Trying to prepare for James’s violent drive to the basket, the second defender generally comes out too wide, allowing James to take the inside track toward the paint, where few players want any part of being in his way.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/lebronmagic.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/lebronboston.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/lebronwarriors2.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.The impact of the big man — without the big manThe thing to note through all of this is that James isn’t simply a brawnier version of other drive-and-kick maestros like Westbrook or James Harden. A critical difference is that James provides not only efficient offense, but also the collateral benefits typically associated with a star big man — only without the limitations.Here’s a list of players who shot 70 percent or better from inside of 3 feet this season,4On 200 or more attempts. ranked by the percentage of their close-range baskets that stemmed from an assist: Just about every NBA team has its signature play, the clip that flashes into your head when you think about how they do what they do. It’s Steph Curry pulling up for a transition three, or Chris Paul tossing a lob off of the high pick, or Russell Westbrook catching a whisper of daylight, changing speeds and dunking the seams off the ball.For the Cleveland Cavaliers, the signature play is also the foundational one: LeBron James driving to the hole. Steph pulling up for that 30-footer on the run is the shiniest piece of the Warriors system, but there’s a whole team of clicking, whirring parts underneath that make it work. LeBron attacking the rim is different. It might seem like mere brute force, reinforcing the image of the Cavs playing un-Warriors-like Riley-ball, but it’s the linchpin, the whole system tied up in one player’s ability to do everything at once while doing the one thing he does better than anyone else.It starts with the shootersLeBron is the engine that powers everything, but the rest of the Cavs’ offense is built around 3-point shooters. Going back to the days when James lobbied the team to sign Donyell Marshall or made his playoff runs flanked by Boobie Gibson and Wally Szczerbiak, he has always been surrounded by as much shooting as possible.This season’s Cavs might be James’s most talented shooting team yet, with premium sidekicks such as Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Korver, as well as a handful of castoff shooters such as Derrick Williams and James Jones. During the regular season, 13 Cavaliers played in at least 20 games and shot at least 35 percent (the NBA average) from three. That’s an uncommon amount of firepower, even among contenders: The Warriors had only six such players; the Spurs had nine; the Rockets five.1In the playoffs, the Cleveland rotation has shrunk some, but the number of shooters exceeding 35 percent is holding relatively steady at nine — and doesn’t yet include a slumping Irving, who has shot just 28 percent from 3 in the postseason after hitting 40 percent during the regular season.Shooting and driving have a symbiotic relationship, and their effect on the game is obvious: Good outside shooting spaces the floor for drives; better drives cause the defense to collapse, creating more open 3-pointers. But the effect for the Cavs is even greater than normal, because LeBron James going to the rim is still the most dangerous play in basketball.In the four seasons the NBA has collected player-tracking data, LeBron has been driving far ahead of the pack. He has led the league in field-goal percentage on drives2Minimum four drives per game. twice, and even that doesn’t quite convey how far removed he really is from most of his peers. Year in and year out, James shoots about 5 to 10 percentage points better on his drives than the players who drive most frequently.3Specifically, players with a minimum of seven drives per game. JaVale McGeeGS25318372.379.8
Facing an eight-point deficit, in one of the conference’s most hostile environments, it was a pair of freshmen that ignited a second-half comeback and gave the undefeated Buckeyes a 73-68 win against Illinois on Saturday. Freshman Jared Sullinger scored 27 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, both game-highs, despite giving up several inches to both of Illinois’ seven-foot-plus big men. But it was freshman Deshaun Thomas’ eight points off the bench, all of which came in a four-minute span in the second half, that sparked the Buckeyes to their 20th win of the season. After leading for most of the first half, OSU gave up a 7-0 Illinois run to end the first 20 minutes and the Illini led 34-33 at the break. Another Illinois run in the second half, this time 12-4, gave the Illini their biggest lead of the game, eight points, with just less than 12 minutes to go. But when Thomas entered the game, the Buckeyes came roaring back. Two free throws apiece from Sullinger and senior Jon Diebler and one from freshman Aaron Craft cut the lead to three. After a defensive stop, the never-shy Thomas took and made his first shot of the game, a 3-pointer, to tie the game at 50 with 9:30 remaining. Two more threes, one from Diebler and another from Thomas, completed a 14-0 run and gave the Buckeyes a six point lead, their first lead since late in the first half. After OSU held a steady lead for the next several minutes, a Demetri McCamey basket and a pair of Mike Tisdale free-throws cut the lead to four with less than a minute to go. Sullinger made one of two free throws on the ensuing possession to give the Buckeyes a four-point lead with 30 seconds to go. Tisdale then hit a 3-pointer, giving OSU the ball with 16 seconds to go and a one-point lead. The Illini fouled Craft after he caught the inbounds pass and the freshman knocked down both free throws to put the Buckeyes up three. On the ensuing Illinois possession, Diebler tipped a pass, forcing a crucial Illini turnover. Sullinger called a timeout after he recovered the loose ball on the floor and a pair of free throws from junior William Buford ended the suspense. Although several Buckeyes struggled from the field all afternoon — Buford and senior David Lighty were a combined 5-22 shooting the ball — OSU was as good as it has been all year from the free throw line. Led by Sullinger’s 13-of-15 effort, the Buckeyes shot a combined 24-of-27 from the stripe. Diebler scored 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting. Despite his shooting woes, Lighty finished with nine points, five rebounds and five assists. Saturday’s game was the first of a stretch of eight games that will see the Buckeyes play six teams currently ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 poll. That stretch continues Tuesday at home against No. 14 Purdue.
To play basketball at former Ohio State men’s basketball player Ron Stokes’ home in Gahanna, Ohio, you have to abide by four rules. “You got to play hard, and you got to play smart, and you got to be coachable … and you have to play defense,” said the former OSU guard and current radio color analyst for the Buckeyes men’s basketball team. Those rules not only shaped the way Stokes played the game at OSU, from 1981-1985, they’ve also molded another player with the same last name. His daughter, redshirt junior guard Amber Stokes, is carrying on the family legacy. “It’s a good advantage to have a dad that knows the game and been in my shoes,” said Amber Stokes, the second of Ron and Lavita Stokes’ four children. For 15 years, her father has commentated on the flagship station for OSU men’s basketball games, which has proven to be an invaluable tool for the younger Stokes. “It’s nice because some people don’t have dads who understand the game,” said Amber Stokes. “My dad understands the game, and he’s able to give me advice.” It might benefit Amber, but being a college basketball analyst who’s watching his daughter play can be a trying experience. “I find myself not even enjoying the game because I’m looking at every single thing because that’s what I do for a living,” Ron Stokes said. “It’s tough turning it off from being an analyst.” Along with announcing every OSU men’s game and attending Amber Stokes’ games when possible, Ron also owns one of the top 50 fastest growing privately held businesses in central Ohio, according to Business First Magazine. He serves as president and CEO of Three Leaf Productions, a media management company with customers including WOW, Kroger and SafeAuto Insurance. His schedule also includes a weekly radio show with OSU coach Thad Matta, maintaining a blog at ronstokesfastbreak.com, and trying to attend his two younger children’s basketball games. “It’s nuts,” Ron Stokes said. “I’m committed to basketball every night.” That commitment to hard work and basketball is mirrored in Amber Stokes, who has already completed her undergraduate degree in criminology. The younger Stokes was also elected co-captain her junior season, a feat her father accomplished as well. Even members of the OSU athletic community see the similarities in the way they play. Denny Hoobler, associate athletics director for development and ticketing at OSU, has watched both family members. He said he remembers seeing Ron Stokes while he was a guard at Canton Mckinley High School and at OSU. He said when he watches Amber Stokes play, he has a déjà vu-like experience. “It’s watching Ronnie Stokes all over again,” Hoobler said. “Just her intensity and defense.” Although her father has influenced her style of play, the same can’t be said for her decision to become a Buckeye. Before attending OSU, Amber Stokes had scholarship offers from a majority of Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference programs, but she said her father never told her to pick the Scarlet and Gray. “He told me wherever I choose to go to, he would support me,” said Amber Stokes, who believes her father wanted her to come to OSU but wouldn’t voice it. Based on the proximity and OSU’s program, Ron Stokes said he wanted his daughter to stay in Columbus, but he wouldn’t feel right if she picked a university because he played there. “Even if it was another school, if I told her to go to that school and she went there because mainly I wanted her to go, and she didn’t have a great experience, I wouldn’t feel right as a father,” Ron Stokes said. In the end, Amber Stokes chose OSU because of its tradition and the atmosphere, she said. Her decision has helped her team achieve the No. 8 spot in the nation this year, and a shot at the National Championship. Although she and her father have enjoyed success on the court, she said she doesn’t plan on following him into the broadcast booth. “No, I don’t think that’s me,” Amber Stokes said. “Let my dad do that job.”
Sophomore first baseman Zach Ratcliff (34) jumps to catch the ball during a game against Xavier March 19 at Bill Davis Stadium. OSU won, 10-3.Credit: Sam Harrington / Lantern photographerAfter three games, three runs were all that separated the Ohio State baseball team from Big Ten foe Nebraska.Those three runs proved costly though, as the Buckeyes (18-13, 2-7) dropped each of three games of a weekend series in Lincoln, Neb., to the Cornhuskers (19-13, 4-2) by a one-run margin.The Buckeyes found themselves with a lead in each game, but just could not seal the deal down the stretch. Two losses were walk-offs while the other saw the Cornhuskers take the lead in the eighth inning.“We just have to finish games. We were right there,” redshirt-sophomore infielder Ryan Leffel said after Sunday’s 2-1 loss. “One play can make the difference … we know that we’re really, really close to being a really good team.”Sunday’s tilt saw the Buckeyes jump out to a quick lead as redshirt-junior first baseman Josh Dezse hit an RBI groundout in the first to score sophomore second baseman Troy Kuhn.That was all the Buckeyes could muster against the Cornhuskers’ junior pitcher Aaron Bummer, however, only picking up three more hits.The Cornhuskers got on the board in the fourth off OSU sophomore pitcher Jake Post. With two outs and men on first and third, Nebraska junior catcher Tanner Lubach hit an RBI single to tie the game.Bummer and Post controlled the game from there as both starters went all nine innings and things stayed tied at one until the ninth.Again with Lubach up to bat and men on first and second, Post gave up an RBI single to give the Cornhuskers the sweep.On Saturday, the Buckeyes held a 3-0 lead until the eighth behind an RBI single from Leffel and two runs scored in the fifth after two errors by Nebraska.Meanwhile, freshman pitcher Tanner Tully started on the bump for the Buckeyes and flirted with a no-hitter until Lubach lined a single to center to begin the seventh.After giving up another single to begin the eighth, redshirt-senior reliever Tyler Giannonatti came in for Tully and allowed one run in the inning off a sacrifice fly from Nebraska senior outfielder Michael Pritchard.Freshman relief pitcher Travis Lakins came on in the ninth with a two-run lead, but things quickly went south.With two outs and the bases loaded, Lakins walked sophomore infielder Jake Placzek to draw the Cornhuskers within one.Junior closer Trace Dempsey came on but allowed a single to Pritchard that scored two and gave the Cornhuskers the series clinching 4-3 win.Friday night saw both starting pitchers dominate the beginning of the game. The Buckeyes’ senior pitcher Greg Greve went six innings without allowing a run.Once again, the Buckeye offense scored first, but this time it was in the fifth when Kuhn singled off Cornhusker senior pitcher Chrsitian DeLeon to score the first run of the series.The Buckeyes scored another off DeLeon in the seventh on an RBI single to center from Wetzel.Lakins came in and pitched a scoreless seventh, but allowed RBI singles from Pritchard, junior infielder Pat Kelly and freshman pitcher/infielder Ben Miller in the eighth to give the Cornhuskers the 3-2 lead.Outside of a single from sophomore infielder Jacob Bosiokovic, the Buckeyes couldn’t get anything in the ninth off DeLeon, preserving the Cornhuskers’ win.The line for the Buckeyes’ starting pitchers for the weekend was 22 innings pitched and only two runs, but it wasn’t good enough.Despite the rough road trip, Greve seemed confident that the Buckeyes would get it turned around.“We played tough, played well, competed well. There’s no need to be alarmed or concerned,” Greve said after Sunday’s game. “We were very close to beating a very good team. We easily could’ve won all three games this weekend. We just have to stick to what we’re doing and keep preparing the way we’ve been doing and learn from the mistakes.”The Buckeyes have a quick turnaround as they are scheduled for two mid-week games against Eastern Michigan on Tuesday and Dayton on Wednesday.Tuesday’s game against the Eagles is set for 6:35 p.m. at Bill Davis Stadium at Nick Swisher Field.
Then-junior quarterback Braxton Miller (5) runs the ball during The Game Nov. 30 at Michigan Stadium. OSU won, 42-41.Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editorWhat a difference a year makes.Last year at this time, heading into the Spring Game, the Ohio State football team had sky-high expectations. It was National Championship or bust. Fresh off an undefeated 12-0 campaign in a sanctioned 2012 season that prevented any postseason play, and with the addition of a top-five recruiting class, the Buckeyes were picked by some experts to compete for a title in January 2014.After Auburn upset then-No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl Nov. 30, the Buckeyes moved in the BCS rankings to the No. 2 spot, which would have guaranteed them a spot in the National Championship Game.Well, two losses later, and here we sit.Gone is the historic winning streak. Gone is 1,500-yard running back Carlos Hyde, as well as four of five starting offensive linemen.So, fans head into the 2014 season trying to figure out exactly what to expect from the Buckeyes on the field in the fall. Urban Meyer is still at the helm, and he managed to bring in another stellar recruiting class. Two-time defending Big Ten Player of the Year, senior quarterback Braxton Miller also returns beneath center. Much to the surprise of some fans, co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell returns as well, but with two new additions in co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash and defensive line coach Larry Johnson.However, many questions linger: Can the pass defense improve after finishing ranked No. 112 in the country? Can the offense finally establish a consistent intermediate passing game? Which, if any, of the five-star recruits can make an immediate impact? Really, the big question though, is how good is this team?With the new four-team College Football Playoff system taking effect this year, it is difficult to put a barometer on what constitutes a successful season for the Buckeyes. OSU will always have high standards when it comes to football, and, since it is still one of the most talented teams in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes should be able to contend yet again for an undefeated regular season.With another relatively weak non-conference schedule and a conference schedule that doesn’t include Wisconsin, Nebraska, or Iowa, and includes Michigan at Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes will likely face their biggest test in the form of Michigan State Nov. 8 in East Lansing, Mich.Should the Buckeyes avenge their Big Ten Championship game loss against the Spartans, they would likely be in the driver’s seat for a chance to win their first Big Ten title under Meyer.A loss, on the other hand, would likely further the negative big-game perception of the Buckeyes. This team needs to win the Big Ten and win a major bowl game to help silence its critics.As we saw last year, however, winning those games is easier said than done. The opportunity to prove themselves on the big stage was the Buckeyes’ for the taking, but in the end they let it slip away.This year, fans can only hope for a season that helps OSU earn back the respect it once had and another chance to prove that the Buckeyes are truly an elite team.
Ohio State freshman Andre Jeff crosses the finish line in 4×400-meter relay to seal the 2018 men’s track and field Big Ten championship in Geneva, Ohio on Feb. 24. Credit: Ethan Clewell | Lantern reporterOhio State’s freshmen had a big weekend at one of the most competitive meets of the season, the Tennessee Relays, in Knoxville, Tennessee.On the men’s side, freshman Eric Harrison and freshman Andre Jeff had impressive days individually and contributed to some of the top performing relay teams. The women’s 4×800-meter-relay team finished second with freshmen Aziza Ayoub and Mary Figler providing a bulk of the support for the unit. The meet involved many professional athletes, including world record holders such as Christian Coleman and Kendra Harrison. Four-time Olympic athlete Justin Gatlin also competed at the meet. Men’s recapOhio State’s sprint medley team, consisting of freshman Tavonte Mott, junior Kyle McKinney, freshman Paul Bete and Jeff, finished first with a time of 3:27.Harrison, junior Nick Gray, senior Duan Asemota and senior Zack Bazile brought Ohio State’s 4×100-meter relay team to a second-place finish with a time of 39.31 seconds. The Buckeyes fell to America’s ProForm team, a professional group that carried Coleman and Gatlin.Harrison set a personal best, finishing second in the 200-meter dash with a time of 20.70 seconds. Jeff finished second in the 400-meter run with a time of 46.92 seconds. Senior Cole Gorski finished third in pole vault with a jump of 5.30 meters.Bazile finished third in long jump with a jump of 7.79 meters.Asemota, senior Jerry Jackson, junior DeJuan Seward and freshman Joseph Cooper led Ohio State’s 4×200-meter relay team to a third-place finish with a time of 1:25.30.Senior Nick Demaline finished third in the shot put with his last throw of 19.62 meters.Women’s RecapJunior Sarah Kanney won the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a time of 10:54. Ohio State’s 4×800-meter relay team made up of freshman Aziza Ayoub, freshman Mary Figler, senior Olivia Smith and sophomore Annie Ubing finished second with a time of 9:02.Junior Sarah Stanley finished second in javelin throw with a 42.23-meter throw.In the 400-meter dash, senior Maggie Berrie finished second with a time of 52.88 seconds.In the 100-meter hurdles, senior Chantel Ray placed fifth with a personal best time of 13.11 seconds. Ray was among fast company in that competition. Kendra Harrison, who won the race, owns the 100-meter hurdles world record. Ohio State will host its only outdoor meet, the Jesse Owens Track Classic, at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, all day both Friday and Saturday.
Ohio State freshman defensive end Tyreke Smith (11) and senior linebacker Dante Booker (52) combine for a sack in the third quarter of the game against Tulane on Sept. 22. Ohio State won 49-6. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo EditorOhio State comes out of its matchup against Tulane as the No. 4 team in the country with an undefeated record, tied for the 17th-best scoring defense in the nation.But even with a win against then-No. 15 TCU under its belt, Ohio State has not played an opponent with the offensive weapons that No. 9 Penn State holds.The Nittany Lions hold the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation with 55.5 points per game, including 63 points in each of their past two games.The best offense Ohio State has played so far is the Horned Frogs, who ranked No. 44 averaging 35.3 points per game.After the 49-6 victory over Tulane, which ranks tied for No. 107 in scoring offense, head coach Urban Meyer said on Monday that Penn State offers a completely different challenge to Tulane’s option-heavy offense.“Completely different. Last week was more of a wishbone-style triple option. This will be a true spread quarterback,” Meyer said. “It’s a much different mindset. You’ve got to make sure you always account for it.”The true spread quarterback is redshirt senior Trace McSorley, who is Penn State’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns (59) with 14 total touchdowns on the season, six of which came on the ground.McSorley is a mobile quarterback, which Ohio State has faced the past two games, but one who offers an even larger threat with his arm. And, as Meyer said, a stronger offensive line in front of him.Meyer also complimented junior running back Miles Sanders and said he expects a very similar team that has given Ohio State a lot of trouble in the past two seasons.“Offensive line is better. And that running back is really good,” Meyer said. “We don’t see much difference at all. Scheme’s very similar to what they’ve done in the past and obviously the quarterback’s the guy that makes it go.”The last time the Buckeyes traveled to Beaver Stadium, they lost to Penn State 24-21, which was their only loss of the regular season. A year later, former Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett threw two touchdowns in the final five minutes to defeat the Nittany Lions 39-38.Penn State has proven to be one of the most difficult challenges for Ohio State in recent years, and that will happen again on Saturday.Containing McSorley and Sanders is tough with a healthy roster, but with the loss of junior defensive end Nick Bosa, the Buckeyes will need big plays from other members of the defense to hold back the Nittany Lions’ offense.After the Tulane victory, Meyer said he liked the play of the defense without Bosa, but said, with the style of Tulane’s offense, it will not help them against Penn State.“It’s a much different game today than it will be next week,” Meyer said after Saturday’s game. “I thought they played well. They played only 30 minutes of football and we got ’em out. So the challenge of challenges is coming up.”The “challenge of challenges” will force the Ohio State defense to clean up all the mistakes that occasionally plagued the team thus far.It is another year with another major matchup against Penn State, and the Ohio State defense prepared for an offense that looks very similar to one that Meyer ran for the past four years.“You’re playing with a quarterback that can run. That’s one that manages — we’ve had a lot of yards around here over the last years and years and years because of having that ability to do that,” Meyer said. “That’s a real threat. And that’s something that you have to game plan for.”