He worked on a more consistent step-back, which he now uses when he drives the lane or is in isolation, rising high in the air with a ramrod-straight form that gives him a clean look at the rim. Providence coach Ed Cooley is also using Dunn off the ball, letting teammate Kyron Cartwright run point while Dunn comes off several screens. That allows Dunn to either feed Ben Bentil, a hulking sophomore forward — or catch-and-shoot a pass from a teammate. Dunn spent the offseason working with former Providence guard God Shammgod, who has become a quasi mentor-trainer to Dunn. They had several goals in mind: First, Dunn needed to upgrade his jump shot, which was wildly inconsistent from just about everywhere on the court. Second, he needed to tighten his handle to limit turnovers. And third, he had to develop several countermoves, should savvy defenders who had studied game film fail to bite on Dunn’s initial move.Dunn’s jump shot as a sophomore was streaky — a reel full of bad, caroming rocks that either just hit the backboard or fell wildly off the back iron. Since his long arms make it nearly impossible for a defender to block his shot, it was a priority that he improve this component of his game to maximize his advantages. He also gets great separation thanks to a quick first step and a backpack full of crosses, between-the-legs moves and feints. Providence’s Kris Dunn won’t win player of the year honors (that’ll almost certainly go to Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield), nor will he be the top choice in the upcoming NBA draft (LSU’s Ben Simmons should be No. 1), but he’s worth watching for the way his unique set of skills turns into thrilling plays — for better and worse. The 6-foot-4 junior is the most exciting player in the game, precisely because he isn’t as cookie cutter as other top prospects.Dunn did two things particularly well last season, as I covered in-depth last year in an article for Deadspin1At the time, I wish he had used the momentum of his standout sophomore season to declare for the NBA draft, where he would have likely been a first-round pick.: He had a preternatural sense of where his fellow Friars were at all times on the court, and he used his length and athleticism to finish plays that, at first glance, appeared ill-advised. There were countless possessions where Dunn would dribble off a screen 25 feet from the basket and whip a one-handed underhand pass to a cutter for the dunk; or, with enough time to run a set play in overtime, he would instead push the ball frenetically up the court to hit a teammate for an and-one before the defense set.College point guards don’t typically make those decisions. More often they make the careful pass — the assist the coach has hard-coded into the play call — or the pass they’ve practiced for years and feel comfortable throwing. Dunn, though, has such innate skill and creativity that he attempts passes that should have a high rate of failure, but often succeed because the defense isn’t expecting them. That style allowed Dunn to lead the nation in assist percentage (at a staggering 50.0 percent last season, and 44.2 during this campaign2To put this in context, just 23 other high-major point guards had assist rates above 30 percent, and just two — Denzel Valentine of Michigan State and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans — topped 40 percent.). Thrilling as all that was, it often led to some alarmingly bad turnovers — about 20 percent of his possessions — even when you take into account his high usage rate.But this season, the consensus is that Dunn is the nation’s top point guard. To become it, Dunn had to make a few tweaks to his game. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Dunn’s spot-up numbers are still below average, but he now scores one point per catch-and-shoot possession — that’s pretty good, and a vast improvement over the .76 points he scored a year ago. And his jumper should only get better given the fundamental improvements he made in the offseason. Dunn is connecting on 37 percent of his threes while taking them at a far higher rate than last season — 25.9 percent of his field goal attempts, up from 19.7 last season. He now shoots with the perfect follow through — his arms extend and his hands rest like they’re in a cookie jar. The shots that were ugly bricks are beginning to show just a little more touch, like the game winner he hit against Creighton, which hit the flat section of the bucket that connects to the backboard, died on the rim, and finally rolled softly in.Some have criticized Dunn, and his NBA potential, because of his turnovers. Though the guard assists on 45 percent of Providence’s shots, which is second in Division I, he also gives the ball away on 85 of his 425 possessions (through Providence’s loss to Marquette this week). Since Dunn’s dimes typically account for about 2.4 points in the halfcourt and transition, the Friars have missed out on more than 200 points this season when Dunn loses control.On other teams, those miscues might find a guard strapped to the bench. But for Dunn the giveaways don’t matter. A 25-foot pass through Xavier’s 1-3-1 zone defense during a game in late February is the kind of play Cooley wants, regardless of the risk. Midway through the first half, Dunn saw a brief opening between Larry Austin and Kaiser Gates, and threaded a pass (from Providence’s half-court logo) to Bentil, who certainly wasn’t calling for the ball but was able to convert an and-one. Similarly, Cooley needs his junior guard to consistently draw the defense’s attention so his Friar ‘mates can benefit from that extra second of breathing room. This happened in a Villanova victory when Dunn slipped a backdoor pass to Junior Lomomba: He wasn’t doubled, but Dunn reacted to all five Villanova players tracking his moves as he came off a Bentil pick. Again, Lomomba wasn’t exactly expecting the ball, but he made the lay-up. Sure, Dunn will take some shots — like a one-on-three fast break that has become a bit of a staple of his game this season — that might cause some to cringe. But Cooley is willing to incur the cost of a few bad shots if it means his squad can operate with offensive impunity.Dunn’s impact on the game, negative and positive, is what makes him so fascinating to watch. Buddy Hield, Ben Simmons, and Maryland’s Melo Trimble are equally as talented, impressive, and fun to watch, but none inspire quite the same combination of mouth-agape incredulity and absolute production as Dunn. So when he puts the ball behind his back, then crosses over Michigan State’s Tum Tum Nairn, only to follow with a spin move to the rack and then misses the layup, don’t think of it as a wasted possession. Instead, imagine it as a thrilling experiment in risk and reward, the type of audacious and improvisational brilliance that the college game doesn’t produce anymore.
Former FBI director Robert Mueller has been hired by the NFL to investigate the NFL about the Ray Rice domestic violence case. And if that seems like a conflict of interest, it only adds to the drama of this continuously evolving story.Mueller, who was the director of the FBI for 12 years, will have access to all NFL records, said commissioner Roger Goodell, whose reign over the nation’s top sport can be described as tenuous. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that police in Atlantic City sent to the league footage inside a casino showing Rice knock unconscious his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, and had a message from someone in the NFL office to prove it.Goodell and the league vehemently denies that anyone there saw the footage before Monday, when TMZ released a version of the events that initially led to Rice’s two-game suspension. The releasing of the tape prompted the Baltimore Ravens, who said they had not seen the video either, to fire Rice and the NFL to dismiss the disgraceful two-game ban and offer an indefinite suspension.Now in comes Mueller, a highly respected official, but one hired by the NFL to investigate the NFL, making cynics wonder if the fix is in. For sure, Goodell’s tenure as commissioner of the league rests in the balance.Mueller, based in Washington, D.C., is a partner in the law firm of WilmerHale, which helped negotiate the NFL’s Sunday Ticket package with DirecTV. The firm also has represented Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, and several former members of the firm have taken positions with NFL teams.Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, issued a statement late Wednesday, calling Mueller’s appointment “just window dressing.”“The NFL does not just have a Ray Rice problem, they have a violence against women problem,” the statement read. “NOW continues to ask for Roger Goodell to resign, and for his successor to appoint an independent investigator with full authority to gather factual data about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking within the entire NFL community — not just regarding the Ray Rice incident — and to recommend real and lasting reforms.”A league executive, speaking early Wednesday before the AP report was released, didn’t believe the Rice controversy would cost Goodell his job — unless the video was viewed before Monday.“No,” the executive told ESPN.com, “but if Goodell and the league saw the video beforehand, he is not commissioner in March for the league meetings.”
7Dayton4135363446442838 Our ratings also account for injuries and travel distance — playing in a familiar gym an hour from campus is a big advantage compared to traveling across the country. And once the tournament begins, the ratings will be updated to reflect the results of previous tournament games. If a No. 2 seed needs overtime to defeat a No. 15 seed, for instance, it can be an inauspicious sign for their prospects down the road.Let’s take a quick tour of the four regions — starting with Villanova and the East. 15Jax. State6362646264686166 3Florida State2219182119171035 1Villanova12212114 13Vermont4551514549505353 RANK AMONG 68 TOURNAMENT TEAMS 8Arkansas3237374037273141 9Seton Hall2845444747333430 SEEDTEAMELOPOMSAGBPILRMCMOORNCAAPRE 11Xavier463932333631417 How the teams compare: Midwest region 16South Dakota St.5865636565626445 7Michigan1221222021222733 12UNC-Wilmington4249495144524947 SEEDTEAMELOPOMSAGBPILRMCMOORNCAAPRE RANK AMONG 68 TOURNAMENT TEAMS 16New Orleans6564676868676768 2Arizona51921242021611 11USC4850465052464534 1UNC63334436 2Louisville10665113812 15North Dakota6263616066596261 4West Virginia13547371517 12Nevada3446454242474752 6Cincinnati2122201518182225 6Creighton2527272727292418 5Virginia207741010177 3Oregon8161313162495 13E. Tenn. St.5252525250535257 5Iowa State1517152315112021 4Florida1691089141429 How the teams compare: West region 11Rhode Island3036403141284420 9Michigan St.4440353839383510 16Texas Southern6766666362646360 8Miami2732282840363023 RANK AMONG 68 TOURNAMENT TEAMS 14FGCU5955555356555656 14Iona6157575855545848 13Bucknell5353535451515154 As a Michigan native, I’m a firm believer that Midwest is best, but that doesn’t extend to this year’s tournament, where the region is a bit lackluster. Kansas — with a 28-4 record from a very good Big 12 conference — might seem like a no-brainer No. 1 seed. But other than Elo, the computer ratings are a bit down on the Jayhawks, noting that they won many games by narrow margins that could reflect luck as much as clutch performance. Still, they’re the favorite here. Louisville is a perfectly adequate No. 2 seed, but they have to survive a difficult Round of 32 game — both No. 7 Michigan and No. 10 Oklahoma State are underseeded. And the regional finals will be played in Kansas City, advantaging KU.A lot of people are also pointing toward Kansas’s Round of 32 matchup — against either No. 8 Miami or No. 9 Michigan State — as a difficult spot. But as much as it pains me to say this as an East Lansingite, I’m not sure this is Michigan State’s year. They’ve won only five road or neutral-site games all year, and while a lot of credit should be given to the Spartans for how many tough teams they scheduled, they also didn’t come away with a lot of wins. Then again, Tom Izzo has made a fool of everyone else’s best-laid plans and projections in the past.No. 3 seed Oregon is another case of a team that might seem to be underseeded but probably isn’t. They lost senior forward Chris Boucher to an ACL tear in the Pac-12 tournament, substantially weakening their front-court depth. 3Baylor1913161717201228 11Kansas State5129313228344636 ELO = FiveThirtyEight’s Elo rating; POM = Ken Pomeroy; SAG = Jeff Sagarin “predictor” rating; BPI = ESPN’s basketball power index; MOOR = Sonny Moore power ratings; NCAA = Selection committee’s 68-team “S-Curve”; PRE = Composite of preseason rankings 1Gonzaga711212412 FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions are up and ready for your perusal. But while we’re really excited about the tournament, we have to say this is not a year in which we’re going to be able to help you all that much, at least in the Elite Eight and beyond.That’s because there’s as much parity in the tournament as there’s ever been — not necessarily from the very top of the field to the very bottom, but certainly among a group of No. 1 and No. 2 seeds that aren’t all that easy to distinguish from one another. Meanwhile, the blue bloods have to navigate a minefield of underseeded teams such as Wichita State and SMU, with some having more perilous paths than others.The one team that potentially stood out from the pack — defending national champion and No. 1 overall seed Villanova — has been undermined by a difficult draw. While the Wildcats are still the nominal favorite to win the tournament, they have only a 15 percent chance of doing so, which is tied for the lowest probability for a frontrunner in our seven years of making tournament predictions.1Fourth-seeded Louisville also had a 15 percent chance in 2014.Our methodology for making these projections is exactly the same as it was last year. They’re based on a blend of six computer rankings: FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings, Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, Jeff Sagarin’s “predictor” ratings, ESPN’s BPI, Joel Sokol’s LRMC ratings and Sonny Moore’s computer power ratings. We also use two human-generated rating systems: the selection committee’s 68-team “S-Curve” and a composite of preseason ratings from coaches and media polls. The preseason ratings have some predictive power when used carefully, serving as a hedge against teams that may have overachieved or underachieved relative to their talent level and are due to revert to the mean.VIDEO: A No. 16 seed will win, but don’t bet on it ELO = FiveThirtyEight’s Elo rating; POM = Ken Pomeroy; SAG = Jeff Sagarin “predictor” rating; BPI = ESPN’s basketball power index; MOOR = Sonny Moore power ratings; NCAA = Selection committee’s 68-team “S-Curve”; PRE = Composite of preseason rankings 10Okla. State2924232626253744 5Notre Dame1725242223191931 11Wake Forest4330333029324349 4Butler2326262524231327 14Kent St.5759585858575759 In contrast to recent seasons, when the committee was often forced to ship in teams from the eastern half of the country to claim the top two seeds in the West, this year’s bracket features two geographically appropriate representatives in No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Arizona. That’s important to keep in mind, because travel can be a big factor in the West region, with teams potentially flying a long way to play games in an unfamiliar time zone.Otherwise, the West is a bit … weird. For one thing, Gonzaga — with a 32-1 record largely assembled outside a top conference — isn’t an easy team to get a handle on. A few of the computer ratings have the ‘Zags as the No. 1 overall team, while the committee’s rankings — and Elo — are more skeptical of them because they beat up on middling opposition. No. 2 Arizona, meanwhile, isn’t well liked by the computers, with its strength of schedule not as good as you’d expect from a 30-4 Pac-12 champion. Michigan State, whom the Wildcats beat to start their season, was Arizona’s best nonconference win.West Virginia, the No. 4 seed, is another highly divisive team. They lost eight games but those losses came by an average of just 4.6 points, so the computer formulas think they’re badly underseeded. It’s a tough break for the Mountaineers to not only have drawn Gonzaga in the Round of 16 but also to have to fly across the country to play the game.The West also features a number of potential spoilers from strong academic schools — Northwestern, Princeton, Vanderbilt — that will probably create a lot of buzz if they win. (All those Northwestern journalism grads won’t hurt.) None of those teams are especially underseeded, however. A better dark-horse pick is No. 7 St. Mary’s, which could give Arizona fits in the Round of 32.Check out our March Madness predictions. ELO = FiveThirtyEight’s Elo rating; POM = Ken Pomeroy; SAG = Jeff Sagarin “predictor” rating; BPI = ESPN’s basketball power index; MOOR = Sonny Moore power ratings; NCAA = Selection committee’s 68-team “S-Curve”; PRE = Composite of preseason rankings 2Duke412868671 9Vanderbilt3934383631393326 How the teams compare: South region 5Minnesota3333343635351855 SEEDTEAMELOPOMSAGBPILRMCMOORNCAAPRE 9Virginia Tech3741424543373642 13Winthrop5456565557565458 11Providence4047474848424237 15N. Kentucky6060596360605963 16UC-Davis6468656767666562 10Wichita St.11811155123824 16NC Central6661626161656667 UNC and Kentucky are the top two seeds in the South — and are a tossup to advance from the region according to our forecast (each one has a 30 percent chance). Working in the Tar Heels’ favor: they played one of the toughest schedules in memory, rank slightly ahead of Kentucky in most of the computer rankings (although not in Elo) and are on the opposite side of the bracket from Wichita State, which was ridiculously underseeded. (The Shockers ranked in the top 10 overall according to two computer rankings, LRMC and Pomeroy, and yet they are just a No. 10 seed in their region according to the committee.) Helping Kentucky: the Wildcats are a bit healthier than UNC, come in hotter (having won 11 games in a row and the SEC tournament), might have a bit more top-level talent (as reflected in their preseason ranking) and the location of the regional final, in Memphis, could be slightly favorable to them.If it’s not UNC or Kentucky, the obvious alternative to emerge from the South is No. 3 UCLA, but the various computer rankings are not as bullish on the Pac-12 as the conventional wisdom seems to be. The South also features perhaps the best bet for a 5-vs-12 upset: No. 12 Middle Tennessee, which knocked off Michigan State last year, has a roughly 50-50 shot of beating No. 5 Minnesota, according to our forecast. 3UCLA1418141413161115 15Troy5558605759586065 How the teams compare: East region ELO = FiveThirtyEight’s Elo rating; POM = Ken Pomeroy; SAG = Jeff Sagarin “predictor” rating; BPI = ESPN’s basketball power index; MOOR = Sonny Moore power ratings; NCAA = Selection committee’s 68-team “S-Curve”; PRE = Composite of preseason rankings 4Purdue1815121112131614 12Mid. Tenn.3843484032484851 6Maryland4942414245412319 RANK AMONG 68 TOURNAMENT TEAMS 7St. Mary’s2414251225262516 14NM State5654545554635550 SEEDTEAMELOPOMSAGBPILRMCMOORNCAAPRE 7South Carolina5031303834452639 6SMU911191914152122 Villanova, the selection committee’s top seed, also ranks well according to the six computer systems, all of which place it first or second overall. But it got absolutely no help from the committee, who stuffed the East region with tough teams. Duke — which began as the preseason No. 1, slumped in the middle of the season, and then recovered to win the ACC tournament this weekend — engenders some disagreement among the various ratings systems but is no pushover as No. 2 seed, to say the least. That sets up a possible grudge match between Villanova and Duke, the past two tournament champions, in the East regional final at Madison Square Garden.But Villanova has their work cut out to get there. Wisconsin, the No. 8 seed and ‘Nova’s potential opponent in the Round of 32, should have been seeded several slots higher according to the computers and has a history of tough postseason play. No. 4 Florida and No. 5 Virginia also get a lot more respect from the computers than they did from the committee, with blemished win-loss records masking difficult schedules and strong defenses.On Duke’s side of the bracket, No. 6 SMU could be a tough out and is about even-money in its potential Round of 32 matchup against No. 3 Baylor. But if you’re looking for a first-round upset, there aren’t any slam-dunk candidates. No. 7 South Carolina is probably no better a team than No. 10 Marquette, but they have the advantage of playing a de facto home game in Greenville, S.C. 12Princeton3548504853495043 2Kentucky345106553 8Wisconsin26231718229299 8Northwestern4738394233433240 1Kansas210997822 10VCU3644433538404032 10Marquette3128292830303946
4Cavaliers50-3216251444510 At long last, it’s time to put regular-season basketball in the rearview mirror and move on to the NBA’s main event — the playoffs are finally here! And FiveThirtyEight is here, too, to help predict how it’ll all go down. With the help of our CARM-Elo projection model, and the betting odds1According to Sportsbook.ag. as a second opinion, what follows is our survey of both the Eastern and Western Conference postseason landscapes. And in a departure from last season, when the Warriors were near-universal favorites on the eve of the playoffs, there’s actually some uncertainty in the playoff outlook this time around. TeamRecordRatingWin Conf.Win TitleWin Conf.Win Title 7Bucks44-3815001<120 CARM-Elo chancesVegas chances How Elo is forecasting the Western Conference playoffsAs of April 12 8Wizards43-391487<1<121 7Spurs47-3516226310 Vegas odds based on the implied probability of betting line.Source: VegasInsider.com 6Heat44-381491<1<110 5Pacers48-3415473<110 1Raptors59-23168342%17%29%7% 5Jazz48-3416639531 TeamRecordRatingWin Conf.Win TitleWin Conf.Win Title Vegas odds based on the implied probability of betting line.Source: VegasInsider.com 376ers52-3016593011175 CARM-Elo ChancesVegas Chances Statistical favorite: The numbers say this might finally be a breakthrough year for the Toronto Raptors, who are in the playoffs for a fifth straight season but have only one conference finals appearance (and zero NBA Finals berths) to show for it. Everything seemed to come together for Toronto this season, from a mega-efficient offense to a defense that improved to fifth-best in basketball. Add in a career year from DeMar DeRozan and a world-beating second unit, and the result was the top seed in the East — with a 42 percent chance to win the conference, according to CARM-Elo. That number is much higher than the 30 percent chance that CARM-Elo is giving the 76ers, the team our model thinks has the second-best chance of making it to the NBA Finals. And it’s hugely better than the 14 percent we’re giving the three-time defending conference champion Cavaliers. If the regular-season indicators mean anything, Toronto has earned every bit of its favorite status.Betting favorite: Another year, another case of the stats underrating the Cleveland Cavaliers’ chances in the East. Our model struggled to assess the Cavs last season too, and LeBron James’s squad proved the data wrong by tearing through the East with only one loss en route to the NBA Finals. The same scenario is shaping up to happen this season — and Vegas knows it. That’s probably why the Cavs are favored by the markets to win the conference again (albeit as less of a favorite than in the past), despite a regular season that was unimpressive by the standards of a LeBron team. In the battle between skepticism over Cleveland’s inconsistent form and trust that James can will his team to an eighth consecutive NBA Finals,2Including his time with Miami and his second stint in Cleveland. the bettors are still giving LeBron the benefit of the doubt.Dark horse: Although our ratings are higher on the Philadelphia 76ers than the Las Vegas odds are, both predictions think the Sixers are an intriguing pick to contend for the East crown. On the one hand, Philly’s near-total lack of playoff seasoning is a troublesome indicator for the postseason, where experience matters more than we sometimes acknowledge. (A late-season injury to star big man Joel Embiid also complicates matters; Embiid is recovering but probably won’t be ready for Game 1 of Philadelphia’s opening series with the Heat.) But Philadelphia is loaded with talent, from Embiid down low to likely rookie of the year Ben Simmons at the point and No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, who on Wednesday became the youngest player to post a triple-double. The Sixers are also playing at something close to peak form going into the playoffs, having won 16 straight games to close out the regular season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the longest winning streak ever for a team entering the playoffs, and it’s one big reason why both our model and the Vegas odds list Philly as the only East team other than Cleveland or Toronto with a double-digit probability of winning the conference title.Best first-round series: The East doesn’t have as many quality first-round duels as the West, but the Celtics and Bucks should be an interesting matchup. Boston lost its star player, Kyrie Irving, with just a week to go before the playoffs. The Celtics have home-court advantage and enough supporting talent to win a postseason series without Irving, but the onus will be on Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier to cap off their breakout seasons with great playoff performances. On the Milwaukee side, the Bucks have largely underachieved this season, although they’ve been slightly better after firing Jason Kidd in January. They also have the best individual player in the series by far, according to Basketball-Reference.com’s Value Over Replacement Player, in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak had an MVP-type season this year, and he possesses the skills to potentially take over a series all by himself. It’s been a year since the Bucks put a scare into the Raptors before losing in the first round, and Milwaukee could be poised to actually win this time around. 2Warriors58-241628844435 3Trail Blazers49-3316126332 4Thunder48-3416589532 2Celtics55-2715789231 6Pelicans48-3415954210 1Rockets65-17177257%44%44%35% 8Timberwolves47-3515651<110 How Elo is forecasting the Eastern Conference playoffsAs of April 12 Statistical favorite: After years of taking a backseat as Golden State dominated our pre-playoff predictions, the Houston Rockets are now front-runners to win the West. Specifically, CARM-Elo gives soon-to-be MVP James Harden and friends a 57 percent chance of making their first NBA Finals appearance this summer. Incredulous? Fine, but doubt Houston at your own peril. Remember that this season’s Rockets team shares many of the same characteristics with the Warriors back when Golden State was first making the climb toward transcendence. Teams that produce all-time great seasons like Houston has this season tend to win NBA titles at a tremendously high rate. Nothing in the regular-season numbers suggests that the Rockets should be anything other than solid favorites to take the conference — if not more.Betting favorite: There is a huge disparity between the chance our model gives the Golden State Warriors of winning the championship and what the betting markets say. CARM-Elo gives the defending NBA champs only an 8 percent chance of winning the West, tied to the team’s relatively unexceptional 58-win campaign that ended with Steph Curry injured and Steve Kerr calling his team out over a series of listless final-month losses. And yet, Golden State remains the betting market’s Western Conference co-favorite (alongside the Rockets), with an implied 44 percent chance of going to the NBA Finals for a fourth-straight season. Similar to the situation with the Cavaliers, the Warriors’ strong odds can be attributed to disagreement over how much we should read into a talented team’s regular-season struggles. The oddsmakers are clearly putting a lot more weight on Golden State’s track record than what we’ve seen on the court in 2017-18 — and considering how well we know the Warriors are capable of playing, that’s probably a good call.Dark horse: The West is so crazy that we could highlight a few teams here, but the Utah Jazz stand out in particular. According to CARM-Elo, they rank as the NBA’s third-best team going into the playoffs — trailing only the Rockets and Raptors — even after making our adjustment for playoff experience (of which the Jazz have very little). Utah put itself in a bit of an unfortunate position by losing to Portland on the final day of the regular season, which dropped the Jazz from the No. 3 seed down to No. 5. As a result, Utah lost home-court advantage in the first round, and the formidable Thunder were locked in as its first-round opponent. (It also set them up for a potential second-round collision course with the Rockets.) Even so, our model lists the Jazz as tied with OKC for the second-best chances of winning the West, and they could prove a dangerous opponent for the top seeds if they make it out of the first round.Best first-round series: CARM-Elo says the closest matchup of the first round is the aforementioned clash between the Thunder and Jazz. Oklahoma City is a slim favorite at 52 percent, by virtue of having home-court advantage. But these teams are very evenly matched: Both posted 48-34 records, and only 5 points of CARM-Elo separate their ratings. This one might be a referendum of sorts on the importance of playoff seasoning — the Jazz are the least-experienced team in the postseason field, while the Thunder rank fourth-highest behind only the Cavaliers, Warriors and Spurs. That edge might be enough to push OKC over the top, although whoever wins the prize likely has a date with the Rockets in the next round. Enjoy these teams while they last.Check out our latest NBA predictions.CORRECTION (April 12, 2018, 4:45 p.m.): A previous version of this article misstated the possibility of the Utah Jazz facing the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round if the Jazz had won their final game. Although Utah would have been the No. 3 seed if it had won, it could have played several different teams depending on the results of other games.
As the San Antonio Spurs took the Oklahoma City Thunder apart Thursday night on their way to winning Game 5 by 28 points, Thunder forward Kevin Durant quietly battled to finish with 25 points. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s still short of the sparkling numbers he had been putting up before the NBA’s Western Conference finals began.Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Durant had been magnificent, averaging 31.4 points per game and hitting the 30-point mark in nine of 13 games. In the five games against the Spurs, Durant has hit the 30-point mark just once, and in the Thunder’s three blowout losses, he’s averaged just 22.7 points.Durant’s efficiency has also suffered. His shooting accuracy from different areas of the floor hasn’t been significantly different, but the Spurs have forced him away from his preferred spots. Shot location statistics from NBA.com show how the distribution of his true shot attempts has changed in these games (true shot attempts include field goal attempts and trips to the free-throw line, essentially all non-turnover possessions).Kevin Durant’s Distribution of True Shot AttemptsIn the Thunder’s three losses against the Spurs, far fewer of Durant’s true shooting attempts have come around the basket. Durant has been pushed back into the inefficient mid-range zone.This may seem like splitting hairs; we’re talking about a potent scorer from anywhere on the floor. But even a great scorer like Durant is much more efficient in some areas. For example, during the regular season, a Durant trip to the free-throw line had an expected value more than twice that of one of his mid-range jump shots.In fact, if we give Durant his shooting percentage from the regular season but his shot selection from the three losses against the Spurs, Durant would have a true shooting percentage of 54.4. That’s far less his 63.5 regular-season number, which ranked second in the league this season and was the best in NBA history by a player who used at least 32 percent or more of his team’s offensive possessions.Defensive pressure usually conjures images of blocked shots and steals. But by making Durant change his shot selection, the Spurs’ defense turned an elite scorer into merely a good one.
The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Draw that concluded Saturday was the first ever to feature 24 teams; previous World Cups had only 16. Eight countries will make their debut, possibly paving the way for new talent to make a splash, and four champions will return stronger and more experienced. Here’s how the draw shook out, followed by our initial reactions to each group:Group A: Canada, China, Netherlands, New ZealandGroup A has the second-highest combined FIFA points score, 7522, and is likely to be exceptionally difficult to advance from. It’s led by host nation Canada (currently ranked eighth), and even the lowest-ranked team in the group, New Zealand, has an aggressive style of play that’s proved to be tough for Brazil and other strong squads. The young, technical Chinese team features standout forward Yang Li (nicknamed “Young Sun Wen,” after China’s all-time leading scorer), and the 15th-ranked Netherlands is making its World Cup debut after beating the higher-ranked Italy to qualify.Group B: Germany, Norway, Thailand, Ivory Coast Second-ranked Germany leads Group B. The Germans, having won back-to-back World Cups in 2003 and 2007, are regimented and unaccustomed to losing, as well as notorious for playing their best soccer at the World Cup. Norway clinched a World Cup title in 1995 but has yet to do it again. The Norweigans’ style of play is very direct (meaning they don’t focus on possession), but look for Olympique Lyon standout Ada Hegerberg to hold the ball up top. The Europeans should cruise through to the next stage — Thailand and Ivory Coast are relatively inexperienced and making their first World Cup appearances.Group C: Japan, Switzerland, Ecuador, CameroonSimilar to Group B, Group C features two top-ranked teams and two much weaker opponents — Cameroon and Ecuador — with Ecuador barely qualifying by beating Trinidad and Tobago 1-0 last week. The 2011 champions, Japan, are currently ranked third and play a highly technical style of soccer; the crafty midfielder Aya Miyama allows Japan to connect beautifully between the back and front lines. Switzerland is an exciting addition to the World Cup — the newcomers can compete against the strongest European teams. Swiss Ramona Bachmann has been likened to Marta and is nominated for the 2014 player of the year in Sweden’s Damallsvenskan, one of the top women’s leagues in the world.Group D: USA, Australia, Sweden, NigeriaThis group is being called the Group of Death — it has the highest total of combined FIFA points, 7786, and includes three teams in the top 10 FIFA rankings. The No. 1-ranked U.S. will again face Sweden in group play; the Swedes defeated the Americans 2-1 in the 2011 World Cup, and this time Sweden will be led by former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage. Australia is an athletic team that could give the U.S. and Sweden tough games, especially with explosive forward Lisa De Vanna leading the offense. And Nigeria should not be overlooked. Its young, talented team includes Asisat Oshoala, the winner of the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Adidas Golden Ball.Group E: Brazil, South Korea, Spain, Costa RicaSixth-ranked Brazil hasn’t looked as strong as it once did, losing 2-0 to France last month in a friendly, but it’s the strongest team in the rather weak Group E. First-timers Spain are led by forward Vero Boquete, a 2014 FIFA women’s player of the year nominee, and could match up well against Brazil — both teams are creative and patient. And South Korea is technical and organized, which could cause problems for the often disorganized Brazilians. But don’t count out Costa Rica, which placed second in the CONCACAF qualifiers (but was handedly defeated by the U.S. in the final). Some of its players, including Shirley Cruz Traña (who plays for the French club Paris Saint-Germain), have moments of brilliance.Group F: France, England, Mexico, ColombiaFoes France and England will face off in Group F, the third-strongest group based on combined FIFA points. France is a not-so-dark horse for 2015; it’s technical, physical and fast, and its players alternate between direct and possession-style play almost seamlessly. Élodie Thomis, Louisa Nécib and Eugénie Le Sommer are some of the top women’s players in the world. Meanwhile, the seventh-ranked England will be looking for retribution — France knocked out England in the 2011 World Cup quarterfinals. CONCACAF and CONMEBOL teams Mexico and Colombia will be hoping for a point against England and France, but lately Mexico has looked unfit and disorganized from the team that beat the U.S. in 2010.
Members of the Ohio State football team began their first day under new coach Urban Meyer Tuesday in a cloud of social media confusion, and it still hasn’t been sorted out. After a 7 a.m. Tuesday meeting with Meyer, several OSU football players tweeted that they were told they were banned from Twitter, a social media platform. Players backtracked and said there was no ban just hours later, but the origin of the supposed ban remains unclear. Junior tight end Reid Fragel tweeted from his account, @FRAGEL88, around noon Tuesday, saying: “New staff new rules. No more twitter, not a big deal and probably for the better. Love our fans, love this place. Go Bucks #2012.” By about 4:45 p.m., Fragel issued the following tweet: “Just now finding out the whole twitter thing wasn’t exactly true. #hearsay.” OSU athletics representative Jerry Emig, who was present at the football team’s Tuesday meeting, told The Lantern that Meyer never informed him of a Twitter ban for the players. “All I know was I was not made aware of a ban,” Emig told The Lantern in a Wednesday email. “I have no idea where this all originated or how it originated.” David A. Goldberger, professor emeritus of law at OSU’s Moritz College of Law, said Tuesday that a complete ban of Twitter, or another social media platform, would be unlawful. “I have my doubt about this, but there may be topics that the coach can put out of bounds, but to say that you can’t use a social media is far too broad,” Goldberger said. “It’s like saying you can’t talk.” From his Twitter account, @king_hyde34, OSU sophomore running back Carlos Hyde said Tuesday: “Well guess its been real twitter ima miss all my followers.” Later that day, Hyde tweeted: “Coach didn’t tell us this morning that twitter is banned guess the media likes to make up things. #GoBucks!” In an Oct. 26 email to The Lantern, OSU athletics spokesman Dan Wallenberg said not every OSU team institutes formal policies on social media use. “Each (OSU) team, if it has a policy, handles on its own,” Wallenberg said. Wallenberg also confirmed that the OSU men’s basketball team, currently the No. 6-ranked team in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, does not have a formal policy. Players, including junior tight end Jake Stoneburner, wasted little time returning to their accounts. From his account, @STONEYeleven, Stoneburner said Wednesday at around 3 p.m.: “Can’t wait to get going in this new offense!”
On Jan. 28, Columbus Blue Jackets fans, who have only witnessed postseason hockey once in the team’s 12 years of existence, received the best news from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman since the team’s inception. The city of Columbus would be hosting the 2013 NHL All-Star Game, or so they were told. At midnight Sunday,the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement expired, and with no new deal in place, players were locked out by the owners for the second time in nine years. Bettman met with owners and members of the NHL Players Association last week in New York City with the bleak hope of agreeing on a new deal that would have allowed for the season to start on it’s scheduled date, Oct. 11. With both sides still “far apart in talks” according to The New York Times, the season’s original start date is very much in jeopardy. While the owners and the players might be in disagreement over a number of issues, both sides realize that the biggest concern is how revenue will be split. Under the old collective bargaining agreement, players received 57 percent of the league’s revenue, and owners received 43 percent. Reportedly, Bettman’s most recent offer to the players would leave them with 47 percent of revenue, roughly a 17.5 percent pay cut. The NHL has experienced its seventh straight year of economic growth, according to Forbes. Another major issue that the two sides are clashing over is owners wanting to limit contract lengths to six years. Currently, there are no term limits on contracts. According to capgeek.com, there are 16 players signed to deals of 10 years or longer. While negotiations might continue informally throughout the month, the likelihood of the season starting on time is very slim. While Ohio natives might cringe at this, I suspect that the savior to Columbus’ All-Star Game could come from Ann Arbor. In April 2011, the NHL signed a massive deal with NBC to be their exclusive broadcasting partner. Part of this agreement was rights to broadcast the annual Winter Classic, an outdoor hockey game on New Years Day that, according to Sports Business Daily, generated $22 million dollars when it was played in Pittsburgh in 2010. This year’s game will be at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor and, if played, will set the record for largest attendance at a professional hockey game. NHL Players Association Executive Director Paul Kelly said that the league does have an opt-out clause with the University of Michigan, but they would stand to lose millions from skipping the annual event, and with pressure from NBC, I believe this should give fans a small piece of hope. According to the News Observer, last year’s NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh, N.C., generated an estimated $11.4 million in spending from out-of-town visitors. The city of Columbus, which according to the most recent U.S. Census, boasts a larger metropolitan area than Raleigh, could stand to make even more than $11 million on the event. During the 2004-2005 locked-out season, Atlanta was scheduled to host the All-Star Game, but did not do so until 2008. If the entire season is lost and the NHL chooses to reschedule the game in Columbus, the earliest it would be played is 2015, because the Olympics are scheduled for February 2014.
Redshirt-junior 1st baseman and pitcher Josh Dezse (left) tags the runner during a game against Eastern Michigan April 8 at Bill Davis Stadium. OSU won, 8-1.Credit: James Grega Jr. / Lantern reporterOne of the most important things a team has to do to succeed is win the games they are supposed to win.The Ohio State baseball team has done that all season long, and Tuesday was no exception in its game against Eastern Michigan.OSU (19-13, 2-7) won its ninth straight non-conference game against EMU (10-19, 1-8) defeating the Eagles, 8-1. While the win was good for the team, coach Greg Beals said after two straight weekend sweeps losing against Indiana and Nebraska, he would still like to see his team play at a higher level.“I told the guys afterwards that I don’t think we played a whole lot better than we played over the weekend, we got more hits but you’re playing a Tuesday mid-week game, you’re going to get more hits than against a weekend rotation pitcher,” Beals said.The Buckeyes’ starting pitcher freshman Zach Farmer threw 7.0 innings, only allowing two hits and one run and tallying three strikeouts. The win gives Farmer a team-best fifth win of the season.“I just settled down and threw what I knew I had, I went through my mechanics slowly and I just threw fastballs in there for strikes,” Farmer said. “Everything was really on point today.”Although Farmer’s game isn’t perfect, Beals said he is pleased with the progression of his young pitcher.“He’s one of the best left-handed pitchers in the state of Ohio and that’s why we brought him here and we were fortunate to get him here,” Beals said. “He continues to develop, he still needs to work on controlling the running game, he still needs to work on just being a little more efficient, but other than that his stuff is dominating.”A leadoff triple by redshirt-sophomore utility infielder Nick Sergakis initiated a massive third inning to get the Buckeyes’ offense going. OSU produced five runs in the inning, including an RBI single by junior outfielder Pat Porter to score Sergakis.The offense did not let up in the next inning, scoring two more in the fourth after a two-run RBI single to right-field by redshirt-sophomore infielder Ryan Leffel, bringing the score to 7-1 in OSU’s favor.Porter, who had an impressive diving catch in right field in the ninth inning to accompany his three hits and one RBI at the plate, said he felt good about his performance against EMU.“I’m starting to finally get comfortable, I felt real comfortable tonight I just have to keep grinding it out,” Porter said. “My swings felt good all year, really it’s just seeing the ball up, taking advantage of mistakes and I did that really well tonight.”Beals said Porter’s effort showed – diving for the ball is exactly what he wants to see from each of his players.“I don’t care how many hits he got, I’ll take that catch in the ninth innings of a seven-run game because that tells me how he’s playing, that tells me where he’s at— he’s locked in and he’s playing the game,” Beals said.After Leffel’s single, both teams’ bats got quiet – neither team would post a run until sophomore first baseman Zach Ratcliff hit an RBI single to give the Buckeyes their final run of the night.Freshman pitcher Curtiss Irving entered the game in relief of Farmer in the eighth, throwing two scoreless innings with one hit and three strikeouts.The Buckeyes are scheduled to return to action Wednesday at 6:35 p.m. against Dayton at Bill Davis Stadium.
3. Nick Vannett, redshirt-junior tight endMeyer has called senior tight end Jeff Heuerman one of the best in the country, but the OSU coach had praise for Vannett on Monday as well.“Nick Vannett has had as good of camp at tight end that I’ve seen, which is great for him to see him do that,” Meyer said.That’s pretty big praise, especially coming from a coach like Meyer, who has coached some extremely talented tight ends in his career. Heuerman, though, happens to be working through an injury heading into week one.Meyer said Heuerman isn’t 100 percent healthy yet, but he expects the tight end to play against Navy on Saturday.For Vannett, that could be the chance of a lifetime as he had eight receptions for 80 yards and one touchdown last season. Heuerman tallied 26 catches for 466 yards and four touchdowns in comparison.No matter how much Heuerman plays Saturday, look for Vannett to be a key contributor on offense, especially as a safety blanket for Barrett.If he plays well, Vannett could push Heuerman for touches all season. 1. Steve Miller, senior defensive linemanEven though some have dubbed OSU’s defensive line the best in the nation, that doesn’t mean the starting four will be the only players to see the field along the defensive front.In fact, one of those starters — junior defensive lineman Noah Spence — won’t see the field at all for the first two games of the season because of a three-game suspension. That’s where Steve Miller comes in.While he isn’t necessarily expected to start in place of Spence — coach Urban Meyer is expected to release the week one depth chart on Tuesday — he is one of the most experienced reserves on the defensive line. Steve Miller played in 11 games last season and totaled 12 tackles, three of which were sacks. Those three sacks caused the opposition to lose a total of 21 yards.Look for Steve Miller to be a key contributor not only while Spence is out, but for the rest of his senior season. 2. Darryl Baldwin, redshirt-senior offensive linemanBaldwin came to OSU as a standout defensive lineman, but he’ll be leaving as the starter at right tackle along the Buckeyes’ offensive line.The Solon, Ohio, native redshirted in 2010 before playing in seven games as a backup defensive lineman the following season. In 2012, he switched over to offense but played mainly on special teams and backed up All-American Jack Mewhort at left tackle the last two seasons.While two offensive line spots are still up for grabs, Meyer named Baldwin the starter on Barrett’s strong side going into his final season. Baldwin and his position-mates will be tasked with attempting to replicate the success of the 2013 offensive line, which graduated four starters — two of whom were selected in the NFL Draft in Mewhort and Corey Linsley while the other two, Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall, were signed as undrafted free agents.If the Buckeyes want to replicate their success running the ball from 2013, Baldwin will need to have a big season on the offensive front. OSU senior offensive lineman Darryl Baldwin. Credit: Courtesy of OSUEverybody knows senior quarterback Braxton Miller, and now everyone the name of redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett. The 2014 Ohio State football roster is speckled with big-name players and former five-star recruits.But while some of those players will still be key to OSU this season, some previously lesser-known players could become household names for the Buckeye faithful this season.Here are five previously lesser-known and lightly-used players to watch on the OSU roster heading into the new season: 4. Tommy Schutt, junior defensive linemanAlong with Vannett, Meyer named Schutt as one of the most improved players on this Buckeye roster, even though he’s not expected to start with players such as senior Michael Bennett and junior Adolphus Washington ahead of him on the defensive line.What Schutt does bring to the table is depth, and if he’s getting praise like that from Meyer, he would probably be much more than a role player at most other schools.Schutt struggled with injuries in 2013 as he tallied just three tackles and 0.5 sacks in six games. The Glen Ellyn, Ill., native might have been limited last season, but he proved his talent as a true freshman in 2012 when he played in 10 games for the 12-0 Buckeyes.Barring injury, Schutt won’t get a starting nod this season, but he’ll see his fair share of the field and make an impact every time he’s out there. 5. Rashad Frazier, redshirt-senior defensive linemanAnother defensive lineman you ask? Yes, another defensive lineman.Of course Bennett, Spence, Washington and sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa will be the headline players, but they can’t play every snap.Going back to Spence’s suspension, Frazier could be the man to gain the most as he has been named as a potential replacement for the first two games of the season.After transferring to OSU from Purdue University in 2012, Frazier played in just one game last season while battling through injuries. He had a strong showing in the spring, capped off by a headline-stealing performance in OSU’s annual Spring Game on April 12.In the Spring Game, Frazier recovered a fumble in the end-zone for the first points of the game and totaled two sacks and a forced fumble. It might have been a practice game, but he was probably the most dominant defensive player for much of the day.If Frazier does in fact get the nod in Spence’s slot early this season, look for him to be playing with a chip on his shoulder as he gets his first and last shot at playing time. OSU’s season opener against Navy on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore is set to kickoff at noon.