Persistent New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma returned to federal court on Friday, where a judge is hearing arguments on the NFL’s motion to dismiss the Saints linebacker’s lawsuit seeking to overturn his bounty suspension.Vilma seemed hopeful but not overly so.“You never want to go into these things with expectations,” Vilma said upon his arrival for court. “Whatever happens, happens.”It’s not clear when U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan will rule, but if she does not dismiss the lawsuit, she could potentially rule on Vilma’s request to be allowed to temporarily return to the Saints while the case proceeds.NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has suspended Vilma for the entire 2012 season, saying the linebacker was among the ring leaders of a program that offered Saints defenders improper cash bonuses for injuring opponents.Vilma, several teammates and Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt have testified that Vilma never paid or accepted money for injuring another player.Vilma was one of four current or former players who have been suspended in connection with the league’s bounty probe of the Saints. Teammate Will Smith, a defensive end, got four games, while defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, was docked eight games. Linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, was suspended for three games.Smith, Hargrove and Fujita are being represented by the NFL Players Association, which also has filed suit in federal court in New Orleans seeking to have the suspensions overturned.Vilma’s attorneys have argued that Goodell made biased public statements about the linebacker’s involvement in the bounty scandal well before the process of player discipline began, making it impossible for the commissioner to be an impartial arbitrator as called for in both the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement and federal labor law.The players union is arguing that Goodell did not have jurisdiction to appoint himself the arbitrator in the bounty matter because the accusations included on-the-field activity that, under the league’s labor deal, is supposed to involve an arbitrator other than the commissioner.
In the locker room before her match to get into the U.S. Open semifinals, Serena Williams cried. Her friend, Andy Roddick, had lost to Juan Martin del Potro, signaling the end to Roddick’s outstanding tennis career.Williams showed amazing recuperative powers, gathering her emotions and then going out and disposing of Ana Ivanovic in just 58 minutes at Arthur Ashe Stadium.Williams insisted steadying her emotions was a chore, despite how she played.“It wasn’t easy, to be honest,” Williams said. “I love Andy so much, he is such a good friend. I’ve known him since I was eight years old.”How ready to play did Williams seem? She blasted three aces in the first game en route to her easy win. As is the case when she is on her game, Williams’ serve was dominant.She had 12 aces and 25 of her 46 serves were not returned. In the second game of the second set, Ivanovic got her racket on Williams’ serve only once. Ivanovic had two break points in the seventh game of the first set, but Williams closed it with an ace.And so, Williams will play Sara Errani of Italy in the semifinals. Errani made it to the semis in an emotional way, too, having to beat her best friend and doubles partner, Roberta Vinci, 6-2, 6-4.After switching to a longer, heavier racket this season, Errani has earned four of her six career tournament wins and risen to No. 10 in the world. She lost the French Open final to Maria Sharapova. Errani also will rise to No. 1 in the doubles rankings and Vinci will be No. 2.“Quarterfinal with your best friend, of course, is difficult,” Errani said. “We know each other very well. We played together many times. So was also strange to see her on the other side of the net.”Errani has faced Williams three times – and lost three times. But they have not met since 2009.“She’s such a fighter,” Williams said. “She’s strong and quick.”
Washington Redskins fans can breath a slight sigh of relief for quarterback Robert Griffin III because MRI results revealed that he has a sprained knee and not season-ending ACL injury.Griffin took the MRI after Sunday’s 31-28 overtime win against the Baltimore Ravens, but Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie told ESPN Sunday that “everything is clear” in regards of significant ligament damage to Griffin’s right knee.The Redskins rookie quarterback was injured in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, when Ravens defensive linemen Haloti Ngata hit him at the end of a 13-yard run. Griffin limped off the field, only to return a few plays later and come right back out to fall to the field. He was helped off the field by fellow teammates.“I knew I needed to get out at that point,” Griffin told reporters after the game. “I couldn’t move. At some point you have to do what’s right for the team. And if I’m playing the rest of that game, I probably would have hurt myself even more.”Griffin headed to the locker to take an X-Ray and doctors told him that his ligaments felt fine.“I’m not a doctor, but I know what an ACL feels like,” Griffin said. “And it doesn’t feel like an ACL. … If I felt that, I’d be pretty nervous. But we won the game, everybody’s praying for me, I feel pretty good right now about the whole situation. I’m not too nervous, but I’ll definitely be praying during the MRI.”Griffin proceeded to move the Redskins down the field after Ray Rice scored a 7-yard touchdown run, to put the Ravens up 28-20 with 4:47 remaining. He marched the Redskins down the field in an attempt to tie the game, but knew his leg was in too much pain once Ngata hit him.“I knew as soon as I got hit. I screamed. Like a man, of course,” Griffin said with a smirk. “It hurt really bad.”Redskins backup quarterback Kirk Cousins replaced Griffin and threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon with 29 seconds remaining in the game. He then ran in for the two-point conversion, which led to the winning field goal kick by Kai Forbath in overtime.Griffin was 15 for 26 for 246 and a touchdown pass before leaving the game. He also carried the ball seven times for 34 yards.Wyllie said that Redskins coach Mike Shanahan will update Griffin’s condition on Monday, but his status for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns still remains uncertain.
Michael Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year for Missouri, revealed to several news outlets that he is gay, setting the way for him to become the first openly homosexual player in the NFL.In interviews with ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports that were published Sunday, Sam, a defensive end, said his teammates and coaches at Missouri have known since August.“I am an openly, proud gay man,” he said. “It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be. . . I want to be a football player in the NFL.”Last year, NBA player Jason Collins announced he was gay after the season. Collins, a 35-year-old backup center, was a free agent and has not signed with a new team this season. MLS star and U.S. national team player Robbie Rogers also came out a year ago. Division III Willamette kicker Conner Mertens, a redshirt freshman, said last month he was bisexual. There have been several NFL players who have come out after their playing days, including Kwame Harris and Dave Kopay.The 255-pound Sam is projected to be a mid-round NFL draft pick.“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” the NFL said in statement. “Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”Sam said many people at the Senior Bowl all-star game for NFL prospects seemed to know that he was gay. His team has known since August, he said.“I didn’t realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me,” he told ESPN. “I want to own my truth. . . No one else should tell my story but me.”Before coming out to all his teammates and coaches, Sam said he told a few close friends and dated another Missouri athlete who was not a football player.“Coaches just wanted to know a little about ourselves, our majors, where we’re from and something that no one knows about you,” Sam said. “And I used that opportunity just to tell them that I was gay. And their reaction was like, ‘Michael Sam finally told us.’ ”Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said in a statement Sunday night: “Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others. He’s taught a lot of people here first-hand that it doesn’t matter what your background is, or your personal orientation, we’re all on the same team and we all support each other. If Michael doesn’t have the support of his teammates like he did this past year, I don’t think there’s any way he has the type of season he put together.”Missouri linebacker Donovan Bonner has been a teammate of Sam’s for five years.“We knew of his status for five years and not one team member, coach, or staff member said anything says a lot about our family atmosphere,” Bonner tweeted.
Former NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin says it’s a “travesty” that Colin Kaepernick isn’t in the league.Boldin, the co-founder of The Players Coalition, tells PodcastOne Sports Now guest host Rob Maaddi that Kaepernick “deserves” to be in the NFL and AP NFL writer Barry Wilner dissects NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s comments on Kaepernick and officiating.FILE – In this Oct. 2, 2016 file photo, from left, San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and safety Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)Former NFL running back Steven Jackson talks about the turnover he lived through playing for the Rams before ending his career with the Patriots. Saints linebacker Demario Davis admits it’s tough being in Atlanta for the Super Bowl following his team’s gut-wrenching loss to Los Angeles in the NFC title game.Falcons executive Steve Cannon raves about Mercedes Benz Stadium and its fan-friendly experience.Movie producer Will Packer shares insight into his upcoming film about a female sports agent who can read men’s minds.
JaVale McGee has gone a long way toward shedding the persona he got from “Shaqtin’ a Fool,” the TV blooper segment on which he held residency for years. Coming off consecutive NBA titles with Golden State, the 7-footer is currently logging career highs in points and blocks per game with the Lakers while serving as a full-time starter for the first time since 2011-12. Not bad considering the collective confusion when he agreed to a deal to join LeBron James in Los Angeles.But for all the improvement he’s shown as a mainstay in this lineup, the 30-year-old still has an Achilles’ heel when it comes to his defense: McGee remains the league’s supreme goaltender.As of Wednesday, McGee had been called for goaltending an NBA-high 13 times, nearly twice as many as Orlando rookie Mo Bamba, who ranks second in the league with seven violations. The Knicks, who also have 13 goaltending violations, are the only team that’s been called as many times as McGee himself, according to PBP Stats, which tracks a wide array of advanced NBA statistics. But this is nothing new for McGee: Since his rookie year, he has somehow managed to lead the NBA in goaltending violations per 100 possessions in each of the eight seasons in which he logged at least 400 minutes of playing time.With 214 goaltends in his career,1This includes 11 in the postseason. including one season when he logged a league-high 55, there have obviously been some true head-scratchers. One violation in 2012 was particularly egregious: The ball was in clear, undeniable descent before McGee launched it, volleyball-style, into the stands 25 or so feet in the air.Puzzling as they might be from time to time for his coaches, the goaltending calls probably aren’t that big of a deal. Getting called for something that costs his club 2 points — 2 points they might have surrendered anyway — is arguably small potatoes compared with the upside of blocking a shot. And that’s likely even more true of McGee, who this year has blocked 5.3 shots for every goaltending violation.But McGee’s willingness to lunge at nearly every shot attempt the way a cat flails at a laser pointer can cost his team in other ways. His block attempts often hurt the Laker defense more than if he had simply stayed on the ground. Take a late October game against the Spurs, when McGee committed three shooting fouls — resulting in seven San Antonio free throw attempts in a 1-point defeat — that stemmed from him ramming into jump-shooters. Twice, LaMarcus Aldridge pump-faked McGee into the air, knowing his constant tendency to go for blocks. (DeMar DeRozan did the same thing to McGee when the Lakers visited San Antonio.) Over the past two seasons, McGee has posted the second-highest foul rate when it comes to big men bumping into jump-shooters, according to data from Second Spectrum.2Among those with at least 10 such fouls. Only Portland’s Zach Collins has a higher foul rate in such scenarios.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/JaVale1.mp400:0000:0000:55Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.While McGee may not have the greatest on-court instincts, the reason he attempts to block so many shots is simple: He thinks he’s capable of cleanly blocking them all. He’s highly athletic — remember the dunk contest in which he jammed on two side-by-side rims at the same time? — and at one point McGee owned the largest wingspan in the entire league, at more than 7-foot-6.“That’s something [the referees are] not used to seeing,” McGee said of a particularly ridiculous block, when he caught the ball with one hand — and appeared to do so cleanly — but was whistled for goaltending anyway.“I think he tries to be spectacular,” then-Nuggets coach George Karl said in 2013 when asked about McGee’s game. “Basketball is a game of possession after possession of doing things the right way, doing your job and letting the spectacular come. I think JaVale tries to find the spectacular and forces the spectacular when if … you just let us orchestrate the game, something big-time will happen.”Another prolific rim protector, Tyson Chandler, sized up McGee’s game nearly eight years ago in a post from a Wizards blog. Chandler presciently said the then-Wizards center needed “to understand how he can be effective,” and that he would learn that by playing with more established veterans. McGee gained that experience with Golden State — and now Chandler is backing up McGee with the Lakers.McGee has been a force this season. He’s been a top-10 rim protector3Among players who’ve logged at least 15 games and who have defended five shots or more from inside of 6 feet per game. so far, holding opponents more than 10 points beneath their averages from inside of 6 feet, according to NBA Advanced Stats. In large part because of their play at center, the Lakers rank fifth in the league in opponent field-goal percentage inside 3 feet and ninth in overall defensive efficiency. And while there were once questions about McGee’s basic fundamentals, those concerns have largely evaporated. Just look at last year’s NBA Finals, when McGee played incredibly solid defense after being switched onto LeBron.What will be worth watching on Thursday, when the Lakers play foul-drawing maestro James Harden and the Rockets, and this postseason4If Los Angeles makes it. is whether McGee can avoid being baited by fakes. If savvy teams like the Spurs already know to test his ability to stay on the ground, it’s almost a given that other teams will try it in a series.In a way, the key to the Lakers rising to become true contenders could very well be based on McGee’s ability to stay grounded on defense.Check out our latest NBA predictions.
Two of hockey’s Original Six are alive and well in the Eastern Conference finals, which began Saturday with the New York Rangers’ 7-2 rout of the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1.1The Chicago Blackhawks, another Original Six team, are also leading the Western Conference finals 1-0. The series is an interesting case study in the rebuilding of once-great clubs. No matter which of the two historic franchises prevails, the victor will have made it to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since it won hockey’s ultimate prize roughly two decades ago.2The Rangers haven’t been back to the Final since winning the Cup in 1994; the Canadiens haven’t been back since winning it in 1993. Their long road back saw 19 different head coaches between them,3A tally that includes Alain Vigneault, who has coached both teams. payrolls both desiccated and bloated, and years of mediocrity that flouted expectations. But their twin decades in the wilderness taught them the value of drafting well and committing to smart spending.North of the border, Les Habitants play the central role in Canada’s ongoing, agonizing Stanley Cup drought. The Canadiens are unaccustomed to going this long without a championship, and that’s putting it mildly. Over the course of the 77 postseasons between 1916 and 1993, Montreal hoisted the Cup once every 3.2 seasons on average. They won 24 titles; to this day, no other NHL team has won more than 13.4The Toronto Maple Leafs own that second-place distinction, despite not having won any Cups themselves since 1967.The 1992-93 Canadiens won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1985-86.5At the time, Montreal fans would have considered that seven-year gap — and the seven-season void before that — an alarming dry spell. That championship team was good — and lucky. According to estimates of score-close Fenwick percentage (a team-possession stat), the 1992-93 Canadiens were the NHL’s eighth-best team at controlling possession, and they finished sixth in save percentage thanks to Patrick Roy, one of the rare goalies who could truly be said to possess consistently elite puck-stopping skills. Their luck often came in overtime, when the Canadiens won the majority of their playoff games; they went an incredible 10-1 in overtime during the 1993 postseason,6Setting the record for most overtime wins in a single playoff year. including victories in Games 2, 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. (Historically, there’s essentially no correlation between how a team does from one overtime playoff game to the next, so Montreal’s overtime record undoubtedly meant the Canadiens were the beneficiary of good fortune during their ‘93 Cup run.)The 1992-93 Canadiens were the fifth-youngest Cup-winners since the dawn of the Original Six era in 1943.7As weighted by the Modified Point Shares of each player on the roster. Modified Point Shares is an offshoot of Hockey-Reference’s Point Shares re-scaled to give forwards 60 percent of the league’s total value, defensemen 30 percent and goalies 10 percent, per research I conducted for analytics guru Tom Tango last summer. Despite carrying over much of the same core of players into subsequent seasons, Montreal declined sharply, soon missing the playoffs for the first time in a quarter-century. Habs GM Serge Savard wasn’t able to wheel and deal his way to a new championship-caliber group,8To the contrary — he dealt away Roy in one of the most one-sided trades in NHL history. and aside from the 1987 and 1993 drafts9The latter of which yielded Saku Koivu. the team did not restock well. According to a measurement of picking efficiency similar to one I used to evaluate NFL teams’ performances in the draft,10Using Modified Point Shares. the Canadiens were the league’s fourth-worst drafting team from 1988 to 1995.11And its fifth-worst over the larger 1988-2001 period.Making matters worse, the Canadiens were facing a weak national currency at a time before the salary cap. Because Montreal had to offer more money than U.S. teams did in order to get the same amount of talent, they found themselves at a competitive disadvantage. The Habs fell out of the league’s top 10 in payroll spending for the 1994-95 season,12According to Rodney Fort’s archived NHL payroll data, which spans the 1989-90 through 2011-12 seasons (save for missing data on the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons). dropping to 16th out of 26 teams that season and 17th in each of the next two years. Unable to compete financially (they’d been a top-five payroll team as recently as five years earlier) and having strung together a series of mostly poor drafts, the Canadiens fired Savard in 199513Although they didn’t do much better under Rejean Houle, either. and spent the next decade mired in mediocrity.Meanwhile in Manhattan, the Rangers were suffering much the same fate. Their 1993-94 Stanley Cup championship team had broken the Curse of 1940 and given Rangers fans their long-awaited redemption. The team was an incredible collection of talent, posting the fourth-best record and fifth-best estimated Fenwick close of any pre-2008 Cup winner,14Going back to the 1987-88 season, the first year of Hockey-Reference’s game log data. but also had the fifth-oldest roster in the league15Weighted by the Modified Point Shares of each player on the roster. and was the 23rd-oldest Cup winner since 1943.Instead of seeking out younger players, New York GM Neil Smith put the league’s oldest squad on the ice over the next three seasons (even recruiting a 36-year-old Wayne Gretzky to join a 36-year-old Mark Messier in the summer of 1996). While the Canadiens were struggling to contend with the NHL’s new financial realities, the Rangers had no such issues; their $44 million payroll in 1997-98 was the highest in NHL history at the time. But they were also committed to an old, overpaid roster that wasn’t producing — and, like Montreal, New York had compounded matters by drafting poorly over the previous decade.16The Rangers were the league’s third-worst drafting team from 1992 to 1999.A number of key players on the Rangers’ 1993-94 championship squad had been acquired in the draft during the late 1980s and early 1990s, including Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Sergei Zubov, Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Nemchinov and Tony Amonte. But the subsequent batch of Rangers drafts produced first-round busts like Jeff Brown (No. 22 overall in 1996), Stefan Cherneski (No. 19 in 1997) and Pavel Brendl and Jamie Lundmark (No. 4 and No. 9, respectively, in 1999).The lack of decent prospects made it difficult for New York to avoid extending its aging stars’ contracts or overpaying for veterans on the free-agent market. From 1997-98 to 2003-04, the Rangers never fell outside the NHL’s top four teams in payroll dollars spent, yet never had a season with a winning record. Smith was fired after a disappointing 1999-2000 campaign that saw New York finish 12 points out of the playoffs, but his successor, Glen Sather, didn’t fare better, missing the postseason himself in each of the next four seasons.Both the Canadiens and Rangers were afterthoughts in the 2000s. But both teams began to turn their fortunes around after a lockout wiped out the entire 2004-05 schedule and radically shifted the game’s economic landscape.Under the league’s new salary-cap system (and with the loonie gaining strength), Montreal steadily began to spend more on payroll, cracking the top 10 once more in 2006-07, and the top five in 2008-09. And while the Rangers initially spent huge sums of money on their players,17They led the league in payroll during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. Sather began reducing the team’s payroll in 2010 — dropping out of the top five for the first time in at least 20 years, followed by a 14th-place payroll ranking in 2011-12 and a 19th-place ranking this year.The Rangers’ sudden, unprecedented reduction in payroll coincided with a newfound commitment to youth. After ranking among the league’s oldest teams each season going back to the early 1990s, New York transitioned to become one of the youngest squads in 2008-09, jettisoning aging stars like Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka. This year, the Rangers’ only major contributors over 3018According to Modified Point Shares. are Henrik Lundqvist, 31, and Brad Richards, 33. And the team’s recent draft classes have supplied the Rangers with a host of talented youngsters such as Derek Stepan, Michael Del Zotto, Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin. (Undrafted free-agent gems like Mats Zuccarello help, too.)In a similar vein, one of the biggest ingredients of Montreal’s turnaround has been a successful series of drafts by general managers Andre Savard, Bob Gainey and Pierre Gauthier, beginning in 200219Hey, Chris Higgins was a solid No. 14 pick. and cresting with strong hauls in 2004, 2005 and 2007. Under their stewardship, the team made a number of shrewd selections, like P.K. Subban at No. 43, Max Pacioretty at No. 22, Brendan Gallagher at No. 147 and Carey Price at No. 5. (Other 2013-14 Habs key players procured via the draft include Andrei Markov — a relic of the Houle era — and Tomas Plekanec.) All those players’ careers have exceeded what could reasonably have been expected from their draft positions.Those picks may have been plain old luck — the year-to-year correlation for teams’ per-pick draft efficiency is very nearly zero, suggesting drafting skill is largely random in hockey, just as it is in football. Regardless, Montreal and New York still brought themselves back into relevance.None of this guarantees a Stanley Cup this year. The winner of the Eastern Conference finals will face either the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, or the Los Angeles Kings, who are the best possession team in hockey. Neither the Canadiens nor the Rangers has looked especially dominant in the playoffs thus far, aside from the Rangers’ pasting of the Canadiens in Game 1. Both teams needed Game 7s to squeak past their opponents in the conference semifinals, and the Rangers needed that many to top the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round, too. During the regular season, the Canadiens were not a strong possession team, still a major leading indicator of future team success.Despite all of those caveats, it’s notable that one of these two teams is guaranteed a place in the final. Each lost its way during the previous decade, but by successfully rebuilding through the draft and not throwing good money after bad, they’ve provided a road map for once-proud franchises to get back on the path to the Stanley Cup.
OSU senior guard Ameryst Alston (14) during a game against Illinois on Feb. 21 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Brooke Profitt | Lantern PhotographerThe postseason is upon the Ohio State women’s basketball team. It’s the time of the year that every team plays for. One loss is all it takes to dash a team’s desires. For OSU, that second season begins with the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse this weekend. No. 9 OSU enters the tournament hungry for wins and a chance to play for the hardware. The Buckeyes are the second seed in the tournament, which earns it a two-round bye. That rest could provide the Buckeyes a little bit of time to regroup after a tough end to their regular season.“We have a great opportunity heading to Indianapolis. It’s going to be a competitive tournament,” OSU coach Kevin McGuff said. “We had a tough week last week, but we control our destiny, and I think we can beat anybody that we are going to play if we have the right mindset and we really compete to win.” The Buckeyes are scheduled to kick off their tournament journey Friday night at 6:30 p.m. against the winner of a game between Rutgers and Nebraska. OSU beat both teams handily during the regular season.The contest between the Scarlet Knights and the Huskers is scheduled for Thursday evening, and the Buckeyes will have their eyes glued to the television to scout their two possible opponents.OSU is not satisfied with completing the regular season on a two-game losing streak, sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell said. The Buckeyes first lost to Minnesota in overtime and then to Michigan State in triple overtime in the finale. However, Mitchell said they have put the past behind them and have been focused on the task at hand.“We didn’t have the week we wanted to have,” she said. “It’s just one of those things where we have to turn the page. We have to get back to how things were.”Rating RutgersRutgers enters the Big Ten tournament as the No. 10 seed with hope to prove itself to the rest of the conference. Coming off a 72-50 win over Michigan, the Scarlet Knights have a lot of confidence. They lean on senior forward Kahleah Copper, who averages 17.3 points per game and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. Against the Buckeyes, Copper scored 19 points in the first meeting and 18 the second. The Philadelphia native is known for her ability to drive to the basket and finish with authority. Copper’s counterpart is junior guard Tyler Scaife, who was also selected to the All-Big Ten second team. The speedy Scaife averages 17.6 points per game and has had OSU’s number this season, putting up 27 points when visiting Columbus earlier in the year. When OSU traveled to Piscataway, New Jersey, a couple of weeks later, Scaife contributed 13 points and four assists. If Rutgers is the team OSU plays on Friday, the Buckeyes will likely put their focus on stopping Copper and Scaife in order to come out on top.Nebraska notesNebraska is full of standout players who could potentially give the Buckeyes trouble if the Cornhuskers defeat Rutgers on Thursday. The No. 7 seed enters the tournament on the heels of a 76-67 victory over Northwestern on Sunday afternoon.Nebraska forward Jessica Shepard was awarded Big Ten Freshman of the Year, as she averaged 19.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-4 forward is adept at scoring down low and has proven to be one of the top post players in the conference throughout the course of the season. Last time out against the Buckeyes, Shepard dropped 20 points, all of which came inside the paint. All-Big TenOn Monday night, the Big Ten announced its all-conference teams, and four Buckeyes were chosen.Joining Mitchell, a unanimous selection, on the first-team is senior guard Ameryst Alston.Alston is No. 7 in scoring in the Big Ten with 19.5 points per game, while also being tied for 10th in the Big Ten in assists with 3.9 dimes per game.“I appreciate that award,” Alston said. “It’s not something that we really pay attention to, but I am grateful that I was chosen.”The second-team All-Big Ten squad included junior forward Shayla Cooper and sophomore forward Alexa Hart. Hart was also named to the All-Big Ten defensive team. She has been the defensive anchor for the Buckeyes this season, swatting away 2.6 shots per game. Despite the individual accolades that they receive, McGuff said his team is more focused on winning games.“They are into the team stuff and they want the team to do well, and that’s what makes them great kids and great players,” McGuff said.The Buckeyes will look to have a productive Thursday prior to hopping on the bus to Indianapolis. If they win Friday, the tournament semifinal is set for the next day.
The OSU baseball team celebrates during a game against Northwestern on March 27 at Bill Davis Stadium. OSU won 5-4. Credit: Lantern file photoThe Ohio State baseball team is coming off its most successful season in years. For the first time since 2009, the Buckeyes were in the NCAA tournament and won their first Big Ten tournament since 2007.But repeating that success will be a challenge. The Buckeyes’ lineup will be returning just two hitters from that group against Iowa in the final tournament game — senior co-captain Jalen Washington and junior outfielder Tre’ Gantt — and both players are changing positions.The team also will return only two of its regular starting pitchers with redshirt junior Adam Niemeyer and sophomore Ryan Feltner. Friday night starter Tanner Tully, who was drafted by the Cleveland Indians, and Saturday night starter John Havird, who graduated last season, have left the program, leaving big shoes to fill.Replacing impact players like Nick Sergakis and Ronnie Dawson will be a combination of 17 junior college baseball players and freshmen joining the club, making for plenty of uncertainty.“We’re a very talented ball club. I say that with a little caution because we haven’t proven it,” said OSU coach Greg Beals. “There’s a lot of guys that are going to get their first shot to be everyday players here at Ohio State.”Arguably the biggest change for the team comes from behind the dish. Washington, who caught 62 games last season for the team, will leave the role of catcher and shift to shortstop, his natural position. Taking over at catcher will be sophomore Jacob Barnwell, a player Washington has worked with while in preparation for the new role.“We’ve had a lot of dialogue with me and Barnwell, (sophomore catcher Andrew) Fishel a little bit,” Washington said. “Just how to get comfortable, how to handle the pitchers. Majority of the game is understanding the pitchers, making the pitchers comfortable, making their job as easy as possible.”The remainder of the infield appears penciled in with a pair of junior college transfers likely to start on the right side of the infield, and one returning player. Beals said junior transfers Bo Coolen and Noah McGowan are favorites to start at first and second base, respectively, while sophomore Brady Cherry looks to start at the hot corner for the ball club.The outfield, however, is much more in question. Gantt, the primary right fielder last season, will be shifting over to center field to man his natural position. But he is the only player with a potentially guaranteed spot.One outfielder Beals has his eye on is freshman Dominic Canzone, a Louisville Slugger High School All-American praised for his promising hitting ability.“Dom Canzone — just a knack for hitting,” Beals said. “He’s got a hit tool that’s hard to teach. He puts barrel on ball at a high rate.”The pitching staff will see changes occurring within the rotation, but the bullpen figures to remain roughly the same as last season. Junior Seth Kinker, who led the team in appearances, returns to the club as will senior left-hander Joe Stoll, redshirt junior Kyle Michalik and redshirt junior Austin Woodby, who served as a spot starter and reliever.An interesting case is redshirt junior Yianni Pavlopoulos, who served as closer in 2016. He might be headed towards a role as a starting pitcher in 2017.“Yianni Pavlopoulos, we moved out of the closer’s spot into starting rotation potential,” Beals said. “The potential exists for him to be in the rotation, the potential exists for him to go back in the closer’s spot. But we’re training him with an increased pitch count so that he is ready to be a starter if need be.”Though Pavlopoulos will be competing for a spot in the rotation, the only known weekend starters are Niemeyer and Feltner, while the Sunday night starter and weekday starter remain unknown.“I think right now, all the positions are pretty open from a pitching standpoint,” Niemeyer said. “It’s kind of an open competition right now, so we’ll see how all the pieces fit in these next few weeks before the season starts.”The team still has some positions left to fill, but the ball club is optimistic about its chances in 2017. The team is young and lacks experience, but Niemeyer believes this is a club that can compete now.“We want to keep building on that culture we created last year,” Niemeyer said. “I think everyone in this locker room, the coaching staff, everyone expects us to be in the hunt for another Big Ten Championship and we all believe we can accomplish that goal.”
Tonight marks the beginning of the 11th annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge, an early-season series of games pitting teams from two of college basketball’s best conferences against one other.In the first 10 years of the challenge, the ACC has dominated, going 10-0 and winning 62 of the 97 games.Penn State at VirginiaThe Big Ten/ACC challenge tips off tonight with two of the conferences’ weaker teams.Virginia, picked to finish 11th in the conference before the season started, has already lost to South Florida and Stanford this year.Similarly, but perhaps more embarrassingly, the Nittany Lions have two losses of their own early in the season: an 80-69 loss to UNC Wilmington and a 63-60 loss to Tulane.Neither team showcased in the challenge’s opening game will be a true testament to what each conference has to offer.Wake Forest at No. 6 PurduePurdue, last season’s Big Ten Tournament champion, returns four of five starters, including preseason All-Conference forward Robbie Hummel.The Demon Deacons, picked by the media in the preseason as the ACC’s sixth-best team, are led by sophomore forward Al-Farouq Aminu. After five games, Aminu is averaging 18.8 points and 11.2 rebounds.Last week Purdue beat No. 9 Tennessee, proving its Top 10 ranking is no joke. The veteran Boilermakers are one of the best teams in the country.Northwestern at North Carolina StateNorthwestern’s preseason was marred with devastating injuries. Two Wildcat seniors, Jeff Ryan and Kevin Coble, were out for the season with ACL injuries before the team even began the year.Despite its 5-0 record, NC State was picked before the season as the ACC’s worst team. It might struggle in this game, even with the injuries to the Wildcats. The record might be a bit misleading — the Wolfpack has knocked off Georgia State, Akron, Austin Peay, Auburn and New Orleans.No. 21 Maryland at IndianaAfter a disappointing showing in last week’s Maui Invitational, Maryland left Hawaii with more questions than answers.The Terrapins lost to Cincinnati in the semifinals before falling again the following night at the hands of Wisconsin.Greivis Vasquez, Maryland’s point guard and a member of the preseason All-ACC team, has been conspicuously ineffective so far this year, scoring only 11.2 points per game, fourth-best on the team.Indiana’s freshman guard Maurice Creek is averaging more than 16 points a game and will look to lead the Hoosiers to an upset. At 3-3, Indiana already has half as many wins as it reached last season.No. 2 Michigan State at No. 11 North CarolinaThe marquee matchup of the challenge is a rematch of last year’s national championship game. Although the Tar Heels bested the Spartans in April, Carolina has vastly different personnel this year. Michigan State’s roster is basically intact.The Spartans return defending Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas, who is averaging nearly 17 points per game. There’s no denying that Carolina is talented, but the Heels lack the experience of last year’s team that dominated Michigan State in the title game. The Spartans will be looking for revenge and are much more fit to challenge the Tar Heels this time around.Virginia Tech at IowaThe Iowa Hawkeyes are likely the worst the Big Ten has to offer and, quite frankly, might be one of the worst teams in the entire country.The Hawkeyes have already dropped four games this year: a 62-50 loss to Texas-San Antonio, a 52-50 loss to Duquesne, an 85-60 loss to Texas, and a 74-57 loss to Wichita State.Virginia Tech and preseason All-Conference guard Malcolm Delaney, who is averaging 21.8 points per game, shouldn’t find the task too difficult. The Hokies are off to a 4-1 start.No. 20 Illinois at No. 19 ClemsonPreseason All-ACC forward Trevor Booker leads Clemson in perhaps the most evenly matched contest of the challenge. Booker leads the Tigers in both scoring and rebounding.The Tigers fell to Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago.Illinois returns three starters from last year’s team, which finished third in the conference, and has four players that average double-digit points.With many of the other games having a clear favorite, the winner of this game could determine which conference will come out on top.No. 22 Minnesota at MiamiWednesday’s game will be the first ever meeting between these two schools.Coach Tubby Smith has rejuvenated the Golden Gopher program and put it on the national radar, a place unfamiliar to Minnesota basketball. Led by senior guard Lawrence Westbrook, Minnesota has begun the season 4-2, including an 82-73 win over No. 12 Butler last week.Miami has put together a fast start of its own, winning seven straight to start the season. Boston College at No. 15 MichiganJust like Duke, Boston College has never lost a game as a part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. However, the Golden Eagles have stumbled out of the gates, losing two of their first six games, including a 12-point loss to Northern Iowa last week.Michigan’s Manny Harris nearly posted his second triple-double of the season in last week’s overtime victory over Creighton but finished one rebound short. He leads the Wolverines with 21.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game.No. 7 Duke at WisconsinThe Badgers and senior guard Trevon Hughes are coming off a third-place finish in last week’s Maui Invitational. After losing to Gonzaga in the semifinals, Wisconsin beat Maryland, an ACC team, in the consolation game.Unfortunately for the Badgers, they will play a different class of ACC team Wednesday.Duke has never lost a game in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, boasting a 10-0 record. Along with preseason All-American Kyle Singler, the Blue Devils have four players that average double-digit points.Florida State at No. 17 Ohio StateOhio State’s Evan Turner has recorded two triple-doubles through six games.Turner is averaging 19.8 points per game, but it is his rebounding numbers that garner the most attention. Through the Buckeyes’ first six games, the junior point guard is grabbing 12.8 rebounds a game, the third-highest average in the country.Florida State is led by sophomore forward Chris Singleton, who averages 11.3 points per game. The Seminoles like to get the ball inside, something that could give the Buckeyes trouble if center Dallas Lauderdale gets into foul trouble.