emmaspan: Oh my gosh. I changed my mind: Orioles are going all the way this year. New York Yankeesneil: All right, let’s move on to the Yankees. According to the numbers, at least, they might be the most underrated team in baseball — which I never thought I’d actually hear a Yankee team described as.dszymborski: One surprising — and positive — thing about New York is just how young its good pitching is. I do this thing called “contribution age,” in which I weight a team’s age by its projected WAR, and the Yankees actually have the second-youngest pitching staff based on where they’re getting the value from (slightly behind the Mets).emmaspan: Do you think those young guys are ready, Dan? Luis Severino did look really strong last year, but small sample size and all that.dszymborski: Oh, I’m frightened by the downside, but a lot of the contributions that they’re going to get will need to be from those young/youngish guys. I’m bullish on Severino especially, simply because he’s one of the few starters that actually has his arm completely intact.emmaspan: Speaking of which, I worry about Michael Pineda staying healthy. I mean, also every other pitcher in the league, but Pineda has a long list of injury issues.neil: Masahiro Tanaka, too, has his own injury history as well.emmaspan: A good chunk of the Yankees’ season probably hangs on Tanaka’s elbow, which is pretty precarious. And I think at CC Sabathia‘s age, it’s unlikely he’ll get back to his top form, which is too bad, because he was enormously fun to watch.dszymborski: He was one of the great hopes for the next 300-game winner for a while, too. Watching his ZiPS career projection for wins come down year after year is very depressing. It peaked at 274 five years ago. Now it’s down to 231.emmaspan: Aw, CC. At least it sounds like he’s in a good place off the field and that’s great.neil: But is it fair to say the Yankees will probably once again be somewhere between OK and pretty decent on both the runs scored and allowed fronts? That was their formula last season, but it fell short of what are always the ravenous expectations in the Bronx.dszymborski: That seems about right. It’s an old risky team that can still patch together enough of a run to remain solid.emmaspan: That’s what I think. Their lineup is still overly reliant on old (by baseball standards) players but they shored it up a bit this offseason. I think it’ll be serviceable, and like the last few years, probably enough to put them in contention for a wild card. Money can’t buy you a championship, but it can keep you from totally sucking.dszymborski: I find using “old” a more loaded term these days, given how quickly baseball is running out of players that are older than I am.emmaspan: You should love the Yankees, then, Dan. Speaking of old, I thought for sure A-Rod would be cooked last year, but he was one of their best players. Is there any way he manages that again?dszymborski: I think he could. The question before last year was whether, after injuries and missing a year, he’d be able to do it at all. That he did it once should make us slightly more optimistic.neil: A-Rod’s regression potential, though, is another limiting factor for that lineup that probably keeps them more “OK” than “great.”dszymborski: Some of the issues in the offense would look less urgent if not for the Greg Bird injury.emmaspan: Yeah, not a great idea to go in without a good Mark Teixeira backup plan.neil: And what do we make of this bullpen Death Star they’ve built when Aroldis Chapman returns from suspension?emmaspan: It could make up for some of those rotation question marks — you don’t need to rely on length from that group of starters. For me, it would be more fun to watch if their buy-low on Chapman while he was under investigation for domestic violence hadn’t been so discouraging. But yes, from a pure baseball perspective, it’ll still be a spectacle.One of the more impressive aspects of the Yankees’ recent history is that for all their issues, they’ve done a good job replacing Mariano Rivera, which is a tall order. None of these guys are Mo, don’t get me wrong, but the bullpen hasn’t really been one of their problems. Baltimore Oriolesneil: You guys have just told me why any of the Jays, Red Sox, Yankees or Rays could win this division without anything too crazy happening. Does it stand to reason that Baltimore, who won this division as recently as two years ago, also fits that description?dszymborski: Pretty much. Although there’s something depressing about the fact that the Os had to increase their payroll to $150 million just to essentially maintain last year’s roster. (Which went 81-81.)emmaspan: They would surprise me the most of any AL East team, but even for them I would say they still have a shot. They’re gonna clobber a ton of home runs. That pitching, though.neil: The rotation looks especially shaky.dszymborski: It’s essentially four soft-tossing righties and Kevin Gausman, who they spent all of last year trying to use in the most awkward way imaginable.emmaspan: We did a big article on Jake Arrieta this week. Between what he said about his time in Baltimore and what the scout we talked to said about Gausman, yikes. Developing pitching prospects is risky for any team, but the Orioles desperately need to break this pattern.dszymborski: I think the Os lead the league in home runs, go 81-81, and the organization can’t quite figure out why.emmaspan: Their path to success is similar to last year’s Jays: out-slug all comers. But, again, for the Jays that involved picking up one of the best pitchers in baseball at the deadline, and that’s a tall order.dszymborski: Baltimore’s closer to a rebuild than any of the other AL East teams, I think. The farm’s dried up, they can’t increase payroll any more, and Manny Machado’s only got three years to free agency now.emmaspan: I feel awful for Orioles fans if the team doesn’t extend Machado and he goes elsewhere. Oof.dszymborski: I’m from Baltimore! I’m slowly coming to terms that he’s signing somewhere else for $300 million.emmaspan: I do think they have kind of a secret weapon in Buck Showalter, who can win you a few extra one-run games. And Yovani Gallardo should be pretty solid. It’s not an inspiring signing, but it’s something.dszymborski: Despite the doom and gloom, they do have a playoff scenario. It’s just that they’re going to have to face some tough questions quicker than the others.emmaspan: Your 2015 Baltimore Orioles: “Well, It’s Something.”neil: Better or worse than “Why Not?” neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): All right — the AL East is perennially one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, but the balance of power has shifted a bit away from the classic Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in recent years. Do we think that will persist this year with Toronto winning again, or do we have reason to think New York and especially Boston will return to their former glories?dszymborski: Well, both teams have a plausible case to contention, though either could come off the rails very quickly. I think it’s truer than ever that there are no great AL East teams or even any great AL teams, period.emmaspan: I’d agree with Dan that the AL East is pretty wide open. It wouldn’t shock me to see any of these teams squeak into a wild-card spot. And I believe SI’s preseason predictions for the AL East last year ended up being an exact inversion of the final standings. So everyone should definitely listen to me.dszymborski: The nice thing about the “all teams are plausible!” prediction is that people end up having to be less specific in their anger at me by the time the season ends.emmaspan: I think Boston will be pretty good this year, although to be fair, I also thought that last year, and, well. But I think the race is likelier to be between the Red Sox and the Blue Jays than the Yankees. All three of those teams have a lot of question marks in their rotations, but I think the Sox and Jays have lineups that can cover for a lot of that, and I’m not sure I’d say the same for New York. Tampa Bay Raysneil: Maybe the real wild card in this division (not literally the AL Wild Card, just the figure of speech — although maybe the literal Wild Card, too) is the Tampa Bay Rays. PECOTA is picking them to win the division, on the strength of a really outlier-ish fielding performance. What do you think? Are the Rays back?dszymborski: Yeah, ZiPS had the opposite: Rays at 80-82.neil: I think most other sources were more in line with ZiPS. Vegas pegged them with an over/under of 78 wins.emmaspan: I don’t think the Rays are back quite yet, but they’re better, and if a few things went right for them, the Wild Card is pretty realistic. I do think they’ll have good defense (Kevin Kiermaier by himself is basically a good defense), and potentially a strong rotation.dszymborski: Yeah, it could happen for sure. They’re a non-terrible team in a wide-open division.emmaspan: I just don’t see them hitting enough. But a few surprise performances and a couple of trades and who knows?dszymborski: You’re really seeing some of the effects of their recent drafts not bearing fruit yet. Only a single drafted Ray since David Price in 2007 has five WAR in the majors: Kiermaier.emmaspan: I’m pretty fascinated to see if Kiermaier’s insane defensive stats hold up. I mean, he’s obviously an excellent, excellent centerfielder — but worth five wins on defense alone?dszymborski: There’s gotta be some regression on that. Defensive stats are just so volatile. But even at +15, he’s a valuable player.emmaspan: Yeah, generally you take a single season of defensive stats with large grains of salt. That said, you watch him field, and he really is awesome. Obligatory plug — check out last week’s issue of SI for more on Kiermaier and his crazy centerfielding.dszymborski: I prefer “centerfieldery.” Sounds better after “feats of.”emmaspan: You’re right. Let’s go with “crazy feats of centerfieldery.” I won’t tell the SI copy desk if you don’t.neil: But it sounds like you both are somewhat skeptical of that +56 fielding runs above average PECOTA is spitting out for Tampa. Do they have much of a plausible path to the division crown if that doesn’t end up happening? Looking at the rest of their roster, it doesn’t seem like there’s enough else there.dszymborski: To establish +56 as a baseline, you gotta do it longer. (It’s like projecting Bonds in his 73-homer season. Even though he did hit 73, you probably shouldn’t have projected it beforehand.) And without that +56, it’s tougher for the Rays. But remember, I don’t see them being quite that good defensively and still think there’s a path — just not the most likely one.emmaspan: Right. I don’t think it’s likely but, again, it wouldn’t be shocking. Chris Archer is awesome. Matt Moore’s looked great. I think Drew Smyly can be good. Combine a really good rotation with very good fielding — even if it isn’t +56 fielding runs above average — and stranger things have happened.neil: In fairness, I should also say their catchers — specifically, Hank Conger and René Rivera — are really good framers. So some of that is being factored into PECOTA.emmaspan: Evan Longoria going back to his star levels would go a long way towards helping. I don’t know how likely that is. And even if it did, I still think they need a couple bats. But I don’t think they’re far away from contending.dszymborski: No, just need some things to go right. Like when you don’t want to do your homework and there’s a 40 percent chance of snow in the forecast. In honor of the 2016 Major League Baseball season, which starts Sunday, FiveThirtyEight is assembling some of our favorite baseball writers to chat about the year to come. Today, we focus on the American League East with Sports Illustrated senior editor Emma Span and ESPN analyst Dan Szymborski. The transcript below has been edited.Toronto Blue JaysBoston Red SoxNew York YankeesTampa Bay RaysBaltimore Orioles Embed Code dszymborski: I know the whole “Why Not?” song. I had the 1989 team video on VHS. It also included a Mickey Tettleton version of “I Love Mickey.” Ben Lindbergh joins the Hot Takedown podcast to preview the 2016 MLB season. Toronto Blue Jaysneil: Well, let’s talk about the team that won the division last year, the Blue Jays. They were arguably the best team in baseball last season (sorry, Royals), but neither FanGraphs nor Baseball Prospectus’s projections think they’re the frontrunners this season. What do we think? Was last year their peak, or can they be as good this time around?emmaspan: The Blue Jays are my pick to win the division this year. Like last year, their lineup should be terrifying, but their rotation is less steady than you’d like. They’ll miss David Price. But when you can outscore everyone on the planet like that, it makes up for a lot.dszymborski: I think they come back to earth a bit. Not a lot went wrong last year. They’ll score a ton of runs, but there’s certainly some downside risk there. Though they’re still competitive, like the rest of the AL East.emmaspan: Even assuming that Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion won’t all have 40-HR seasons like last year, they can still bludgeon a lot of pitchers. They should also have a full year of Marcus Stroman, which could be huge (though I do worry a little about putting so much pressure on a kid who only had five starts last year).I covered the Blue Jays in the playoffs last year, including that crazy ALDS Game 5, and it was something else. I actually might be overestimating them a little because of how insane that moment was.neil: It was an incredible moment. But at that stage of the season, they’d also been buoyed by deadline pickups (in addition to actually playing to their run differential). Do they need to go out and get pieces again?emmaspan: I think they need a pitcher. Though there probably won’t be another David Price lying around.dszymborski: And even if there was, trading for a second David Price is tough.emmaspan: Yes. And their new GM has expressed reluctance to make those huge moves, which I know has some Jays fans worried.dszymborski: Yeah, say that the Nats are terrible and Stephen Strasburg is available. That’s all well and good, but it will be harder for the Jays to come up with another trade package in 2016.emmaspan: But one other thing in their favor — their offense was that good without Troy Tulowitzki hitting very well. He’ll help their defense regardless, but if he can return to even kinda his usual form, that’s huge. Even if you don’t get another ace at the deadline, even just a solid mid-rotation guy can be enough when you score 18 runs per game. (Slight exaggeration.)neil: Only slight.emmaspan: They also could use another reliable bullpen arm or two, I think. That might be easier to come by.dszymborski: But they have the mid-rotation guys. It’s the ace-type that you can confidently start six times in the playoffs they don’t have.emmaspan: I think Stroman can be that guy, though they’ll want to watch his innings this year.dszymborski: It’s a lot to put on a guy who just came back from one injury.emmaspan: Also, I personally am ready for the R.A. Dickey renaissance. Is it likely? OK, no. But it would be wonderful and you never fucking know with knuckleballers. (Please feel free to edit out my profanity — I get very worked up about knuckleballs.)neil: Profanity is fine, but only in the context of knuckleball pitchers.dszymborski: Dickey hasn’t been disappointing even, just not super inspiring: a slightly above-average pitcher that never misses a start. He’s also only 41 — he can be around for another decade or so.emmaspan: Right, but I vividly remember his Cy Young season for the Mets. That was crazy fun.dszymborski: That mid-year stretch when nobody scored on him ever!emmaspan: And he had a few great starts last year, too, if I recall correctly. It’s still in there, somewhere, maybe!dszymborski: 2.80 second-half ERA!emmaspan: There you go. In my mind the AL Cy Young is already sewn up. Everyone else can go home.neil: You said it, Emma — you never (fucking) know with guys like that. But barring some kind of Dickey renaissance, the Jays’ only really question mark is the rotation, it seems. Emma said she’s picking Toronto as favorites; what say ye, Dan?dszymborski: Slightly picking Red Sox. But again, this is a year in which I can just project everybody to have a fun time.emmaspan: Red Sox were a close second for me. We pretty much agree, which means this is probably the Rays’ year. Boston Red Soxneil: You guys sound high on the Red Sox, despite the last-place finish a year ago. How much of that is the offseason additions (David Price, Craig Kimbrel, etc.) and how much is simply the guys who had down seasons a year ago bouncing back in some way, shape or form?dszymborski: I’m slightly higher on them than the Yankees. I actually picked them as very slight division favorites, but a lot can still go wrong.emmaspan: The latter, for me — the Red Sox played much better the second half of last year than the first. It looked like things were starting to come together. And any time you can add a durable (so far) ace like Price, it’s a big boost.dszymborski: Hard to go wrong signing David Price!emmaspan: I don’t think Hanley Ramirez or Pablo Sandoval will necessarily return to form, but if they can just be decent, there’s still a lot to like in that lineup.dszymborski: Ramirez at least seems to have more buy-in about playing first base. I urged people not to overrate how good he’d be in left field, but I didn’t see that disaster coming. I’m less optimistic on Sandoval. It was such a strange pair of signings. Third base was the logical reason to sign either Hanley or Sandoval going into last winter, but then they signed both.emmaspan: I wouldn’t say I’m optimistic about Sandoval, either, but last year was his worst ever and he’s still only 29, so I don’t think a return to (at least) mediocrity is out of the question. But yeah, those were strange moves even at the time. Personally, I will miss the sheer adventure of Hanley in left. A real adrenaline rush.dszymborski: I think the GM change is good for the Red Sox not just because of any managerial issue, just because it’s easier to walk away from various Sandoval/Ramirez experiments if they go poorly. Dave Dombrowski has nothing personally invested in Sandoval’s contract working out.emmaspan: That “if” is very generous of you.dszymborski: I’m a sunny optimist.neil: Yeah, I wanted to ask about the regime change there — Dombrowski is demonstrably one of the best GMs in baseball, but what is he going to do to succeed where Ben Cherington failed? And what do we make of that story where John Henry backed away from sabermetrics a bit as a guiding strategy?emmaspan: We’ll obviously have to see how it plays out, but I think the John Henry quotes got a little overblown — I think what he was saying is that they want to use a good mixture of analytics and scouting, which at this point is hardly controversial. Or shouldn’t be.dszymborski: Yeah. His comments also came at a slow time in the news cycle, so they got blown up a bit. Though Ruben Amaro and their “secret analytics” was highly entertaining for a few days.emmaspan: One of the most fun aspects of SI’s baseball season preview every year is we talk to a bunch of scouts, anonymously, about every team. They have some really fascinating (and funny) insights that you don’t get from even the best statistical analysis — but, of course, they also are spectacularly wrong sometimes. The Red Sox obviously did very well by sabermetrics and I don’t see them tossing it over the side. Almost all the best teams in baseball right now are teams that have done a good job balancing those perspectives.dszymborski: It used to be you had a serious divide between teams using data well and teams that don’t. That’s so much not the case these days.emmaspan: One thing to watch with Dombrowski is how much freedom he gets from ownership. That was an issue with Cherington, apparently, at several key points in his tenure.dszymborski: Yeah, he never really had the political capital that Theo Epstein did.emmaspan: You can be the best GM in the world, but if the owners insist that you hire Bobby Valentine, well …neil: Fair enough. So if Red Sox fans had any reason to panic, it should be more about maybe, say, the back end of that rotation than any grand shift in organization direction.emmaspan: Yes, although ownership meddling is something to be wary of in that and other areas.dszymborski: As organizations have more complex management structures and ownership groups continue to get more involved, I think chalking moves up to a specific GM isn’t as useful as it once was. A FiveThirtyEight Chat More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed neil: So, to recap: slight edge to the Jays, but maybe the Red Sox, Yankees or even the Rays … And the Orioles will either finish last or recapture the spirit of ’89 in song and performance.emmaspan: That about sums it up on my end.dszymborski: Seems like a reasonable wrapup. And hi, Nate. I see you typing.natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Thanks, Dan and Emma!emmaspan: Hi Nate! [waves]natesilver: Was gonna say that we really need to work on an oral history of the 1991 Detroit Tigers: Tettleton + Fielder + Deer + Incaviglia = AWESOME.neil: Save it for the AL Central chat, Nate. :)emmaspan: And don’t give me any ideas you don’t want me to steal.
Photo by Palm Beach Post.Jameis Winston, the Florida State star freshman quarterback, has been linked to the accuser in a criminal sexual case by DNA evidence compiled by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.The DNA analysis matched the sample taken from the underwear of a woman who has accused him of sexual battery.ESPN.com viewed a DNA analysis report Wednesday indicating that the Florida state crime lab determined that the chances of the DNA in the woman’s underwear are a match for someone other than Winston is 1 in 2.2 trillion.Police obtained a sexual assault kit on Dec. 7, 2012, when the accuser reported the alleged incident had occurred at an off-campus apartment. Winston’s DNA was recently obtained through a buccal swab he provided to authorities investigating the case.The DNA match alone does not prove that Winston, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, sexually assaulted the woman, as the accuser’s family claimed in a statement released by a Tampa-based attorney on Wednesday. But it does indicate that Winston, who has yet to talk to Tallahassee police or the state attorney investigating the case, had his DNA associated with the accuser on Dec. 7, 2012, when the accuser claimed she was sexually assaulted.William Meggs, the state attorney for the 2nd Judicial Circuit, said his office is still investigating the case, which was only referred to his office by Tallahassee police last week.“Everybody wants to know what’s going on,” Meggs said earlier Wednesday. “So do we. We’re in the process of trying to figure out what’s going on. We haven’t determined how it’s going to turn out.”Meggs said: “I’m pretty confident, as much as anybody can be. There are two kinds of evidence: testimonial and physical. We’ll have what we have at the end of the day and then we’ll evaluate what we have.”On Wednesday night, Tallahassee interim police chief Tom Coe said the accuser stopped cooperating with police in February. A statement released earlier Wednesday by the accuser’s family through her attorney, Patricia Carroll of Tampa, said Tallahassee police warned the accuser not to pursue the case, saying Det. Scott Angulo told Carroll, “Tallahassee was a big football town and the victim needs to think long and hard before proceeding against him because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable.”Coe contends Tallahassee police made the case inactive only after the accuser stopped communicating with them. Coe told the Tallahassee Democrat on Tuesday that the police department reviewed the case after media outlets filed open records requests for the case file. Coe said the open records requests alone couldn’t change a case from open-inactive to open-active, but that new evidence or leads would have to be found to change the investigation’s status.“In February 2013, the case was classified as open, but inactive, when the victim in the case broke off contact with TPD, and her attorney indicated she did not want to move forward at that time,” Coe said.In a statement released to the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday, the accuser’s attorney said, “It was never the intent of the victim or the family for this to become public,” but went on to provide a scathing review of the police’s handling of the case.The woman accusing Winston initially reported the incident Dec. 7, 2012. Coe said police investigated the incident, taking witness testimony and collecting evidence.According to Jansen, who has been representing Winston, police approached him about the case in February, but soon after assured him the case was no longer being investigated. Jansen said he reported that to both Winston and Florida State.When records requests from multiple media outlets were made to Tallahassee police last week, investigators re-examined the case and forwarded it to the state attorney’s office. Meggs is currently reviewing the case and will decide whether charges will be brought against a potential suspect.Meggs told ESPN.com on Wednesday that he probably will not take the case before a grand jury, saying his office would ultimately decide whether it believes it has sufficient evidence to charge Winston with a crime.“I’m not stupid,” Meggs said. “It is a young man whose life is in a fish bowl right now. I think about that. There’s also a young girl whose life has been turned upside down and her life will never be the same, either. We look at it and say, ‘Which one of those is most important?’ Both. It is a search for the truth and the truth is kind of elusive sometimes.”Carroll’s statement also said police failed to do a proper investigation, did not collect blood work or DNA samples from Winston, and refused to interview Winston’s roommate, who the accuser says witnessed the attack. The statement also criticized police for approaching Winston’s attorney in February with details of the case.Coe did not specifically contradict any of the claims made in the accuser’s statement but said, “There are many statements being made daily, some of which are factual, some are not factual. We can’t go into detail on that tonight, but there will be a point in time when we can comment on those issues.”
If you’re a fan of our podcasts, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts and leave a rating/review. That helps spread the word to other listeners. And get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments. Tell us what you think, send us hot takes to discuss and tell us why we’re wrong. Hot Takedown Welcome to this week’s episode of Hot Takedown, our podcast where the hot sports takes of the week meet the numbers that prove them right or tear them down. On this week’s show (July 7, 2015), we discuss whether the U.S. women’s national soccer team is a dynasty, review NBA free agency and turn to the MLB All-Star Game. Plus, our Significant Digit of the week: Serena Williams’s great record in the third set of matches.Stream the episode by clicking the play button, or subscribe using one of the podcast clients we’ve linked to above.Below are some links to what we discuss on this week’s show:Nate Silver says the U.S. women’s national team may be the greatest World Cup dynasty of all time.Jill Ellis was the villain — and then she fixed it all!The Mavs get DeAndre Jordan.Neil Paine on the Royals dominating the All-Star Game.Significant Digit: Serena Williams’s 17 straight wins when she reaches the third set. More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS
With the first round of the NBA playoffs nearing its halfway point, much has played out according to pre-playoff expectations, and that’s been good news for the better-seeded team in each series. Six of eight matchups have had double-digit average per-game victory margins; hell, the San Antonio Spurs have thumped the Memphis Grizzlies by an average of 29 points per game. It’s a massacre out there.But not everything has followed that pattern. Using our Elo ratings (which measure a team’s strength at a given moment), we found the teams that have exceeded their regular-season expectations the most since the playoffs tipped off last weekend. And even given the lack of first-round surprises so far, some teams have managed to raise eyebrows with their play, as we highlight in the video below:Chief among those teams: the Miami Heat, who are, um, torching [One of you owes me 20 push-ups. — Ed.] the Charlotte Hornets in their series thus far. Although our model expected Miami to win by 3.9 points per game, the Heat have prevailed by an average margin of 22 a game. With guys like Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow in the mix, you might think the Heat’s defense — stingy during the regular season — is behind this run. But no, it’s an unstoppable offense that’s driving the Heat’s blowouts.That Heat attack is averaging 1.24 points per play, according to Synergy Sports Technology; that’s the best of any team in the playoffs. According to data from the NBA’s player-tracking SportVU tech, Miami’s pick-and-roll performance has jumped from 91.1 points per 100 chances created by those plays during the regular season to 121.8 per 100 chances in the playoffs. Luol Deng is hitting 55 percent of his 3-pointers; Whiteside is shooting 88 percent around the rim; and Dwyane Wade is scoring 22 points per game with an assortment of crafty, old-man moves.Josh Richardson is perhaps most emblematic of the Heat getting, well, hot [Forty. — Ed.]. The rookie averaged only 21 minutes over 52 games this regular season, but he’s second on the Heat in minutes during the playoffs and, according to Synergy, is tied for the league lead in spot-up attempts — and leads outright in makes.As a team, the Heat are shooting out of their minds. So on to the natural question: Can this last? According to SportVU data that estimates shot difficulty using variables such as location, shot distance and the defender’s proximity, the Heat are taking extremely difficult shots — their playoff shot selection is of a similar difficulty to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ during the regular season, which was third-worst in the league. The difference is, their effective field goal percentage on those shots is 14.2 percentage points higher than you’d expect, given the types of shots they’re taking. (For reference, no team finished the regular season more than 4.1 percentage points better than expectation.)But although the Heat will probably cool off [I’ll just let you know when you can stop. — Ed.] before their series against Charlotte is over, our predictions now list them as 82 percent favorites to advance into the second round. If Miami gets there, a matchup against Toronto — which has underperformed its own expectations in the first round — seems likely, so we might even get to witness a fun experiment in whether “momentum” can carry over from one round to the next.Check out FiveThirtyEight’s 2016 NBA Playoff Predictions.
The OSU men’s swimming team practices leading up to meets against Michigan State and the University of Pittsburgh on Jan. 20 and 21. Credit: Sydney McNulty | Lantern reporterThe Ohio State men’s swimming team is set to compete in back-to-back dual meets this weekend, starting on Friday at Michigan State and continuing in Columbus on Saturday, hosting the University of Pittsburgh.The Buckeyes head to East Lansing, Michigan, after a dominant performance against Cincinnati, setting three pool records at Keating Aquatic Center.Carrying that momentum is vital heading into a double header, graduate senior Josh Fleagle said.“It’s definitely not easy,” he said. “We just take it one practice at a time, one meet at a time and we look forward to new challenges, competition and we love racing.”It will be a quick turnaround, but Fleagle believes the team’s experience will give the Buckeyes an upper hand.“When we go to Big Tens and NCAAs, it’s four or five days of just swimming,” he said. “So two days isn’t that bad, granted we will get back a little bit later on Friday from Michigan State. But we are pretty used to it.”The Buckeyes will swim against the Spartans for the first time this season. Senior Matt McHugh said the results of the meet will give some insight into the team’s level of conditioning.“It’ll be good to see how we go up against Michigan State in a dual meet,” he said. “It’s a good indication to see where we need to improve, and what events we need to put certain people in.”In facing both a conference and a out of conference opponent this weekend, the Buckeyes are keeping the same mindset: competition is competition, said Fleagle.“I think right now the positivity is really up and obviously, the goal is to get best times in everything we do,” he said.Competition is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. on Friday and at noon on Saturday.
Coming off losses at Indiana and Purdue last weekend, the Ohio State women’s volleyball team got a much-needed win against Iowa Friday night at St. John arena to stay in the Big Ten hunt. “It was definitely a really important win,” senior Sarah Mignin said. “We just tried to come out with a lot of intensity and a lot of energy.” Coming into Friday, the Buckeyes had been struggling in Big Ten play, but knew that a couple of quick wins would bring them right back into the clustered Big Ten race. “This conference is ridiculous,” OSU coach Geoff Carlston said. “Every team in this conference has a chance to make the tournament.” OSU took the momentum early and didn’t give it back the rest of the match, finishing off the Hawkeyes, 3-0 (25-10, 25-16, 25-17). “Iowa is a good team, so it’s good to come out and finish them off 3-0,” senior outside hitter Katie Dull said. Junior middle blocker Kelli Barhorst led the team in scoring with 18 points and also recorded a match-high with 14 kills. The Buckeyes seemed to have the Iowa defense confused all night and Iowa was never able to adjust. “I thought our setters did a nice job of distributing the ball,” Carlston said. “We’ve been too predictable and tonight we did a nice job of spreading the offense out.” The win pushed the Buckeye’s conference record to 3-4 on the season. “A lot of it is just focusing on our side of the net,” Dull said. “In the Big Ten, everybody is good so it is just about taking care of your business.” The Buckeyes carried their momentum for Friday’s win right into Saturday, defeating 19th-ranked Minnesota, 3-0 (25-23, 25-20, 25-17). Barhorst led the Buckeyes for the second straight night, recording match highs in points, 14.5, and kills, with 11. The win evens the Buckeyes’ Big Ten record at 4-4 and improves their overall record to 16-5. The Buckeyes take on Penn State Wednesday at 7 p.m. at St. John Arena.
Can Ohio State vanquish their demons and be successful in West Lafayette? West Lafayette, Ind., has not been friendly to the Buckeyes. The last time OSU traveled to Purdue in 2009, the then-No. 7 Buckeyes lost to a 1-5 Purdue team, 26-18. The upset was not an isolated incident. The Boilermakers have actually won three of their past five home games against OSU. Coach Luke Fickell said he can recall almost every detail from the 2009 game and is very aware of how difficult it is to walk out of Purdue with a victory. “We’re 2-2 over there in the last 10 years,” Fickell said during his press conference on Tuesday. “If that’s just not enough to open your eyes and make sure you understand. It will be pounded home … it’s going to be a battle.” Which players on Purdue’s offense could hurt OSU? The Boilermaker offense is balanced, but has lacked explosiveness as of late. The team hasn’t scored more than 18 points in any of its past four games, but averages 25.9 points per game on the year. Its rushing attack, ranked 44th nationally, features junior running backs Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers. The duo splits the majority of the carries and have rushed for eight touchdowns on the year. Junior Caleb TerBush starts at quarterback for the Boilermakers. He’s thrown for 1386 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, but is also a threat on the ground. Overall, the 16th ranked Buckeye defense shouldn’t have any problems. With the possible return of Jordan Hall will Carlos Hyde get some playing time? It may come as a surprise, but OSU’s leading rusher this season is sophomore Carlos Hyde. Despite that fact, Hyde’s playing time has been limited when fellow running backs junior Jordan Hall and senior Daniel “Boom” Herron have both been available to play. With Hall sidelined for last week’s 34-20 win over Indiana, Hyde ran for 105 yards and a touchdown. All signs seem to indicate Hall will be available for this week’s game against Purdue and Herron will surely be the Buckeyes’ starter at running back. Fickell would not commit to Hyde receiving playing time. “Not sure just yet,” Fickell said. “We need to see how those guys practice. A lot of that stuff depends on how you practice.” Will the Buckeyes have their Big Ten Championship hopes derailed? OSU has a legitimate chance to win the Big Ten Championship. If the team can win the remainder of its games and Penn State loses twice before the season ends, the Buckeyes will win the Leaders Division of the Big Ten and appear in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. Purdue has other plans, but Fickell will be sure his team knows what’s at stake. Expect the Buckeyes to continue their success running the ball and rely on a defensive that has a clear athletic advantage over the Purdue offense. Barring a disastrous, turnover-plagued game from freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes will take the game, which will be closer than the score indicates. Final score prediction: Ohio State 34, Purdue 21
BOSTON – After the final buzzer sounded, the Ohio State men’s basketball team leapt high and far. These were celebratory jumps and chest-bumps. They were higher than any attempt for a rebound or a basket, and the smiles that accompanied them unmistakable – they were the smiles of a team headed to the Final Four. Because that’s what the second-seeded Buckeyes were on Saturday at TD Garden in Boston – a team that defeated top-seeded Syracuse, 77-70, in the NCAA Tournament East Region Final to gain passage to the Final Four in New Orleans in a week. In a game marred by questionable officiating decisions and foul trouble for both the Orange (34-3) and the Buckeyes (31-7), OSU outlasted its opponent in the nervy, closing moments of the game. After missing most of the first half with foul trouble, sophomore forward Jared Sullinger ended the night with a game-high 19 points. Sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas added 14 points and fellow sophomore Lenzelle Smith, Jr., had 18 points of his own. OSU, which advances to the Final Four for the first time since coach Thad Matta led the team to the National Championship game in 2007, does not yet have an opponent for its next game. The Buckeyes will play the winner of the Midwest Region Final between top-seeded North Carolina and second-seeded Kansas in the Final Four on Saturday. The Tar Heels and Jayhawks will tip Sunday at 5:05 p.m. in St. Louis, Mo. “Obviously, I thought a high-level college basketball game, probably the way it’s supposed to be in the Regional Finals,” Matta said after the game. “We beat a tremendous team tonight.” The Buckeyes bumped and hassled their way to an early 9-8 lead, which held through the first media timeout. Sophomore guard Aaron Craft had a hand in Orange senior guard Scoop Jardine’s face early and often. Buckeyes starters were falling fast, though – guard Smith Jr. took a blow to the head and went back to the locker room before the first media timeout. At the 13:42 mark, Sullinger was slapped with his second foul of the half and forced to retreat to the bench. Smith Jr. would return minutes later, but the significance of Sullinger’s absence from the court wasn’t lost on Matta. When play stopped at the 11:22 mark of the first half with the Buckeyes leading, 16-15, Matta walked across the court and shouted to the CBS television broadcasting team to see if the correct call was made. The broadcasters appeared to indicate the call was incorrect, and Matta stomped on the floor in frustration. Sullinger zipped his warm-up jacket up – he was in for a long break from the action. The player said he wasn’t expecting Matta to call him back to the bench. “These guys have played without me before, so they know what they have to do,” Sullinger said. “We just kept competing on the defensive end. I think that’s what won the basketball game.” Matta said the team pulled together after Sullinger was forced to the bench. “It’s something we’ve been preaching with this basketball team, and came down (in) the second half to guys making big plays,” Matta said. The game was called tight both ways, and each team had multiple players in foul trouble. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was called for a technical that led to a made free-throw for senior guard William Buford. Boeheim, who said after the game that he thought the technical foul was the first called on him about three years, declined to comment on the officiating decisions during his post-game press conference. Boeheim wasn’t getting the foul calls, but his team’s famed zone defense was working just fine. The Orange forced OSU into a shot clock violation with less than four minutes to play in the half. The Buckeyes stumbled without Sullinger in the lineup, scoring just 13 points after his departure. Despite the lack of scoring, OSU held Syracuse in check and the teams went into half tied at 29. The Buckeyes shot just more than 34 percent, connecting on 10-of-29 attempts in the first half. The Orange were just as ineffective and shot at a clip of nearly 35 percent. Senior guard William Buford and Thomas each scored six points in the opening 20 minutes to pace OSU while the Orange were led by Jardine’s seven points. Officiating decisions continued to impact the game after the intermission as Orange freshman forward Rakeem Christmas was whistled for his fourth foul and had to leave the game. OSU took advantage and quickly built a five-point lead with less than three minutes gone in the second half, forcing an Orange timeout. OSU’s quick start became a 13-3 run that saw it extend the advantage to 45-36 with 13:51 to play. Sullinger was back, and the entire building knew it. The big man dumped six points on the Orange during that run. All the calls were going the Buckeyes’ way now. The many thousands of orange-colored T-shirts sat quietly as the Scarlet and Gray-clad OSU supporters that dotted the stands roared with approval at the very top of their lungs. But the fouls kept coming. Both teams were in the penalty by the 12:09 mark of the half, and OSU had only connected on 15-of-25 attempts from the charity stripe. Syracuse used its bonus free-throw attempts to narrow its deficit before back-to-back buckets by Jardine cut OSU’s lead to 52-50 with 8:01 to play. Then Smith Jr. and Orange junior guard Brandon Triche traded 3-point baskets with less than seven minutes to play. A crowd of 19,026 was rocking, the end was nearing and OSU held a one-point advantage. Given the high stakes of the game, some might have expected a back-and-forth slugfest down the stretch, but what fans got was a free-throw free-for-all. Sullinger made the most of the chances, though, and used the double bonus to push OSU to a 60-55 edge with 3:45 to play. A bucket by Thomas with less than two minutes to play pushed OSU out in front by seven. But it wasn’t over yet. Craft fouled out of the game with 48.8 seconds to play after he fouled to send Triche to the line. Triche connected on two free-throws to make the score 68-64. Before leaving the court, Craft said he issued instructions to each teammate that would remain in the game. “I had a couple words for everybody,” Craft said, “but I don’t know if they were too good. I was just trying to keep us all together (and) help everyone understand the game wasn’t over.” Smith Jr. made it a six-point game on OSU’s next possession, but Orange sophomore guard Dion Waiters completed a 3-point play to halve the deficit. Syracuse continued to foul after that point and it became evident that the Buckeyes would need to earn their ticket to New Orleans at the foul line. Trailing by four with the shot clock unplugged, Triche pulled up for a 10-foot jumped that clanked around the iron and was rebounded by OSU. Smith Jr. went back to the line and connected on two additional free-throws to make the score 73-67. The Orange missed their next shot. That was it. In what could have been his last game, Buford iced the contest with two more free-throws. And Thomas tacked on two more. Cue the celebration for Ohio State, and the leaping. And don’t forget the hoisting of the East Region Championship Trophy, and cutting the nets off the basket. Thomas said he planned to sleep with the portion of the net that he cut off. “(The win) just feels great,” Thomas said. “We’re going to try to cherish this game.” Buford agreed. “It feels great,” he said. “Nobody on this team has ever made it this far. In past years, I got put on the Sweet 16. To make it this far is kind of a relief to know that hard work pays off. “We’ve been working hard throughout the summer and throughout the season, and to make it to the Final Four is just great for us.” Start time for OSU’s National Semifinal game has not been announced.
Stupid is as stupid does and, Friday, one Ohio State football player tweeted something very, very stupid. Buckeyes third-string quarterback freshman Cardale Jones seems to be facing a bit of an existential crisis. On Friday morning at 8:43 a.m., Jones, from his Twitter handle “Cordale10,” had this brilliant thing to say to his nearly 3,000 Twitter followers and, consequently, the rest of the world: “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS” The tweet, which received 50 retweets and 12 favorites, has since been deleted. Thanks to Deadspin, though, it now lives in interwebs infamy for people who, like me, missed it on the first go-around. This, arguably, is the most damning tweet I’ve seen an OSU football player send since first-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer came to Columbus last November. And while it would be equally impulsive and reckless for Meyer to suspend Jones for blasting, you know, the purpose of a university, one can only imagine what the former Florida coach will have to say to him today or tomorrow. Regardless of how Meyer chooses to handle it all, Jones’ outburst tells me a lot of things. First, to Meyer’s credit, it seems by the looks of it that Jones is probably in class – or doing something productive – at 8:43 a.m. on a Friday. Moreover, for one to tweet such a thing, it likely means Jones is going to class and, at the very least, going to sign the attendance sheet or appease Meyer’s henchmen who check up the players’ presence in the classroom. But it shows me that Meyer isn’t messing around with his squad’s academic endeavors-even if some, not all, players are taking classes like basket weaving and underwater croquet. Second, Jones’ tweet absolutely, positively cannot be taken as an indictment of the entire football team’s opinion on getting a free education, as doing so would be as ignorant as the tweet itself. Jones’ outburst is probably embarrassing to the many players on the team who take school as seriously as they take playing for Meyer and the Buckeyes. On freshman linebacker Josh Perry’s twitter account “RIP_JEP,” his little info box below the account handle says: “School, sports and The Ohio State Football #STUDENTathlete #1LFD” For Perry, who was named an OSU Scholar-Athlete after enrolling early to school in January, emphasis, obviously, is on the “student” aspect of being a student-athlete. Like Perry, the John Simons, Etienne Sabinos and Michael Bennetts of the world exist, likely, in the dozens on OSU’s football team. Per Jones’ tweet, it seems he doesn’t subscribe to such a similar mindset. But I don’t know Jones personally. I’m, clearly, not his friend, nor have I ever bumped into him at Big Bar. As a student-journalist, I’ve never interviewed the kid. Jones could be a model citizen doing the right things off the field for all we know. His Twitter bio, after all, says “Trying To Make A Difference In Everyone’s Life Who’s In Mine.” His tweet, above anything else, shows various degrees of immaturity and a misguided sense of purpose at OSU. And while the tweet can’t be reflective of an entire team of 100-plus people, I wouldn’t doubt that there are a handful of players in Jones’ corner saluting his 119-character Psalm of wisdom.
D’Angelo Russell declared for the NBA Draft on Wednesday, becoming the first OSU one-and-done player since Byron Mullens.Credit: Mark Batke / Lantern photographerD’Angelo Russell officially announced his intentions to leave the Ohio State men’s basketball program for the NBA, leaving after a year in which he earned a first-team All-American honor, the inaugural Jerry West Award for the nation’s top shooting guard and the eternal admiration of OSU coach Thad Matta.“I got to the point where I just kinda enjoyed the game,” Matta said about watching Russell play. “There were times in the game where I could say to him, ‘take over,’ and he’d look, wink and he’d do it. I think that’s what I’m going to miss the most.”In OSU’s regular-season opener, a 92-55 win at home against the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, the freshman scored 16 points to go along with four rebounds, six assists and three steals. This performance inspired UMass-Lowell coach Pat Duquette to call Russell “as good a freshman as I’ve seen” following the game.It didn’t even take until the regular season for Matta to see that same spark.“It was probably our preseason scrimmage at West Virginia when he scored 33 and he hit the game-winner,” Matta said. “I kinda scratched my head and said ‘Uh oh, this kid.’ He was doing things that we hadn’t even talked about yet in terms of drill work.“‘If he plays half this well (as the scrimmage), he’s one of the best guards in the country.’ And he only got better from there.”Not everything was smooth sailing for Russell and the Buckeyes throughout the season, however. In losses to Louisville, in which Russell shot 6-of-20, and Indiana, in which he shot 3-of-15, the guard was criticized by some for trying to do everything himself.Russell, who declared for the draft on Thursday, said he never had NBA goals in mind, but rather that he was returning the trust in his coach when Matta trusted him to try to take over the game.“I didn’t think about ‘I’m trying to be a top-five pick, I’m trying to be a first-team All-American, I’m trying to be this, that,’” Russell said. “I just came in like, ‘Coach, I’ll do whatever you need me to do.’”According to ESPN, Russell had offers in high school from powerhouse programs such as North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville, which is his hometown.But it wasn’t the number of Final Four appearances that ultimately was the deciding factor. Nor was it the opportunity to put up flashy numbers or the quality of the rest of the starting lineup.“The reason we picked this school is he built a great relationship with the head coach … Once we made that bond and that connection, there was no other school,” Antonio Russell, D’Angelo’s father, said.Matta said he knew from just about the first time he saw D’Angelo Russell in practice that there was a high probability he would leave after his freshman season — despite the guard being brought in on a two-year plan. It was at that point when Matta realized he might need to find D’Angelo Russell’s replacement for next season.It was also at that point when D’Angelo Russell became a recruiter in addition to a leader on the court, as he was instrumental in landing his likely replacement — guard JaQuan Lyle.“Getting JaQuan, he and D’Angelo were very close during the process, and D’Angelo helped us get him, which, once again, speaks volumes to how committed he is to our program,” Matta said.Lyle, originally in D’Angelo Russell’s high school class, committed to Oregon before last season. The Huntington, W.Va., product was denied admission in Eugene, however, after he was found to have not completed enough credit hours.Lyle ended up playing a post-graduate season at IMG Academy in Florida before he committed to OSU in January.Although there was nothing he would have liked more than seeing D’Angelo Russell return for another season, Matta said the bond formed between the two over the last year made it impossible to not advise him to do what he felt was best for him and enter the draft.“This is a goal achieved for me, in terms of being a head coach, because I think one thing I’ve always tried to be in situations like these is selfless,” Matta said.OSU has not had a player leave for the NBA after one year since Byron Mullens in 2009, who at the time was the fifth player in three years to be one-and-done.While Matta has since put a stronger emphasis on building a program with players who stay for longer, he said he knows D’Angelo Russell is not a typical talent, but rather one who will excel at the next level.“He’s one step ahead of the game,” Matta said. “And that’s very, very rare, from the time he was 18 years old, to be thinking that way.”