The best part has been seeing the athletes, who are even more impressive in real life than they are in ESPN’s Body issue. Ryan Lochte’s recently bleached hair looked more blue than blond against a backdrop of the blue Olympics logo, and Claressa Shields — the first female boxer in the U.S. to win gold — is ridiculously jacked and startlingly soft-spoken. It was jarring to hear such a delicate voice come out of a body that could rip you in two.So far, everything has been pretty great for me in spite of concerns about infrastructure (the traffic is unreal) and security (the Brazil Ministry of Justice fired its security team less than a week ago and put the local police in charge). I’m here for three weeks; I get to see the spectacle and be in a beautiful city, and then I get to go home. The larger issues that have been thrust into the spotlight because the Olympics are taking place in Brazil will still be here — the people who have been displaced, the workers who haven’t been paid, the sewage polluting the waters. But on the ground, Rio isn’t the apocalyptic hellscape from the media hype cycle so much as it is a city that has overextended its resources and is trying to keep its rougher edges just out of view.I left the press center and walked a few hundred yards to find a home, still inside Olympic Park, with a big sign on it that reads in Portuguese, “Amendment 74 Area of Special Social Interest. We have the right to live here. It remains to be seen if there are any morals left in the justice system or if it’s all corrupt. Not everyone has a price!” We’re on the ground in Rio covering the 2016 Summer Olympics. Check out all our coverage here.RIO DE JANEIRO — For a lot of FiveThirtyEight sports stories, there’s not much need to be watching live. We’re trained to ignore hot takes from announcers, to remember that fluke plays can be meaningless. Most of what we know and understand about the games we love is gleaned from careful analysis after the game is over.During the 2014 World Cup, we came to understand Lionel Messi’s greatness by looking at how efficient a shooter he was (the ninth-most-efficient overall, but the best shooter when we adjusted for the shots he took) — that helped us contextualize just how abnormal it was for him to miss this sitter in the final. But his stats don’t necessarily capture the discombobulated, cracked-earth sensation of Messi not being Messi. After he missed that shot, how many Brahma beers were hurled by fans in the sky-blue jerseys of La Albiceleste? His national-team disappointments have been noted statistically, but what does the weight of national expectation sound and smell and feel like in a stadium of 75,000 screaming maniacs?That’s why I wanted to come to the Olympics. I’ve never covered an event of this magnitude, for this long — and I’m overwhelmed and scared and excited! I wanted to be here for the tactile data: to understand how different countries handle winning and losing, to see whose fans are the loudest and which stadiums are silent — and maybe to share some weird anecdotes about the things I’m doing and seeing along the way.Before I left, fears about Zika virus were rampant, or maybe they were just especially high at the Upper West Side location of AdvantageCare Physicians. My doctor prescribed the CDC-recommended typhoid vaccine, along with some anti-diarrhea pills (that I haven’t had to use!) and an outfit best described as Ph.D.-student-about-to-ride-a-bike, which was assembled using notes such as “keep your pant legs tucked into your socks.” At the risk of coming off like Hope Solo, here you go: I did this only once before realizing that it was overkill. I haven’t seen many bugs, but I know the concern is not about quantity of bugs but which ones carry Zika. I spent time at Guanabara Bay, the main site for the Olympic sailing events, with some of the U.S. sailing team and staff, and they told me that the water seemed a little better since runoff sewage had been closed off from dumping into the bay. The Associated Press reported this week that at a lagoon where Olympic rowing will take place, adenovirus (which can cause fever, diarrhea and pink eye, among other symptoms) readings were lower than they were in March 2015 but still at “hair-raising” levels. From where I was, on the shores of Guanabara Bay, the water appeared clean, if not downright beautiful, with Sugarloaf Mountain in the background. But I didn’t swim in it. Over at the main press center at Olympic Park, some journalists have complained about the lack of free coffee and food options. THERE’S A PRESS CENTER WITH FREE COFFEE. It’s packed, and the free stuff runs out. But there’s another place to buy food. As a first-timer, I can’t contextualize just how good or bad things really are; people have told me “it’s better than Sochi” and “it’s so much worse than London.” Once, when I peed, the entire toilet paper holder came free of the wall. But I just set it down and got some toilet paper. On the other side of the city, more than an hour away from Olympic Park and the families it has pushed out, I waited in line to take a picture with the Olympic rings on the tourist-filled Copacabana beach. It was crowded but semi-orderly, as people took turns exchanging phones to take photos of one another. I always think selfies turn out better, so I flipped the camera around on my face only to catch a woman dressed all in gold holding a novelty torch. “What you can’t get from TV, and what I came to really love about the Olympics, were the little shavings on the factory floor, the curious byproducts of an event that brings together so many people from so many places in such narrow quarters,” reflected one reporter after the London Olympics. I’ll be here for the next few weeks, trying to find as many data-y things on the factory floor to share, but I’m eager to hear what you are seeing at home too. So leave me a note in the comments, tweet me, email me! I’ll try my best to deliver the same data-driven reporting we always provide, along with a sober, skeptical eye on the narratives the rest of the sports writing world is selling.
In case you forgot, the Boston Celtics had an impressive season in which they locked up the East’s No. 1 seed and then won two playoff rounds. This all happened before they got absolutely decimated1They trailed by 20 points or more at some point in four of the five games. by LeBron James and the Cavs during the conference finals.Two things became pretty clear in the aftermath of that beatdown. First, Boston obviously needed a second star to lessen the burden on its undersized leading scorer, Isaiah Thomas.2Thomas missed the last three games of that series with a hip injury. And secondly, even if the Celtics managed to land that player, it still might not be enough to get past the Cavs in 2018. After all, Cleveland held a lead of 16 points or more in 46 percent of the minutes played in their lopsided series.Boston has to feel good about successfully addressing the first issue. Gordon Hayward, the All-Star forward who was departing the Utah Jazz as a free agent, confirmed on Tuesday night that he was joining the Celtics, which makes them a bit more formidable at a time when the Cavs have their own organizational challenges in front of them.VIDEO: Hayward may still not be enough for the Celtics Judging by national TV ratings, it’s safe to assume that a large swath of casual NBA fans haven’t seen much of Hayward and don’t know what makes him special. And yet his statistical production3Almost 22 points, more than five rebounds and nearly four assists per game while shooting a highly efficient 47 percent from the floor. and the sheer level of attention his decision generated — though confusion over whether he was having a change of heart on Tuesday certainly ratcheted up the media frenzy — may lead some to expect that he’ll become the team’s No. 1 option, or that the offense will run through him. But neither development seems likely, barring Brad Stevens — Hayward’s college coach at Butler — making big alterations to Boston’s playbook.Hayward is one of the more organic scorers in the NBA and doesn’t need to dominate the ball to make an impact. His 27.6 percent usage rate was one of the lowest among players who managed 20 points per game last season. And despite being Utah’s primary option, his usage didn’t increase much in clutch situations (28 percent). This pattern is much different from that of Thomas, whose usage skyrocketed to 46 percent in the clutch from 34 percent in general.Hayward gets his offense in other ways. He excels in transition (only Jimmy Butler outscored Hayward’s 1.38 points per transition play, per Synergy Sports4Among those with 100 plays in transition.) and figures to have more fast-break opportunities as a Celtic because Boston plays at a much faster pace than Utah, which has finished dead last in tempo each of the past three seasons.The 27-year-old also gets to the line frequently. Hayward, like many other NBA guards, has nearly perfected the art of drawing fouls as a jump shooter (he drew calls 19 percent of the time when the defender tried to go over his screen in pick-and-rolls, which is the NBA’s 11th-highest mark, according to Synergy5Minimum of 200 such plays.). He’s gotten far better at finishing through contact, not only shooting 69 percent at the rim, but also finishing the season with more and-1s6Meaning a play where he scores and gets fouled. than shots rejected. To give that context, consider that only three other wing players showed a similar ability to hit and-1s more than they got blocked, per Basketball-Reference.com: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron.7Minimum of at least 30 and-1 playsThat’s part of the reason that Hayward figures to fit so well with Boston. He can comfortably play off the ball — per Synergy, he draws shooting fouls almost 23 percent of the time when he cuts to the basket, and he’s a solid spot-up shooter — and the Celtics assist each other at a much higher rate than the Jazz did last season. Boston currently designs many of their sets around Thomas’s quickness — they use handoffs more than any other team because he excels at them — and there’s nothing about Hayward that suggests that will change.If there’s a clear downside in all this for Boston, it’s that the club still has to make room under the salary cap for Hayward and his max contract, and that means shedding players. In addition to unloading Kelly Olynyk, there’s a very good chance the Celtics will have to trade solid, defense-minded guard Marcus Smart. Presumably they hope to trade in some of their assets — whether it’s sophomore Jaylen Brown, future picks, or both — for yet another star to put alongside Hayward, Thomas and Al Horford, who signed in free agency last summer.Hayward is best known for what he does on the offensive side of the ball, but he’s no slouch on defense. He held his own for the Jazz, who had one of league’s best defenses last season and, like the Celtics, used versatile, wing-heavy lineups that could switch their defensive assignments at will. To some extent, that strategy8Which falls a little flat compared to what Utah did defensively because Thomas is so short and can’t switch his assignments as easily. is the one Boston will have to use on the Cavaliers — both to contain James and to get out to Cleveland’s stable of perimeter shooters.As ESPN’s Kevin Pelton noted, the Hayward signing itself may not yield more regular-season wins right off the bat. Last season’s team collected 53 wins, which is five more than the Celtics’ point differential suggested they should have finished with.But at this point, regular-season win totals and playoff seedings aren’t the target anymore; the Cavs are. And as long as the Hayward acquisition makes them a more legitimate threat to Cleveland, this pickup can only be viewed as a considerable success.
Three of the younger stars of men’s tennis broke through this season to reach the Top 10 in the rankings and qualify for the exclusive, lucrative, year-end tournament in London. But so far at the ATP World Tour Finals this week, several of the older men in the sport have been asserting their dominance, often winning in blowouts.Only the top eight healthy players in the world qualify for the tour finals. The injured No. 3, Rafael Nadal, skipped the tournament, so the other eight men in the top nine of the rankings entered. Then Thursday, No. 8 Milos Raonic withdrew with an injury, so David Ferrer stepped in to play Raonic’s last match.The tour finals provide a useful benchmark for the state of the sport. Since 1970, they’ve gathered the best players in the world around the end of the season to compete for big stakes in prize money and, since 1990, ranking points. The details have changed often: the host city, the format, the number of players and matches. But as far as the tumultuous history of pro tennis goes, the tour finals have been a relatively stable showpiece for top stars.This year, the state of the game appears to be one of change: 23-year-old Milos Raonic, 24-year-old Kei Nishikori and 26-year-old Marin Cilic — members of the sport’s “second line,” as Cilic called them at the U.S. Open — all broke through to reach their first tour finals. These days in tennis, even 26 is young.But the other five, who have played in the tour finals before, all are a year older than they were last year. So their sticking around increases the average age of contestants. This year, it’s 28 years, three months — down by just a month from last year’s record high and more than five years older than the youthful class of 1993. (The average age climbed when the 32-year-old Ferrer stepped in as an alternate, but would have been about the same if Nadal had been healthy enough to play, bumping both Raonic and Ferrer.)The young-ish debutantes also haven’t done much winning. Cilic won just six games in his two defeats. (“His debut in the World Tour Finals has gotten [the] best out of him in terms of his nerves,” Novak Djokovic said after beating Cilic, 6-1, 6-1.) Raonic suffered two straight-sets losses before withdrawing. Nishikori has won twice, including over the 32-year-old Ferrer on Thursday, but was routed by Roger Federer two days before.“The usual guys that everybody knows for a long time still enjoy the game and like to be out on center court, as well, accepting the challenge of the young guys,” Federer said after defeating Nishikori. He predicted his main rivals would continue troubling the upstarts for years to come.The tournament looks even grayer when factoring in who’s doing the winning. The average age of winners five-sixths of the way into the round-robin stage has been 29 years and 1 month, more than a year older than last year and older than at every other tour finals since the very first tournament, the elder-dominated event of 1970.Not only have the oldsters mostly held their ground, but they’ve done it in dominating fashion. Only one of the tournament’s 10 matches through Thursday even went to three sets: Nishikori’s defeat of Ferrer. On average, the loser has won just 5.1 games, and the winner has won 71.1 percent of games. If those figures hold up, they’ll be the lowest and highest, respectively, in completed matches in the history of the round-robin portion of the event (which was skipped from 1983 to 1985).
Alabama vs. Auburn, Florida vs. Florida State, Michigan vs. Ohio State. Those are the types of college football rivalries from which sports legends are made. This weekend on the northern tip of Manhattan in New York City (known for having the lowest percentage of college football fans in the nation), a different type of history will be produced. The 0-8 Cornell Big Red will visit the 0-8 Columbia Lions. It’s a game sure to be memorable not because the two teams are so good, but because both of them are so bad.I’m a Columbia Lions football fan. I listen to their games on WKCR-FM. I’m attending Saturday’s game against Cornell. I went to every home game from 1994 to 2000, and I treasure an autographed photo with then-Lions and later NFL star Marcellus Wiley.But Columbia enters the game with statistics that resemble those of a peewee football team dropped into the NFL. Columbia has scored more than seven points in only one game this season. Last week against Harvard, the Lions suffered the ultimate embarrassment: getting shut out 45-0.The away team hasn’t been much better. Only against Princeton has Cornell put up more than 16 points in a game, and the Big Red still managed to score fewer points in that game, 27, than Columbia’s highest point total this year (28). Last week, Cornell went down 42-7 against Dartmouth, and that wasn’t even their worst defeat of the season so far.Not surprisingly, of the 121 teams in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS, formerly known as Division I-AA) for which the NCAA provides statistics, Columbia is dead last in offensive points per game at 8.6. Cornell is not far behind, at No. 113, scoring only 12.9 points per game. In point differential (points scored minus points allowed), Columbia ranks No. 118 with -31.2. Cornell is ranked No. 114 with -21.5.The wretchedness goes beyond the scoreboard, though. In each facet of the game, these two teams have been exceptionally awful.The Lions rank last in the FCS with 51.3 rushing yards per game (YPG). Cornell comes in at No. 117 with 88 YPG.When it comes to passing, Columbia and Cornell are deceptively bad. Columbia has passed for 221.6 YPG (good for a rank of No. 52), while Cornell has passed for 179.3 YPG (good for No. 88). Of course, both teams have almost always been behind, so they have to pass in an effort to catch up. Passer efficiency, which takes into account pass attempts, completions, interceptions, touchdowns and yards, places Columbia No. 120 out of 121 and Cornell just slightly better at No. 103.The defenses aren’t much better. Columbia has given up 273.8 YPG on the ground (No. 120). Cornell has done better, at 189.1 YPG, but that still ranks only 84th. In passing defense, Columbia ranks No. 100 with 246.9 YPG, and Cornell lags at No. 106 with 262 YPG. In passer efficiency defense, Columbia comes in at No. 100 and Cornell at No. 118.Finally, there’s special teams. Both teams have made only two field goals all year, and both of those came in the same game for each team. Columbia and Cornell rank No. 111 and No. 112, respectively, with just 16.96 and 16.91 yards per kickoff return. In yards per punt return, Columbia ranks No. 75 with 6.80, and Cornell ranks a pathetic No. 118 with just 2.29.All hope is not lost, however. The two teams excel in one notable category: punting. Columbia has punted an amazingly high 7.25 times per game, and Cornell has done so 6.63 times per game. Those are good enough to rank No. 6 and No. 16, respectively! And perhaps because they have gotten so much practice, Columbia has averaged 34.83 yards per punt, and Cornell 36.34. Those averages rank in the top half of the FCS, at Nos. 60 and 25.So, if you live in the New York metro area, are a big fan of punting and want to see two teams that cannot score or stop anyone else from scoring, you’re in luck. It’s sure to be a riveting affair in a city that just doesn’t care.
HOUSTON — The NBA Finals are the crown jewel of the playoffs for obvious reasons, but it’d be hard to argue with anyone who views this vaunted Western Conference finals matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, which opens Monday night, as this year’s main event.The Warriors have two of the best three players in the world in their starting five, have won two of the past three titles and appeared borderline annoyed by having to face questions about whether they’re concerned to be starting a series without home-court advantage for the first time in their recent championship era. The Rockets won an NBA-best 65 regular-season games, have likely MVP James Harden and future Hall of Famer Chris Paul in their backcourt and possess a group of sweet-shooting teammates who stretch the floor as if it’s made of Play-Doh.The offensive firepower — Golden State and Houston finished No. 1 and No. 2 in offensive efficiency and virtually averaged the same number of points per 100 possessions — guarantees we’ll hear plenty about how well these teams score. But because of that, something else about the Rockets and Warriors may fly beneath the radar: The NBA’s two best clubs are even further ahead of the curve on defense. In a league that’s more reliant than ever on the pick-and-roll offense, these defenses are unmatched when it comes to their versatility and ability to switch assignments on the fly.Houston defended a screen-and-roll by switching on 1,406 possession chances during the regular season, while Golden State orchestrated 1,075 switches of its own, according to data from Second Spectrum and NBA Advanced Stats. These teams — which more than doubled the switch totals compiled by 20 other squads — were outliers: The Lakers were the only other club that broke 800 switches during the 2017-18 season.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/rox.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.And it isn’t just that the Warriors and Rockets switch a lot. They also use the strategy to fuel their high-octane offenses. Houston forced 3.5 turnovers per 100 switches, while Golden State forced 2.4, the best rates in the league, according to Second Spectrum.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/warriors.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.That ability — having two similarly sized players trade their defensive responsibilities quickly enough during a pick-and-roll that the offense doesn’t gain an edge — speaks to the length and versatility these Western Conference foes have. And it takes on added importance in a matchup like this, in which the Warriors and Rockets use an array of screens (albeit differently1The Warriors use fewer pick-and-roll plays than any other team in basketball, while the Rockets use more direct screens than any team, according to Second Spectrum data. That said, Golden State, seeking to free up Klay Thompson, sets more off-ball screens than any club.) to free up their most lethal shooters beyond the 3-point line.“You have to cover more ground than ever before. It’s amazing: Sometimes I’ll turn on the classic sports channel and find Lakers-Celtics games from the 1980s — some of the best games ever — and the game is played in this tiny little radius. Now it’s way out on the perimeter,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Every possession was, you dump it into the post, a double comes, and you might see six or eight threes taken in a game. But everything was different. The rules were different. The talent is different. Very few low-post players anymore. The league’s adapted. Coaches have adapted. Things are ever-changing. And you have to change along with that.”Anyone who’s followed the Warriors’ dominance these past few years knows a huge chunk of that success stems from Golden State’s ability to go small and play Draymond Green — who may not even be the ideal height for a traditional small forward — at center. That alignment, with the addition of Andre Iguodala, gives the Warriors four long-limbed clones who are laterally quick enough and strong enough to cover almost anyone. With that defensive speed, Golden State can gamble a bit more on that end; it knows the opposing offense generally won’t be able to find mismatches, even if a switch has taken place.“At the end of the day, it’s really just another way for us to cut off the other team’s options with our versatility,” said Green, the league’s reigning defensive player of the year, who sometimes calls an audible — and moves a teammate out of the way — before a screen occurs to be in position to thwart the play.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/dray.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Houston has also made life difficult for opponents with its versatility on defense. By and large, the Rockets have been far more successful on defense than most would have guessed, jumping to sixth in defensive efficiency this season after ranking 21st in 2015-16 and 18th in 2016-17. Adding the sticky-handed Paul certainly factored into that improvement, but plugging free-agent signings Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker into the lineup likely did even more for the defense.“Their ability to guard 1 through 5 makes it so much easier for us. That’s why we’re so much better on defense this year,” Houston guard Eric Gordon said of the duo, which sometimes shares the frontcourt despite neither standing taller than 6-foot-8. (Nonetheless, the lineup pays dividends: Houston, trailing by 14 heading into the fourth quarter at Portland in December, came back to win by 7 while using Mbah a Moute and Tucker at the 4 and 5 for the entire period.)Mbah a Moute, in particular, has become a vital piece. According to a defensive dashboard created by Nylon Calculus contributor Krishna Narsu, the wing’s versatility was highly unusual. This season, he was one of just seven players to spend at least 15 percent of his time guarding each of the following positions: point guard, shooting guard, small forward and power forward.Unsurprisingly, the Rockets struggled in his absence during the middle of the campaign, enduring a season-long five-game losing streak. The Rockets’ 101.2 defensive rating with Mbah a Moute on the court this season would have ranked best in the league on a team scale, while their 105.4 rating without him would have had them just slightly above average, at No. 12.Above all else, Mbah a Moute and Tucker carry so much importance because they make Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni — one of the game’s brightest offensive minds who was never really known for switching with his defenses — more comfortable utilizing this style of play.“To even have a chance against a team like Golden State, you have to make a point of not being put into rotations. They’ll kill you that way. So I’m just happy we have a roster full of guys to where it makes sense to be able to switch the way we do,” he said.To be sure: Neither team is breaking from decades of tradition with this strategy on defense, even if they are using it far more often than everyone else. On some level, this is no different from what the LeBron James-era Miami Heat did when it rode small ball to a championship in 2012. (Kerr would be the first to tell you that he never envisioned Green playing the rim-protector role when he took the Warriors job. “We didn’t know Draymond was Draymond yet,” he told me.) Beyond that, it wouldn’t be fair to gloss over how unbelievably dominant these teams are on offense, given how big a role scoring plays in their success.Yet there are reasons to think that creative, well-timed switches will heavily factor into this series as the chess match of hunting for what each team perceives to be mismatches unfolds.The Warriors have made no secret of the fact that they like to post up Kevin Durant when they spot him being guarded by Paul following a screen.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/durant.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Meanwhile, Harden and the Rockets are even less shy about attacking Stephen Curry; they’ll often run multiple pick-and-rolls until they get him on an island for a 1-on-1 matchup. In fact, they used this tactic six times in a seven-possession span during the final four minutes of the teams’ last regular-season meeting Jan. 20, a 116-108 Houston win.“We’re just gonna watch film and find ways to attack them offensively,” Harden said when I asked about that sequence. “We’ll take our shots, play unselfishly. Pretty simple.”Curry thinks this will mean isolating him in the same way this series. “I hope it’s every single play,” he told The Athletic’s Anthony Slater. “If you look at the ‘Hamptons Five’ lineup that’s out there, I would probably do the same exact thing if I was coaching against me. You’ve got Klay (Thompson), Andre, Draymond and KD out there. I embrace those opportunities to get stops and try to make it tough in those iso situations … and just do my job.”The likely MVP seeking out a former MVP for a 1-on-1 matchup, for the right to play in the NBA Finals. A pretty cool outcome, all thanks to how these juggernauts force and handle switches on defense.Check out our latest NBA predictions.
No. 6 Ohio State will wear 1916 throwback uniforms versus No. 9 Nebraska on Nov. 5. Credit: @darrenrovellThe No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes’ primetime matchup versus No. 9 Nebraska in Ohio Stadium on Saturday is a golden opportunity to prove in front of a national audience that they’re one of college football’s premier teams. Based on their uniform choice, the Buckeyes are already coming into the game with style.The Scarlet and Gray will have a different look this week, wearing 1916 throwback uniforms to honor late, great OSU running back Chic Harley, who played at OSU from 1916-17 and 1919. He spent the 1918 season in the military, which is the reason OSU chose this week — the military appreciation game — to wear replica jerseys from 1916 in respect for Harley’s sacrifices.Ohio Stadium is sometimes referred to as “The House that Harley Built.”Darren Rovell of ESPN tweeted out the full look the Buckeyes will be donning on Saturday in the ‘Shoe.FIRST LOOK: Ohio State Nike uniforms, commemorating 100th anniversary of undefeated 1916 team, to be worn vs Nebraska this week pic.twitter.com/fJacfs2VwX— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) November 1, 2016
Senior Jaine VanPutten preforms on vault in St John Arena on Feb. 4. Credit: Megan Russell | Lantern reporterWith both OSU and Penn State sitting 2-2 in the in the Big Ten, the Ohio State women’s gymnastics team is preparing this week for a tough meet on the road against Penn State this coming Saturday.The Buckeyes had a record-breaking meet two weekends ago at Minnesota, earning the 10th-best score in program history of 196.600, and although the team saw a win against Rutgers in this most recent meet, the Buckeyes posted a comparably lower final score of 195.775. The team is looking to change their practice routine to cater to their coming meet against Penn State. “As coaches, we look back at some of our weeks’ training plans and then look ahead at the meets, and the meets we performed really well, we obviously go back and try to replicate some of those workouts,” said OSU coach Carey Fagan. “Obviously, Minnesota was a great meet, so we’re molding this week’s practice kind of off of the week leading into Minnesota.”Similar to the week leading up to the Minnesota meet, the OSU team added a third floor-focused practice on Monday, in addition to the two regularly scheduled practices on Tuesdays and Fridays.The extra time dedicated to floor serves the dual purpose of helping the coaches determine who is performance-ready for the coming meet and helping the athletes build confidence in their routines.The team is also practicing in small group assignments for the week as another method to help the girls mentally prepare. Sophomore Jamie Stone is one of the athletes on the team who finds this practice method useful.“I kind of like the group assignments,” Stone said. “It’s a lot more challenging. I feel like it makes us more competition ready, because if I hit one, they have to or vice versa.”Although the Buckeyes placed first in every event against Rutgers this past Saturday, they also saw many minor injuries during the meet that will potentially change the floor lineup this coming Saturday.“Olivia’s (Aepli) ankle is pretty sore, so we’re probably going to rest her on floor,” Fagan said. “And then Taylor Harrison is still coming back from her hip. You know, she’s progressing, but she’s not quite at 100 percent in training, so we’ll have to make some last minute lineup changes again as we get closer to Saturday.”With Penn State posting a 195.925 in their last meet against Michigan State, the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions will potentially have a very close meet in their weekend matchup.How the OSU athletes perform in practice this week will affect the overall lineups, especially the lineup for floor, according to Fagan, and will play a contributing role in determining which team will come out with the victory.
Facing the Minnesota Golden Gophers (24-23, 13-11 Big Ten) in a Big Ten Tournament elimination game, the Ohio State baseball team (26-27, 14-11 Big Ten) fell, 9-4, on Friday. Illinois took the championship and automatic conference bid for the NCAA Tournament. This was Greg Beals’ first season as coach of OSU, after replacing Hall of Fame coach Bob Todd. The team finished one game below .500, marking the first time the Buckeyes had a losing record since 1987. Beals did lead OSU back to the Big Ten Tournament, however, after Todd’s team missed the cut last season. Beals said he was proud of how far the team came in his first year at OSU. “Of all the great teams in Ohio State baseball history, this team, this year, was the first team to sweep Michigan at home in Bill Davis Stadium,” Beals said. “This was the first team to go up and at Minnesota, and win a series on the road at Minnesota — first in history.” Freshman outfielder Tim Wetzel said the team had a lot of guys fitting into new roles and that they all matured over the year. “We all found our roles pretty early in the season, and then we all really stuck to that,” Wetzel said. “I think, in a game like this, that’s going to take us a long way.” Beals said the players knew who they were and fought their “tails” off. “I’ll remember these kids for the fight they had,” Beals said. “Whether they were as good or better or not as good, they just fought, and they fought, and they fought.” The Buckeyes will lose seven seniors, including three everyday starters. This includes two starting pitchers and two relief pitchers, one of whom was Drew Rucinski, a second-team All-Big Ten selection. Beals said the team has eight incoming players signed to national letters of intent and seven verbal commitments. “I’m looking forward to next year, playing with all these guys — except for those seven seniors that will be gone,” sophomore catcher Greg Solomon said. “They did a hell of a job this year.” Beals said the bar has been set high for OSU baseball and that, in the future, the team needs to take care of business so chances to make the Big Ten Tournament are not in jeopardy. “Playing baseball the right way and maximizing the game of baseball is what me and my coaching staff are going to push every day in this program,” Beals said. “It was something that was an absolute necessity for this season, and it’s something that I think for great baseball, where we want this program to go, it’s going to be a necessity in the future also.”
The squeaking of brand new Nikes against polished hardwood fills the expansive interior of an empty Schottenstein Center. Bouncing basketballs, blowing whistles and exhausted grunts combine to form the soundtrack of a Buckeye basketball practice. Some of the members of the Ohio State men’s basketball program stand drenched in sweat, hands on their hips and watch as others participate in drills. These spectators and participants combine to comprise an indisposable crew on the floor, but they aren’t the basketball team. They’re the seven members of the Ohio State men’s basketball managerial staff. While the actual team wins the games and earns the headlines, the staff supporting the team is happy to sit behind the bench on game days, out of the spotlight. They’re OK with the idea that the outside world has no clue how important they were to coach Thad Matta and his teams’ preparations for victory. “A lot of people just think we’re all ‘water and towels’ and just kind of there,” said Weston Strayer, manager and a fourth-year in marketing. “But they don’t understand just how much time and work we put in each week to the program.” Their contributions are noticed by those who pay attention though. “The managers do everything you really don’t want to do, and they do it with a smile on their face,” said senior forward Evan Ravenel. “They’re one of the key components to our team, and we wouldn’t be half as good without those guys.” A typical OSU student gets up, goes to class, maybe goes to work afterward and then juggles homework with a social life. The managers have those same obligations, but in addition to their school obligations, they deal with between 35 and 40 hours a week of unpaid work for basketball activities. They show up for 10 a.m. practice an hour before to set up. They stay two hours after to rebound for players who want to get extra shots up or to run errands for coaches. It can end up being a five-hour shift. On game days, they’re there for the pre-game shootaround five hours before tip-off and will stay at the arena for the next eight hours, through the pre-game team meal and the game itself. During the games, they take advanced stats for the coaches, set up chairs on the court for the team during timeouts and manage Matta’s play-calling whiteboard. “Once the game starts, nothing we have done is going to change anything, but preparation-wise, we definitely help them out where we can,” Strayer said. “We try and do our best to help them prepare and make everything a little bit easier for them.” The man in charge of the managers is David Egelhoff, director of basketball operations. He’s been on the OSU staff for 10 years and in his current position for seven. In addition to handling the day-to-day, off-court activities of the basketball team, he handles the application and hiring process of the team’s managers and serves as their boss. It’s a position his past has qualified him for. Egelhoff served as a student manager for OSU’s basketball team from 1998 to 2002 under former OSU coach Jim O’Brien. He said his times as a manager make up some of his favorite college memories. “I’ve made lifelong friendships, not only with the managers but the coaching staffs and players I’ve worked with as well,” Egelhoff said. “We had a really enjoyable time doing a lot of things … those experiences we had were pretty special to me.” The sheer quantity of time the managers spend with each other has allowed them to form a special bond. “It’s a great group of guys, we joke and mess with each other and it’s a lot of fun,” Strayer said. “We kind of joke when we walk out of the tunnel (during home games), they announce the ‘three-time defending Big Ten champions’ and then we all kind of just come out before everyone, so I always wonder what people think when they see us in the suits walking out by the team.” Evan Kurt, a third-year manager and a fourth-year in marketing, said the experiences of going to the Final Four and to different venues around the country have made managing the “best time” of his life. While the managers know they will never make the game-winning shot, they also are aware that their weeklong contributions before the 40-minute games are vital. “There’s a lot that goes on at practices that people don’t see. If you don’t know all about what goes on behind the scenes, you don’t really understand,” Kurt said. “Game to game, it’s players and coaches who determine success, but behind the scenes, it’s us helping everybody improve and helping everybody get better.” The managers’ reward for the hours upon hours of dirty work isn’t fame, money or recognition. It’s something less tangible, but something the managers say is much more important. “The sense of being a part of the team,” Strayer said. “It’s one thing to be a fan, but to be emotionally involved, and to be with the team all the time and to be a part of the team is something I’ll never forget.” Ravenel, a player who has played on three Big Ten championship teams and a Final Four team, expressed the team’s gratitude for its managers. “A program like ours wouldn’t be able to be successful without guys like our managers,” Ravenel said. This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Correction: April 17, 2013 An earlier version of this story stated that Evan Ravenel played on two Final Four teams for OSU. In fact, he played on one.
Columbus Crew forward Jairo Arrieta (middle) shoots the ball during a game against the Philadelphia Union March 22 at Crew Stadium. The Crew won, 2-1.Courtesy of MCTThe best start to a season in franchise history has come to a halt for the Columbus Crew.After a strong start to its 2014 campaign, the Crew (3-1-0) suffered its first defeat of the year Saturday, falling 2-0 to Toronto FC (3-1-0) at Crew Stadium.U.S. Men’s National Team star and Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley scored in the 11th minute, his first Major League Soccer goal in nine years after playing in the Netherlands, Germany, England and Italy.Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said after the match that a poor performance during the first 20 minutes led to his team’s downfall.“We had a horrendous start to the game. It was sloppy in every sense of the word,” Berhalter said. “To me, it’s something where we got complacent and that’s the worst thing a team like us can do because we need to keep fighting. We need to keep pushing and we’re not there yet.”Crew midfielder Hector Jimenez had a similar impression of the team’s level of play early.“Those first 20 minutes were crucial, giving up that early goal, and it was hard for us to come back from that,” Jimenez said.Defender Josh Williams said the team tried to play wide, but couldn’t get the right delivery of the ball into the box.“It was just poor service. I think that played right into them,” Williams said. “They’ve got some big guys in the middle, you know, I think they kind of let us play out wide and cross the balls in and those guys were waiting for us.”Berhalter said the team’s failure to capitalize on its few chances was its downfall.“A couple chances, a couple cross bars, a couple things that hit the post and it didn’t work out,” Berhalter said. “But I attribute this loss to two things: Bad start to the game and a very well organized Toronto FC.”Toronto midfielder Issey Nakajima-Farran added a second goal in the 85th minute, triggering some Crew fans’ exit to the aisles as a tight 1-0 deficit suddenly doubled and extinguished any hopes for a comeback.Columbus had been riding a three-game winning streak before Saturday’s loss. The team’s home opener win over Philadelphia — bookended by road wins over D.C. United and Seattle — made for a perfect March.Williams said the drama and emotion of winning in Seattle March 29 on a 94th minute goal by Columbus’ Justin Meram could have played a role in the complacency against Toronto and that the players take responsibility for the loss.“You know, Gregg is going to take the blame. He already came in here and tried to take it but the players know, that’s just a good coach, him being him,” Williams said. “Practice felt a little lackadaisical this week, for whatever reason, I don’t know. Maybe it was just the high of Seattle. But it definitely wasn’t Gregg’s fault, and as players, we take responsibility for that … this week we’ve got to come out and train harder, prepare harder.”The Crew has a long week to shake off the loss, as the team is slated to travel to San Jose, Calif., to take on the winless San Jose Earthquakes Sunday at 3 p.m. The Black and Gold are set to return to Crew Stadium April 19 against D.C. United, and kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.