10AustraliaD88.7 TEAMGROUPWSPI 20ColombiaF78.0 Check out FiveThirtyEight’s Women’s World Cup predictions.On Saturday, two dozen women’s national soccer teams — the most ever to be featured in the same tournament — will begin play at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. Previous women’s tournaments featured 12 or 16 teams, and back then, simply rooting for the good ol’ U.S. of A. would typically have earned you a championship run — if not the full victory tour.But if you’re an American hoping for an easy bet, this isn’t the tournament for you. There is no favorite.That doesn’t mean there aren’t front-runners. The United States and Germany, the only countries with two World Cup championships, enter the tournament with almost equal chances of winning a third title: 28 percent and 27 percent, respectively, according to our forecasting model, which uses game-based offensive and defensive ratings to estimate a team’s overall skill level. The U.S.’s slight advantage over Germany — despite Germany’s stronger power rating in our model — is because Germany is more likely to face a very strong French side in the quarterfinals.The U.S. and Germany are no strangers; one has eliminated the other in three out of the six World Cups. At the first Women’s World Cup, in 1991, the U.S. defeated Germany 5-2 in the semifinals in what has been the U.S.’s most-lopsided victory over Germany in a competitive match. Eight years later (at the infamous 1999 World Cup), the Americans beat the Germans again, this time 3-2 in the quarterfinals.By 2003, the Germans were fed up. They routed the U.S. 3-0 in the semifinals — on American soil, no less — and went on to win the tournament.It’s been 12 years since the two have crossed paths at a World Cup. This year, each has about a 40 percent chance of making it to the final. That the U.S. and Germany are ahead of the pack is clear, but if you’re hoping for a U.S.-Germany final, don’t hold your breath1According to the model, there’s a 27 percent chance that they will meet in the semifinals and a 7 percent chance that they will meet in the final. — the road to Vancouver will be riddled with former champions and dark horses making their World Cup debut.Japan, the 2011 champion, is the next-most-likely team to win, with a 10 percent chance.2If it wins, Japan will be just the second country (after Germany) to win back-to-back World Cups. France isn’t far behind, with an 8 percent chance of winning the tournament. And if its recent performances in friendlies against the U.S., Germany and Brazil are any indication, France may do even better than expected.With home-field advantage working in its favor, host-nation Canada has a 7 percent chance of winning. The Brazilians, once World Cup bridesmaids, have a 6 percent chance, and the Swedes have a 5 percent chance of winning. After that, the field drops off considerably — only England, Norway and Australia have more than a 1 percent chance of winning — and the 24-team tournament begins to look more like a 10-team tournament. To our knowledge, this is the first-ever forecast of a Women’s World Cup (if you’ve seen one done before, please tell us in the comments!). Our projections are based on what we’re calling the Women’s Soccer Power Index (WSPI), a simplified version of the Soccer Power Index (SPI) ratings that FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver developed for men’s soccer a few years back.Unlike SPI, WSPI doesn’t use player data from club games — that data either doesn’t exist (many women’s leagues have folded and started up again) or doesn’t have enough historical context to be meaningful. Instead, our Women’s World Cup model takes into account 8,000 competitive and friendly international matches that have been played since 1971. Below, we take a closer look at each group, breaking down the chances of each team advancing from the group stage to the knockout rounds and where each team’s WSPI ranks. 24EcuadorC63.3 6SwedenD91.6 14SpainE84.7 7CanadaA90.1 8EnglandF89.6 9NorwayB88.7 2USAD95.4 3JapanC92.7 15South KoreaE84.3 4FranceF92.4 Bonus Hot Takedown Podcast: Allison McCann talks with ESPN’s Julie Foudy and USWNT players Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press. Subscribe on iTunes.Audio Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/hottakedown_150504_wwcspecial.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume. 21Ivory CoastB75.6 18MexicoF81.1 13ChinaA85.2 1GermanyB95.6 Group A: Canada, Netherlands, China, New ZealandGroup A has the second-highest average WSPI (86.0) but the smallest standard deviation of WSPI within any of the groups (3.1 points), meaning that the teams are evenly matched. Canada is the most likely team to win Group A (59 percent) — and is even more likely to advance to the knockout rounds (93 percent). The team is led by star striker Christine Sinclair, who you might recall as the player who absolutely thrashed the U.S. backline at the 2012 Olympic semifinal, scoring three goals (two with her head):The Dutch, appearing in their first World Cup, have a 69 percent chance of advancing beyond the group stage, and a young, technical Chinese team isn’t far behind, with a 64 percent chance. The weakest team in Group A, New Zealand, is quick and scrappy and could advance with a wild-card third-place spot — but it will more likely than not be eliminated (a 53 percent chance).Game to watch: Canada (58 percent chance of winning) vs. the Netherlands (20 percent), June 15Players to watch: Christine Sinclair (Canada), Manon Melis (Netherlands)Group B: Germany, Norway, Ivory Coast, ThailandGroup B is one of the most-lopsided groups: Germany and Norway are almost guaranteed to advance (with chances of more than 99 percent and 95 percent, respectively), while the Ivory Coast and Thailand will need a minor miracle to survive (their chances of being eliminated are 59 percent and 86 percent, respectively). Germany has the highest WSPI of any team in the tournament, 95.6, although it’s without the 2015 World Player of the Year, Nadine Kessler.3WSPI doesn’t take injuries into account. Thailand, meanwhile, has the second-lowest WSPI of any team in the tournament, 68.0, so Group B is likely to feature some blowout games (Germany’s chances of beating Thailand are 95 percent).Norway looked strong against the U.S. at the Algarve Cup in March, losing 2-1, but is likely to earn the second-place spot in Group B (69 percent). That would lead to a match against the second-place team from Group F (most likely England). The Ivory Coast is most likely to place third in this group (57 percent), with an almost equal chance of advancing or being eliminated from that spot. Thailand will likely take quite a beating in Group B — the highest chance it has of winning a game in the group stage is 23 percent, against the Ivory Coast.Game to watch: Germany (70 percent) vs. Norway (12 percent), June 11Players to watch: Ada Hegerberg (Norway), Nadine Angerer (Germany)Group C: Japan, Switzerland, Cameroon, EcuadorThis is the weakest group in the tournament, with an average WSPI rating of 79.8; three of the four teams in Group C are appearing in their first World Cup. The 2011 champions, Japan, should breeze through (they have more than a 99 percent chance of advancing). The team plays a highly technical style of soccer that focuses on quick, short passing and lots of midfield movement, thanks to Aya Miyama’s ability to move the ball seamlessly between the back and front lines.Switzerland is one of the most exciting additions to this year’s World Cup, and the newcomers have an 87 percent chance of making it to the knockout round — in part because of the fast, strong and skillful striker Ramona Bachmann. Cameroon looked promising at the African Women’s Championship, conceding just one goal in the group stage and finishing in second place behind Nigeria. Cameroon has a pretty good chance of advancing (72 percent). Ecuador, however, is the weakest team in the tournament. It has a WSPI rating of 63.3, having barely qualified by beating Trinidad and Tobago for the last spot.Game to watch: Japan (69 percent) vs. Switzerland (13 percent), June 8Players to watch: Ramona Bachmann (Switzerland), Aya Miyama (Japan)Group D: U.S., Sweden, Australia, NigeriaWe labeled this the Group of Death after the draw in December, and Group D’s average WSPI rating (90.4) backs that up: There are no bad teams here. The U.S. is the most likely team to win the group (a 65 percent chance), but it will have to get past a very strong Swedish team — helmed by former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage. Although the Swedes have only a 20 percent chance of beating the U.S. in the group stage, they’re very likely to advance from Group D: a 79 percent chance.The bottom two teams here, Australia and Nigeria, are still very solid, with WSPI ratings of 88.7 and 85.7, both above the median tournament rating. The Aussies are strong and athletic, and who knows — maybe striker Lisa De Vanna has another bicycle kick goal or two she’ll unleash to increase the chances that her team makes it out of this group (it has a 58 percent chance now). Nigeria won the African Women’s Championship and has a standout in youngster Asisat Oshoala, who recently won the BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year Award. But the Nigerians’ chances, even with Oshoala, look grim: They have a 62 percent chance of being eliminated.Game to watch: U.S. (58 percent) vs. Sweden (20 percent), June 12Players to watch: Lotta Schelin (Sweden), Christen Press (U.S.), Lisa De Vanna (Australia)Group E: Brazil, Spain, South Korea, Costa RicaBrazil came close to World Cup glory in 2007 but made a disappointing return in 2011, losing in the quarterfinals. The Brazilians remain almost a surefire bet to advance from Group E (98 percent), but their chances of making it to the championship match are another story (only 15 percent). Let’s wait and see what five-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta has in store.Spain and Costa Rica are two more new additions to the tournament, but Spain’s prospects are a lot better than Costa Rica’s. Spain has a 77 percent chance of advancing, compared with Costa Rica’s 20 percent. Spanish forward Vero Boquete will be riding high into the World Cup, having recently clinched a UEFA Women’s Champions League title with her club 1. FFC Frankfurt. Shirley Cruz Traña, who plays for the French club Paris Saint-Germain, will be Costa Rica’s best shot at making it out of Group E.Last but certainly not least in Group E are the South Koreans, who held the U.S. to a scoreless draw last weekend. They are about as likely to advance as Spain, with a 75 percent chance of doing so.Game to watch: Brazil (64 percent) vs. Spain (16 percent), June 13Players to watch: Marta (Brazil), Vero Boquete (Spain)Group F: France, England, Mexico, ColombiaThe final group is another solid mix of teams with an average WSPI rating of 85.3, the third highest in the tournament. The top two teams — France and England — will face off again at a World Cup: France knocked out England in the 2011 tournament quarterfinals. These are the two teams most likely to advance: 97 percent chance for France and 90 percent for England. France has been my not-so-dark horse for 2015; the team is technical, physical and fast, and Louisa Nécib and Eugénie Le Sommer are fantastic together.Mexico came out strong in a recent friendly against the U.S., holding on in the first half before flaming out 5-1 in the end. The team has less than a 50 percent chance of advancing from Group F, but that’s still better than Colombia’s 32 percent chance. A breakout performance by Colombia’s Yoreli Rincón could help Las Chicas Superpoderosas’ chances, but it’s more likely that they’ll be eliminated: a 68 percent chance.Game to watch: France (50 percent) vs. England (27 percent), June 9Players to watch: Eugénie Le Sommer (France), Yoreli Rincón (Colombia) 23ThailandB68.0 22Costa RicaE72.8 5BrazilE92.2 12NigeriaD85.7 17New ZealandA82.5 16SwitzerlandC83.7 11NetherlandsA86.2 19CameroonC79.3
Usain Bolt wrapped up the season Friday by winning the 100-meter race in 9.80 seconds at the Memorial Van Damme track meet in Brussels.The Jamaican can now rest, spend time with family and enjoy soccer with friends, before getting back to work preparing for the 2014 season.“I’ve been smiling ever since I got to the stadium, because I know it’s the last one,” Bolt said about his final race of the year.Michael Rodgers of the United States came in second with 9.90–a season’s best for him. Jamaica’s Nesta Carter, finished third in 9.94.American Justin Gatlin, who is the only sprinter to beat Bolt this year, began quickly, but could not keep up with Bolt’s power to the finish line. Gatlin fell to fourth with a 9.94.Watch Bolt’s final race of 2013 in the video below.
The big news coming out of baseball Thursday night was that Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera had been re-signed to a 10-year, $292 million contract extension, the most expensive deal in the history of the sport. On the surface, the pact seems like lunacy on the part of the team’s general manager, Dave Dombrowski.Cabrera has been the best hitter in baseball over the past nine years. Over the last four seasons, he won two American League Most Valuable Player Awards and three AL batting titles. But his gaudy offensive statistics overstate his value: He is a below-average fielder and baserunner. More important, Cabrera will turn 31 in April, meaning the Tigers will be paying him through age 40. Players are typically in decline by the time they hit their early 30s.Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection system expects Cabrera to generate about 35 more wins above replacement over the remainder of the contract (after rescaling BP’s value metric to the lower replacement level used more commonly by Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs). If the market rate for a single WAR was $6.5 million in 2014 (I split difference between this estimate and this estimate), and we add 5 percent in annual inflation to the cost of a win, Cabrera’s next 10 years will be worth about $275 million. By this rough math, the Tigers appear to have overpaid by something like $15 million to $20 million.It’s also worth noting that Detroit already had Cabrera locked up through 2015 under his existing contract. The $234 million it’s paying him beyond that season will deliver just $204 million in value, according to PECOTA.However, Dombrowski probably isn’t worried about the high likelihood that Cabrera will be overpaid (and vastly so) throughout the back half of this contract. Instead, he presumably put a premium on locking up the remaining prime seasons of one of the best hitters in baseball history. The Tigers were two wins away from a World Series berth last season with one of the AL’s oldest lineups, so the case can be made that the Tigers are discounting the long-term burdens of Cabrera’s huge contract in exchange for elite performance in the short-to-intermediate term.Indeed, before we lump this deal in with other onerous contracts, such as the ones handed to Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols, I’d like to look into modeling those deals against the players’ expected WAR. But for now, it appears the Tigers paid a huge premium for the tail end of Cabrera’s prime, banking on him remaining an MVP-caliber player into his mid-30s.
The St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings combined to go 18-29-1 last season. This season, those three teams rank highest in Football Outsiders’ annual ranking of franchises according to the amount of under-age-25 talent on hand. Should fans of those teams start planning for the Super Bowl in a few years? Is there evidence that teams ranked highly in such “young talent” indices see dividends on the field?Football Outsiders has been compiling a similar list going back to 2010 (it used to include 25-year-olds in the assessments but doesn’t anymore). That doesn’t give us anywhere near the sample size we had when we looked at how well Baseball America’s annual organizational talent rankings predicted future team success, but we can begin to investigate whether there’s a relationship in the NFL between having a lot of young talent and winning down the road.For the rankings released prior to the 2010 and 2011 seasons, the correlation against schedule-adjusted Pythagorean wins in the following three seasons was 0.021, meaning there’s practically no relationship between how highly regarded a team’s talent is and how well it does in the next three seasons. (Nerd note: Since Football Outsiders only ranks teams relative to one another, we need to run the Spearman rank correlation coefficient between a team’s young talent ranking and its ranking among NFL teams in schedule-adjusted Pythagorean wins for future seasons.)But perhaps it’s unfair to include early seasons in that range. Teams with a lot of young talent usually acquired it through recent (high) draft picks, which typically implies a team might not be ready to win right away. If we toss out years one and two and only focus on the season three years in the future, the correlation does improve. But it’s still just a minuscule 0.080, which probably doesn’t inspire a lot of hope in the hearts of Rams, Bills and Vikings fans.Now, it may be that it’s tough for young talent to move the needle on a roster that’s already bad. But if you control for existing team quality by regressing a team’s young talent ranking and its league ranking in schedule-adjusted Pythagorean wins from the previous two seasons against its performance three seasons into the future, neither predictor is statistically significant and the R-squared is essentially zero.If you used the number of draft points a team spent the previous spring (using Chase Stuart’s draft value chart from Football Perspective), or the amount of Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement generated by a team’s quarterbacks the season before, those rankings correlate better with a team’s performance three years into the future. The short schedule and interconnectedness of individual statistics in football make it difficult to judge who has talent in the first place, much less to project which teams will succeed because of it down the road.Maybe these teams will buck the trend, or the rankings will appear more accurate as the sample grows. Certainly, a few years’ worth of rankings aren’t the final arbiter — in either direction — of whether future wins are related to a stockpile of what appears to be burgeoning talent. Theoretically, the two categories should be linked, but it bears mentioning that a similar analysis of young talent rankings and team results in baseball yields a very weak correlation, too. And that’s baseball, where projections are somewhat reliable; in general, the NFL is much more difficult to predict than MLB.
Warning: This post was written by a Mets fan.When Daniel Murphy let a ball bounce beneath his glove in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the World Series, I threw my Mets hat to the ground. It was ostensibly the pivotal moment in a 5-3 Royals win, the kind of play that reminded me why other sports have fouls but baseball has errors.We could sit here together and dwell on all the Mets errors: We could wonder how Jeurys Familia, an all-star closer, blew five saves in 48 opportunities during the regular season, but has blown two in two opportunities during the World Series. We could plumb the depths of Yoenis Cespedes’s above-average defensive metrics, and make the case that to measure Cespedes’s true defensive capacity we need a new metric that somehow quantifies a fielder’s nonchalance.1And ideally a fielder’s tendency to kick the ball off his leg when he can’t catch it. And we could spend hours trying to understand Terry Collins’s faith in an eighth-inning set-up man who is allowing a .835 OPS to opposing batters in the postseason. (It seems as though I may spend the next several years doing that.)But instead I want to tell you about my hat. If you read FiveThirtyEight a lot, you know that we’re puritanical about baseball’s playoffs being a crapshoot. They’re a series of games that may or may not be a reflection of a team’s actual quality. Intellectually, I know the same rules of randomness that apply to a baseball also apply to what I wear to watch a game. But the World Series is not a time for intellect.On July 31, the day Cespedes was traded to the Mets, I bought a Minnesota Twins hat at Target Field in Minneapolis. It was a tourist’s purchase – I was in Minnesota for a couple of ballgames with some friends.But the hat started to mean something more. That weekend, the Mets swept the Washington Nationals to tie for first place in the NL East. So I kept wearing the hat. And the Mets kept winning. The Mets went 37-22 to close out the season, and won the NL East despite a 23 percent chance of doing so when I bought the hat. (The rational readers among you will note that they also went 37-22 to close out the season after Cespedes joined the team, but, again, this is not a rational story.)Soon, the Twins hat had replaced my Mets hat. My Mets friends texted me and asked me to wear it when they were feeling nervous about a game. I nearly forgot it on a plane, and felt the Mets season slipping away until I stormed back to retrieve it. At the start of the playoffs, I went on a poorly timed vacation to India, and brought the Twins hat to ensure the Mets advanced.I returned to the U.S. in time for the World Series, and there was no question I’d wear the Twins hat into the heart of a Mets bar for Game 1. Fourteen innings later, the hat wasn’t enough. The Mets lost 5-4.So I put on something different. I went to Game 3 in Citi Field and wore a hat that spelled out M-E-T-S. I had worn it to every Mets home game I attended this year.That Mets hat has its own history, with a winning percentage of about .550 this season, if I recall correctly. Good, but not Twins hat good. Yet the Mets won Game 3 9-3. And so, before Game 4, I faced the same choice any manager does: Do I ride what’s hot, or stick with the steady performer? I looked into the archives of Baseball Prospectus, but couldn’t find any research on whether there’s such a thing as a hot-hand effect in fans’ attire. I was adrift with nothing but my own small sample sizes.Saturday, I put on the Mets hat. By the end of the night, it had regressed to its mean. It couldn’t stop a Royals team that had a .301 BABIP in the regular season from having a BABIP of .346 in Game 4 (and that doesn’t even count the ball that skittered beneath Murphy’s glove). It couldn’t make the Mets win. It couldn’t get Terry Collins to bring in his best bullpen pitcher for a six-out save with nobody on, rather than a five-out save with two runners on base. It couldn’t get Cespedes to stay closer to first base in the final moments.A hat with a .550 winning percentage could never do that. But a Twins hat with a .627 winning percentage? We’ll find out during Game 5.
Until they met up with the Cleveland Cavaliers in last year’s playoffs, the Atlanta Hawks had been enjoying a banner 2014-15 campaign. The team won a franchise-record 60 games during the regular season, and made its way to the conference finals for the first time ever. Then LeBron James and the Cavs dismantled the Hawks in a lopsided series sweep. Now Cleveland is in Atlanta’s path again, with the teams’ second-round series beginning Monday night, and we have to ask: Is there any reason to expect anything different?Broadly speaking, things don’t look good for the Hawks. Since the NBA expanded its playoff structure to eight teams in 1967, there have been 141 instances of teams facing off in the postseason two years in a row,1Not including this year’s Hawks-Cavs rematch. and the previous year’s loser has won the rematch only about 41 percent of the time. Teams that were swept flipped the script only about 30 percent of the time, versus a 44 percent success rate for teams that avoided the brooms. And if the previous year’s loser doesn’t have home-court advantage — which, unlike last season, the Hawks won’t — it tends to win just 30 percent of the time, compared with 62 percent for teams that lost the year before but came to the rematch armed with a home-court edge.Statistically, though, the Hawks are hotter on the Cavaliers’ heels now than when the two clubs faced off last season. Going into Game 1 of their series a year ago, our Elo ratings — which estimate a team’s “form” at any given moment based on its wins, scoring margin and strength of schedule — considered Atlanta to be about 2.3 points per game worse than Cleveland. Now, Elo thinks the Hawks have sliced that difference down to about 1.3 points per game in the Cavs’ favor.But although Atlanta has shrunk the gap, it hasn’t erased it completely — and, historically, that’s been an important distinction for previous-year losers trying to flip things around in the rematch. Teams who trailed in Elo and lost one year, but managed to surpass their opponent in rating before they met in the playoffs again, won the rematch 54 percent of the time. Teams who lost the first time around and failed to pass their opponent’s Elo in the intervening year — even if they, like the Hawks, reduced the gap between the teams — got their revenge only 23 percent of the time.2Weirdly, teams that saw their Elo deficit widen actually won more rematches (27 percent) than teams who narrowed the Elo gap but failed to pull ahead (19 percent), although that difference is probably just noise.So the big-picture indicators say the Cavs are relatively strong favorites to win again. But then, you probably knew that. According to Elo, the Cavs have a 67 percent probability of winning the rematch — though just an 8 percent chance of another sweep — and none of the factors above provide much reason to think Atlanta will be able to defy Elo and tell a different tale against Cleveland this time around.Stylistically, though, the Hawks have changed quite a bit since last season. During the 2014-15 season, Atlanta was an evenly balanced machine — sixth-ranked in both offensive and defensive efficiency.3i.e., points scored and allowed per 100 possessions. This year’s Hawks have struggled on offense, ranking in the bottom 10, but they propelled themselves to a four-seed with lockdown defense, holding teams to just 101.4 points per 100 possessions. That was good for second best in the league, trailing only the Spurs.If the Hawks are to upend the odds and beat the Cavs, that defense is going to have to do something special, particularly against James. In the sweep over Atlanta last year, James nearly averaged a triple-double — 30 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists. And the Hawks have a new wrench to throw at LeBron: Thabo Sefolosha, who was absent for last year’s series after suffering a broken leg in a confrontation with police in New York City. In 74 possessions where Sefolosha was matched up with James, he held him to 22 points per 100 team possessions, the third lowest among players with at least 50 matchups against LeBron. (Granted, the Cavs as a team generated 1.19 points per chance against Atlanta with Sefolosha and James on the floor, versus 0.82 with the former not on the floor, but by definition, much of that damage came from players other than James.)However, Sefolosha is just one player. Kent Bazemore is also likely to get the pleasure of going against LeBron, and that hasn’t gone as well this year. James torched Bazemore for 38 points per 100 team possessions, and he shot more than 20 percentage points better than expected — according to SportVU data that estimates shot difficulty using distance and defender location, among other variables — when checked by Bazemore.4Only one unlucky defender (Jerami Grant) gave up a higher differential to LeBron. Paul Millsap, the Hawks’ best player, is another — arguably better — option against LeBron, but the Hawks have used it very sparingly this year. Millsap covered LeBron on 20 matchups this season, down 74 percent from last year.This year’s Hawks defense is much more stout than last year’s, but the Cavs still have the ultimate trump card: LeBron. And until the Hawks have an answer for him, be it one defender or many, it’s unlikely Atlanta can overcome the historical odds and get its revenge this time around.Check out our latest NBA playoff predictions.
OSU then-freshman attacker Cian Dabrowski (14) during a game against Maryland on May 1. Credit: Courtesy of Ben SolomanThe Ohio State women’s lacrosse team showed that its squad might have some stars, but it takes a collective effort to dominate.Sophomore midfielder Molly Wood started the game strong, scoring her first goal two minutes into the match. She finished the game with five goals, leading the team as it blew out Detroit 22-8.“For me, I was just in the right place at the right time,” Wood said. “My teammates always set me up for success with all of their passes, and it’s just easy to put them away.”OSU coach Alexis Venechanos said every game is a new challenge, and she’s thrilled that the the team stepped up to the task of its first game.“Molly (Wood) really committed herself in the offseason because she wanted to be a versatile player for us, and she’s finishing the ball well,” Venechanos said. “It’s really exciting that we have so many new people stepping up, and we have to keep this theme going.”Rainey Hodgson, a senior attackman for the Buckeyes (1-0), also played a vital role with two goals and four assists on Saturday. Venechanos said she’s always stepped up when the team has needed her.“Rainey (Hodgson) has always been a solid player for us,” Venechanos said. “Last year she had more of a supportive role, but today she facilitated a lot of goals and we’re looking at her to be our quarterback this season.”Detroit (0-1) always comes to attack, with many skilled players from the U.S. and Canada, Venechanos said. Even so, OSU was able to overcome that with efficiency.“The players gave us some matchup that we had to be ready for and their goalie played well,” Venechanos said. “We were efficient in the attacking end, and I think that gave us confidence and momentum throughout the midfield and defense.”Wood said it was important to show that the team is back and better than ever from graduating some vital players last season.“We have two really tough games coming up, and I think it’s really important that we put up a lot of goals today,” Wood said. “We showed that we can play with the big teams and we’re ready to be in the top 20.”Hodgson said Venechanos focuses on having the players play like it’s their last game, which helps the energy and tenacity for the Buckeyes.“We had to make a statement today but focusing on ourselves, and we saw a lot of things today that we need to work on whether it’s sharpening up passes or locking in on offensive movement,” Hodgson said. “Being about to work on that as a team will sharpen the sword for our next few games.”Venechanos said the team is looking forward to use the positives from this win to clean up defensively as they head into their first away trip next week.“We gave up one too many goals back there today, but we’re going to work on that this week and get to the bottom of it,” Venechanos said. “We have a lot of new people in the lineup, and this win gives us confidence to get win No. 2 on Friday.”OSU will be looking to continue its unbeaten start to the season as it gets set to travel to Berkeley, California, on Friday to face California. The game is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.
Junior forward Jae’Sean Tate (1) goes up for a shot against UConn’s Steven Enoch (13) on Dec. 10 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won 64-60. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorCollege basketball is a sport where any given team can beat any other team on any given day. Ohio State is no stranger to this phenomena. One of the most illogical instances would be when four-loss OSU beat then-No. 4 Kentucky last season in the CBS Sports Classic in Brooklyn. On Saturday, the Buckeyes will attempt to upset No. 2 UCLA in Las Vegas in the third season of the event.The victory over the Wildcats last year was one reason OSU stayed around the NCAA tournament talk until the Big Ten tournament in March. An inexperienced Buckeye team that had underachieved all year was suddenly making any open shot, locking down on interior defense and rebounding the basketball. A win against the second-ranked Bruins (11-0) for the Buckeyes (8-2) might not be as surprising as the Kentucky win, but it would be a shock nonetheless.“It’s a completely different team that we have this year from last year. But one of the key points facing UCLA is we’re going to have to have that same mentality,” junior forward Jae’Sean Tate said. “Everybody is going to have to be on the same page and we’re going to have to play our hardest for 40 minutes.”UCLA has six scorers averaging 10-plus points per game and coach Steve Alford’s team ranks first in the country averaging 97.9 points per game, 100.3 in the last three games. The Bruins are led by do-it-all guard Lonzo Ball, who reminds OSU coach Thad Matta of a point guard he had a few years ago.“Someone asked me about him in comparison to D’Angelo (Russell) and there are some similarities there,” Matta said. “He can beat you by scoring, he can beat you by passing. As we did with D’Angelo, they move him around to a lot of different spots. He does a great job of making that team go.”Listed at 6-foot-6, 190 pounds, Ball is averaging 14.8 points, 8.6 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game. He ranks second in the country in assists.In the Bruins’ win over Kentucky earlier this year, Ball was one of five players who had at least 14 points. Ball is without question the straw that stirs the drink, but the bread and butter of UCLA’s high-powered offense is its ability to score in transition and get open looks from 3-point territory.The Bruins attempt nearly 25 3s per game compared to OSU’s 19.4. UCLA also ranks first in 3-point percentage, shooting over 45 percent from distance, and first in the country in offensive efficiency. KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency, which measures offensive efficiency per 100 possessions, ranks UCLA third.OSU has had trouble with turnovers in several games this year. In its two-point loss to then-No. 6 Virginia, the Buckeyes had 20 turnovers. In its last game against Connecticut, OSU had only six turnovers compared to its average of more than 13 per game. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop said that maximizing possessions versus the Bruins is one of several factors needed to pull an upset.“Basketball is a mistake game,” he said. “You’re going to have turnovers. It’s going to happen. It’s just focusing on the bad ones like throwing them into traffic. We try not to have a lot of them.”Since injuring his ankle in the Providence game in mid-November, Bates-Diop has played in just the last two games, averaging 18 minutes. Matta said that he doesn’t think the junior from Normal, Illinois is 100 percent not just because of his ankle injury, but because of how much time he has missed which hasn’t allowed him to get into the shape other players are in.Bates-Diop had a stress fracture in his left shin before the season, which sidelined him for a few weeks. For now, he will likely continue playing around half the game and coming off the bench while redshirt junior guard Kam Williams starts in his place.Prediction: OSU is in a bit of a funk shooting the ball lately. The Buckeyes shoot only 34 percent from the perimeter, but in its last three games, OSU is shooting at a clip of just over 19 percent. Only eight other teams, currently, have shot a worse percentage over that span.That being said, UCLA is not one of the most stellar defensive teams. Its opponents are shooting over 36 percent from 3 and allow 74.6 points per game. Expect OSU to get out of its shooting slump with Williams leading the charge and finding his stroke from deep again.However, UCLA is going to continue its strategy of relying on its offense to outscore the opposition without locking down on the defensive end. Don’t be surprised if OSU can lock down UCLA on a few possession, but the Buckeyes might struggle turning the ball over which allows UCLA to execute in transition.Final score: UCLA 94, OSU 80
OSU coach Urban Meyer (left) and Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen exchange laughs during a Dec. 5 press conference at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis ahead of the Big Ten Championship Game.Credit: Tim Moody / Sports editorINDIANAPOLIS- A decade ago, the current head coaches of the two participants in the Big Ten Championship Game shared a sideline and together helped lead the 2004 Utah Utes to an undefeated season.Gary Andersen, the current Wisconsin coach, was an assistant under then-Utah coach Urban Meyer as the Utes became the first “BCS bowl buster” as they defeated Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, 35-7, to cap a perfect season.Andersen characterized his time coaching for Meyer as a “great experience.”“Coach Meyer let us do what we wanted to do and what we did in the past. We were very successful, had a great year,” Andersen said Friday. “I learned a lot, a lot from Coach Meyer in that year in a lot of different ways. I put that into a lot of my philosophies as a head football coach.”Meyer reiterated Andersen’s comments, adding that while he did not know Andersen well when he hired him, that changed very quickly.“I love Gary. Gary is a guy that I only knew briefly when we hired him. By the time mid‑season rolled around, he was one of my top guys, a guy I would close the door and lean on quite frequently,” Meyer said Friday. “Obviously one of the best in the business at what he does.”Meyer’s high praise of Andersen is well deserved, as the Wisconsin coach has led the Badgers to back-to-back nine win seasons in his first two years in Madison, Wis.A defensive-minded coach, Andersen has led a Badger defense that ranks second in the country statistically. Andersen was the defensive line coach during the 2004 season under Meyer.The Badger defense is something that worries Meyer, especially heading into the game with redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones making his first career start.“Very rugged defense. Very multiple. They blitz a lot. You can tell they’re very intelligent, well‑coached,” Meyer said. “They do a lot of stuff. If you do a lot of stuff and not make mistakes, you’re intelligent and well‑coached.”On the other side of the ball, Andersen said he does not expect the OSU offense to do much differently with Jones at the helm.“You look at it, as a defensive staff, Coach Aranda and his staff basically came to the conclusion that this man is very, very capable of running their offense, doing a great job of putting the ball into the hands of their playmakers,” Andersen said. “We don’t expect the offense to change a bit, quite frankly.”Meyer said all week leading up to the game that Jones will have an opportunity to play well due to the playmakers Andersen mentioned, and Meyer’s comments did not change on Friday.“He’s (Jones) prepared very well. Tuesday is a rugged day for anyone in practice. But I saw the improvement we needed to see on Wednesday. I made it at least a couple hundred times since the beginning of the week that the quarterback is a product of those around him,” Meyer said. “He still obviously has to execute and do his things. The guys had a very good practice around him as well, starting with the offensive line. I’m very confident in Cardale.”With Jones making his first career start, Andersen said he hopes that his defense can rattle the Glenville High School product.“One of our goals is to frustrate a quarterback, put a quarterback in a position where he doesn’t feel comfortable, let him understand that we’re going to be around him,” Andersen said. “Regardless, if that happens or not, that’s always a goal.”Whether or not the Badgers defense can get to Jones might not be the biggest storyline of the game, however.Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon leads the nation in rushing yards with 2,260 and despite sending in Jones for his first start, Meyer said he was more worried about the Heisman candidate for the Badgers.“Yeah, number one is tackling this ball carrier. That’s our number one concern, is getting this guy on the ground,” Meyer said. “Then number two is making sure that we are protecting our quarterback. They blitz a lot. Very complicated defense.”Regardless of what the worries are on the field, Meyer said come kick off, his relationship with Andersen will change.“Gary and I are great friends. We’ll always be great friends. Great respect for each other. Great family people. Our families get along. That will never change,” Meyer said. “For 60 minutes tomorrow we’re going to be competitors.”The Badgers and Buckeyes are scheduled to kick off Saturday at 8:17 p.m. from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
A day following redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson signing with an agent and redshirt junior guard Kam Williams deciding to test the NBA draft, Ohio State men’s basketball’s No. 1 2018 recruit, four-star small forward Darius Bazley, decommitted from the Buckeyes and reopened his recruitment Wednesday.He said in a statement on Twitter that OSU is still one of the schools he is considering.Bazley, a 6-foot-7 forward from Cincinnati, had been committed to OSU since August 2016 as one of three members of the 2018 class. Bazley is rated as the No. 1 player in Ohio, No. 15 at his position nationally and No. 53 overall by 247Sports.Four-star shooting guard Dane Goodwin from Upper Arlington, Ohio, and three-star forward Justin Ahrens from Versailles, Ohio, are the remaining commits for OSU in the class of 2018.