March Madness Crib Notes Duke vs Gonzaga

After an exhilarating Saturday that saw Wisconsin beat Arizona yet again with a Final Four on the line, followed by undefeated Kentucky barely squeaking past a Notre Dame team that outplayed them for a significant portion of the night, what can Sunday’s Regional Final games do for an encore? For starters, there’s another terrific No. 1 vs. No.2 matchup in which the underdog could make school history. There’s also a fake underdog story that will decide the only wacky region of this year’s tournament.Read on for more of what to watch as the last two Final Four berths of 2015 are set:No. 1 Duke (59 percent win probability) vs. No. 2 GonzagaLocation: HoustonWhen to watch: At 5:05 p.m. EDT on CBSPower ratings: Duke 93.0, Gonzaga 91.5Upset probability: 41 percentPlayer to watch: Jahlil Okafor, DukeThis is shaping up to be an intriguing matchup of near-doppelgangers, as Duke and Gonzaga are practically identical in terms of their offensive and defensive prowess. The Blue Devils’ offense ranks 3rd nationally per KenPom.com’s ratings, while the Zags rank 4th; meanwhile, Duke ranks 27th on defense and Gonzaga ranks 30th. So it’s more than a little fitting that this pair faces off for the South’s Final Four spot.Despite their similarities, the differences in how the squads achieve their matching efficiencies might be instructive. On offense, Duke and Gonzaga shoot and draw fouls at very similar rates, but the Blue Devils are better on the glass and the Bulldogs protect the ball more effectively. Duke also has the better transition attack1According to Synergy. while Gonzaga owns an edge in low-post scoring. At the other end of the floor, Gonzaga’s advantages are in shot defense, rebounding and the transition game, while Duke is better at forcing turnovers and keeping opponents off the foul line.Since the FiveThirtyEight model considers the Bulldogs a modest underdog, it’s worth asking whether they employ enough high-variance tactics to help them “make their own luck” in this matchup — and, unfortunately, Gonzaga doesn’t play a slow pace, nor is it especially reliant on shooting 3-pointers, forcing turnovers or crashing the offensive boards. (Duke also plays a relatively safe style for a favorite, with an above-average pace, good offensive rebounding and no overreliance on long-distance shooting or takeaways.)Still, with their big, experienced roster, the Zags have a reasonably good chance of earning their first-ever Final Four bid. Somewhat surprisingly, they’ve only visited the Regional Final once before, and that was as a heavy underdog against UConn in 1999. This time, they’re one of college basketball’s upper-echelon programs — but will it be enough against Jahlil Okafor and the Blue Devils? No. 4 Louisville (42 percent win probability) vs. No. 7 Michigan StateLocation: SyracuseWhen to watch: At 2:20 p.m. EDT on CBSPower ratings: Michigan State 88.2, Louisville 86.3Upset probability: 58 percentPlayer to watch: Denzel Valentine, Michigan StateAs befits an East Regional that saw its top two seeds lose on the tournament’s first weekend, this is a strange matchup. Louisville is the better-seeded team, but as a No. 4 they’d easily be the black sheep of the Final Four if they prevail here (No. 1’s Kentucky and Wisconsin are already in, while the South winner will be no worse than a No. 2 seed). Plus, this game qualifies as a “fake upset” if inferior seed Michigan State wins, since both Las Vegas and the FiveThirtyEight model throw the seed numbers out the window and consider the Spartans a stronger team than the Cardinals.So when deciding the most upset-heavy region in an otherwise chalky NCAA tournament, do you go for the (fake) upset or the (real) upset?It could come down to which team’s forte wins the day — Michigan State’s offense, or Louisville’s defense. Both units rank among the nation’s best, and their respective strengths do a decent job or mirroring each other. The Spartans shoot well and avoid turnovers; the Cardinals are at their best when taking those attributes away. But it’s not a perfect match. Louisville likes to keep teams off the line, a fate Michigan State might prefer given their horrendous free throw percentage, and Michigan State’s offensive rebounding could exploit a Louisville frontcourt that’s nothing special on the defensive glass.Either way, the less-exciting battle between the two teams’ weak points — Louisville’s offense versus Michigan State’s defense — is where the Spartans gain their predicted edge. While they won’t force many turnovers, Michigan State loves to limit opponent shooting percentages (particularly on 2-pointers, by far Louisville’s most efficient zone of the court) and the Spartans have the rebounding advantage over the Cardinals at that end of the floor as well.Add in an uncharacteristically poor 3-point shooting Louisville team (by Rick Pitino standards), and this year’s “non-vintage” Spartans could win with the defense-and-rebounding formula of a typical overachieving Tom Izzo Final Four squad.Check out FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions. read more

Rex Ryan Blasts Cowardly Tim Tebow Bashers

New York Jets coach Rex Ryan called anonymous players who bashed reserve quarterback Tim Tebow “cowardly” and called for an end to potential in-house dissension.“Did I address it? I absolutely addressed it,” Ryan said. “Because I think it’s a cowardly thing. If you’re not going to put your name to it, I think that’s about as cowardly of a thing as there is. I even mentioned that. I said, ‘Look, if …’“Well, I don’t want to get into specifics of what I said. But I did address it with our football team. I absolutely did.”The comments from anonymous Jets is not foreign. Last year, they purportedly bad-mouthed Mark Sanchez tot he media. Then, like now, Ryan insists that his locker room is together.“If you’re searching for things to try to drive a wedge through the team and all that . . . my thing is that I believe in this team,” Ryan said. “I believe this team is like this and will continue to be like this and maybe even come tighter. I’m confident that that will be a case.”But when asked about the issues that popped up with Sanchez last year versus the issues with Tebow this season, Rex said he doesn’t believe the Jets “have the same problem” and classified the 2011 issue as “over-exaggerated.”“I don’t think we have the same problem,” Ryan said. “Even back then, I think that was probably a little more over exaggerated that actually was the rift in the entire locker room. I don’t think it existed the way it was portrayed. But I do recognize that there was something wrong there. I’ve made it my personal agenda to go out and fix it.”The Jets have no intention of scrapping the Wildcat package featuring Tebow, according to Ryan, who went on to laud Tebow for his unselfishness. He praised him for accepting his role as the personal protector on the punt team.“We asked him — a former Heisman Trophy winner, first-round pick, a quarterback who led his team to the playoffs — ‘You know what? We want you to be our personal protector,’ ” Ryan said, adding that Tebow never complained.“Quite honestly, I feel extremely confident this football team is coming closer together, than what maybe is being thought of as pulling apart,” Ryan said. “I definitely don’t see that.” read more

How Isaiah Thomas The Shortest Guy In The NBA Became Unstoppable

Just when we thought we’d seen all Isaiah Thomas could do, the diminutive Celtics star found yet another level Tuesday, scoring 53 on his late sister’s birthday to give Boston a 2-0 second-round series lead over the Wizards.The million-dollar question: How? How does a guy who’s 5-foot-9, who nearly averaged 29 points per game during the regular season, continue to wreck defenses so mightily in a playoff setting when defenses are hellbent on neutralizing him?The simple answer is that Thomas and his coaching staff have found ways to make Thomas virtually unguardable within Boston’s offensive scheme; especially since Brad Stevens tweaked his lineup in the middle of the first round, a move that gave Thomas more space to navigate.Stevens all but eliminated Amir Johnson from the rotation, meaning Al Horford is now soaking up a ton of minutes as the team’s lone post player on the court. That switch forces defenses to guard an extra Celtic along the perimeter, which is already a tough task, since Horford is also a good shooter. With opponents stretched that thin, Thomas can make use of his game-changing quickness.That’s especially the case in handoff scenarios, where the floor general can generate a full head of steam while his man is trying to play catch-up from behind. Thomas took more handoffs than any other player in the NBA this past regular season, with 216 plays of this nature according to Synergy Sports. And he’s only gotten better at them in the last few weeks. He has scored on 56 percent of his handoffs since the playoffs began, up from 47 percent during the season. (This would’ve been the NBA’s highest mark during the regular season among players with at least 100 handoffs.)Having Horford as the lone Celtics big helps Thomas’s handoff game immensely. Thomas — the league’s most-blocked player — has been able to get his shots off more cleanly with fewer players in the paint.1Thomas’s shots have only been blocked 6 percent of the time with Horford on the court and Johnson off; he’s been blocked 13 percent of the time when Horford and Johnson are on the floor together, according to NBA Wowy, which tracks advanced statistics across different lineup groupings. What’s more, Thomas’s newfound space has left defenders without a clear way to defend him.After receiving a handoff, he’s a nightmare on the perimeter because of all the different options he has at his disposal. Watch how reluctant Wizards star John Wall is to chase Thomas around the screen here. He doesn’t want to risk barreling into Thomas, who is one of the league’s best players at stopping abruptly once he’s turned the corner in order to draw a 3-point shooting foul.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/thomasoffahandoff.mp400:0000:0000:08Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.In the paint, Washington’s bigs have been just as concerned about how to play Thomas. Stand too far back, and you risk Thomas scoring from midrange, where he is an effective, albeit inconsistent2Thomas’s successful midrange attempts, on average, had far less arc on them than his midrange misses this past season. The 1.03 foot difference was the widest disparity in the NBA among players who took at least 100 midrange shots, according to an analysis run by SportVU at FiveThirtyEight’s request. shooter. Play too far up, and he’ll use a burst of quickness to beat you to the rim, where he’s armed with an array of twists and tricks that help him compensate for his lack of height.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/thomasoffhandoff2.mp400:0000:0000:07Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/ithandoff3.mp400:0000:0000:09Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Trapping Thomas with two defenders as he comes around screens is one option for opposing defenses. But Stevens’s lineup switch, which has the Celtics looking more like the Houston Rockets because of how many threes they’re taking, makes that option a more dangerous choice because an unguarded Celtic shooter is now more likely to be found on the perimeter.All of which helps explain why the Wizards have had no answer for how to guard the shortest man on the court. That Thomas is really good also helps. read more

This Might Be Serena Williamss Easiest Grand Slam Path Ever Not That

2002French Open20.73 YearSlam wonAge*SeedR128R64R32R16QFSFFOpp. Seed Pts 2015French Open33.71 1263 2618254290 2717231352 162342069 1210176 2012U.S. Open30.94 131142 119178 2013French Open31.71 2542398 2017Aus. Open35.32 3076287 WilliamsOpponent Seeds 2013U.S. Open31.91 16421109 2009Aus. Open27.32 * As of the opening day of the tournament.In the years when fewer than 32 players were seeded, pre-tournament world rankings were used as a proxy for seedings to fill out the field up to No. 32.Source: Tennis Abstract, Wikipedia 2015Aus. Open33.31 262411269 2002Wimbledon20.72 1999U.S. Open17.97 2007Aus. Open25.3—2751116101128 84384 2010Wimbledon28.71 2009Wimbledon27.72 26155284 1692153 11171061 321371664 It’s foolish to give the draw all the credit for Williams’s presence in the finals, though. We learned a long time ago not to underestimate her, no matter the competition.2Maybe all those higher-ranked players are just so afraid of Serena that they figured they’d hurry up and lose before facing her. Without the upsets, it’s very possible that she would have made it anyway — especially since, during the course of the tournament, Williams has notably raised her game, particularly on her serve.She struggled some in her first-round win over Arantxa Rus, who ranks just 105th in the world: Williams got 58 percent of her first serves in — winning 76 percent of those points. But by her Tuesday quarterfinal against world No. 52 Camila Giorgi, Williams’s serve was back to form: She got in 71 percent of her first serves and won 81 percent of those points. And in Thursday’s semifinal, Williams won a whopping 87 percent of her first-serve points against world No. 13 Goerges.It certainly hasn’t hurt that Williams’s serve speed has also steadily crept up since the start of the tournament. In her opening match, her first serves were averaging 103 mph. On Thursday, her first serve averaged 107 mph — and her fastest serve topped out at 119 mph. At the same time, Serena’s unforced errors have plummeted. She opened Wimbledon with 29 errors against Rus, but she committed only nine in her three sets against Giorgi — and just seven in two sets against Goerges.Now Williams is on the verge of making even more history, in perhaps her most impressive comeback of all. All it took was a little luck of the draw, some sharper ball-striking and a ton of perseverance to come back from a year spent wrestling with bigger concerns than tennis and put herself on the path to a potentially triumphant return in her favorite grand-slam stomping grounds. The last time we saw Serena Williams in a grand slam final, she was beating her sister Venus for the Australian Open crown in January 2017. A lot has happened to Serena over the nearly 18 months since, but despite all the challenges, she’s back in another final — this time with a chance to tie Margaret Court for the most slam titles of any tennis player in history.Williams’s latest remarkable comeback (and there have been quite a few) only reaffirms for the umpteenth time that she belongs on the short list of history’s greatest athletes. But this time around, she got a little help.A rash of upsets cleared out nearly every top contender in Williams’s path at the All England Club: By the third round, the list of upset victims included top seed Simona Halep, defending champ Garbiñe Muguruza, second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and Serena’s older sister Venus, a five-time Wimbledon champ. As a result, Williams will end up facing only two seeded opponents all tournament long: No. 13 Julia Goerges in the semifinals and No. 11 Angelique Kerber in the final. In her 23 slam victories so far, the only time she faced so few seeded opponents was the 2002 French Open — and even then, the two seeded players she had to beat were her second-seeded sister and the No. 1 seed, Jennifer Capriati.We can roughly quantify the difficulty of Serena’s path in each of her major wins (plus this potential one in London) by assigning point values to her opponents based on their seeds: Since 32 players are seeded for each grand slam,1This has been the case since Wimbledon in 2001. For tournaments before that, when only 16 players were seeded, we used the actual seeds and filled out the remainder of the top 32 using the pre-tournament world rankings. the No. 1 seed is worth 32 points, No. 2 is worth 31, and so forth until we reach the 32nd seed (worth 1 point); unseeded players are worth 0 points. Adding up the point values of all her opponents in a tournament gives us a sense of how stiff Serena’s competition was on the way to each of her major wins, and this year’s Wimbledon will have easily been her easiest path to a title so far, assuming she prevails over Kerber (she’s about a 1-to-2 betting favorite in Las Vegas): 2003Aus. Open21.31 2018Wimbledon?36.825 2005Aus. Open23.37 2002U.S. Open20.91 2016Wimbledon34.81 2010Aus. Open28.31 This could be Serena’s easiest route to a slam win yetDifficulty of Serena Williams’s paths to victory in her grand slam wins, plus Wimbledon in 2018, based on assigning points to her opponents’ seedings (higher seeds are worth more points) 26201142102 2014U.S. Open32.91 13843104 1321461 1691361 15185292 2003Wimbledon21.71 2012Wimbledon30.76 11241114 2008U.S. Open26.94 2815834107 2015Wimbledon33.81 read more

PJ Tucker Does More For The Rockets By Doing Less A Lot

No one in the NBA this season logged more minutes while doing less on offense. Tucker is the first player since Shane Battier in 2008-09 to post a usage rate of less than 10 percent while also playing at least 30 minutes a game. In Game 1 of the Rockets’ series against Golden State, the Rockets were +9 in net points with Tucker on the court even though he scored no points and took only four shots while logging 39 minutes — the same time spent on the floor as James Harden.Tucker ranks near the bottom in passes made per game and touches per game, and on average he had the ball in his hand for the shortest amount of time per possession of anyone who played at least 30 minutes per game this season. On offense, Tucker’s role is to stand in the corner and wait for a teammate to pass him the ball so that he can shoot an open three, which is the point of Houston’s spread-out, isolation-heavy offense.So why can Tucker stay on the court for as long he does without doing much on offense? Two reasons.First, Harden had the highest usage rate in the NBA during the regular season, and Harden and Tucker are on the court together more than any other two-man combination for the Rockets.1Of Tucker’s 218 total playoff minutes, 206 of those have been with Harden also on the floor. Since usage rate is a zero-sum game among the five players on the floor, any increase in Tucker’s usage would come at the expense of Harden’s.Second, Tucker’s defense is vital to the Rockets. While he might not be widely known as an elite defensive stopper, he has the profile of one. Five of the seven players he guarded most often during the regular season were Paul George, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Nobody matches up with those guys that often unless he’s built for it.Only nine players since the 1977-78 season have played at least 30 minutes a game while using less than 10 percent of their teams’ plays. The list is a who’s who of the best defensive specialists in NBA history, including Dennis Rodman, Ben Wallace, Mark Eaton, Bruce Bowen and the aforementioned Battier. Most of those guys went on to win defensive player of the year, earn All-NBA honors or play a critical role on a championship team. Meanwhile, Tucker has never made so much as an All-Defensive team.Even though the casual fan might not recognize Tucker for his defensive prowess, his peers do. Earlier this year, DeMar DeRozan praised Tucker’s defensive intensity. “PJ is one of the most intense individual defenders on the defensive end,” he told The Athletic. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for it.”The good news for Tucker is that he has the chance to raise his profile during the Rockets’ second-round matchup against the Warriors. The bad news is that he has to prove his mettle by trying to guard Durant.During the regular season, Tucker matched up with Durant on 111 possessions and held him to shooting 48 percent from the field, a tick below Durant’s 52 percent season average. Durant scored 35 points during the Warriors’ Game 1 victory on Sunday, though only 13 of those points were scored while Tucker was guarding him. In reality, the only person that can stop Durant is Durant. But as long as Tucker doesn’t allow him to shoot over 60 percent from the field like he did when he was guarded by Patrick Beverley during the Warriors’ first-round series, the Rockets will have a chance to pull off the upset.Check out our latest NBA predictions. Creative shot makers and flashy passers are the easiest players to appreciate as fans. Less obvious are the role players who contribute to winning even when they don’t have the ball — and few such role players have had a bigger impact than Houston’s PJ Tucker.There isn’t a formal definition for what constitutes a role player, but role players do have some defining characteristics. For instance, think of the relationship between a player’s minutes per game and his usage rate, which is the share of a team’s plays used by a player while he is on the court. Star players — your LeBron Jameses and Steph Currys of the league — log heavy minutes and have high usage rates. Role players may also log heavy minutes but tend to be comparatively less involved on offense.Below is a scatter chart that shows the relationship between usage rate and minutes played per game. The relationship is flat for players who see fewer than 20 minutes per game, but there is a strong, positive relationship among starter- and rotation-level players. After all, if you weren’t producing on the offensive end, you wouldn’t be worth playing for long stretches of time. Unless you’re Tucker. read more

Ohio State baseball heads south to face Georgia Tech

Whether it’s track, football or baseball, the Southeastern Conference is often seen as the quintessential athletic conference, and sophomore first baseman and pitcher Josh Dezse of the Ohio State baseball team is sick of hearing about it. “The SEC’s got the huge hype and these northern teams are looked down upon, but I think the talent, I wouldn’t say that it’s even, but I would say that there is just as good of players up here as down there,” Dezse said. “They may not all be on one team, but I definitely think that we can compete with those SEC schools, and it does frustrate us as a northern school hearing about that stuff.” Heading into his team’s three-game series against No. 10 Georgia Tech, a former member institution of the SEC, Dezse said OSU is eager to show what they can do. “Hopefully this weekend we can go down there and prove that the Big Ten can compete,” he said. The team opened their season last weekend at the Big Ten/Big East challenge in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Fla., going 2-1. Their two victories came against Connecticut and Seton Hall, with the loss coming in the series-opening game against South Florida. The fact that his team was still able to accomplish its goal for the weekend was reassuring for coach Greg Beals. “We’ve set goals to win weekends and winning two out of three is the bare minimum,” Beals said. “Just because we lost the first game doesn’t mean we can’t still do that, and our guys bounced back and made sure we did that.” Beals said the way his team responded to the series-opening loss didn’t necessarily impress him, but was glad to see that they did respond. “It tells us a little bit about our character,” he said. Georgia Tech is known for their strong pitching staff, something that Dezse and Beals said the team is preparing for. “Georgia Tech is going to pitch the ball very well,” Beals said. “I don’t foresee us scoring 14 and nine runs to win games like we did this past weekend.” Dezse called for his team to start quickly to counter the pitching they will see this weekend. “We obviously know we’re going to see some good pitchers from Georgia Tech, so we need to strike early and fast,” he said. Beals also wants to see his team play a cleaner game on both sides of the ball and eliminate errors that he saw in the season opening series. “We’re going to have to play a little bit cleaner than we did this weekend,” he said. “We’re going to have to eliminate some of our errors on defense. In most of the innings where we gave up runs, we did something to help them.” The team had a throwing error in the USF game that resulted in a run, and gave up a couple of walks with similar results, Beals said. Junior pitcher Brian King said his team should be able to repeat their exploits from last weekend. “We worked real hard as a team this past weekend and pulled two out of three, and I’m confident that if we do that again, we’re going to come out of there winning that weekend series,” King said. Besides wanting his team to succeed this weekend, the series against Georgia Tech has special meaning for Beals. It will mark the first time he coaches against his former college coach Danny Hall, whom he played under at Kent State. “Coach Hall is kind of a mentor of mine,” Beals said. “He’s kind of the one that orchestrated me getting into the college coaching profession, so I have a lot of respect for Danny.” Beals said coaching against his former coach “is going to be exciting,” and that he and coach Hall “look forward to seeing each other.” Beals said his team should be just as excited for the weekend’s series against Georgia Tech, even if it’s for different reasons. “Great teams, teams that are looking to do something special, thrive with this opportunity to go against this team,” he said. “We work really hard and our guys have high expectations for our season, and this will be a good barometer for where we are at this time of the year.” Opening pitches are set for 4:05 p.m. Friday, 2:05 p.m. Saturday and 1:05 p.m. Sunday in Atlanta, Ga. read more

USA womens soccer stars Hope Solo and Alex Morgan visit Ohio State

Life’s been a whirlwind for United States women’s national soccer team players Alex Morgan and Hope Solo since their World Cup performance in the summer of 2011. In the midst of preparing for the 2012 Olympic Games set to take place in London, England, the two soccer stars made an appearance at Ohio State to speak at an event in the Ohio Union. Solo, who plays goalie, and Morgan, who plays forward, sat down for an exclusive interview with The Lantern before taking the stage and talking to students. Though the soccer tandem hadn’t seen much more than the airport, they said they were excited to be in Columbus and on OSU’s campus. “I’m so excited to be on campus and see really more or less what the student body is like than the city itself,” Solo said. The U.S. women’s soccer team lost to Japan in the World Cup final, but overall they said it was a great experience. “The World Cup was obviously an amazing experience,” Morgan said. “It was my first World Cup. We had a great journey through the World Cup. We did end up on the short side of the stick with that loss in the end to Japan. But we have no regrets.” The World Cup saw both players’ popularity soar and with that popularity, they were able to experience opportunities outside of soccer. Solo participated in the dancing competition “Dancing With the Stars,” and Morgan appeared in the most recent edition of the yearly “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition” in which she posed in body paint. “It was probably the longest day of my life,” Morgan said of the magazine photo shoot. “It took probably 14 hours to paint. I felt very uncomfortable at many times during that day, but I’m very happy with the results.” Solo said that though the players have seen their individual popularity grow, the popularity for the sport has increased as well. “We’ve gotten some younger, maybe, male fans because of certain other aspects,” Solo said. “But I can assure you that the passion of the game has grown on kind of a broader scheme.” And the players said their focus is on the game at the end of the day. “It starts with soccer and it ends with soccer,” Morgan said. “That’s our priority and although we have these opportunities outside of soccer, we need to go back and keep soccer our priority.” Though soccer doesn’t begin for the women at the Olympics until July, the players said their team is already in full training mode. Team USA will travel to Portugal, Japan and other locations before finally suiting up in London. And make no mistake about it. The team wants gold. “Is there any other way to enter the Olympics?” Solo said. As for all of Solo’s and Morgan’s male fans at OSU, they didn’t have any chance encounters with the athletes walking down High Street late at night. Morgan said she’s exhausted. “I’m going to call it a night pretty early tonight, which is sad,” Morgan said. “I wish I could see the city a little bit more.” read more

Opinion 5 questions for Buckeyes matchup with Indiana

Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott warms up before a game against Minnesota on Nov. 15 in Minneapolis. OSU won. 31-24.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorThe Ohio State football team has two games left on its schedule, but the Buckeyes know a win — or a Michigan State loss — will give them a third.OSU (9-1, 6-0) is set for a shot to seal a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game against Indiana on Saturday at Ohio Stadium, but when it comes time for the noon kickoff, nothing will be a given.The Lantern sports editors picked five key questions needing answers as the Buckeyes look to book their ticket to Indianapolis and the Hoosiers try to delay their trip.1. Will sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott become coach Urban Meyer’s second 1,000-yard rusher?Chances are Elliott — who has accumulated 954 rushing yards on 167 carries this season — will break the 1,000-yard barrier this season. But if the Buckeyes establish the run game early, he could do it in the first quarter against Indiana.There’s no guarantee, but Elliott’s strong play in recent weeks has been key to OSU’s offensive attack. As he closes in on a career milestone, there’s no reason for the coaching staff to go away from him if he’s playing well from the start.Former Buckeye Carlos Hyde became Meyer’s first-ever 1,000-yard rusher last season, against Indiana, and Elliott — especially in recent weeks — has compared favorably to Hyde’s play.If he doesn’t pick up the necessary 46 yards, OSU won’t be guaranteed a loss. But a big win for the Buckeyes could come behind a big day from Elliott.2. Will playing at home help the Buckeyes eliminate mistakes?OSU is coming off of consecutive road wins against teams ranked in the top 25 of the College Football Playoff standings, but that doesn’t mean the team was flawless against Michigan State and Minnesota.First-half turnovers against Michigan State allowed the Spartans to take a 21-14 lead early on, but the OSU offense found a way to make up for it to take a 28-21 lead into the half. Against Minnesota, a pair of lost fumbles and an interception allowed the Golden Gophers to stay within three at halftime and eventually keep the game within seven when the clock ran out.Both games were played on the road — and the Minnesota game was played in below-20-degree temperatures — but many of the mistakes were still avoidable. Redshirt-freshman H-back Jalin Marshall’s two fumbles lost against the Golden Gophers almost single-handedly kept the game close, while the Buckeyes’ offensive explosion helped overcome some big plays given up after turnovers against Michigan State.Returning to Ohio Stadium might be the perfect remedy for OSU’s turnover issues, and if that’s the case, the Buckeyes could be in for a commanding win.3. How many yards will Indiana junior running back Tevin Coleman gain?Meyer said it best during Tuesday’s Big Ten teleconference: Coleman is “ridiculous.”The Hoosier running back is the focal point of the offense, and has carried the load with 214 carries totaling 1,678 yards so far this season. He’s also got 12 touchdowns on the ground, and is coming off a 307-yard performance in a loss to Rutgers last week.It’s hard to say how Indiana managed to lose a game when its running back put up that many yards on the ground, but Coleman getting rolling is one of the few things likely to keep Indiana in the game against OSU.4. Can Indiana freshman quarterback Zander Diamont step up in the Horseshoe?The Hoosiers entered the season with an experienced junior quarterback under center, but since junior Nate Sudfeld went down with a season-ending shoulder injury after playing in six games, Diamont has gotten the call.Sudfeld threw for 1,151 yards and six touchdowns to just three interceptions before getting hurt, and Diamont hasn’t come close to replicating those numbers.  In the first two games of his collegiate career — consecutive losses to Michigan State and Michigan by a combined 63 points — Diamont completed a grand total of 10 passes on 23 attempts. Those 10 completions totaled just 35 yards and no touchdowns. He didn’t throw his first touchdown until his fourth game, and has completed just 46.9 percent of his passes as a Hoosier. Diamont starting wasn’t in Indiana’s this season, and having him start against the No. 6 Buckeyes could be too tall of a task. If he struggles from the start, expect the OSU defense to bring pressure early and often and force at least a few mistakes from the freshman signal caller.5. Can the J.T. Barrett and Joey Bosa combination continue to impress?The 2013 recruiting classmates have arguably been the top two players not only on the OSU team, but in the Big Ten as well. Thursday afternoon, Bosa was named a finalist for the Lombardi Award, which is given to the best lineman or linebacker in the country, while Barrett has the third-best odds to win the Heisman Trophy (15/1 as of Thursday evening) according to Bovada.com, an online gambling site. Both are coming off big games individually as Bosa recorded a season-high seven tackles in a 31-24 win over Minnesota and Barrett broke three school records including longest rush by a quarterback (86), most rushing yards in a game by a quarterback (189) and touchdowns responsible for in a season (38). Bosa will need to play one of his better games in order to shut down Coleman, as he said Wednesday that the goal of the defense is to hold the Indiana back under 100 yards. If Barrett can continue to play like he has since the loss to Virginia Tech, there is a very good chance he could be on a flight to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony in early December. read more

Womens Basketball Ohio State to defend home court against George Washington in

Ohio State redshirt junior guard Sierra Calhoun attempts a shot during the Buckeyes’ game against Minnesota in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament on March 3, 2018. Ohio State won 90-88 to advance to the championship. Credit: Alyssia Graves | Assistant Sports DirectorBig Ten tournament and outright regular-season champion Ohio State will begin its final stretch of games with a core group of seniors when it returns home to face No. 14 George Washington in the first round of the NCAA tournament at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at St. John Arena. The Buckeyes begin the tournament as the No. 3 seed in the Spokane region, winning 11 of its past 12 games.The Colonials claimed an outright bid to the tournament following their Atlantic 10 tournament championship win. They have won seven of their past eight games, including a victory against Dayton, which was 15-1 in conference play this season.George Washington average just 60.2 points per game, good for just 275th in the nation out of 349 teams. The team only has two players who average double-digit points: senior guard Brianna Cummings and senior forward Kelli Prange. Cummings leads the team in scoring with 14.1 points per game, and Prange is second with 12.2 points.Ohio State is on the other end of the spectrum, averaging the fourth-most points per game in the nation at 85.1. Though the Colonials have not been a prolific offense this season, they can rely on their defense that has limited opponents to 57.6 points per game, 43rd-fewest in the country. Big-time players are expected to show up come tournament play, and that will have to be the case for the Buckeyes. Ohio State will need major contributions from senior guard Kelsey Mitchell and redshirt senior forward Stephanie Mavunga given the lack of depth on the team and uncertainty of production from other players on the roster.Mitchell is averaging the third-most points in the nation at 24.5 per game, while Mavunga is averaging 16.2 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. It’s important for both to play efficient in order For the Buckeyes to make a run to the Final Four, which is held at home in Columbus.Mitchell is just 31 points away from securing sole possession of second place on the all-time scoring leaderboard in women’s college basketball history.The winner of this matchup would ace the winner of the game between No. 6 seed LSU and No. 11 seed Central Michigan on Monday in Columbus. read more