Month: September 2019

1998Princeton11.3-4.8Round of 32 1981Oregon State19.84.0Round of 32 1991UNLV31.62.7Final Four YearTeamSRSSOSFinished 2014Wichita State16.71.6TBD 1996Massachusetts20.68.1Final Four 1996Texas Tech14.40.8Sweet Sixteen 1980Alcorn State11.0-6.3Round of 32 1999Duke35.19.7Final 2008Memphis23.14.0Final 2012Syracuse21.37.2Elite Eight 1981DePaul15.92.6Round of 32 2004Stanford17.64.4Round of 32 2012Murray State8.3-3.5Round of 32 2005Illinois24.47.4Final 1997Kansas27.68.0Sweet Sixteen 2012Kentucky24.56.9Champion 2004St. Joseph’s20.23.9Elite Eight 1984North Carolina24.58.4Sweet Sixteen 1986Bradley9.51.9Round of 32 Wichita State — with 34 wins and zero losses heading into the men’s NCAA basketball tournament — is six wins from becoming the first undefeated champion since Indiana in 1976. But apparently perfect isn’t good enough. Critics have pointed to the team’s soft schedule and argued that the next six wins will be much harder to come by than the first 34, even though the selection committee awarded the Shockers the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region.This critique of Wichita State’s achievements is unfair. The Shockers’ real problem isn’t whom they played, it’s how much they won by. The team didn’t dominate its opponents enough to make up for the weakness of its schedule relative to those of big-conference rivals.The evidence against Wichita State’s credentials goes like this: It played two-thirds of its games against fellow Missouri Valley Conference teams; the conference is the 11th strongest in Division I, according to Sports-Reference.com. The Shockers’ schedule was the 129th toughest in the nation, and the weakest among the top 32 teams in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall reasonably responded, after winning No. 34: “We’re not flawless. Our record is flawless.”Indeed, no team is flawless, but Wichita State approached that impossible standard more closely than most do. Its schedule strength was inherently limited by its conference, yet it holds up well compared to other teams with records nearly as spotless.I looked at every Division I team since 1980 that entered its conference tournaments with either one or zero losses — 25 teams in all. I used Sports Reference’s Simple Rating System (SRS) to estimate each team’s strength at the end of the season, as well as the site’s strength of schedule (SOS) ratings to analyze each team’s schedule. I then subtracted from those figures each team’s performance in the NCAA tournament to get its pre-tournament ratings. 1980DePaul14.34.2Round of 32 1982DePaul15.22.5Round of 32 1990La Salle13.1-2.2Round of 32 The Shockers’ accomplishment looks impressive even after considering schedule strength. Six of the 25 teams had weaker schedules than Wichita State’s, but just one managed to match its undefeated feat: UNLV in 1990-91. And the Runnin’ Rebels’ schedule was just barely tougher than Wichita State’s this year, by a slender margin of 1.1 points per game.This rosy take on Wichita State doesn’t make its task any easier in the tournament. Just eight of those 25 teams reached the Final Four, and only two won the title: Kentucky in 1996 and again two years ago. Moreover, all eight Final Four teams entered the tournament with an SRS above 20; Wichita State’s is 16.7. The Shockers outscored their opponents by 15 points per game — good but not impressive enough against its schedule to look like a championship contender. Their projected Sweet Sixteen opponent, Louisville, has an SRS of 25.3 and outscored opponents on its relatively tough schedule by 21 points per game.This isn’t to say the Shockers can’t win it all. They can. But if you’re looking for a reason to doubt them, their margin of victory is a better cause than their schedule. 2006George Washington9.6-1.4Round of 32 1988Temple18.22.1Elite Eight 1987UNLV23.15.3Final Four 1996Kentucky31.49.2Champion read more

James Harden and Kevin Durant with nemesis LeBron James.Kevin Durant cannot hide from the hurt this summer. LeBron James, not Olympic teammates, is a constant reminder.The NBA Finals ended in Miami only about three weeks ago, with James’ victory celebration interrupted only briefly to embrace Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder star, with a consoling hug.Now, as teammates, Durant admits seeing James everyday is not the most ideal situation. It, in fact, he admitted, bothers him.“It does. It does, but what can I do?” Durant said. “He’s my teammate now. I’m a team player. I can’t let that affect this. This is bigger than that. It’s tough to lose in the Finals and play the guy you’ve been going up against for five games who beat you. So me, I’m just going to get over it, still be a great teammate, come out and play hard.”James can relate to his friend Durant’s position. James experienced the heartbreak of a Finals loss last year, the Heat beaten by Dallas in their first season together. It was especially difficult on James, who played poorly in the fourth quarters of those games, adding a new level of criticism piled onto what he had already been facing since his departure from Cleveland the previous summer.He hardly wanted to do anything in the days after that loss, and said that it would have bothered him if he had to play with then-Mavericks center Tyson Chandler last summer. So he knows what Durant must be feeling.“It bothers him,” James said. “I bet it bothers him and Russell (Westbrook and James Harden), you know, they probably don’t want to hear about it. It would bother me, it would bother anyone that you lose to someone in the Finals, where everyone’s competing at the highest level and you want to win and then you have to team up with them not too long, not too far removed from the games.”The Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant was in Durant’s position  four years ago, having to shake off the disappointment of a Finals loss to the Boston Celtics and get back out on the court for the Olympics. He said it’s normal to not want to play for a few days, but figures Durant has had enough time to get over it by now. Maybe.“But then again, I wasn’t playing on the Olympic team with, you know, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and (Kevin) Garnett,” Bryant said. “He’s got to look at LeBron every day. I didn’t have to do that. So I don’t know if I could do that. I’d probably be trying to destroy him every single day in practice to try to, I don’t know, take a little of the edge off maybe.”James and Durant are actually friends, James inviting Durant to work out with him last summer in Ohio. That wouldn’t make much difference to Bryant, one of the NBA’s fiercest competitors.“Being the friends thing, I mean that’s fine,” Bryant said. “Once you start playing, I’d really, I’d have to go after him. There’s just no way.” read more

Muhammad Ali poses with his children. (HanaAli/Instagram)Since boxing legend Muhammad Ali died last June, reports have surfaced alleging his nine surviving children are fighting over their inheritance after it was reported Ali’s widow was due to receive double their amount. But one of Ali’s daughters is now setting the record straight.Maryum “May May” Ali spoke to the DailyMail.com Thursday, Jan. 5, and put the rumors to rest. She said talks of a dispute in the family over money is “unfortunate” and “untrue.”“My father raised me and my siblings to love each other and that is exactly who we are,” she said. “Very loving people. We are not in any feuds with each other or with our stepmother, Lonnie [Ali].”After pointing out that the siblings “simply want to live beautiful lives,” Maryum Ali simply stated, “the terms of the trust are confidential and not the business of the public.”On Jan. 3, an insider told the UK’s Daily Mirror that the late activist’s children were feigning a truce to ensure their portion of their father’s $80-million estate was not at risk. However, upon learning Lonnie Ali would earn $12 million compared to her stepchildren’s $6-million inheritance, that’s reportedly when the fuming began.“They didn’t like her before their dad passed away, accusing her of preventing them from seeing him,” the source said. “When he died, some sucked up to Lonnie just to get as much as they can, but the truth is that they all did it, then accused the other siblings of doing it.“Once [the] money is in the bank, it looks like they will cut all ties with each other but not before their true feelings are aired,” the insider continued. The source added that a dispute over Muhammad Ali’s pallbearers also was brought up since Muslim tradition calls for the sons to perform the role but it was carried out by Will Smith and Mike Tyson. In addition, the 74-year-old was not buried within 48 hours of his death.Yet, Maryum Ali denounced that accusation and said the brothers and sisters “loved the beautiful funeral and memorial services” held for their father. “It is painfully obvious to all of us that there are some people out there who are very obsessed with feeding the media false stories about our family,” she told the DailyMail.com. read more

Durant has a career-low isolation rate; Westbrook is going one-on-one more than he has since 2011-12 (just 14.7 percent of his 2-pointers have been assisted this season).1All stats in this article are current through Wednesday. And Durant, part of Golden State’s more free-flowing offense, is cutting and moving without the ball more than ever before, while Oklahoma City still throws fewer passes than any team in the association.We’ve seen Westbrook change his game this way before: He put up similar per-100-possession stats in 2014-15, when Durant missed most of the season because of a fractured foot. Then, as now, Westbrook’s true-shooting and effective field-goal rates declined while he was tasked with so much more ballhandling responsibility. (The Thunder, currently in seventh place in the West, finished the 2014-15 season tied for eighth and missed the playoffs.) Who’s Going Where As The NBA Trade Deadline Approaches? Related: Hot Takedown True shooting63.4%65.0%55.4%54.2% Usage rate30.6%27.6%31.6%41.8% KEVIN DURANTRUSSELL WESTBROOK Isolation rate14.9%11.4%12.5%19.1% Russell Westbrook’s workload increased when Durant left 2016-17 stats are through Feb. 8Sources: Basketball-Reference.com, Synergy Sports Technology The uphill battle that Westbrook faces now doesn’t take away from the fact that Durant will have his fair share of pressure in the months to come. While this season has been a breeze so far for him and the Warriors, who own the NBA’s best record, the noise will be deafening if Golden State stumbles even the slightest bit this postseason. And Durant, fair or not, would likely be the clear target of that criticism, since his high-profile signing was supposed to make the Warriors invincible.But for now, and until the playoffs — the Warriors and Thunder currently have about a 21 percent chance of meeting, according to FiveThirtyEight’s NBA forecast — the focus remains on Durant and Westbrook, and whether their strained, icy relationship shows any signs of thawing.Check out our latest NBA predictions. Much like the first two times they played each other this season, cameras and storylines will follow Kevin Durant’s and Russell Westbrook’s every move on Saturday, when the ex-teammates square off in Oklahoma City for the first time since Durant signed with the Warriors last summer.For months, the running question for each player has been: When was the last time you two spoke with the other? And as they confirm that they haven’t spoken, the narrative becomes even icier with every matchup.Durant largely dismissed the tension between them as “fake drama” and a media creation. But on a basic level, Westbrook has reason to be upset with his one-time teammate. Though Durant had every right to leave, his departure has made every aspect of Westbrook’s job harder than it’s ever been, while Durant has had to do less than ever before.Westbrook, averaging a triple-double for the season, has been undeniably incredible in Durant’s absence. But a chiropractor is usually necessary when a player puts this much of his team on his back.Westbrook, in trying to make up for Durant, is on pace to log the highest usage rate (the percentage of a team’s possessions that end with a certain player while he’s on the court) in NBA history, by far. By contrast, Durant is posting the lowest usage rate of his career. Westbrook, handling the ball far more often, is turning it over more than ever. Durant has fewer turnovers than ever before. Turnovers/game3.52.34.35.4 2015-16 SEASON2016-17 SEASON2015-16 SEASON2016-17 SEASON read more

In something of a paradox, the Mavericks also have the league’s worst road attendance rate — meaning that they are objectively the least interesting team to watch to the average basketball fan who doesn’t live in Dallas. The average attendance when the Mavs are the road team is 86 percent of capacity, which gives Dallas a nearly 17-percentage-point gap between its home and road attendance rates. No other team has as large a gap — except for the Atlanta Hawks, who have the opposite problem. The Hawks’ road attendance rate is 17 points higher than their home attendance rate. On Dec. 18, the Dallas Mavericks will host the Phoenix Suns in what will likely be an inconsequential mid-season affair between two sub-.500 teams. Even so, tickets to the game will probably sell out, just as they did for 719 consecutive Mavs home games leading into this week.1This number includes playoff games. The Mavs have sold out 652 regular-season home games in a row. Dallas will face off against San Antonio on Tuesday night. The Mavericks, who are in last place in the NBA’s Western Conference, have a longer active sellout streak than any other professional basketball team.2The Portland Trail Blazers hold the record for the longest sellout streak in basketball, with 814, including the playoffs, between 1977 and 1995. But that distinction also raises some eyebrows — after all, by all reasonable accounts, Dallas is not a team that people are clamoring to see in person.This season, the Mavericks boast the highest attendance rate in the NBA — average attendance at Dallas games is 102.8 percent3Standing-room-only sections and suites can overflow. of the capacity of the American Airlines Center (19,200). Based on attendance numbers alone, you’d think the Mavs would be better than their 7-20 record. The difference between the Mavs’ home and away attendance rates could be seen as a sign of how diehard their fanbase is. But here’s the thing: NBA attendance is measured in how many tickets are distributed, not how many are redeemed. A more accurate interpretation of the situation is that Mavs tickets aren’t selling out so much as they are being given out.“It’s far more important to me to build a fan base for the future,” Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, said in an email. “And the best way to do that is to get people to a game.”You might think that a bad season would threaten the sellout streak. Last season was the first time since the 1999-2000 season that the team finished below .500, and Dallas posted their lowest local TV ratings in at least 11 years. And yet attendance has remained at or above capacity for every home game since Dec. 15, 2001.Cuban cites two reasons that games have continued to sell out: pricing and donating.Compared with other teams around the league, the Mavs are one of the most affordable teams to see in person if you don’t mind sitting in the nosebleeds. A ticket for a Dallas game at home in the upper bowl this season costs $30, on average, at StubHub, a seller on the secondary market — which is a better barometer of supply and demand for individual game tickets That’s less than half the average price of an upper bowl ticket in the NBA ($63).But one thing that has helped the Mavericks to extend their sellout streak is the number of tickets that are donated to schools and charities. “For slow games, we will use our community service group to proactively invite groups to a game,” Cuban said. If a game doesn’t sell out on its own, the Mavs can donate the remaining tickets and still call it out a sellout. “Tickets are perishable,” Cuban said. “We feel like having a seat full with a young fan creates a Mavericks fan for life. It’s an investment in building our future fan base.”Cuban said the sellout streak is not all that important to him, but he also recognizes that it is important to his organization’s sales and community groups. “They know I care far less about the gate than I do having a full house,” said Cuban, who said ticket sales have been making up a shrinking percentage of the Mavs’ total revenue in recent years as other sources of revenue have risen (e.g., national TV revenue and sponsorship sales). “So they have carte blanche to put ‘butts in seats’ over revenue.”Although it’s not entirely accurate to call it a sellout if the unpurchased tickets are given away, it’s difficult to criticize Cuban and the Mavs for their charitable work. Because NBA attendance is measured in how many tickets are distributed and not how many are redeemed, the Mavs will hold the record for the longest active “sellout” streak for as long as they want.Check out our latest NBA predictions. read more

When the Montreal Canadiens dealt P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber last offseason, it was one of the NHL’s biggest challenge trades in years. Both players play defense, though each represents a different philosophy of how the position should be played — Weber is big and strong and tough and represents more of the old guard of NHL defensemen, while Subban is fast, slick and immensely skilled with the puck, the perfect prototype of the modern NHL defenseman.As the two blueliners prepare for Thursday’s game, their first head-to-head matchup since the trade, it might be tempting to think Montreal has gotten the better end of the deal. The Habs have a better record and goal differential than the Preds so far in 2016-17, and Weber has provided more individual production than Subban as well.But although Montreal might have the better hockey team, the Subban-Weber swap still probably made the Habs slightly worse in the long run. Although Weber is very, very good at hockey, a closer look at the numbers shows that Subban is better.To be clear, Weber isn’t a traffic cone. He has finished in the top five in voting for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, which is given to the league’s best defenseman, five times in his career, and he hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since his second full NHL season in 2007-08. By any metric, Weber is among the best backliners of his generation. In fact, he’d probably sit at the head of the table at a “Best Defensemen to Never Win a Norris” banquet.Weber is also having a very productive first season with his new club. He has notched 37 points in 64 games, good for 0.58 points per game — tying his career average. Subban, on the other hand, was injured in mid-December (the nebulous “upper-body injury”) and missed 16 games, so he trails Weber in total points. But Subban’s 30 points in 47 games are good for a pace of 0.64 points per game, also matching his career average. On a rate basis, then, Subban still looks better right now, and that’s without looking at what the two defensemen will be doing two or three (or even six) years down the line.What will those seasons look like? Major League Baseball has PECOTA1PECOTA was developed by FiveThirtyEight’s editor-in-chief, Nate Silver. to project a player’s future performance, but the NHL doesn’t have much in the way of similar projection tools.2The guys at Hockey Prospectus have developed an analogous model called VUKOTA, but it’s proprietary. It’s difficult, therefore, to predict when a player might be in his prime seasons. But a study published in 2014 by University of British Columbia professor James Brander examined the effects of age on scoring and plus-minus, concluding that an NHL defenseman peaks at age 29 and generally plays at 90 percent or better of his peak productivity from age 24 to 34.Subban and Weber’s careers have overlapped for seven full seasons, counting this one.3Subban’s NHL career technically began during the 2009-10 season, but he only played two games, so according to NHL policy, his rookie season was officially 2010-11. (For what it’s worth, Subban dished out two assists in those first two games.) Subban was 21 when that stretch began and is 27 now; Weber was 25 at the beginning of the 2010-11 season and is 31 now. If Brander’s assumptions are correct, Subban has not yet reached his peak, while Weber is on the downslope.According to Brander’s study, Weber has been either at or near his peak for the entire time his career has overlapped with Subban’s, and yet Subban still tops Weber in a number of advanced metrics. For starters, the numbers suggest that Subban is a better possession driver than Weber: During the years they overlapped, Subban’s Corsi for percentage (the proportion of total shot attempts — including misses and blocks — that a team amasses in its games) at 5-on-5 is 52.6 to Weber’s 50.3, according to Corsica Hockey. Relative to teammates at 5-on-5, Subban’s Corsi for percentage is 3.8 points higher than his team’s is when he sits; Weber’s is only 0.1 better. In an era when possession matters as much as it ever has, Subban looks to be the more valuable player.What’s driving those Corsi numbers? Subban’s teams have taken more shots while he’s on the ice in the past seven seasons than Weber’s teams have; at even strength, Subban-led squads have taken nearly 33 shots for every 60 minutes he’s on the ice while Weber’s teams have taken approximately 31. And despite Weber’s billing as the more conventional, defensive-minded blueliner, Subban’s teams have also allowed fewer even-strength shots per 60 minutes while he’s on the ice than Weber’s have: 29.7 vs. 30. In other words, Subban’s even beating Weber at his own game.Beyond possession metrics, Subban has a slight edge in points per game over the same stretch, 0.64 to Weber’s 0.62, an advantage that is likely to increase over the next few seasons. Weber is a better shooter than Subban — his career shooting percentage of 8.2 far outpaces Subban’s lifetime mark of 5.9 — and the Montreal defenseman is averaging more time on ice than his Nashville counterpart this season, but these are the only two metrics that could be weaponized against Subban evangelists.At 31, Weber still passes the eye test as a top defenseman (because he is) and he gives the Canadiens those mythic “tough minutes.” But Subban beats Weber in possession, points and team shooting rates. Subban likely has not peaked, but Weber probably has. On the ice, Nashville remains the clear winner in this trade.Now, there is one scenario where Nashville ends up the loser in this trade: if Weber retires before the end of his contract.4Contracts like Weber’s, which is heavily front-loaded and was signed back in 2012, are now illegal under the NHL’s revised salary-cap rules. Should Weber choose to hang up his skates before the last year of his deal, the Preds would be on the hook for a “cap recapture” fee to the tune of $24.5 million. That represents roughly a third of each team’s entire salary cap this season — needless to say, it would not be great for Nashville. The penalties are less severe if Weber retires earlier, between the ages of 32 and 39, but Nashville will still be crossing its fingers that Weber will stay on the roster till the end of his deal (he’ll be 40 the next time he becomes an unrestricted free agent).There’s no evidence to suggest that Weber will not play through the end of his deal, though. It’s not uncommon for an NHL defenseman to play till he’s 40, and in Weber’s eleven full seasons, he’s never played less than 54 games.5He played in all 48 games in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season. Bad things can happen and bodies do break down, but Weber has been an ironman to this point. Even though he doesn’t play for them anymore, Nashville will hope that trend continues.At the end of the day, both Nashville and Montreal wound up with two of the 10 best defensemen in the NHL. Subban, though, has won a Norris — Weber is still waiting for his first. He might get it under new Habs coach Claude Julien, whose defense-first style of coaching suits Weber’s style of play. But history suggests that as he ages past his prime, Weber’s prestige will fade, even if only slightly. Meanwhile, Subban is probably still getting better. That means the Predators will likely come out ahead in the long run, even if Montreal has the better record so far this season. read more

From ABC News: The WNBA draft will be held on Wednesday, just three days after the women’s NCAA Tournament wrapped up. It’s an incredibly tight turnaround for the players and their prospective teams, particularly for anyone who made it to the Final Four. The tournament therefore serves as both a fitting capstone on collegiate careers and a real-time combine for a league that doesn’t have one for its tops prospects.Take Notre Dame, which fell 1 point short of a second-straight national title on Sunday. It has four elite seniors and one junior expected to hear their names called; they will have had less than 72 hours after finishing their work in Tampa to prepare for the moment their professional dreams come true.“They don’t have time to search for agents, and they don’t have time to make decisions,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said Saturday. “Every game they go into, they’re thinking about their future. Because if they play poorly, they’re wondering is their stock going to drop? If they play well, is their stock going to rise?”McGraw is right about this reality: WNBA coaches and GMs are scrutinizing every last possession to make sure their draft preferences reflect the most current reality. So at FiveThirtyEight, we decided to let the players and coaches make their best cases for themselves or their soon-to-be-former players while measuring their claims against the statistical record. Here’s what we found on the best pro prospects at the 2019 Final Four.1One quick note: We are looking exclusively at the stars of the Final Four, but only three teams are listed below. Oregon’s do-everything guard Sabrina Ionescu led the program to its first every Final Four appearance and was pegged as a possible No. 1 overall pick in Wednesday’s draft. But our analysis will have to wait until next year, as Ionescu announced Saturday night that she’s returning to school for her senior season.Notre DameWe’ll start with Notre Dame. Arike Ogunbowale is best known for her dual buzzer-beater shots last season, and UConn head coach Geno Auriemma, whose team was victimized by one of them, called her “virtually unguardable one-on-one” this past weekend.Ogunbowale will transition well into the WNBA “because she can play the same type of position she’s playing now,” McGraw said of her senior guard. “I think she’s ready. I think her body is ready. … I think she’s ready right now for the next level.”The numbers back McGraw and Auriemma up. Just four players have logged 800 offensive possessions this year, according to Synergy Sports Technology. Ogunbowale is not only one of them, a tribute to Notre Dame’s reliance on her, but she also easily leads that group. She does so in a variety of ways, shooting 44.6 percent from the field and 35.9 percent on threes, with a turnover rate below 10 percent for the third straight season despite all her ball dominance.At 5-foot-8, Ogunbowale will also be asked to play some point guard by most potential teams at the next level, so her elevated assist rate — 19.0 percent, an improvement from 13.6 percent in 2017-18 — only bolsters her WNBA case further.Interestingly, the same is true of her backcourt mate, Marina Mabrey, who was forced into primary point guard duties because of other injuries last year and has proved herself to be a combo guard candidate for the WNBA, with most league evaluators expecting her to be chosen in the second round.“I feel like it’s helped me because if there’s somebody at my position at the two that’s playing, I can still play at the one,” Mabrey said Saturday. “It will give me a better chance at getting on the floor quicker.”The numbers support this. Mabrey’s assist rate this season jumped to 23.9 percent, but it hasn’t come at the expense of her shooting efficiency (54.4 percent from two, 40.8 percent from three). So a WNBA team drafting Mabrey can add the fourth-best spot-up shooter, according to Synergy, of the 1,212 shooters with at least 75 such possessions in Division I this season.Forward Brianna Turner, meanwhile, has been a primary driver of Notre Dame’s improved defense.“If anybody is looking for someone who can defend any position on the floor, I think she would be a tremendous fit for any team,” McGraw said of Turner on Saturday. Turner is slated to go early in the second round.Her fellow big, Jessica Shepard, brings an unusual skill to the table: her passing.“I think my passing is what will separate me from other things,” Shepard, also pegged to go early in the second round (or even late in the first), said Saturday. “And also my versatility to shoot the ball on the outside.”McGraw, too, praised Shepard’s ability to share the ball while lamenting that the Irish system didn’t allow her to shoot the three as she did in her previous college stop, at Nebraska, where she shot 31.5 percent from deep her sophomore year.“She can shoot threes and play on the perimeter probably more than I let her,” McGraw said.Again, though, Shepard’s passing skills are on the record. Her assist rate was up to 18.3 percent this past season, extremely high for a 6-foot-4 big. And it’s been north of 14 percent in all four of her college seasons, even during the two years at Nebraska, when she served as the team’s primary scoring option. Moreover, she is particularly adept at the outlet pass, which doesn’t lead to assists most of the time but sets up her team in transition offense. The result: Notre Dame was sixth in Division I in points per possession in transition, at 1.107, according to Synergy, and the Irish got more of those opportunities than any other team in the country, with transition plays accounting for 25.3 percent of their total possessions.And that brings us to Notre Dame’s final top prospect: Once those chances came along, almost no one was deadlier on those fast breaks than junior Jackie Young, who renounced her final year of eligibility. Among players with 150 transition possessions, according to Synergy, Young’s 1.236 points per possession ranked third in the country. Like seemingly everyone else in McGraw’s offense, Young is also an excellent distributor: She posted a 23.4 percent assist rate despite sharing point guard duties with Mabrey and Ogunbowale.BaylorBaylor coach Kim Mulkey has one crystal clear WNBA prospect in 6-foot-7 Kalani Brown. Mulkey has repeatedly made the argument that Brown is quick enough to dominate at the next level, addressing the primary weakness brought up by WNBA talent evaluators. But as Mulkey noted on Saturday, that conversation obscures what are the astonishing strengths Brown brings to the table as well.Brown has always been fundamentally sound, Mulkey said — she’s always been able to shoot, defend and rebound. But, Mulkey said, she has matured, working on her defensive mobility at the high post and her endurance.So let’s take these each in turn. Brown shot 61.4 percent from the field this season, with more shots taken further from the basket. She shot 75.2 percent at the free-throw line, which traditionally suggests that she will be able to expand beyond the 3-point line at the next level. Her block rate also jumped to 7.1 percent this year, from 4.9 percent a season ago. Her rebound and assist rates remained static, but they were already pretty good. And Brown did start to play for longer stretches; her minutes per game, at 26.8, were almost double what she managed her freshman season. And most encouragingly, Brown logged 35 minutes in both the Elite Eight win over Iowa and the Final Four semifinal victory over Oregon; she reached 37 minutes in the final over Notre Dame — a tribute to both her conditioning and ability to stay out of foul trouble. Brown hasn’t fouled out of a game all season and has only reached four fouls in a game three times all season, remarkable for a big.ConnecticutDespite its so-called down year, Connecticut still lost only three games this season — and reached a record 20th Final Four — thanks largely to a pair of Huskies who will get their names called very early on Wednesday night: wings Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson.For Collier, the key is less that she can do one thing amazingly and more that she does everything well, according to Auriemma.“The competition’s going to be tougher, and she’s pretty good at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim,” Auriemma said. She also has something to fall back on if they won’t let her catch the ball in the lane, he said. “She makes just enough jump shots from the perimeter that you have to go out and guard her. She’s got a little bit of everything for whatever the occasion calls for.”The results have been 1.152 points per possession this season, according to Synergy, second in Division I among players with at least 600 possessions. Notably, too, Auriemma is right about her varied strengths. While she trailed Iowa’s Megan Gustafson in this category, 411 of Gustafson’s possessions came in the post-up this season (55.5 percent of her total). Collier accumulated points in post-up, cut and transition on more than 100 possessions this past season.As for Samuelson, the numbers speak to what she can be at the next level — an assist rate of 20 percent means that she will be the wing facilitator needed in the modern WNBA offensive sets, while her turnover rate finished below 10 percent for the second year in a row. She shot the ball extremely well from the field, 53.6 percent from two, 37.6 percent from three, a season after those numbers checked in at 59.6 and 47.5, respectively. Her free throw rate of 87.6 percent reflects the truth of her shot. Indeed, there’s no WNBA coach who won’t give her the green light, especially with her 6-foot-3 length that allows her to shoot over most defenders.But what stuck out to Auriemma was her toughness, playing through a back injury to score 29 against Louisville in the Elite Eight and a team-high 20 against Notre Dame in the national semifinals.“She doesn’t look it, but she’s a tough kid,” Auriemma said after last week’s 80-73 UConn win over Louisville to lift the Huskies into the Final Four. “There’s a certain toughness about her.”You can be sure all that registered with WNBA front offices, busy finalizing their lists and checking them twice. read more

Liverpool needed to do it all against Barcelona in the second leg of the Champions League semifinal on Tuesday. Despite creating chances, the Reds had failed to score in the first leg at Camp Nou last week, which meant they faced a 3-0 deficit going into Tuesday’s second leg at home against Lionel Messi’s squad. To advance to the final, Liverpool needed to score four times and prevent Barcelona — a team that possesses the best player in the world and one of the most potent attacks in Europe — from scoring what would likely be a decisive away goal.The Reds managed to do both — and now they can sit back and wait for their opponent in the final on June 1 in Madrid.To be clear, beating Messi and Barcelona by any margin in any game is a difficult task — ask any player in La Liga how it usually goes — but doing so in a Champions League semifinal, and without the help of injured forwards Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, seemed damn near impossible.Before the game began, the FiveThirtyEight Soccer Power Index agreed, giving Liverpool just a 7 percent chance to advance to the final. The model gave Barcelona a 93 percent chance to advance and a 61 percent chance to grab Europe’s top silverware. The odds to win the final have now swung precipitously in Liverpool’s favor: It has a 72 percent chance to take home the trophy if it plays Tottenham Hotspur and a 68 percent chance if it plays the Dutch club Ajax. The Reds’ only complaint now is that they can’t play the final at Anfield.Despite the lopsided scoreline during the first leg between Liverpool and Barcelona, there was evidence that there wasn’t a significant gulf in class between them. The Reds took more total shots, made more passes inside the attacking third, made more passes inside their opponent’s penalty area, completed more total passes, whipped more crosses into the box and completed more tackles than Messi’s men. While a historic comeback was unlikely, Liverpool had certainly shown it was capable of hanging with Barca.If the soccer gods were against Liverpool in the first leg — that Salah strike that rattled off the post late into the match suggested they might be — they were very much chugging pints on Merseyside on Tuesday. Liverpool got off to a quick start as Divock Origi scored off a rebound in the seventh minute. The early goal was crucial: Instead of marauding in search of an away goal that would have essentially ended the semifinal dead in its tracks, Barcelona looked shaken. They managed to get to halftime without conceding a second — and indeed almost got a much-coveted away goal deep into stoppage time — but it was clear the occasion was getting to them. Barcelona’s impotence allowed Liverpool to do the very, very unlikely and get three goals in the second half — two from substitute Georginio Wijnaldum and another from Origi.Barcelona had more of the ball in the second leg, but the Blaugrana weren’t able to cash in when they got into dangerous spaces. They created just two big chances to Liverpool’s five, and aside from a couple of half-chances, Messi was uncharacteristically quiet. He took five shots, with just two of them on target, while never really troubling Liverpool keeper Alisson Becker. While an act of Messi magic changed the equation at the Camp Nou last week, the only magic on display by Barcelona at Anfield was a disappearing act.Messi, soccer’s GOAT, has to endure yet another setback in a career that’s been defined as much by heartbreak as it has been by brilliance. And Liverpool will move on — no matter how miraculously — to play in a second-consecutive Champions League final.Check out our latest soccer predictions. read more

Ohio State redshirt senior receiver Jeff Greene (89) celebrates during OSU’s 28-3 win over Illinois on Nov. 14 in Champaign, Illinois.Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo EditorCHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Prior to No. 3 Ohio State’s 28-3 victory over Illinois, The Lantern’s sports editors Ryan Cooper and Kevin Stankiewicz dished out five things they would be watching for during the game. Here is how those items materialized. Does the offense return to form with Barrett?Redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett was back in the lineup after a one-week hiatus and it looked, based off the first eight plays from scrimmage, that the offense was back to the form it displayed against Rutgers two games ago. OSU drove all the way down the field methodically to the Illinois 1-yard line on the opening drive, but a run for no gain, a false start and a loss of one yard was followed by a missed field goal to stunt all that early momentum. From there, the OSU offense was a grab bag. At times, Barrett and the offense clicked flawlessly, especially on the first three touchdown drives. But nearly equally as often, offensive rhythm and flow was astray, indicated by the five drives that lasted fewer than five plays and resulted in no points. On the day, the offense accumulated 440 yards and found the end zone four times. Barrett specifically threw for 150 yards and one score, while churning out 74 yards and another touchdown with his legs. He did fumble once, while also throwing an interception. OSU coach Urban Meyer said he wasn’t totally satisfied with his performance.“(I) wouldn’t call it exceptional,” he said. “But he managed the offense very well.” One portion of the offense that never lost its form was the running game behind junior tailback Ezekiel Elliott. He was the lynchpin of the unit as usual on Saturday, rushing for 181 yards and two scores.Meyer praised Elliott’s contributions, but he said in his mind, the only major issue with the offense was pass protection, which was part of the issue on the interception because Barrett was under duress. “We’re gonna work extremely hard on that,” Meyer said of the pass protection. He later added, “we’re going to hammer that one hard this week.” Illinois’ duo of running backsIt took some time, but after three drives of sporadic touches, redshirt senior Josh Ferguson finally began to show why he is a focal point of opposition’s scouting reports. On the Fighting Illini’s fourth drive, after registering just 15 yards of offense, Ferguson picked up 30 total yards, including a 25-yard reception off a screen pass, to set up Illinois’ first points of the game. From there, even though the offense for Illinois still could not completely click, Ferguson still was impactful; or as impactful as one can be against the stingy OSU defense. He finished the night with 75 total yards. However, a majority of those came on a 27-yard run and the aforementioned 25-yard catch-and-run.The areas of focus for the OSU defense during practice paved the way to limiting his success, senior defensive lineman Tommy Schutt said. “Attacking the line of scrimmage, we’ve been working on that the last couple weeks, getting off the ball” he said. “Just creating penetration with our front four, I think we did a good job of that tonight.”The other half of Illinois’ running back tandem, freshman Ke’Shawn Vaughn, was relatively nonexistent on Saturday, though. The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week touched the ball just six times for a total of minus-four yards before getting injured. Halfway through the third quarter, Vaughn was ruled out for the remainder of the game with an undisclosed injury. OSU’s rushing defense allowed just 33 yards to Minnesota in its last game and for the day against Illinois, it allowed even less: just a net of 20 yards, which includes yardage surrendered on sacks. Junior defensive end Joey Bosa said he was satisfied with the defense’s job in containing Ferguson, as well as with the unit as a whole. “We knew he was a great player,” Bosa said of Ferguson. “But I think we’ve been playing the run really good the past couple weeks, we just need to keep it up.” Redshirt sophomore quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) carries the ball during OSU’s 28-3 win over Illinois on Nov. 14 in Champaign, Illinois.Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo EditorWill Nuernberger solidify the kicking game?Meyer made a switch at placekicker from redshirt senior Jack Willoughby to sophomore Sean Nuernberger for Saturday’s game, hoping to solidify the unstable position. On OSU’s first drive, however, instead of erasing the question marks about field goal kicking, Nuernberger wrote new ones in permanent marker.  OSU’s offense drove all the way down to the 1-yard line, but after two stuffed rushing attempts and a false start, Nuernberger trotted out for his kick since last year’s national championship game. But the sophomore missed the 26-yard attempt badly, pulling it way to the left. It was probably not what Meyer envisioned when he made the change. Nuernberger remained the placekicker for the rest of the game, converting on all of his point-after attempts. He did not attempt another field goal. It seems for at least one more week, the uncertainty surrounding OSU’s kicking game remains. Trap gameAll week OSU players insisted they were not looking past Illinois, despite having the season’s two biggest games — against Michigan State and Michigan — on the schedule after this week. But, given the history of fits that the Fighting Illini have caused the Buckeyes, namely the 2007 upset, there was reason to think that this game could be the prototypical “trap game.” However, the Buckeyes were able to not slip up and Champaign without a blemish. Now, the squads from the state of Michigan are coming into focus.“This is exactly what you wait for,” Perry said of the chance to play the best two teams on OSU’s schedule. Perry said the Buckeyes will take these two challenges one at a time, like usual, but he did concede that all season long players on the team had thoughts of the forthcoming games against the Spartans and Wolverines. But now, after 10 games are in the books, Perry said it is time to dig in. “It’s do-or-die, basically at this point,” he said. “We got a big week ahead of us, we’re going to watch film, break everything up from this week, but we’re definitely shifting our focus.”Can Jalin Marshall certify himself in the offense?After a big game against Minnesota that saw him compile over 100 all-purpose yards, redshirt sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall was looking to keep contributions flowing in Champaign.For the most, the Middletown, Ohio, native did just that. Marshall caught four passes — the second-highest mark on the team — for 38 yards, including a 23-yarder that set up OSU’s second touchdown of the game toward the end of the first half. He also did a nice job on the perimeter. Meyer was asked about the consistency of Elliott, as well as redshirt junior wide receiver Michael Thomas, following the game, but the coach took it upon himself to categorize Marshall with the potential All-Americans. On punt returns, Marshall was mostly kept in check, but that had a lot to do with the struggles of Illinois’ junior punter Ryan Frain. He checked in with just one return for one yard. Overall, OSU’s offense showed flashes of the levels it can play at, and Marshall, once again, showed that he is a big part of it. The Buckeyes will be back in action on Saturday against Michigan State in Columbus. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. read more

OSU junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan (5) encourages Buckeyes fans to make noise during the second half against Indiana on Oct. 8. The Buckeyes won 38-17. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorMomentum is a vital part of success for every team in every sport. A single shift in the intangible force can dictate the outlook of any athletic contest, and the Ohio State football team has depended on momentum to pull out in front of the opposition and stay there for much of this season.Against Tulsa, the Buckeyes were searching for their footing against a nonconference opponent that should have been a cakewalk for a team ranked inside the top 10. Finding themselves up by only three points, OSU was searching for something to shift into another gear.Sure enough, redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker jumped in front of a pass from Tulsa quarterback Dane Evans. Hooker returned the interception for a touchdown, and OSU rolled from then on.Against Oklahoma, after scoring on an early fourth-down conversion attempt, OSU was being pushed back by the Sooner offense. As Baker Mayfield lined-up to lead his team in its own fourth-down attempt, sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker stepped up for the Buckeyes.After Baker returned a 68-yard interception for a touchdown, Oklahoma fired right back with a kickoff return for a touchdown. After regrouping, OSU marched down the field for 89 yards and a rushing touchdown.For the rest of the game, the momentum was on the side of OSU.Even last Saturday, when Indiana was knocking on the door, the Buckeyes rode the high of a big play. This time, redshirt sophomore wide receiver Parris Campbell was the man to push OSU forward.Redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett knew how vital the play was for the rest of the game.“It was a momentum swing,” Barrett said after the game.A 91-yard kickoff return by the Akron, Ohio, native set OSU up for an easy score. The Buckeyes had to go less than 10 yards for a touchdown.Campbell has been making big plays all season on special teams, and had his first breakaway return this year against the Hoosiers. He, too, felt it was the turning point of the game.“Going out onto the field, KOR, I definitely felt like we needed the momentum back,” Campbell said. “Before every kickoff, I go out there and I say a little prayer: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ I knew we need momentum … so I had to step up.”Big plays and feeding off back-to-back scores have been vital to the success of OSU. Last year, especially against Michigan State, the team struggled to string together plays to keep momentum on its side.This year, the Buckeyes are a different unit. The team is feeding off the key plays of other units, and keeps up the pressure when there’s an opening. In every game this year, OSU has scored a touchdown in the final two minutes of the half.For OSU coach Urban Meyer, momentum shifts can lift a team up and keep them rolling.“(Campbell’s return) was a huge play in the game,” Meyer said. “Anytime you take a sense of momentum into the locker room, that creates a little more positive energy as you come out the second half.”Without some of the plays that have put games firmly in the grasp of the Buckeyes, the season could be very different for OSU.With seven more conference games ahead for OSU, No. 8 Wisconsin up next, momentum will once again be key if the team hopes to keep a perfect record. read more

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