Last year was the second time Jeff Hornacek made history as an overachiever for the Suns.The first came in 1989. As the third leading scorer, at 13.5 points per game, on that year’s team, he was a key factor in its historic run. Even though the Suns were swept by the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals that season, they were the greatest overachievers — defined as actual wins relative to what we would expect before the season14These backward-looking retro-predictions use the Statistical Plus-Minus (SPM) metric devised by FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine, and the SPM projection system devised by FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver. They allow for estimates of how good a team “should have been” in a given season (based on how its players performed in preceding seasons) going back to 1979-80. — of any team going back to 1980. The 1989 team was expected to only win about 33 games, and finished a whooping 26 games better than expected.Last year, Hornacek’s Suns joined Hornacek’s Suns. Except this time he was their coach. In his first year as a head coach, he made the 2013-14 Suns the 13th-greatest overachieving team of all time, earning 48 wins instead of the projected 32.Those 16 wins over expectation were by far the best of any team last year.Last year’s Suns team was solid offensively. While fast-paced and led by speedy guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, it ranked eighth in relative pace. Fast, but not like Steve Nash’s “:07 Seconds Or Less” Suns. The 2014 Suns’ relative offensive rating was eighth. For overall efficiency, they were 10th.Offense aside, however, they were just average, ranking 15th in relative defense. We project the Suns to win 44 games this season, good for 14th in the league and ninth in the Western Conference, so just shy of the playoffs. To make it to the postseason, the Suns will have to overachieve again. — Andrew Flowers Anthony Davis cannot generate any more hype — there’s that much of it already. Fresh off a dominating performance at the FIBA World Cup (54 percent shooting from the floor, 6.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game), Davis is poised to make the jump into the game’s elite.Last year, when he wasn’t on the bench with a fractured hand, Davis put together an offensive season that was nearly as good as any by a second-year power forward or center in the past 30 years. If we look at his Offensive Rating7Offensive Rating measures offensive efficiency by estimating how many points a player produces through made shots, free throws, assists and rebounds per 100 possessions. versus his Usage Rate,8Usage Rate measures how many of a team’s possessions he “uses” up — via shooting, drawing fouls or turning the ball over — when he is on the floor. Davis produced a season matched only by Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson, scoring at an efficient rate while using more than 25 percent of his team’s possessions.Of course, not all of Davis’s stats were world-beating last season. According to Evan Zamir’s invaluable NBA WOWY9With Or Without You. database, New Orleans allowed as many points per possession (1.10) when Davis was on the court as when he was not. And despite his 6.7 percent block rate (most among players who played more than 2,000 minutes), Pelicans opponents took a larger percentage of their shots at the basket and made a larger percentage when Davis was on the floor.While Davis definitely has improvements to make defensively (see Zach Lowe’s excellent feature for details), New Orleans had other defensive shortcomings last season. Which is why the Pelicans signed Omer Asik. Asik was one of the best defensive centers in the league according to Real Plus-Minus,10Real Plus-Minus is the latest version of Adjusted Plus-Minus, a measure of a team’s point differential when a player is on the court vs. off it. Read more about it here. and should provide Davis with a legitimate defensive backcourt partner who might be able to complement his athleticism and uncanny ability to block shots.As long as Davis can remain healthy, his performance at the World Cup and the improvement of his supporting cast both point toward his ascension into the top five or 10 players in the NBA. — John Ezekowitz After an offseason of homecoming parties, failed coups and depressing injuries, the NBA is back. To celebrate, we took each player’s projected Real Plus-Minus and wins above replacement, calculated a total for each team, and ran 10,000 simulations of the NBA schedule to divine likely records and championship odds.1The rosters we used came from ESPN.com’s depth charts, and were current as of Monday, Oct. 20. We’ve split the teams into the lower and upper tiers in each conference; these are the seven teams that likely won’t make the playoffs from the West. So ease into your red wine bath (hi, Amar’e) and let us tell you the stats, x-factors or regressions that offer a preview of the coming season. (Editor’s note: This article was published before the Lakers announcement on Friday that Steve Nash would not play this season because of a back injury.)As Kobe Bryant returns from the leg fracture that limited him to six games in 2013-14, the Los Angeles Lakers are hoping he has one more playoff push left before he ends his illustrious career. But that’s going to be hard to do with this supporting cast. The Lakers are coming off a 27-55 season, the highest single-season loss total in franchise history. And perhaps more troubling, they received an unusually small amount of production from their future Hall of Famers, traditionally the franchise’s bread and butter.According to a wins above replacement (WAR) variant I computed based on a combination of Player Efficiency Ratings and Win Shares,2For those curious, I regressed PER and Win Shares per 48 minutes onto Real Plus-Minus (RPM); you can estimate a player’s RPM using the formula 0.15*(PER – 15) + 30.5 *(WS48 – 0.1). I then made sure the minute-weighted average of a team’s estimated RPMs scaled to the team’s efficiency differential for the season in question, and computed WAR using the same process FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver employed in this article. This statistic is useful in cases where RPM (for which data only exists going back to 2000-01) or even Statistical Plus-Minus (which extends back to 1976-77) are not available; Basketball-Reference.com computes WS and PER going all the way back to 1951-52, the first year the NBA kept track of minutes played. the Lakers have received an average contribution of 20.6 WAR per season from their Hall of Fame-bound players,3Or future Hall of Famers, as determined by Basketball-Reference’s Hall of Fame probability statistic. which places them second to the Boston Celtics’ 21.8 mark among NBA franchises since 1951-52. During the decade of the 1980s, and again in the first five seasons of the 2000s, the Lakers got more than 28 WAR per season from Hall of Famers alone. And from 2006-2013, as they won two more championships and another conference title, the Lakers received an average of 16.4 WAR from Hall of Famers per year. But last season, the Lakers’ future HOF contingent — which included Bryant (who has a 100 percent probability of making the Hall according to Basketball-Reference), Pau Gasol (61 percent) and Steve Nash (55 percent4Admittedly a lowball figure, this is an artifact of MVP awards not being factored into the Hall of Fame probability method.) — generated just 0.8 WAR, the lowest such output Los Angeles has received since 1994-95, when nary a single Hall of Famer suited up in forum blue and gold.The rueful joke about the Lakers, at least from fans of the league’s other 29 franchises, is that they consistently manage to “pick up a HOFer or two every 4 years or so when their team’s playoff performance starts to slide a little,” in the words of one Internet commenter after LA was on the verge of acquiring Dwight Howard in 2012. And it’s basically true: Shortly after George Mikan’s career wound down, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West reported for duty, to be joined later by Wilt Chamberlain. Soon came the next wave: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then Magic Johnson and James Worthy, whose departures were followed within a few years by the arrivals of Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant. And four years after O’Neal left, along came Gasol. The supply of Hall of Famers rarely goes un-stocked in Laker-land.That’s why, as a rule, the Lakers don’t stay bad for long. The team has only suffered back-to-back losing seasons twice since 1961, and in each case it snapped back above .500 — and stayed there for an extended period of time — starting the very next year.The Lakers appeared to follow their classic “pick up a HOFer” formula when they eventually did snag Howard. But the cycle was, for once, broken; after a single disappointing season in LA, Howard did the unthinkable, spurning the Lakers for the Houston Rockets. Now the only future Hall of Famers in sight are the 36-year-old Bryant and 40-year-old Nash, as newcomer Carlos Boozer has but a 7 percent chance of ever making the Hall, and overhyped rookie Julius Randle will probably be lucky to be more than a bench player in the NBA.The Lakers have a history of grabbing all-time greats to plug holes, and they will have salary cap space available starting next season. But as it stands now, they’re looking at the distinct possibility of painful Hall of Famer withdrawal after Bryant retires. The franchise has essentially never had to deal with that before. — Neil Paine As Gordon Hayward went, so went the Jazz. And last year, neither went far. Heading into restricted free agency, Hayward finished last season with a career-low true shooting percentage of 52.0 percent and an ugly career-low 3-point percentage of 30.4 percent. The Jazz were 25-57.Given those shooting struggles, it may seem strange that the Charlotte Hornets signed Hayward to a max offer sheet this summer, and that the Utah Jazz matched that contract, retaining him. But Hayward has a diverse array of offensive skills and, perhaps more importantly for a Jazz team without many standout players, he’s a workhorse.The full nature of Hayward’s offensive responsibilities are probably best shown by Seth Partnow’s True Usage statistics, which measure total offensive involvement, including a player’s assists and potential assists (as calculated by SportVU Player Tracking statistics). True Usage can be read as the percentage of a team’s offensive possessions involving a player when he takes a shot, gets fouled, turns the ball over or creates a scoring opportunity for a teammate.Hayward’s True Usage was 42.33 percent last season, 11th among all wing players and roughly the same as Carmelo Anthony’s. He also had an Assist Usage5Assist Usage measures the percentage of possessions a player is on the floor in which he creates a scoring chance for a teammate. of 18.38. That number was fourth among all wing players, and roughly the same as LeBron James’s. Even though Hayward didn’t shoot well, the Jazz’s offense was better by 3.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.From the Jazz’s perspective, the key to getting value from Hayward’s massive new contract, and getting the most out of his versatility on the court this season, is asking him to do less. Alec Burks and Trey Burke will both have another year of experience, and explosive rookie Dante Exum will probably have the ball in his hands plenty. Hayward’s shooting percentages should climb this season as he works slightly more off the ball, finding shots by spotting up, cutting to the basket or driving against a defense that has already shifted.It may seem counterintuitive for a team to ask its best and highest-paid player to take on a smaller offensive role, but in the Jazz’s case it may be the answer to many of the team’s offensive challenges. — Ian Levy With Kevin Love gone, the Minnesota Timberwolves are starting over after trading away a homegrown superstar. (Sound familiar?) Rather than sit through another season of rampant Love speculation,11Love could have opted out of his contract after the 2014-15 season, opening up the very real possibility that he would leave Minnesota as a free agent with no compensation at all. Timberwolves coach/general manager Flip Saunders decided to move on with whomever he could get for Love — a haul that included the No. 1 overall picks from each of the past two NBA drafts (Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett), plus under-appreciated veteran Thaddeus Young.Minnesota preemptively unloaded Love in part because it was unable to convince him that his teammates were good enough to win. And certainly the Timberwolves didn’t do enough winning to even make the postseason a year ago, finishing just 40-42 in what was supposed to be a strong playoff push for the team.12Although they did increase their win total for the fourth consecutive season. Amid the rubble of another frustrating season — which came in spite of Love’s ongoing statistical brilliance — the weak-supporting-cast argument was tough to overcome.But the 2013-14 Timberwolves were a better team than their wins and losses indicated. Their Pythagorean record — i.e., the record we would have predicted them to have based on their point differential — was 48-34, good for seventh in the Western Conference. After adjusting their average margin of victory for strength of schedule, Minnesota was the ninth-best team in the NBA last season.That would have shown up in the standings if not for Minnesota’s dismal record in close games, which led to the seventh-most negative disparity between actual and Pythagorean wins of any team since the 1976 ABA-NBA merger. And as much as we extol the virtues of execution in crunch time, these differences are, traditionally, mostly the product of bad luck.It’s very possible the Timberwolves would have enjoyed a reversal of fortune in 2014-15, had they simply kept Love.Instead, the Wolves are counting on the development of Wiggins, Bennett and 2014 No. 13 overall pick Zach LaVine to boost an existing core that includes Nikola Pekovic and FiveThirtyEight darling Ricky Rubio. But although Wiggins was regarded as a once-in-a-generation prospect in high school, his college numbers suggest a future better described by “solid starting wing” than “next LeBron.” Meanwhile, Bennett is coming off one of the worst rookie seasons in NBA history,13By any rookie, much less a No. 1 overall pick. and LaVine’s undistinguished stats at UCLA have me wondering if he’s doomed to follow in Joe Alexander’s footsteps as a workout warrior turned draft bust.Minnesota was in a difficult position with Love, and trading him to Cleveland yielded as good a package as the team was likely to get, given its relative lack of leverage. Even so, Love was a true franchise player, and Minnesota pulled the plug on his Timberwolves career a year early, leaving the team’s future in some very unproven hands. — Neil Paine The Kings began their offseason with a move that confused many in the NBA, especially those who do analytics. In July, they decided against re-signing excellent young point guard Isaiah Thomas, and replaced him with Darren Collison.Last season, Thomas scored 20 points per game with a 57 percent True Shooting Percentage, the 10th-best mark for a point guard in the NBA, while maintaining a 35 percent assist rate and shooting 52 percent on drives to the basket. Collison is an effective shooter, but he is inferior to Thomas in almost every other statistical category. He had one of the worst assist rates (22 percent) for a point guard who played more than 2,000 minutes last season, turned the ball over more frequently than Thomas, and had one of the worst Defensive Real Plus-Minus marks (-3.23) for a point guard. What makes the move even more puzzling is that the Kings didn’t save that much salary: only $1.5 million per year.The Kings’ roster turnover has been dramatic since the beginning of last season (when 23 different players suited up for the Kings). Both point guards, Collison and presumed backup Ramon Sessions, are new to the team this year, as is rookie shooting guard Nik Stauskas.They’ll have to mix in with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, who are coming off successful World Cup campaigns for the U.S. national team. It’s a defining season for both players, as Cousins is entering what should be his prime and Gay is in a contract year at the end of a much-maligned max deal. Both of them love to shoot — Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are the only pair of teammates who can match the duo’s elevated Usage Rates (32.7 percent for Cousins, 27.6 percent for Gay) — and it’s likely their Usage Rates will climb with Collison running the point instead of Thomas.With DeMarcus Cousins, anything is possible, but given the depth and quality of the Western Conference, any realistic hopes of the Kings contending likely left with Thomas. — John Ezekowitz Last year, under first-year head coach Brian Shaw, the Nuggets learned to love the long ball. Denver attempted almost five more threes per game last season than in 2013, despite not playing all that much faster. That increase was the second-largest year-over-year jump in the NBA.6Beaten only by the Phoenix Suns’ amazing 7.3 threes per game increase.Shaw’s push for more threes was aided by the arrival of Randy Foye, a gunner for hire, who hoisted 498 3-pointers last season (11th most in the NBA). Wilson Chandler, too, set a career high for threes attempted. The return of Arron Afflalo, acquired from Orlando in the offseason, figures to increase Denver’s 3-point launching. Afflalo shot 42 percent from three on 300 attempts last season.But Afflalo’s threes — especially the corner threes — are welcome. Afflalo shot 49 percent from the corner three spots last season, a success rate that will bolster the Nuggets’ already potent attack. Denver was the third-best team from the corners last season, connecting on 42 percent of its attempts.Much of Denver’s ability to generate corner threes will depend on Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson. Both excel in getting to the rim and causing the defense to collapse, but Lawson is the better at finding 3-point shooters. Thirty-one percent of his 542 assists last season were on 3-pointers, and 52 were from the corner.With the uncertain timing of the return of JaVale McGee from a stress fracture in his leg, the Nuggets figure to play small again this year (other than Timofey Mozgov). This means their race for a playoff spot in the West again could come down to their 3-point shooting. — John Ezekowitz
More than 30 minutes after his teammates had departed the Los Angeles Lakers’ locker room at Philips Arena in Atlanta Wednesday night, Kobe Bryant finally emerged from the training area, walking gingerly and looking angry.It was more than the fact that his team that is vying for a Western Conference playoff spot lost to the Hawks, who played without injured starters Jeff Teague and Josh Smith. It was more than about being injured on the potential game-tying shot attempt. It was how he was and who caused the future Hall of Famer’s pain.“I can’t get my mind past the fact that I got to wait a year to get revenge,” said Bryant, who claimed Jones invaded his space when he went up for a baseline 14-footer that would have tied the game in the final seconds. Bryant came down on Jones’ foot, turning his left ankle.He had x-rays taken after the Hawks’ 96-92 victory; results were negative. He was listed as out indefinitely. But Bryant’s pain tolerance level and will to play is virtually unprecedented.Asked if he thought Jones intentionally tried to hurt him, Bryant said: “I don’t ever want to put that on somebody, I really don’t. I just think players need to be made conscious of it and I think officials need to protect shooters. Period.”It had to increase Bryant’s angst that it was Jones at the center of this situation, for it was Jones who was called for a flagrant foul for intentionally tripping Bryant in Game 4 of the 2009 Western Conference finals when he played for the Denver Nuggets.Bryant, who erupted for 20 points in the third quarter but otherwise had a horrible shooting night (31 points on 11-for-33 shooing), said: “As defensive players, you can contest shots, but you can’t walk underneath players. That’s dangerous for the shooter.”Bryant later added on Twitter: “#dangerousplay that should have been called. Period.”Jones responded via Twitter: “Tape doesn’t lie. Ankle was turned on the floor after the leg kick out that knocked him off balance. I would never try to hurt the man.He later added: “Leg kick that makes contact with a defensive player is an offense foul. Period. The nba changed that rule 2 yrs ago. Stop it!”Bryant drew comparisons of former NBA player Jalen Rose’s similar maneuver in 2000 where he moved in when Bryant was airborne, causing Bryant to land on his foot and turn his ankle. “He Jalen Rose’d me,” Bryant said of Jones on Wednesday night.Rose admitted on “The Jalen Rose Show,” a podcast on ESPN.com’s Grantland Network, back in September that he purposely stepped under Bryant. “I can’t say that it was an accident,” Rose said.
2016-1718.236.831.2 2015-1613.045.025.8 This season is different. Leonard’s usage has spiked to 31 percent (that’s Russell-Westbrook-before-this-season range), and he’s nearly doubled his pick-and-roll possessions, going from 14 percent of his possessions last season to 26 percent this season while remaining deadly effective. His 106.1 points per 100 possessions on those plays is among the best in the league, better even than Harden’s formidable pick-and-roll game this season (101.6), albeit on about half the number of possessions per game.16.1 pick-and-roll possessions per game for Leonard, 11.7 for Harden. Leonard still gets a lot of spot-up jumpers, but he’s now being assisted on only 37 percent of his 2-pointers, pretty much in line with LeBron James or an in-his-prime Kobe Bryant. He’s creating his own offense now, rather than waiting for the offense to come to him.Maybe most impressively, Leonard has done all this without dropping an ounce of efficiency. After Monday night, his 61.7 true shooting percentage had inched past his career-high from last season (61.6 percent). This is somewhat surprising, given that Leonard has gone from shooting 44 percent on 3-pointers last season to 39 percent this season. But he’s made up for that by adding more long twos to his game — often on quick curls around a high screen, as he did in the Houston game, but also in isolation on a variety of hesitation and pull-up moves — and making nearly half of them. These are the shots that had DeMarcus Cousins saying that he saw “flashes of Kobe” in Kawhi’s game, and it’s rare that workmanlike perimeter grinders are able to add them to their games so successfully. Guys learn to shoot corner threes much more often than they learn to Kobe-step.That ability to pick up hard-to-master skills is what makes Leonard such an intriguing prospect, even now as a credible MVP candidate. He still isn’t as natural a passer as many of the other perimeter players who are the nexus of their teams, but he’s improving. And as we’ve seen with the maturation of Westbrook as a point guard, the transcendent passing gene may come only by birthright, but you can get pretty damn far with time and stubbornness. So far, Leonard has gone from a 13 percent assist rate the last two seasons to 18 percent this season. That’s partly just a function of using more possessions, but the capacity and willingness to do that are part of his growth. And the notion that at 25 years old, Leonard is playing this well but has clear paths to improvement is downright lurid.All this newfound offensive firepower comes alongside Leonard’s reputation as an all-world defender. The game-winning block Monday night will stand out, but it’s Leonard’s body of work that speaks for itself. His defensive numbers have been a little hard to decipher this season (they dipped badly early in the season), but defensive metrics in the NBA often are. His metrics have since normalized, and while his defensive Real Plus-Minus is still just OK, he’s now back near the top of the league in points allowed per 100 possessions as the primary defender (82.1 points per 100 possessions) and is recovering on the leaderboards of other individual stats.In all likelihood, even a sustained run of games like Monday night’s won’t do much to change Leonard’s reputation as a souped-up role player. In fact, he’s averaged 33.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.3 steals in four games in March and erupted in high-profile games, such as a dominating 41-point game in a win over LeBron’s Cavs in January.Yet folks are still trying to act surprised about a pull-up and a chasedown coming in quick succession against the Rockets. To change those stripes, he’ll have to take this act deep into the playoffs, into the marquee rounds against marquee opposition, and outduel his more famous counterparts.Check out our latest NBA predictions. 2014-1513.045.023.0 2013-1410.451.918.3 Kawhi Leonard creates his own offense now The San Antonio Spurs have spent years tinkering with their style in plain sight. Since they drafted Tim Duncan in 1997, the Spurs have gone through the bruising Twin Towers and Bruce Bowen bully-ball eras; the high-octane, ball-movement era featuring Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw; and, more recently, a post-heavy attack built around LaMarcus Aldridge. San Antonio’s shifting styles have kept it current with league trends and accentuated the roster’s strengths, but traditionally, that’s meant that the Spurs’ reputation has been slightly out of step with how the team is actually playing at any given moment. Now, that disconnect between the team’s rep and its play has transferred to its best player. Kawhi Leonard is staging a bona-fide MVP campaign while playing a very different brand of basketball than he did the last time he was at the center of the basketball-watching universe.On Monday night, the Spurs took down the Houston Rockets thanks to a late-game charge led by Leonard, who went for 39 points that included a contested pull-up three followed by a game-sealing block on fellow MVP candidate James Harden.That’s as good a late-game effort as you’ll see most nights, but it’s also not altogether different from what Leonard does from night to night. That some are (correctly) holding it up as the moment Leonard’s MVP campaign launched in earnest is pretty solid evidence that the image of Leonard many fans have — dutiful two-way cog in the Spurs machine, in balance with the talented Spurs roster around him — isn’t really the guy who’s out there this season.Instead, Kahwi Leonard has stopped playing quite so much like Kawhi Leonard and taken up the game of a go-to superstar. In 2013-14, the last season the Spurs won the title, Leonard’s usage percentage was just 18.3 during the regular season, which is low for a key offensive player. Of the possessions he did use, 28 percent came on spot-up shots, and an additional 22 percent came in transition; 52 percent of his 2-point shots were assisted, making him much more reliant on others for his offense than the typical perimeter star. His role was as an elite defender and a floor spacer, not a key creator in the offense. 2012-137.754.416.4 RATE SEASONASSISTASSISTED 2PUSAGE Source: Basketball-Reference.com 2011-126.6%53.2%14.5% While Leonard has steadily grown into one of the most efficient players in the league over the last few seasons, he has still carried the label of a system player. Even last season, his most-common play type was the spot-up jumper (on which he scored a phenomenal 125.1 points per 100 possessions), which has obvious value but doesn’t fit the traditional go-to guy mold.
OAKLAND, Calif. — LeBron James’s relative solo act has been discussed at length this postseason. But for how much his showings set him apart from his team, there’s an argument to be made that no Cavalier feels more alone than Kevin Love.And on Sunday night, Love was made to feel like he was on an island again and again and again — maybe a dozen times in all. In each instance, Stephen Curry — a two-time MVP and the greatest shooter on the planet — had Love right where he wanted him: By himself, with no help defender in sight, giving the Golden State star the time and space to dissect him off the dribble to the tune of 33 points and a finals-record nine 3-pointers. The lights-out shooting helped spur the Warriors to a 2-0 edge in the best-of-seven series, which now heads to Cleveland for Game 3 on Wednesday.Certain shots will understandably garner the majority of the attention — particularly this nearly 30-foot circus shot to beat the shot clock early in the fourth that provided Golden State enormous momentum as Cleveland was attempting to make one final push. But beneath the surface, Curry is giving the troubled Cavs defense fits, in part because of what he and Klay Thompson do better than anyone else: move without the ball to free themselves for open shots.In particular, Curry has played a mix of both Hot Potato and Tag, essentially setting up give-and-go plays with his teammates by passing them the ball with the hope and intention of getting it back after he has sprinted to an open spot behind the 3-point line. The style of play makes him an even more challenging cover for the 29th-ranked Cleveland defense, not only because of the occasional confusion it brings about, but also because Curry’s teammates will occasionally use his give-and-go sequences as an opportunity to screen for him in the corner.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/passback1.mp400:0000:0000:10Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/passback2.mp400:0000:0000:11Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.“It’s tough — really tough — to guard Steph anywhere out there on the floor because he’s just so good at finding himself open,” Love said after the game, in which Curry shot a perfect 5-of-5 from 3-point range in the final period.Curry’s ability to shake free was far from the only thing that explained Golden State’s victory. The Warriors, who’ve struggled at times with focus, jumped out to a 15-6 run to start the game and appeared locked in from the outset in the wire-to-wire victory. They made a point of being more aggressive defensively with James after his stellar Game 1 and sought to force the ball out of his hands by occasionally sending a second man at him. And perhaps most noteworthy: Curry’s co-stars, Thompson and Kevin Durant, were even more efficient than Curry himself, with Durant scoring 26 points on just 14 shots and Thompson getting 20 on 13 shot attempts.Yet the performance — with the sprint-and-shoot element of Curry’s game coming alive — highlights something meaningful about the Warriors. After looking stagnant and vulnerable at times on offense in its seven-game bout with the Houston Rockets, Golden State finally appears to resemble itself again — even without injured forward Andre Iguodala, whose presence as a secondary ballhandler has been missed on that end.Since Game 6 of the Houston series, Curry has shot 5-of-9 on give-and-go 3-point tries. By contrast, he has shot just 3-of-18 on all other catch-and-shoot looks from deep, according to analyst Matt Williams with ESPN’s Stats & Information Group. (Worth noting: Curry is getting almost an extra half-foot on average between him and his nearest defender when his shot stems from a give-and-go.)Curry noted Sunday that the sprint-and-shoot strategy is one that he has used for a while now. “We’ve been doing that for a long time — it’s just that everything’s under a microscope now in the playoffs,” said Curry, who’s building a case to win his first NBA Finals MVP. “With how teams guard us with all their switching and things like that, you’ve got to find ways to create space.”That space often comes in the form of a big like Love or Clint Capela lacking the footspeed necessary to track Curry all the way back out to the 3-point line after cutting through the paint. This — and Curry’s hesitation moves into the paint, which defenders have to honor to avoid him getting off 3-point attempts — is how Golden State makes teams pay for perimeter switches.And on Sunday, it resulted in Curry making Love and Larry Nance Jr. look like bad stuntmen — they went lunging and flying after the Warriors guard when he broke free in the short corner.So, sure: The Cavaliers might be able to take some solace in the idea of going back home for Games 3 and 4. But unless they can find a way to bottle up Curry and the rediscovered Warriors offense, even home-court advantage may not be enough to make this a series again.Check out our latest NBA predictions.
Former OSU wide receiver Michael Thomas (3) hauls in a pass over Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis (26) during a game on Nov. 28 at Michigan Stadium. Credit: Lantern file photoIn April 2016, following the NFL draft, the Ohio State football program and its newly drafted former players could reasonably be considered in a league of their own before having played a down on an NFL Sunday. Four of the first 16 picks were Buckeyes, with 12 being drafted over the draft’s three days. Though the class was praised, no analyst or front office official could have predicted the kind of impact they would have on the field. Of the 12 selected, three former Buckeyes had notable years, comparable with some of the best rookie seasons in NFL history.Selected third overall by the then San Diego Chargers, defensive end and former consensus All-American Joey Bosa’s career for the Chargers got off to a rocky start. Disagreements between Bosa’s representation and the Chargers on signing bonuses and offset language in Bosa’s rookie contract and signing bonus led to the holdout. After he held out through both rookie training camp and the preseason, Bosa and the Chargers agreed on a four-year contract on Aug. 30.A hamstring strain held Bosa out another month, as he missed the first four games of the year. As October turned, though, Bosa welcomed himself to the field and to rest of the NFL, recording two sacks and five total tackles in his first game on Oct. 9 against the Oakland Raiders. Bosa was just one of five players in NFL history to record two sacks in their NFL debut.After missing 25 percent of his rookie season, Bosa finished with 48 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Among rookies, Bosa’s 10.5 sacks in 12 games were first in his class, ahead of the second-place finisher Yannick Ngakoue from the University of Maryland, who finished with eight total sacks in a full season.If Bosa had been healthy all year, he very well could have broken the record of 14.5 sacks in a rookie season, set by Jevon Kearse in 1999. Bosa was awarded the Pro Football Writers of America Rookie of the Year award for defense.Picked immediately after his former roommate by the Dallas Cowboys, Ezekiel Elliott not only had the best season of rookie running backs, but also led the entire NFL in rushing during his rookie season, becoming just the fifth running back since 1970 to win the rushing title as a rookie. Amassing 1,631 yards and 14 total touchdowns, Elliott came within 177 yards of breaking the rookie record for yards in a season held by NFL Hall of Fame member Eric Dickerson. Elliott also added 32 receptions and 363 receiving yards, while showcasing his non-quantifiable but highly regarded blocking ability in the backfield with fellow rookie Dak Prescott.Michael Thomas upwardly improved in his final years at OSU. In his first year of work in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints, Thomas led all rookie wide receivers in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in his rookie season. Record-wise, Thomas came only nine receptions short of the rookie record of 101 receptions set by Anquan Boldin in 2003. Thomas’ yardage totals rank fourth in league history for rookies, behind Billy Howton in 1952 (1,231), Boldin (1,377), Randy Moss in 1998 (1,313) and Bill Groman in 1960 (1,473).Though Bosa, Elliott and Thomas all were productive contributors to their teams, other Buckeyes of the class made their mark as well. Eli Apple became the starter partway through the year for the New York Giants, ending with 51 tackles, seven passes defended and an interception. Taylor Decker was ranked second overall among all rookie offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus, and received the top-overall grade of 82.8 for the entire Detroit Lions offensive line.In all, 14 OSU rookies — twelve picks and two undrafted free agents — registered stats during the regular season, in what is the deepest draft class in school history and arguably the entire history of the NFL.
The 2002 National Champion Ohio State Buckeyes are often remembered for finding a way to win through adversity. Sound familiar?The No. 4 Iowa Hawkeyes have found themselves in the same situation this year as the Buckeyes were in 2002.Iowa has been the underdog in many of their games this season, even as a Top 25 nationally-ranked team.Penn State was a 10-point favorite over Iowa on Sept. 26, Michigan was an eight-point favorite on Oct. 6, and Michigan State was favored by one point on Oct. 24.Iowa beat Penn State by 11 and Michigan and Michigan State each by two.The 2002 Buckeyes had the same problem with the odds makers, going unfavored in games against ranked teams No. 7 Washington State, No. 10 Penn State, No. 11 Michigan and No. 1 Miami.Both teams have been considered underdogs because of their inability to blow out bad teams with bad records.Iowa has four fourth quarter come-from-behind victories, two of which they were heavily favored in against Northern Iowa and Indiana. The other two came against Penn State, ranked No. 5 nationally at the time, and Michigan State.Iowa seems to be reading the blueprint of the 2002 Ohio State team that had five fourth quarter comeback victories. OSU had to go into overtime to beat both Illinois (4-7) and No. 1 University of Miami in 2002.Both teams had to rely on their defenses for fourth quarter victories.OSU had six regular-season games decided by seven points or less in 2002 while Iowa has racked up four of their own this year. In 2002, the Buckeyes had two important games decided by their defense, against No. 10 Penn State and No. 1 University of Miami in the National Championship game.OSU was forced to silence an explosive Penn State offense, which averaged 36.4 points per game, to preserve its 13-7 win.In the National Championship game, OSU held the Hurricanes out of the end zone from its one-yard line four times to win the championship. Iowa has already proven that its defense can perform similar feats. In the first game of the season, the Hawkeye defense blocked two Northern Iowa kicks in the final seven seconds of the fourth quarter that would have won the game. They also clinched the Michigan game with an interception with a minute-and-a-half remaining in the fourth quarter to seal Iowa’s victory. The overall defensive statistics for both the 2002 OSU team and the 2009 Hawkeyes are impressive. Iowa has averaged 13.5 points per game with 18 sacks, 18 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries through nine games.In 2002, OSU allowed 13.1 points per game with 32 sacks, 18 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries in 14 games. The offensive play-calling for the teams does differ. The Hawkeyes focus on the pass, while the Buckeyes were oriented on the run. Mostly on the legs of Maurice Clarett, the Buckeyes ran over every opponent, with 2,678 yards rushing and 31 touchdowns on the ground. The Hawkeyes have relied on the arm of quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who has passed for 2,052 yards. That is only 58 yards short of OSU’s starting quarterback, Craig Krenzel, in 2002. Stanzi has also thrown 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, surpassing Krenzel by two touchdowns but also throwing six more picks.The Iowa rushing game only racked up 1,127 yards and accounted for 11 touchdowns, much less than OSU did in both categories. The Buckeye offense was more potent, scoring 45 offensive touchdowns in 2002. The Hawkeyes are on track to score only 33 offensive touchdowns this season.Adversity within the roster is something both teams have been acclimated to as well. The 2002 Buckeyes were without explosive freshman running back Maurice Clarett at 100 percent for 3 games after he injured his shoulder against Penn State with four regular season games remaining. The Hawkeyes are without freshman starting running back Adam Robinson for the rest of the season, who injured his ankle in their win against Michigan State.Both of the teams have had similar results to this point in the season, but Iowa has three games remaining in the season, including one against OSU in Columbus on Nov. 14. The other two remaining games are at home against Northwestern and Minnesota.Iowa’s championship destiny does not lie in its hands as it did for OSU in 2002. No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Texas and No. 3 Alabama are all ahead of the Hawkeyes by considerable margins in the BCS. Two of these three teams will have to lose for Iowa to make the National Championship game and match the dream season OSU achieved in 2002.
Ohio State is far from the first school to be charged with NCAA infractions for violations committed by its football program. Other programs have had penalties ranging from small suspensions to the “death penalty,” but precedents set by NCAA cases could influence the organization’s final ruling on OSU. On Aug. 12, a group of university representatives, including interim coach Luke Fickell and former coach Jim Tressel, will travel to Indianapolis to make its case to the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions. The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, sent to OSU President E. Gordon Gee on April 21, detailed the charges brought against the university. In the report, the NCAA said Tressel failed to behave with “honesty and integrity,” and knowingly played ineligible players, including Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Solomon Thomas and Mike Adams. The players are suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling memorabilia and receiving improper benefits. The report also revealed that OSU may be designated as a “repeat offender” because of coach Jim O’Brien and 2006 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith. O’Brien gave $6,000 to recruit’s mother, later forcing the Buckeyes to vacate their 2001 Final Four appearance and season wins. Repeat offenders generally receive harsher penalties. Absent from the report were the terms “lack of institutional control” and “failure to monitor,” which can indicate large-scale violations and equally large penalties. If the ongoing NCAA investigation uncovers a widespread problem within the program, “lack of institutional control” can still be applied to OSU. Sports Illustrated recently reported that OSU’s violations extended beyond the six players suspended next season. The report said as many as 28 players received improper benefits since 2002, including nine current players. Josephine Potuto, who has served on the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions since 2006, said the new allegations could lead to an extended investigation. “I would say, given what’s been reported in the papers and other media, I would guess there’s a chance the hearing won’t be held in August,” Potuto said. Potuto also said that, if the NCAA decided to investigate further, the hearing could be delayed. Michael Buckner, a lawyer who specializes in sports law, said the alleged violations eventually could lead to OSU being cited for “lack of institutional control.” “These are just new allegations,” Buckner said. “Although they have been published from reputable media organizations, the NCAA and OSU still must conduct their own investigation, interview witnesses, collect documents and verify those allegations before any time of institutional control allegations are added to the case.” In 2010, the USC football program was cited for “lack of institutional control” for violations primarily involving running back Reggie Bush. The program received a two-year postseason-bowl ban and faced reduction of 30 scholarships over three years. Chris Dufresne, who covers USC football for The Los Angeles Times, said there are similarities between the two cases. “What you have in common are two major power football universities where football is king and needs to be protected at all times,” Dufresne said. “But you have to wonder, ‘At what cost?’” Dufresne said whether OSU is cited for “lack of institutional control” depends on several factors. “It’s going to depend on whether it can be isolated to one person,” Dufresne said. “If it’s just Jim Tressel and no one else was really involved, then it’s on him. But it all depends on how much it bleeds into the rest of the administration.” One thing that may benefit OSU is that the university self-reported the violations in December, whereas USC denied any wrongdoing. “Ohio State initially did self-report this in December,” Dufresne said. “How they did it and how they perceived it and managed it is in question. … USC basically said they never did anything wrong.” Despite the self-reported violations, Dufresne said OSU still could face harsher penalties than USC because Tressel was a central figure in the violations. “Given what has been reported and what, I think, is being acknowledged, the head coach had players compete when they were ineligible,” Potuto said. “That’s a serious violation.” Dufresne said Tressel’s involvement probably will lead to a strict ruling. “My best guess is (the punishment) will be at least as severe as USC’s,” Dufresne said, “possibly more because (Tressel) was involved.” The most severe punishment the NCAA can issue is known commonly as the “death penalty.” If a program is issued the death penalty, it is banned from competing for one year. In 1987, the NCAA gave the Southern Methodist University football program the dreaded punishment. That remains the only time the NCAA has instituted the death penalty. Buckner said he doesn’t think OSU will share SMU’s fate. “With SMU, you have an entirely different situation,” he said. “You had boosters that were members of the Board of Directors that were directly involved. So, it started at the very top and went all the way down. It was definitely the textbook case of ‘lack of institutional control’ because the institution sanctioned that lack of control.” SMU was already serving a two-year bowl ban when it was discovered that players were being paid to play for the school. Dufresne said he doesn’t think the death penalty ever will be used again. “They’re never going to do that again,” Dufresne said. “I think they realized that they went way overboard with that because it basically put a program out of business for 25 years.”
The seniors on the Ohio State football team cannot play for championships this year. Not for trophies. Not for banners. So they plan to play for their fellow classmates. “We’re playing for each other,” said senior defensive end John Simon. “And when you come in here every day and work out with these guys, you really don’t want to let them down.” The 2012 season will be absent of even a chance to compete for the Big Ten Conference and national championships as a result of the NCAA-imposed bowl ban dating back to December 2011. Former coach Jim Tressel knowingly fielded ineligible players during the 2010 season after six players – former quarterback Terrelle Pryor, former running back Daniel “Boom” Herron, former wide receiver DeVier Posey, former offensive tackle Mike Adams, former defensive end Solomon Thomas and former linebacker Jordan Whiting – traded memorabilia for tattoos, resulting in a vacation of wins for that season, donation of team’s winnings from the 2011 Sugar Bowl victory against Arkansas to charity and a ban that will keep the team out of postseason action this fall. Pressure mounted, and Tressel was eventually forced to resign from his post as Buckeyes coach on May 30, 2011. Simon recounted the dark moments. “It was a tough time,” Simon said. “But we’re a new team and we’re doing everything we can to get better.” Senior players are looking beyond the NCAA-imposed limitations the coming season holds and focusing on the things they can control. “We’re just focused on our first game of the season,” said senior running back Jordan Hall. “We aren’t focusing on what we can’t do, only on what we can do.” And the OSU football team will need that focus heading into a season that is sure to face even higher expectations with the addition of new coach Urban Meyer. Meyer’s arrival has turned into a complete program transformation – from the pre-Spring Game circle drill where players collided with one another to the overhaul of the team’s nutritional strategies – that has made a strong call to senior players to take control of the team. “Coach Meyer is always talking about leaders,” said senior linebacker Etienne Sabino. “And (we) want to be the leaders of this team.” And leadership is not limited to the field – Simon said leading begins away from Ohio Stadium and at the indoor practice facility. “It’s all about coming in and doing extra,” he said. “The senior class is really stepping up into a leadership role … showing the young guys the ropes, reading the playbooks with them, whatever it takes. We’re just trying to have the best offseason possible.” Meyer and the OSU coaching staff have praised Simon for his role as a “workout warrior,” and said he and his fellow seniors are doing everything they can to either be in the classroom or in the gym. And the senior players said the extra effort is partially because this season will be the last time they represent the Buckeyes on the field. “It’s the last time for everything,” Sabino said. “Every time you go out there, it’s your last first day of camp, last Spring Game. You just know it’s your last one.” And the thought of a final season in a Buckeye uniform is bittersweet for Simon. “The years go fast,” Simon said. “But I’m just looking forward to winning every game. That’s our goal this year, but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.” Winning is the only thing that will take away the sting from last year’s tumultuous season, said senior tight end Jake Stoneburner. “We’re out to prove that we’re a better team than we were last year,” he said. “We’ve got something to prove. And for us seniors, we have to play to the best of our ability; you only have so many games left in the ‘Shoe, so you have to make every game count.” It remains to be seen if Stoneburner will be on the field when the Buckeyes begin the 2012 season as he and redshirt junior offensive lineman Jack Mewhort were arrested Saturday morning for allegedly obstructing official business. Sunday, Stoneburner and Mewhort were suspended from the football team until their cases are resolved. Stoneburner and Mewhort did not immediately respond to The Lantern’s request for comment regarding their arrests. With the 2011 season in mind, Stoneburner said he is still confident that the Buckeyes will be on people’s radar this year. “We’re always going to be circled on opponents’ schedules. It’s Ohio State,” he said. “No matter what kind of year we had the year before, no matter who’s our coach, quarterback, we’re always going to be circled because it’s Ohio State.” When the seniors and the rest of the Buckeyes take the field on Sept. 1 this year, Simon said it’s going to be business as usual. “We’re going to go out there and play for each other and for Buckeye Nation,” Simon said. “And we’re going to have a good time doing it.”
Perhaps more than anyone else, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith has had a lot on his plate since the university’s “Tattoo-Gate” scandal began in December 2010. In an interview with The Lantern, Smith talked about thoughts of leaving OSU, the school’s revamped compliance department, football coach Urban Meyer’s first season in Columbus and the possibility of a 2002 national championship reunion including former OSU coach Jim Tressel. Thought about walking away It has been more than 18 months and there are still plenty of OSU fans who think Smith should have lost his job because of the “Tattoo-Gate” scandal that led to Tressel’s firing. Smith said there was never a moment he thought that was a possibility, but he did consider walking away for the sake of those around him. “I never thought that I would be dismissed by our president because I really did nothing wrong,” Smith said. “I did everything that I was charged to do and accountable for. Did I ever feel that I should leave? Never. That I should resign because of the pressure I was under? Never thought that. Did I ever have thoughts that I should walk away for the betterment of the institution and the people that I work with everyday and I serve? Yeah. “I care more about those people and our athletes than I do anything. Sure I thought about (leaving), but I came to the conclusion that the best way for me to help them was to fight for them and make sure we stay on track.” Those disappointed by that decision will likely not see a change anytime soon. Smith said he has not considered retirement and is very content with his situation at OSU. “There’s no other job I’d rather have,” he said. Random audits to ensure compliance As part of an 805-page report Smith and OSU sent to the NCAA, Smith said the athletic department will conduct random audits to make sure the players still have various Buckeye memorabilia given to them. “First of all, we retain a lot of things so we build a locker room in our equipment room, so, for certain jerseys and helmets, we keep those there until you graduate. Or your eligibility expires because, you know, somebody may leave and we give them their stuff,” he said. “But also your rings, your gold pants, if you have them, there’s times where you have to bring them in to certify that you’ve retained them or certify where they are because you may give them to your mom.” Smith said the audits – which are a brand new idea – will be random. “It’s a random process. It could be tomorrow,” he said. “So it’s kinda like drug testing.” The process, however, isn’t just limited to keepsakes like rings and gold pants. It also applies to cars, Smith said. “You have a car, you register that car with us,” he said. “We check it every now and then just to make sure there’s no change. “So we’ll go over to a parking lot, walk around, check cars, check the numbers, things of that nature, just to make sure nothing has changed or see if there’s any new cars that pop up and say, ‘OK, who’s car is that?’ Might be (OSU spokesman) Dan Wallenberg’s, might be you visiting, but we check them all out just to be sure that nobody got a loaner car that they shouldn’t have.” Big Ten Woes There’s no denying the Big Ten struggled during its non-conference football schedule. The conference lost three games against the Mid-American Conference, lost three of four games against the Pac-12 and only has three teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll. At No. 12, OSU is the top-ranked Big Ten team with Nebraska (No. 21) and Northwestern (No. 24) also representing the conference. Smith did not skirt the issue. “We’ve struggled, we’ve got to win games,” he said. “There’s no question that the Southeastern Conference has dominated and rightfully so. But that’s not what bothers me as much as we’re losing to other conferences and other programs that frankly we shouldn’t.” Smith isn’t panicking, though. Conference strength is cyclical, he said, and what he is really concerned about is making sure the struggles don’t become a pattern. “It doesn’t surprise me periodically that a team emerges and beats people, that’s happened in the Mid-American Conference for years, jumping up and biting somebody,” Smith said. “But that’s happened more this year than normal. So I’m interested in seeing how things go this next year and make sure this is not a trend.” “Tapegate” closed After Michigan State received altered game tape before its contest against the Buckeyes last Saturday in East Lansing, Mich., Smith said Spartans athletic director Mark Hollis informed that they did not receive the full video. “I hung up and contacted our video guys and said, ‘Send them the full video. Get it done,’” Smith said. “And we sent them the full video.” The issue is “done,” Smith said. “Urban had no clue, so we should’ve sent them the full video from the beginning,” he said. Tressel reunion OSU will honor its 2002 national championship football team during the Buckeyes’ game against Michigan this year, and there is some disagreement as to whether the leader of that team, fired Tressel, should be on the guest list. Smith said he would have no problem seeing his former co-worker. “I don’t know if he’ll come back for that recognition,” Smith said. “If he does, we will recognize him like everybody else.” Meyer fulfilling his family’s contract At Meyer’s introductory press conference in late November, he pulled out a crumpled pink piece of paper from his pocket from behind the podium. It was a contract written by Meyer’s family and, specifically, his daughter, Nicki, to ensure that her father would take care of himself in ways he often failed to do so while at Florida. Smith told The Lantern Meyer is indeed abiding by his family’s contract. “He and I’ve talked about that a lot during the summer and at the beginning of the season and I hit him every now and then with it,” Smith said. Smith said he went into the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to see Meyer this past Sunday after the Buckeyes’ game against the Spartans. Meyer, though, was at his son Nate’s football game. “I was like, ‘That’s what you want.’ You know, so he takes his time on Thursday nights, takes his time on Friday mornings, you know, with family,” Smith said. “Not sleeping in the WHAC overnight like he had slept down at Florida some nights. So I think he’s there balance-wise and doing what he’s supposed to do.” Scheduling OSU announced Tuesday that it scheduled Texas Christian University for a home-and-home football series with games in 2018 at Fort Worth, Texas, and 2019 in Ohio Stadium. Smith said the series represents a change in mentality for OSU when it comes to non-conference scheduling. Each year Smith said he looks to schedule “one top 10 or top 15 (team), hopefully two (teams) that are in the top 30 to 40 and then another BCS team. That takes us away from playing two Mid-American Conference teams a year or three in some cases.” Meyer hitting the mark After hiring Meyer almost a year ago, Smith said the first-year coach has done a “great job” so far in his inaugural season in Columbus. Smith didn’t limit his praise to just Meyer’s on-the-field endeavors, either. “You know, I think everyone is focused obviously on wins on the field and how the team is executing, but I look at that as well like everybody else,” Smith said “but I look at also how he handles his staff, he handles the players relative to academics, how he interacts with other coaches in the league and just how we communicate relative to issues and, so, he’s just doing a great job.” Communication between Meyer, Smith Smith said he normally tries to pop in to the WHAC once a week to see Meyer. “We don’t have – during the football season – we do not have formal, set meetings unless there’s an issue we need to do that with other people, but I pop in – Sundays, I usually I try and get in on Sundays – and walk around,” Smith said, “and this particular year, congratulate the coaches and then I usually go meet with the trainers, pop into his office.” And what if Meyer’s not there? Smith said he and the former Florida coach are “big texters.” “You know, he texted me today on one issue and I texted him back so we’re big texters. I kinda know his schedule when they’re in meetings, so, I know when he’s on break. So if I’m on break and I need to go see him about something, I go see him,” he said. “So it’s nothing really formal. But it’s almost every day.” Meyer’s undefeated (5-0) squad faces Nebraska at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
Redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Pat Elflein (65) blocks during a game against Minnesota on Nov. 15 in Minneapolis. OSU won, 31-24.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorWhen Urban Meyer first came to Ohio State in late 2011, he made it clear that he was not a fan of redshirting players.Now, three years later, he might be changing his tone slightly.“Those days (of redshirting) are certainly here (but) if you are a good player, play ‘em,” Meyer said Tuesday during the Big Ten teleconference. “That is going to be our philosophy to continue moving forward.”The Buckeyes currently have 34 players on their roster that have been redshirted at least once.One of those players is OSU starting quarterback J.T. Barrett, along with three of the five starting offensive lineman.Redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Pat Elflein said his redshirt year helped him get used to the college game.“It definitely benefitted me a lot,” he said Monday. “My freshman year, just being on scout team going against (Johnathan) Hankins and (John) Simon and transitioning to this level of play (helped a lot).”Specifically, Elflein said his time on the scout team and not being afraid to make mistakes were what made his redshirt year in 2012 so beneficial.“You can kind of just go out there and play (on scout team) and kind of get acclimated to this level of football and I got so much better doing that,” Elflein said. “It just transferred over to learning the offense after that and it all just came together.”For Elflein, it paid off as he made his first career start on a big stage in the 2013 Big Ten Championship game, when he said he thought he performed admirably.“We fell short last year, and that still hurts,” he said. “I played well that game, but we want to get back there and win the Big Ten.”Defensively, the Buckeyes currently have three redshirt players in the starting lineup, including redshirt-freshman cornerback Eli Apple, who was one of two players Meyer singled out when discussing the benefits of a year off.“(Redshirt-freshman linebacker) Darron Lee and Eli Apple are two guys off the top of my head … Will Eli Apple be here five years? No. My guess is if he continues to improve, that he may move on,” Meyer said.Lee is one of six players who has started each game on defense and is second on the team in tackles for loss for loss with 9.5.Apple, who has started all but one game this season, said watching from the sidelines last year was beneficial, adding that he learned a lot from veteran players at his position.“When I first got here, I definitely had my little struggles. I feel like that redshirt year really helped me a lot just watching guys like (Bradley) Roby, watching guys like (current senior) Doran (Grant), see how they handle their business and picking up stuff from them,” Apple said Monday. “When I came in this year, I really wanted to take an approach — take things serious, work on my technique, work on all aspects of my game and it has really helped out.”Already with two interceptions under his belt, Apple said that with each game comes more assurance in his abilities.“I feel like my confidence has grown after each game,” Apple said. “It’s just great being a starting corner, playing opposite of Doran Grant, somebody that just takes the game so serious. It’s one of those things where you have to raise your game up a notch every week because you got somebody like him who just goes so hard and has great preparation.”The Buckeyes are scheduled to take on the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for noon.