For NHL fans of a certain age,1Full disclosure: I am of this demographic, albeit one of the younger members. the definitive Los Angeles Kings team is Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings team. The franchise existed for 21 seasons before Gretzky arrived in Los Angeles in 1988, but the banality that he single-handedly made hockey relevant in LA is largely true. Kings attendance soared with No. 99 in the fold,2Increasing 27 percent in Gretzky’s first season with LA and another 11 percent in his second, per Rodney Fort’s data. the team’s value increased sharply during his tenure there,3The Kings ranked as the NHL’s third-most valuable team in 1994, according to contemporary estimates by Financial World magazine. In 1995, the team sold for a price ($113 million) nearly three times its value in 1988, when Bruce McNall bought 51 percent of the team for $20 million. and Gretzky instantly transformed the on-ice product into a legitimate contender by powering one of the best offenses in the game. Behind a 40-point postseason by Gretzky, the Kings reached their apex in 1993 — losing in five games but earning what was, at the time, the franchise’s lone Stanley Cup Final berth. For years, the Gretzky era easily represented the high-water mark of hockey’s four-decade experiment in Southern California.Not anymore. The Kings now are back in the finals for the second time in three years, and are looking for another Stanley Cup victory to follow the one they won in 2012. But this team isn’t Gretzky’s. It’s constructed differently and it plays a different game. And it might be better for it.If you’re looking for an NHL “Moneyball,” the modern Kings may be as close as any team to embodying the ethos of hockey’s sabermetric revolution. As FiveThirtyEight contributor Eric Tulsky has noted before, the current Kings pursue a strategy of constant control of the puck. With a host of possession superstars, the Kings have led the NHL in close-score4To filter out the influence of score effects. Fenwick percentage — a proxy for time of possession that measures a team’s share of all unblocked shots directed at either net during its games — for two years running, and the year before that they dominated the metric down the stretch after swapping defenseman Jack Johnson5A particularly poor Fenwick player, it should be noted. for center Jeff Carter at the trade deadline.No opposing team can score (or even shoot) when it doesn’t have the puck. During the regular season, LA allowed the league’s third-lowest rate of unblocked shots per minute of 5-on-5 play, and its second-lowest rate of total shots allowed per game. Along with decent goaltending from Jonathan Quick, that’s how the Kings helped clinch the William Jennings Trophy, given to the goaltenders on the team that allows the fewest goals all season. Maximizing possession is a hockey hack that helps at both ends of the rink.But all that possession hasn’t guaranteed the modern-day Kings a bushel of goals. The Kings spent most of the 2013-14 regular season struggling to light the lamp, despite firing the league’s second-highest rate of unblocked shots at the opposing net.6Per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play. Their 5-on-5 shooting percentage with the score close, which had been average in 2012-13, slumped to third worst in the NHL this season. Still, LA kept emphasizing possession and putting the puck on net, seeming to trust that shooting percentages tend to regress heavily to the mean.And the Kings rediscovered their scoring touch at just the right time. During the playoffs, they’ve scored on a substantially higher proportion of shots than they did during the regular season. It doesn’t hurt that they also acquired right wing Marian Gaborik — whose career shooting percentage ranks among the best of any active player’s — at the trade deadline. But the biggest reason for the Kings’ offensive resurgence is that they rode out their poor shooting luck and continued to focus on dominating the puck, the way statheads have been calling for teams to do for years.The Kings squad that Gretzky tearfully joined on Aug. 9, 1988, played a very different kind of hockey.We don’t know for sure because play-by-play records from that era are not available, but it’s unlikely that Gretzky’s Kings dominated possession of the puck. According to estimates of close-score Fenwick percentage for older seasons, Los Angeles ranked among the top half of teams in possession rate just once (1990-91) in the eight seasons the Great One wore silver and black. Most of the time, they were actually somewhat bad at keeping control of the puck, ranking 18th out of 26 teams in estimated close-score Fenwick percentage during Gretzky’s tenure.Instead, they lived off a suspiciously high shooting percentage that modern analysts might decry as luck. During Gretzky’s first three seasons as a King, LA finished no worse than second in goals per shot. But Gretzky’s playmaking wizardry was probably a very real effect. Over that span, he paced the league in assists by a wide margin,7He notched 107 more helpers than No. 2 Adam Oates. You could have finished 70th in assists over the same period with the leftovers Gretzky didn’t need to pass Oates. and his teammates shot 9.1 percent better in those seasons than they would over the rest of their careers.The defense couldn’t measure up to the offense, though. Those Kings allowed the league’s second-highest number of shots8Only the miserable San Jose Sharks, in their second year of existence, played softer D. and its fourth-highest number of goals.Gretzky’s squad didn’t have a deep roster, either. According to Tom Awad’s catch-all summary stat Goals Versus Threshold (like Value Over Replacement Player for hockey), the 1992-93 Kings were a notably top-heavy team. They were led by stars such as Luc Robitaille and Jari Kurri. (Not to mention Gretzky, who recovered from an injury in time to post 65 points in 45 games.) But they also lost 17.8 goals because sub-replacement-level talent was on the ice, one of the largest totals in recent memory by a team that won more than half its games.The current iteration of the Kings has superior depth, and nary a Gretzky type to be found. Since LA’s top scorer Anže Kopitar debuted with the club in 2006-07, his best offensive season was 86 adjusted points. Gretzky’s worst full-season mark as a King by far was 83 adjusted points9Adjusted points are, well, adjusted — meaning they remove the influence of scoring environment — so Gretzky doesn’t get an unfair advantage for playing in a more high-flying era. in 1994-95 — and he cracked the century mark in five of his six full seasons in Los Angeles. Today’s Kings rely less on a single superstar to carry the bulk of the offensive workload.Superior depth and puck possession don’t automatically equal a better hockey team, though they often do. The proof is in the results for the current Kings, who over the last three seasons are already twice as close to a quantifiable dynasty as the franchise was during Gretzky’s entire stay in Southern California.10200.0 dynasty points compared to 97.6. If advancing deep into the postseason is the standard for success, today’s Kings beat No. 99’s in a landslide.Gretzky himself has said that the present-day Kings are impressive. Of the Cup-winning 2012 team, the Great One said, “They’re a much better team than we were in ’93.”He’s right. Gretzky’s team was an exciting offensive squad, and one of the last successful relics of the high-octane playing style that had ruled the game in the 1980s. But today’s Los Angeles Kings are exemplars of the modern game. They know that if you always have the puck on your stick, you can’t lose.
Apparently it’s the season of athletes making statistically unsupported comparisons to their peers. Back in May, Patrick Peterson claimed superiority over Richard Sherman in the NFL (something that, according to the numbers — is dubious), and now Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry told Dan Patrick Tuesday that he thinks he’s a better offensive player than LeBron James:A better offensive player, me or LeBron? That’s the first time I’ve ever been asked that question … Me. He obviously demands a lot of attention on the floor, but I like to say I can distribute, get my teammates involved and be a playmaker as well.With all due respect to Curry, a true offensive force in his own right, this is another case where the majority of statistical evidence doesn’t do the challenger any favors.According to the advanced box-score metrics, James spent the 2013-14 season outclassing Curry in usage rate, scoring efficiency, offensive rebounding, avoiding turnovers and drawing fouls. The only offensive areas in which Curry beat James were jump-shooting — Curry made 42 percent of his 3-point shots and 49 percent of his midrange jumpers; James knocked down those shots at rates of 38 and 39 percent, respectively — and passing (whether measured by assist percentage or SportVU’s optically tracked passing metrics).But James is no slouch in terms of distributing the ball, either; he ranked 19th among qualified NBA players in assist percentage a year ago. Distance shooting is really the only offensive category in which Curry claims a substantial edge over James — and it’s an advantage mitigated by the fact that James’s shot distribution skews so heavily toward easier shots at the rim. So Curry is a better long-range shooter than James, but James doesn’t take that many long-range shots.Zooming out, James’s personal offensive rating was higher than Curry’s even though James used a higher proportion of his team’s possessions (so subscribers to skill curve theory would have a hard time siding with Curry in this debate).Case closed? Not yet. There have been instances when such box-score-based metrics fail to tell the whole story, and players with gaudy combinations of usage and efficiency don’t always have the impact we’d predict from their individual stats. These are the kinds of incongruities that ESPN’s Real Plus Minus (RPM) is supposed to detect. RPM estimates a player’s effect on his team’s efficiency after accounting for the quality of his teammates, opponents and a host of other variables.By RPM, James was easily the offensive player who had the most impact in the NBA last season. Curry was second, slightly outpacing reigning MVP Kevin Durant.The comparison gets a little more interesting, though, when you look at these adjusted Four Factors ratings, which apply the same technique — estimating a player’s on-court impact via regression — to the four essential barometers of a team’s offensive performance: effective field goal percentage (which adjusts ordinary shooting percentage for the fact that 3-pointers are worth 1.5 times as much as 2s), turnover percentage, offensive rebounding rate and free-throw rate.In two of the four factors, James and Curry exert similar degrees of influence: Both boost team shooting percentages and reduce team turnover rates at levels greater than 95 percent of all NBA players. And despite his inferior individual offensive rebounding numbers, Curry is also associated with a much better rate of team effectiveness on the offensive glass than James is. This is probably due in part to the increased likelihood that 3-pointers result in “long rebounds” which can be rebounded more readily by the offense (of course, Miami’s incredibly low offensive rebounding percentage — at least some of which was part of a conscious strategy — bears mentioning).Through this lens, the biggest disparity between the two players is in free-throw rate: James was in the 99th percentile in that category, while Curry ranked in the 54th percentile. But free-throw rate is the least important of the Four Factors. Crafting an overall average based on the suggested weights for each category, Curry would actually place slightly ahead of James on offense (even if the overall adjusted plus/minus ratings generated by the same data set have James at No. 1).That would be an anomalous ranking, however, as the vast majority of advanced statistics side with James in this debate. The more interesting tidbit from such analysis might just be that Curry is within striking distance in most of the numbers, and that, statistically, there’s a good case to be made that Curry is superior on offense to Durant. James’s statistics are too overwhelming to be surpassed, but Curry is as close as anyone in the game.
Costa RicaCONCACAF0.09-0.300.02 HondurasCONCACAF-0.61-0.61 SpainUEFA2.012.102.01 There aren’t too many surprises at the top; out of the five biggest European leagues, four are in the top five, with La Liga in Spain and the Bundesliga in Germany pretty far ahead of the pack. The Premier League in England, despite being the most valuable league in the world, has struggled to compete in the Champions League recently, and their match-based rating lags far behind their market value rating. Another league whose recent performance according to our ratings has lagged behind their market value is Major League Soccer in the U.S., whose last CONCACAF Champions League title was in 2000. MLS shows up in 28th place, between the Danish and Croatian leagues and a long way behind their regional rivals Liga MX in Mexico.To generate these league strength ratings, we’ve set up a system where we first assume that all leagues are of equal strength and determine how far above or below expectation each league has performed over the past five years. In order, we:Run through all domestic matches in history and calculate domestic team SPI ratings throughout time.Look at each inter-league match from the past five years and calculate the expected score of the match based purely on each team’s domestic rating at the time.Take the difference between our expected score of the match and the actual score and run these results through Massey’s Method to find a rating for each league, expressed in how many goals better or worse than average that league is.Regress these calculated ratings toward market-value based ratings, weighted by how many inter-league matches we have for each league.Run through all matches in history again, incorporating league strengths into the predictions for any inter-league matches to improve the final team ratings.Our league strengths can be interpreted as a bonus (in goals) given to each team in an inter-league match. So, for example, if Real Madrid (league strength of 2.01) were playing PSG (league strength of 1.48) and Real Madrid were a 0.2 goal favorite based only on their domestic SPI ratings, our model would give Real Madrid an extra 0.53 goal bonus because of the difference in the two teams’ league strengths.A nice feature of these league strength ratings is that they let us generate global SPI ratings for any club team in the world. These global SPI ratings are a combination of each team’s domestic SPI rating and the strength of the league they play in. To generate them, we set up a mock match on neutral ground against a team with a domestic offensive and defensive SPI rating of 1.35 that plays in a league with strength of 1.25. (These values are just arbitrary ratings that we use for a baseline team against which we can compare any other team.) We calculate the number of goals we expect each team to score in the match as well as the chances of each team winning. So each team’s global SPI ratings can be interpreted as follows:Offensive SPI: the number of goals the team is expected to score in such a matchDefensive SPI: the number of goals the team is expected to concede in such a matchOverall SPI: the percentage of points the team is expected to take in such a matchWe’ll be adding a list of all SPI-rated teams to our club soccer predictions soon. For now, you can find forecasts from 24 leagues. They’re available in three languages (English, Spanish and Portuguese) and will be updated after every match. Czech RepublicUEFA0.710.440.69 PortugalUEFA22.214.171.124 COUNTRY▲▼CONFEDERATION▲▼INTER-LEAGUE MATCHES▲▼MARKET VALUES▲▼OVERALL STRENGTH▲▼ HungaryUEFA-0.360.11-0.29 GermanyUEFA1.891.881.89 GreeceUEFA0.810.620.80 ItalyUEFA1.481.891.50 SwedenUEFA0.730.290.70 Not all leagues have market values on Transfermarkt.Sources: ESPN, Transfermarkt MaltaUEFA-1.65-0.63-1.44 COUNTRY▲▼CONFEDERATION▲▼INTER-LEAGUE MATCHES▲▼MARKET VALUES▲▼OVERALL STRENGTH▲▼ GuatemalaCONCACAF-0.64-0.64 IsraelUEFA0.220.230.22 NetherlandsUEFA0.711.050.73 IcelandUEFA-0.31-0.69-0.36 UruguayCONMEBOL0.600.150.58 BulgariaUEFA-0.150.27-0.10 BelgiumUEFA0.971.000.97 AustriaUEFA0.860.590.84 DenmarkUEFA0.590.380.57 MacedoniaUEFA-0.74-0.88-0.76 BoliviaCONMEBOL0.530.53 LuxembourgUEFA-1.41-0.84-1.29 WalesUEFA-1.60-0.88-1.46 PeruCONMEBOL-0.06-0.03-0.06 BrazilCONMEBOL1.481.641.49 ArgentinaCONMEBOL1.480.711.45 Faroe IslandsUEFA-1.70-0.88-1.54 STRENGTH BASED ON … CroatiaUEFA0.550.490.55 Relative strength of club soccer leagues from Europe, North America and South America, by countryBased on matches played in the past five years and the current market value of each league FranceUEFA1.511.011.49 ParaguayCONMEBOL0.900.90 ChileCONMEBOL0.740.180.71 KazakhstanUEFA0.400.270.39 EstoniaUEFA-1.67-0.52-1.47 ScotlandUEFA0.140.440.17 ArmeniaUEFA-1.05-0.42-0.92 RussiaUEFA1.491.271.48 AlbaniaUEFA-0.77-0.30-0.70 CyprusUEFA0.04-0.300.02 USACONCACAF0.540.660.56 AzerbaijanUEFA0.01-0.040.01 SwitzerlandUEFA1.070.751.06 Northern IrelandUEFA-1.63-0.88-1.48 BelarusUEFA0.150.020.14 TurkeyUEFA126.96.36.199 GeorgiaUEFA-0.79-0.30-0.71 MexicoCONCACAF1.120.931.09 ColombiaCONMEBOL1.020.460.99 All our significant changes are in how we assess the relative strength of domestic leagues. The goal was to improve our forecasts for the Champions League and Europa League and to better compare clubs in different countries — say, Juventus in Italy to Ajax in the Netherlands. We’re using recent matches played between teams from different leagues, supplemented with league market values (from Transfermarkt), to assign a strength rating to every league that we’re forecasting. Our new league ratings also give us the ability to a calculate a global Soccer Power Index (SPI) rating for each team — a number from 0 to 100 that represents the overall strength of each team.We’ll get into more detail about that methodology below, but to start, here are our league strengths for most of the top-tier domestic leagues in Europe, North America and South America: FinlandUEFA-0.45-0.38-0.44 This methodology article is for an old version of our club soccer forecasts. See how our latest club soccer predictions work.We’ve launched a big expansion of our soccer predictions here at FiveThirtyEight. We’re now forecasting 24 club soccer leagues, with two more — Champions League and Europa League — to come in a few weeks. We’ve added leagues from South America (Brasileirão and the Argentine Superliga), along with 14 new European leagues, including five second-tier leagues, such as the English Championship.For the most part, the methodology behind our forecasts is the same as last year’s. We’re still using four metrics from each match — goals scored, adjusted goals, shot-based expected goals and non-shot expected goals — to evaluate team performances. Those evaluations are expressed as offensive and defensive ratings for each team. And those ratings, in turn, let us calculate win/loss/draw probabilities for future matches and simulate the season thousands of times to estimate each team’s chances of winning the title. RomaniaUEFA0.750.240.71 SerbiaUEFA-0.110.12-0.09 EnglandUEFA1.582.281.60 El SalvadorCONCACAF-0.46-0.46 PanamaCONCACAF0.070.07 UkraineUEFA1.100.881.09 MontenegroUEFA-0.99-0.43-0.87 AndorraUEFA-2.79-0.88-2.25 VenezuelaCONMEBOL-0.09-0.11-0.09 LatviaUEFA-1.46-0.35-1.27 STRENGTH BASED ON … IrelandUEFA-0.28-1.07-0.40 BosniaUEFA-0.61-0.03-0.51 EcuadorCONMEBOL0.770.460.75 LithuaniaUEFA-2.08-0.43-1.69 SlovakiaUEFA0.19-0.160.15 PolandUEFA0.630.210.60 MoldovaUEFA-0.63-0.88-0.67 SloveniaUEFA-0.160.01-0.14 NorwayUEFA0.500.190.48
The 2015-16 Ohio State men’s basketball season didn’t go as planned: that much is known. With only one junior on the roster and no seniors, leadership, experience and chemistry was a question.Perhaps going into the 2016-17 season, maturity and learning from last season’s second-round exit from the NIT could be OSU’s greatest asset.On Thursday afternoon, the Buckeyes held their annual media day inside the practice facility at the Jerome Schottenstein Center. OSU returns its six leading scorers from a season ago, looking to start a new trend of consecutive NCAA tournament berths — a streak that was snapped last season after seven straight appearances into “The Dance” from 2009-2015.The only returning member not available to the media was redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson. Coach Thad Matta and the rest of the returning Buckeyes fielded questions on the offseason and the upcoming 2016-17 campaign.Matta still hard on Buckeyes after last seasonSince taking over the OSU program in 2004, coach Matta has come to expect, and deserve, to be a top contender in the conference every year. Last season’s team simply didn’t come close to the requirements. Failing to make the NCAA tournament for just the second time in his 12 seasons in Columbus, Matta isn’t letting his players soon forget about it.“The biggest message (in the offseason) was we are going to fight for our culture every single day,” Matta said. “From the littlest of things, there’s going to be a demand of … we aren’t going to take anything for granted. We feel like we know what it takes to win here. I think we have the type of guys who are willing to do that.”Redshirt junior guard Kam Williams said when he misses a shot in practice, Matta shouts, “That’s how you end up in the NIT!” Albeit harsh, Matta said his sarcasm isn’t always understood by his players, but he said that has to be the mindset.When Matta took over the Buckeyes program, OSU was a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team who often received a whomping by conferences powerhouses Indiana and Michigan State. Matta has been to two Final Fours, one national championship game, won five regular-season Big Ten titles, won four Big Ten Tournament titles and has won more games on the OSU sideline than any coach in school history.For all of that to return, he brought back former coaches Chris Jent and Alan Major to the staff, and Matta said he and the coaching staff have changed the structure of practice. Sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle said the players are being held accountable for their actions on the court and, most especially, off the court and in the classroom.“I don’t think we’ll be like we were last year just because we don’t want that feeling again,” Lyle said. “We remember that feeling after the Michigan State game (in the Big Ten tournament) when we knew we weren’t going to the (NCAA) tournament and then playing in the NIT. Nobody wants that feeling again.”Jae’Sean Tate ready to goThe junior forward underwent season-ending shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in February. Tate also had a minor surgery in the offseason on his right ankle to remove a loose body that was bothering him for much of the season. Now just six weeks before the team leaves for Annapolis, Maryland, for its first game of the season against Navy, Tate says he’s fully recovered.“If we played today, I could play,” he said.Before Tate went down with injury, he was the undeniable leader on and off the court for a team that was hanging by a thread for an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament. Tate averaged 11.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in 2015-16. He said that not being able to finish the season last year is a chip on his shoulder he’s taking into this season.“I feel like we’re hungrier this year,” Tate said. “Going into it — especially me and (senior forward) Marc (Loving), he’s going into his fourth (year), I’m going into my third (year), I wasn’t able to finish the year last year and we still haven’t won. I’ve won at every level and I feel like to let Marc leave here without any awards, it just isn’t right.”Chris Jent making a differenceWhen assistant coach Jent left OSU after the 2012-2013 season, the Buckeyes just missed out on a Final Four appearance. Now Jent is back next to coach Matta on the sidelines and has been infectious thus far.“With coach Jent coming back, there’s a lot of basketball wisdom from higher levels of playing that guys want to reach here,” senior forward Marc Loving said. “He’s a high energy guy. He’s very passionate about the game. I felt like that just oozes out of him and translates to us, where guys want to get to the gym and are looking for times to get in and get a couple reps before class and after class. Just having him around is definitely a plus.”It’s no secret that Matta wants to get back to his winning ways at OSU. Recently he’s been criticized for letting in-state high-school talent leave the state for other top-notch programs, while OSU continues to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big Ten for the past three years. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop said that Jent only knows OSU as a contender from his time as a player, from 1988 to 1992, and as a coach, so it’s natural for Jent to set high standards for this team.“That’s what he expects of Ohio State,” Bates-Diop said. “No matter who’s the coach, no matter who’s playing.”JaQuan Lyle, year twoJust like OSU’s season, the same can be said about sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle — there were some great moments, and some not so great moments. This season, however, Lyle is noticeably slimmer checking in at 210 pounds, looking to impose his will on the Big Ten and all of college basketball in 2016-17.“Me personally, I think I’m at a good place right now. (I have) pretty much doubled my basketball smarts from last year just off of having that one year under my belt,” Lyle said. “I think the biggest thing for me when the season starts is consistency. Being able to come out every night and compete. When my shot isn’t falling, still being able to do something.”Lyle occasionally showed the immaturity as a freshman, often times in big games. But in other instances, he would explode for a triple-double against Rutgers, 27 points on the road at Wisconsin and 29 points and eight rebounds at Indiana, among others. Consistency is undoubtedly a key for Lyle in his sophomore campaign, but he is attempting to channel the dominating player he knows he can be, which, in turn, might lead to a greater total in the win column.“I want to play more minutes than I did last year,” Lyle said. “I want to compete at a higher level than I did last year for a longer period of time. That really drove me to start getting my body right.”
Any Buckeye will tell you there’s not much that tops the feeling of defeating “that team up north.” The Ohio State wrestling team is no exception. “It’s Ohio State — Michigan. We don’t like each other,” senior captain Colt Sponseller said. “That’s evident when we wrestle each other.” The misconception that the rivalry is limited to football is something the team looks to dispel. “A lot of people think it’s just football, but it’s all sports,” Sponseller said. “It’s a real big deal.” The Buckeyes have beaten Michigan the past three years, and look to extend that to four when they host the Wolverines at 7 p.m. Friday. “We’ve won the last three; we want to continue to win against Michigan,” coach Tom Ryan said. “Our group understands the importance of the rivalry.” The competition brings a different approach to the week preceding it. Ryan said he showed his team a video of the football rivalry, and the wrestlers know it is not just an ordinary dual. “The whole Ohio State atmosphere with Michigan — we want to beat them; they want to beat us,” sophomore captain Ian Paddock said. “So, that always adds to the competition.” Members of the winning team will receive gold singlets, like the gold pants trinkets given to victorious football players. Though their records are near opposites — Michigan is 7-2 and the Buckeyes are 2-6 — Ryan said he believes a win is within the Buckeyes’ sights. “We’re looking for a win,” he said. “Despite the struggles we have had, I think the matchups are favorable for us.” A Buckeye victory against the Wolverines rests on the outcome of one key matchup. “It’ll come down to the 197 pounds,” Ryan said. “It’ll be the key match of the night for both programs.” Sponseller said his team is ready for the dual and eager to take on its rival. “Everybody gets geared up,” he said. “It always feels like there’s a rivalry.” Ryan said his captains need to step up for the dual and lead the team to victory. Sponseller said he isn’t taking the challenge lightly. “Not trying to be an enforcer,” he said, “but trying to be a motivator.” The fans will play a key role in Friday’s dual, Sponseller said. “The crowd means a lot,” he said. “It feels like you have an 11th man out there.” Sponseller said he has one plan. “I just plan on going out there,” he said, “and beating Michigan.”
The Ohio State rowing team secured the its third Big Ten Championship on Sunday in Indianapolis, earning the seniors their first championship rings. “It was our goal from the first practice this year,” senior MacKenzie Pecor said. The team previously won Big Ten Championships in 2002 and 2006, and Pecor said she’s excited about the opportunity to graduate with a championship. “It is honestly so awesome. Last year was the first class from OSU that graduated without ever winning a championship ring, and we did not want to be the second class to do the same thing,” Pecor said. “You row for four years; you want to win at least once.” Senior Jill Mohr agreed. “It was really a dream come true,” Mohr said. “It’s something that we’ve been looking forward to and something we’ve been working toward since I was a freshman.” Coach Andy Teitelbaum said he was proud to watch his players earn a championship for the school. “It’s just gratifying to see the kids hard work pay off with a championship,” Teitelbaum said. “It was really nice to see a group that lived their talk so well to be rewarded.” The team competed against all six other Big Ten schools that field a rowing team: Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Big Ten title assures it a spot in the national championships scheduled for May 27–29 in Gold River, Calif. Pecor said she expects a change in training to prepare for the national championship but that she does not know how it will differ. “It’s probably going to be a little bit of different training, but we haven’t really discussed it,” she said. “We’re kind of still on a high from the Big Ten.” Teitelbaum, who has coached the Buckeyes since the program’s inception in 1995, said it’s important to continue to progress and stay in shape leading up to the national championships. This year will be the team’s 12th consecutive national championship appearance. Mohr said the team will have to put in a lot of work to succeed. “Our chances as a team are looking really strong going into the national championships,” Mohr said. “We have a lot to prove on the national level and that’s what we’ve been working toward.”
Ohio State freshman quarterback Braxton Miller was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week Monday for his performance that helped the Buckeyes defeat Wisconsin 33-29 on Saturday. Miller accounted for three total touchdowns in the game as he completed 7-of-12 passes for 89 yards and added 99 more on the ground. A 44-yard touchdown scamper by Miller gave the Buckeyes a 12-point lead with just 4:39 remaining, but the Badgers stormed back with two quick touchdown drives to take the lead, 29-26. The Buckeyes got the ball back with just 1:18 left on the clock, but that was more than enough time for Miller and the Buckeyes. On first down, Miller escaped the pocket, scrambled to his right and heaved a 40-yard pass to fellow freshman Devin Smith in the end zone to give the Buckeyes a 33-29 lead that the Buckeyes would never relinquish. The win brought the OSU’s record to 5-3 on the season with a 2-2 mark in Big Ten play, but also put the Buckeyes right back in contention for the conference championship. OSU will remain at home this week to take on Indiana. Kickoff is set for noon on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
Redshirt-junior goalkeeper Alex Ivanov prepares to take a free kick during a match against Wright State Sept. 17 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. The teams tied, 0-0.Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editorAfter starting seven games for the Ohio State men’s soccer team last season, a confident redshirt-junior Alex Ivanov is having a solid season as goalkeeper for the Buckeyes — but it could just be because of his good luck charm.As a child, playing in goal wasn’t always his preferred position, but his instincts led him to the position he would grow to love.“When I was in the seventh grade, they threw me in the goal because I was the only kid who wanted to dive for the ball and they kind of just kept me in there,” Ivanov said.Last season, Ivanov had the chance to play with current Columbus Crew and former Buckeye goalkeeper Matt Lampson. Lampson posted a 0.86 goals-against average during his career at OSU and produced the second most shutouts in OSU men’s soccer history.Buckeye assistant coach Taly Goode works primarily with goalkeepers and said Ivanov learned how to build good habits from Lampson, which has helped his progression this year.Goode also said more playing time this year has led to an improvement for Ivanov.“Last year, one of the big things that (Ivanov) needed was games,” Goode said. “I think with goalkeepers, that game experience, it helped him mature and helped him build confidence in himself and then the teammates build confidence in him.”Ivanov is also building a stronger relationship with his teammates, Goode said. The players voted Ivanov as the most improved in the fall.Senior defender Sage Gardner said knowing Ivanov is behind him is a “breath of fresh air” and said the goalkeeper’s leadership and confidence has helped the team.“It’s nice to know that you have someone back there who is always going to cover you,” Gardner said. “The leadership and organization back there from him has been good for the team.”Currently, Ivanov is leading the Big Ten Conference in total saves with 55, 19 more than second place Michigan redshirt-junior goalkeeper Adam Grinwis. He also has three shutouts for the team this year.Daily improvements from practice are a focus for the Buckeye goalkeeper.“I’m always looking for stuff that I do in games that I need to improve on and I try and get something out of practice every day,” he said. “I think that will spread to all of the defenders and we will all get better as a unit as the season progresses.”Ivanov attributes most of his success to the team’s defense but also to his grandfather’s necklace, which he wears every night before a game.“I have this little good-luck charm that I wear, it’s my grandpa’s necklace that I got,” he said. “It’s like this golden nugget and I have to wear it every night before I go to sleep before a game.”One of the biggest improvements in Ivanov’s game this year has been his confidence. Coach John Bluem said Ivanov believes in himself more than last year and that comes from support of those around him, but also that he has a greater belief in his own abilities.Bluem also said having a more than capable backup in junior Andrian McAdams has helped Ivanov this year.“Andrian trains really hard and really pushes himself in training and that makes (Ivanov) push himself as well,” he said. “(Ivanov) knows if he slips up and has a few bad games that we’re probably going to give McAdams a chance. That kind of pressure and that kind of somebody in training that works hard helps keep you ready.”Earlier this season, in a match against Wright State, Ivanov was shown a red card for an intentional handball outside of the box, forcing him to miss the following match versus Dayton and giving McAdams the start.Bluem said instead of getting down on himself, Ivanov helped the backup goalkeeper prepare for the game.“He handled it well. He was at training and working hard like always, but now his role on the team is a little different,” Bluem said, “but his role for himself never changes. He comes and he gives 100 percent of himself to the team and he encouraged Andrian and helped Andrian get prepared so we were able to handle the goalkeeping duties successfully.”This kind of effort and care for the team has led Bluem to look at Ivanov as a leader of the team.“He is a leader,” Bluem said. “This is his fourth year here now and the other day at Akron when they scored the early goal against us, he’s the guy who called the players in and calmed everybody down and got the guys moving forward again.”Ivanov and the Buckeyes have an overall record of 2-5-2, 0-1-0 in conference. The team is scheduled to host No. 18 Louisville Wednesday at 7 p.m., before rival Michigan comes to town Sunday.
Senior guard Aaron Craft (4) drives to the basket during a game against Morgan State Nov. 9 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 89-50.Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editorAaron Craft’s play is getting recognized on and off the court.Ohio State men’s basketball’s all-time leader in steals and assists has been named one of 23 finalists for the 2014 Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s best point guard.“The 23 athletes on this list represent the most committed, determined and skillful points guards in college basketball,” President and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, John L. Doleva said according to a press release. “We are honored to be recognizing their strengths and are excited to move forward in the selection process.”So far this season, Craft has started all 26 games and led OSU to a 20-6 overall record with five games remaining in the regular season. He also leads the team in assists (4.6), steals (2.5) and minutes (34.5) per game and is third on the team with an average 9.5 points per game.The senior point guard is also a two-time Academic All-American and the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Earlier this season, Craft and backcourt partner senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. became the fastest players to reach 100 wins in their OSU careers after the Buckeyes defeated North Florida, 99-64, Nov. 29.“The men on this list all have the athletic qualities of an exceptional true point guard in the game of college basketball, the same qualities that made Mr. Cousy an iconic player,” Chair of the Bob Cousy Award, Ken Kaufman said according to the release. “All of these young men are on this list because they deserve to be competing or this well-respected award.”If Craft wins the award, he would be the first Buckeye to win it and third Big Ten player to raise the trophy, with Illinois’ Dee Brown claiming the honor in 2006 and Michigan’s Trey Burke winning it in 2013.Craft looks to add to his résumé in OSU’s next game, scheduled for Wednesday against Northwestern. Game time is set for 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.
OSU hockey coach Steve Rohlik (back) talks to his team during a game against Michigan March 2 at Nationwide Arena. OSU lost, 4-3.Credit: Ben Jackson / For The LanternFor being such long endeavors, it’s odd that sports seasons are supposedly defined by their end results. It makes more sense to take a more holistic approach and look at the big picture — at the sum of all those little moments that go unnoticed.An event that was noticed was the 2014 Big Ten Hockey Tournament Championship in St. Paul, Minn. The first season of Big Ten hockey came down to one final game between Ohio State and Wisconsin, where the Buckeyes led 4-2 with less than seven minutes left March 22.The man behind OSU’s bench was Steve Rohlik. An associate head coach for three years with the Buckeyes, the 2013-14 season was Rohlik’s first in the top job. He had led his team through an 0-3 start and a goaltending reshuffle to bring the team within striking distance of its first NCAA Tournament appearance in five years.His seemingly calm demeanor didn’t reveal the tension of the encounter, nor his own personal details that made the situation more compelling — this was not only a game in his hometown, but it was also against his alma mater. The script almost writes itself.But, without warning, that script disappeared. The line between success and failure — one the Buckeyes had toed all season long in their 18-14-5 campaign — became clear. The Badgers scored twice in 28 seconds during the third period to tie the game, and less than eight minutes into the overtime period, Wisconsin was the Big Ten champion.“I couldn’t have asked much more from our guys. They laid it on the line,” Rohlik said last week. “Ultimately I think we were 6:52 short of doing something pretty darn special for this university, for the alumni here, and for this program.”That wasn’t the whole story, though. Instead, it was simply the end of the journey for a team and a coach that stressed the small things, and few could’ve imagined the Buckeyes would finish where they did after the upheaval of the previous spring.Before Rohlik stepped into his new role, Mark Osiecki was fired just over three weeks after the end of the 2012-13 season because of what athletic director Gene Smith called in a press release “a difference of opinion over the management of the program that could not be resolved.”It was Osiecki, Rohlik’s teammate at the University of Wisconsin, who brought him to Columbus as an associate head coach. Rohlik was named coach on an interim basis the day after Osiecki was let go, and then about a week later, was confirmed as the ninth head coach in program history.“I’m truly honored, humbled and very blessed,” Rohlik said at his introductory press conference April 24, 2013. “When I sat down with the administration, and they told me the support they had moving into the Big Ten, I knew this was the place I wanted to be.”Despite being an assistant coach for 16 years, Rohlik displayed leadership qualities at a young age. Captain at both Hill-Murray High School in St. Paul, Minn., and the University of Wisconsin, he had loads of experience in leading hockey players.“From a young age, I was a captain of every team I’ve ever been on. In high school, in every sport I was a captain, my buddies called me ‘the captain.’” Rohlik said. “It was just in my blood. I love to put my neck out there, I love to try to do things the right way, and I love to give it 110 percent and do whatever it takes to help the team win.”Just like leadership, hockey was also in Rohlik’s blood. Growing up in the “land of 10,000 lakes,” he said there was always a pond to skate on, and Rohlik described the sport as “a way of life.”The dream for most kids was to play in the Minnesota state championship game. Rohlik played in two.From there, he crossed the state line and attended the University of Wisconsin, captaining the Badgers in his junior and senior seasons, with his final campaign culminating in the 1990 NCAA Championship.“I might’ve been the guy with the ‘C’ on his sweater, but we had so many great leaders, and all the hard work kind of accumulated to our senior year,” Rohlik said. “To win the (Western Collegiate Hockey Association), to win the WCHA playoffs, and then to win the NCAA Tournament … you can’t write a book any better than that year.”Rohlik had a short stint as a professional before returning to his alma mater, Hill-Murray, as coach at the age of 23. Growing up, Rohlik’s father served the school in administrative position, so he said his dream was to play at Hill-Murray, making his appointment as coach even more meaningful.Five seasons in St. Paul were followed by Division I assistant coaching jobs at Nebraska-Omaha and Minnesota-Duluth. Then in 2010, Rohlik got the call from Osiecki, and in just three years he’d become the coach.“I think I’ve tried to take everything over my experiences as a player for so many years and as a coach for so many years. I just try to compile all those experiences,” Rohlik said. “Throughout all those years, you continue to ask yourself, ‘what would you do in that situation?’ I try to put myself in that spot, and ultimately when you get called upon (to be head coach), you try to surround yourself with good people.”One of those people is associate head coach Brett Larson, a man Rohlik got to know at Minnesota-Duluth, and who Rohlik brought to OSU upon his appointment last year. Larson said Rohlik’s passion coupled his with genuine nature makes him a natural fit for a coach.“The players can see how much he cares, how passionate he is. He wants to push everything to the next level,” Larson said. “It’s a great part of our culture, and you always say that the head coach leads the culture of a program. Being so passionate and so genuine are two things that make the players really want to play hard for him.”The switch in coaching might have been tricky, but junior forward Tanner Fritz — who played under Rohlik as an assistant for two years — said the familiarity was actually beneficial.“When he was the assistant coach, he was always the guy in the room after practice talking to the guys. He still does that — he’s a great player coach,” Fritz said. “He’s very involved in the team. I think he’s tight with every one of us. It’s good to have a coach that’s approachable and can talk to you outside of hockey.”Besides his management skills and personability, Rohlik wants to instill in his players that passion Larson and so many others see clearly in him. Judging by what players like Fritz have to say about it, he seems to have succeeded.“His passion for the game is — bar none — one of the best I’ve ever seen. The guy loves the game, he loves being at the rink,” Fritz said. “(The players) feed off that energy. We’re hard-working and we play with a lot of passion, and that comes from the coaching staff.”That might not have come through at first, however. Three consecutive losses to start the season, an injury to freshman goalie Matt Tomkins and another goalie, then-sophomore Collin Olson, leaving the program in November threatened to derail the entire season.But things changed with the addition of freshman goalie Christian Frey in net and the competitiveness of the Big Ten conference. Each game seemed to bring out the best in the Buckeyes as they finished fourth, behind three top-20 squads.Freshman forward Nick Schilkey, who was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team, said the coaching philosophy of Rohlik and his staff was a big factor in righting the ship.“He focuses on a lot of details. We focused all year on sticking together and sticking to the gameplan the coaches had set in place,” Schilkey said. “Over time, we grew into that gameplan and it showed during the second half of the year.”Those details came together in many instances, including the upset of then-No. 1 Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal. Even if the season could be considered a success though, Rohlik knows there’s more to come from this team and this program.“Were we satisfied at the end? Absolutely not. Were we satisfied with where we were at in the league? Absolutely not,” Rohlik said. “There’s certainly always room for improvement, and we know we’ve got a long way to go.”And though he’s building a program, Rohlik sees his job as much more than that.He cites the examples of junior forward Ryan Dzingel and senior forward Alex Lippincott as proof of what the sport’s biggest impact can be. Dzingel just signed a professional contract with the Ottawa Senators of the NHL, while Lippincott recently got his first job as graduation approaches.“You see the power of what Ohio State can (do), be it moving on with the hockey or moving on because of the academic side of things,” Rohlik said. “I think that makes it pretty special for us to be involved with.”Now, with one season under his belt, Rohlik is aiming to make things even more special around the OSU hockey program.If he continues to get some of those little details right, it’d be hard to overestimate how far he can take it.