Serena Williams is not the type to show mercy to weakened opponents and Saturday proved no exception as the American demolished Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska to reach the final of the WTA Championships.Williams roared through her round robin group, winning all three matches, and proved unstoppable again in a 6-2 6-1 victory that set up a final against Maria Sharapova.Sharapova beat Victoria Azarenka, who will finish the year as No.1 in the rankings, with similar ease 6-4 6-2.Williams has yet to drop a set in the showpiece tournament while Sharapova has only conceded one set.World number three Williams, the outstanding player on the tour during the second half of the year in which she won Wimbledon, the Olympics and the U.S. Open, rattled off 39 winners against the leg-weary Radwanska.Radwanska, who took three hours and 29 minutes to beat Sara Errani on Friday, just about stayed with Williams until 2-2 in the first set but her resistance quickly crumbled against the 15-times grand slam champion.“Those last two matches really killed me, especially that I didn’t have the day off,” Radwanska, who was beaten in a tight three-setter by Sharapova in the group, said.“I really needed that. And especially that surface. It’s very sticky, so three and a half hours is a lot. I’m really tired today and I really wanted to run, but my legs didn’t.”Sharapova went into her match with Azarenka having lost four of their five meetings this year, including losing to her in three finals, but looked much fresher on Saturday inside the Sinan Erdem arena.Azarenka, who had sealed the year-end number one ranking by advancing to the semi-finals, lacked her normal power and foot speed and was no match for Sharapova who broke the Belarussian’s serve twice in the first set with some vicious returns.Read the rest of this story on reuters.com
There’s a surprising new best team in baseball, and it doesn’t reside in Chicago, New York or L.A. Instead, it’s the Houston Astros, who are projected to finish with the majors’ top record according to both FanGraphs.com and FiveThirtyEight’s own Elo ratings. Those are lofty expectations, but if the Astros can meet them, they’ll complete a historic turnaround that few teams in major league history can match.It’s still early, but the Astros are putting up some dominant numbers this year. Their pitching staff has added an extra strikeout per nine innings compared with 2016 while also increasing their ground ball rate, and those two trends have helped drop Houston’s team-wide ERA by more than a half a run. Much of that improvement stems from the bullpen: Led by the surprising and versatile Chris Devenski, the ’Stros relief staff is on pace to produce several more wins above replacement than they did last year.And the Astros have improved even more at the plate. So far, Houston has racked up a weighted runs created plus of 118, 19 full points better than it managed last year. Rather than being too dependent on second baseman Jose Altuve, the Astros are now getting offensive contributions throughout the lineup, from shortstop Carlos Correa (144 wRC+) to catcher Brian McCann (114). Last year, only six Astros cleared a wRC+ of 100 (denoting an average performance); this year, 10 Houston players are above that bar.The one aspect of the game where Houston has gotten worse is on defense. As a unit, the Astros have slipped from above average in 2016 to 27th in baseball this year. Colby Rasmus was an unexpectedly solid defender last year, and the Astros lost him to the Rays in the offseason. But they replaced his poor bat (25 percent worse than league average) with that of Josh Reddick, whose offense has more than made up for any defensive woes.Combine it all, and you have a team that’s finally living up to its considerable potential. Last year, the Astros were the preseason favorites in the AL West, but they finished with a disappointing 84 wins. A combination of injuries, lackluster performances and bad luck conspired to keep a talented team from reaching the playoffs. This year, though, everything is clicking, and they’ve earned the best record in baseball.Houston also sports the highest Elo rating in the league (1574), having stolen the top spot from the Chicago Cubs earlier this month. And like the Cubs before them, the Astros are hoping to complete one of the most impressive comebacks in MLB history.In 2012, the 55-win Astros were one of the worst teams ever, so much so that General Manager Jeff Luhnow was criticized for bringing NBA-style tanking to MLB. Houston hit a low point on Aug. 31 of that season, slipping to an Elo of 1399. But since that nadir, they’ve added 175 points of Elo over a stretch of 737 games, an improvement a team only manages about once in every thousand chances in MLB history. That number is eerily similar to the one describing the rarity of what the Cubs achieved during their march to a championship last season. And the Astros will probably increase that margin of Elo improvement if they continue winning over the rest of the season, further adding to what is already a historic turnaround.They’re only about a third of the way into their schedule, but Houston is already almost a postseason lock. According to our MLB predictions, they have a better than 95 percent chance of making the playoffs and an 18 percent chance of winning the World Series. Following in the footsteps of the Cubs, the Astros have gone from league laughingstocks to a championship frontrunner in remarkably little time. The team that Sports Illustrated declared back in 2014 would become the 2017 World Champions looks primed to fulfill that prophecy.
3/11/15Faro, PortugalFriendlyFrance2-00.284.3-0.3 DATELOCATIONCOMPETITIONOPPONENTSCOREWEIGHTOFF. RATINGDEF. RATING 7/28/12Glasgow, ScotlandOlympicsColombia3-00.803.10.1 Check out FiveThirtyEight’s Women’s World Cup predictions.Women’s sports don’t have the same rich data that men’s sports do. So what do you do if you want to forecast the Women’s World Cup? You gather up everything you can get.We put together a database of about 8,000 international women’s soccer matches since 1971 — as many games as we could find. And we used these to develop a set of women’s national team ratings — we call them WSPI (Women’s Soccer Power Index) — and projections for the 2015 World Cup. The United States and Germany enter as front-runners, and you can read more about all the elite teams, the dark horses and the players to watch in our colleague Allison McCann’s World Cup preview. We’re here to take you through the methodology behind these projections.WSPI ratings are based on a simplified version of the Soccer Power Index (SPI), a system that Nate developed in conjunction with ESPN in 2009 to rate men’s soccer teams. Men’s SPI is based on two components: a team rating derived from scores of international matches and a player rating, which is primarily based on results from club play for the individual players on each national team’s roster. For WSPI, we use only the team ratings component because detailed data on club play is not readily available for women’s soccer.Otherwise, the major features of WSPI are similar to the team-rating component of SPI:Ratings account for the final score of each match, including whether the match went into extra time or a shootout, and the location of the game.Ratings also account for the importance of the match: A World Cup match counts far more than a friendly.A team’s rating varies continuously over time. For example, China had a considerably stronger WSPI in 1999, when it played the United States in the World Cup final, than they do now.WSPI ratings, like SPI ratings, are broken down into offensive and defensive components. The offensive rating can be interpreted as how many goals we would expect the team to score in an average competitive international match,1In the past, we’ve sometimes referred to SPI ratings as indicating how many goals a team would score and allow against an average international opponent. But that’s not quite accurate: The way SPI ratings are designed, they indicate a team’s performance in an average international match, controlling for strength of schedule and weighting by match importance. The same is true for WSPI. The distinction matters because stronger teams tend to play more matches than weaker ones, especially in women’s soccer. The average international match, in other words, is typically against a considerably above-average opponent. while the defensive rating is how many goals it would concede in such a match, controlling for strength of schedule. Higher offensive ratings are better. Lower defensive ratings are better.The offensive and defensive components are combined into an overall WSPI rating, which reflects the percentage of possible points we would expect the team to score in a hypothetical round-robin tournament against every other team in the world.Let’s look at a more detailed example of how a team’s WSPI rating is calculated. Here are some of the United States’ recent results, along with the ratings the team received for each match and the weight WSPI gives to the match: 10/15/14Kansas City, KansasWorld Cup qualifierTrinidad & Tobago1-00.960.30.4 10/24/14Chester, PennsylvaniaWorld Cup qualifierMexico3-00.963.10.1 7/25/12Glasgow, ScotlandOlympicsFrance4-20.808.11.3 You can see some of the key features of WSPI in these examples (a team’s overall offensive and defensive ratings are a weighted average of these game-by-game ratings). The USWNT’s March 11, 2015, match against France receives relatively little weight, even though it was played fairly recently, because it was a friendly. The 2012 Olympics still receive quite a lot of weight, however, given their importance.2Unlike in men’s soccer, women’s Olympic soccer teams don’t have any age restrictions. The Olympic tournament tends to be almost as competitive as the World Cup. (The maximum possible weight for a match, in case you’re wondering, is 1.68.)Meanwhile, you can see how much strength of schedule matters in WSPI. The USWNT gets a higher offensive rating for beating France 2-0 than for beating Mexico 3-0 because France has a tougher defense. It’s not uncommon for a team to win a match against a weak opponent but receive poor adjusted ratings because it didn’t win by as much as WSPI expected. Conversely, a team can receive a good offensive rating just by scoring on a very good team, even if it loses. The location of a match is also important: Home advantage in competitive matches has historically been worth about 0.35 goals and would make the home team about a 60-40 favorite in a matchup between two equally rated teams.Once we’ve generated WSPI ratings for every team in the world, we can estimate the probability that any team will beat any other team.3This part of the model is “trained” on all non-friendly matches between two teams in the WSPI top 50 — matches that roughly approximate World Cup competition. More specifically, we first calculate the expected number of goals that each team will score in a given match and then convert these into a matrix of possible outcomes using Poisson distributions. Thus, in any given match, we’ve estimated the probability that it will end in a 0-0 tie, a 1-0 victory, a 2-3 loss or any other possible scoreline. Knowing this distribution of possible scores is important because the tiebreaker to advance to the knockout stage of the World Cup takes goals scored and allowed into account.With these individual match probabilities in hand, we can calculate the chance that each team in the tournament will advance to the knockout round or eventually win the tournament. To do so, we simulate the tournament 20,000 times: If the U.S. has a 28 percent chance of winning the tournament, this means that it won in approximately 5,600 out of 20,000 simulations. As simulations are played out, each team’s WSPI is updated to reflect its results in that simulation. Loosely speaking, this accounts for the possibility that a team will “get hot” during the tournament and considerably outperform its pre-World Cup WSPI.4For a more technical discussion, see here.Matches in the knockout round continue into extra time if they are tied at the end of regulation and a shootout if tied after that, so we’ve spent some time making sure our simulations handle these cases accurately. Extra time is treated as a shortened match in which teams score at a slower rate than during regulation.5Historically, teams have scored at a rate about 25 percent lower during extra time. Shootout win probabilities are also derived from WSPI instead of being treated as random. There is evidence that shootouts are skill-based — the team with the better WSPI rating has won 58 percent of shootouts in our database — but good teams don’t tend to be as dominant in shootouts as they are in regular time. For example, the USWNT would be more than a 90 percent favorite to beat Thailand in a regular game, but only a 71 percent favorite to win in a shootout. For this reason, it’s usually in the interest of the weaker team to play for a shootout even though it’d be an underdog if one occurred.Have any more questions? See Nate’s 2009 article and FAQ for more of the technical details and philosophy behind SPI, most of which also apply to WSPI. Or drop us a note here. We hope you’ll enjoy following the women’s tournament with us.
Milwaukee BrewersWin43.7 TEAMCONDITIONSPROBABILITY Arizona DiamondbacksWin46.8 Colorado RockiesWin48.6 Chicago White Sox5 runs28.3 Philadelphia PhilliesWin44.5 Odds of getting that pizza discount by team Miami Marlins5 runs24.4 New York Yankees6 runs14.4 Source: FanGraphs LA DodgersWin and 5 runs36.7 Minnesota TwinsWin42.9 Washington NationalsWin and 7 runs13.8 Pittsburgh PiratesWin52.0 Cleveland Indians5 runs28.2 St Louis CardinalsWin52.9% Texas Rangers7 runs9.2 Tampa Bay Rays6 runs12.1 Step aside, ads for daily fantasy and erectile dysfunction: The 2016 baseball season has added another marketing campaign to the pantheon of pervasive (and widely loathed) sports promotions.Major League Baseball has rebranded grand slams1Or in press-release parlance, made “Grand Slams even better.” as “Papa Slams” across all of its properties,2Including MLB Network, MLB.TV and MLB.com. issuing ad infinitum the accompanying promise that every grand slam will yield a 40 percent Papa John’s pizza discount the next day. And thanks to an increased leaguewide home run rate, 28 grand slams have been hit through about 25 percent of the schedule, putting us on pace for 114 grand slams this season3Not counting the kind only the Reds bullpen allows. — the most since 2010.4That’s even ignoring the fact that the ball flies farther when the weather warms up. To watch baseball in 2016 is to live in a constant state of Papa Slam saturation. (To paraphrase another baseball-themed ad you’ve probably watched too many times: well played, Papa John’s.)Baseball is so in bed with Big Pizza that the promotions don’t even stop at a national Papa John’s partnership. They also apply at the local level, thanks to the company’s status as the “official pizza” of 22 big league clubs. Although Papa John’s is far from the first company to sponsor sports promotions of this sort,5And baseball isn’t the first sport Papa John’s has sponsored. an MLB PR official confirmed to us that theirs is the only existing arrangement on the local level that extends to the majority of teams. Basically, it’s Papa John’s discounts all the way down — much to the chagrin of pizza snobs, internet commenters and the petitioning public at large.But there’s an interesting statistical question lurking within the waves of pizza plugs: Which local market is most likely to get a cheap pie?Although every local deal involves some variation on the theme of a 50 percent discount on online orders, the discount conditions in each market are different, ranging from simple offers that activate when the local team wins to more complicated triggers based on the number of runs the team scores, or even the day of the week. According to Papa John’s Senior Director of Public Relations Peter Collins, “local promotion is determined by the local markets and depends on the market dynamics and tolerance to discounting.” In addition, he told us that “team performance is also taken into account.” As Collins pointed out, the Rangers (who scored the third-most runs in the majors last year and play in a hitter’s park) have a seven-run trigger, while the Marlins (who scored the second-fewest runs in the majors last year in a neutral park) have a five-run trigger.Using the specific offers for each market and FanGraphs’ projected rest-of-season standings, we calculated the odds that a pizza discount would be triggered on any given game day.6The gory details: For wins-based discounts, we used FanGraphs’ projected rest-of-season win probabilities, as of May 16. For runs-based discounts, we assumed that the number of team runs per game follows a Poisson distribution, with a mean equal to FanGraphs’ projected rest-of-season runs per game. (Poisson isn’t the best distribution for runs scored, but it was the only distribution we could fit with only projected runs scored figures on hand.) For discounts with multiple criteria, we calculated the probability that a team would score the specified number of runs, then multiplied that by the winning percentage of teams scoring that many runs (or more) in a game during the 2015 season. And we discovered a huge spread in results: Certain markets have discount probabilities in the single digits, while others have better-than-even odds. Seattle Mariners4 runs44.7 Baltimore OriolesWin and 5 runs43.6 Houston AstrosWin on Tuesday8.0 Atlanta Braves6 runs7.7 Kansas City RoyalsWin and 5 runs33.5 San Diego Padres5 runs18.3 As if Cardinals fans haven’t had enough perks, the St. Louis promotion — which takes effect when the home team merely wins — is the deal most likely to pay off, with a 53 percent likelihood. (Wisely, perhaps, Papa John’s has no Cubs-based discount.) In other markets with winning teams, though, Papa John’s sometimes adds difficulty by tacking on victory conditions. In order to secure the D.C. discount, for instance, the Nationals need not only to win but also to score at least seven runs, a 14 percent proposition.Some cities’ chances are even more remote. In a just world, Braves fans would be able to ease the pain of watching their team rebuild by buying affordable food. But to add the insult of full-price pizza to the injury of bad baseball, the Braves are the team least likely to trigger the local discount, with odds under 8 percent. To feed Atlantans, baseball’s worst offense has to score six or more runs, a feat it’s achieved in only six of its 39 games. That makes their chances slightly lower than those of the Astros, who have to win on Tuesdays.7To calculate the Astros’ discount, we multiplied the probability that Houston would win a game by the fraction of their games that take place on Tuesdays (16 percent of their schedule).Surprisingly, Papa John’s doesn’t seem to have gamed the discounts much, if at all, and that means there are major inefficiencies in the pizza-promotion marketplace. (Paging Michael Lewis.) Although there’s nothing preventing the company from adjusting on the fly, as of now Papa John’s hasn’t limited its win-based discounts to teams that are more likely to lose, nor has it tailored the runs per game-based discounts to team quality in any statistically significant way. When we randomly scrambled the discount conditions between teams, we found almost no difference in the probability of getting discounted pizza compared to how the discounts are actually assigned.So with great power to exploit local pizza promotions comes … slightly cheaper pizza, potentially. Armed with a spreadsheet, a list of discount codes, and an unquenchable appetite for Papa John’s, a sabermetric pizza handicapper could save some serious meal money in the right market.Much as we might want to, there’s no writing this redshirt out of this season’s script. So the only question left is whether we’re willing to move to St. Louis in search of a discounted slice.Check out our latest MLB predictions.
The Big Ten may be slipping in national prominence for football, but men’s basketball is on the rise.The dominance of the Big Ten in men’s basketball began in the 2005 NCAA tournament. Big Ten teams occupied five spots in the NCAA tournament, three of which made it to the Elite Eight: Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Of those squads, Michigan State and Illinois reached the Final Four, and Illinois made it to the National Championship game.Since 2005, the Big Ten has had at least four teams in the NCAA tournament every year and has made three appearances in the National Championship, including Ohio State’s appearance in 2007 and Michigan State’s in 2009. Seven teams from the Big Ten made the 2009 NCAA tournament; only the Big East earned as many spots.The results for the Big Ten were respectable with only Minnesota, Ohio State and Illinois losing in the first round. Michigan and Wisconsin lost in the second round, Purdue lost in the Sweet 16 and Michigan State lost to North Carolina in the National Championship game.The Big Ten has been well represented in the NIT as well, winning three of the last six, including OSU’s win in 2008 and Penn State’s victory in 2009.To begin this season, five teams from the Big Ten are ranked; only the Big East has more teams in the Top 25 with six. No. 2 Michigan StateThe Spartans are the highest ranked team from the Big Ten, but have also lost the most in the offseason.The biggest loss came with the departure of senior center Goran Suton. Suton averaged 10.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game and was an offensive catalyst in last year’s National Championship run.The Spartans also lost senior starting guard Travis Walton, who averaged 5.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Walton was a reliable point guard, averaging only 1.4 turnovers a game.The problem for the Spartans this year might not be who they lost to graduation as much as who they could lose to injury. Senior forward Raymar Morgan and junior guard Chris Allen have already missed parts of the preseason due to injury.Sophomore forward Delvon Roe and junior guard Durrell Summers were unable to finish the Spartans’ preseason game last Sunday with injuries. However, MSU has one of the deepest benches in the country and should be fine once the regular season starts, as all of the current injuries are not major.MSU has its first real test of the season Dec. 1 as it travels to Chapel Hill, N.C., to take on the defending National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels, currently ranked No. 6 in the nation.No. 7 PurdueOther than MSU, the Purdue Boilermakers were the only team from the Big Ten to make it to the Sweet 16 in last season’s NCAA tournament.Purdue suffered no major losses to its roster last offseason and is hoping to make a deep run into the NCAA tournament. Pollsters agree that they have the potential for that deep run and ranked Purdue No. 7 nationally in the preseason.Purdue has already had a taste of the injury bug as freshman center Sandi Marcius fractured his right foot and will miss four to six weeks. Marcius was expected to receive a lot of minutes as a backup to junior forwards Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnson.Hummel had a lingering back injury last year and is expected to lead the Boilermakers to a very productive season. After being named to the preseason All-Conference team last year, Hummel managed to average 12.5 points and seven rebounds per game, despite his injuries.Purdue’s first test comes Jan. 1 against No. 8 West Virginia.No. 15 MichiganMichigan seems to have finally re-emerged as a powerhouse team in the conference after being disciplined by the NCAA in 2003. The NCAA took away one scholarship per year and banned Michigan from postseason appearances from 2004-2008.Michigan’s first NCAA tournament appearance in 11 years ended in the second round against Oklahoma.The Wolverines did not lose any key players in the offseason. They return senior forward DeShawn Sims and junior guard Manny Harris, a preseason pick for the Naismith Award, given to the best collegiate basketball player in the country. Together, they combined for 32.3 points and 13.6 rebounds per game last season.Michigan welcomes seven freshmen to the team this year, a large amount for any program in one year. Michigan plays No. 1 Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., on Dec. 19. No. 16 Ohio StateAfter a disappointing loss against Siena in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament, Ohio State looks to get back to the NCAA tournament and have a better showing.The only player not on Ohio State’s roster from last season is center B.J. Mullens. Mullens entered the NBA draft and took his 8.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game with him. Mullens was not thought to be a major loss until senior center Dallas Lauderdale broke a bone in his right hand. Lauderdale is expected to return in another two to three weeks.Lauderdale will be replaced by fifth-year senior center Kyle Madsen and sophomore Zisis Sarikopoulos. Madsen only averaged 7.7 minutes per game last year.The heart of the OSU squad lies in the hands of guard Evan Turner and forward David Lighty. Lighty returns this year after playing only seven games last season due to a broken bone in his left foot.Turner led the team in points with 17.3 per game, rebounds with 7.1 per game and assists with four per game.Ohio State will be tested early in the season with a matchup against defending champion North Carolina, currently ranked No. 6 in the nation.No. 23 IllinoisIllinois lost four players in the offseason who accounted for 83.1 minutes played per game, including two starters.Three key players not returning are guards Chester Frazier, Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock. Together, the three averaged a combined 21.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, 8.9 assists and three steals per game.These losses may seem hard to overcome, but Illinois does return three of its four leading scorers and two of its three leading rebounders.Also, Illinois welcomes five freshmen to its squad, including three highly touted guards to help replace its backcourt. The Illini are a wild-card team who depend on the play of freshmen to dictate the success of their season.The only ranked out-of-conference opponent Illinois plays is at No. 24 Clemson on Dec. 2 during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.No. 25 MinnesotaMinnesota lost no major players from a year ago, but made an addition with junior-college transfer Trevor Mbakwe.Gopher nation hopes Mbakwe can be the inside presence the team seemed to lack last season, but a legal snag will keep him from playing for the time being. Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi said last Monday that until Mbakwe’s felony battery case is resolved, he will not be allowed to play.The decision will hurt Minnesota, but not drastically. The team is deep, with nine players returning that each averaged 11 or more minutes per game last season. Only two players last season averaged 25 or more minutes per game.One advantage Minnesota has, that no other Big Ten team has, is that they do not play any ranked non-conference games. This gives Minnesota the best chance for the best overall record in the conference.However, the NCAA Tournament selection committee could be reluctant to give Minnesota an at-large bid because of its weak out-of-conference schedule.The first indicator of whether the Big Ten is a real competitor or not will take place during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge Nov. 30 through Dec. 2. The Big Ten has never won the Challenge.
Through four games, the Heisman contender has averaged 26.8 pass attempts per contest. Last year, he topped 26 attempts in a game just four times. Pryor has also led the Buckeyes in rushing in two of their four games. There remains work to be done. Pryor twice forced a throw into double coverage against Ohio, resulting in a pair of interceptions. But he has limited his mistakes and capitalized on his talents. Need evidence? Check out his effortless, 53-yard touchdown gallop in the first quarter against Eastern Michigan. The Buckeyes could have used their depth at running back to wear down the Eagles defense and burn the clock, leading to a quick, painless victory over an overmatched opponent. Instead, Tressel put his quarterback on display. The more Pryor excels, no matter the competition, the more his confidence will bloom and the less the perfectionist will have to tweak. Pryor is far from perfect. He could use some more touch on his short and intermediate passes. Tressel is always pushing him to improve his footwork. His decision-making has been a point of emphasis for three years. But he clearly learned from his sophomore year, when he hit rock bottom after the Purdue debacle and took a backseat on the trip to another Big Ten crown. Now, he looks like a quarterback who knows his limits and can harness his talent. Pryor finally tossed aside the kneepads and helmet. Now he hopes he can ride into the Arizona sunset in early January. Something happened during the 41 days between Ohio State’s 21-10 victory at Michigan last November and the Rose Bowl. Coach Jim Tressel took the training wheels off Terrelle Pryor’s bike. The quarterback threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 72 yards in leading OSU to its first bowl win in four tries. Tressel has demonstrated additional leniency in Pryor’s junior year. Tressel often refers to Pryor as a perfectionist. The quarterback had plenty to keep himself busy with after laying an egg in a loss at Purdue last October. In that game, Pryor committed four turnovers, constantly forcing the issue and paying the price. Following the defeat, Tressel morphed the offense from Pryor-centric into run-focused. The Buckeyes relied on the legs of “Boom” and “Zoom,” taking the pressure off their work-in-progress signal caller. As a result, OSU stormed through the toughest section of its schedule, disposing of Penn State, Iowa and Michigan in succession in November to capture a fifth consecutive conference title. But Tressel knew that at some point, he would have to re-instill trust in his quarterback. Pryor didn’t let him down against Oregon. And now, after a summer of further progression, Pryor seems up to the task at hand. Namely, playing the role of leader and offensive centerpiece for a championship contender. And Tressel isn’t shying away from maximizing his exploits.
A star player in college football, basketball or baseball usually has a good shot at being drafted or given a tryout on a team in the U.S. If all else fails and that player still wants to play badly enough, he or she can always go overseas. But if that person is a volleyball player, as Ohio State fifth-year seniors Steven Kehoe and John Klanac know, going overseas is the only option. It is not necessarily a question of talent. Kehoe, a setter, was named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after leading the Buckeyes to a national championship with 51 assists in the semifinal against Penn State and 65 assists in the championship against California-Santa Barbara. Meanwhile, Klanac, an outside hitter, led the team with 16 kills in the semifinal and finished second in team kills for the season, with 372. The problem is, there are no professional indoor volleyball leagues in the U.S. Klanac said there have been attempts to create leagues but they have always fallen through because of a lack of money. The Association of Volleyball Professionals is a major beach volleyball league that holds most of its events in the U.S. It is in unsure standing, however. After filing for bankruptcy and holding no events for nine months, it restarted last month. Kehoe said making a move to beach volleyball would be unlikely for him considering its current state and that he prefers the indoor game. Klanac said it is a possibility for him, but that beach volleyball is a different game. “A lot of people think it’s just volleyball, but it’s really a whole different game and the strategies are completely different than you would have in indoor volleyball,” Klanac said. “Right now I’m just going to concentrate on indoor volleyball, six on six.” There are many professional indoor leagues in Europe and other countries. OSU coach Pete Hanson said there are strong leagues in Russia, Italy and Brazil. Klanac said he has heard France and Italy support good levels of volleyball. Because of this, top American college volleyball players on both the men’s and women’s sides are faced with a difficult decision: continue playing the sport they love far away from family and friends, or give up playing to stay home. But the decision is only half the battle. “I could be one year and done, or I could not even get signed. There is the potential for that to happen, even though I don’t think it will,” Kehoe said. “It’s really going to be kind of a play-it-by-ear, and that’s the beauty of it, that it is exciting.” Getting signed could be the longest and hardest part for both players, and there are different ways to go through the process. Klanac said he is putting film and highlights together to send to teams and he will also be looking to hire an agent. “They’ll kind of shop me around just like an agent would for a guy in the NBA or NFL and try to find me the best place for the right amount of money,” Klanac said. Kehoe said he is putting together a résumé and gathering video highlights, but he would rather not sign with an agent until the agent has gotten him a job. That is part of the advice he received from his sister, Bryn Kehoe, who just finished her second season playing professionally in Switzerland. She played last season in Switzerland’s A-League on a team called Neuchatel. Bryn played at Stanford from 2004–07 and won a national championship her freshman year. She said one of the hardest things about getting a contract overseas is having contacts and that if a player has the contacts he might not need an agent. “I’ve been talking with Steven about that and to be careful about what kind of agent he signs with,” Bryn said. “I don’t want him to sign a binding agreement if somebody can’t provide him with a good contract.” There is no typical contract for professional volleyball players. “It’s such a wide range. There’s some leagues that just don’t have a lot of money. You can get maybe a few thousand dollars to I’ve heard some of the U.S. Olympic guys making a couple million dollars in Russia,” Klanac said. “So it just really depends on where you go and how financially structured the league is and the team.” One of the standards for European leagues is that most seasons last eight months, something both Klanac and Steven said they will take advantage of by coming back to the U.S. during the offseason. Steven said he would like to come back to the U.S. whenever he gets a break. “In marketing for a contract, one of the things is that I want to be able to come home for Christmas,” Steven said. “It’s little things like that to make a contract good, not just necessarily the money.” Based on how many contracts work for professional volleyball in Europe, Steven might be able to find one that suits his desires. Bryn said that, as a professional player, there are no bills to pay. “Everything is taken care of,” Bryn said. “You’re usually provided with an apartment. Some players are provided with a car, transportation to and from the country. Sometimes you have meals at restaurants that are provided, so whatever is in your contract that you make is really just yours.” But that does not mean the adjustment to the professional game, especially in a new country, comes easily. “The mindset of a professional is very different. Part of it is being a professional but part of it is also the European mentality is much different than a collegiate or university team mentality,” Bryn said. “Especially with my first season, it was difficult because I didn’t understand that, as one of the professionals on my team, if the team didn’t succeed it was automatically my fault.” Hanson said one of the main challenges for American players is adjusting and getting through that first year. “Typically those places don’t know a lot about you as a player, and so you have to kind of go make a name for yourself and prove yourself,” Hanson said. “But once you kind of have opened that door a little bit, the word seems to get out that these kids coming from America are pretty good volleyball players.” After a player gets through that first year, there is no telling how long he will play. Bryn said she might play a couple of seasons more, or only one more, as she has other goals she is excited to accomplish outside volleyball, including obtaining a master’s degree, most likely in sports science. She said her plan is to see if there is a university coaching job open for volleyball so she can get her education paid for at the same time. She said OSU was “absolutely” an option. Klanac was on the other end of the spectrum. He said he sees himself playing as long as his body allows. He graduated with a degree in history and said going for a master’s in education is a possibility after he is done playing to teach history and possibly coach. Steven was a little less certain. “It’s really tough to say, because I don’t know how much I’m going to enjoy it and it’s going to be a completely new experience,” he said. “So I’m definitely taking it year by year.” Steven graduated with a degree in business and said he turned down job offers for the opportunity to play professional volleyball. “When I do come back I’ve made sure that, although I turned down these job offers, I’ve kept in good standing with the companies,” Steven said. “The opportunity to work in a big company in the U.S. is something that will be there for a while.” Regardless of how long they want to play, both are confident in the other’s abilities to play well at the professional level. “I think it’s something that John has had his mind set on and he’s going all in with it too,” Steven said. “This is his dream just as much as mine, and I know that he wants it and I know he’s going to get it done.” Klanac said it would be “pretty cool” if he, Steven and Bryn got to play in the same country. Bryn said it has been her and Steven’s dream, and Steven said it would be incredible. “The one thing I’ve definitely heard consistently from people who have played overseas is you want to have another American with you, or at least another foreigner,” Steven said. “So having people around like that to just share the experience with makes it a lot more worthwhile.” No matter what happens for the two, or where they end up, both said their love of the game and an opportunity to play it for a living far outweighed the negatives. “You hear all throughout high school and college you want to find a job that you love because you don’t want to dread going in to work,” Steven said. “Well, I can tell you every day I wake up and think, ‘Hey, I’m going to go play volleyball today.’ That’s a good day.”
Lantern file photoThen-sophomore Braxton Miller tosses the ball during a game against Nebraska on Oct. 6, 2012, at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 63-38.The Lantern sports editors share their insight on what fans should know about this weekend’s matchup against Buffalo.1. Who will step up at running back?What was supposed to be one of the strongest positions for the Buckeyes heading into the year is now one of its biggest question marks. The suspensions of Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith, the two guys expected to be at the top of the depth chart, have left the backfield in disarray. Although Jordan Hall is still with the team and has been named the starter for the season opener, he may take on more of a hybrid role rather than the traditional pro-style running back. True freshman Dontre Wilson has been a standout during fall practice, using his blazing speed to work his way up the depth chart and will start the game as the backup H-back behind senior wide receiver Chris Fields. Players like sophomore Bri’onte Dunn and redshirt-freshman Warren Ball will also be hoping to take advantage of the suspensions when noon rolls around on Saturday.2. Changes to the front sevenThe most buzz coming out of Urban Meyer’s first recruiting class for the Buckeyes was focused around the defensive line, particularly sophomore defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. The duo showed off their potential during the Ohio State spring game on April 13, totaling seven sacks, and will make their first collegiate starts Saturday opposite of each other. Junior nose tackle Joel Hale, junior defensive tackle Michael Bennett, junior middle linebacker Curtis Grant and sophomore linebacker Joshua Perry all have either limited or no experience as a regular starter for the Buckeyes. With only junior linebacker Ryan Shazier returning in the front seven, the new guys will have to step up their game to live up to the legacy left behind by players like John Simon and Jonathan Hankins.3. How Doran Grant matches up with Alex NeutzDespite finishing 4-8 last season, one bright spot for Buffalo was wide receiver Neutz. The then-sophomore led his team with 1,015 yards, 65 receptions and 11 touchdowns last year. With starting cornerback Bradley Roby also suspended for the Buckeyes, it will be on junior Doran Grant to cover the Bulls’ top weapon. Grant only has one start in his career, last season against Alabama Birmingham, and is forced into a tough spot against Buffalo. Sophomore Armani Reeves will also be getting the start at cornerback and could take some time lining up against Neutz, but most of the time it will be Grant trying to shut down Buffalo’s top receiver. It remains to be seen how Grant will hold up when matched up one-on-one with a No. 1 receiver during an actual game.4. Braxton MillerDespite the negative storylines this offseason (Hyde, Roby, Smith suspensions) and the questions about the defensive front, there is still one reason for fans to be confident. Miller is back and, in year two of Meyer’s spread offense, is more capable than ever. Throughout much of the fall practice, Meyer and offensive coordinator/QBcoach Tom Herman have been raving about the strides that Miller has made in terms of his fundamentals. When you add that to his already potent athletic ability, a recipe for success seems to be in place for the Buckeye signal caller. Although he may not be the nation’s top quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville) or it’s most explosive player (De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon), Miller’s ability as a dual threat quarterback will put him into the Heisman conversation and help the Buckeyes pursue their championship expectations.5. Cameron JohnstonAfter Ben Buchanan graduated, OSU was left in a tough situation at punter. Buchanan spent four years punting for the Buckeyes and finished his career as the eighth best punter in school history, averaging 41.2 yards per punt. But after his replacement made a last second switch, decommitting from OSU on signing day, things looked bleak. In steps Australian-born Johnston. After discussions with special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs, Johnston committed to the Buckeyes and is listed as the starting punter Saturday. If called upon with the rest of the punting unit, Johnston will face immense pressure in his first time at Ohio Stadium with the Buckeye faithful counting on him to succeed.
It’s been a season of streaks for the Ohio State women’s volleyball team: the Buckeyes won 13 straight to kick off the season, then lost eight in a row. Now OSU has won two straight and is hoping to build on its current streak.OSU got back to its winning ways Friday in impressive fashion. The Buckeyes swept Indiana at St. John Arena, marking their first three-set victory of Big Ten play. The next night, OSU notched another victory, topping No. 14 Purdue, 3-1.“Our confidence level has been renewed and supported, but I’m not going to sit here and say it’s high,” sophomore outside hitter Katie Mitchell said after beating the Boilermakers Saturday. “We know we still have a lot to work on.”Regardless of work left to do, freshman middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe said the pair of wins can be a difference-maker for her team going forward.“It feels like we’re right where we want to be honestly,” she said. “I think that this is going to be the turning point for us — this is just a lot of motivation for us going forward.”Mitchell, who sparked the Buckeyes with 10 kills off the bench against Purdue, said her team was ready from the outset.“Firing from all cylinders, ready to go,” she said. “Everyone’s on top, not only the front row, but the back row — everyone’s working together.”Coach Geoff Carlston praised Mitchell’s play: “It was huge, it was absolutely huge.”Mitchell’s career high in kills was good for fourth on the team, as senior outside hitter Kaitlyn Leary led the Buckeyes with 18 kills while Sandbothe and freshman outside hitter Kylie Randall each added 12.Junior setter Taylor Sherwin tallied 48 assists and a service ace against the Boilermakers, despite dealing with an illness the night before against Indiana. Against the Hoosiers, she recorded 30 assists and a service ace.“Taylor Sherwin is sick as a dog, we didn’t even think she was going to play today,” Carlston said after the sweep of the Hoosiers. “If we would’ve played another set, I don’t think she could’ve played.”In the streak-breaking victory against Indiana, Leary tallied 19 kills while Sandbothe chipped in with 14.“(Sandbothe) played really aggressive tonight,” Carlston said. “She’s got a toughness and a swag about her, and I thought she played excellent and showed that.”That aggressiveness paid off as the freshman picked up a kill to close out the sweep for her team’s first win in more than a month.“It’s huge to get that last kill, and it just feels so good and it feels so right for us right now,” Sandbothe said.Leary said the wins were about the team, and not about any individual’s success.“It was just a great team win,” she said. “Our passes were on and our defense was on. (Sherwin) did a great job of finding all of us hitters.”With the sweet taste of victory in their mouths, the Buckeyes will have some time to rest before their next match. OSU is scheduled to travel to Minneapolis, Minn., for a match against No. 11 Minnesota, Friday, before traveling to Madison, Wis., for a faceoff with No. 14 Wisconsin Sunday.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer landed his first recruit of the day as four-star offensive lineman Max Wray announced his commitment to the Buckeyes before Saturday’s spring game.Wray, 6-foot-6, 289 pounds, is from Franklin, Tennessee, and is the sixth commit in the 2018 recruiting class. Wray is the 57th nationally ranked prospect and No. 4 at his position.Wray is the lone commit on the offensive line for the 2018 class that is smaller in size at this point than the 2017 class, but the Buckeye class ranks seventh in the country.Five-star offensive tackle Jackson Carmen from Fairfield, Ohio, remains the top priority for the OSU staff.I am so excited to announce I have committed to The Ohio State University!! OH-IO #gobucks pic.twitter.com/ZKjRYYGfm3— Max Wray (@maxwray10) April 15, 2017