Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant decided to speak on his personal life Wednesday in regards to his relationship with his mother and ongoing attitude problems.Bryant recently came to the realization that he needed to change his act after a recent summer arrest. On July 16, Bryant was arrested for a Class A misdemeanor family violence charge, for an alleged physical confrontation with his mother Angela Bryant.Last week the Dallas County district attorney’s office shifted the charge to a conditional dismissal. Under the dismissal, the charge will be dropped as long as Bryant attends anger management counseling and is not charged with any crimes for a year.The 24-year-old Bryant says that even after the arrest, he and his mother still have a great relationship.“I don’t want to get into it much, but what happened in our eyes, it was overblown,” he said. “I love my mom. My mom loves me. Everything is great between us.”Bryant was not permitted to discuss the situation because strict rules created by Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones and his adviser David Wells given to him this summer.The stipulations issued by Jones and Wells are appreciated by Bryant because he did not have structure in his childhood. Bryant’s childhood was dysfunctional, partly because his mother had him at the age of 14. His father was in and out of his life, which caused him to jump from home to home until attending Oklahoma State.Bryant does not use his troubled childhood as an excuse for his behavior, but more as learning lesson.“It’s different,” he said. “I just feel like it’s been a learning process for me my whole life, and I’m just getting to it.”Bryant is the father of two sons Zane, 5, and Dez Jr., 2, and trying to be the best role model for them.“I got real responsibilities I feel like I’m handling the right way,” he said. “I’m enjoying my life the way I should have been enjoying it a long time ago.”Jones selected Bryant with the 24th overall pick despite off-field issues prior to the draft. The Cowboy’s owner sees the all-around growth that Bryant is doing in his life.“The point is, without trying to be cute, Dez is improving,” Jones said. “But the risk is here that he’s on the field in the glaring spotlight for the Cowboys and off the field for the Cowboys. So I’m reluctant — we all are — to say, ‘Boy, Dez is doing good.’ Dez is doing better.”Bryant, who has 57 receptions for 735 yards this season, realizes the incident this summer was a sign that he needed to improve his maturity.“Small, positive things turn into big, positive things,” Bryant said. “As long as I keep doing the right things, all the things that happen are positive things.”
Tigers144914481441-7-8 Brewers151015191515-4+5 White Sox145714371441+4-16 Pirates148314831493+10+10 Athletics149015281551+23+61 Blue Jays150714881480-8-27 Angels151015141511-3+1 Marlins144314491439-10-4 The well-traveled, and perhaps forgotten about, Jackson has given the A’s 60 quality innings this season — not bad for a guy playing on his 13th(!) MLB team. Jackson has done this by getting crafty: reducing the use of his fastball from 35.3 percent last season (47.9 percent for his career) to 16.2 percent this season.Among the changes Fiers has made since joining the A’s is creating more separation in height between his fastball and curveball, as Jeff Sullivan found for FanGraphs. He has a 1.47 ERA in three starts with Oakland.Saving more runsThe makeshift pitching staff is also aided by one of the best infield defenses in the game. That’s an effort led by Chapman.While Chapman is an excellent hitter, he’s the best third base defender in the game according to Defensive Runs Saved — and it’s not close. In fact, his 26 Defensive Runs Saved are the best in the game at any position. The next closest third baseman is Travis Shaw of Milwaukee with nine.Chapman leads an elite Oakland infield defense. According to DRS, the A’s also rank second in DRS at first base and eighth at shortstop in the majors. Moreover, Oakland trails only the Arizona in the difference between expected opponent batting average — based on opponent exit velocity — and actual opponent batting average. The A’s are getting to more ground balls and line drives relative to their infielder rivals. Phillies149015071496-11+6 Padres145514461444-2-11 Giants149415021490-12-4 Rays1495151915190+24 The A’s meteoric riseMajor league teams by change in Elo from the preseason and the All-Star Game, as of Aug. 22 Diamondbacks152315231536+13+13 Rockies150315101519+9+16 Royals145914081407-1-52 Twins151014941493-1-17 Mariners150815221507-15-1 Nationals154615221524+2-22 Rangers149714801492+12-5 Braves147415101519+9+45 Red Sox154915901602+12+53 Indians157615551566+11-10 Treinen also has a slider and cutter that baffle opponents. Cardinals152215081540+32+18 Mets149114641484+20-7 Dodgers156815601553-7-15 Cubs155815681543-25-15 TeamPreseasonAll-Star GameCurrentAll-Star GamePreseason EloChange from … Yankees156515891571-18+6 So how did the A’s get here? This isn’t another “Moneyball” story. The once-undervalued metric of on-base percentage is no longer baseball’s best-kept secret — and it’s not even an Oakland staple. The A’s have instead pursued different paths to become one of the better teams in the major leagues despite opening the season with the game’s lowest payroll.Keeping it in the airBecause fly balls and line drives are so much more valuable than ground balls, more and more individual players are trying to launch balls into the air. But the A’s have acquired, and ostensibly tried to develop, the skill at a teamwide level since 2013. As MLB.com’s Mike Petriello found, the A’s have posted five of the eight lowest ground-ball seasons since 2004, including this season’s mark so far. Their average launch angle of 14.9 degrees leads baseball.3The MLB average is 11.7 degrees.While they have acquired fly-ball hitters like Jed Lowrie, Matt Joyce and Khris Davis, they have also developed anti-grounder sluggers in Matt Olson (2012 first-round pick) and Matt Chapman (2014 first-rounder). Lowrie told FiveThirtyEight that he never sat down with an A’s official to talk about his batted-ball profile, but the Stanford University product does use the technology available in the home batting cage for tracking his exit velocity and launch angle to fine-tune his swing.“My guess is they probably identify guys like that to try and acquire [the skill],” Lowrie said of the A’s front office. “It’s part of their calculus.”What on-base percentage was to the Moneyball A’s, fly-ball percentage is to this group of upstarts. That’s made them the league’s fourth-most efficient offense despite a near league-average on-base mark of .322.The A’s are also adapting to their environment. Lowrie notes that Oakland Coliseum is one of the most difficult places in the game to drive the ball, and while the A’s have the lowest ground-ball rate on the road in the majors at 37.8 percent, that rate spikes to 40.9 percent at home, good for eighth-lowest. While Lowrie says teammates Davis, Olson and Chapman can hit the ball “out of Yellowstone,” other A’s alter their approach depending on the ballpark environment. The A’s lead baseball in offensive efficiency on the road with 119 weighted runs created plus (wRC+), a stat that adjusts for park and run environment, with 100 representing league-average performance. But Oakland is only about average at home, with 96 wRC+.Lowrie noted that the A’s set a record for most consecutive road games with a home run this season4They hit at least one homer in 27 straight road games. and that they’ve done much more damage on the road. The Athletics rank 18th in the majors in home runs at home with 67, but they lead the majors in road homers with 106. They are one of the best road teams in baseball at 37-26.“We are playing on a [home] field that is below sea level, with swirling winds that are generally blowing in from right field,” Lowrie said. “We’ve pitched much better at home,” with a 3.32 home ERA vs. 4.30 on the road. “We’ve found different ways to win at home and on the road.”Always be closingThe early 2000s A’s rarely overpaid or valued relievers, believing them to be highly fungible. This Oakland team has the most dominant reliever in the game in Blake Treinen and has further bolstered its strong bullpen with trade acquisitions of Jeurys Familia (2.02 fielding-independent pitching, 19 strikeouts in 15 innings with the A’s) from the Mets and former Twins closer Fernando Rodney.Acquired as a buy-low target with a 5.73 ERA last July in a trade that sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to Washington, Treinen is second in the majors in relief WAR and owns a 1.00 ERA.While WAR may not be the optimum way to measure a reliever’s value, win probability added (WPA) accounts for the change in win expectancy between every plate appearance. According to WPA, Treinen has been the most valuable pitcher in baseball this season — ranking ahead of aces Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Aaron Nola. His sinker leads the majors in whiffs per swing, and when put in play, it produces 4.6 ground balls for every fly ball. Per FanGraphs pitch values, it’s the fifth-best sinker in the majors. The pitch, with its combination of elite velocity and movement, can make opponents look foolish. The Moneyball A’s didn’t prize defense, fly balls or ace relievers, but this club does. While the formula is different than in the early 2000s, what remains the same is that the A’s are finding value where other clubs are not.Check out our latest MLB predictions. At midseason, the American League seemed decided. The number of tanking teams — some intentional efforts, some unintentional — combined with the AL’s super teams1The top four teams by run differential reside in the AL: the Red Sox, Astros, Yankees and Indians. were conspiring to strip the league of postseason races. The league’s playoff teams seemed all but set by the All-Star Game.But then the Oakland A’s came charging out of the baseball wilderness to give us some late-summer drama.After three consecutive last-place finishes, the Athletics began the year with a 16 percent probability of reaching the postseason and a 6 percent chance of winning the AL West. And just two months ago, they were as many as 11.5 games behind the reigning World Series champion Astros. But after winning 42 of their last 58 games entering Friday, the A’s have cut that deficit to 1.5 games, and they now have an 89 percent chance of advancing to the postseason and a 22 percent chance of winning the AL West.The surge is no fluke. Oakland has the game’s eighth-best run differential, at +94 runs, and has seen the greatest improvement in FiveThirtyEight’s team rating since the start of the season.2As of Aug. 22. Reds146514841474-10+9 Diversifying their pitchesWhile the A’s have a dominant star in the bullpen, the story is different in the rotation. In the early 2000s, the A’s had a trio of front-line starters in Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson. This year’s A’s team has a rotation populated predominantly by reclamation projects like Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Mike Fiers and Edwin Jackson. Without a legit ace — or even a household name — the A’s rank second to the Red Sox in pitching WPA.Signed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract in the winter, Cahill has become one of the biggest bargains in baseball in part by reducing the use of his fastball and generating more swing and miss with his slider, more than doubling its usage. Cahill has a 3.44 ERA, and his 2.1 WAR according to FanGraphs is the second-best mark of his career.Cahill had once been heavily dependent upon his sinker, but he told FiveThirtyEight that the A’s have given him “weighted pitch” data, which he’s used to diversity his overall pitch mix. For the first time since 2012, he has four above-average pitches, according to FanGraphs linear weights.“If you can throw four different pitches, and they are doing different things in the zone, it’s tough [for batters] to guess,” Cahill said.The A’s also have pitch-tracking Rapsodo technology for use in between appearances, which Cahill uses to monitor his release point and the underlying characteristics of his pitches — like spin rate — between starts.“I go look at my curveball and see if the spin rate is higher,” Cahill said. “I look at where I am releasing it.” Astros157715991585-14+8 Orioles147514221416-6-59
From ABC News: East region Top seed outlook: Gonzaga is the best team in the West by a considerable margin, but the Zags, despite reaching the final two years ago, haven’t always performed well under the bright lights of the tournament. Still, Gonzaga has a 70 percent probability of reaching the Elite Eight, according to our model, and the third-best odds of any team to reach the national championship game (26 percent).Should Gonzaga face Syracuse in the second round, the zone defense of the Orange could give the Bulldogs trouble. This is the best offense Mark Few has had in Spokane, but it may be tested by any of the terrific defenses in the West: Four of the top 15 can be found in this region, including the top two in Texas Tech and Michigan.Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 4 Florida State. A fixture in the KenPom Top 20 for most of the season, the Seminoles are hoping to build on last season’s tournament run, which saw them come within a 4-point margin of making the Final Four. FSU has a dominant defense (No. 9 in Pomeroy’s ratings) and a balanced roster that saw four players accumulate at least 2.5 win shares. This draw isn’t terrible, either: Vermont isn’t especially difficult as a first-round foe, and Marquette is very beatable (more on that below). No. 1 seeded Gonzaga probably looms after that, and we give FSU a 24 percent chance against the Zags — but the Seminoles would have a 48 percent chance of making the Final Four if they were to pull off the upset.Don’t bet on: No. 5 Marquette. Teams seeded fifth aren’t usually good bets to make it past the Sweet 16 anyway, but Marquette might be an especially bad pick. According to the FiveThirtyEight power ratings, the Golden Eagles are by far the worst No. 5 seed in the field, and a first-round date with breakout mid-major superstar Ja Morant didn’t do them any favors. Marquette has some star power of its own in junior guard Markus Howard, who ranks sixth in the nation with an average of 25 points per game, but this team lost five of its last six games and has a tough tournament road ahead of it.Cinderella watch: No. 10 Florida. The Gators may have been one of the final bubble teams to sneak into the field of 68, but they could be poised to do some damage now that they are here. They drew Nevada, a so-so No. 7 seed, in the first round, and we give Florida a 42 percent chance of pulling the upset there. Last year’s national runner-up, Michigan, likely waits in Round 2, and that is a tough matchup (23 percent odds for Florida) — but if the Gators win, they have a 38 percent chance of making the Elite Eight. In a region with a number of good-but-flawed options, Florida looks better than the typical 10-seed.Player to watch: Brandon Clarke, GonzagaThe linchpin of the Zags isn’t the consensus lottery pick, nor the two veteran guards who have together started 87 percent of Gonzaga’s games over the past two seasons. It’s Brandon Clarke, a transfer from San Jose State who is in his first active season with the team. He’s perhaps the most underappreciated player in the country.On a team that typically features a 7-footer protecting the rim, it’s Clarke, at 6-foot-8, who is tasked with protecting the paint this season. Clarke has responded by setting a single-season blocks record and posting the highest block rate of any team under Few.“If I feel like if I can get a good, quick jump first, I’ll pretty much jump with anybody,” Clarke told me. “I mean, I’ve seen Zion (Williamson) coming down through the lane before on TV, and if I can’t jump at the right time, I probably wouldn’t jump with him, but … I don’t really see myself not jumping with anybody.”Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Baylor over No. 8 Syracuse (48 percent); No. 10 Florida over No. 7 Nevada (42 percent); No. 12 Murray State over No. 5 Marquette (32 percent) Midwest region South region The NCAA Tournament is finally here! Will we see another No. 16 seed beat a No. 1 seed? Will Gonzaga finally win its first national championship? Will Zion Williamson’s shoe explode again? We can’t tell you exactly what will happen over the next three weeks, but we can help steer you in the right direction when picking your bracket using our March Madness prediction model. You can read about how the system works here, and read on to learn what the model has to say about the top seeds’ fates, dark horses and Cinderellas to watch, and favorites to avoid. Let the madness begin… Top seed outlook: According to the FiveThirtyEight model, top seed Duke has the best chance of advancing to the Final Four in the entire field (53 percent probability) as well as the best odds of winning the national title (19 percent).The Blue Devils are led by four soon-to-be first-round draft picks, including Zion Williamson, one of the greatest talents in recent memory. Duke is a walking highlight reel on the offensive end and far stingier on defense than many may realize. This is among Mike Krzyzewski’s most-balanced teams and projects to be his first since 2010 to rank inside the top six in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics. That team won the national title.1 Granted, they won the title again in 2015 with a team that fell below that benchmark on defense.What this team lacks, however, is touch along the perimeter. Duke shoots a ghastly 30.2 percent from beyond the arc, the worst mark among tournament-qualifying teams. In an offensive era increasingly dominated by space and perimeter scoring, the Blue Devils could buck the trend punishing the rim.On the other side of the region is the winner of the Big Ten conference tournament, Michigan State. As their reward, the No. 2 Spartans have the honor of a potential matchup against the top overall seed in the Elite Eight. Head coach Tom Izzo was none too pleased. The Spartans have been pummeled by injuries but remain one of the most balanced teams in the country, ranking inside the top eight in Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics.Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 4 Virginia Tech. Led by the star pairing of Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the Hokies are a balanced squad that ranks among Pomeroy’s Top 25 teams on both offense and defense. Although they’ve lost eight times, only two of those were by double-digits. Virginia Tech also has a not-altogether-unfriendly draw, with extremely winnable opening games against Saint Louis (87 percent) and the Mississippi State-Liberty winner (63 percent) before most likely running into Duke’s juggernaut. We give the Hokies a respectable 25 percent chance against the Blue Devils — and a 54 percent chance against whoever emerges from the bottom of the region if they do manage to knock off Duke.Don’t bet on: No. 3 LSU. With coach Will Wade embroiled in a pay-for-play scandal and his team probably overvalued as a 3-seed, the Bayou Bengals could be ripe for an upset in this tournament. They ranked only 18th in Pomeroy’s ratings — roughly the quality of a No. 5 seed — thanks in large part to a defense that didn’t even crack the nation’s top 60 in adjusted efficiency. (This showed up in the 51 second-half points they allowed to Florida while losing their first game of the SEC tournament.) Their NCAA path isn’t very easy, either: Yale is no pushover as a No. 14 seed, nor is potential second-round opponent Maryland, and we give the Tigers a mere 26 percent chance of beating Michigan State if the teams meet in the Sweet Sixteen. This is easily the lowest-rated top-three seed in the field.Cinderella watch: No. 11 Belmont. The East is top-heavy, with Duke and Michigan State soaking up most of the Final Four odds. But the Bruins are an intriguing lower-seeded team because of an impressive offense led by do-everything swingman Dylan Windler. According to Pomeroy, Belmont ranks 20th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency (and second nationally in raw points per game behind Gonzaga), while Windler was one of only three players nationally to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Although the Bruins do have to win a play-in game against Temple just to make the field of 64 — we give them a 59 percent chance — they would have a very competitive 39 percent probability of upsetting Maryland in the first round and an even better chance against the LSU/Yale winner.Player to watch: Cassius Winston, Michigan StateThree years ago, zzo said he thought his 6-foot-1 freshman could be Michigan State’s best passer since Magic Johnson. The Spartans’ do-everything point guard — one of the best facilitators in the country — is validating his coach’s comment. Only Murray State’s Ja Morant, a surefire lottery pick in this year’s draft, has a higher assist rate than Winston (46.0 percent). And behind Winston, the Spartans assist on the highest rate of field goals in the country.The junior also happens to be Izzo’s leading scorer and one of the country’s top perimeter threats, shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc. As injuries have relentlessly sapped the Spartans of their on-court production, Winston has elevated his game to compensate. As he put it to The Athletic, “I have to do a lot for my team to win.”Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Central Florida over No. 8 VCU (47 percent); No. 11 Belmont* over No. 6 Maryland (39 percent); No. 10 Minnesota over No. 7 Louisville (34 percent)(* Must win play-in game first.) West region Top seed outlook: On paper, the Midwest seems to be the most open of the four regions, but we still give No. 1 North Carolina the best odds, with a 35 percent probability of reaching the Final Four and an 18 percent probability of appearing in the national championship game. Those odds are at least 8 percentage points lower than any other No. 1 team in the field, though, and for good reason: North Carolina’s offense depends on turning every play into a fast break. The Tar Heels struggle to get to the free-throw line and give up a ton of shots along the perimeter, which, in a slowed-down, half-court matchup, could be quite problematic.After getting waxed by Duke to open the season, No. 2 Kentucky has caught fire in recent weeks while finding balance on both ends of the floor and mostly abstaining from the 3-point line. No. 3 Houston, meanwhile, is in the midst of its best season since Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon were revolutionizing college basketball, and they boast a defense that ranks among the very best along and inside the perimeter.Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 5 Auburn. When the Tigers steamrolled Tennessee 84-64 in Sunday’s SEC title game, it likely got the attention of a lot of bracket-pickers. That wasn’t a one-off — Auburn also beat Tennessee eight days earlier, part of a string of eight straight wins for the Tigers, and 10 in their last 11 games. With an explosive offense (No. 8 in KenPom efficiency) that got more of its points from downtown than any other team in the NCAA field, Auburn can heat up in a hurry. We give the Tigers nearly a coin-flip’s odds of making the Sweet 16 — and a very solid 37 percent chance of beating top-seeded North Carolina if the Tar Heels are waiting for Auburn there. The only kryptonite might be a hypothetical regional-final matchup with No. 2 seed Kentucky, which beat the Tigers by 27 in late February to sweep their season series.Don’t bet on: No. 4 Kansas. The Jayhawks went into the season ranked No. 1 in the AP’s preseason poll, and they appeared to validate the choice by starting the season 10-0. But a 15-9 record (and some key injuries) since then have cast doubt on Kansas’s NCAA Tournament potential. This is a well-balanced team, but to say it doesn’t shoot well from the outside is an understatement — see KU’s 3-for-18 performance from deep in Saturday’s Big 12 ouster against Iowa State. Add an unfavorable draw that puts them on a potential second-round collision course with Auburn (see above), and we give the Jayhawks only an 8 percent chance of making out of the Midwest with their championship hopes intact.Cinderella watch: No. 11 Ohio State. If a Big Ten team that has made 11 Final Fours can be a Cinderella, then you’re looking at it in these Buckeyes. (Hey, the committee’s increasing tendency to seed underwhelming power-conference schools this way really messes with the definition.) OSU went only 18-13 during the regular season, was defeated in its second Big Ten tournament game and has almost twice as many losses as wins since New Year’s. So why are the Buckeyes a potential Cinderella? Despite the seed, this is still a dangerous team, one that ranks 27th in Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive ratings and has star forward Kaleb Wesson back from suspension. So maybe they’ll give Big 12 champ Iowa State trouble. But mainly this tells you something about the other potential Cinderellas in this region: Seton Hall got a very tough first-round matchup with underseeded Wofford; none of the other low seeds here are world-beaters. That leaves the Buckeyes, a team that did all it could to play its way out of the tournament, but has some upset potential regardless.Player to watch: Cameron Johnson, UNCOn a team that doesn’t hoist a ton of shots from the perimeter, Johnson is as lethal as they come. Following an injury-riddled campaign in which he barely made more than one-third of his looks from beyond the arc, the grad student is canning 46.5 percent of his attempts, which ranks inside the top 25 nationally.Johnson has thrived in North Carolina’s every-possession-is-a-transition-opportunity scheme this season. He’s blossomed into one of the best scorers in the ACC, ranking between the 85th and 100th percentiles in scoring efficiency in transition, off screens and on spot-ups.Johnson has elevated his game in conference play, boasting the ACC’s top offensive rating (132.5) and true shooting percentage (64.6). Suddenly, a player who wasn’t seen as a guaranteed professional now projects to be a second-round pick.Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Washington over No. 8 Utah State (49 percent); No. 10 Seton Hall over No. 7 Wofford (37 percent); No. 11 Ohio State over No. 6 Iowa State (33 percent)Check out our latest March Madness predictions.CORRECTION (March 18, 2019, 3:10 p.m.): A previous version of this story misstated the number of Sweet 16s made by Villanova in recent seasons. Although the Wildcats have reached the NCAA Tournament’s “third round” in four of their past five seasons, that round was the Round of 32 until 2016 because of NCAA naming conventions. Top seed outlook: Can No. 1 Virginia exorcise last year’s demons now that the team is at full strength? Our model thinks so. The Cavaliers have a 49 percent probability of cracking the Final Four and a 31 percent probability of reaching what would be the program’s first national title game.With De’Andre Hunter, who wasn’t on the court last year during UVA’s historic loss to No. 16 Maryland Baltimore County, the Cavaliers have been dominant on both ends — the only team ranking in the top five in Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics. Once again, Tony Bennett’s pack line defense is suffocating most every offensive opportunity and successfully turning games into rock fights. But this year’s team is even better on the offensive end and should breeze into the Elite Eight, where it could meet Tennessee. Thanks to Grant Williams and the wonderfully named Admiral Schofield, the No. 2 Volunteers are playing their best basketball in program history. We give them a 22 percent probability of reaching the Final Four.Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 6 Villanova. Is it “sneaky” to pick the team that’s won two of the past three national titles? Maybe not. But this hasn’t been the same team that coach Jay Wright guided to those championships. After losing a ton of its best players from last year’s title-winning team, the Wildcats had an up-and-down year and lost five of their final eight regular-season Big East games. But they also got hot over the past week, capping off a season in which they still won the Big East regular-season and conference-tournament titles — and still had one of the 20 best offenses in the country according to KenPom (powered by an absurd number of 3-pointers). Our power ratings think they’re the fourth-best team in the South despite being the No. 6 seed, and they have a 5 percent chance of making it back to the Final Four for a third time in four seasons.Don’t bet on: No. 4 Kansas State. Coach Bruce Weber’s Wildcats nearly made the Final Four last season, but they might find it tougher this time around. K-State has an elite defense (it ranks fourth in the country according to Pomeroy’s ratings), but its offense is prone to struggles — and could be down its second-leading scorer, forward Dean Wade, who missed the team’s Big 12 tournament loss to Iowa State with a foot injury. A brutal draw that gives the Wildcats tough No. 13 seed UC Irvine in the first round, then places them opposite the Wisconsin-Oregon winner in Round 2, could limit their potential to advance deep into a second consecutive tournament.Cinderella watch: No. 12 Oregon. According to our model, the Ducks have the best Sweet 16 odds (24 percent) of any double-digit seed in the tournament, more than twice that of any other candidate. Oregon struggled to string together wins for most of the regular season, and its chances seemed sunk after 7-foot-2 phenom Bol Bol was lost for the season with a foot injury in January. But the Ducks have rallied to win eight straight games heading into the tournament, including a convincing victory in Saturday’s Pac-12 championship. Oregon fits a similar mold as K-State — great defense with a suspect offense — but that’s telling, given that the Ducks are a 12-seed and the Wildcats are a No. 4. If they meet in the Round of 32, we give Oregon a 47 percent chance at the upset.Player to watch: Grant Williams, TennesseeThe junior has come a long way from being “just a fat boy with some skill.” Williams, the de facto leader of Rick Barnes’s Volunteers, has bullied the SEC over the past two seasons, collecting two consecutive conference player of the year honors.The Vols might just feature the best offense of Barnes’s coaching career — and we’re talking about a guy who coached Kevin Durant! Much of that offensive potency can be traced to Williams, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, who ranks in the 97th percentile in scoring efficiency, according to data courtesy of Synergy Sports.Williams possesses an old-man game you might find at a local YMCA, a back-to-the-basket, footwork-proficient offensive assault that manifests primarily in post-ups, where he ranks in the 98th percentile in scoring efficiency and shoots an adjusted field-goal percentage of 56.1. He can get the Volunteers buckets in the waning moments of games, too, as he ranks in the 96th percentile in isolation scoring efficiency.Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Oklahoma over No. 8 Ole Miss (53 percent); No. 12 Oregon over No. 5 Wisconsin (45 percent); No. 10 Iowa over No. 7 Cincinnati (34 percent)
1996-97.2442011.125 8Rodney Peete1989DET7.58 Tennessee TitansThe Tennessee Titans had a big offseason, bolstering their offensive line by drafting tackle Jack Conklin (No. 8 overall) and signing center Ben Jones. They also added weapons in running back DeMarco Murray and wide receiver Rishard Matthews. They appear to be sort of going for it.All these moves hinge on Marcus Mariota. The rookie QB had one hell of a first game in 2015 and a solid season overall. His 7.6 yards per attempt is the seventh-best mark for a rookie QB since 1970. It wasn’t always so dire. Back in the late 2000s, Peyton Manning was still a Colt, the Tennessee Titans had a 13-win season, and even the Jacksonville Jaguars were pretty good. The AFC South was one of the best divisions in the NFL: 3Matt Ryan2008ATL7.93 How will your favorite NFL team do this year? See all of our predictions for the 2016 season » 9Jameis Winston2015TB7.56 SEASONSWIN %SEASONSWIN % At least those strength of schedule ranks look good — these bad teams get to play each other twice. RANKPLAYERSEASONTEAMYARDS PER ATTEMPT Best rookie QB seasons by yards per attempt, 1970-2015 1989-96 (D. Robinson era).6671998-2010 (P. Manning era).678 To go with our 2016 NFL predictions, FiveThirtyEight is previewing each division.The AFC South has been the punching bag of our NFL preseason previews. In 2015, we called it “perhaps the most imbalanced division in football,” and in 2014, we wrote that the division “can’t be any worse than it was last year.” (We were correct: The division won 25 games total, up from 24 the year before.)Going into 2016, the AFC South is still awful — awful enough that our Elo-based projections put the division’s best team — the Houston Texans — at just 8.3 wins for the season.1If you haven’t encountered them on our site before, Elo ratings are a measure of overall team strength that update after each game. 7Marcus Mariota2015TEN7.62 Source: Pro-football-reference.com, Basketball-reference.com 1Ben Roethlisberger2004PIT8.88 Since 2010, Manning’s final season playing for Indianapolis, the division has taken a nosedive. But the AFC South can still be saved. The NFC West was the worst division in football for five straight seasons, from 2006 through 2010, but in 2013, it was on top and one of the best of all time. Can the AFC South manage the same kind of revival?Houston TexansHouston’s defense — led by the extremely talented and extremely corny J.J. Watt — allowed just 19.6 points per game last season, tied for 7th in the NFL (and just a hair behind the Carolina Panthers at 19.3). Unfortunately, four quarterbacks made starts for Houston’s offense. That’s never a good sign, but it’s especially bad when those four quarterbacks are as dispensable as these guys:Brian Hoyer: Has played for New England, Arizona, Cleveland and Houston.Ryan Mallett: New England, Houston, Baltimore.T.J. Yates: Houston, Atlanta, Houston again.Brandon Weeden: Cleveland, Dallas, Houston.As a unit, these mediocre journeymen averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt, good for 29th in the NFL,2They did throw 28 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. Good work! while somehow still feeding DeAndre Hopkins enough (192 targets!) to have him finish third in NFL receiving yards. They were good enough for Houston to make the playoffs at 9-7, before being humiliated by the Kansas City Chiefs. The Texans will now put their offense in the hands of Brock Osweiler, a very tall man with seven career starts. He can’t be expected to dominate out of the gate, but some consistency would be nice. If he starts at least 13 games, he’ll be the first Houston QB to do so since 2012.Indianapolis ColtsThe mid-1990s San Antonio Spurs were masters of timing. After a solid stretch under David Robinson, San Antonio had a single terrible season at the perfect moment, capturing the consensus No. 1 draft pick. The Spurs then rode that pick — Tim Duncan — to a new era of even greater success.Through 2014, the Colts looked (to the untrained eye) like they’d pulled off the same trick. Peyton Manning’s absence in 2011 meant the Colts were terrible enough to draft his replacement, Andrew Luck: 10Jim Kelly1986BUF7.49 4Russell Wilson2012SEA7.93 2Robert Griffin2012WAS8.14 Minimum eight startsSource: pro-football-reference.com 1997-2016 (T. Duncan era).7102012-14 (A. Luck era).688 SPURSCOLTS 5Cam Newton2011CAR7.84 And then they hit a wall in 2015. The Colts went 8-8, but were lucky to have done so well. Over the course of the season, their -75 point differential was worse than that of the Baltimore Ravens and Jaguars, who both went 5-11. The Colts have been propped up by their division, going 20-4 against the AFC South over the last four seasons and 21-19 against everyone else. The Colts’ roster is weak once you look past the QB, and it’s suddenly not so clear that Luck is the next big thing.This offseason, the Colts added very little. It could still be enough to win the AFC South — we give them a 36 percent chance of doing that — but don’t expect much past that.Jacksonville JaguarsThe Jaguars have not had a lot of success recently. The last time they finished above .500 was in 2007, and the 2013 squad had a real shot at being the worst team in NFL history. At the Jaguars’ low point that season, Vegas set them as 28-point underdogs against the Denver Broncos.But in the past couple of years, the Jaguars, while still definitely bad, have become kind of exciting. In 2013, they listed draftee Denard Robinson’s position as “offensive weapon,” which was stupid, but in a fun way! In 2014, they had their biggest comeback ever, and in 2015, two Jaguars reached 1,000 yards receiving (after none did in the previous nine seasons). Jacksonville’s defense is still a disaster (31st in points allowed in 2015), but this has become a non-depressing team that lost close, watchable games.Add to all that one of the best draft classes in both 2015 and 2016, and the confidence of Jaguars fans may soon be rewarded: It once looked like the Colts were pulling a Spurs 6Dennis Shaw1970BUF7.81 There are a lot of great quarterbacks on that list, but a few flameouts as well. RGIII and Dennis Shaw never matched their rookie seasons, and Rodney Peete became a successful but unexceptional journeyman. The Titans are making a big bet that Mariota is the real deal. If he is, Tennessee could start contending sooner rather than later.VIDEO: How one spurned Rams fan found a new team
OSU senior defenseman Cara Zubko (2) during a game against Minnesota State on Oct. 24 2015 at Schottenstein Center. Credit: Muyao Shen | Asst. Photo EditorWhile most student-athletes are balancing getting to practice and completing class assignments on time, Cara Zubko, a senior defenseman for Ohio State’s women’s ice hockey team, has used her platform to improve communities both in Columbus and halfway around the world in Vietnam.Zubko was nominated for the 2016 BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award, which goes to college hockey’s “finest citizen,” according to the award’s website. Zubko was one of the first 18 nominees across men’s and women’s college hockey, though she did not make the final five released last Thursday. The Preeceville, Saskatchewan, native traveled to Vietnam in the summer of 2013 with a program called Coach for College. Through the program, student-athletes from universities across the United States join forces with students from Vietnamese universities to teach impoverished kids throughout the country life lessons through academics and athletics. Having the opportunity to show the kids a “better view of life” and give them special experiences was the bedrock for Zubko’s future work, she said. “That was really life changing for me,” she said.This is the second year in a row that a Buckeye was nominated for one of college hockey’s highest honors off the ice. Kayla Sullivan was nominated last year as a senior, and she recommended Zubko to take over as the leader for the program’s work with Team IMPACT this year.Team IMPACT is an organization that partners collegiate sports teams with children with chronic diseases. The athletes join friends and family of the child’s support team, and the child is able to become an official team member. Erin Selfe, a middle schooler in Columbus area, is partnered up with the women’s hockey team through the organization. She is an active part of the team, going to every one of its home games, Zubko said. Last season, the Buckeyes held a birthday party for Erin at her house. “We have a great relationship with (Erin),” Zubko said. “We have just become really good friends with her, and that’s been a really great positive impact on us and on her as she is struggling with a rare disease.”Zubko and the team also participate in 2nd & Seven, an organization which has the team read to local second-grade students, and she spends time volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House.Assistant coach Carson Duggan praised Zubko’s willingness to always make time for community service.“Every single time that I send out volunteer opportunities or any type of project like that where student-athletes are needed, 99 percent of the time the first person I hear back from within not even an hour is Zubko,” Duggan said.The senior has been one of the stars on the ice for the Buckeyes this season, as well, as she ranks fourth on the team with 17 points, including four goals. It has been a true breakout season in her final year wearing scarlet and gray, as she came into the season with just 16 points combined in her first three seasons.Regardless of what she has been able to accomplish when she laces up her skates, Zubko said she believes it is her duty as a student-athlete to try to make a positive impact on the community around her.“I think with the experiences (we get as student-athletes), it’s the least we can do to give back,” Zubko said.Duggan said she credits Zubko’s upbringing as helping to shape her into the well-rounded leader she is today. “She’s extremely hard working … She grew up on a farm, so you know she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and work,” Duggan said.Zubko’s grasp of her ability to be a role model has empowered her to lead her team in work throughout Columbus.“Her willingness to help and understanding that (when) we are part of Ohio State athletics, you’re a part of something bigger,” Duggan said. “You have a little bit of a platform, and she really uses that to her advantage and never shies away and understands that part of the duty of student-athletes is to give back, so she is always willing to do that.”
The mantra of “Home Sweet Home” has been the theme for several Ohio State athletic teams that have enjoyed the most success playing on university grounds.The Ohio State men’s volleyball team has been no different. It has made its home at St. John Arena a nightmare for opposing teams.Coach Pete Hanson said that the comfort level at home has really helped elevate his team’s play.“I think some teams have a harder time adjusting to the bigger arena and that helps our guys a lot,” Hanson said.The Buckeyes have been the definition of “perfect” at home, not only winning all five matches this season, but also sweeping all three sets in each of those respective matches. They have won each home set by an average margin of seven points.Hanson said that playing in St. John Arena every day for practice has been important for the players.“It is a great facility that, when set up for volleyball, has a very good feel to it for our guys. Being able to practice every day there makes a huge difference also,” Hanson said. “The great lighting and very good visual surroundings are what help to make St. John a great place to play.”Hanson said that while he is pleased with his team’s home success, he knows that tougher tasks still lie ahead.“We have some very good teams still scheduled to come to St. John Arena and I think our early schedule at home has been a bit easier than what we will finish with,” Hanson said.After facing Carthage this Friday, the Buckeyes don’t return home until early March when they face No. 7 Penn State in a rematch from an early-season meeting. They then go on the road again for a couple of weeks before finishing the regular season with three consecutive matches at home against Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association conference opponents.Being able to replicate their early home domination during that final, three-match stretch will be essential for the Buckeyes to win the MIVA conference.“Home-court advantage for the MIVA playoffs is huge,” Hanson said. “We always want to win the conference and be the home team for all the rounds of the tournament.”Earning home court advantage in the playoffs would be instrumental for the Buckeyes considering how they have played at home already this season. The winner of the MIVA playoffs gains berth into the NCAA Men’s Volleyball Final Four.Hanson did not understate what that meant to his team. “That is truly one of our top priorities each and every year,” Hanson said.
One big letdown against the San Jose Sharks snapped the Columbus Blue Jackets’ three-game winning streak. After scoring two power-play goals for an early 2-0 lead, Columbus surrendered three unanswered goals to the Sharks. A third-period tally from left winger Patrick Marleau put San Jose ahead, 3-2, and goalie Antti Niemi shut the Jackets out the rest of the game Wednesday night at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets imposed themselves on San Jose from the opening faceoff. Besides winning physical battles on both offense and defense, the Jackets took advantage of their first two power plays of the game. Niemi kept his team in the game throughout the opening period, turning away 14 shots. At 9:35 into the game, he got a leg pad to Blue Jackets left winger Kristian Huselius’ slap shot, despite a screen from left winger R.J. Umberger. Niemi’s pad wasn’t enough, though, and the shot trickled through his legs. Huselius’ 12th goal of the year gave the Blue Jackets an early 1-0 lead. Columbus continued to win physical battles during its second power play before defenseman Grant Clitsome skated up from the blue line to slap a shot into the upper left-hand corner of the net. Niemi only managed to turn his head in time to see Clitsome’s third goal of the year put the Sharks in a 2-0 hole at the 19:51 mark. But the Sharks pushed back, literally and figuratively, in the second period. There was increased physicality from all members of the San Jose team, and their scoring push came from unlikely players. Less than two minutes into the second period, defenseman Kent Huskins cut the Sharks’ deficit in half with his first goal of the year. Sharks center Kyle Wellwood provided his second goal of the year to even the score at 2-2, 12 minutes later. Columbus defenseman Marc Methot thought the goals were more a product of a Columbus letdown than a San Jose revival. “We did it to ourselves that period,” Methot said. “We let off the gas.” An uneventful third period turned unfortunate for Columbus when right winger Derek Dorsett collapsed after getting his leg caught on the ice. Dorsett stayed down for several minutes but managed to skate to the bench without assistance. The Sharks intensified their attack when play resumed, and eventually one of their known scoring commodities provided the game-winning goal. Columbus goalie Steve Mason, who saved 29 shots total, stood tall for much of the third period. Mason was tight up against the left post of his goal when a wrist shot from the point snuck passed him and several bodies in front of the net. The goal was credited to Marleau. Columbus coach Scott Arniel was skeptical of the Sharks’ third goal. “It just got in on the short side,” Arniel said. “(Mason) was playing a heck of a hockey game. If it goes on the short side, one way or another, he’s gotta seal that.” Marleau’s 20th goal of the year for the Sharks was met with more impressive goaltending from Niemi, who made 16 of his game-high 42 saves in the third period to help the Sharks hang on for a 3-2 victory. Arniel was mostly positive about Columbus’ effort in recent games, but questioned the mental toughness of his players. “The guys, you could tell, were a little tired at times,” Arniel said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win the game. It’s real disappointing. We felt we were good for stretches.” Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash summed up the loss to San Jose in just a few sentences. “It’s a tough one tonight,” Nash said. “We had a great first and then sat back and lost on a tough goal. We shot ourselves in the foot and threw away two points.” With the loss, Columbus remains four points behind the Calgary Flames for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. San Jose moves into the top spot in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division and third place in the conference overall with the win. The Blue Jackets return to action with a 7 p.m. faceoff Friday against the Colorado Avalanche at Nationwide Arena.
Then-redshirt-sophomore Cory Kunze jumps over a hurdle during the Jesse Owens Track Classic April 14, 2012, at Jesse Owens Memorial Field.Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editorThe Ohio State track and field teams got their seasons off to a fast start in their first meets of the year.The teams opened their indoor seasons at the Buckeye Classic in the French Field House Friday, playing host to Wright State, Marshall, Dayton, Kentucky State, Ohio and Ashland, in addition to unattached runners.The men’s team had an OSU runner place first in four of seven individual running events. There were three first place finishers in field events.Senior sprinter and hurdler Demoye Bogle won the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 7.65 seconds to break his own school record. This winning time was also a French Field House record and was one of the top finishing times in Division I hurdles this season. Redshirt-freshman Donovan Robertson came second behind Bogle with his personal best time of 7.74 seconds but with the second best in school history.Junior sprinter and hurdler Timothy Faust also had a personal best time of 6.77 seconds at the Buckeye Classic in the 60-meter run.The season opener generated about 1,000 fans.In five of seven individual races, the OSU women’s squad had runners finish first and second. Senior sprinter Chesna Sykes finished first in the 60-meter dash and the 200-meter dash.Along with many first place finishers, there were also three personal bests for women’s track recorded on the day. Sophomore sprinter and hurdler Alexis Franklin came in second in the 60-meter hurdles with a personal best 8.35 seconds.Junior sprinter and jumper Abie Ehimwenman received her personal best mark of 6.01 meters in the long jump, putting her in first place. Senior thrower Emily Taylor grabbed another personal best and third place with an 18.71 meter toss in the weight throw.OSU’s young runners showed off their talents in the 3,000-meter run, with sophomore distance runner Minori Minagwa claiming first with a time of 10 minutes 20 seconds and freshman distance runner Jill Kanney taking second, just two seconds behind Minagwa.Next weekend, the women’s team is set to hit the road to travel to Lexington, Ky., for the Kentucky Invite and the men’s team is set to be in State College, Pa., for the Penn State Invite.
Then-junior midfielder Yianni Saris (6) dribbles the ball in an exhibition game against IPFW Aug. 20, 2013. OSU won 2-0. Credit: Lantern file photoThe Ohio State men’s soccer team is undefeated no more.OSU (2-1-3, 1-1-0) hung around with Penn State (6-0-1, 2-0-0) throughout much of the Sunday afternoon contest, but ultimately fell to the Big Ten leaders, 1-0.The trip to State College, Pa., was one that the Buckeyes knew all week would not be an easy one, junior defender Kyle Culbertson said.“We’re just looking forward to Penn State, knowing it’s going to be a hard game,” he said before the game. “I know they’re ranked pretty high in the country and also No. 1 in the conference, so I know it’s going to be a tough game. They’ve done well in the conference the last two years and kind of set the standard for everyone else.”The Nittany Lions, the two-time defending Big Ten champions, came into the game ranked No. 10 in the nation.Penn State scored the game’s lone goal late in the 63rd minute, when redshirt-junior midfielder Kyle MacDonald deposited a pass into an empty net.The net was abandoned because OSU redshirt-senior goalkeeper Alex Ivanov scrambled out to knock the ball away from sophomore forward Connor Maloney. Holloway was able to pass across to MacDonald, who put it into the far post.The goal was the first of MacDonald’s collegiate career.The Buckeyes only managed to register three shots on goal, with none representing a real scoring opportunity.OSU was outshot, 22-6, overall by the heavy-powered Penn State offense, which has scored at least one goal in each of its seven games this season.Senior goalkeeper Andrew Wolverton picked up his fifth shutout of the season to remain undefeated. Wolverton has yet to allow a goal this season, as the only score Penn State has allowed came after Wolverton received a red card Sept. 8.Ivanov made 10 saves in the defeat, a season high. Ivanov had only made 19 saves through the first five games, including not needing to make one in a shutout victory against Northwestern Sept. 14. That comes after making 110 saves last season, ranking fifth in the nation.OSU is scheduled to take a break from Big Ten play this week to host Akron on Wednesday before heading back on the road to travel to University of Dayton on Saturday. Those games are set to begin at 7 p.m. and 1 p.m., respectively.
OSU sophomore forward Sammy Edwards (19) during a game against Minnesota on Sept. 17 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. OSU lost 2-1. Credit: Sam Harris / For The LanternAfter a cancellation against their rival Michigan Wolverines last weekend, the Ohio State women’s soccer team is looking to get back on their feet as they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers in the team’s final game of the 2017 spring season.With an intense few months of training and a number of exhibition games already under their belts, the Buckeyes are working to solidify the skills they have been building upon throughout this spring season, head coach Lori Walker said. However, there are a couple of lingering concerns that remain on both the offensive and defensive end of the ball.“We’ve got to have a little more presence from our mid-field as far as their ability to be dangerous in their shooting and looking at the goal more,” Walker said. “The biggest thing for us, though, is to really tidy up what’s happening in the back. We gave up way too many goals this past year, and if we can tighten that up, we’re certainly producing enough to win games.”The team has been struggling to fill certain roles that were left vacant at the conclusion of the 2016 season as their five graduating seniors departed, which has proven to be an especially difficult adjustment on the attacking end. Two of the five departing seniors, Lindsay Agnew and Nichelle Pierce, both now playing professionally, were the Buckeyes’ top goal scorers last season.With the absence of Agnew and Pierce up top, the transition has been tough for the group as they struggle to make it past the goalkeeper.“I feel like our biggest weakness is just putting the ball in the back of the net,” senior Sammy Edwards said. “We’ve been building so well and our defense has been strong, and then we get all the way up the field and we just can’t seem to finish and put the game away.”However, OSU may have more of an opportunity to enhance their attacks and find the back of the net this weekend, since Pitt has lost four graduating seniors as well, including their starting goalkeeper Taylor Francis, and defender Siobhan McDonough who contributed on the attack as well.The concern that remains is keeping a solid defensive line since Pitt will also have a number of dynamic attacking players. Panthers forwards Taylor Pryce and Ohio-native Sarah Krause could pose a threat to the Buckeyes’ defense who are going to need to tighten up, track and shut down these players, Walker said.Though the spring has brought along some challenges on both sides of the ball for the Buckeyes, they believe they have made improvements that will continue to benefit them as they prepare for the upcoming fall season, Edwards said.“I think we’re actually farther along in our process of where we want to be,” Edwards said, “and I think that’s going to be very beneficial as we go into the fall season because we have to train 13 new freshmen coming in, and if we’re all on the same page, it’ll be much easier to bring them into it.”The team is hoping for a smooth transition between the conclusion of the spring season and the beginning of summer training when the team, including the incoming freshman, arrive back on campus in June to take on summer school and work with the Buckeyes’ strength coach Tyler Carpenter before pre-season training officially begins.“They’ll get a little time off before preseason, and then we’ll hit the ground running on the first of August,” Walker said. The Buckeyes will wrap up the 2017 spring season Saturday at Pitt’s Ambrose Urbanic Field at 11:30 a.m.