Dwight Howard – It has become anti-climatic at best, boring at the least. The constant speculation on where Orlando Magic center might be traded has just about desensitized anyone who once was interested in the situation. But the Magic’s resistance to countless reported offers and Howard’s embarrassing indecision has left the 7-foot center right where he was when all this talk began in earnest two months ago.All that, and the latest report is that Orlando might not trade him after all, that they will shun any offers from the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets — the clubs making the most noise about acquiring him — and see if playing with the Magic and a new coach (presumably San Antonio assistant Jacque Vaughn) will influence him to stay.Good luck with that.In any case, ESPN reported that league executives have been told by Orlando honchos that it likely will hold on to Howard, who repeatedly has asked to be traded, until the February 2013 trade deadline. That’s, of course, if they do not receive an offer they just cannot refuse before then.Yes, the carousel continues to go round and round. . .There also is the possibility that the Magic are just posturing to siphon more from a suitor in way of compensation. Whatever the case, it appears Howard might not be traded for some time. The Lakers’ and Rockets’ leadership, according to ESPN, left trade discussions feeling the Magic did not have a real interest in trading Howard, who has been an all-star six times in his career.When Howard first requested a trade to the Brooklyn Nets this past December, he explicably waive his opt-out clause, meaning he could have become a free agent at the end of this past season but elected to stay under contract for another year. For a player seeking to exit, it was not a smart move.He could have avoided all this back and forth and signed with the team that he desired all along — Brooklyn. Instead, the rumor mill remains busy with Howard speculation. Most observers at this point are going: “Wake me up when he’s actually traded.”
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith was predicted by many analysts to be the first quarterback selected in Thursday’s NFL draft, but surprisingly, the Buffalo Bills selected E.J. Manuel over Smith with the 16th overall pick.“There was a lot of confirmation going on for me, so it was more so a matter of when they were going to take me in the draft,” Manuel said. “I’m going to enjoy tonight. I’m going to enjoy my family, but I know there’s work to be done.”Manuel, who was the only quarterback to be taken in the first round, will now become the new face of the Bills franchise, which has not made the playoffs in 13 years.Manuel was 25-6 in his four years with the Florida State Seminoles. He has a strong arm, throwing 263 completions out of 387 passes for 3,397 yards. In addition, he passed for 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 14 starts during his senior season.However, many believed that Smith was the overall best quarterback in draft, but he left disappointed Thursday night before the last two picks in the first round.Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who knows the feeling of being alone in the green room on draft night, offered words of encouragement to Smith via Twitter. Rodgers told Smith to hang in there; good things come to those who wait.Rodgers slipped all the way to No. 24 before former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue called his name in the 2005 NFL draft.ESPN initially reported that Smith decided to leave New York and not return for the second day of the draft. But ESPN insider Adam Schefter tweeted Friday morning that Smith had decided to attend the draft tonight at Radio City Music Hall.If Smith finally hears his named called, he will have the opportunity to walk across the stage in his tailored suit and hold up a jersey for his prospective team.
The NBA playoffs can sometimes come down to key role players knocking down clutch shots in important moments. But mostly, it’s all about the stars. The league revolves around its top players more than any other sport, and those players usually determine where the championship resides each season.So which playoff team has the most star power? One way to measure this is to break players into tiers based on their performance metrics. A few years back, my boss Nate Silver devised a system called “star points,” which awarded teams a score based on how many stars it had on its roster. Players in the top tier of stars (“Alphas”) are worth 3 points apiece, those in the next (“Betas”) are worth 2, and the lower tier (“Gammas”) are 1 apiece. Teams generally need at least 5 of these star points in total to begin thinking about a title run, and 7 star points is where a championship roster really begins to take form.Perhaps surprisingly, there aren’t any teams with 7 or more star points this season. The Golden State Warriors would have had 8 if DeMarcus Cousins hadn’t been injured Monday night, but Cousins is out indefinitely with a torn quadriceps and may miss the rest of the playoffs. That drops the Warriors into the co-lead with 6 star points, alongside Toronto. And that could mean a more wide-open postseason than we’ve been used to, in which role players might take on an even greater degree of importance.To calculate star points this season, I turned to the constantly updating player talent ratings from our CARMELO projection-system depth charts. (In the previous iteration of star points, Nate used an amalgam of various advanced metrics, but that was before our player ratings updated in-season.) After resetting the cutoffs for each tier to maintain a similar number of players of each type,1An Alpha now has a CARMELO-projected overall plus/minus of +5.5 or greater; a Beta has a projected plus/minus of less than +5.5 but at least +4.0; and a Gamma has a projected plus/minus of less than +4.0 but at least +2.5. I found that the NBA has six current Alphas (four of whom are active in the playoffs), 13 Betas (12 of whom are in the playoffs, but one of those — Cousins — is injured) and 17 Gammas (13 whose teams are in the playoffs, with two injured). PLAYERTEAM+/-PLAYERTEAM+/-PLAYERTEAM+/- The NBA’s championship-caliber players, 2019 edition2019 NBA player tiers based on CARMELO-projected plus/minus talent Houston Rockets17531105 ConleyMEM+2.6 San Antonio Spurs15480000 Detroit Pistons14250022 * Star points are based on a weighted total of a team’s stars, in which Alphas are worth 3 points, Betas are worth 2, and Gammas are worth 1.Team totals do not include injured players.Sources: ESPN, Basketball-Reference.com Boston Celtics16410113 HardenHOU+8.0WestbrookOKC+5.3LeonardTOR+3.7 DurantGS+4.6Oladipo*IND+3.1 * Out indefinitely with injuryPlayers in italics are on teams that missed the playoffs.Sources: ESPN, Basketball-Reference.com Check out our latest NBA predictions. IrvingBOS+4.1WalkerCHA+2.8 JamesLAL+6.3TownsMIN+4.9HolidayNO+3.2 Cousins*GS+4.1BledsoeMIL+2.8 How the playoff teams stack up on star powerCurrent CARMELO ratings and star points* for 2019 NBA playoff teams Brooklyn Nets14780000 AntetokounmpoMIL+6.9GeorgeOKC+5.2HorfordBOS+3.4 Players By Tier ButlerPHI+4.0MillsapDEN+2.8 CovingtonMIN+2.7 Oklahoma City Thunder16730204 Orlando Magic15340102 GasolTOR+2.5 JokicDEN+6.8GobertUTA+5.1GreenGS+3.3 LowryTOR+4.0GreenTOR+2.8 Utah Jazz16990102 In an unusual twist, two of this season’s Alphas — LeBron James and Anthony Davis — actually missed the playoffs. (Their intertwined soap opera is worth its own set of charts.) But among the postseason’s remaining star power, there are some interesting mixes of player tiers on the top teams.The Warriors might be a surprise with only one Alpha (Stephen Curry), one Beta (Kevin Durant) and one Gamma (Draymond Green). Durant didn’t quite qualify for Alpha status, in part because he ranked only ninth in Real Plus-Minus (and 18th in Box Plus/Minus) this season. Meanwhile, Green was downgraded to a Gamma because of a weak offensive season,2According to our mix of RPM and BPM, he was 0.9 points per 100 possessions worse than the average NBA player on offense, though his defense more than made up for it. Klay Thompson barely broke even in projected plus/minus talent (+0.1), and Cousins now appears to be lost for at least most of the playoffs. The usual caveats about the Warriors’ sometimes lax regular-season efforts apply, but based on performance metrics, this team’s name recognition might outpace its actual star power at this point.And yet, only the Raptors match the Warriors in that regard among postseason teams. They also did it in a very different way: Unlike Golden State, Toronto boasts no Alphas, but it does have one Beta (Kyle Lowry) and four Gammas (Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Danny Green and Marc Gasol). Wait … Lowry is a Beta and Leonard is only a Gamma? The difference between the two (+4.0 vs. +3.7) is so slim as to be splitting hairs, but Leonard had a surprisingly down year in RPM, ranking just 37th in the league, while Lowry ranked 20th. The broader point, however, is that Toronto has assembled an unusually deep stable of star talent. The team has long been known for its depth down the roster, but a series of moves helped turn that depth into something slightly different: a collection of quasi-star-level talent at the top of the lineup. Golden State Warriors17941116 Milwaukee Bucks17391014 ALPHASBETASGAMMAS Denver Nuggets16731014 Philadelphia 76ers16730215 The Rockets and Sixers rank just below the Warriors and Raptors in star points with 5 apiece, but where in that group is Milwaukee, the East’s No. 1 seed? The Bucks have perhaps the Alpha of all Alphas this season in Giannis Antetokounmpo. But only one other player around him qualified as a star: Eric Bledsoe is a Gamma, while Brook Lopez barely misses the cutoff. Milwaukee’s overall lack of supporting star power would make it a historical anomaly if it does end up winning the NBA title.The Utah Jazz, in the midst of a brutal first-round matchup against the Rockets, also has very little star power (one Beta in Rudy Gobert). But they have a bunch of guys who just barely missed Gamma status: Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, Ekpe Udoh and Donovan Mitchell all had CARMELO plus/minus ratings under +2.5 but greater than +1.5. If we added an extra category for “Deltas” — worth, say, a half-point per player — the Jazz would leapfrog Boston and be much closer to the top of the heap than the bottom.Regardless, there’s a reason that star points don’t track perfectly with a team’s CARMELO rating or its championship odds. Depth does matter some, even if the effect is less of a factor as rotations shorten during the postseason. And sometimes teams are simply built with a blueprint that helps them perform better than their star power would suggest (the Bucks are a good test case there as well), while others aren’t quite as good as their multiple stars say they should be (the Sixers could be lumped into that group).Before they blew a 31-point lead Monday night — and, more importantly, lost Cousins to injury — the Warriors were looking every bit the star-studded machine we thought they’d be all season long. Now, they are still sizable favorites to win it all, but their edge in star power is not quite as decisive as it’s been in recent seasons. We’ll find out soon enough whether that will matter in Golden State’s quest for a third straight championship, or if another team near the top of the rankings above can finally supplant the Warriors and build a star-powered legacy of its own. CurryGS+6.6PaulHOU+4.9Nurkic*POR+3.3 TeamCARMELO RatingAlphasBetasGammasStar Points VucevicORL+4.5SiakamTOR+3.0 Portland Trail Blazers15810102 EmbiidPHI+4.4GriffinDET+2.9 Toronto Raptors17750146 Los Angeles Clippers15000000 DrummondDET+2.7 DavisNO+5.8LillardPOR+4.7SimmonsPHI+3.1 Indiana Pacers15440000
Teams that make the NBA Finals have great players. OK, that’s not exactly news. But teams can get great players in different ways. The 2008 Celtics became great largely by signing Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the offseason. Ditto for the 2011 Miami Heat, by snagging LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Ditto for the 2015 Cleveland Cavaliers.Other finals teams, however, become great organically; they keep mostly the same players, but those players get a lot better. This year’s Golden State Warriors are one such team. The Dubs’ season has been remarkable, but it’s all the more special because they’ve excelled with nearly the same crop of players from last year.1The only substantive addition to this year’s squad is Shaun Livingston, who ranks seventh on the team in minutes played. The top eight players in terms of minutes are almost identical to last year’s team, plus Livingston. Stephen Curry became an MVP winner; Klay Thompson turned into one of the best shooting guards in the league; Draymond Green nearly won Defensive Player of the Year — this Warriors team became great thanks to leaps in performance by existing players.The Warriors improved dramatically this season, according to our Elo ratings. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, they have surged 211 points. That’s the 13th-highest single-season Elo improvement of all time. That’s unusually high for a team that added little talent.Using work by my colleague Neil Paine, I can quantify the talent change from year to year, based on multiyear Real Plus-Minus projections — these are ex ante projections, which incorporate performance in past seasons, an aging curve and regression to the mean.2Specifically, the talent rating is five times the minute-weighted average of a team’s players’ individual Real Plus-Minus projections. (This relationship is shown in the scatterplot below.) Compared with other teams that have reached the NBA Finals since 1980, and given their 3.3-point improvement according to RPM, the Warriors’ Elo rating should have improved by only 83 points. They did much better than that.But guess who improved more than the Warriors, according to Elo, over the course of this season? Their finals opponent, the Cavs. Of course, the Cavs followed the model of the 2011 Heat and 2008 Celtics, signing big talent in the offseason: LeBron James and Kevin Love. James and Love — with Kyrie Irving before his and Love’s injuries — remade a struggling, below-average Cavs squad (who started the season with an Elo rating of 1463).Look at finals teams with large single-season jumps in their Elo rating and you notice something: They look more like the Cavs than the Warriors. That is, newcomers to the NBA Finals have typically acquired a big piece. The best example is the 2008 Celtics, whose 326-point Elo improvement is by far the all-time highest. That 2008 Celtics squad, not surprisingly, also has the largest swing in RPM talent, 11.4 points.To measure organic improvement only, we need to control for the influx of new talent. Specifically, we need to calculate how much the team would have improved if it had made no roster moves (this is the “old” talent), and compare it with how much they actually improved, thus deriving the benefit of new players (the “new” talent).3Specifically, by taking the players on the current year’s roster, but using their end-of-season talent ratings for the previous year, we can compute how the team would have done this season with the same group of players on both teams. Then, by comparing this change to the actual improvement in those same players, we have an organic, or “old,” talent rating. The difference between that and the actual change in the overall team’s talent rating can thus be attributed to the influx of new players (or “new” talent).As shown in the table below, among finals teams since 1980, the Warriors have the second-largest differential between their organic (“old”) talent and their “new” talent. This suggests that you don’t have to snap up a superstar in the offseason to see huge year-over-year improvement. Some teams, like the Warriors, can make it happen organically.CLARIFICATION (June 5, 10:25 a.m.): Some commenters interpreted an earlier version of this post as suggesting that Kyrie Irving was new to the Cavaliers this season. Irving has been in Cleveland since 2011. We’ve updated the language to make that clearer.Neil Paine contributed to this article.
When he was hired in May to coach the Milwaukee Bucks, Mike Budenholzer inherited a promising but underachieving core of young players led by Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks — who have not won a playoff series since 2001 — had just suffered yet another postseason disappointment and hoped a coaching change would help them escape perpetual mediocrity.To say the results have been encouraging would be an understatement. Budenholzer has implemented a new and more modern offensive strategy that is utilizing Antetokounmpo’s unique talents like never before. Under Budenholzer this season, the Bucks are scoring at a conference-leading rate of 113.2 points per 100 possessions. The team has the best record in the NBA, has won 10 of its last 11, and has already beaten conference rivals Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto (three times now). Milwaukee is heading into All-Star weekend as perhaps the most intimidating team in the Eastern Conference.So, yes, the coaching change has worked. But what exactly has Budenholzer done — and why is it working so well for the Bucks? One strategic change was clear even back in the preseason when Budenholzer rolled out his new offense.“Coach Bud wants us to shoot more 3s,” Milwaukee guard Malcolm Brogdon told Eric Nehm of The Athletic. “A lot more 3s.”Last year, the Bucks attempted just 24.7 3-pointers per game (25th-most in the league). Under Budenholzer, they have pumped up their long-range volume to 37.8 3-pointers per game, second-most in the NBA this season (trailing only the Houston Rockets).But Budenholzer has done more than just open the 3-point flood gates in Milwaukee this year: He has engineered a sea change in shot selection.“I think there’s a lot of focus on how many 3s [we are taking], but hopefully we’re having the best of everything,” Budenholzer said to The Athletic. “If you’re an efficient offense, you’re getting to the basket. You’re getting to the paint. You’re getting to the free-throw line. And you’re shooting a bunch of 3s.” This season, the Bucks have done more to modernize their shot chart than any other team in the league, as shown in these year-to-year charts.1The 2017-18 chart is through games as of Feb. 5, 2018. Their share of shots taken at the rim or behind the 3-point line — referred to as the Moreyball Rate, after Houston general manager Daryl Morey — has jumped by 16 percentage points, according to data compiled by PBP Stats. Correspondingly, their average 2-pointer is being attempted from a shorter distance, about 2.5 feet closer to the hoop. And everybody on the team is cutting back on midrange jumpers.The Bucks’ transformations in Moreyball Rate and 2-point shot distance are the biggest changes by any team in the NBA from last season to this one. In fact, the Bucks’ sudden modernization is among the most drastic changes in shot selection by any team during the entire era of play-by-play data (available since 2001-02). Appropriately, Morey produced the biggest Moreyball makeover in league history during Houston’s 2012-13 season, James Harden’s first with the team.For the Bucks, the advantage of being laggards in the Moreyball revolution has been an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of their competitors. Seth Partnow, now Milwaukee’s director of basketball research, wrote for Vice Sports in 2016 that creating makeable shots takes more than just jacking threes and driving headlong into the lane. “Three-pointers and shots at the rim are indicators of good offense, but they’re not good offense in a vacuum, and teams that use them as targets should be wary of putting the cart before the horse. Those are good shots in theory. In practice, the best shots are the ones the personnel on hand can make.”Fundamentally, the Bucks have achieved their impressive offensive efficiency on the strength of the two principles of Budenholzer’s offensive philosophy: pace and space.Budenholzer’s emphasis on court spacing has been emblemized by the image of five “stand-here” squares he had taped to the floor of the Bucks practice court, surrounding the 3-point line. By initiating their offensive possessions with all five players outside the 3-point line, the Bucks leave more space for Antetokounmpo to attack the basket. Once Antetokounmpo draws attention around the basket, he’s free to kick the ball out to open 3-point shooters in space. It’s a positive feedback loop that yields easier shots for Antetokounmpo and his teammates.The Bucks’ improved floor spacing has been facilitated by some shrewd front-office maneuvers. The team signed capable stretch bigs Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova on team-friendly contracts while at the same time cutting ties with paint-clogging centers Greg Monroe, Tyler Zeller and, most recently, John Henson.With all that extra space, Antetokounmpo has been attacking the basket relentlessly this season. Since last year, he has increased his volume of drives per game from 11.0 to 12.9; his paint touches are up from 5.3 to 6.5 per game; and he’s now taking more shots at the rim (523) than any other player in the league. These additional basket-attacking duties have put the onus on Antetokounmpo to read the defense and distribute the ball to his teammates.The result has been a career high in assists for Antetokounmpo this season (5.9 per game), with an emphasis on kick-out dimes. On 289 total assists this season, Antetokounmpo has set up a teammate for a 3-point basket 168 times (58 percent), while he has assisted a teammate in scoring a 2-point basket just 121 times (42 percent). In other words, Antetokounmpo has created 262 more points via assisted 3-pointers than he has via assisted 2-pointers this year. That is the biggest such margin of any player in the league and it’s not even remotely close — Detroit’s Blake Griffin is second with 98 more points assisted on 3-pointers than 2-pointers.Among the top-30 assist leaders this season, Antetokounmpo and teammate Eric Bledsoe are two of only seven players who have created more points via assists on 3s than on 2s. 2018-19Bucks6480+167.55.0-2.5 MEMMike Conley225103328450309-141 SeasonTEAMPrev. seasongiven seasonDiff.Prev. seasongiven seasondiff. NOPJrue Holiday293138431586414-172 The Bucks’ drive-and-kick is producing threesThe top 30 2018-19 NBA assist leaders by the difference in points created from assisted 3-pointers vs. 2-pointers, through Feb. 5 2013-1476ers5166+159.56.5-3.0 TORKyle Lowry287101388574303-271 PORDamian Lillard23188319462264-198 2005-06Cavaliers4760+139.08.0-1.0 2015-16Hornets5164+139.58.2-1.3 CHAKemba Walker174117291348351+3 BOSKyrie Irving195120315390360-30 INDDarren Collison21989308438267-171 2014-15Cavaliers5365+128.87.2-1.6 2012-13L.A. Lakers5163+129.18.1-1.0 2008-09Trail Blazers4454+1011.08.9-2.1 MOREYBALL RATEAVG. 2PA DISTANCE Moreyball Rate is the share of the team’s shots taken at the rim or behind the 3-point lineSome percentage-point and distance differences may not add up because of roundingAs of Feb. 5, 2019Source: PBPstats.com MINJeff Teague17179250342237-105 LALLonzo Ball19461255388183-205 MILEric Bledsoe167112279334336+2 PHXDevin Booker174108282348324-24 GSWKevin Durant192119311384357-27 GSWDraymond Green17896274356288-68 PHIBen Simmons236182418472546+74 UTARicky Rubio182104286364312-52 WASJohn Wall178101279356303-53 2012-13Rockets53%74%+208.8ft6.2ft-2.6ft 2018-19Wizards5871+128.76.9-1.8 ATLTrae Young239155394478465-13 SASDeMar DeRozan192123315384369-15 2004-05L.A. Lakers5061+118.67.8-0.9 OKCRussell Westbrook321163484642489-153 TeamPlayer2P3PTOTAL2P3PDIFF HOUJames Harden251151402502453-49 UTAJoe Ingles19173264382219-163 DETBlake Griffin140126266280378+98 LACLou Williams18569254370207-163 MILGiannis Antetokounmpo121168289242504+262 2003-04Wizards3852+1410.98.7-2.2 DENNikola Jokic285114399570342-228 Source: PBPstats.com 2017-18Raptors5871+128.36.5-1.8 ASSISTSPOINTS CREATED DALLuka Doncic151120271302360+58 Milwaukee has modernized its shot selection, big timeTeams with the biggest jumps in their Moreyball Rate from the previous season and their change in average distances from the basket on 2-point field-goal attempts, since 2001-02 2007-08Magic5366+138.06.9-1.1 2016-17Nets5372+198.46.1-2.4 2008-09L.A. Clippers4457+1310.28.2-2.0 SACDe’Aaron Fox227146373454438-16 LALLeBron James16785252334255-79 WASBradley Beal152117269304351+47 BKND’Angelo Russell230116346460348-112 At the top of the list, Antetokounmpo finds himself in the company of a few other big ball handlers — Griffin, Ben Simmons, Luka Doncic — who can distribute to their teammates from the inside out. LeBron James, who is basically the prototype for this point-forward approach, assisted on 344 of his teammates’ 3-pointers in Cleveland last year (for 1,032 points), more than any other player in the NBA. (He created 226 more points on the 3s he assisted than on 2s.) Antetokounmpo is on pace to post a similarly lopsided distribution of assists this season.Impressively, when Antetokounmpo has been on the court this season, 89 percent of the Bucks’ 3-pointers have been assisted; that’s 11 percentage points more than the team’s assisted-3 rate when he’s been on the bench. The Bucks’ improved spacing seems to be helping Antetokounmpo create all the right shots for his Milwaukee teammates.Establishing a faster pace has gone hand-in-hand with the Bucks’ efforts to create better spacing. Budenholzer has emphasized playing with urgency and purposeful movement, and the team has shaved nearly a second off the duration of its average offensive trip (from 14.0 to 13.1 seconds per possession). According to Synergy Sports, the Bucks have attempted fewer field goals this season during the last seven seconds of the shot clock (from 19 percent of all field-goal attempts to 15 percent) and have correspondingly increased the proportion of their attempts (from 59 percent to 65 percent) that are attempted with somewhere between seven and 18 seconds remaining on the shot clock.Antetokounmpo helps push the pace for the Bucks. Budenholzer has instructed his lanky star to dribble the ball up the court immediately after securing any defensive rebound, which has created more uptempo half-court possessions and shots in semitransition.The Bucks are shooting better when they keep their offensive flow uptempo like this — with an effective field-goal percentage of 56 percent on shots taken with between seven and 18 seconds left on the shot clock and just 48 percent on their more slowly developing shots.A new and more modern offensive approach predicated on floor spacing and pace, along with some smart personnel decisions, have helped Budenholzer unlock the immense potential of the Bucks’ young superstar. Perhaps when they hired Budenholzer the Bucks would have been happy with winning a playoff series. But with Milwaukee in pole position for its first conference championship appearance in nearly two decades, the Bucks now have eyes on a bigger prize. The older Milwaukee generation is surely reminiscing of the summer of ’71 — the last time there was a transformative young star in town. And who knows, maybe this season will end like that one, with an NBA championship for the Bucks. Check out our latest NBA predictions.
As two of the faces of United States and international soccer, retired forward Abby Wambach and current midfielder Megan Rapinoe have used their platforms to act as leaders for various social issues, such as LGBT and women’s rights. But now, following in the steps of another former U.S. women’s national team star, Brandi Chastain, Wambach and Rapinoe have plans to make a difference in an entirely different way.In an interview with The Lantern before the two spoke at Ohio State for an event sponsored by OUAB, Wambach disclosed that she has made arrangements to have her brain donated for concussion research. Rapinoe later revealed the same during the event.“I think it’s amazing. I’m going to do the same myself,” Wambach said of Chastain’s pledge to donate. “Actually, I’m going to be doing a piece with her in order to get the word out, and I think that will be so important not just for the next generation, but to learn more.”Wambach later added that the piece with Chastain is set to be a podcast.Chastain, known for her game-winning penalty kick and ensuing celebration in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final, announced her intentions in early March, becoming one of the most prominent female athletes to do so.The 35-year-old Wambach, the all-time leading goal scorer in international soccer, could prove especially valuable in the research due to her propensity to use her head on the pitch. Of her 184 goals in international play, 77 were deposited using her head.“I think there will be valuable research and information that will be studied, and we will understand more about the heading and the heading process as it pertains to the game,” Wambach said.During the OUAB event, Rapinoe acknowledged that she’s unsure how much information could be gathered from her brain, as she does not use her head to the extent of Wambach. Even so, she said she felt it necessary to contribute to the burgeoning research on concussions. Boston University, where Chastain plans to donate her brain, is the lead researcher on the field of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a postmortem degenerative brain disease that is suspected to be linked to concussions and repeated blows to the head. However, only seven of the 307 brains studied by Boston University belonged to a female, according to The New York Times, which adds salience to the commitments of the three U.S. soccer players. CTE, initially linked to boxing, is now commonly associated with football, as the first large-scale findings on the disease came after Dr. Bennet Omalu published a paper in 2005 on former NFL center Mike Webster. Since the initial report, the list of NFL players diagnosed with CTE continues to grow. An October study from the Department of Veteran Affairs and Boston University found the disease in 87 of the 91 brains of former NFL players that were examined. Despite the repeated linkage to football, research on the disease and the impacts of head trauma is developing beyond gridiron, namely to soccer. Boston University discovered CTE in the brain of a deceased 29-year-old soccer player in 2014, the first named player to have traces of it. A 2013 study from Yeshiva University found abnormalities in the brains of soccer players who frequently head the ball that are similar to patients who have sustained concussions. The study noted a single header is not enough to result in traumatic brain injuries, but the lead author, Dr. Michael Lipton, wrote that “repetitive heading could set off a cascade of responses that leads to degeneration of brain cells over time.”As a preventive measure in young players, the U.S. Soccer Federation put forth new safety guidelines in November, banning headers for players under 10 years old, while limiting it in practice for those aged 11 to 13. Wambach said she fully supports safety measures to protect youth players, but she is advocating that there are better ways to go about it than simply banning headers altogether.“We want to make sure that when those 10-year-olds get to that 11-year-old age, the 11- to (13-year-olds) get to the next level, we want to make sure those kids are prepared,” she said. “You don’t want to send somebody out and not know how to do it, how to properly head a ball. I think that actually makes it more dangerous.“If you can do it technically sound, you’re less likely to incur a concussion. In fact, most concussions come from elbow-to-elbow or head-to-head contact, and that’s something that’s a little not talked about.”She said that because of this belief, she is working with the federation to instill new programs to teach proper technique when heading the ball.“I’m setting up a protocol with U.S. Soccer at this point to create a business in and around some of these clubs with soft balls to properly teach how to technically head a soccer ball, how to attack a soccer ball, to not be afraid of heading a soccer ball, because I don’t foresee soccer ever losing heading as part of its game,” Wambach said.Soccer might not be a sport noted for its spine-tingling collisions or overtly physical nature. But Wambach said that is precisely why she thinks research into the effects of the sport could prove invaluable to future generations.“We’re different from the NFL,” she said. “Heading a ball is different than getting struck in the head by a linebacker that’s 300 pounds trying to literally rip your head off, so I’m excited to see what those results are.”Nick Clarkson contributed to this story.
OSU freshman guard Jensen Caretti (33) outlasts Duquesne senior forward Amadea Szamosi’s (15) block in the second quarter of the Buckeyes 89-69 win over the Dukes at St. John’s Arena on Nov. 11. Credit: Angelia Heimsoth | For The LanternFrom the outset of Ohio State’s 89-69 win over Duquesne University on Friday, it was evident that the Buckeyes’ recent efforts to shore up defensive and rebounding issues paid off.OSU coach Kevin McGuff was unhappy with these two areas of his team’s play following a subpar exhibition performance against Ashland on Sunday. So much so that the Buckeyes worked almost entirely on rebounding and defense this week in practice.The increased effort and intensity was noticeable from the opening tip, as the Buckeyes used a full-court press to bother the Dukes throughout the game. Duquesne shot just 36.9 percent from the field and turned the ball over 15 times.“Coach was really harping on defense after last game, and I feel like we locked in and took the message and did a really good job with defense and rebounding,” redshirt sophomore guard Sierra Calhoun said.At times against Ashland, the Buckeyes played loose and weren’t as aggressive as McGuff would have liked on the defensive end. That wasn’t the case this time around.“We’ve been really locked in on that; finding your man and being aggressive,” redshirt junior forward Stephanie Mavunga said. “Continue to go after rebounds, whether it’s offense or defense because that stops their second chance opportunities and then gives us our chance to get second-chance opportunities.”OSU also turned up its intensity on the boards. The Buckeyes were outrebounded 47-38 against Ashland, but they completely flipped the switch against the Dukes. OSU pulled down 55 boards and allowed Duquesne to grab just 33, and all 10 Buckeyes to see regular minutes grabbed at least two rebounds.Leading the way was Mavunga, who attributed her 15-point and 14-rebound performance to the efforts of her teammates.“They were boxing out other players, so then that gave me the opportunity to go into the open gaps and get the rebounds,” Mavunga said.The Buckeyes’ defensive and rebounding efforts caused several scoring droughts for the Dukes that allowed OSU to pull away. To finish the second quarter, Duquesne made just two of its last 11 shots and scored just seven points in the final seven minutes of the half.Duquesne sophomore forward Kadri-Ann Lass buried a three-pointer 15 seconds into the second half, but OSU then used a flurry of scoring and defensive pressure to go on a 9-0 run and build a 55-29 lead. The Dukes pushed back, mounting a 13-4 run of their own, but the Buckeyes again clamped down defensively and outscored Duquesne 30-27 the rest of the way.“We made plenty of mistakes, but we played hard,” McGuff said. “Our effort and intensity was so much better.”Balanced attackThe Buckeyes also used a balanced scoring attack to down the Dukes. 10 different players scored for OSU and four – junior guard Kelsey Mitchell (18 points), Mavunga (15), Calhoun (13) and junior guard Asia Doss (12) – were in double figures.Mitchell, despite scoring a team-high 18 points, struggled again from the field. She went 6-for-17 overall, including a 2-for-9 mark from three-point territory. Mitchell also struggled against Ashland, going 5-for-20 from the field and 0-for-8 from the three-point line.Despite the early season struggles, McGuff isn’t worried.“When she’s not her normal self, she can get down on herself,” McGuff said. “You’ve just got to remind her, ‘Hey, you’re a great player, just keep playing.’”The Buckeyes shot 44.6 percent from the field, including 27.2 percent (8-for-29) from the three-point line. The overall effort on both ends of the floor left McGuff feeling much more pleased than following the Ashland contest.“It’s very simple,” McGuff said. “You practice a certain way, you play a certain way.”Up nextThe South Carolina Gamecocks, a consensus top-five team that defeated the Buckeyes 88-80 in Columbia, South Carolina a season ago, will head to Columbus for a 6:00 p.m. tilt against OSU on Monday.
Junior midfielder David Planning (12) takes a shot during a game against Michigan April 12 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 15-6.Credit: Dan Hope / Lantern photographerIn a clash of the only remaining unbeaten teams left in ECAC play, the Ohio State men’s lacrosse team (5-6, 2-0) is scheduled to host the Air Force Falcons (8-3, 3-0) inside Ohio Stadium Saturday with first place on the line.Getting hot at the right time, the Buckeyes have won four of their last five after starting the season 1-5, including a convincing win over archrival Michigan in front of more than 17,000 fans last Saturday inside Ohio Stadium.However, OSU coach Nick Myers said the team has put the Michigan game behind them and they are now focused on taking an Air Force squad that is currently one of the hottest teams in the country.“For our men, it’s the next play, next game mentality,” Myers said. “We understand what’s on the line this weekend. You got an opportunity at a share of the conference championship, Air Force is looking at an opportunity to win it outright. Right now, it’s as close to a playoff mentality as you can get against a team that is red hot, very well coached, and has a lot of seniors.”Going into its last game against No. 17 Fairfield, Air Force had yet to record a victory over a team ranked in the top 20, but that didn’t stop them from handling the Stags for a 16-8 win.Now winners of six straight, Air Force sits atop the ECAC with the chance to win the regular season title for the first time under coach Eric Seremet.The Falcons are led by 14 seniors, who have the offense rolling right now after having scored 13 or more goals in five of their last six games.OSU senior goalie Scott Spencer said the team is just focused on themselves and playing the fundamentals well this weekend.“It’s not about any one guy. We just really want to hone in on supporting each other and focusing on the little things,” Spencer said. “These last two weeks, we’ve really been focused on fundamentals and the basics and not trying to get too fancy, but really knowing who we are and what we do best.”Spencer, who has started four games for the Buckeyes since fellow senior goalie Greg Dutton went down with an injury, is 3-1 on the season and is the reigning ECAC Defensive Player of the Week after holding Michigan to only six goals while making nine saves in the Showdown in the Shoe.Myers said Spencer, along with the rest of the Buckeye defense, will have to build on their momentum and confidence to slow down a potent Falcons offense led by senior attackman Mike Crampton (33 goals, 16 assists).“He’s been really steady. Scotty is a guy that brings a great deal of consistency to the lineup. He’s got a great work ethic,” Myers said. “Every day, Scotty is going to come to practice ready to go and I’m really happy to see him having success. I think his success is a product certainly of the defense as well. He’s doing his job in there and defensively, we are slowly starting to get more confidence as the year goes on together.”Offensively, junior midfielder Jesse King will hope to continue his stellar play, as he has 21 points in his last three games and 45 on the season. Junior attackman Reegan Comeault will also look to build on his scoring streak as the only Buckeye to tally a point in every game this season.Game time is set for Saturday at 1 p.m. and is slated to be Senior Day for 10 Buckeyes, including senior midfielder Jake Sharick, who won’t be able to play because of an ACL tear that has kept him sidelined all year. Despite the injury, Sharick said the game will be just as special as if he was playing.“We are all working for the same thing,” Sharick said. “Everyone’s trying to get one job done, so I feel just as part of the team as if I was on the field. We’re all gonna take that mindset in for this day, so it’ll be a fun day.”
Ohio State sophomore forward Dakota Joshua’s initial reaction following his go-ahead goal in the third period against Minnesota at the Schottenstein Center on Feb. 11. OSU lost 6-5. Credit: Jacob Myers | Assistant Sports EditorFor the first time since 2009, the Ohio State men’s hockey team is headed to the NCAA tournament.Despite falling to the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten tournament semifinals, the Buckeyes (21-11-6) secured an at-large big in the West region of the 16-team field.The Scarlet and Gray will travel to Fargo, North Dakota, to take on No. 2 overall seed Minnesota Duluth (25-6-7) in the first round, and will have a chance to advance to the final eight of the competition for the first time since the program reached its only Frozen Four during the 1997-1998 season.Puck drop from Fargo is set for Friday at 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU.While the Buckeyes might not have NCAA tournament experience, their coach, Steve Rohlik, does. Much of that experience was with OSUs first-round opponent.Rohlik spent 10 seasons as an assistant at Minnesota Duluth from 2001 to 2010. He was hired along with the Bulldogs 17-year head coach Scott Sandelin, who has taken Duluth to seven NCAA appearances, two Frozen Fours and won one national championship. Rohlik was on the staff for two of those appearances and one Frozen Four. He became OSU’s associate head coach in 2011 when Duluth won the national championship.“I know their team very well. They have as much speed as anybody in the country,” Rohlik said. “Top to bottom, there’s no secret why they’ve been No. 1 or 2 all year. They’ve done it because they’re that good.”Jacob Myers contributed quotes.