In the course of researching an article about Albert Pujols, I looked at measuring a hitter’s “decision-making” skills at the plate. Some great work on the topic was done years ago by the great Russell “Pizza Cutter” Carleton (who now writes at Baseball Prospectus), and I’m not adding to the research except by updating it. (The Hardball Times’ Derek Carty also wrote on this topic many years ago.)Basically, Russell’s idea was to apply signal-detection theory to baseball by measuring a hitter’s ability to discern balls and strikes compared to pitch-tracking systems such as  PITCHf/x. If the PITCHf/x strike zone says a pitch was a ball, but the player swung at it, that’s akin to a “false positive” — the player thought the pitch was in the strike zone when it wasn’t. If PITCHf/x says a ball was in the zone, but the batter didn’t swing, that’s a “false negative” — a hittable ball disregarded by the player. (Of course, swinging at a ball in the zone, or taking a pitch outside the zone, would be coded as correct decisions by the batter.)This is all theoretical and a gross oversimplification of baseball in general. For instance, sometimes players have a good reason to lay off a pitch in the zone, and, conversely, sometimes they have to expand their strike zone because of the situation. Even so, it’s a fun application of the “Plate Discipline” section of stats at FanGraphs, which lists the percentages of pitches that were in the strike zone for each player, as well as the proportion of pitches swung at inside and outside the strike zone (as determined by Baseball Info Solutions‘ pitch-charting data, which goes back to 2002).The best decision-making season in the data set belongs to Moises Alou in 2002. Alou faced 1,785 pitches, 54.5 percent of which were in the strike zone. Of those pitches in the zone, he swung at 80.1 percent, while he let all but 14.8 percent of balls outside the zone go by without a swing. As a percentage of his total pitches faced, then, Alou made the “correct” decision 82.4 percent of the time — the tops of any season in the FanGraphs data.(I, too, was surprised that Vladimir Guerrero would should up as a positive example of plate discipline.)Meanwhile, the worst decision-making season happened last year; A.J. Pierzynski spent the season swinging. Pierzynski correctly swung at 76.7 percent of pitches inside the zone (the Major League Baseball average was 65.5 percent), but he was undone by his hacking of 49.6 percent of balls outside the strike zone — about 1.6 times the rate of the average hitter. That gave him a “good decision” rate of just 61.1 percent. (For what it’s worth, no qualified season in the FanGraphs data saw a hitter swing more at pitches outside the zone than inside.)Among active players, the best decision-maker by this metric (since 2012) is Dexter Fowler of the Houston Astros. Over the past three seasons, Fowler has made the correct decision 74.2 percent of the time, swinging at 71.9 percent of balls in the strike zone and laying off 75.9 percent of pitches outside the zone.And the worst? Martin Prado of the Arizona Diamondbacks made the correct call on only 62 percent of the pitches he faced. But unlike Pierzynski, who had the worst decision-making season of anyone since 2002 because he hacked too much at pitches outside the zone, Prado comes in last among active players because he wasn’t aggressive enough on pitches inside the zone. The average MLB player offers at about 66 percent of pitches inside the strike zone, but Prado has only swung at 50.8 percent of balls in the zone over the past three seasons. Prado does a good job at avoiding swings on balls outside the zone, but he can’t seem to tell when a hittable ball is coming in over the plate, often committing what statisticians would call false negatives, or Type II errors.Again, this metric is by no means a perfect gauge of plate discipline. There are many situations in which it would be a suboptimal strategy to strictly follow the “good” or “bad” decision algorithm measured by the charts above. But it’s illuminating to begin to measure which players appear to have the best and worst conceptions of the strike zone as determined by an objective standard. read more

Joe Posnanski had a fascinating piece at NBC Sports last week regarding comments made by Tiger Woods after Rory McIlroy’s British Open victory (the third major title for the 25-year-old). When asked for a reaction to McIlroy’s win — and his championship-winning form of recent years — Woods said:Well, as you can see, the way he plays is pretty aggressively. When he gets it going, he gets it going. When it gets going bad, it gets going real bad. It’s one or the other. If you look at his results, he’s kind of that way. Very similar to what Phil [Mickelson] does. He has his hot weeks, and he has his weeks where he’s off. And that’s just the nature of how he plays the game – it’s no right way or wrong way.Posnanski’s (likely correct) reading of the remarks is that Woods attributes a high-variance playing strategy to McIlroy, implying the young champion is willing to accept bad rounds in exchange for dazzling ones. (It’s hard not to also read between the lines of Woods’s comments; he seems to be contrasting McIlroy’s bargain with variance against his own brand of consistent brilliance when he was at his peak.)It seems obvious that some golfers are inconsistent and some are steady. (Padraig Harrington made the same comparison between the supposed streakiness of McIlroy and Mickelson last summer.) But as we’ve seen in other sports, such as basketball, the human mind is wired to find patterns and attribute significance to sequences that often turn out to be totally random. So, is Woods’s perception of McIlroy off-base?At first glance, Woods seems right. If we look at the standard deviation of round-by-round major-tournament scores (relative to the field average) for players who have won multiple majors since 1958 (looking only at the years between their first and last major), McIlroy tops the list as the least consistent:There’s also a rhyme and reason to the list based on Woods’s reasoning. In addition to McIlroy ranking first (and, coincidentally, Harrington ranking second), John Daly — known primarily as a volatile, undisciplined long bomber — sits third. And, limiting the data to multi-major winners since 1980, a regression between the most common PGA Tour skill statistics (driving distance and accuracy, greens in regulation percentage, putts per round and sand save percentage, all relative to the tour average) reveals a statistically significant relationship between increased driving power and round-to-round inconsistency in majors, which jibes with Woods’s argument.But if Woods is on to something, then we would expect to find some consistency to a player’s, well, consistency. A pattern of wild round-to-round scoring swings should persist across a player’s whole career. But if we split players’ careers into random groups (I used even and odd years), the correlation between their round-by-round scoring standard deviation in one group of years and the other is just 0.15. That’s low, meaning even though a player like McIlroy has appeared quite streaky in majors so far, we should only expect him to be slightly less consistent than average going forward.The rest of the supposed streakiness Woods saw in McIlroy is probably just the product of randomness and not intrinsic to his game. read more

Barry Larkin thought he would become an NFL player. He had a scholarship to Michigan coming out of high school. Legendary coach Bo Schembechler red-shirted him as a freshman.“Occasionally, I’d call him while I was playing in the big leagues and told him that was the best decision he ever made as a football coach,” Larkin recalled. “He didn’t like that too much.”Whether Schembechler liked it or not, he jump-started Larkin’s career on the diamond that led to his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. A shortstop with his hometown Cincinnati Reds, Larkin became an all-star in his third year and blossomed into a dominant player.Larkin shared the Hall of Fame honors with Ron Santo, a Chicago Cubs third baseman and beloved broadcaster. It was an emotional occasion. Larkin wiped away tears before he even began his induction speech.The current ESPN analyst thanked his parents, saying, “If we were going to do something, we were going to do it right. Growing up, you challenged me. That was so instrumental.”Larking also thanked, in Spanish, the Latin players that also helped mold him. Then he poured on the praise for Pete Rose and Dave Concepcion, veterans that helped mold him when he was a young player.“I wouldn’t be in the big leagues if it weren’t for Pete,” Larkin said, eliciting a stirring applause from the fans, two of whom were holding a placard inscribed with “Cincinnati’s hometown heroes, Larkin and Rose.”“And Dave Concepcion, understanding that I was gunning for his job, understanding that I was from Cincinnati, he spent countless hours with me preparing me for the game. I idolized Davey Concepcion as a kid. Thank you, my idol. My inclusion in the Hall of Fame is the ultimate validation. I want to thank you all for helping me along the way.” read more

It’s championship week in men’s college basketball, the last chance for schools to make an impression on the selection committee before the NCAA tournament field is announced Sunday evening. If you’re a bubble team, you’re hoping a strong showing in your conference tournament can persuade the committee to put extra weight on those games, perhaps to the point of ignoring a previously spotty track record.Figuring out how much weight to give a late hot streak — as opposed to a team’s season-long résumé — can be tough for the committee. Fans filling out their brackets face the same decision. Conference tournaments might be the first chance you’ve had to see some schools play; a deep conference run could make the difference between marking a team down for an early exit or slotting it into the Final Four. But should it? Or is it simply recency bias to think a breakout conference tourney performance matters in the NCAA tournament?To take a few preliminary stabs at answering that question, I computed pre- and post-game Simple Rating System (SRS) scores for every conference tournament and NCAA tournament game since 1985 (when the NCAA field expanded to its familiar 64-team format), using them to establish each team’s expected win probability1The link leads to a football model, but the underlying Stern-Winston methodology can be applied to college basketball, for which Jeff Sagarin has found that the standard deviation of scoring margin around a prediction is 10 points. going into a given game.If teams that had surprising conference tournament runs (relative to their pre-tournament ratings) tended to carry that magic over into the NCAA tourney, we might expect there to be a relationship between how many “extra” wins a team had in each tournament. Take the 2010-11 Connecticut Huskies as an example: They won five Big East tournament games against an expectation of 2.5 (the ninth-most-surprising conference tournament performance of the past 30 years) and then proceeded to rattle off six NCAA tournament wins versus an expectation of 3.6 (the 12th-most-surprising NCAA run in the same span).For UConn, the conference tournament was a stepping stone to bigger things.But here’s the catch: Those Huskies were the exception, not the rule. Across the entire population of NCAA tournament-bound teams since 1985, there’s practically no relationship between how much a team outperforms its expectations in the conference tournament and the same metric in the NCAA tournament.2This is true whether we look at all conferences or restrict our sample to major conferences. An alternative way to look at whether conference tournament momentum leads to better NCAA outcomes is to see whether teams whose SRS ratings changed substantially during conference tournaments saw a commensurate change during the NCAA tournament. But again, there is essentially no relationship between a surprising performance in conference tournament play and in the NCAA tourney.The admitted flaw in both approaches is the same one I ran into when evaluating which college basketball coaches outperform NCAA tournament expectations based on seeding. Such a method ostensibly captures underperformance in the final game of a tournament, but it doesn’t detect the missing future wins expected of a favored team going forward. Moreover, these results shouldn’t be taken to say that conference tournaments have no predictive value. A team’s post-conference-tourney SRS is slightly more correlated with its eventual NCAA tournament wins than its rating before the conference tourney began.However, this analysis does serve as a warning against putting too much emphasis on the conference tournament relative to a team’s entire body of work, especially when it comes to picking unexpectedly hot conference tournament teams to go further than you’d otherwise predict for teams with their résumés.Check out FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions. read more

1985-86SuperSonics-10-3 UPDATE (June 30, 5:38 p.m.): Just as we were publishing this story, it was reported that Minnesota Timberwolves’ point guard Ricky Rubio will be traded to the Utah Jazz for a first-round draft pick. The story has been updated to reflect the trade.It’s a dangerous time of year to be an NBA fan. With free agency officially getting underway on Saturday, and players such as Paul George available via the trade market, you can talk yourself into any number of far-fetched scenarios wherein your favorite team puts just the right pieces together and suddenly becomes a contender. (What if the Spurs added Blake Griffin? What if the Celtics brought in both George and Gordon Hayward?) Sometimes dreams really do come true — like when the Rockets landed Chris Paul this week — but most of the time, you’ll wind up disappointed instead.At FiveThirtyEight, we sometimes play this dangerous game with spreadsheets — specifically, with a spreadsheet that projects team records based on our CARMELO player projections. And there’s one team that really caught our spreadsheet’s eye: the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves already made their big move of the summer, acquiring the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and an exchange of first-round draft picks. When we plugged the Wolves’ CARMELO projections into the spreadsheet,1Assuming the Wolves re-sign restricted free agent Shabazz Muhammad but make no other changes. it came up with a projected record of 50-33. 2011-1276ers-8+3 Karl-Anthony Towns37+3.7+0.3 2002-03Nets-7-2 Nemanja Bjelica16-0.7+0.7 The Timberwolves look like contendersCARMELO projections for the 2017-18 Minnesota Timberwolves What could go wrong — or very, very rightIn addition to all the bad things that could happen to the Wolves from a basketball standpoint — injuries, poor chemistry, etc. — they’re also a challenging team to forecast. For the past two seasons, the Wolves have unquestionably had a lot of talent on their roster but have also unquestionably been bad. It isn’t quite as clear why this disconnect occurred. Towns, Wiggins, Rubio and LaVine are all somewhat unusual players, and they each engender disagreements both between the various statistical systems and between stats and “eye test” evaluations. The way RPM and CARMELO looked at the Wolves, Wiggins and especially LaVine were part of the problem last season, while Towns and Rubio were part of the solution. If that assessment was wrong, then jettisoning LaVine could be more costly than the system assumes. And as I mentioned, RPM and CARMELO view Butler as a borderline-superstar player and not “merely” an All-Star; that’s another source of uncertainty.On the flip side, the Timberwolves do have some additional cap space and an opportunity to round out their roster via players such as Taj Gibson, J.J. Redick or Danilo Gallinari. Even modest improvements could go a long way because they don’t have a deep rotation as currently constructed.Or the Wolves could go really bold and package Wiggins for another star. Before landing Butler, the Timberwolves were reportedly in the market for George, for example. But a straight-up trade of Wiggins for George would work under the NBA’s salary cap rules given the Wolves’ extra cap space. It would be a hugely risky move — George will be a free agent next summer and has said he wants to play for the Lakers — but a core of George, Butler and Towns could make the Timberwolves legitimate title contenders. Or at least, the spreadsheet says so. Repacement-level players43-1.7-0.3 PLAYERMIN. PER GAMEOFF. PLUS/MINUSDEF. PLUS/MINUS WINSLOSSES Justin Patton8-2.6+0.4 2010-11Timberwolves-7-2 Team total240+5.4+1.1 1994-95Trail Blazers-8-4 Timberwolves’ projected record49.532.5 ACTUAL – PYTHAGOREAN WINS 1999-2000Nets-70 Jimmy Butler33+3.8+1.0 But that doesn’t account for the significant cap space cleared by the Rubio deal. If Minnesota added free agent point Jeff Teague, for example, their projected record would improve to 53-29. If they signed Kyle Lowry instead, they’d project to finish at 58-24. They could also use the extra cap room to sign a frontcourt player.Projecting the Timberwolves to win 50-something games seems awfully daring, especially for a team that’s burned CARMELO in the past. (CARMELO boldly projected the Wolves to win 46 games last season. Instead, they won 31.) But let me walk you through what the system is “thinking.” The projection reflects a combination of three factors: Butler, the Timberwolves’ youth, and their bad luck last season.Jimmy Butler is really good, and he’s replacing players who were really badCARMELO expects Butler to be worth about 10 wins next season, as compared to a replacement-level player. Oftentimes, replacement level is too low a bar when it comes to assessing an NBA acquisition. If the Celtics added players such as George and Hayward, their minutes would partly come at the expense of other pretty good players such as Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder.2And they also might have to sacrifice players such as Bradley and Crowder as part of trades, or to clear cap room. Thus, their net gain might not be as large as you’d think.But the players the Wolves gave up for Butler weren’t making positive contributions at all, at least according to advanced statistics such as Real Plus-Minus and Box Plus/Minus. (CARMELO uses a combination of these stats to make its projections, weighting RPM more heavily.) LaVine is a good athlete who can create shots but who was woefully inadequate on defense; thus, he was no better than replacement level last season, these metrics figure. And Dunn, like many rookies, was overmatched, playing at a below-replacement-level clip. Thus, Butler is a true 10- or 11-win upgrade, relative to the players Minnesota gave up for him.We should note, however, that where Butler falls on the spectrum between “really good” and “superstar” is a matter of some debate. According to RPM, Butler was the seventh-best player in the NBA last season on a per-possession basis and the third most valuable by wins added above replacement level when also considering his playing time. By a more subjective measure — the views of sportswriters voting for the All-NBA teams — he was somewhere between the 11th- and the 15th-best player in the league, by contrast.Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins should continue to improveThe Wolves’ two former No. 1 overall picks are young — Karl-Anthony Towns turns 22 in November, while Andrew Wiggins will turn 23 in February — and both still have plenty of room to grow, especially on defense. Towns already has a well-rounded offensive game, having developed into a dangerous outside shooter last year (37 percent from 3-point range). But the advanced metrics are somewhat split on his defense, with RPM viewing it as below-average — unusual for a 7-footer3RPM almost always rates players that tall as net-positive defenders. — while stats based on opponents’ field goal percentages suggest that he does a respectable job of rim protection. Towns’s defense tended to fall apart in the fourth quarter last season, and overwork could have been an issue — he was second in the NBA in minutes played, behind Wiggins.Wiggins’s indifferent defense has been a subject of frequent critique at FiveThirtyEight. But the advanced metrics are uniformly in agreement that it’s poor. He allowed an effective field goal percentage of 56 percent last season on shots where he was the nearest defender.4And a maximum of 6 feet from the shooter; we consider shots where no defender was within 6 feet to have been uncontested. NBA shooters also have an effective field goal percentage of 56 percent on uncontested shots, so it’s as though he wasn’t playing defense at all. Because Wiggins is a good athlete with a long wingspan — factors that usually predict good defense — the problems mostly boil down to technique and effort, and those things can sometimes be improved.The Timberwolves were unluckyMinnesota was outscored by only 1.2 points per game last season, and yet they went 31-51. If that seems like a mismatch, it is. A team with that point differential would typically expect to go about 38-44, according to the Pythagorean record as calculated at Basketball-Reference.com. Thus, the Wolves underperformed by seven wins last year, relative to their number of points scored and allowed. That’s because they didn’t play well in crunch time and went 10-18 in games decided by 6 points or fewer.It’s easy to come up with hypotheses for why they played so poorly in these situations. Towns and Wiggins played too many minutes; Wiggins and LaVine took poor shots; Rubio isn’t a scorer, which limited their options in the half-court; they were bad on defense overall, and those differences are magnified in crunch time.The fact is, however, that teams who underperform their Pythagorean records by as much as the Wolves did last season usually don’t have the same problem the next time around, or at least not to the same extent. There had been 19 previous cases since the NBA-ABA merger where a team underperformed its Pythagorean record by seven or more wins. On average, they fell only one win short of their Pythagorean record in the following season. There’s certainly some skill in which teams fare best in crunch time — and Butler, who’s both a good defender and a versatile scorer, can help the Wolves with that — but losing so many games in the clutch is usually partly a matter of bad luck. Shabazz Muhammad16-0.1-3.1 2013-14Timberwolves-8-3 Tyus Jones15-0.3-0.8 Cole Aldrich10-2.2+2.6 1997-98Pistons-9-3 Source: Basketball-reference.com 2007-08Raptors-80 1992-93Kings-8+2 1996-97Celtics-7+3 1994-95Bulls-7+2 Gorgui Dieng30-1.0+2.6 1976-77Suns-9-2 1991-92Timberwolves-8-2 1989-90Timberwolves-7-1 Average-8-1 1984-85Trail Blazers-7-4 1982-83Pacers-7-2 1978-79Bucks-9-2 2006-07Celtics-7-1 SEASONTEAMSEASONFOLLOWING SEASON Andrew Wiggins32+1.5-1.9 Teams like the Timberwolves usually improved their luckDifference between actual and Pythagorean wins for teams that underperformed their Pythagorean record by 7 or more wins, 1976-2017 read more

Opponents’ block %-0.09 Opponents’ FTA/FGA-0.02 Cavaliers’ block %+0.00 Cavaliers’ 3-point %+0.58 Cavaliers’ steal %+0.36 Opponents’ free throw %-0.01 Cavaliers’ offensive rebound %+0.13 Cavaliers’ 2-point %+0.32 MetricCorrelation with the Cavaliers’ efficiency Opponents’ offensive rebound %-0.26 Opponents’ steal %-0.23 Opponents’ turnover %+0.36 By far the statistic that tracked most closely with the Cavaliers’ overall efficiency in any given game was their 3-point percentage, which had a correlation coefficient of 0.58. (By comparison, the correlation between the Warriors’ 3-point percentage and their efficiency margin was 0.44; for the Rockets, the correlation was 0.38; and for the Celtics, it was 0.28.)Now, it is fair to ask which direction the causation goes here. The Cavs’ offense is mainly predicated on LeBron James coming off a ball screen and either creating for himself or finding the open man when the opponent brings help. And certainly James himself has taken on a huge percentage of Cleveland’s 3-point shooting load. So maybe the Cavs are simply getting better looks because the rest of their offense — i.e., LeBron — is functioning at a higher level. (For example, the Cavs have shot a very healthy 20-for-32 on passes from James in the Eastern Conference Finals so far.)But if LeBron is generating more open shots only in games where the Cavs are rolling, it’s not showing up in the numbers. According to Second Spectrum’s Quantified Shot Quality metric (which calculates an expected shooting percentage for each shot based on its difficulty), Cleveland doesn’t tend to get better deep looks in its good games than its bad ones. In wins during the playoffs, the Cavs have an expected effective field goal percentage of 52.4 percent on 3-pointers; in losses, that number barely drops, to 52.0 percent. Instead, it’s Cleveland’s ability to capitalize on those 3-pointers that has varied wildly: from an eFG% 4.4 points higher than expected in postseason wins to one 10.6 points lower than expected in losses.Game 2 against Boston was a great case study of Cleveland’s Jekyll-and-Hyde shooting tendencies. In the first half, the Cavs built a 7-point lead while going 7-for-14 (50 percent) from deep; in the second half, they watched that lead slip away as they shot a dismal 3-for-17 (18 percent) from beyond the arc. Their shot quality on threes (again according to Second Spectrum) declined by 2.1 points of expected eFG% between halves, so the Celtics did a better job of challenging the Cavs’ shooters as the game went on.3According to ESPN’S Stats and Information Group, the Celtics contested 92 percent of Cleveland’s shots in the second half of Game 2. But a far bigger factor in Cleveland’s decline was its massive 35-point drop in eFG% versus expected — in other words, the kind of streaky variance that can’t be explained by shot quality alone.And what does explain it? Maybe the Cavs shoot so many threes — they’re third in the playoffs in attempts per game — that they’re bound to run up stretches of good- and bad-shooting games like this. Or maybe they’re just collectively trying to provide further evidence that the hot hand really does exist. Whatever the explanation, Cleveland has to hope that its shooting starts fluctuating in the opposite direction, and fast. Because not even James, with his 42 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds in Game 2, could keep the Cavs from digging themselves a deeper hole in this series.We’ve seen the Cavaliers brush off these kinds of cold shooting performances in the past, burying opponents under an onslaught of threes that can make you wonder how they ever got cold in the first place. But that’s also the point: Cleveland needs a sustained 3-point resurgence if it’s going to claw its way back against the Celtics. As crucial as LeBron’s production is to the Cavs, it might be just as important for his teammates to step up and knock down their shots when they get the chance.Check out our latest NBA predictions. Opponents’ 3-point %-0.30 Cavaliers’ FTA/FGA+0.05 Opponents’ 2-point %-0.22 Opponents’ 3PA/FGA+0.01 Opponents’ assist %-0.12 Cavaliers’ assist %+0.13 Three-point accuracy determines Cleveland’s fateCorrelation between the Cavaliers’ efficiency differentials and various metrics for games in the 2017-18 season, through May 16 Pace-0.04 Cavaliers’ turnover %-0.19 Source: Basketball-Reference.com Cavaliers’ 3PA/FGA+0.00 The Cleveland Cavaliers have plenty of problems right now, and many of them concern their struggles on defense. Through two games in these Eastern Conference finals — both losses — they’re allowing 112.8 points per 100 possessions against a Boston Celtics team that averaged only 105.2 during the regular season (according to Advanced NBA Stats).1And All-Star guard Kyrie Irving contributed to that regular-season mark for most of the year, but he was lost to injury late in the regular season and has missed the entire playoffs. They’ve been torched by Jaylen Brown (who’s scored 23 each game) and they have no answer for the threat Al Horford poses from both the inside and outside.But the Cavs being inept on defense is not really breaking news. They’ve ranked among the league’s worst at that end of the floor all season. Instead, they win games with their offense, and not just because LeBron James can decide to take over games whenever he wants (although that helps). More than perhaps any other team in the NBA, the Cavs’ fortunes rise and fall based on how well they knock down shots from the perimeter. And they’d better heat up soon against the Celtics, or their bid for a fourth consecutive East title will clang harmlessly off the rim like so many of their 3-point shots.The playoffs have helped crystallize the Cavaliers’ reputation as a team that lives and dies by its shooting. This is, after all, the same group who struggled to get past the Indiana Pacers while making only 32 percent of their 3-pointers, then turned around and hit 41 percent from deep while steamrolling the Raptors a week later. Even during the regular season, though, Cleveland was unusually dependent on the hotness of its shooting hand: In wins, the Cavs made threes at a 41 percent clip, versus just 31 percent in losses — a 10-percentage-point gap that was the biggest in the league. And that regular-season gap has only widened, to nearly 11 percentage points, during the playoffs.Every team shoots better in wins than losses; making shots is kind of the point of the game, after all. But some teams can get by during poor shooting nights more readily than others. The Minnesota Timberwolves, for instance, were as good on offense as the Cavs this season, but they had the league’s third-smallest difference between their 3-point percentage in wins and losses (3 percentage points) because they didn’t really rely on threes for a strong offensive performance.2Indeed, the T-Wolves tried the fewest threes per 100 possessions of any team in the NBA this year. For the Cavs, though, threes are the leading indicator of their overall health as a team. Here are the correlations between various metrics and Cleveland’s efficiency margin in each game this season: Cavaliers’ free throw %+0.32 read more

OSU senior middle blocker Andrea Kacsits (4) during a game against Robert Morris in the NCAA tournament on Dec. 4 at St. John Arena. OSU won/lost. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo EditorFor the fourth time in six seasons, the Ohio State women’s volleyball team will be heading to the Sweet 16.With a sweep (25-23, 25-11, 25-17) of American in the Round of 32 on Saturday evening in St. John Arena, OSU will move on to play No. 5 seed Washington, which topped Michigan State Saturday night.“It means a lot to this team,” senior middle blocker Tyler Richardson said. “Throughout this season, we’ve been working really hard … That’s one goal we’ve all been working towards all season. We’re really excited.”Once again, unanimous all-Big Ten selection and junior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe was the leader on the court for the Buckeyes with 15 kills, five blocks and two aces to give her a game-high 20 points.“She’s our stud,” OSU coach Geoff Carlston said. “The thing that Taylor’s doing right now is she’s mixing up her shots … She’s grown as a hitter. Her IQ and her willingness to hit some different shots has been huge. And, certainly, she’s one of our emotional leaders out there and she was pretty great tonight.”Complementing Sandbothe was senior outside hitter Elizabeth Campbell, who added 14 kills, attacking at a .542 clip for the night. Freshman setter Taylor Hughes had 38 assists — her personal best in a three-set match — in helping to guide the Buckeyes to a .380 hitting percentage.A big night from the service line also propelled OSU, as it sent home 10 aces, its second-best total of the season. Hughes and junior libero Valeria León had three aces apiece, while Sandbothe and senior outside hitter Katie Mitchell both had a deuce.“We just served a little bit more aggressive,” Carlston said. “We served some seams and got them out of their rhythm.”For the second time in as many nights, the Buckeyes were able to shut down their opposition’s offense. This time around, the Scarlet and Gray limited American to a .128 hitting percentage and only 23 kills for the match.“‘Relentless’ defense, that’s a big word for us,” senior setter Emily Ruetter said. “I think we’ve been finally showing it back on the court again, so that’s why our defense is being as productive as it is.”At the outset, it was both teams who struggled to get going offensively, with neither team attacking better than .212 clip. Although OSU never trailed in the first set, American simply wouldn’t go away. The Buckeyes stretched their lead to as much as six, but the pesky Eagles kept battling their way back in it with timely blocks (four) and aces (four). Even when the Scarlet and Gray went up 24-20, they had trouble putting American away, allowing three consecutive points before a Sandbothe kill ended things.The Buckeye offense got rolling in the second set, however, racing out to a quick 5-0 advantage, a lead that would not be relinquished. OSU had five aces and attacked at a .393 clip for the set, while American hit a measly .000 and put away only three kills.The trend continued in the third set, as OSU posted a whopping .548 attack percentage and made only two errors. Hughes had 16 assists in the closing frame, while Sandbothe dominated on the attacking end, picking up eight kills and two blocks.The Buckeyes’ Sweet 16 match is set to be held in the Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky, with a start time that’s still to be announced.But for now, the team isn’t worried about its next opponent.“We’re going to enjoy this tonight, we’re going to enjoy it tomorrow and then Monday get back in the gym,” Carlston said. “This is a big deal.” read more

OSU senior forward Marc Loving (2) looks down the court to redshirt junior guard Kam Williams (15) during the Buckeyes 78-68 win over Navy on Nov. 11. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorAn upset was not in the cards for the Ohio State men’s basketball team, as the Buckeyes fell to the No. 2 UCLA Bruins 86-73 in the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas. After matching pace with UCLA throughout the first half, the Buckeyes fell victim to the up-tempo Bruins offense and the big-play ability of freshman guard Lonzo Ball. Despite 15 team turnovers, an eight point, nine assist and nine rebound performance by Ball powered the Bruins’ 12th win.OSU was led by senior forward Marc Loving, who knocked down 7-of-11 shots, including a 3-for-6 mark from deep to rack up 19 points. Junior forward Jae’Sean Tate added 15 points, but was a non-factor in rebounding and assists, picking up just two boards and one assist.Holding true to its defensive efforts all season, UCLA struggled to limit open looks at the basket for the Buckeyes. As a team, OSU went 29-for-62 from the field, but struggled to find the mark from deep for the second-straight game.The lack of outside production (20.8 percent from 3), paired with 18 turnovers, doomed the Buckeyes down the stretch. OSU was able to grab a 26-25 lead with 6:30 remaining in the first with a bullet pass from sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle to junior forward Keita Bates-Diop that led to a wide-open layup. Bates-Diop finished with 13 points, while Lyle hit just one of his eight shot attempts.However, starting the second half, a 7-0 run by the Bruins two  minutes into the period pushed UCLA out in front, and left OSU scrambling to try and catch back up. The Buckeyes did themselves no favors, turning the ball over 10 times in the second, and fouling the Bruins 15 times.Late in the game, after pulling within six points, OSU allowed multiple open looks for UCLA, and the Buckeyes failed to make a field goal in the last 4:05.UCLA sophomore guard Aaron Holiday and senior guard Bryce Alford each poured in 20 points, with five steals from the sophomore guard.With the loss, The Buckeyes are now 8-3 this season. UCLA is still perfect, now with a 12-0 mark this year.OSU returns to Columbus Tuesday to face Youngstown State at 7 p.m. The Penguins are 6-6, and are coming off a 101-97 victory over Niagara University. read more

The Ohio State women’s soccer team won its first Big Ten Championship in 2010, but as spring scrimmages and offseason workouts are taking place, coach Lori Walker is determined to keep her players focused on what lies ahead. “What was, was,” Walker said after a 2-2 tie in a scrimmage against Louisville on Saturday. “It’s real easy to get caught in the trap of wanting to be in last year, and we’re not.” The team lost five seniors after last year, and as defender Danielle Scoliere enters her senior season, she said she knows it’s time to increase her role, as well as prepare her younger teammates to do the same. “It’s really time to step up and be a leader,” she said. “I’m trying to make sure some of the younger girls do that as well.” Scoliere scored the team’s second and final goal in the first half of Saturday’s scrimmage. The first goal came from defender Aly Walker on an assist from forward Paige Maxwell. Maxwell, the 2010 Big Ten Player of the Year, is also working to improve her roles with the team. “(I want to) focus on the things I’m not comfortable with and not be afraid to make mistakes,” Maxwell said. “I’m trying to do my job well and have my team be able to rely on me.” Both Maxwell and Scoliere stressed that improving fitness is a must during the spring and summer. Goalie Katie Baumgardner, who didn’t allow a goal during her time on the field Saturday, has found some extra motivation to continue improving her physical conditioning. Baumgardner, along with teammates Walker and defender Colleen Brady, is planning to run in the Capital City Half Marathon, which takes place May 7. Both Baumgardner and Brady are seniors going into the fall. Walker will be a junior. “We’ve been running a lot,” Baumgardner said. “We do it all the time, so we figure we might as well put it to use and have a little bit of motivation. “We’re doing a good job of communicating and growing with the team. We’re connecting. We’re starting to look more like an early-season team going into the fall.” The team’s next spring game will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday when it takes on Notre Dame in Xenia, Ohio. read more

Former Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman has spent the past year playing professional football with the Philadelphia Eagles, but, because of the NFL lockout, next season is in jeopardy. If the lockout extends for a long period of time, Coleman said he wouldn’t be afraid to pursue another sports-related career. “If I couldn’t play football right now, I might be on TV,” Coleman said. “I think I could be on TV just talking. I would talk sports. I’d be one of those guys that would stir up a lot of stuff.” Coleman wouldn’t be the first former Buckeye to give television a try. Kirk Herbstreit, Clark Kellogg, Robert Smith and Chris Spielman became television personalities or commentators. But Coleman doesn’t think it will come to that. “I would say I’m 90 percent sure we’ll play a full season,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is truly worried because it’s eventually going to get done whether it be next week or next year. I think a lot of guys have prepared for this.” Preparation was key, Coleman said. Most players, especially the veterans, he said, saw the lockout coming and starting saving their money well in advance. When Coleman was drafted in 2010, he said, the NFL Rookie Symposium, which serves as an orientation for players drafted in NFL, warned him of the lockout right away. His rookie season did nothing to make him think otherwise. “Throughout the season you could just feel that the momentum was just going to come to where it is now and there’s nothing going on,” Coleman said. “I’ve prepared for it financially and other ways.” Coleman said he wants the lockout to end. “The important issues are the 18-game season, our heath issues and our health insurance,” Coleman said. “The money issues are always going to be there, but hopefully it gets worked out.” Until everything is resolved, Coleman will have no trouble keeping busy. He’s spent much of his time training with some of his current and former teammates, and has been able to dedicate a little bit more time to helping others through charity work. Coleman helped with the Cure Kids Cancer Radiothon benefit for Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and has helped raise awareness for breast cancer while spending time in Dayton, Ohio. But Coleman is eager to get back onto the field. “I love what I do,” he said. “I wake up every morning, and I thank God for my job. I’m blessed to be able to do what I do, and hopefully, I’ll be able to do it for a long time.” On April 25, the 45-day lockout came to an end when a federal judge granted an injunction and ruled in the players’ favor. Four days later, on April 29, the NFL announced the lockout was reinstated after the third round of the league’s annual draft. read more