With apologies to the ESPYS and the WNBA, Wednesday was what has come to be known as the deadest day on the sporting calendar. That’s because the day after Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game (which was held Tuesday) traditionally sees no activity whatsoever from North America’s “Big Four” sports leagues (the NFL, the NBA, the NHL and MLB). This barren day doesn’t always occur on the same date, but the All-Star Game has taken place during the week between July 10 and 16 for more than a decade.In honor of the occasion, we thought we’d chart the average number games per day in those leagues on any given date in a typical year:That noticeable dip in July is what we’re in the midst of, but there’s another time that is, on average, every bit as vacant as ESPYS day: Dec. 24. Christmas Eve is usually an off-day for the NBA and NHL; aside from a stray Friday game in 2004 and Monday Night Football in 2007, the only thing keeping it from complete emptiness is that it fell on a Sunday in 2006 (meaning it had a full compliment of NFL games) and a Saturday in 2005 and 2011 (both years in which the NFL shifted its Week 16 games to Saturday to avoid playing on Christmas Day). Even so, Dec. 24 averaged only four contests per year, lower than any other date over the past 10 years.Christmas itself is always the date of a few notable NBA games, but it has averaged only 4.7 games over the past decade. Combine that with the fact that the MLB All-Star Game is not held on a constant date (July 12 was the most common, seeing an average of 5.1 games), and the holiday season is, statistically, the time in which the fewest games are played per day.
Tia Norfleet, the first African American female licensed by NASCAR, made her debut at the Motor Mile Speedway in Fairlawn, Virginia, August 4, 2012. In its 67-year history, she is the first and only African American woman to compete in NASCAR.“It gives us great pleasure to officially announce Tia Norfleet’s historical accomplishment to the world. It has been a long time coming and we are extremely elated and expect nothing but the best from her,” said Guernica Williams of the The Platinum Marketing and Public Relations Group, which is representing Norfleet.“While this has been an enduring journey for the entire Norfleet team, it has taught us patience and perseverance in all things,” said Norfleet. “Today is the result of persevering. I am truly honored and truly blessed to be able to experience this moment with my family and to race with some of the best drivers in the sport.”Tia Norfleet, the multi-talented Suffolk, VA native, is the daughter of 20-year veteran NASCAR driver, Bobby Norfleet. Tia started racing, under her father’s tutelage, at the age of 9 and has a true passion for the sport.“Getting here has taking much hard work and dedication, there are so many people who have helped to make this happen and we are very thankful for their devotion and support. At Bobby Norfleet Racing, Inc., it is a family affair and we all stand strong and firm behind Tia. We are extremely proud of her and the hard work that she has put into this program,” stated Allen L. Ellison, President of Bobby Norfleet Racing, Inc.Read more: Target Market News
Photo by www.foxsports.comTony Dorsett, the Hall of Fame running back with the Dallas Cowboys, has symptoms of CTE, a buildup of tau, an abnormal protein that strangles brain cells in areas that control memory, emotions and other functions.Dorsett, 59, speaking on ESPN’s Outside The Lines, said he has experienced memory loss, depression and thoughts of suicide.Scarily, the former superstar said that when he took his Oct. 21 flight from Dallas to Los Angeles for testing, he repeatedly struggled to remember why he was aboard the plane and where he was going. Such episodes, he said, are commonplace when he travels.Autopsies of more than 50 ex-NFL players, including Hall of Famer Mike Webster and perennial All-Pro Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year, found such tau concentrations. Doctors told Dorsett on Monday that tests revealed he has the symptoms of CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.Dorsett said he also gets lost when he drives his two youngest daughters, ages 15 and 10, to their soccer and volleyball games. “I’ve got to take them to places that I’ve been going to for many, many, many years, and then I don’t know how to get there,” he said.But there is more. Emotional outbursts occur frequently enough that his wife and daughters are afraid of the 1976 Heisman Trophy winner.“It’s painful, man, for my daughters to say they’re scared of me.” After a long pause, he tearfully reiterated, “It’s painful.”Dorsett said doctors have told him he is clinically depressed.“I’ve thought about crazy stuff, sort of like, ‘Why do I need to continue going through this?’” he said. “I’m too smart of a person, I like to think, to take my life, but it’s crossed my mind.”“I’m trying to slow this down or cut it off,” said Dorsett. “I’m going to be 60 years old here next year, so I’m hoping that I’ve got another good 30 years or so.”CTE is a disease with no known cure, but Dorsett said he was seeking answers to explain his cognitive and emotional difficulties. “I want to know if this is something that has come about because of playing football.”Dorsett’s 12-year playing career ended a quarter-century ago, and he said he doesn’t know how many concussions he suffered, but that they were numerous and he believes their consequences are, too. “My quality of living has changed drastically and it deteriorates every day,” he said.
San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) kneels in front of teammates during the playing of the national anthem before an NFL football game between the 49ers and the Carolina Panthers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)DETROIT (AP) — Colin Kaepernick’s protest movement rolled on without him Sunday, as his fraternity marched in Detroit and players around the NFL sat or knelt during the national anthem.Kaepernick remains unsigned after opting out of his contract with the 49ers. His supporters believe he’s being punished for protesting police brutality by refusing to stand during the national anthem last season.About 50 members of the Kappa Alpha Psi alumni chapter in Detroit marched about a mile Sunday in a peaceful protest that ended just outside Ford Field, where the Lions hosted the Arizona Cardinals.“When you look at some of the recent incidents like what happened to Michael Bennett in Las Vegas, it validates the stance that Colin Kaepernick has taken,” said Eric Brown, a former president of the fraternity’s alumni chapter in Detroit.Brown said Kappa Alpha Psi planned to have similar gatherings in Dallas and Atlanta before future NFL games.San Francisco safety Eric Reid knelt for the anthem with several teammates standing around him. Reid joined Kaepernick in the anthem protest last season. He did not kneel at the start of the preseason but resumed his protest following the rally in Charlottesville, Va., last month that involved a loosely connected mix of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists.Bennett recently released a statement alleging racially motivated excessive force against him by Las Vegas police. The Seattle defensive end sat on the bench during the national anthem before Sunday’s game at Green Bay.Bennett sat for the national anthem during the preseason as well, with teammate Justin Britt standing next to him with his hand on his shoulder. Britt again stood next to Bennett during his anthem protest Sunday. Defensive linemen Frank Clark and Cliff Avril each went back during the anthem to shake hands with Bennett.On the other sideline at about the 30 yard-line, Bennett’s younger brother Martellus, a tight end for the Packers, stood at the end of the line next to his teammates but raised his right fist in the air during the anthem.Green Bay safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix helped hold a giant American flag on the field as the anthem was played.In Cleveland, the Browns ran onto the field for their opener against Pittsburgh accompanied by police, firefighters, emergency workers and military personnel.After being criticized for kneeling during the national anthem before a recent exhibition, several Browns players met with owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam about how to connect better with the community. They later met with Cleveland’s police chief and one of the ideas hatched was the pregame introduction. The public servants stood alongside the players for the anthem.“I thought it was pretty cool,” said 10-time Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas. “I think doing that shows the unity that this team is trying to promote between our football team and first responders, military, police, and hopefully, show a positive effort to move forward and to try to make America a better place for everybody.”Before the anthem, a video featuring several Browns players, including Thomas and rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, was shown on the scoreboard. During the video, players asked for unity, equality and cooperation during a time of division in the country.Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch also sat during the national anthem in Tennessee.
Players as short as Isaiah Thomas aren’t supposed to make it in the NBA, let alone be elite scorers. To find the last player who was 5-foot-10 or shorter and averaged 20 points per game in a single season, you have to go back 20 years.1To Damon Stoudamire, in 1996-97. It’s been almost 40 years since someone that short averaged 25.2Calvin Murphy, during the 1977-78 season. No one that size has ever averaged 30, which Thomas — who is currently scoring 29.5 points a night — is threatening to do.For someone who is much shorter than the best athletes in the world, an incredible amount of talent is necessary to succeed, especially at the all-star level that Thomas has. But there’s also a ton of skill involved, and the 5-foot-9 Celtics star has honed one tactic well over the past two seasons. Thomas, who is second in the league in points per game, has found a trick for avoiding the big men planted close to the basket: He’s become excellent at using the rim as a fence to stop defenders from blocking his close-range shots.These plays usually start with the lightning-quick Thomas (who leads the NBA in drives per game) getting a step on his man. He then leaps for the shot but glides out to other side of the basket where the defender can’t realistically do anything to bother the attempt, since he’s still stuck on the other side.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/thomashandswitch.mp400:0000:0000:10Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/itreverse.mp400:0000:0000:07Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.The 28-year-old has gone to a reverse layup 29 times this season, for almost 8 percent of his layups — a rate similar to last season, but one that’s almost double what it was in 2014-15, according to NBA Savant, a site that tracks unusual statistics and the specific sorts of shots players take.The sleight of hand at least partially explains how Thomas has been able to get to the basket so much more often over the past two seasons. Since the start of the 2015-16 campaign, a whopping 33 percent of Thomas’s field-goal attempts have come from within 3 feet, up from just 22 percent over the four seasons before that. He’s converting those attempts nearly 60 percent of the time.This isn’t the only move that Thomas has pulled out of his bag to compensate for his size. He’s also been successful with a now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t sort of half-spin at the perimeter, where he essentially lulls his defender to sleep for just enough time to blow past him for a shot at the rim.No matter how pretty the reverse move looks at times, the display — and other ones that get him close-range looks — is more about survival at the basket. Think of Thomas as the star of one of those National Geographic films that shows a weaker animal trying to fend off much bigger predators. Thomas isn’t always able to scamper away from the bigger players who are hunting him while he’s en route to the basket: He still gets rejected more than any player in the league. But using the reverse has added an extra layer of sophistication to his finishes, likely stopping opponents from being able to block even more of his shots than they already do.Less than 10 percent of Thomas’s layups have been blocked this season, the lowest rate of his career. That number also represents a considerable drop from last season, when 13 percent of his close-range looks got swatted and the 2014-15 season, when 15 percent of his layups got stoned, according to NBA Savant.So in other words, yes: Thomas gets blocked more than anyone in the NBA. But that doesn’t mean other vertically challenged players shouldn’t look up to him and his ingenuity around the rim. It’s helped turn him into the scoring machine he is today.Check out our latest NBA predictions.
After Moyer’s retirement, the reigning kings of slow-pitch became Jered Weaver of the Angels and Mark Buehrle of the White Sox and Blue Jays. Buehrle especially belongs squarely among the crafty lefty lineage, alongside Moyer and Glavine; however, he retired after the 2015 season. Over the past two years, in particular, we’ve seen a distinct lack of outlier starters at the bottom of the velocity rankings, the place where the craftiest of pitchers once lurked.To call a pitcher “crafty” is a kind of backhanded compliment. After all, if a guy has overwhelming velocity or electric stuff, we would just talk about that as an explanation for him getting hitters out. (Strikeouts may be fascist, but they are also impressive.) However, Moyer, Buehrle, Hudson and — especially — Maddux and Glavine worked the formula out to perfection. In fact, the 1990s were a heyday of sorts for finesse pitchers, with perfect games from Kenny Rogers and David Wells to go with regular All-Star appearances from the likes of Andy Ashby, Brad Radke and Charles Nagy. None were big strikeout artists, but all were very good pitchers nonetheless thanks to a combination of sharp control, smart situational pitching and keeping the ball in the ballpark.Yet as baseball’s overall velocity bar has raised and preventing home runs has become more difficult, there’s evidence the control-and-command approach has progressively lost its effectiveness. While breaking pitches such as sliders and curves are moving more sharply than ever, it’s not the crafty junkballers of yore who are benefiting most from it.Bill James once broke pitchers into equally sized “power,” “finesse” and “neutral” groups based on their rates of strikeouts plus walks per inning (theorizing that high-velocity pitchers get lots of strikeouts and walks — think Nolan Ryan — while our crafty group doesn’t record much of either). If we do that for qualified starters each season since 1950, we can see the balance of leaguewide pitching wins above replacement1Averaging together the values from FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com. has tilted strongly in favor of power pitchers since the early 1970s: Pitching has always been about throwing a baseball really hard — there’s a reason so much of the game’s mythology grew around how quickly hurlers like Walter “Big Train” Johnson and Bob Feller could get the ball from the mound to home plate. But for those who lack overwhelming stuff, there’s another core aspect to pitching: the art of throwing strikes and tricking batters into getting themselves out. Velocity makes a pitcher’s life easier, of course, but plenty of greats from history have thrived on guile instead of a dominating fastball.The craft of finesse pitching, however, might be a dying one in today’s game. A few, such as Arizona’s Zack Greinke and the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks, have managed to remain effective with a slow fastball and pinpoint control. But the number of star pitchers following that formula has dwindled in recent seasons, in conjunction with the ever-increasing velocity of the average pitch across Major League Baseball. Just a decade ago, we saw Jamie Moyer gutting out complete-game shutouts with an 81-mile-per-hour fastball at age 47 (!) — but are the Moyers of 2019 now getting squeezed out of the sport?Moyer, the southpaw formerly of the Phillies and Mariners (among other teams), was plainly a special pitcher no matter how you measure him. He won only 34 games by his 30th birthday yet still managed to finish with 269 total victories before retiring in 2012 at the age of 49. But Moyer also exemplified a very particular kind of hurler: the prototypical “crafty lefty” who gets by on smarts and makes the best of less-than-stellar velocity readings. In 2002, the earliest year of pitch-speed data at FanGraphs, Moyer — then a youthful 39 — averaged just 82.8 miles per hour on his fastball. (He and Tim Hudson were the only non-knuckleballers with an average fastball under 83.) It was a radar reading that only went down with the passage of time.Back then, though, 11 percent of qualified starters clocked in under 85 mph on average, and 70 percent threw under 90 mph. Moyer even had Hall of Fame company at the bottom of the velocity list, including the likes of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. But things changed by the mid-to-late 2000s, when Moyer was perennially the only qualified starter anywhere near the low 80s. In 2010, roughly 1 percent of qualified starters averaged under 85 mph, and only 29 percent were even averaging under 90 mph. Today, nobody averages below 85 mph — Hendricks is baseball’s softest-tossing qualified starter at 86.7 mph — while 16 percent of starters are above 95 mph on their average fastball: Aside from briefly closing the gap a few times over that span — specifically in the mid-1980s and the late 1990s, aka the Moyer and Maddux eras — the finesse pitchers have consistently lost ground value-wise to the hard throwers. The 2017 and 2018 seasons were the first two since 1950 in which the net gap in WAR share between power- and finesse-type starters was at least 18 percentage points in consecutive years. Of the 20 most valuable starters of 2018 by WAR, only one (Miles Mikolas of the Cardinals) was classified as a finesse pitcher; the other 19 were all either power (12) or neutral (7) pitcher types.What accounts for the trend? For one thing, balls in play are at an all-time low, setting a new MLB record for the fewest per game in each of the past five seasons. (We’re down to just 24 balls in play per contest in 2019 so far.) Although most pitchers have little to no control over hits allowed on balls in play during a given season, there are legitimate differences in skill that emerge over entire careers. And part of the crafty-pitcher archetype involves inducing a disproportionate amount of weak contact that fielders can more readily turn into outs.“I didn’t really have swing-and-miss stuff,” Maddux told Dan Patrick in an interview this year. “I wasn’t really worried about giving up singles, but I did what I could to keep the ball in front of the outfielders, not walk anybody and make them get three singles to score.”When there are fewer balls put in play to be had, that formula has less of an effect.There’s also the matter of teams turning to increasingly younger pitchers in recent seasons. Since just about every indicator of power pitching — from pure velocity to strikeouts — is strongly correlated with possessing a younger arm, it makes sense that as young pitchers account for a larger share of the value across MLB, so too will a larger share of WAR be associated specifically with power pitchers (and a smaller share associated with finesse pitchers). Which direction does the causation run? It isn’t totally clear, but it doesn’t especially matter. Whether teams are prizing youth or velocity, it’s squeezing out pitchers who lack either (or both) attributes.“If you look at pitching these days, everything is max effort,” Moyer told the Orange County Register in January. “Look at the younger generations — high school, college, minor leagues, everybody’s trying to light up a radar gun, throw 100 mph. Our bodies aren’t made to perform in this game as a pitcher at max effort.”Although Bartolo Colon, who pitched last season at age 45 as another exemplar of craft triumphing over stuff, the game is generally trending against pitchers like him and Moyer, in many ways.With all of this, it’s fair to wonder whether it would even be possible to dominate with an arsenal resembling, say, Maddux’s, in the modern game. The two-seamer, Maddux’s bewildering weapon of choice, has fallen quickly out of favor in the last decade or so, and a peak-era fastball that barely scraped 90 would rank among the slowest in the league today. Maddux’s specialty, changing speeds, can still be as disruptive as any tactic (just ask Cincinnati ace Luis Castillo). But it’s telling that Maddux himself recognizes what worked in his era might not be as effective now.“I was taught to throw strikes and get hitters out in the strike zone,” Maddux told Patrick. “And now, pitching has kind of turned the other way, where they try to get hitters out outside of the strike zone. I don’t know if I would have adapted to that or not. I’d like to think I could, but who knows what would have happened?”Perhaps the craft of pitching is making something of a comeback this season, with more finesse-oriented pitchers such as Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers and Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees off to great starts already. Certainly, there always will be a place for pitchers who can transcend the radar gun with intelligence and skill. But just the same, the obsessive quest for velocity in today’s game will probably continue to squeeze out the soft-tossing finesse archetype of yesteryear. Sadly, that means it will be harder than ever for crafty, Moyer-esque pitchers to carve out a place in baseball.Check out our latest MLB predictions.
Jim Tressel is officially the former head coach of Ohio State football and the impact of his resignation will be felt far beyond the towering walls of Ohio Stadium. Many campus area businesses said game days are also big paydays. According to a 2005 study published in the “Journal of Sports Economics,” OSU athletic programs generated an estimated $100 million for the local economy in 2003. But with the football program in turmoil, will football Saturdays still be a windfall for local businesses? Michael Weisgarber, a fourth-year in English and history, said he attended almost every home football game last season. Next year, however, he is considering sitting out some games because of the scandal. “A lot of the popularity of the football team has to do with image,” Weisgarber said. “I think Tressel is pretty integral to that image.” John Miles has been working the register at Tommy’s Pizza and Subs on West Lane Avenue for five years and he said it’s not easy to predict if a lot of fans will skip games and impact sales. “It’s hard to say, it might drop off a little, but nothing major,” Miles said. Tommy’s often does about $2,000 of business on a Friday, but game days can bring in $10,000 to $15,000, Miles said. During the University of Southern California game in 2009, that figure was about $17,000. But Tommy’s has been serving pizza and subs to the OSU community for more than 25 years, and Miles said it is confident business will remain strong, even without the Senator at the ‘Shoe. “I think people care more about the school than Tressel,” Miles said. That is true for Nathan Rodriguez, a fourth-year in electrical and computer engineering. Rodriguez said he goes to a couple games every year. “I don’t see myself being any less likely to go,” Rodriguez said. “I still will go to a couple games.” Buckeye Donuts on North High Street is another game day favorite and owner Jimmy Barouxis said it’s common for the restaurant to serve more than 1,000 customers. “It definitely matters how well the team is doing,” Barouxis said. “As the tension and excitement builds when the team is doing well, we definitely do more business.” Barouxis said game-day business might drop off by a few percentage points now that Tressel is gone, but the donut and sandwich shop will be fine. “We’re not worried,” Barouxis said. “We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing.” Some businesses are even hopeful their sales will improve. Leah Reynolds is a Columbus artist who sells prints of hand-drawn portraits of Tressel and former OSU football coach Woody Hayes through the online crafts site, www.etsy.com. Reynolds said page views for her Tressel prints went up after the embattled coach resigned. Her online store sells full portraits as well as cards and magnets that feature the legendary OSU coaches and other artwork. “Right before football season I sell more Woody Hayes and coach Tressel prints,” Reynolds said. “If you live (in Columbus), you have to be a fan.” Reynolds said she has no intention of taking down the Tressel prints. “They won’t go off (the website),” Reynolds said. “There will still be Tressel fans, just like there are still Woody Hayes fans.” The artist said some people might buy the Tressel prints as a gag gift for a Buckeye fan. But Reynolds isn’t dwelling on the past, in fact she is already working on her latest piece: a portrait of coach Luke Fickell. “I will absolutely have a print of him (Fickell),” Reynolds said. “I’m planning on getting that up just as soon as I can.”
Ed Beathea became the interim head coach of Ohio State’s men’s track and field in April, following an abrupt end to Robert Gary’s coaching tenure.Beathea’s interim tag was removed when he was officially named the program’s head coach Thursday.Beathea, who joined OSU as associate head coach in 2006, will receive a five-year contract as the team’s new head man. He will also lead the OSU men’s cross-country program.His annual salary will be $95,000, according to an OSU spokesman.Beathea told The Lantern that it is “certainly a big relief” to continue having the opportunity to lead the Buckeyes.“It’s very exciting for me, it’s very exciting for my family,” Beathea said. “The guys on the team are all very excited, they were very supportive and certainly supported me throughout the process.”Prior to joining the OSU coaching staff, Beathea coached sprinters and hurdlers at Indiana University for 10 years, including four seasons as associate head coach. An alumnus of Ball State University, he was also an assistant coach for two seasons at Northern Arizona University prior to his decade at Indiana.OSU fired Gary April 6, according to public records obtained by The Columbus Dispatch. OSU athletic spokesman Dan Wallenberg told the Dispatch that the decision to terminate Gary was made following the university’s discovery of “financial reporting irregularities.”On April 18, Gary was named the head coach of Furman University’s men’s and women’s track and field/cross country program. Furman also hired is wife, Rita, as his assistant coach.Beathea took over head coaching responsibilities for the remainder of the 2012 season following Gary’s firing. Beathea, who coached the Buckeyes to a fourth-place finish at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships, said he was pleased with the team’s performance during his time as interim head coach.“I thought the team performed really well,” Beathea said. “Considering the situation … me having to come in midway through the season, I thought the team was very focused, I thought they were very competitive.”While Beathea was satisfied with his team’s result this spring, he has higher expectations going forward.“It was a tough conference meet outdoor this year,” Beathea said. “I think that our goal is always to be in the top three. I think that our goal in the Big Ten in the next two or three years is to win the conference.”Beathea said he believes the team’s incoming recruiting class is very strong, but that he and his coaching staff will place a greater emphasis upon recruiting.“I think that certainly we will try to recruit more aggressively,” Beathea said. “We’ll certainly have a plan in place for that. Our goal for the national standpoint is to be a top-five or a top-ten team, and the only way that we’re going to be able to do that is to continue to add recruiting classes like the one we had this year.”The team’s incoming recruiting class includes three Gatorade State Track and Field Athletes of the Year. Ohio’s Donovan Robertson, a two-time winner of the award, also won two consecutive Division I state outdoor championships in 110-meter hurdles and 300-meter hurdles, and set the indoor national high school record in 60-meter hurdles in March. Rhode Island’s Joe Velez won the 2012 outdoor national championship in hammer throw, while Pennsylvania’s Billy Stanley had the nation’s second-farthest javelin throw among high school athletes in 2012.Beathea said he is still evaluating his current coaching staff, and whether any changes will be made is “still to be determined.”Beathea said that while his coaching style is different from Gary’s, he does not anticipate significant changes to be made as a result of the coaching change.“I think there’s certainly differences in how Coach Gary led the team and how I led the team, how I lead the team,” Beathea said. “But there’s certainly some similarities … I’m very focused on having a strong culture with a team, having the guys understand what the expectations are, have them understand what’s going on around them with other event areas and other guys on the team.Beathea said he planned on changing things that needed to be changed, but that he wouldn’t need to reinvent the wheel.“I think that we always are open for new ideas.”
It feels like depth has always been an issue for Thad Matta-coached basketball teams. It’s not that the Ohio State players who are on the bench aren’t talented, but more that those players on the bench stay on the bench. Matta has a tendency to find a few guys that he really trusts, usually five or six guys, and rotate that small group instead of giving them a rest and letting younger players grow. Although Matta’s success here at OSU can’t be questioned, his system has started to show its weakness in recent seasons when fatigue begins to set in during the NCAA Tournament. This year though, that formula has changed out of necessity rather than revelation. Matta has been swapping about eight players consistently, with three players – junior guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. and junior forward Deshaun Thomas – averaging about 30 minutes a game. But outside of Thomas, the Buckeyes don’t have a consistent second scoring threat. A few players have stepped into the role on a game-by-game basis (like Craft, Smith Jr. or sophomore forward Sam Thompson) but aren’t able to keep it up over an extended stretch. It is a perplexing problem, but many fans think they have the solution. Sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross has been singled out by some fans for his natural scoring ability as the obvious choice to take some of the pressure off of Thomas’ shoulders. Against Wisconsin Tuesday, Ross totaled eight points on 3-of-4 shooting. For the most part, Matta has remained defiant and Ross continues to sit on the bench for many of OSU’s contests this season. Ross is only averaging 17 minutes a game, despite being second on the team behind Thomas in terms of scoring efficiency. And while, relatively, Ross’ time on the court isn’t anything to snicker at, it’s not reflective of a player with the potential to be an elite scorer. But why wouldn’t Matta play Ross if OSU is so desperate for a second option? Thomas can’t carry the team on his own forever. Although the fans have a point about Ross being a talented scorer, the problems with Ross might outweigh the rewards. As good as Ross is on offense, he is equally bad on defense. It is hard to imagine that on an OSU team, a squad that has been known for its defense since Matta took over the program in 2004, that someone who is such a defensive liability would get significant playing time. Notice during the final five or so minutes how rare it is for Ross to receive minutes. He might aid in games during the middle stretches, but never starts and never closes, a sign of Matta’s lack of trust in the young forward. Although his outing against the Badgers shows marked improvement, it is still not enough to convince Matta to give Ross a more significant role. He might see more playing time come his way during certain games this season, but don’t expect for him to play vital minutes against Michigan Tuesday or Indiana on Feb. 10. For the Buckeyes to make a run in the NCAA Tournament similar to last season’s, they need someone to come out of the woodwork to help Thomas. Ross might be that guy someday. But for now? He’s not quite the answer.
Junior forward Jake Lorbach (34) takes a shot during a game against Bryant Dec. 11 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 86-48. Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editorWhen Ohio State junior forward Jake Lorbach made the men’s basketball team as a walk-on before last season, coach Thad Matta had only one thing to say to him.“He (told me), ‘I don’t want another Mark Titus. So just try not to do that.’ But sometimes you can’t help yourself,” Lorbach said Friday.Titus, a former OSU walk-on who graduated in 2010, gained stardom in his Buckeye career after starting a blog known as Club Trillion. He has since written a book called “Don’t Put Me In, Coach,” chronicling his time as OSU’s goofball whose goal was to play in as many games as possible without recording any statistical significance.Matta’s lighter side is mentioned throughout Titus’ book, but the former player’s antics — making faces behind his head coach after the team won the 2010 Big Ten Tournament, for example — led some to believe his popularity got on the coach’s nerves. Lorbach hasn’t taken the goofing around to Titus’ level quite yet, but did photobomb LeBron James during a sideline interview when the football team was taking on Wisconsin Sept. 28.Matta denied having told Lorbach to avoid following in the footsteps of Titus, though.“I don’t think I told him that,” Matta said with a laugh Friday. “I love Mark, still do … (but) Jake’s done a tremendous job for us.”Lorbach made a splash Wednesday when he entered OSU’s 86-48 victory against Bryant and scored six points, the first two on a breakaway dunk where he barely jumped high enough to put the ball over the rim.“When I was sitting on the bench for the majority of the game, my knees were feeling kind of tired from that week of practice and so I think once I got the ball on the breakaway, it was just like a lot of adrenaline and then me thinking about my knees and whether or not I was going to get high enough,” Lorbach said. “It was a split second, so fortunately I was able to get up high enough and put it down and that’s all that matters.”The Schottenstein Center crowd — and his teammates on the bench — erupted every time Lorbach got the ball and scored against the Bulldogs, but if he had missed the dunk attempt, they might not have been so nice.“I’m pretty sure the crowd would have reacted a lot differently,” Lorbach said with a smile.“We might have laughed a little bit but told him to get it the next time,” junior guard Shannon Scott said Friday, speculating on the team’s reaction if Lorbach’s try had been unsuccessful.Lorbach, who played volleyball in addition to basketball at St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio, said his performance against Bryant has been recognized on campus and social media as well.“(I’ve) definitely gotten a lot more (Twitter) followers after that debut. People have come up to me a lot and said good job,” Lorbach said. “It’s cool getting the attention, it’s a lot different. Usually, I just walk through the shadows and now I’m kind of out there and people know who I am.”Having only played 10 minutes the past two seasons combined, the majority of Lorbach’s time is spent on the practice court getting the scholarship players ready for their next opponent. His hard work on his own game, though, doesn’t go unnoticed by his coach.“He does everything we need him to do,” Matta said. “For Jake, wanting to be a part of this basketball team and knowing that his role was never going to be significant by any stretch for the team, but we’re going to require him to be a great teammate and have a great attitude every single day and he’s definitely exceeding our expectations when it comes to that. For (the other players), basically the work he’s putting in, he’s here every second that they’re here and not getting to do the majority of the things they are, so when something happens, I think they’re excited for him.”Not getting the playing time others do is something that comes with being a walk-on, and even if he does not get a chance to play Saturday when the Buckeyes are scheduled to take on North Dakota State at 8:15 p.m., Lorbach said he is just happy to get any opportunity after all his hard work.“It definitely feels like it’s paying off finally,” Lorbach said. “I come to practice every day and do what I can to help the team and then finally, I was able to go out there and showcase what I’m able to do.”