In the eternally running discussion thread “Hey Bill” at billjamesonline.com, the website of sabermetric legend Bill James, the question came up of measuring the growth of sabermetric knowledge. James’s idea? Measure the extent to which teams are taking park factors into account when judging their rosters. But Tom Tango, author of “The Book,” offered another gauge: look at which teams are using good hitters in the No. 2 lineup slot.Traditionally, the two-hole was the domain of contact hitters with good bat control, with premiums placed on the ability to hit behind the runner, to sacrifice bunt, and to generally move the leadoff man over (even if it meant making an out). You can see this statistically: During Major League Baseball’s expansion era (1961-present), the No. 2 slot has the highest aggregate contact rate of any batting order position.But research by Tango and his compatriots suggests teams have been doing it wrong. After examining how important each batting event (single, double, walk, etc.) is to each lineup slot — based on factors such as how many runners are likely to be on base and how many outs they’re likely to hit with — the data says a team ought to bat its three best hitters in the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 slots, with the most balanced hitter occupying the two-hole. That’s a far cry from the conventional wisdom of slotting the best hitter either third or fourth, and putting a weak contact specialist at No. 2.So, if there are more good hitters in the second position, it’s a possible sign sabermetrics has penetrated the managerial mindset. But if there’s a pattern toward a more enlightened lineup card, it’s not detectable by looking at the average quality of No. 2 hitters (according to weighted runs created, known as wRC+) since the introduction of the designated hitter in 1973:If we take a five-year moving average to smooth out year-to-year variance above, it’s even clearer that we’re not in the golden age of great hitters batting second:Historically, the quality levels of MLB leadoff and No. 2 hitters tend to track with each other — and contra the performances of third and fourth hitters. (Meanwhile, Nos. 5 and 6 have stayed fairly stable over the years, with the five slot outproducing six by a decent amount.) The good news is that it appears the two-hole has emerged from the dark ages of the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, when slot Nos. 3 and 4 vastly outpaced Nos. 1 and 2.It may not be coincidental that the bleakest of times for the No. 2 spot came during MLB’s so-called steroid era. The stat we’re using, wRC+, compares a player’s per-plate appearance productivity against the average of all hitters, and the power hitters who frequently bat third and fourth may have received the benefits of performance-enhancing drugs at a greater rate than the overall population of MLB batters. (This would cause No. 2 hitters to move backward relative to the overall average, even if they themselves saw no change in talent.) With the specter of performance-enhancing drugs reduced in today’s game, the gap between hitter No. 2 and Nos. 3 and 4 has returned to its long-term norm.Still, today’s two-hole batters lag behind those of the halcyon late 1980s and early 1990s, when players such as Ryne Sandberg, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, Roberto Alomar, Julio Franco and Lou Whitaker were doing a large share of their damage from the second spot in the lineup. It’s plausible that the conditions of the game back then simply favored the traditional archetype of the No. 2 hitter more (batting averages were higher, as was the ratio of on-base percentage to slugging), but today’s managers also don’t appear to be moving toward the sabermetric ideal of penciling the team’s best hitter into the No. 2 spot.Sabermetrics has come a long way since the first analysts began tinkering with mathematical models, and there are certainly places where statistical thinking has made its way onto the field (for example, the explosion of defensive shifts in today’s game is rooted in probability theory regarding where a batter is most likely to hit the ball). But when it comes to the two-hole, baseball’s decision-makers still have a bit of a climb ahead of them.
Although Belgium vs. Russia features slightly higher-rated teams, we’ll be watching the U.S. play Portugal. It projects to be a closer match — at least according to ESPN’s Soccer Power Index (SPI).Belgium vs. Russia: 12 p.m. EDTSouth Korea vs. Algeria: 3 p.m. EDTU.S. vs. Portugal: 6 p.m. EDTIN BRIEFSee our World Cup predictions for the latest probabilities.IN DEPTHBy SPI, the U.S.-Portugal game is essentially a tossup. The U.S. has a 35 percent chance of winning and Portugal has a 36 percent chance. But as of Sunday morning, the betting odds compiled by Oddschecker.com implied that the U.S. has just a 20 percent chance of winning, to Portugal’s 54 percent chance.Our predictions use SPI, a rating based on an algorithm for assessing team strength. The betting odds reflect the wide range of world opinion on teams, or at least the opinion of those willing to wager money on match outcomes using sites such as Oddschecker. Despite these different approaches, the two forecasting systems are usually pretty close. For most of the remaining matchups in the group stage, the win probabilities the two models assign to each team are within 20 percent of each other.The U.S.-Portugal match, however, is divisive. SPI sees the two sides as about equal now that the U.S. has beaten Ghana 2-1 and Portugal has lost to Germany 4-0. But those results haven’t swayed many hearts and minds and wallets. The U.S. also is favored more by SPI than by bettors in its last group-stage match, against Germany on Thursday. And bettors also like Portugal much more than SPI does for its group-stage finale against Ghana. These Group G matches represent among the biggest disagreements between SPI and bettors, aside from the betting odds favoring big underdogs Japan and Cameroon more in their finales against Colombia and Brazil, respectively, and Honduras less against Switzerland, than SPI does.Portugal supporters better hope the bettors are right: Their team could really use a win. After Ghana and Germany drew Saturday, 2-2, Portugal’s chance of advancing to the knockout stage fell slightly, to 22 percent from 23 percent. U.S. knockout hopes also took a small hit, but remain nearly a 2-in-3 proposition.Portugal’s fortunes will rest with its star, Cristiano Ronaldo — even more than usual since defender Pepe is suspended from the match after getting red-carded out of Portugal’s opener. Historically, Portugal hasn’t been able to count on a Ronaldo goal when times are tough. In 11 World Cup matches, Ronaldo has just two goals, and each of these came when Portugal already led — in wins over massive underdogs Iran (in 2006) and North Korea (2010). When Portugal has been tied or trailed, Ronaldo has taken 42 shots, 12 of them on target — but hasn’t scored.Belgium and Russia have less recent World Cup success than Portugal has but are better or nearly as good, respectively, according to SPI. Here, bettors and SPI agree: Belgium is the sizable favorite over Russia. The forecasts also agree that in a matchup of one of the World Cup’s worst teams and its absolute worst, South Korea is favored against Algeria.YESTERDAYArgentina and Iran kicked off the 10th day of World Cup — or more accurately, Argentina attacked while Iran hung on for dear life. Later in Fortaleza, Brazil, a record-tying goal from Miroslav Klose earned the Germans a draw with Ghana.Argentina dominated attacking possession like no other team at this tournament. La Albiceleste had a 241-45 advantage on touches in the attacking third, posting tournament highs with the total and the +196 advantage they had over Iran. Angel Di Maria alone had 53 touches in the attacking third of the field — eight more than the Iranians.Iran largely conceded attacking-third possession (or possession overall, for that matter; Iran completed 113 passes, the lowest of any World Cup team in the past 50 years) but attempted to dig in at the penalty area. Argentina still posted a 28-8 touches in the box advantage. That +20 differential on touches in the box is only the second such instance this tournament (France was +20 against a 10-man Honduran side).None of it mattered on the scoreboard, as the Iranians looked ready to steal a shocking point — until, in the first minute of stoppage time, Lionel Messi’s left-footed shot bent inside the back post for Argentina’s winning goal: a 32.9-yard strike that was the longest of his three World Cup goals and his longest goal of 2014.In the next match, Germany and Ghana lulled the soccer-loving world to sleep for the first 45 minutes of their Group G match. But the teams scored four goals in a 20-minute span in the second half of what became a thrilling 2-2 draw.Asamoah Gyan scored his 41st goal for Ghana and fifth career World Cup goal. The list of players at this tournament with more World Cup goals than Gyan is fairly short — Klose, David Villa, Diego Forlan, Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller — and he briefly put Ghana ahead. For eight minutes, Ghana had even the most confident German fans sweating. Germany hadn’t lost in 19 straight World Cup matches when scoring first (since 1994 vs. Bulgaria), and Ghana looked primed for the first win in its World Cup history when conceding first.But Klose, the super sub, struck on his first touch of the game. A German corner was flicked on by Benedikt Howedes to Klose at the back post. His sliding finish tied the game and vaulted him into a tie with Brazil’s Ronaldo for the top spot on the career World Cup scoring list with 15 goals. — John Parolin, senior stats analyst, ESPN OFF THE PITCHThose familiar with the Diamond Quarter in Antwerp know that the diamond trade plays a significant role in Belgium’s economy. According to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data, Belgium imported about $33 billion worth of diamonds in 2012. The U.K. is the source of most of those stones, but Russia is the second-largest provider, exporting about $5 billion worth (out of $15 billion total Russian exports to Belgium). While Russia may be focusing on keeping Belgians well-accessorized, Belgium is busy just keeping Russians well. About 43 percent of Belgian exports to Russia were medicaments and health-related chemicals and products, including orthopedic devices, vaccines and X-ray equipment. — Hayley MunguiaFURTHER READINGGermany’s Draw Didn’t Help the U.S.Numbers Don’t Back Up the Notion that American Soccer Is ‘Too Honest.’
Matthew Stafford has extended his stay in Mo-Town by signing a $53 million, three-year extension to his current contract with the Detroit Lions.According to sources, the Lions organization and Stafford agreed to a deal on Tuesday that will pay him an additional $41.5 million in guarantees, and will keep him on the team for at least the next five seasons.Back in 2009, the Lions drafted the NFL quarterback and originally signed him up for a six-year deal worth $78 million with $41.7 million in guarantees.After having trouble with injuries his first two seasons, Stafford helped Detroit reach the post-season in 2011, which was the first time in over 10 years.Stafford talked about the extension by making promises to the fans:“I promise you no one is going to work harder than me to get this team going in the right direction, winning games and going to the playoffs multiple years in a row. That’s the plan. That’s the whole reason I signed this deal is to be here and turn this thing in the right direction and make sure it stays that way for a long time.”
This week’s episode of Hot Takedown mourns the end of March Madness and celebrates the start of the NBA playoffs. With the race for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player still up in the air, Robin Lundberg makes the case for Giannis Antetokounmpo over James Harden. We see if there’s data to move the needle either way.It’s Masters week! With the most anticipated event in golf nearly underway, the team breaks down the prospects for Tiger Woods in a crowded field of contenders. Could this be Tiger’s last chance at the green jacket? His start to the season shows potential, but the game has changed since he last dominated.For our Rabbit Hole of the Week, inspired by her Minnesota Twins, Sara goes back to 1908 to track MLB players hitting for the cycle.Here’s what we’re looking at this week:A spontaneous Google search during this episode on the use of data in MVP determinations landed on this Nate Silver throwback.We’re glued to the FiveThirtyEight NBA predictions.Basketball-Reference.com’s 2018-2019 MVP Tracker is an excellent resource.In anticipation of the masters, Neil examines Tiger Woods’s chance at the jacket.From our Rabbit Hole, Bengie Molina’s ridiculous cycle. FiveThirtyEight More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Embed Code
PERCENTILE RANK Weighted OBA9934 HARPERTROUT 25Justin TurnerDodgers22.214.171.124.8 On-Base Pct.10097 2Bryce HarperNationals126.96.36.199.0 4Buster PoseyGiants188.8.131.52.7 PROJECTED WAR/600 PA 2016Batting Avg.9024 2015Batting Avg.9986 8Kris BryantCubs184.108.40.206.0 15Yasiel PuigDodgers220.127.116.11.3 WAR/600 PA9973 20Starling MartePirates4.03.93.93.9 10Carlos CorreaAstros18.104.22.168.6 19Adrian BeltreRangers3.94.14.04.0 18Miguel CabreraTigers22.214.171.124.1 PLAYERTEAMZIPSSTEAMERFG DEPTHAVERAGE 1Mike TroutAngels126.96.36.199.8 24Chris DavisOrioles188.8.131.52.8 13Anthony RizzoCubs4.04.84.44.4 6Giancarlo StantonMarlins184.108.40.206.3 Who’s better, Harper or Trout? A year after posting one of the greatest single seasons in baseball history, Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper is off to an even more stupendous start this season. Through Washington’s first 14 games, Harper is hitting .327 with a .417 on-base percentage and an MLB-best .837 slugging percentage; he’s also finished more at-bats with a home run (seven) than a strikeout (six) while producing nightly feats of optimal exit velocity and launch angle, like this blast from Tuesday:Harper’s longtime rival for the mantle of “best young player in baseball” is, of course, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, who has consistently run circles around him. But last season, Harper finally outplayed Trout, and the Millville Meteor has flown in a lower orbit than usual to start the 2016 campaign as well. Here’s each player’s percentile ranking in the major leagues in the most important batting rate statistics, plus wins above replacement per 600 plate appearances: 5Josh DonaldsonBlue Jays5.65.05.85.5 Slugging Pct.10026 9Paul GoldschmidtDiamondbacks220.127.116.11.8 Trout’s still No. 1 … for now 14Kevin KiermaierRays18.104.22.168.3 12Jose BautistaBlue Jays22.214.171.124.4 11Nolan ArenadoRockies126.96.36.199.5 21Jason HeywardCubs3.34.64.03.9 You can probably guess what’s happening now: a variety of articles either wondering whether Harper has surpassed Trout as the game’s best player or flat-out declaring the race over. Never mind that Trout has been the best player in baseball history, for his age, through every one of his full major-league seasons — his spot atop the game is officially in jeopardy.That conclusion is still a bit premature, though. FanGraphs keeps a running set of projected statistics for the season, historically calibrated to find the most accurate balance of short- and long-term samples for making predictions. That means they can give us a pretty good proxy answer to the “who’s the best right now?” question, and all three of the rest-of-season projections at FanGraphs1ZiPS, Steamer and the aggregated projections FanGraphs uses on its depth chart pages. say Trout is still the game’s best bet among position players:2Projections are as of Wednesday afternoon. 7Andrew McCutchenPirates5.05.25.15.1 22Yadier MolinaCardinals188.8.131.52.9 Slugging Pct.10099 16Joey VottoReds184.108.40.206.3 Source: Fangraphs Weighted OBA10098 17Yasmani GrandalDodgers220.127.116.11.2 23Francisco CervelliPirates18.104.22.168.9 WAR/600 PA10099 3Manny MachadoOrioles22.214.171.124.2 All projections of April 20Source: FanGraphs On-Base Pct.9455 That probably won’t come as a surprise to most saber-friendly fans, who may as well drive around with “Small sample size!” stickers on their bumpers this early in the season. Even so, it doesn’t exactly take magical thinking to believe Harper is an exception to the rules of historical projections. At FanGraphs, Dave Cameron wrote a nice, nuanced piece Monday about how the particulars of Harper’s game evolved to get him where he was last year and how their continued development could give his newfound productivity more staying power. The upshot is that over the past year-plus, Harper has turned into a powerful pull hitter with the strength of Chris Davis and the plate discipline of Joey Votto — a terrifying combination that lends credence to the theory that his game has found another gear.I also devoted the Significant Digit segment of Wednesday’s Hot Takedown podcast to looking at how Harper’s numbers have improved this season despite a drastically reduced batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which makes you wonder how zany his numbers could be if he starts experiencing better BABIP luck. (And both of those analyses took place before Harper launched his grand slam Tuesday night.3For those curious, we tape Hot Takedown on Tuesday afternoons.)But in general, it takes a compelling reason to think any player is an exception to the trends of history, which are proven out far more often than they’re upended. Although reasonable people can find reasonable reasons to believe Harper is one of those exceptions, it’s important to remember just how high that threshold is. Otherwise, there’s a preponderance of evidence that Harper still hasn’t chased down Trout — at least not yet.
For the first time since Bobby Fischer captivated the country, a U.S. grandmaster has a shot at becoming the undisputed world chess champion.1In 1996, American Gata Kamsky played in the finals of the FIDE world championship (and lost), but the world championship was divided because Garry Kasparov, the world’s strongest player, had split from FIDE and played in championships under the banner of the Professional Chess Association. Fabiano Caruana, the current world No. 3 and the top American chess grandmaster, won the right today to play for the game’s most coveted prize. He’ll face the reigning world champion, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, in a 12-game, one-on-one match in London in November. It won’t be easy. Carlsen, the current world No. 1, has been champion since 2013 and became a grandmaster when he was 13 years old. He most recently defended his title in 2016 in New York City.Caruana earned his challenge bid by winning the Candidates Tournament, a 14-game tournament featuring eight of the world’s top players, held over the past three weeks in Berlin. For much of the Candidates, Caruana seemed like he might cruise to a relatively painless victory. He notched some early victories and fended off other top rivals with exacting draws. But he stumbled in Game 12, losing to the Russian grandmaster Sergey Karjakin in 48 moves. That created a formidable and complex thicket at the top of the standings — going into the tournament’s final day, four of the eight grandmasters had a chance to win. But in the 14th and final game, held today, Caruana fought Alexander Grischuk of Russia for 69 moves and over six hours, winning the game and securing the tournament.Caruana has been to the world championships before — but only as a spectator. While Carlsen was winning his championship in New York in 2016, Caruana could be found playing speed chess amid throngs of onlookers at a New York chess club. He told me at the time that he was staying up late at night analyzing the championship games. Now he’ll have a chance to put his analysis to use.It’s been a long road to the championship for Caruana. His family moved to Brooklyn from Miami when he was 4 years old, and he began playing chess at age 5 at a synagogue’s after-school program. Within a few months, he was playing in tournaments around the city. Fischer, whose own family moved to Brooklyn when he was young, learned the game 50 years earlier in an apartment about a mile away from the synagogue.Despite these roots in the U.S., Caruana is one of a couple super-strong players who have transferred to the American team from other countries’ teams. Caruana had been a member of the Italian team, having moved to Europe to take advantage of its strong coaches and tournaments. He rejoined the American team in 2015.But there’s still one steep hill to climb. Caruana and Carlsen have played 31 times before in the lengthy sort of games that will be played at the world championship, according to Chessgames.com, a website that collects top players’ games. Carlsen leads their series 9 wins to 5, and there have been 17 draws. A simple simulation of the match2I simulated 100,000 instances of the championship match and its potential tie-breakers, using the players’ live ratings from 2700chess.com and assuming a draw rate of 30 percent, similar to what I’ve done before previous world championships. using the players’ current Elo ratings puts Caruana’s chances of upending Carlsen’s reign — and claiming the first American title since Fischer — at about 30 percent.
The No. 10 Ohio State men’s volleyball squad came back from a 2-1 deficit to beat No. 15 Loyola-Chicago 3-2 in the MIVA Tournament Championship Match on Saturday.OSU pulled ahead in the first game and maintained its lead until Loyola tied it up at 14.The game stayed close with 13 tied scores, but OSU pulled out the 30-28 victory with a final kill from sophomore opposite-hitter Shawn Sangrey.Loyola came back in game two to tie up the match score at 1-1. The Ramblers maintained the lead for the duration of the game and won 30-25.Tied at four in game three, Loyola pulled ahead 9-4 and kept its lead until OSU tied it up again at 22. Tied at 24, three consecutive kills pushed the Ramblers ahead to a 27-24 lead. After an OSU error, Loyola won 30-26, taking the lead in the match 2-1.“Our serve got a little bit better late in game three and that put them out of system, and then you can get your block set up and you can dig a few balls, but we didn’t necessarily turn them into points,” coach Pete Hanson said. “We gave them a sense that they had some room to breathe and then they rolled out game three and beat us.”Loyola pulled ahead early in game four at 4-2, but the Buckeyes quickly took over with a 9-4 lead. Loyola trailed for the rest of the game, allowing OSU a wide-margined 30-20 win.“Sangrey got on a serving run and that just sucked the wind out of their sails,” Hanson said. “You need a guy to sometimes do that, to just get you two or three points. Once we got that, then it was a pretty easy game and I think that momentum just built going into game five.”In the 15-point fifth game, the Buckeyes pulled out of an early 4-4 tie and momentum carried them to a 14-9 match point lead. A kill from senior opposite-hitter Ted Schoenfeldt secured the game and match win for OSU.“I kind of knew the ball was coming to me before the play,” Schoenfeldt said. “It was a good pass, I was ready for it, and couldn’t ask for a better feeling putting that ball away in game five.”Schoenfeldt, who had a career-high 12 blocks and 11 assists, was named the most outstanding player of the tournament. He was also named part of the MIVA all-tournament team along with teammates Steven Kehoe, John Klanac and Sangrey, who had 22 kills and a match-high 26.5 points.“This is what we played for all year,” Schoenfeldt said. “We train hard —I think we are the hardest-trained team in the nation as far as volleyball goes. We get in the weight room three days a week, lift hard. Preseason we really pushed ourselves to the limit to get to this point, and we’re not finished yet. We still have two more matches as far as we see it, and we’re going to do our best to win the national championship.”OSU received its third-consecutive automatic bid to the NCAA Championship as a No. 4 seed to play No. 1 seed Stanford, who will host the semifinals.“It’s going to be a huge match for us,” Hanson said. “But our kids have nothing to lose and we’re riding a -game winning streak and hopefully we can just play good volleyball and just see what happens.”
Saturday’s football scrimmage represents the culmination of what Jim Tressel said has been a positive spring, he told the media during the annual Ohio State football coaches clinic on Friday. “Through 13 practices this has been as an attentive and a positive spring as I’ve ever been around,” Tressel said. Because many starting positions are up for grabs, he said, everyone feels they have a chance to earn playing time. “A lot of guys haven’t been in games and this is opportunity,” Tressel said. Tressel said quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the four other players suspended for the first five games of next season for receiving improper benefits have only helped to facilitate the high level of play and competition this spring. Tressel will join the five suspended players for not properly reporting their infractions. “Some of the guys that don’t get to play early in the year are making sure that those young guys are working so that we have as good a team as we can possibly have,” Tressel said. “I think all the oars are in the water.” But water, or more specifically rain, is exactly what Tressel said he is worried about for Saturday’s scrimmage. “I just hope we don’t have a monsoon here on Saturday,” Tressel said. The team will play in the rain, but Tressel said he won’t take any chances with lightning. “I’m tough,” Tressel said, “but I ain’t as tough as lightning.” In the event of lightning, Tressel said the scrimmage would not be continued indoors and the team would proceed to its scheduled picnic. As for whom to watch on Saturday, Tressel mentioned one sleeper most people might not have expected. “As for a dark horse,” he said, “let me throw Verlon Reed.” The scrimmage will be in a different format this year, and will instead pit the offense against the defense and use a scoring system that can crown one unit victorious against the other. The new format, Tressel said, was the players’ idea. “They wanted to see how good the offense would be against the defense on the last day of spring,” Tressel said. “I thought it was a good idea.” The Jesse Owens Spring Game will take place at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
Three hard fought sets brought the defending national champions to a record of 2-2 on the season as the eighth-ranked Ohio State men’s volleyball team fell to seventh-ranked Penn State. The Buckeyes never allowed PSU to run away with the match. Although the Nittany Lions swept OSU, each set was won with a small edge — 22-25, 23-25, and 17-25. A service ace from PSU’s redshirt senior setter Edgardo Goas gave the team a 5-3 lead. From then on, the Nittany Lions maintained a two-point lead throughout most of the first set. Miscommunication by PSU caused the ball to drop midcourt, and an attack error tied the game at nine. The Nittany Lions pulled ahead, 15-17, and OSU was forced to call its first timeout. A service error by junior middle blocker Grayson Overman put the set at 18-20. Freshman outside hitter, Michael Henchy, and redshirt freshman middle blocker, Shawn Herron, had consecutive kills to tie the set at 21. As PSU reached set point, OSU called its second time out before the Buckeyes watched a close serve from Aaron Russell land in bounds to take the first set. The second set was much like the first. PSU kept a comfortable two to three point lead during most of the set. It wasn’t until late in the set that the Buckeyes began to close the gap with a three-point run. An Overman kill and two PSU errors made the score 19-20. A PSU serve sailed into the net giving momentum to the Buckeyes. Senior opposite Shawn Sangrey and Herron assisted on a block, while Mik Berzins, a senior outside hitter, got a kill to tie the game at 23 a piece. The Buckeyes thought they had arrived at set point, when confusion among the referees stopped the game. PSU was awarded a point before it was quickly revoked and the serve was replayed. The Nittany Lions officially reached 24-23 prior to a Herron ball handling error which sealed the set. OSU was 12-for-29 in kills in the second set, while PSU attacked 6-of-26. In the third set, a ball handling error by PSU junior middle blocker Nick Turko tied the set at six. Tom Comfort, a junior opposite from PSU, had a kill to tie the teams again at eight. Sangrey’s serve sailed out of bounds giving PSU a four point lead, 12-16. Late kills from Berzins and Sangrey gave OSU a chance to turn the game around. At 17-23, the Nittany Lions succeeded in taking the match with two more well-placed kills. OSU’s head coach Pete Hanson said he wasn’t happy with the way his team received serves. “(Penn State) is a physical team and we couldn’t get the ball to the setters like we wanted to,” said Coach Hanson. OSU will host the Sacred Heart University Pioneers on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
The Big Ten is considered by some to be the premier conference in college basketball this season. Four Big Ten teams are ranked in the top-14 of the Associated Press’ top-25 poll. No other conference has more than four teams ranked in the top-25. In the ultra-competitive Big Ten, the difference between winning the conference and finishing in the middle of the pack could be determined by a team’s ability to protect home court. The Ohio State men’s basketball team will have a chance to do that Tuesday when they host Iowa (13-5, 2-3 Big Ten). “You’ve got to protect home court in this league,” said junior guard Aaron Craft. “It’s very tough to win and be there at the end if you lose some home games.” Iowa travels to Columbus riding a two-game winning streak, after losing its first three Big Ten games. But even in losses, the Hawkeyes have proved to be a competitive ball club, falling by four to No. 7 Indiana and by three to No. 13 Michigan State. “They’ve been right there,” said coach Thad Matta of Iowa’s close losses. “They are playing great basketball right now. Our guys are fully aware of what we have to do and how we have to do it.” Tuesday’s game will also provide an opportunity for No. 14 OSU (13-4, 3-2 Big Ten) to find another scorer to aid Deshaun Thomas. The junior forward leads the Big Ten with 20.8 points per game, but scoring has not come easy for the other Buckeyes. In Saturday’s loss to Michigan State, Thomas scored a game-high 28 points, but no other Buckeye scored more than six. Craft said part of the problem is OSU’s lack of execution within the offense. “With the offense that we run, there are definitely multiple options and multiple places for different guys to score,” Craft said. “I think that at times we don’t look at those options, we kind of focus on one part of the play, and that’s part of the problem. We’re kind of taking parts of the play for granted. We have a lot of guys that are capable, it’s just finding some consistency.” Thomas agreed. “With the offense we’ve got, anyone can score,” Thomas said. “Our offense is for anyone to get a shot off. I have faith in my guys; there are guys on this team that can score in double-digits. We’ve just got to be patient within our offense and anybody can be that second scorer.” The Buckeyes are set to tipoff with Iowa Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.