Craft, Thomas back to lead young Buckeyes

Craft, Thomas back to lead young Buckeyes

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) At least for a while, everyone will be talking about who's not playing for Ohio State in 2012-13.

Two-time All-American Jared Sullinger led the Buckeyes to a 65-11 record over the last two seasons and a trip to last year's Final Four before being drafted in the first round by the Boston Celtics. In his four seasons, William Buford tied the legendary Jerry Lucas as the third-highest scorer in school history with 1,990 points.

Now they're gone, but the Buckeyes have a lot of talented players coming back - and they're not worried replacing the departed two stars.

``Nobody's going to carry that load by themselves but we do have the pieces that can come out here and get the job done,'' guard Lenzelle Smith said.

The Buckeyes, who open practice on Friday, have three starters back - and several intriguing possibilities waiting in the wings.

Smith held down the fort as a defensive stopper at guard while Aaron Craft, considered by many the best returning point guard in the college game, is back to do his usual thing of shutting down opposing shooters, stealing the ball and getting it to teammates for buckets.

Plus, 6-foot-7 forward Deshaun Thomas disdained making an early exit to the NBA (like his classmate, Sullinger) and stuck around for at least another year with the Buckeyes.

Thomas, who averaged 16 points and 5.5 rebounds a game last season, says he came back to go a little bit farther than last year's team, which fell in the national semifinals to Kansas, 64-62.

``I knew one more year would be good for me,'' he said. ``I came back just for one reason - to also go to the national championship and to win the Big Ten.''

Coach Thad Matta has led the Buckeyes to three consecutive regular-season conference titles, three Big Ten tournament titles and two Final Fours in his glittering eight years (221-65) at Ohio State.

He's not looking for replacements for the departed Sullinger and Buford, but rather players who do their own thing.

``This team is going to need everybody doing their job,'' he said. ``We don't need a superstar.''

Unlike some years in the past where he's had a lot of talent but little depth or experience, Matta has a wealth of possibilities in the season that opens Nov. 9 against Marquette at the Carrier Classic onboard the U.S.S. Yorktown.

The top options underneath are 6-11 Amir Williams, who played exceedingly well in spot duty a year ago in the NCAAs as a freshman, along with 6-8 Evan Ravenel and 6-8 Trey McDonald. Williams is an aggressive and agile shot blocker who still needs to hone his offense. Ravenel is a solid back-up who does a little bit of everything well. McDonald will be seeing his first action after a year spent on the bench.

As the only senior on the roster, Ravenel has a good feel for his team.

``There's a lot of questions that need to be answered,'' he said. ``Like, some say Craft hasn't really shot the ball. It's not that he didn't shoot it well, it was that he didn't shoot it enough. It wasn't in the game plan. This year we obviously need Craft to do some things. We will need Lenzelle, Amir, myself, Trey and everyone on the team to do more and those questions will be answered as the season goes on.''

Smith developed into a dependable perimeter shot while Craft, who had offseason ankle surgery, scored most of his points on the break. Both need to become bigger offensive threats. Shannon Scott, a freshman back-up on the point a year ago, has worked hard on his shot and also will play a key role.

At forward, Thomas will spend time outside and inside. He's never met a shot he wouldn't take. Now he'll have to find a way to include his teammates in the flow and find the open man.

``If we all come together, everybody can shine,'' he said.

The possibilities are endless at the other forward spot. LaQuinton Ross was an acclaimed scorer in high school out of his New Jersey prep school. He never got close to playing a moment in a key situation last season because of a disinterest in defense. Now Matta praises the steps he's taken, while being wowed by his offensive gifts.

Ross relishes that other teams don't know anything about him.

``They won't be able to put me on the scouting report until late in the season,'' he said. ``They can't go back and watch tape from last year. They have no idea.''

Sam Thompson is also vying for playing time. A year ago Matta called the 6-7 slasher the most athletic player he's ever coached - which is saying something since he's had two national players of the year who were superlative athletes (David West at Xavier, Evan Turner at Ohio State).

Thompson can't wait to get out on the wing and run.

``Last year's team, I don't want to say we were slow on the offensive end, but we were methodical,'' he said. ``We'd get the ball to Sully, or Will would do his thing. Other teams pretty much knew that. This year we've got a lot of fast, athletic guys who can beat their men off the dribble, can create for themselves, can create for other people. It's going to be a fun brand of basketball to watch. We'll be able to get up and down the court.''

Craft downplays high preseason rankings in some publications while remaining optimistic of another season filled with trophies.

``There are no great teams in October. Everyone has to start off at square one,'' he said. ``That's where we're going to do tomorrow. We're excited and we're ready for practice to start.''


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5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera


5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 


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MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz


MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

Will Todd Reirden replace Barry Trotz as head coach of the Washington Capitals?

Based on what GM Brian MacLellan said Monday, it certainly sounds like it’s Reirden’s job to lose.

“We’re going to start with Todd here,” MacLellan said. “I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach, whether for us or someone else.”

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and we’ll make a decision based on that,” MacLellan added. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. And if it doesn’t, we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MacLellan said he isn’t sure exactly when the interview with Reirden will take place. The front office needs a few days to regroup. It’s also a busy stretch in hockey’s offseason. In the coming two weeks, MacLellan will direct the NHL draft in Dallas, monitor development camp in Arlington and then call the shots when free agency begins on July 1.  

“We need to take a breather here but I think Todd is a good candidate for it,” MacLellan said. “I’d like to sit down with Todd and have a normal interview, head coaching interview. I think most of our discussions are just casual. It’s about hockey in general. But I’d like to do a formal interview with him and just see if there’s differences or how we’re seeing things the same and if he’s a possibility for the head coach.”

Reirden, 46, spent the past four seasons on Trotz’s bench. He was elevated to associate coach prior to the 2016-17 season after coming up just short in his pursuit of the head coaching position in Calgary.

Reirden’s primary responsibility on Trotz’s staff was overseeing the defense and Washington’s perennially potent power play.

Prior to joining the Capitals in 2014, he was an assistant coach for four seasons with the Penguins. And before that, he spent a couple of seasons as the head coach of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins’ top minor league affiliate.

A native of Deerfield, Ill., Reirden also had a lengthy professional career that included 183 NHL games with the Oilers, Blues, Thrashers and Coyotes.

Asked what he’s looking for in the Caps’ next head coach, MacLellan said he’s looking for a forward-thinker, a strong communicator and a players’ coach.

Reirden is all of those things.

“Someone that's up to date on the modern game,” MacLellan said. “Someone that's progressive, looking to try different things. Someone that has a good relationship with players. They communicate, can teach, make players better. It's becoming a developmental league where guys are coming in not fully developed products and we need a guy that can bring young players along because more and more we're going to use young players as the higher end guys make more money.”

One of the side benefits of elevating Reirden is the fact he already has a strong relationship with many of the current players, meaning there won’t be much upheaval as the Caps look to defend their championship.

“It could be a natural transition,” MacLellan said. “But once we sit down and talk face to face about all the little small details in the team, I'll have a better feel for it.”

MacLellan said a decision on the other assistant coaches—Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe, Scott Murray, Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi—will be made after the next head coach is named.