Norfolk State’s Anthony Evans earned a raise.The most talked-about story of 2012 March Madness was historically black Norfolk State University, a 15th seed, knocking off No. 2-seed Missouri, 86-84 in the first round of the tournament. The Spartans from Norfolk, Virginia were on the minds of all college basketball fans around the country.This week, the school rewarded the orchestrator of the MEAC champions. Coach Anthony Evans received a thre-year contract extension will take him through the 2016-17 season, according to NSU athletic director Marty Miller.Evans led the Spartans to a school-record 26 wins, the MEAC Tournament championship and the huge NCAA Tournament win, the first in Norfolk State history.Evans, who is 78-82 record in his five seasons at Norfolk State, also received a $50,000 raise to $175,000. His contract was to expire after the 2013-14 season.After beating Mizzou, NSU lost, 84-50, to Florida in the next round.
The Toronto Blue Jays are inching closer to acquiring 2012 Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets, according to multiple sources.There were several other teams that were strongly interested in the services of Dickey, but the Mets decided to channel their negotiations with the Blue Jays and cut off all other discussions with the other teams, according to CBSSports.com.As of Saturday morning a major league executive aware of the negotiations told ESPNNewYork.com that both teams are working towards completing the trade.The Mets have discussed acquiring the Blue Jays top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, who they previously did not want to include, and center fielder Anthony Gose.Last season while playing in Triple-A in Las Vegas, the 23-year-old d’Arnaud had a batting average of .333, on base percentage of .380, a slugging average of .595 and 16 home runs.Dickey has yet to discuss extension talks, nor has he been asked to take a physical according to sources close with ESPNNewYork.com.The 38-year-old Dickey put together impressive numbers to win the 2012 Cy Young award. He led the NL with 233 2/3 innings pitched and finished second with an ERA of 2.73. He also led the league in strikeouts with 230 and owns a lifetime career ERA of 3.98 over 10 major-league seasons.Dickey, who is under contract with the Mets next season for $5 million, attempted to negotiate an extension with the club, but both sides were approximately $6 million apart. The Mets offered Dickey a two-year extension worth $20 million, while Dickey requested a two-year extension for $26 million.The knuckleballer made his frustrations known publically about the negotiations while attending a holiday party earlier this week at Citi Field for children affected by Hurricane Sandy.“In the context of the market, you want what you think is fair,” Dickey told reporters. “I feel like we’re asking for less than what’s fair because that’s how it’s been for me.”
Mavericks37234.132.7 Cavaliers477139.099.2 Lakers6714672.8471.7 Nets507163.874.9 Grizzlies2200.00.0 While he was playing, Tim Duncan lifted the San Antonio Spurs up the list of the most successful teams in NBA history. Now that he has retired, Duncan — thanks to his recently retired jersey — has also made the AT&T Center rafters among the most talent-filled in the league.To rank every team’s group of retired numbers, I grabbed data from Basketball-Reference.com’s franchise pages and then filtered out honored non-players — like longtime Los Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hearn (who has a microphone-themed banner hanging alongside the jerseys of Magic Johnson and company) or the No. 6 in Orlando, which is retired “in honor of the fans.” (Because they’re the “sixth man.” Get it?) For each team, I added up the total amount of value above replacement (VAR)1A cumulative value statistic based on a combination of Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares per 48 minutes. generated by those players, both over their entire pro careers (across all franchises)2For my purposes, ABA statistics were given the same weight as NBA ones, because most former ABA teams that joined the NBA have retired the numbers of their ABA-era stars. and during their time with the specific franchise in question. Here’s the list, ranked by the latter category, to avoid ridiculous situations like the Miami Heat’s getting credit for Michael Jordan, whose jersey the team retired even though he never played for it. 76ers6710502.2295.2 Jazz437277.6232.0 Kings679229.6173.4 Clippers4700.00.0 Before Duncan’s number was retired, the Spurs’ retired-jersey crew ranked ninth all-time; now it’s in fourth place, behind the Boston Celtics and the Lakers — no shock there — as well as the Philadelphia 76ers, who’ve had a surprising number of truly great players contribute for them over the years. But if San Antonio eventually retires the numbers of current Spurs Manu Ginobili (38.1 VAR with the club) and Tony Parker (37.0), the Spurs could pass the 76ers for third, particularly because the closest Philadelphia has to a jersey-retirement candidate is ex-Sixer (and current Warrior) Andre Iguodala (17.5) — and because Iggy was no fan favorite, I doubt he’ll even be considered for the honor.Duncan also gives the Spurs an average of 31.3 VAR per honored player, which ranks fourth among all franchises — and is higher than that of both Boston (24.6) and Philly (29.5). The gold standard in this department belongs to the Chicago Bulls (36.0), who’ve retired only four players’ numbers — Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and multi-time All-Stars Bob Love and Jerry Sloan. (Artis Gilmore and Chet Walker must be wondering what they have to do for their numbers to be taken out of circulation.) But the Spurs’ retired-jersey strategy has struck a nice balance between upholding quality and not being overly picky; San Antonio has discontinued a player’s number every 6.3 years, more than twice as frequently as Chicago’s 12.8-years-per-player ratio. (Duncan’s No. 21 became the eighth number the Spurs have retired.3At least, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Technically, Bruce Bowen allowed San Antonio to unretire his No. 12 for LaMarcus Aldridge to wear, although I still included Bowen in the Spurs’ VAR total.)Other teams have less lofty standards of inclusion. As part of their apparent plan to commemorate every single member of their Bill Russell-era teams, the Celtics honored “Jungle” Jim Loscutoff despite his career average of 6.2 points per game, to go with a miniscule 8.3 lifetime Player Efficiency Rating (15.0 is league-average) and .017 Win Shares per 48 minutes (average is around .100). (In fairness, Loscutoff’s number was later kept active for Dave Cowens, a much better player.) Utah enshrined Darrell Griffith, whose nickname (“Dr. Dunkenstein”) was far superior to his stats (14.6 PER, .049 WS/48), and Portland honored Lionel Hollins (13.0 PER, .059 WS/48) even without a cool moniker to point to. Nate Thurmond became a Hall of Famer because of his performance as a Warrior, but his number was retired by Cleveland even though he played fewer than 12 percent of his career games as a Cav.Of course, winning titles like the Spurs have (five since 1999) is a surefire way to grease the wheels of jersey-retirement. It’s no coincidence that the bottom seven teams in the list above have won zero combined championships, and they’ve only retired three jerseys in total: One for a beloved local legend who played for a different franchise in the same city, and two for players who died during their careers. (Meanwhile, take the Knicks as a counterexample: They’ve won only two titles, and seven of their nine retired jerseys honor a player or coach4Yes, 12 coaches have had their “jerseys” retired, with the number often taking the form of their coaching victory total with the franchise (i.e., the number 832 is “retired” for Phoenix in honor of Cotton Fitzsimmons’s 832 career coaching wins). from those championship squads.)San Antonio wasn’t scrounging for numbers to retire before Duncan came along — it had already raised George Gervin’s iconic No. 44, and David Robinson’s No. 50 was well on its way, to go with some of their less-heralded teammates. But like he did for the Spurs as a franchise, Duncan has now elevated their honorees to the upper echelon of the NBA.Check out our latest NBA predictions. Spurs508254.4250.7 Thunder506145.8100.8 Knicks678198.5162.9 Nuggets505165.8111.5 With Duncan, the Spurs have elite laundry hanging in the rafters COMBINED VALUE ABOVE REPLACEMENT OF RETIRED JERSEY PLAYERS Timberwolves2812.21.4 Wizards564103.379.4 Pacers504126.3111.0 Magic2800.00.0 1951 to present. Includes franchise lineages as defined by Basketball-Reference.com (e.g., the Oklahoma City Thunder entry also includes players whose numbers were retired by the Seattle SuperSonics)Source: Basketball-Reference.com Hawks675157.3131.8 Celtics6720521.8491.7 Heat293149.139.4 Raptors2200.00.0 Warriors676210.4133.7 Suns499266.1173.5 FRANCHISESEASONSPLAYERS W/ RET. JERSEYSCAREERWITH FRANCHISE Hornets1315.81.4 Trail Blazers4710181.0135.5 Bulls514153.2143.8 Bucks498313.6150.7 Pelicans29113.34.9 Rockets505224.7144.8 Pistons679252.2206.6
Ohio State coaches Mark Mitchell (left) and Kevin McGuff (right) watch OSU’s 82-63 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament. Credit: Kevin Stankiewicz | Asst. Sports EditorNot too long ago, the Ohio State women’s basketball team was a unit with all the answers.OSU had won 11 straight games, the outright Big Ten regular-season title was within its grip and at least a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament was nearly a lock, with a top seed a realistic proposal.Now, just a couple of weeks after those extremely positive outcomes of coach Kevin McGuff’s third season in Columbus seemed inevitable, all of those achievements have been entirely wiped out.With the Buckeyes losing three of their last four games, including an embarrassing 82-63 loss to Michigan State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament, the one thing OSU needs before the NCAA tournament begins is what it had an abundance of when it last played in Columbus: an answer.OSU doesn’t have an answer as to what seed it will be when the NCAA tournament begins. It doesn’t have an answer as to how it came up empty-handed in the Big Ten regular-season title despite having a one-game lead with two games left to play. And it doesn’t have an answer as to what happened to one of the best offenses in the nation.The Buckeyes, who average 86.7 points per game, the third most in the country, had a season-low 20 points at the half against Michigan State in a game they trailed in by as many as 36 points.After the game, senior guard Cait Craft chalked much of that up to the ineffectiveness of fellow senior guard Ameryst Alston, who was held back by a sprained right wrist and didn’t score, but said there were still concerns about the way the team played as a whole.“Not having Ameryst hurt a little bit, but at the end of the day, we as a team didn’t come ready to play really until the last quarter,” Craft said. “Not having her does hurt, but it shouldn’t have been that detrimental to us. And I think we let that get in the way more than it should have, obviously.”McGuff said he doesn’t know what Alston’s status will be moving forward after the game, noting only the diagnosis of her injury and that he “hopes” she will be able to accelerate through her rehab and be good to go for the NCAA tournament.But missing Alston’s first-team All-Big Ten production was only a steep section of the mountain the Buckeyes were sliding down, not the point of departure from the top.The night before against Rutgers, in which Alston was perfectly healthy until the closing minutes, the Buckeyes only put up 26 points on the scoreboard at the half. They ended up winning the game 73-58 behind sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell’s tournament-record 43 points, but, especially after losing their previous two games, the concerns were already in the air before the seismic semifinal debacle.A lot of the Buckeyes’ issues in the tournament were inexplicable, such as junior Shayla Cooper, a steady contributor off the bench throughout the year, suddenly being largely absent from the offense.Cooper averaged 13.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game during the season, but against Rutgers she put up seven points on 2-of-10 shooting, and the next night she had just two points on 1-of-5 shooting through three quarters, including a second period absent from the floor.She ended up finishing off the night strong with 14 points in the garbage-time fourth quarter, hitting all six shot attempts. But Cooper has been one of the Buckeyes’ most valuable players all season long, and the need for her to step up inflated with Alston physically unable to shoot. Instead, she was nowhere to be found.After the Michigan State game, McGuff didn’t have an explanation or assessment for the sorry performance. He simply didn’t have an answer.“It didn’t have anything to do with effort or competitiveness,” McGuff said. “We have to learn from tonight that we’re going to hit some adversity again. I don’t know what it will be. Maybe it will be foul trouble, something. And how we react to it is going to determine everything.”Two weeks ago, OSU was a team that many were pegging as a Final Four contender. It had already beaten Maryland twice — the only two in-conference losses the Terrapins have had since joining the Big Ten — and had lost to powerhouses South Carolina and Notre Dame on the road by a combined 11 points.But now, the Buckeyes are trying to rebuild from the ground up with the NCAA tournament a week and a half away — trying to understand when it all turned around. “That’s the great thing about college basketball, you get a chance to tip it up again here before too long,” McGuff said. “And I think we have a great opportunity ahead of us. We just have to get back to the gym and kind of get back to being who we are.”The Buckeyes will learn their tournament seeding and opponent on Monday, and whether their first-round game will be set for March 18 or 19.
OSU then-sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell (3) goes up for a shot during a game against Northwestern on Jan. 28 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Lantern file photoOhio State junior guard Kelsey Mitchell is already one of the best players in women’s college basketball. But even she has room to grow.OSU coach Kevin McGuff pushed Mitchell to enroll in a leadership course this semester. Assuming a leadership role is new to the Cincinnati, Ohio, native.“I’m not one of those people that likes to tell people what to do, but coach McGuff has put me in that role,” Mitchell said. “I think that class has helped me become more vocal. I’m a little bit more outgoing.”Mitchell said she now has made it her goal to become more of a leader for the Buckeyes. McGuff has already seen improvements.“She’s talking more, she’s more engaged,” McGuff said. “She’s obviously a great kid, one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around, and she’s a fierce competitor. But she’s also got a really good feel for the game, and I think that you see her sharing that more with her teammates.”Out of Princeton High School near Cincinnati, Mitchell was a consensus five-star prospect and was considered by some as the No. 1 overall prospect in her class. She was the 2014 Gatorade Player of the Year in Ohio and was a finalist for the Naismith Girls’ High School Player of the Year award.Mitchell immediately found success at OSU. She was the unanimous Big Ten Freshman of the Year after becoming the first-ever freshman to lead the country in scoring at 24.9 points per game. Her 873 total points on the year set a school and Big Ten record, and she set NCAA records for most three-pointers in a season (127) and most consecutive games with a three-pointer (35).The guard didn’t slow down in her sophomore season. She broke her own school record for points in a season with 889 and scored the most points in a single game in OSU history with a 48-point performance against Michigan State on Feb. 27. She was a consensus All-American and finalist for several national awards, including Naismith Player of the Year.Mitchell now sits at 1,762 career points. She’s on pace to chase down former OSU forward Jantel Lavender (2,818 points) for the all-time school scoring record. With 253 made three-point field goals, Mitchell needs just 18 to surpass former guard Caity Matter for the OSU record.Mitchell’s accomplishments in her two years at OSU have led McGuff to believe that she is the best player he has ever coached.“She’s really special,” McGuff said. “She can really, really play and we’re really fortunate to have her here.”OSU junior guard Alexa Hart also believes Mitchell is a fantastic teammate, and has incredible basketball ability. For Hart, it’s the dedication that Mitchell brings to the game that puts her above the rest.“She comes in the gym when no one else is in the gym and just works hard,” Hart said. “She comes in any time of the day, whenever she can, and works out.”Mitchell is on her way to becoming one of best guards ever to come out of Ohio State, but that’s not something she thinks about too much.“I’m not really into that. I just come to the court, play and go to school,” Mitchell said. “There are so many great players that came through Ohio State, so to even be a part of that conversation is something that I’m really, really grateful for.”
Senior libero Valeria Leon goes through her service routine during a match against Nebraska at St. John Arena on Oct. 14. Credit: Jenna Leinasars | Assistant News DirectorNearly 15 years ago, 7-year-old Valeria León and her older sister, Karina, were on their way to volleyball practice in their hometown of Ponce, Puerto Rico. León’s grandfather took them to practice, as he did every day. León started to develop a passion for the sport of volleyball, and she began to sleep with her volleyball at night. She had no idea she’d be holding a place in Ohio State history just a handful of years later.Last week, senior libero León grabbed the title for most career digs in the women’s volleyball program during a match against Michigan State, but her journey to the top hasn’t always been easy. In fact, it’s been her against the world in many cases.León’s love for volleyball continued into high school at Colegio Sagrado Corazón De Jesús, where she was recruited by OSU coach Geoff Carlston. He said she stood out to him for a lot of reasons, but it was her determination that won him over.“She made hard stuff look easy and easy stuff look easy, but really I gravitated to her competitive aura and how she played the game,” he said. Coming to the United States for college wasn’t León’s first choice, but she said her mother wholeheartedly believed in her talent as a player and encouraged her to give it a try. “My mom used to tell me, ‘Just try it and if you don’t like it, I’ll be the first one to buy you a ticket to come back,’” León said. On her official visit to OSU, she immediately committed. She said she was blown away by the campus’ atmosphere. “I had other options, but I felt like Ohio State – it was the perfect one for me,” she said. At the time, León spoke little English, being a native Spanish speaker back in her Puerto Rican home. Everything was different in this new environment – communicating, learning and even some aspects of the game she had come to love were different. “I was dealing with so many outside things, like the language,” she said. “I had to go to tutoring for like eight hours every day because I couldn’t do the homework by myself.”Her team remembers it well. Being homesick while at college is one thing, but being homesick when your home is in another country is another. “She missed her family a lot. She missed home a lot. We all did, but it was different – she was in a completely new environment,” said senior middle blocker Kylie Randall. The team tried to support León in any way it could. Teammates walked her to classes, ordered food for her and took care of her like a sister, even though she had only been part of the OSU volleyball family for a short time.León could have given up and went back home where things were more familiar and comfortable, but she said when she finally decided to stick with it, she was thinking about more than just herself. “I had people behind me. They were excited and believed in me every single day, so I thought not giving up would make them proud,” she said. “People like my parents and my grandpa – he would go and drive me every single day to practice, and he never asked me for anything in return.”León also had her Buckeye family to rely on. Senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe said she, Randall and fellow freshman Maggie Heim spent nearly every weekend with León during that first year, and they were able to bond outside of St. John Arena. Through the constant support of those close to her, León stayed with the program, and with time, she developed into one of the team’s strongest assets and a powerful leader. “She made it a point to make sure her voice was heard, even if she couldn’t say what she wanted to say,” Sandbothe said. Carlston said that, from a coach’s perspective, León is what holds the rest of his team together. “She does the maintenance. (She’s) the glue,” he said. “She does a lot of things for us.” León’s journey soared to a new level on Oct. 22 of this year when she broke the 12-year-standing record for most career digs in OSU women’s volleyball history with 1,586, a record set by National Player of Year Stacey Gordon. She said to see herself come this far is something she would never have dreamed of. “When you sign here and come here, you never think about stuff like that (breaking records),” she said. “Those are maybe goals or dreams someone has, but it won’t actually happen.” Grabbing the title was even more sweet for León because her family in Puerto Rico was able to see her do it. “What really hits me the most is that in that game (against Michigan State), my family was together back home watching. Bringing my family together is something really special for me,” she said. León’s mom and dad are able to come to the U.S. three or four times a year to watch her play. When they can’t, they watch her games online along with the rest of her extended family – which, she said, could be up to 25 people at one time. León isn’t the only Buckeye receiving international support. Freshman outside hitter Bia Franklin hails from Rio de Janeiro. León said she shares a special connection with Franklin because when she looks at her, she is able to see herself three years ago. “I love talking to her and telling her my story because, for me, it’s really important that she stays here and doesn’t give up,” León said. León’s team said that she is an inspiration to everyone she touches, and her journey has transformed her into not only a stronger volleyball player, but a stronger individual. Sandbothe said, “Seeing her accomplish these kinds of things … makes me trust in the journey and trust in the process and know that if you have people in your corner, you really can do anything.”León said she wants to see other players learn from her story. Carlston attributes that quality to her selfless and humble personality.“For me, it’s really important once I leave, I want (the underclassmen) to know how Buckeye volleyball does it,” León said. When her days donning the Buckeyes’ libero jersey are over, León hopes to keep playing the game she loves – but closer to those who inspired her to push through tough times. “One of the reasons why I want to play professional is my other family members who haven’t gotten the opportunity to watch me play,” she said. “They can watch me play (in Ponce), especially like my grandpa, he means the world to me.” There’s one thing Sandbothe said she has taken away from knowing León, and it’s the belief in achieving the seemingly impossible.“Someone who can have so many things against them and just being in really low points where you didn’t know if you could see the light or when it was going to get better, and she never gave up,” she said.
The path to what some fans hope will be a national championship season is now set in stone as Ohio State football finalized its 2013 schedule Friday. Fifteen days after Vanderbilt canceled its trip to Columbus for next year, the Buckeyes added San Diego State for a Sept. 7 contest against the Aztecs in Ohio Stadium. “San Diego State has a fine football program and we are happy to be able to add them to our schedule,” OSU athletic director Gene Smith said in a released statement. “We have had an excellent relationship with SDSU over the years with three exciting, competitive games since 2001.” The 2013 game will be the fourth time the two teams have met since 2001. The Buckeyes, which hold a 3-0 advantage in the series, have outscored the Aztecs, 70-31 over the course of contests in 2001, 2003 and 2005. SDSU, which finds itself currently a member of the Mountain West Conference, will move to the Big East next season a long with fellow MWC member, Boise State. Other non-conference opponents for the 2012 season include Buffalo, Florida A&M and California. OSU continues its 2012 campaign against Illinois Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Ohio Stadium.
Then-senior guard Aaron Craft attempts a layup during a game against Nebraska March 14 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. OSU won, 71-67. Lantern file photoAs the dust from the NBA Finals has settled, basketball fans have turned their attention to the much anticipated 2014 NBA Draft, and even more so, free agency.For basketball fans in the state of Ohio, two names will be watched closely: LeBron James and, for those in Columbus, Aaron Craft.James, who according to multiple reports will exercise his early termination clause with the Miami Heat, has Cleveland fans buzzing about the thought of seeing “the King” return to his home state and to the team that drafted him in 2003.The Cavaliers have been building, and tearing down at times, their team since James took his talents to South Beach, but with key pieces in place such as Kyrie Irving and Anthony Bennett (just kidding) along with the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday’s draft, Cavs fans can only dream for now.If James was to return to Cleveland, it would be the best move he will have ever made in his career.During his four seasons in Miami, James has been largely the victim of ridicule for how he left the Cavs in the summer of 2010, and rightfully so. As a Cleveland fan on vacation in Florida at the time of “The Decision,” I sat and watched Florida basketball fans celebrate in the lobby of my hotel. I sunk in my chair as all hope of bringing a championship to Cleveland was washed away in the Florida sun.Now, James can fix the broken bridges between he and Cavs fans if he makes his triumphant return home to a city which has not won a major championship since 1964. If in fact he does return, it will be to a better roster than the one he left back in 2010.Which brings me to Aaron Craft. How you may ask? Simple.While discussing sports at a summer job, a co-worker of mine and a fellow Ohio State student brought the following comparison to my attention.Remember James’ old teammate on the 2007 Cavs Finals team, Eric Snow? If you look closely at the similarities between Snow and Craft, you will see where I am going.Snow, a Michigan State grad out of Canton McKinley high school in Canton, Ohio, played four seasons in college, just as Craft did. Both Craft and Snow also put up comparable numbers in their college careers.Craft, who averaged 32.6 minutes per game in his college career also averaged just 8.9 points per game. How does that stack up to Snow? Snow played in just 25.2 minutes per game and averaged 5.9 points per game as a Spartan.While neither Craft nor Snow was a particularly good outside shooter, each shot around 50 percent in their careers. Craft finishing his career with a 45.9 percent career field goal percentage while Snow shot 52.1 percent.However, with every pro there is a con and with every similarity, there is a difference.Craft was clearly the better defender of the two, as he averaged 2.45 steals per game during his time at OSU, while Snow averaged just 1.3 in his time as a Spartan.In terms of passing, Snow was clearly better, however, as he averaged 5.3 assists per game including 7.8 his senior season. Craft never averaged more than five assists per game in a season.So what am I trying to say? Someone needs to take a chance on Craft.If Snow can get drafted (43rd overall) and have a 13-year playing career with three teams – the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and the Cavaliers – Craft can as well. The former Buckeye may not be the fastest, strongest or most athletic guy on the floor, but there is no one in this upcoming draft who will give you more effort than Aaron Craft.Enjoy Thursday’s draft and free agency season Ohio basketball fans, it could very well be a memorable one.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James is seen before tipoff of overtime of a game between the Cavs and the San Antonio Spurs. The Cavs beat the Spurs, 128-125. Credit: Courtesy of TNSIn the last 30 NBA Finals, eight teams have hoisted the trophy.Just think about that for a second. Eight teams in 30 Finals.Eighteen teams have won the World Series in that span (and there wasn’t even a Series played in 1994). Sixteen squads have won the Super Bowl since 1984, as well.But in the NBA, if you’re not the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat or Dallas Mavericks, you have not felt the thrill of victory since the season before Michael Jordan entered the league.This year, thankfully, it seems as though a ninth member will join this exclusive club.Of the four teams remaining — the Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors and Rockets — only Houston has won it in the last 30 years. The Rockets appear to be the most unlikely team to make it to the Finals, having to face a lethal Warriors squad. In an ESPN.com poll, each of the 14 experts surveyed picked the Warriors to advance to the Finals.Of course, if the Los Angeles Clippers hadn’t collapsed and blown a 3-1 lead against Houston, we would already be guaranteed a fresh champion.But, nonetheless, if the Rockets fall to Golden State as expected, we will finally see someone new celebrating.It’s hard to call LeBron James in the Finals “new” — after appearing in the previous four Finals with the Heat, winning twice — but the Cavs, one of 13 teams to never win a championship, winning it all would certainly be something we haven’t seen before.The Warriors, meanwhile, won their last title in 1975, while the Hawks have the second-longest drought of any team — last winning in 1958 when they played in St. Louis. In fact, the Hawks have not even been back to the Finals since 1961, and never in Atlanta.So, with three of the 22 teams shut out from the last 30 years of parades still alive, you really couldn’t ask for more from a competitive standpoint.It truly is stunning when you look at that 22-of-30 figure. The simple explanation is the NBA is a league driven by the greats, and there are only so many of those to go around. Each of the last 30 champions, except for the 2003-04 Pistons, featured at least one player who can easily be categorized as one of the greatest of all time.With that in mind, LeBron and the Cavs would have to be considered the favorite as the only team to feature a true legend of the game.That’s not to mean any disrespect to the Warriors’ Stephen Curry, the league’s Most Valuable Player. While a strong case can already be made for him being the greatest shooter ever, he has a long way to go after really emerging this season before being classified as great.It’s also not to remove hope from the Hawks. As the Pistons showed in the 2004 Finals, you can win it all with a team full of good players, but no greats. It’s just really, really difficult.So, looking at the overall picture, it seems like, from a historical standpoint, the Cavs are the most likely team to win it all. LeBron winning his third title in five years also happens to be the least adventurous result — which seems to be the NBA way.Though, knowing the nearly impossible climb to becoming a championship team in the NBA, maybe the Rockets will find a way to add their third title since 1984 after all.
Sophomore Kyle Skinner gets ready to serve the ball against George Mason at the game on Jan. 18 at St. John Arena in Columbus. Credit: Ethan Clewell | Senior Reporter.After losing two straight matches without winning a set, having to face the No. 1 team in the country on their home court is not the best way to end a losing streak. The struggling Buckeyes (4-8) were able to keep sets close early, but couldn’t gain enough momentum to get back in the match as No.1 Long Beach State (12-0) cruised to a victory in three sets, 25-19, 25-18, 25-21. The Buckeyes took their first lead of the match in the third set after an attack error by Long Beach State gave them a 4-3 lead. Back-to-back aces by junior libero Chase Moothart bookended a three-point run that brought the Buckeyes over the 20-point threshold for the first time in the match. But a kill by senior outside hitter TJ DeFalco and an Ohio State service error closed out the third set, 25-21, handing the Buckeyes their third-consecutive straight-set loss. Ohio State was unable to establish a rhythm on offense in large part due to errors. The Buckeyes committed 33 errors on the night, 19 service and 14 attack, while the Beach had only 24, 16 service and 8 attack. Though the Buckeyes tallied 30 kills on the night, the 14 errors on 61 attacks limited them to a .250 hitting percentage. Freshman libero Parker Mikesch had 26 assists and two digs as he continues his campaign as the Buckeyes full-time setter while senior Sanil Thomas is injured. Freshman outside hitter Sean Ryan provided 10 kills for Ohio State, helping to fill in as a point finisher for the Buckeyes in the midst of sophomore opposite hitter Jake Hanes’ absence due to injury. Ryan got off to a hot start in the first set with two kills, helping the Buckeyes keep pace with the Beach. But a kill by senior opposite hitter Kyle Ensing and an attack error by Ryan gave Long Beach State a 4-2 lead, which they would stretch to as many as seven points en route to a 25-19 first set victory. Ensing and DeFalco combined for 21 kills, five digs, and an ace, leading the team to a .475 hitting percentage. Both teams had their share of success from the service stripe, as the Buckeyes totalled three and the Beach came up with five. After a close start to the second set, Long Beach used four Buckeye errors and an ace by redshirt senior middle blocker Nick Amado for five straight-points, taking a 16-9 lead. Though Ryan contributed five kills and sophomore libero Luke Meidel added an ace, Long Beach State used kills by Ensing and senior setter Josh Tuaniga to close out the set, 25-18. Ohio State returns to conference play against Lindenwood at 8 p.m. on Friday in Saint Charles, Missouri.