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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Buckeyes Win Sugar Bowl - The Worst Of Times Under RichRod - Cavs Offer Job to Homeless Man - Ohio State foul-phobic by design

Ohio State foul-phobic by design
To foul, at Ohio State, is to commit an act of weakness. "That's what we preach," says coach Thad Matta. "If you're focused and dialed in on defense, you foul less, and we want our guys in a mindset of not fouling."
And so, as the Buckeyes are the nation's best defensive team at midseason, playing even stingier D than their Greg Oden-led '07 Final Four squad, it's not only because forwards Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and Dallas Lauderdale are excellent defensive rebounders who limit opponents to mostly one-shot-and-done possessions. Or that their perimeter starters are so long -- David Lighty and William Buford are 6-foot-5, and Jon Diebler is 6-6 -- that they disrupt an inordinate number of passes and challenge most jump shooters.
Ohio State is a title contender, in part, because it's America's amazing, hard-guarding, rarely ever-fouling basketball team. It allows a nation-low 0.187 free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt, a statistic referred to as free-throw rate. There's a commonly held belief that zone-defense teams are better-insulated against foul trouble, yet the Buckeyes play exclusively man-to-man. There's also a belief that teams that rarely foul play too conservatively to force many turnovers, yet OSU ranks third in the nation in turnover percentage (at 27.3).

The Buckeyes are an anomaly to the extent that no other team in the top 10 in turnover percentage this season even ranks in the top 100 in free-throw rate:

National Leaders in Turnover Percentage D, 2010-11
Team Def. TO% Rk Def. FT Rate Rk
Stephen F. Austin 28.9 1 0.339 105
UNLV 27.5 2 0.415 232
Ohio State 27.3 3 0.187 1
Duquesne 27.1 4 0.368 152
Boise State 27.1 5 0.397 199
George Washington 27.0 6 0.356 134
Missouri 26.8 7 0.382 178
Navy 26.7 8 0.440 268
Belmont 26.5 9 0.502 316
Oregon State 26.5 10 0.354 131

Ohio State is also an anomaly to the extent that in the previous five Division I seasons, only one top-10 turnover-forcing team has also finished in the top 50 in free-throw rate: the crazy, always-pressing, always-running 2009 VMI squad, which didn't make the NCAA tournament. Ohio State would be the first elite team of the one-and-done era with this kind of statistical profile.
The Buckeyes have only recently become adept at forcing turnovers, but Matta-led teams have a pattern of whistle-avoidance that predates his arrival at OSU. (See chart below.) In '03-04, the year before he came to Columbus, the Buckeyes ranked 222nd in defensive free-throw rate; his first season there, in '04-05, they ranked 32nd. Every year since, they've ranked in the top 10.

Defensive Free Throw Rate of Thad Matta teams, 2002-2011
Season Team FT Rate Rk.
02-03 Xavier 0.226 1
03-04 Xavier 0.303 34
04-05 Ohio State 0.294 32
05-06 Ohio State 0.216 2
06-07 Ohio State 0.216 2
07-08 Ohio State 0.221 1
08-09 Ohio State 0.246 4
09-10 Ohio State 0.264 8
10-11 Ohio State 0.187 1

The no-fouls strategy was a necessity in Matta's previous job at Xavier. In '02-03, his second season there, he used mostly a seven-man rotation because he only had seven scholarship players, with future NBA All-Star David West as the only available center. The Musketeers couldn't afford to get in foul trouble, and so they had a defensive free-throw rate of 0.226, which ranked No. 1 in the nation. They managed to go 15-1 in the Atlantic 10 and earn a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Matta has 10 scholarship players available this season in Columbus, but he's been able to stick to a seven-man rotation, with freshmen Aaron Craft and Thomas receiving the only significant minutes off the bench.
Matta's secret to whistle-avoidance goes beyond merely having long, athletic players and telling them not to foul. One of the foundations of his philosophy came from something he heard while serving as an assistant at Butler in the early '90s, and listening to the Indianapolis radio show of then-Pacers coach Larry Brown. "If you can guard your man when he doesn't have the ball," Matta recalls Brown saying, "then it's 10 times easier to guard him when he gets the ball." The point being: You avoid fouls and play effective D if you're in quality position ahead of time, not reacting after your man catches a pass. That kind of preparedness can only be achieved through a combination of effort, mental sharpness and advance scouting.
No one on the Buckeyes puts this into practice better than Lighty, a senior who's regarded as one of the nation's most versatile, elite defenders. He regularly draws tough defensive assignments, yet commits just 2.2 fouls per 40 minutes. "If you do your work early -- fighting hard through screens, and anticipating where your man is cutting without the ball -- then you don't have to worry about fouling as much when he has it," Lighty says. "If we're fouling, that means we're not playing hard enough."
Lighty, who has fouled out just twice in his college career, now commits bad fouls so infrequently that he can remember each one. He described his worst of the year -- a play in the first half against South Carolina on Dec. 18, where he correctly identified what the Gamecocks were running from the scouting report ("I knew it, and I even called it out," he said) but failed to get in proper position to chase his man off a baseline double-screen. The ref caught Lighty trying a quick grab-move to keep pace. He was forced to watch it again on tape because Ohio State, as a policy, has its players review every foul they've committed.
"In film, we want our guys to know why they fouled, and how to avoid it next time," Matta says. Matta, perhaps more than any other D-I coach, also places an emphasis on acclimating his players to refereeing (or, as he calls it, "gaining respect for officials") in the preseason. The Buckeyes have unofficial refs working their practice scrimmages 3-4 times each week in October and early November.
The film review, extensive exposure to refereeing, and Matta's preaching pay dividends over time. Lighty's fellow-senior counterpart on the wing, Diebler, is now so good at evading whistles that he gets called for only 1.1 fouls per 40 minutes. Lauderdale, a 6-8 senior with a 7-5 wingspan ("God," he says, "has blessed me with tremendous length") has gradually become more adept at jumping second, rather than first, when trying to block opponents' shots. He committed 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes as a freshman, but has seen his foul rates from to 4.5 as a sophomore, 3.5 as a junior and 3.1 this season.
Lauderdale said that venerated Big Ten official Ed Hightower chided him about his early, foul-happy ways during Ohio State's win over Indiana on Dec. 31: "[Hightower] told me that when I was a freshman, he broke me in and showed me the ropes of the Big Ten. Now, we have a good player-ref relationship; I know if he calls a foul, I fouled. I just say, 'Good call.' "
Lighty admits to talking more with refs -- but says he doesn't usually do it to file complaints. He prefers to ask, "How do I avoid that whistle next time?" He's always gathering information, because he has no interest in being perceived as weak.

Suspended Buckeyes step up in Sugar win
NEW ORLEANS -- Solomon Thomas took the field with about a minute left on the clock and no interceptions to his name.
It's hardly unusual for a defensive lineman to wait a while for his first pick. But Thomas hadn't merely gone through his Ohio State career without an interception. He never had one in high school.
He never had one in junior high school.
"It's what was supposed to happen," a beaming Thomas said.
Most folks think it wasn't supposed to happen.
The fact that Thomas was on the field Tuesday night for the Allstate Sugar Bowl created a cloud of controversy around Ohio State leading into its matchup against Arkansas.
Thomas and four others -- quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron, receiver DeVier Posey and left tackle Mike Adams -- had been suspended by the NCAA for selling memorabilia items and receiving improper benefits, but the NCAA decided that their punishment wouldn't go into effect until the 2011 season.
Terrelle Pryor was named the Sugar Bowl's MVP.The deferred suspensions drew nationwide criticism, but Ohio State's seniors voted to allow the players to participate in the bowl. Coach Jim Tressel required the players agree to return for their senior seasons and serve their punishment, or they couldn't travel to the Big Easy.
Major distraction? Check. Major detriment? Just the opposite.
The Buckeyes needed significant contributions from all five players to hold off Arkansas 31-26 and record the program's first victory against the hated SEC in a bowl game. Thomas sealed the win by intercepting a Ryan Mallett pass at the Ohio State 17-yard line with 58 seconds left.
Talk about the Irony Bowl.
"It's kind of crazy how it happened," Herron said. "We had the honor of playing in this game, so we really had to come out here and make a statement."
Herron and the offense delivered from the get-go, putting to rest concerns about their mental states and ability to execute. Ohio State surged to a 28-7 lead behind Pryor, Herron's physical running and a powerful offensive line that overwhelmed Arkansas.
For the second straight year Pryor turned in a brilliant performance in a BCS bowl, completing 14 of 25 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns and adding 115 rush yards on 15 carries. Herron added 87 rush yards and a touchdown, and Posey hauled in a 43-yard touchdown strike and led the team with 70 receiving yards.
"We all play a role on this team," Adams said. "I block, that's what I do and that's what I did. DeVier, he catches the ball, that's what he does. TP, what can you say about that guy? He just makes plays."
But the biggest play came from the suspended player no one talked about; the non-starter, the guy who couldn't jump to the NFL draft because, well, he probably wouldn't hear his name called. Thomas entered the bowl with 14 tackles on the season, a solid role player and a guy who blended into the crowd.
He took center stage, though, as Arkansas entered Ohio State's red zone looking to score the game-winning touchdown following a blocked punt. Ohio State installed a new red zone package in its Nov. 20 win against Iowa, and the scheme called for Thomas to replace senior Dexter Larimore at defensive tackle.
"I'm going in for a senior, this is his last game," Thomas said. "I was just so thankful that I didn't let him down, that I'm able to send him out with a victory. [Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock] always stresses to us to send these seniors out the right way, and I was just so thankful that I was able, on this field, to make a play for my seniors."
Thomas took a two-step drop, looked for crossing routes and made the play on the ball.
"That's probably the happiest I've ever seen Sol," Adams said. "That might have been his first pick, and that's a great first pick to have."
The end result certainly could have been different without Thomas and the others on the field.
Cameron Heyward had his best performance in the final game of his collegiate career."For those seniors, they wanted to be here for 'em, and the seniors wanted them here with them," Tressel said. "So their contributions were important. They're great kids. As [Pryor] mentioned, we've got a plan, and we'll stick with our plan."
The plan calls for all five players to return as seniors in 2011. Although Ohio State can't force them to return, Tressel sounds confident the players will keep their word.
"I don't think I'm really ready for the NFL," said Pryor, who earned Sugar Bowl MVP honors. "I've got a lot of learning and better decision-making I have to make on and off the field. Off the field, I need to grow up a little bit more, mature as well. I just have a lot of growing up to do."
Ohio State's senior class grew up the past two seasons, and they cemented their legacy Tuesday night.
Receiver Dane Sanzenbacher scored two touchdowns, including a recovery of a Pryor fumble in the end zone on the game's opening possession. Larimore recorded two sacks, a forced fumble and six tackles from the tackle spot.
Defensive end Cameron Heyward had his best game as a Buckeye in his last game, racking up 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup.
"Cam was a beast," Tressel said. "He was all over the place."
So were the suspended players.
Whether or not they deserved to play is debatable. How they performed after getting the opportunity is not.
"When it all happened, our first concern was, 'Are we going to be able to help this team? Are we going to be able to play?'" Adams said. "You never want to let down your brothers, you never want to let down the guys in this locker room.
"When they gave us that chance, we knew we had to play well."

Bye Bye Rich Rod, Hinestly Hate to See You Go
The Worst Of Times Under RichRod
The low points of the Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan, which ended Wednesday after three turmoil-laden seasons:

• School-record for losses in a season (9 in 2008)
• Consecutive losing seasons for first time since 1962-63
• 42-7 loss to Ohio State in 2008
• Worst loss to Ohio State since 1968 (50-14)
• School record for yards allowed in each of last two years
• *Allowed most points in school history (35.2 PPG in 2010)
• Allowed most points ever in bowl game (52)
*Broke record set in 2008

Cavaliers offer job to homeless man with 'golden voice'
CLEVELAND (AP) -- With a deep, refined voice, Ted Williams simply asked for help to get off the streets.
He's been heard.
Left homeless after his life and career were ruined by drugs and alcohol, Williams has been offered a job by the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and is being pursued by NFL Films for possible work. He and his compelling tale became an online sensation after The Columbus Dispatch posted a clip of Williams demonstrating his voiceover skills by the side of the road.
"This has been totally, totally amazing," Williams said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, his voice choking with emotion. "I'm just so thankful. God has blessed me so deeply. I'm getting a second chance. Amazing."
Williams was contacted Wednesday by the Cavaliers, who have offered him a position that could include announcing work at Quicken Loans Arena, the team's downtown arena. Williams said the team has offered him a two-year contract and said they would pay his living expenses.
"I can't believe what's going on," said Williams, a father of nine, adding he feels like Susan Boyle, the Scottish singing sensation who became an overnight star. "God gave me a million-dollar voice, and I just hope I can do right by him."
Cavaliers spokesman Tad Carper said exact details of the team's offer and their plans to help Williams with housing were still being worked out.
The Cavaliers did not know much about him, but were touched by Williams' ordeal.
"When you know something's right, you just have to launch," said Tracy Marek, the team's senior vice president of marketing. "One of the big things that we talk about here, with our organization, is how important urgency is - when you see something that feels good and seems right. The important thing that we wanted to do is to let Ted know that we have something here for him."
The 53-year-old Williams planned to fly to New York later Wednesday to see his 90-year-old mother, who lives in Brooklyn and has stood by him during his battles with addiction.
"She has always been my best friend," he said, crying. "When I was a kid, she would take me down to Radio City Music Hall and on the subway. I'm just glad that she is still around. I prayed that she would live long enough that I could make her proud and see could her son do something other than stand along the side of the road with a sign asking for money."
An instant celebrity, Williams is scheduled to appear Thursday on NBC's "Today," and he most certainly will be sought for other interviews.
It's been a whirlwind for the golden-voiced man, who was recently living in a tent and whose past includes a lengthy list of arrests. He has served time in prison for theft and forgery and has been cited with numerous misdemeanors, including drug abuse.
Julia Williams is thrilled her only child is turning his life around, and she can't wait to see him.
"This will be my day to see my son get up and do something to help himself," she said. "He has so much talent. I hope this will be the thing for him. He came from a nice family. And then he went poor, poor. So, maybe this will build him up and let him see that there's more in life than hanging around with the wrong people, and taking drugs."
Williams said his life began spiraling downward in 1996 when he began drinking alcohol "pretty bad." He used marijuana and cocaine and lost interest in his radio career. He eventually wound up on the streets, despite the best efforts of his children, seven daughters and two sons who all live in the Columbus area.
"They have mixed emotions about what is going on," Williams said. "During my detox stages, I had a tendency to eat up everybody's food. I'm a grandfather, too, and I was eating what should have gone to their kids."
Williams said he celebrated two years of sobriety "around Thanksgiving. I just hope everyone will pray for me."
Williams initially was spotted by the Columbus newspaper standing near an exit ramp off Interstate 71. In a video interview that quickly became wildly popular, Williams - holding a cardboard sign that asked motorists for help and says, "I'm an ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times" - explained in his smooth, bottomless voice that he was drawn to radio at the age of 14.
When he first heard Williams' beautiful, bottomless voice, Kevin McLoughlin of NFL Films, which has chronicled pro football for nearly 50 years, knew he had to contact the unknown man.
"It's that voice," said McLoughlin, director of post-production films for the NFL told AP. "When he was telling his story, I said, 'That's what we do. This guy can tell a story.' Somehow, some way, I need to get a demo with him. He could be that diamond in the rough."
McLoughlin has not been able to contact Williams, but he intends to track him down.
"The man deserves a second chance," he said.

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