The secret to Ohio State’s stunning turnaround

Jubilation enveloped Ohio State Head Coach Chris Holtmann after his No. 14 ranked team shocked No. 3 Purdue on their home court. Behind a double-double from junior forward Keita Bates-Diop, the Buckeyes snapped Purdue’s 19 game winning streak with a 64-63 upset victory. This upset vaulted OSU into a tie for first place in the Big Ten with Purdue.

Not many pundits would have predicted that at this point in the season that the Buckeyes would have the top seed in the Big Ten tournament in their sights. Holtmann, in his first season as Head Coach of the Buckeyes, has completely altered the culture of the locker room. Let’s examine how he did it.

Comeback Kids

Ohio State has played with fire throughout Big Ten Conference play, winning four games where they have trailed by double digits. Ohio State faced a 14 point deficit with 10:17 remaining in the second half against Purdue. In the game prior versus Illinois, Holtmann’s squad dug themselves into a 15 point hole at the 10:51 mark in the first half.

Stagnant and careless ball movement tends to be the primary culprit of these slow starts. In Ohio State’s 75-67 win over Illinois, the Buckeyes committed a total of 15 turnovers with junior point guard C.J. Jackson and Bates-Diop accounting for 10 of them. In their upset over Purdue, OSU committed seven turnovers in the first half as they struggled to find their footing early.

Holtmann deserves credit for keeping his team engaged and optimistic, even when they face early or late deficits. Instead, through creative in-game adjustments, such as riding a small line-up late in the second half against Purdue, have allowed OSU to catch opponent off guard and get back into games.

Plethora of Play-makers

Jae’Sean Tate celebrates a big play (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images North America).

Ohio State’s success has not been a product of luck. Holtmann has been able to create both offensive and defensive schemes that bring out the best in his players. Bates-Diop has transformed into a Wooden Award candidate under Holtmann’s teaching and mentorship. Bates-Diop averages 20.2 points at 50.9 percent shooting, 9.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.

Standing at 6-foot-7 and 235-pounds, Bates-Diop’s versatility allows Holtmann increased line-up flexibility. Bates-Diop has a steady mid-range jumper, quick handles and the physicality to burn defenders in the post.

Senior forward Jae’Sean Tate has the ability to create his own shot off the dribble and play on the block. Tate, however, is not a volume scorer. He focuses on efficiency and making the smart basketball play. He averages 12.7 points on 54.8 percent shooting, 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.

The engine of Ohio State’s offense is C.J. Jackson. Jackson, a pass first point guard, is an all-around impressive player who can step up and help his team in a variety of ways. He averages 12.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game, showing his overall versatility as a player.

Heart of a Fighter

Ohio State had no business winning at Purdue. They were without senior Kam Williams who has been suspended indefinitely for undisclosed reasons. Kaleb Wesson found himself in foul trouble early and only saw 12 minutes of action. Purdue was riding a 19 game winning streak and appeared unbeatable and destined for the number one seed in the Big Ten tournament. In the end though, none of that mattered.

Holtmann and his team rallied around each other and fought through the adversity. On a night where offense came at a premium, Holtmann rolled out a small line-up and the Buckeyes came roaring back behind an aggressive man-to-man defensive scheme. A team that did not believe in each other and in their coach would have quit and accepted it was not their night.

The 2017-2018 Bueckeyes have a different mentality though. They do not back down, regardless of the score or situation. This team personifies the personality and beliefs of Holtmann. After resurrecting a lifeless Butler program, Holtmann left a secure job to take on the daunting task of rebuilding Ohio State’s basketball program. He never shied away from the challenge, instead tackling it head on. And that is exactly what his team has done all season.

 

Featured image by Joe Maiorana/USA Today Sports

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

NuckleDu and Snake Eyez Spar at Combo Breaker 2017

After falling once to Darryl “Snake Eyez” Lewis in winners finals, Du “NuckleDu” Dang wasn’t going to be denied his runback at Combo Breaker 2017. The Capcom Cup champion summoned that killer instinct and once again rose to the occasion, taking out Snake Eyez in two consecutive sets to win another premiere event.

Snake Eyez vs NuckleDu. Photo courtesy of twitch.tv/capcom

It’s been a while since NuckleDu has struggled in Street Fighter V, but after failing to make the ELEAGUE playoffs, he was stuck looking for answers. Combo Breaker was the perfect tournament to get him back on his feet. He not only made up for his bad performance a few weeks earlier, but he did it in style and pulled at every fighting games heart strings along the way.

It took 13 games for NuckleDu to beat the beast that is Snake Eyez and his library of characters. Both guys were playing at their top level while trying to account for the potential counter-pick options after a win. Four characters were used throughout each set, and every character switch led to interesting changes in play styles. Both players had to keep adapting to keep up.

The most surprising pick was Snake Eyez’ triumphant return to Zangief, a character he helped develop in SFIV, and once again in SFV. The switch allowed him to play in NuckleDu’s face to get those heavy command grab punishes. Du, at first, struggled to keep out Zangief with both R. Mika and Guile before adjusting with better zoning tactics.

In light of this, the level of play in grand finals showed every matchup is winnable and we’re still figuring out the game. NuckleDu made quick work of Bryant “Smug” Huggins, who plays the character most widely considered “cheap” in Balrog. The fact that Snake Eyez had success with Zangief is just another example.

It also speaks to the skill of both NuckleDu and Snake Eyez. The two players excel in making others play at their pace. At times, it was Snake Eyez up close forcing panic V-triggers, while in other instances, NuckleDu had good sonic boom timings and kept Snake Eyez at the other side of the screen. It was a battle of small adjustments, and NuckleDu is always on point on adapting to his opponent.

In winners finals, NuckleDu got up 2-0 before Snake Eyez made the three game comeback. In the second set of grand finals, it was Snake Eyez getting the 2-0 advantage before Du rattled off three straight wins in route to his second Combo Breaker win (USF4 in 2015).

Snake Eyez stretching in grand finals. Photo courtesy of twitch.tv/capcom

Brian F Holds it Down for the Midwest

Brian “Brian F” Foster, a name that’s rather unfamiliar to the national fighting game audience, but is considered a rising star in the Midwest, made waves to the pleasure of the Chicago crowd. He pulled off some huge upsets, with wins over Ryan “FChamp” Ramirez and legendary Japanese player Naoto “Sako” Sako.

Even more, Brian F placed in the top five at a premiere event. It could be a one-off event for Brian in front of a favorable Midwest crowd, but his skill coupled with the strength of his character (Balrog) could be the start of a strong run. He picked up valuable points and gave himself a chance moving forward.

United States Wins Combo Breaker

Amidst a busy weekend of fighting game tournaments (ELEAGUE, Redbull Kumite), the American players who made the trip to Combo Breaker did something that happens very rarely in today’s tournament scene. Seven of the eight players in top 8 were from the United States.

Yes, it could be attributed to the fact that there was a lot going on this weekend, but there were still plenty of talented players from Asia who failed to make top 8. It was good to see players like Justin Wong and Smug make deep runs again. Street Fighter V is proving to be America’s game as NuckleDu takes another ranking event.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

DruggedFox Realizes His Potential With Eden Win

Sami “DruggedFox” Muhanna has always been a well respected player in the Melee scene. A player known for his extensive game knowledge, who has been close to putting the pieces together to win tournaments. At Eden in Chicago, IL, he was finally able to string together enough solid matches to take his first major of 2016.

“This is such a release, “said DruggedFox, “I’ve been working so hard.” (Quote via Melee Everyday, follow and subscribe)

Photo via twitter.com/druggedfox

Photo via twitter.com/druggedfox

The Georgia native made plenty of changes to his game this year. He not only switched over from his original main in Sheik to Falco. He also made the move to Fox, and that decision is finally paying dividends. In the second to last major tournament of 2016, we witnessed the potential come out of DruggedFox’s Fox.

DruggedFox came out of the winners bracket to win his first major of 2016. His path to the championship went through some upset winners, including Rishi “SmashG0d” Malhotra, who beat European pro, Aaron “Professor Pro” Thomas. He was a dominating 10-2 in games before top-8.

DruggedFox Wins Two Fox Ditto’s in Top 8

In top 8, DruggedFox faced off against two of the top Fox mains in the world. Zac “SFAT” Cordoni and Mustafa “Ice” Akcakaya, two players ranked inside the top 10, and he managed to go 9-7 with the pressure on. It was an impressive showing for a player with less experience in the Fox matchup to go against two of the fastest players on the planet and win.

In fact, he showed the ability to adapt in nearly every situation. In six of his nine wins against SFAT and Ice, he fell behind first stock and still won the game. He also fell behind after losing the first set of Grand Finals to Ice 3-0, but changed up his counter-pick stages and reaped the rewards with a 3-1 win in the second set.

“One thing I’m proud of is, I did completely different stage striking in the second set (vs Ice),” said DruggedFox. “A lot of my losses to Ice were in micro-situations near the edge so I was like, ‘I’ll make you play the neutral game.'”

After losing to Ice on Fountain of Dreams and two consecutive matches on Yoshi’s Island (all small stages), he switched it up by staying on larger stages. In his three wins against Ice in grand finals, all of those games were on large stages (Final Destination, Pokémon stadium, and Dreamland). It allowed him to avoid the corner of the stage, an area in which Ice excels in.

Furthermore, DruggedFox taking a tournament with this many ranked players present was a big step forward. He had a strong year with standout performance, but his lack of a true main was holding him back. Sticking with Fox has changed his entire game and now he has the confidence and experience to expand on this outstanding performance at Eden.

“This isn’t the end for me,” said DruggedFox, “this is step one. I finally achieved my step one which was beat a bunch of good players with Fox. Show that I’ve been working on this for awhile. He’s always been my main.”

Eden won’t count towards the end of the year MIOM ranking, but it’s safe to say DruggedFox will be making a gigantic jump up the list from 18th in 2015. It’ll be exiting to see where DruggedFox finishes in 2017 considering Fox meshes perfectly with his read-and-react play style.

 

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It’s the Year of the Running Back in the Big Ten

Saquon Barkley hurdles Illinois defender V’angelo Bentley in a game in 2015. From CBS Sports.

Two Big Ten 1,200 yard rushers (Ezekiel Elliott and Jordan Howard) have forgone their final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft. Two more runners of at least 950 yards, Jordan Canzeri and Brandon Ross, have exhausted their eligibility in addition.

But for the reason of these eight rushers, 2016 will be the year of the running back in the Big Ten conference. Why eight you ask? Well, because it’s my second favorite number. No other significance. If you don’t like it you can shove it, because this is my article.

Joking aside, here are the eight backs in the Big Ten poised for a great season, in order of who I think will be the most productive.

  1. Markell Jones, Purdue Sophomore

Markell Jones in a game against Virginia Tech. Courtesy of Getty Images.

This home-town product for the Boilermakers came in his freshman year and earned the role of primary runner for Purdue by his second game against Illinois, when he picked up 84 yards on just 14 carries. Averaging a high total per attempt turned out to be a theme for Jones in fact, as he gained 5.2 yards per carry in his true freshman season to finish with a total of 875 yards with ten scores on the ground.

Hindering Jones’ efforts, however, may be a historically ineffective Purdue attack. The Boilermakers do have over 30 started games on their front line returning, but what good are starts for a squad that ranked 109th last season in rushing offense with only 131.3 yards per game, and 95th in total offense with 368.6 yards a game? There was a reason the Boilers went 2-10 last year and haven’t won more than three games in a season since 2012.

  1. De’Veon Smith, Michigan Senior

De’Veon Smith stiff-arms a defender. Courtesy of touch-the-banner.com

In his second year in Ann Arbor, Jim Harbaugh has the Wolverines revamped and poised for another 10+ win season.  It would be the first time they have had back-to-back double digits in the win column since 2002 and 2003.  

A big reason for the position they sit in is their returning rushing leader, De’Veon Smith. The fit of a downhill and through-contact runner like Smith in Harbaugh’s pro-style offense is glove-like, and while his production as a junior was gaining just 4.2 yards a carry to total 753 yards, he’s got the work ethic to break free this final season.

Mlive.com quoted Jim Harbaugh as saying, “De’Veon Smith is the clearcut starting tailback. But he’s the first one in there no matter what drill we’re doing. If it’s a live drill, he doesn’t shy away. If we’re tackling, he’s in there.”

  1. Devine Redding, Indiana Junior

Devine Redding tightropes a sideline against Ohio State. Provided by zimbio.com.

Indiana has had 1,200-yard rushers in back-to-back seasons now, a rare bright spot in the otherwise gloomy combined 12-15 past two years there. Devine Redding will look to continue that trend, coming off a season of over 1,000 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. The only thing that could subtract from Redding’s numbers is fellow junior Camion Patrick, who was described as the best player on the team by Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson. But after sitting in the shadow of Tevin Coleman and then Jordan Howard, I look for Redding to win the starting role for the Hoosiers and make it three straight years for Indiana with a 1,200 yard back.

  1. L.J. Scott, Michigan State Sophomore

lansingstatejournal.com’s photo of Scott breaking free on a run last season.

As a talented freshman from Ohio, L.J. Scott was a rare first-year contributor in a back-by-committee system last year for the Spartans that also included fellow freshman Madre London and sophomore Gerald Holmes. Those other two also return for 2016, but L.J. has the talent and heart to excel above to the featured back role on a team coming off three straight eleven win seasons and Big Ten titles in both 2013 and 2015. It’s not for nothing that Ohio State and Alabama also offered him coming out of high school.

I would not be surprised at all to see L.J. double the 699 yards he gained last year. From the things I’ve read, he’s that good.

  1. Corey Clement, Wisconsin Senior

Picture from badgerofhonor.com shows Clement hitting a whip following a touchdown.

Wisconsin is known for big offensive lines and top running backs in recent history; backs like Melvin Gordon III, Montee Ball and John Clay.

This year is no exception on the big offensive line part, as the average projected Badger in the trenches is 305 pounds, including two big men over 315. Clement, who ran for over 900 yards behind Melvin Gordon in 2014, was poised last year to take on the role as the next great Wisconsin running back. But an injury in 2015 left him only four games played, and Wisconsin’s converted cornerback Dare Ogunbowale would have to take over.  

Now back from surgery to repair a sports hernia, Clement is ready to enjoy the success he was supposed to have last year when he was a preseason Heisman trophy candidate.

  1. Justin Jackson, Northwestern Junior

Justin Jackson comes into 2016 off back-to-back 1,100 yard seasons. Photo from Big Ten Network.

Justin Jackson is the most productive Big Ten back returning from last year, with 1,418 yards

It’s not often that Northwestern reels in a four-star recruit. That’s probably why Jackson was a day one starter in 2014. Now in 2016, he will again be the featured back for a team that quietly went 10-3 and finished 23rd in the AP poll last year.

Of course, it took him 312 carries to get the yards he got (4.5 yards a carry) and with only five touchdowns, he wasn’t racking up many points. However, he’s a quick-footed runner who will look to improve on his totals from last year, which would mean 1,500 yards.

  1. Mike Weber, Ohio State Freshman (RS)

Mike Weber is poised for a break-out season. Courtesy of elevenwarriors.com.

This prediction is a little more bold, but I think the running back rumored to be Carlos Hyde 2.0 down in Columbus could bust out a huge season this year. He’s got a line composed of almost entirely former four stars in front of him, and the buckeyes have been a top 11 rushing offense each of Urban Meyer’s four years coaching.

Weber received rave reviews coming out of fall camp last year. In fact, the only thing that kept him from being Ezekiel Elliott’s back-up as a true freshman was a torn meniscus, and after the time he missed the coaching staff decided to redshirt him.

  1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State Sophomore

One hurdle already featured at the top of the page, here is another. Source: onwardstate.com.

Barkley defines the phrase “freak of nature.” Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell said he was better than Derrick Henry, and Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin said of him that “He’s pretty rare, pretty special. I haven’t been around too many guys like him.”

Coming off a season where he made the freshman All-american team with 1,076 yards rushing, Barkley will go as far this year as his offensive line will take him. An offensive line that has had problems staying healthy the past couple of seasons. New offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead will look to revamp the scheme and try to improve play up front, and a new detail-focused approach to a unit that allowed 3.0 sacks per game last year — tied for 111th worst in the country.