The Big Ten, the Clippers, Bryson DeChambeau and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. The Big Ten found its tipping point
When the Big Ten originally suspended fall sports, uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 was presented as the reason why. The availability of rapid antigen testing and what the conference referred to as an “enhanced data-driven approach” led to a unanimous decision to reverse course and play football this fall. There are specific medical developments the Big Ten can point to as justification for its change of heart. The pressure applied by the Big Ten’s coaches and players had to have played some role in making a fall football season happen as well. Money is always a factor too.
What things like rapid antigen testing and cardiac screening do more than anything else is reduce the likelihood of transmission and avoid outbreaks. They do not protect players from their fellow students who cannot be relied upon to act responsibly. They do not prevent potential complications for players who contract the coronavirus. They help avoid things like the 75 positive tests on Texas Tech’s team and “most” of the defending national champions having it according to their coach. Right or wrong, what the Big Ten said was that it felt comfortable with that scenario. Its bar was higher than most other conferences but not high enough to stave off the mounting resistance.
2. Kawhi Leonard chose a running mate with a track record
Prior to this season, the last time Paul George made it out of the first round of the playoffs was 2013-14. That year, George’s Pacers were the No. 1 seed in the East and were taken seven games by the 38-44 Atlanta Hawks. They went on to get eliminated by the Miami Heat for a third consecutive season. Indiana was one game away from the NBA Finals the year before but lost Game 7 by 23 points. There was precedent for George going 4-of-16 from the field and 1-of-6 from three in the second half in a winner-take-all game.
When Kawhi Leonard decided to join the Clippers, he identified George as the guy he wanted to play with. The team sacrificed its future to bring George to Los Angeles. It is important to view the exceptionally poor performances from Leonard and George in Game 7 in different contexts. Leonard, a two-time NBA champion, had a truly rough outing in the postseason for the first time in recent memory. Bad games happen. The same story repeated itself with George in the bubble. Leonard left a strong locker room in Toronto to join forces with George and the result was one of the worst collapses in NBA history. Correlation doesn’t equal causation and George was by no means the only Clipper who failed to live up to expectations against the Nuggets. And don’t forget it was Leonard who picked George as the guy he wanted to chase another championship with despite a clear pattern backed by years of data.
3. Bryson DeChambeau silenced his critics at Winged Foot
It would make sense that the more difficult the golf course, the less information players want to digest. Less time thinking theoretically means more energy can be spent focusing on every shot. Why make things more difficult than they already are? That line of logic probably applies to every golfer in the world except one: Bryson DeChambeau. In a notoriously challenging tournament at a course where the entire field finishing over par was a real possibility, the man who has turned golf into a science won the U.S. Open by six strokes and was the only player to finish in red numbers.
DeChambeau entered the final round two strokes back of Matthew Wolff. He followed up his only bogey of the day with an eagle and shot a 67 to Wolff’s 75. The 27-year-old joins Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win the U.S. Amateur, the NCAA championship and the U.S. Open. DeChambeau took a course many thought was not conducive to his heavily analytical approach and made it look relatively easy. If there was a place to validate DeChambeau and his beliefs, it was a U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
4. The Dallas Stars continue to get contributions from unlikely sources
The Stars’ 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final was a microcosm of how they got to this point. Joel Haney opened the scoring with the first NHL goal of his career. Jamie Oleksiak — who produced three goals in 69 regular season games — added a second and his fifth of the postseason. The third came from playoff hero Joel Kiviranta, his fifth in nine games since entering the lineup. Jason Dickinson became the 16th Stars player to score a goal in the bubble with his empty netter to secure the win.
Dallas has gotten more goals from its defensemen (15) than any other team since play resumed. The Stars’ big names haven’t stopped producing though. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin have 10 goals and 16 assists between them in Dallas’ 22 postseason games. Miro Heiskanen’s 18 assists trail only the 20 of Tampa Bay’s Nitika Kucherov among playoff participants. That formula is a recipe for success and now has Rick Bowness’ team three wins away from a championship.
5. The Premier League is legitimately nine teams deep
Last season, five Premier League teams — Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United and Leicester City — were clearly a level above everyone else. Leicester won four of their 17 league games after Jan. 1 and still clinched a place in the top five with a game to spare, practically speaking. That will not be the case in 2020-21. United and Chelsea have already suffered their first loss while Wolves, Everton and Tottenham have a combined 12 points from five games.
Everton in particular look to be vastly improved with the additions of James Rodriguez, Allan and Abdoulaye Doucouré to their midfield. There’s also the performance of striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has four goals in two games. Gareth Bale will be in the Spurs lineup in the near future. Wolves don’t have to juggle Europa League commitments with their domestic schedule, which makes them even more dangerous. No league in the world comes close to matching the depth of the Premier League when it’s at its best like it is right now.
It took two weeks for a rash of key injuries to alter the course of the NFL season. The San Francisco 49ers might end up last in their division if Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas miss significant time. Saquon Barkley might be done for the year with a torn ACL. It’s fair to wonder if the lack of preseason games and conditioning played a factor in what happened in Week 2.
Photo by Hillel Steinberg / Flickr