Author: Benjamin Seidel

The case for James Harden

Russell Westbrook’s flashy, stylized play for the Oklahoma City Thunder has translated to incredible statistics, but his rival and MVP competitor in Houston, James Harden, has simply been the more valuable athlete for his Rockets, now a championship force.

Not to say that Westbrook’s extraordinary accomplishments should be disregarded – it’s not every year a player averages a triple-double. However, his efficiency and versatility are lacking. Westbrook has a league-leading 2,553 points compared to Harden’s 2,315, but the former has attempted 1,931 field goals, vastly outnumbering the latter’s 1,511. Harden scores a comparable amount of points without shooting the ball nearly as much, generating a healthy portion of his points through free throws with his unmatched ability to draw three-point fouls. His .613 true shooting percentage dwarfs Westbrook’s .555, one of the first guards in history to average over 29 points per game while attempting fewer than 20 shots. Westbrook is incredible, but his stats are padded from taking a ton of shots rather than making the few he attempts, as Harden does.

It’s what Harden does outside of shooting, however, that truly sets him apart from Westbrook. Topping the NBA with 888 assists, he generates 27 points per game by passing, which, in addition to his own point average, means Harden is producing 56.4 total points per game for the Rockets, nearly eclipsing Tiny Archibald’s record of 56.8 that has stood for 44 years. In offensive win shares, or how many wins a player individually provides their team based solely on their offensive production, Harden’s 11.3 outclasses Westbrook’s 8.6. For Houston, every play, every scheme and every philosophy begins and ends with James Harden – statistically speaking, he is a significantly more valuable offensive commodity than Westbrook.

Much has been said about Westbrook’s herculean efforts in carrying OKC to the Western Conference’s sixth seeddespite low expectations, but here Harden once again outshines him. The Thunder entered the season with Vegas over/under odds of 45.5 wins, but the Rockets were expected to do worse with their estimated total hovering at 41.5. Surprisingly, Houston currently holds a 54-27 mark after having clinched the third seed in the Western Conference. Westbrook took a mediocre squad and turned it into a fringe playoff team. Harden transformed a worse team into a legitimate championship contender. If leadership is figuring into this debate, then Harden certainly has the edge.

Westbrook deserves recognition for his borderline superhuman achievements, but the award must go to the athlete who plays the most vital role for their team, the player who provides more overall value than any other. Under this definition, James Harden is undoubtedly the NBA’s MVP.

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St. Olaf pulls off sweep, upsets Bethel

…now that’s more like it.

Last week I wrote an article criticizing St. Olaf baseball’s costly fielding mistakes, lack of pitching depth and overall inability to hit in clutch situations against conference rival St. Thomas. Their stars simply weren’t performing as expected, and the team’s performance thus far lacked inspiration and urgency. After getting swept by University of Northwestern in St. Paul on April 4, the Oles had dropped five games in a row. What started as a promising season was quickly nosediving into another sub-.500 season.

Fast forward to this past weekend, when St. Olaf squared off in its conference home opener against Bethel University, a team ranked 25th nationally and fighting for the MIAC lead with an imposing 19-3 record. Bethel had previously dispatched both Concordia and St. John’s, outscoring its opponents 36-12 during its torrential 4-0 start to the conference schedule.

Bethel entered with all the confidence and momentum in the world, a nationally recognized foe, while St. Olaf limped into the contest with numerous gaping holes.

It wouldn’t matter. The Oles finally woke up against the Royals, shocking their opponents with a doubleheader sweep thanks to a jolt of offense and pitching support that had previously lay dormant. St. Olaf’s miraculous upset finally fulfilled some of its preseason promise, inspiring renewed faith that the Oles can permanently get back on track and make a playoff push with their young, talented core that keeps improving over time.

Jake Mathison ’18 once again impressed in game one, tossing his fourth complete game of the season, allowing only five hits while striking out eight Bethel hitters. One mistake in the second inning, an RBI double by Sam Horner, proved inconsequential as the Oles finally produced timely hitting in the bottom of the fifth. After St. Olaf tied the game at two runs apiece, Jake Ossell ’19 singled with the bases loaded, driving in two runs. Not to be outdone, Joe Keiski ’19, breaking out of an early season sophomore slump, tripled to center, clearing the bases and netting the Oles a 6-2 lead that would hold for the remainder of the contest. All of this came with two outs – St. Olaf emphatically overcame its hitting woes, the key difference in the upset win.

Game two continued the onslaught as the Oles scored 10 runs on 18 hits, helped by homeruns from Mathison and Ossell. Luke Dahl ’19, Dylan Blake ’20 and Ossell all went 3-for-5, providing St. Olaf with strong hitting depth through its entire lineup. Hanson Devine ’20 performed admirably in game two, tossing five and one-third scoreless innings. In relief for Hanson, Will Gustafson ’18 pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning with two timely strikeouts. Despite a late comeback by Bethel, the Oles hung on to secure a 10-7 victory and an increidible upset sweep over their rivals.

St. Olaf finally addressed its hitting slump and lack of pitching depth against a formidable conference opponent. If the Oles continue at this pace consistently, it’s reasonable to anticipate that they can overcome their slow start and reach the MIAC playoffs.

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Softball continues playoff pursuit

After getting humbled by St. Thomas following a phenomenal start, St. Olaf softball has won five of its last six contests, all coming against conference opponents.

Breakout ace Julie Graf ’20 has continued to baffle opposing hitters, pitching back-to-back complete games against Hamline and St. Mary’s, lowering her ERA to an astounding 0.74. St. Olaf has temporarily fixed its depth issues by pitching Graf even more, as she held Concordia and St. Mary’s to one run over nine innings of relief in the second game of doubleheaders. Durability could present concerns later on, but for now this strategy is working.

Emily Carr ’19 remains hot at the plate with a .450 batting average and .938 slugging percentage, now supported by the improved performances of Jessica Bentley ’18, Maggie Casper ’19 and Alison Curry ’19, all of whom are hitting above .300.

The Oles hold a 17-9 record, already eclipsing their win total of 14 from a year ago with plenty of softball yet to be played. Currently sitting at fifth in the MIAC, St. Olaf softball has dramatically improved. A playoff push seems imminent, and the hope for a conference championship is now a tangible possibility.

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