No matter how the NBA Finals plays out, by the end of this season fully half of the 16 finals since the breakup of the second three-peat Chicago Bulls in 1998 will have been won by the San Antonio Spurs or the Miami Heat. When these teams met in the 2013 finals, it marked the first time since the 1980s that both teams had multiple championships in their recent history. This year, both teams feature multiple players — Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker for the Spurs; Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem for the Heat — with at least three rings (all from their present teams).How does this stack up with other finals in NBA history? Very well. Counting total rings owned by players on both squads when entering their series, this is the second-blingiest matchup in the post-merger era (counting championships back to 1963, 10-ring minimum):Amazingly, the Spurs are the team with less championship pedigree in this matchup. The Heat have 11 players with championship-winning experience (unsurprising for the defending champs). But though the Spurs’ Big Three (Duncan, Parker, Ginobili) have more rings (10) than the seven held by the Heat’s Big Three (Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh), no other Spurs were around for their last title in 2007, and none has won a championship with another team. This 12-ring difference is large historically, and teams with such a disparity don’t have a good record:Teams with an eight-or-more ring advantage are 18-4 in finals series, though a lot of those were mismatches between a dynasty and a flavor of the month. But the Spurs this year are the better team on paper, with both the better record (62 wins in the regular season vs. Miami’s 54) and the better statistics (Spurs SRS was 8.0 vs. Miami’s 4.15). Additionally, the Spurs have a lot more rings than most ring underdogs. This year’s squad ties last year’s for the third-most rings ever owned by the less pedigreed team entering a finals:For a team with multiple championships to be the least decorated going into a finals is extremely rare. The Lakers in the 1987 Los Angeles/Boston matchup tops the list; the Lakers had 14 rings, fewer than the Celtics’ 20. That matchup had an interesting combination of NBA greats in their primes combined with NBA greats past their primes:Kareem Abdul-Jabbar seemed to be an ageless wonder and averaged nearly 22 points per game in the 1987 finals. But Bill Walton — in his final NBA season — played only 24 minutes in five games against the Lakers (after having played in only 10 games the entire regular season). Without his two rings, even that stacked finals would only be tied with this year’s. And if these two teams meet again next year, they will surely break the record.UPDATE (June 5, 6:48 p.m.): I only counted the rings of players who were on their teams’ active rosters in the NBA Finals. There are players such as Matt Bonner, who received a ring with the Spurs in 2007 but wasn’t on the Spurs’ finals roster. Bonner and his ilk aren’t included.(June 5, 8:28 p.m.): The first chart in this article originally omitted the 2005 series between the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons but has since been updated.
Noah Syndergaard, the New York Mets’ phenomenal young starting pitcher, throws 99 mph fastballs and hits home runs to straight center field. Dillon Gee, the guy Syndergaard replaced in the rotation in May, does not do those things. After a trip to the disabled list, Gee is back, but the Mets couldn’t just send a rookie nicknamed Thor back down to the minors. They also couldn’t keep Gee, a perfectly solid back-of-the-rotation pitcher, there either.So, flush with pitching talent, the Mets are trying something novel: They are deploying a six-man rotation. It might just be a brilliant way to safeguard the health of their pitchers.Earlier this year, sabermetrician Russell Carleton wrote that six-man rotations offer few obvious benefits in terms of pitching performance: The extra day of rest doesn’t seem to increase pitcher strikeout rates or reduce walk rates. And, because the extra man entails splitting up the workload among a larger group of people, it tends to dilute the effect of truly great starting pitchers. Over a full season, a six-man rotation results in about 30-50 fewer innings per starter. For a top-heavy Mets rotation that can send Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard to the mound, reducing their workload appears costly and counterintuitive.1Carleton estimates a team’s cost of this reduced workload, for an average No. 1 starter, at about 1.6 wins (and Harvey might be better than an average No. 1 starter).If there is a potential benefit of a six-man rotation, then, it must be its health effects. And the Mets could use some preventive medicine. As others have noted, the number of pitchers with elbow injuries has spiked.2Even so, the epidemic is not as bad as it seems. The injury concern goes double for the Mets, whose rotation relies on a recently recovered Harvey, 42-year-old Bartolo Colón and fresh-off-the-DL Gee. (The Mets also saw another young pitcher, Zack Wheeler, undergo Tommy John surgery this year.) Since the greatest predictor of future pitcher injury is previous injury, the Mets are in a precarious position.Previous attempts to figure out whether six-man rotations help pitchers’ health haven’t suggested much of a connection. When Carleton did it, he couldn’t find any benefit, but he looked over a long timeframe (going all the way to the 1950s). Because we have detailed injury data going back only about 10 years, Carleton had to use a model that incorporated both injuries and other factors that might remove a pitcher from the rotation (such as poor performance). Accordingly, Carleton found only a modest effect on injury probability for starters going on three days’ rest, and only in the past couple of decades.On the other hand, Eno Sarris pointed out that six-man rotations are standard in Japan’s highest professional league, and the rate of Tommy John surgeries is much lower there. This lower rate exists despite a similarly abusive3Or perhaps even worse than abusive schedule for young pitchers. Furthering Sarris’s point, Yu Darvish, the Texas Rangers ace and recent victim of elbow surgery, argued that such a change might reduce wear and tear on the arm. Nevertheless, there are many distinctions between Japanese professional baseball and MLB, and it’s hard to confidently pin the responsibility for fewer injuries on the rotation strategy alone.I took a more direct look, using injury information accrued by Baseball Prospectus (specifically, Corey Dawkins) from 2006 through 2014. Over this period, starting pitchers have been primarily used in a five-man rotation, usually getting 4.2 to 4.5 days of rest, on average, over the course of a year. As a result, we need to look at individual pitcher outings to see some evidence of an injury-prevention effect. By linking the injury data with the time between starts of every pitcher,4Using data from Retrosheet we can get an idea about whether a six-man rotation would help reduce injury risk.I found that there is a strong link between rest and injury rates. Looking at starts on three days of rest, 1.7 percent of pitchers suffered a reported injury within the next two weeks.5These results hold for time windows going out to about 60 days, after which the correlation between rest and injury rates trails off. At four days of rest, the typical amount in the modern age, that number drops precipitously to 1.0 percent. (Maybe that helps explain why the five-man rotation came to be.) Then the injury risk falls even further: at five days of rest — which would be standard for a six-man rotation — just 0.8 percent of pitchers are injured in the next 14 days, for a 20 percent decrease compared with four days of rest. That is a potentially meaningful drop in injury risk.6The difference in injury probability over two weeks hovers right at the edge of statistical significance (p=.06, using a two-tailed Fisher’s exact test), partially because the probability of an injury occurring over any two-week span is quite low. If you extend the test to consider longer time windows (such as 21 days), the p-value drops below .05.Despite the drop in injury risk, when injuries were suffered, they were no more severe for pitchers operating on short rest. On either four or five days’ rest, pitchers lost a median of about 21 days of time.7There were too few injuries after three days’ rest to make any comparison meaningful. So more rest may prevent injuries, but injuries on shorter rest are no worse when they do happen.There are still potential issues of correlation and causation. Managers might change usage patterns for pitchers depending on their injury risks. Alternatively, injury risk could be correlated with some other factor that dictates usage patterns. Furthermore, though the additional day of rest seems to reduce short-term injury risk, there’s no guarantee that it would work as well in the long term — perhaps more rest merely delays the inevitable.8You might expect this scenario if pitcher injury results primarily from the progressive buildup of damage in the ligaments of the arm. If that’s the case, you can delay the date of injury by reducing the frequency of starts and the workload, but you can’t really prevent it from happening.Even if you accept that longer rest periods lead to fewer injuries, it’s difficult to come to any hard and fast conclusions regarding the optimal strategy. Although it appears that starting with more rest is correlated with a lower injury probability, the benefit that might be gained will be different for every team and every rotation. Top-heavy rotations that deploy a Cy Young candidate will suffer from seeing their excellent pitcher throw fewer innings, but at the same time, they may be guarding against that pitcher’s suffering an untimely injury (at least in the short term).This is the situation in which the Mets find themselves. With Harvey anchored as a dominant starter who’s also recovering from a dangerous injury, the reward (potentially reducing his risk of relapse) could outweigh the risk (losing some of his innings in the near term). And, as noted above, Harvey is not the only injury risk on the staff.Regardless of whether the six-man rotation is a good idea for other teams, it seems to fit the Mets and their injury-prone rotation. The question now becomes whether their slick strategy will come to cost them a win or two, as Harvey or Syndergaard gives way to the less-talented Gee. Perched on the edge of playoff contention this year, but with a still-brighter future ahead, the Mets must carefully balance the reduced risk of injury with the possibility of a surprise October run.
You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the telling numbers tucked inside the news.1 coachThat’s the number of female coaches in the NFL after Jen Welter was hired by the Arizona Cardinals as an assistant coaching intern. The NBA also has one female assistant coach, while MLB and MLS have no female coaches. As my colleague Leah Libresco tweeted: “We were going to graph the share of female coaches in men’s sports, but the bars were too small to see.” [FiveThirtyEight]4 jokesConan O’Brien is being sued for stealing jokes from Twitter. A man who says he was a longtime writer for Jay Leno claims an airline joke (wow, I’m laughing already) as well as jokes about Tom Brady, Caitlyn Jenner and the Washington Monument were pilfered from his feed and used on O’Brien’s show. Conan’s production company believes the suit is without merit. Coco, I’m gonna do you a solid: I’m tweeting a joke right now, just for you. I waive all rights, please feel free to use it in tonight’s monologue. [The Hollywood Reporter]8 farmsI’ve got my tent firmly pitched in the pro-cilantro camp, but my allegiance is being tested. The FDA has banned some cilantro imported from Mexico after investigators discovered “human feces and toilet paper in and around growing fields.” Eight of the 11 farms and packing houses investigated in the Mexican state of Puebla had “objectionable conditions” and five were linked to hundreds of outbreaks in the U.S. of cyclosporiasis. [CNN]15 percentShare of Americans who do not use the Internet. They must be so happy. [Pew Research Center]63.5 percentHomeownership in the U.S. is at a 48-year low. The seasonally adjusted homeownership rate is now 63.5 percent, down from pre-recession highs of above 69 percent. Both the homeowner and rental vacancy rates, however, have also fallen. This means a tight housing market — to which I can anecdotally attest, having recently hunted for an apartment — and a possible boon to the economy in ensuing construction. [The Wall Street Journal]200 to 400 feetAmazon has proposed that some prime (get it?) airspace, from 200 to 400 feet off the ground, be reserved for high-speed drones. The company has visions of one day delivering its packages by drone. [The Guardian]10,000 textsTom Brady’s four-game “Deflate-gate” suspension has been upheld by the NFL. In a statement on the decision, the league said Brady had destroyed his cellphone, despite investigators’ requests to access it. The phone had been used to exchange 10,000 text messages over four months — or just more than 80 texts a day. Even still, Brady’s got nothing on the 18 to 24 set — those kids send and receive more than 125 texts a day! [The Washington Post]$50,000 in bunny careAfter 103 rabbits were seized from her home, a Brooklyn woman has been ordered to pay $50,000 for their care. The bunnies had become celebrities in their neighborhood. [New York Post]$2 million a yearYou have to pay about $1,500 to license the song “Happy Birthday.” Yeah, that “Happy Birthday.” Two filmmakers upset by that fact have uncovered evidence that they say negates Warner/Chappell Music’s 1935 copyright and puts the song in the public domain. The copyright has at some points netted its owners about $2 million a year. [Ars Technica]304 million core usersTwitter’s stock price slumped more than 11 percent Tuesday, after slower than expected growth in its average monthly users. The company said it now has 304 million “core users.” That’s up from 302 million last quarter, but the growth was the slowest since the company went public. [Reuters]Don’t worry, Walt Hickey’s return is nigh. But today, for those of you who a) use the Internet and b) are on Twitter, if the significance of a digit moves you, please tweet it to me @Ollie. And have a super Wednesday!If you haven’t already, you really need to sign up for the Significant Digits newsletter — be the first to learn about the numbers behind the news.
Just about everything that could go right for the 2016 Texas Rangers did. Flying in the face of preseason projections that called for them to finish around .500, the Rangers rode stellar seasons from Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels and Elvis Andrus (among others) all the way to 95 wins, the AL West crown and the league’s best record. At the same time, however, they relied on a combination of metrics that confounded sabermetricians all season long: a 36-11 record in one-run games — the best mark in MLB history — and on top of that, a better run differential than we’d expect from their underlying stats, too.In other words, number-crunchers suspected the Rangers had been massively, historically lucky last season — and were probably due for a downturn in 2017. But even the statheads didn’t see Texas’s fortunes reversing quite as much as they have. After that record-setting mark in close games a year ago, the Rangers somehow have the league’s second-worst winning percentage in one-run contests this year, and they’ve also scored fewer runs (and allowed more) than their statistics would predict. All the things that went right last season are now going wrong; as a result, Texas is in fourth place with little chance of making the playoffs.Here’s the funny thing, though: Deep down, the Rangers’ 2017 squad is probably every bit as good as its 2016 iteration, and possibly a little better, despite the huge decline in winning percentage. According to wins above replacement (WAR),1Averaging together the Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com versions of WAR. Texas had the 16th-best team in baseball last season with 32.4 total WAR. (For a sense of scale, the average team has about 33 WAR,2A .500 record in 162 games is 81-81, and WAR sets the replacement level at about 48 wins for an entire season. 81 minus 48 equals 33 WAR for the average team. meaning the 95-win Rangers were basically a middle-of-the-road ballclub after stripping away their good fortune in high-leverage situations.) This season, the Rangers are on pace for 32.8 total WAR over 162 games — ever so slightly more than they posted a year ago, and good for 13th-most in MLB.Some Texas players have been even better than last year (Andrus) and some disappointingly worse (Rougned Odor), but on the whole they’ve played basically the same at an individual level. The only real difference between the two versions of the Rangers has been in sequencing — that is, scoring more (and/or allowing fewer) runs than the underlying stats would predict, because events were timed right within an inning — and performance in close games. As Texas is learning, those categories can be extremely fluky, and teams who overachieve in them one year tend to see their records dramatically regress to the mean in the following season.We can measure how much a team benefited from each kind of good fortune with a couple of metrics: Base runs, which estimate how many runs a team “should have” scored and allowed based on its underlying stats, and the Pythagorean expectation, which estimates how many games a team “should have” won based on its run differential. Deviations from each estimate come, respectively, from fortunate sequencing and good luck in close games. And by those standards, last year’s Rangers — who beat their estimated record by a staggering 13 wins — were one of the luckiest teams in baseball history. According to TheBaseballGauge.com, they tied for the third-biggest difference between a team’s actual and expected records during the expansion era.3Since 1961. 2008Angels10062+5+12+17-3 ACTUAL RECORDWINS OF LUCK 2007D-backs9072+2+11+13-8 1969Mets10062+6+8+14-17 1962Reds9864+6+5+11-12 1973Reds9963+7+5+12-1 1987Cardinals9567+10+3+13-19 2006Athletics9369+6+8+13-17 1982Red Sox8973+7+4+11-11 2013Yankees8577+6+6+12-1 1977Orioles9764+2+9+11-7 YEARTEAMWINSLOSSESSEQUENCINGCLOSE GAMESTOTALCHG. IN WINS NEXT SEASON 1985White Sox8577+8+2+11-13 1985Angels9072+5+6+11+2 1987Twins8577+5+6+11+6 1984Mets9072-1+12+11+8 Change in wins is the difference in wins between this season and the next. In cases where an uneven number of games were played, the change is derived by pro-rating the team’s change in winning percentage over the number of games they played during the “lucky” season.Source: The Baseball Gauge 1963Dodgers9963+6+7+13-19 1972Mets83730+11+11-4 2012Orioles93690+11+12-8 1961Reds9361+1+10+110 2016Rangers95670+13+13-15 After the luck has goneMLB teams with the most extra wins of luck from sequencing and close games, 1961-2017 1989Astros8676+3+7+11-11 Even among those lucky teams, the Rangers’ fall this season has been especially steep. They’re on pace for a 15-win decline from 2016, in part because their luck has actually turned in the opposite direction. So far this season, they’ve managed to win one fewer game than they would have with neutral sequencing and normal luck in close games. And this fickle twist of fate is basically the difference between Texas comfortably returning to the playoffs and being on the outside looking in: The Rangers are currently two games out of the American League’s second wild-card spot, with five teams ahead of them to leapfrog as well. If they had last year’s luck again, they’d be five games clear of the New York Yankees for the first wild-card.Instead, the Rangers serve as yet another reminder of just how unpredictable baseball can be. A team can boast practically identical talent in consecutive seasons,4According to The Baseball Gauge’s meta-metric that mixes the various types of WAR available online, here were Texas’ 2016 ranks in batting, fielding, starting pitching and relief pitching value: 16th, 9th, 13th and 21st. Those same ranks in 2017: 14th, 13th, 9th and 22nd. and still see their record fluctuate wildly from one year to the next. In the face of such a cruel and random universe, the best a team and its fans can do is to relish the breaks when they go their way, and enjoy the small blessings of a season when they don’t.Check out our latest MLB predictions.
A new study estimates that 83 percent of gay male youth athletes in the United States are keeping their sexual orientation hidden from some or all of their teammates. Lesbian athletes in the same age group (under 22 years old) were more willing to be public about it — 63 percent said they were hiding their orientation.The reason for the secrecy — even in an age when polls show that acceptance has been increasing — is often fear. Nearly half of gay men and 44 percent of lesbians around the world who kept their sexual orientation hidden said they did so in order not to be bullied. In addition, fear of discrimination from coaches or officials was mentioned by 32 percent of gay men and 28 percent of lesbians.The survey found that 80 percent of the respondents, both gay and heterosexual, had witnessed or experienced homophobia in sports.Titled “Out On The Fields,” the report was based on a survey of nearly 9,500 gay, bisexual and heterosexual people and claims to be the largest-ever study on homophobia in sports. (The questions only related to sexual orientation, not gender identity, so the study offers no information about transgender athletes.)After publicizing the anonymous online questionnaire through various media outlets,1 They included Outsports, Gay News Network, Star Observer, Same Same, Fairfax Media, The Guardian, ESPN, EILE Magazine Ireland, Gay NZ, GayStar News, Daily Xtra and Pink News UK. the researchers received answers from several English-speaking countries. The highest numbers of responses came from Australia (3,006), the United States (2,064), the United Kingdom (1,796), Canada (1,123), New Zealand (631) and Ireland (501).The United States received the lowest overall “inclusion score” of all the countries analyzed, with a high number of respondents saying the U.S. was not accepting of gay athletes. (Though because of the small sample sizes for respondents from New Zealand and Ireland, it isn’t necessarily fair to say that the U.S. ranks worst.)In a phone interview, the survey’s lead author, Erik Denison, said attitudes about privacy among athletes are often related to the perception of homophobia in sports.“I made that decision myself when I kept in the closet,” he said. “Implicitly it is about discrimination, though. The straight men can talk openly in conversations about what you did at the weekend, the women they met. If you’re gay though, you either have to make up stories or be excluded. It’s not the same.”The large scale of the survey, though, doesn’t mean that it is the definitive word on homophobia in sports. Even in countries that had a high number of respondents, it can be difficult to tease out more detailed trends because the subgroups are far too small. Responses were split into youth and adult sports (i.e. under age 22 and over age 22) but also broken out by sports played and the sexual orientation of the respondents.What’s more, not everyone even said they played sports — among U.S. respondents, for example, 81 percent of gay women and 75 percent of gay men said they participated in youth sports, while 63 percent of gay women and 42 percent of gay men said they participated in adult sports. As a result, the finding that 83 percent of gay male youth athletes keep their sexuality hidden from teammates is based on just 114 individuals.Denison and his co-author, Alistair Kitchen, both members of Australia’s first gay rugby team, said they were are aware of those limitations. Their international approach was partly informed by the fact that past smaller-scale studies on homophobia in sport have been dismissed for being too limited in scope. The final methodology and findings were reviewed by seven academic experts prior to publication.Overall, these results should be treated as estimates in an under-researched area filled with speculation, rather than definitive numbers about gay athletes.Gay respondents were more likely than heterosexual ones to say that homophobia was more common in team sporting environments than in general society. But LGB athletes also related positive reactions to revealing their orientation to their teammates. In its write-up of the report, the gay sports site Outsports.com acknowledged many of the issues cited by respondents but added that “people in sports behave very differently when an athlete actually comes out,” often welcoming the LGB athlete and apologizing for language used in the past.Denison also described what he called “the snowball effect” — the notion that the more LGB athletes there are who are open about their sexual orientation, the more accepted gay athletes will become in sports. As evidence for that, Denison pointed to the higher share of lesbian athletes in the U.S. who are open about their sexuality with their teammates and the fact that lesbian athletes around the world are more likely to say teams offer them a “supportive and safe environment.”Because of their visibility, LGB professional athletes are likely more influential than amateurs in getting the snowball effect rolling, but few seem comfortable speaking publicly. The survey allowed respondents to submit detailed stories about themselves — around 1,600 did so. Denison said that about three dozen of those who provided narrative accounts were professional athletes, including at least two on their respective countries’ national teams.Last year, after the professional football player Michael Sam told ESPN and The New York Times that he is gay, he said he received messages from many fellow athletes who “had the courage to tell me that they were also gay, but they do not have the same courage as I do to come out.”So far, Sam’s decision has not created a snowball effect in the U.S. — partly because there will need to be other outspoken gay athletes before the sport reaches what Denison describes as “a critical mass.”
101991Duke682.868.8+14.0+6.0 171998Kentucky685.772.3+13.3+3.7 82008Kansas675.060.8+14.2+6.5 SeasonChampionGamesTeamOpponentAveragevs. Expected Which champion had the most impressive tourney run?Best NCAA tournament points per game margin vs. expected (based on Elo ratings) for men’s champions, 1985-2018 321997Arizona678.272.8+5.3-0.2 181995UCLA686.372.0+14.3+3.6 291994Arkansas687.576.3+11.2+0.3 301987Indiana689.278.7+10.5+0.1 251986Louisville685.573.7+11.8+1.6 In the battle between the nation’s best (Villanova) and hottest (Michigan) teams, it was the latter that started Monday’s NCAA men’s national championship game right on script. The Wolverines led by 7 about a quarter into the game, and it looked like Michigan was tracking for a title-game upset that would rank alongside Syracuse over Kansas in 2003, UConn over Duke in 1999 and Arizona over Kentucky in 1997.1Just to name a few comparable upsets from recent memory.Soon, though, reality set in, and the superior Wildcats asserted themselves. With its 79-62 victory over Michigan, Villanova ended any debate about who was No. 1 this season — and instead opened up the discussion about where coach Jay Wright’s team should rank among NCAA champions from history.When things were going well for Michigan, the Wolverines were perfectly playing to their strengths — and shutting down Villanova’s. Led by the versatile 6-foot-10 forward Moe Wagner, Michigan had the big advantage over Nova in Ken Pomeroy’s effective height metric (which measures frontcourt size), and it flexed that muscle early on. Michigan outrebounded Villanova 7-4 in the game’s first seven minutes, while Wagner scored 9 quick points in the same span. At the same time, Michigan’s staunch 3-point defense — which held opponents to the sixth-lowest rate of attempts from beyond the arc during the season — gave Villanova few clean looks from deep. Uncharacteristically, the Wildcats missed eight of their first nine shots from the outside.But after the textbook start, the wheels fell off for Michigan. Midway through the first half, Nova embarked on a 16-5 run that saw them take the lead for good. The rest of the game was a clinic for Villanova; the final stats for the title game bore little resemblance to the numbers that generated Michigan’s early lead. Nova ended up outrebounding the bigger Wolverines 38-27 and knocked down 10 of 27 3-pointers. (In the end, it was Michigan — another team heavily reliant on the three — that went cold from deep, missing 20 of 23 attempts from long range.)It helped Nova that sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo saved the game of his life for the championship. Despite starting the game out on the bench, DiVincenzo poured in 31 points, including 15 from 3-pointers alone. Every time Michigan appeared to be on the verge of mounting a comeback, DiVincenzo came up with a big shot to quell the rally. Monday’s performance, on the heels of a mega-efficient 15-point outing in the national semifinals, earned DiVincenzo well-deserved most outstanding player honors for the tournament.Now the only real question that remains is where Villanova ranks in history. By winning two championships in three years, the Wildcats have already earned some measure of immortality: Before Villanova, just three teams in the 64-team bracket era — since 1985 — have won twice in three seasons. (The others were Duke in 1991/92, Kentucky in 1996/98 and Florida in 2006/07.) But this season’s team is also in elite company by deeper metrics than simple ring-counting. According to KenPom.com’s power ratings, Villanova ended the season as the second-best NCAA men’s champion since 2002, trailing only Kansas in 2008. The Wildcats also rank eighth among champs in the 64-team era according to our Elo ratings,2Behind 1992 Duke, 1996 Kentucky, 2001 Duke, 2016 Villanova, 1993 North Carolina, 2008 Kansas and 2009 North Carolina. which estimate a team’s quality at a given point in time, and their impressive title run should elevate them on anybody’s list of all-time champs.How to judge a champion’s tournament performance? One way is to look at how much more it outscored opponents than we’d expect based on those opponents’ Elo ratings. During the 2018 tourney, Villanova trounced opponents by an average of 17.7 points per game — never winning by fewer than 12 and covering the Vegas spread in all six games — against a set of foes that we’d expect the average champ3With an Elo rating of 2150. to beat by just 9.8 per game. That difference of 7.9 points per contest ranks fifth among men’s champs since 1985: Points/GameMargin 11996Kentucky689.267.7+21.5+13.0 111993North Carolina684.568.8+15.7+5.7 22016Villanova683.562.8+20.7+12.9 32009North Carolina687.867.7+20.2+10.2 132000Michigan State671.756.3+15.3+4.6 241992Duke682.369.8+12.5+1.7 52018Villanova683.866.2+17.7+7.9 162010Duke671.356.8+14.5+4.2 62001Duke686.870.2+16.7+7.5 122013Louisville679.563.3+16.2+5.4 41990UNLV695.276.5+18.7+8.2 332003Syracuse677.068.0+9.0-0.4 311988Kansas673.865.0+8.8-0.1 222017North Carolina681.770.5+11.2+2.1 341985Villanova655.050.0+5.0-2.6 232004Connecticut677.263.8+13.3+2.0 201989Michigan690.080.2+9.8+2.4 92006Florida672.756.7+16.0+6.1 142005North Carolina684.270.3+13.8+4.4 282014Connecticut671.763.8+7.8+0.9 192007Florida682.768.5+14.2+2.5 152002Maryland683.569.5+14.0+4.4 212012Kentucky681.369.5+11.8+2.1 262011Connecticut666.356.0+10.3+1.5 72015Duke671.856.3+15.5+7.0 Show more rowsExpected margins were generated for an average champion with an Elo rating of 2150. 271999Connecticut675.864.0+11.8+1.1 Of course, as impressive as Villanova was this season, Elo still thinks more highly of the team’s championship run two years ago. So it’s not completely open-and-shut where this season’s Wildcats even rank relative to themselves in terms of recent champs. But after the way Nova dismantled Michigan and Kansas in San Antonio, it’s run out of yardsticks from 2018 with which to compare anyway. The only opponents left to vanquish at this point are the ghosts of the past.UPDATE (April 3, 2018, 1 p.m.): This post has been updated to reflect the latest data from KenPom.com, which shows Villanova as the second-best NCAA men’s champion since 2002. (Villanova’s new +33.76 rating moved them ahead of Duke’s +33.29 mark from 2010.)
Then-OSU running back Ezekiel Elliott (15) runs with the ball to the end zone during a game against Michigan on Nov. 28 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Credit: Lantern File PhotoThe Columbus City Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday that it will not be pursuing domestic violence charges against former Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. The news was first reported by Drew Davison, a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.On July 22, Elliott was accused of domestic violence by a woman alleging to be an ex-girlfriend. The woman, Tiffany Thompson, claimed Elliott had struck her multiple times while in a parked car. Thompson posted pictures on Instagram of her bruises. According to a press release from the prosecutor’s office, Thompson claimed instances of domestic violence on five separate occasions during an interview with the Columbus Division of Police.Elliott was never arrested for the allegations, and the investigation hit a stalemate after conflicting reports and a lack of evidence.The prosecutor’s office declined to press charges “primarily due to conflicting and inconsistent information across all incidents resulting in concern regarding the sufficiency of the evidence to support the filing of criminal charges,” the release said.
Roses might have been the only things on the Buckeyes’ mind for a few hours Saturday after a game-winning kick in overtime vanquished Iowa and clinched a share of the Big Ten title.But after the 27-24 thriller, the mood quickly went from joyful to serious as OSU began preparation for its game against Michigan.“Someone described this month as tough, tougher and toughest,” coach Jim Tressel said Monday at his weekly press conference. “We’ve battled through the tough and the tougher, and now we’re excited about the toughest and there’s just a special feeling about this week.”Tressel’s Buckeyes have locked up at least a share of the Big Ten crown with back-to-back victories over Penn State and Iowa.Michigan week, however, is about a fierce rivalry and tradition that goes deeper than any conference championship, season record or bowl berth.Still plenty at stakeAlthough the Buckeyes have already clinched a share of the Big Ten title, a win over Michigan would make that title outright.A win by OSU would also keep Michigan at home this postseason, as the Wolverines need a win over the Buckeyes to become bowl eligible.“It’s exciting for a lot of reasons. One is it’s Ohio State-Michigan and there’s nothing like it,” Tressel said about the rivalry. “Two, it’s your last regular season game and you’d like to think that you’re going to be playing your best football in all phases, offensively, defensively, special teams, and we’ve certainly got a lot of work to do for that to be the case, but we’re looking forward to a great week of preparation. Our kids are excited.”Senior captain Kurt Coleman said regardless of records, the Buckeyes have just as much to play for because a loss would diminish everything they have worked hard for this season.A loss for the Wolverines would mean a second-straight season in which Michigan watches the rest of the Big Ten play in bowls, while the team sits at home.“Playing Michigan is always important to us,” senior defensive lineman Doug Worthington said. “It is the biggest game of the season for us, just like it is for them. Just putting the added pressure that this is what it will take for them to get to a bowl game and knowing that we can stop them is big, it’s huge. We definitely want the victory, and if that keeps them from going to a bowl game, that’s just a little added sugar on top.”Lopsided rivalrySince Tressel took over at Ohio State, the rivalry has been dominated by the man in the sweater vest.At 7-1 since taking the helm at OSU, Tressel has turned a rivalry that used to be dominated by the Wolverines into an annual victory for the Scarlet and Gray.Even when OSU isn’t favored, Tressel seems to find the necessary ingredients to upset the school up north.Tressel said that to an outsider, the rivalry might have lost some of its luster, but to those involved, OSU-Michigan is always the most important game of the year.“Well, not if you’re a part of it. If you’re an observer, perhaps,” Tressel said, responding to a question about the rivalry losing steam. “But if you’re a part of it and you’ve felt those feelings and had those experiences and just know what it means to both schools and so forth, that would never occur to the participants.”The players also feel no different toward their rival regardless of their unimpressive record. Beating Michigan every season is still a goal, no matter what has happened in the first 11 games.“You can’t be worried about the success we have had the last few years,” Worthington said. “This year is a different year and they are definitely a different team. They are very capable, and what’s up for the bowl game for them is huge. We’ve already been blessed with a bid to the Rose Bowl but I was telling the team to get that out of their head, and make sure we take this game like we have every other game, one at a time because that’s how they’re going to take it.”Wildcat offenseIn victories against Penn State and Iowa, the Buckeyes unveiled a new wrinkle on offense.The Wildcat formation has swept through college and pro football, and the Buckeyes have joined the party.“I think the first discussion of it came up when Terrelle was a little banged and our tailbacks were a little healthy,” Tressel said.Sophomore running back Dan Herron has taken most of the direct snaps, and on Saturday he scored on an 11-yard run. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor lines up at wide receiver during the formation, and is still lobbying to make a play.“He’s hoping for us to throw it to him. You know how that is. He thinks he’s a great route runner,” Tressel joked. “I said, well, you’ve got to have somebody who can throw it. So I think he’s reminiscing about when Todd [Boeckman] was throwing to him. Todd’s not here, so any little thing we can have to add preparation time for people to add pressure to our opposing defenses we think is good.”Throwing tradition out the window with “throwbacks”While some teams embrace changes, OSU has built its history on tradition.The Buckeye uniforms have sported mostly the same look for the last several decades, but on Saturday, for one day only, OSU will look drastically different.The Buckeyes will wear a throwback uniform designed by honoring the 1954 National Championship team.The new Nike Pro Combat uniform design will offer several technologically advanced features, while also being designed in a scheme to pay tribute to Buckeye legends from decades ago.“I’m excited,” junior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said. “Obviously it’s something different, change it up a little bit, so it will be fun.”The most drastic change will be the helmets. The silver and traditional stripe will be replaced with an all-white helmet and numbers on the side, a single red stripe will also run down the middle.Coleman expressed satisfaction with the new throwbacks, but said he doesn’t think it will have any effect once the ball is snapped.Worthington said he and the rest of the linemen will look their best in the slender-fitting new digs.“We’re going to look great, fantastic. I’ve been doing some extra curls and stuff, getting my wristbands ready,” Worthington said. “I got my Vaseline so I can look shiny and big. … It is a great thing to be able to represent the 1954 team and being serious about it. They are great uniforms and Nike did a wonderful job of creating a replica throwback.“It’s just going to be great to go out and play with those uniforms on, but at the end of the day, when the ball’s snapped, it doesn’t matter what we have on, we have to get after the Wolverines,” Worthington said.
Following a record 40-point performance from freshman Jared Sullinger in its last outing, No. 2-ranked Ohio State (8-0) featured a much more balanced attack Sunday afternoon, easily handling Western Carolina (4-8), 85-60. On a snowy Columbus day, OSU traveled just down the street from the Schottenstein Center to historic St. John Arena, the Buckeyes’ former home, and got off to a hot start on both ends of the court. “I thought today we came out and had a little more intensity to our defense,” said OSU coach Thad Matta. “Offensively, especially in the first half, we did a good job of sharing the ball. … I was pretty pleased with how guys played.” The Buckeyes garnered double-digit scoring from five players, including 17 from Sullinger, as the team shot 51.9 percent from the floor. OSU stormed out of the locker room, putting together an 18-4 run in the game’s first nine minutes. The Buckeyes would not relinquish their double-digit lead the rest of the afternoon. “I felt like a little bit early in the game we almost gave them too much respect,” said WCU coach Larry Hunter. “They came out and jumped right on us to their credit.” Paced by 12 first-half points from Sullinger and nine from junior guard William Buford, the Buckeyes took a 42-25 lead going into halftime. Defensively, OSU was just as dominant in the contest’s first stanza. The Buckeyes’ defense forced 14 first-half Catamount turnovers, which led to 14 OSU points. “Coach Matta said we needed to let them know we’re there on defense and try to push the turnovers,” Sullinger said. “The whole practice, the last couple practices have been about toughness, and I think we showed that today.” OSU opened the second half with another big run, this time an 18-8 surge, extending its lead to 27 points. Despite the Buckeyes’ overall dominance, the Catamounts held a distinct advantage over OSU on the glass as they outrebounded it 39-26. “We didn’t rebound at all tonight,” Sullinger said. “They were a real scrappy team and they’re going to be a good team by the end of the year and they outrebounded us just because they wanted it more.” Still, Matta said he was content with his team’s effort overall. The Buckeye coach was able to get all 11 of his available players on the court. “I think the more we can build our bench, the better off we will be,” Matta said. Buford, Deshaun Thomas and Dallas Lauderdale each contributed 13 points apiece, and Jon Diebler added another 10 of his own to OSU’s balanced scoring. After completing final exams Dec. 9, the Buckeyes will be out of class until Jan. 3. Sullinger said this period of time is of the utmost importance for the team. “Right now this is where players are made,” he said. “You can relax and just go clubbing and have a good time, or you can be in the gym, getting better and hitting the weights hard. “We really have a tough basketball team and I think we are going to be mentally tough to handle the obstacles that are going to come our way.” The Buckeyes will return to action Dec. 15 as they welcome Florida Gulf Coast University to the Schottenstein Center for a 6:30 p.m. tipoff.
OSU then-redshirt freshman Nathan Tomasello during a match against Minnesota on Feb. 6 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Lantern File PhotoOhio State Nathan Tomasello said Friday his right knee was injured while competing at the U-23 World Team Trials on Oct. 8. Ohio State announced shortly thereafter the 125-pound wrestler would miss an indefinite amount of time to start his redshirt senior season.He said he received an MRI last week and had his right knee scoped Wednesday along with a trim of his meniscus. Head coach Tom Ryan felt more optimistic after the knee scope. “We thought it was significant and we feel way better about it,” Ryan said. “He got scoped and he’s going to be back I think sooner than we thought.”Originally, Ohio State expected Tomasello to return to the Buckeyes’ lineup in January. Ryan said a December return might be feasible at this point. Tomasello agreed with the possibility, but is taking his rehab one step at a time. “We’ll see,” Tomasello said. “I’m not going to put it out there. I think it is, but I know the doctor is pretty conservative. They’re thinking January, but it’s all about how I’m feeling. I feel like once I get on the mats in a few weeks from now, if it’s feeling good, I’m definitely going to want to be back earlier.”Before the injury, Tomasello was focused on his return to the 125-pound class after competing at 133 pounds last season. He was previously in the 125-pound class the two seasons prior to his redshirt junior campaign. The redshirt senior is looking to become a four-time All American before his time at Ohio State ends. While attempting to qualify for the U-23 World Championships a couple weeks ago, Tomasello said he felt good on the mat during his match in the finals with Oklahoma State’s Daton Fix and that he continued to wrestle after knowing he had sustained the injury. “I wrestled well and had a good opponent in the finals and we had some good battles,” Tomasello said. “In the second match, I was finishing a shot, landed on my knee wrong and felt it pop. I was able to continue the match, but after the match it started swelling up and it was pretty tough to walk on the next day.”Tomasello would miss 12 Ohio State wrestling events if he does not compete for the remainder of the calendar year. At wrestle-offs Thursday night, freshman Brakan Mead defeated fellow freshman Brady Koontz and will serve as Tomasello’s replacement until the former NCAA champion returns.The redshirt senior has experience navigating his way back from injury. While competing at the 2016 NCAA Wrestling Championships during the end of his redshirt sophomore year, Tomasello injured his shoulder and re-injured it while trying to compete at Olympic trials afterwards. He then underwent rotator cuff surgery and endured six months of rehab before returning for another All-American season. “Just knowing what it takes and having a mindset of being patient and knowing my body, I think it’s important looking back at that knowing with this injury, how to deal with it,” Tomasello said.Ryan has nothing but confidence in the return of his redshirt senior and said the rehab will be just as much mental as it is physical. “The most important thing is where Nate’s mind is,” Ryan said. “And his mind has never been more ferocious and focused at what he’s got to do to get back.”