Venus Williams was defeated 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2) at the Pan Pacific Open final on Friday. The veteran tennis player started out well, but her Czech opponent Petra Kvitova rallied to beat her.Williams, after coming back from illness and injury, is still fighting for her first title since last October.“I was probably a little tired,” said Williams, who also played in a three-hour match on Thursday. “But I don’t think it affected the match. She played two matches yesterday, so no doubt she was a little tired as well.”Kvitova won after Williams failed to close the match in the third set at Ariake Colosseum.The seventh-seeded Kvitova played tough in the tiebreak, by jumping out to 6-0 lead. Williams scored two points but Kvitova won in the third match point.“I am really happy with how I played today,” Kvitova said. “It was a very close match, and every game was up and down.”Kvitova will face fifth-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany next, as she beat fourth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 7-6 (5) in the other semifinal.
Leicester City is bigger right?neil:It’s a great Q which was less likely going into the seasonI think Leicester still more unlikelyEPL more ruled by money, less by randomness than NHLBut this was the general consensus going into the year:Wow The Golden Knights Are Going To Be BadPredictions NBA Oh, and don’t forgetomg only $17?! We’re launching a sports newsletter. 🏆 Join the squad. Subscribe See more NBA predictions All newsletters It’s my last day at FiveThirtyEight! I’m next starting a daily newsletter, Numlock News. If you’ve been a fan of Beside The Points, please subscribe!Things That Caught My EyeKnights in FiveThe Vegas Golden Knights became just the second-ever expansion team in the post-1960 histories of the NHL, NBA, NFL or MLB to reach the championship in their very first season of existence. The Knights dispatched the Winnipeg Jets after winning four games of their series to the Jets’ one. The 1967-68 St. Louis Blues are the only previous team to pull it off, albeit in a league with 12 teams. [ESPN]Warm WNBA welcomeThe Connecticut Sun beat the brand-new Las Vegas Aces 101-65 on Sunday by the largest ever margin of victory for a WNBA opening day game. Vegas rookie A’ja Wilson, the top pick in the 2018 draft, showed promise with 14 points and 10 rebounds in her debut. [ESPN]We’re getting worse at gambling somehowWith sports gambling poised to make a nation-wide splash following a nod from the Supreme Court, it’s worth asking if we are actually even good at it to begin with. In 1992, casinos kept just 2.81 percent of the wagers they handled on sports. Over the next 15 years, casinos got better at wooing easier marks in, and their haul peaked at 7.89 percent in 2006. In 2017 the house took 5.11 percent of all sports wagers. [FiveThirtyEight]Try out our interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?U.S.A. is #1 at #3The United States defeated Canada 4-1 to take the bronze medal at the world ice hockey championship. Sweden took gold and Switzerland took silver. This is the third time the U.S. has won the bronze medal in the past six years. [ESPN]Who can’t touch the new ball?This year there are 22 hitters in major league baseball who have seen 30 pitches that were 96 miles per hour or higher and who have failed to generate a single hit off the speedy balls. Several of those players are north of 30 years old, meaning that the necessity to make major adjustments to the new, faster pitching game may be trouble for more experienced players. [ESPN]Ledecky the G.O.A.T.Katie Ledecky set a new record in the 1500m at the IU Natatorium with 15:20.48. She beat the previous record-holder, who is also Katie Ledecky, by a full 5 seconds. At this point the top eight fastest 1500m times are all held by Katie Ledecky. [USA Swimming]Big Number(s)31 horsesCongratulations to Justify, who became the 31st horse to win both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes since 1931. Justify was scheduled to arrive at Churchill Downs on Sunday. If this horse wants to be the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown — gonna level with you I do not think the horse wants that, it’s a horse, and I doubt horses fully understand the enormous apparatus around professional racing to the level that it’s compelled to aspire — but if Justify does seek to become the 13th crown winner, holding off rival Good Magic by only 2 ½ lengths definitely means the Belmont Stakes in three weeks is any horses’ game. [ESPN]Leaks from Slack: micah:
Whatever problems Jesus and Neymar might be having, they simply aren’t slowing Brazil down. In fact, Brazil is playing better so far at the World Cup than it was during qualifying. Despite scoring half a goal less per 90 minutes — 1.61 during the World Cup, as opposed to 2.16 in qualifying — the team’s underlying statistics have all improved. Its expected goals have increased from 1.59 to 2.05, its shots per game has jumped from 14.15 to 17.66, and its shots on target rose from 5.54 to 6.65. Defensively, it’s the same story. The team is allowing fewer goals (0.23, down from 0.58), fewer expected goals (0.64, down from 0.73), fewer shots (7.57, down from 8.76), and fewer shots on target (0.92, down from 2.32). This is a team that came into the tournament ranked No. 1 in the world, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index, and then upped its game.As for Neymar, while the way he plays might draw criticism, it’s important not to confuse his style with what he actually produces on the field. His numbers have been simply astounding. And it’s not just his bottom line of two goals and one assist: His 0.80 non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes is second in the tournament behind only Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku (among players with at least 135 minutes of playing time). It’s also double the 0.40 non-penalty expected goals he averaged per 90 minutes during qualifying. He’s also an ample creator, mainly thanks to his set piece ability. He’s created 3.67 chances per 90 minutes, fifth most in the tournament among qualified players,1Players with at least 135 minutes played. with 1.38 of them coming from corners (third most among qualified players) and 0.69 coming from free kick passes (tied for sixth most). And Neymar is doing all that while getting the snot kicked out of him. He’s being fouled 5.27 times per 90 minutes, the highest rate of any player who saw at least 135 minutes in any of the last three World Cups — he may have a habit of exaggerating the severity of the contact, but there’s no denying that he takes a lot of hits.Scratch the surface of the criticism against Brazil and you’ll find it’s all stylistic. Sure, maybe Jesus is shooting less, but it isn’t hurting the team. It’s true that Neymar is spending a lot of time rolling around on the grass, but it’s also true that he’s getting fouled more than anybody else and he’s still putting up huge numbers. The criticism of how Brazil is playing is obscuring just how well it’s playing. Nobody else pairs a top-notch ability to suppress opponent’s shots with the ability to generate a boatload of their own. And nobody else has Neymar, the most dangerous winger in the world.Brazil are clearly favored to win the World Cup. The only question left is, if they do, will the trophy finally put a stop to the criticism?Check out our latest World Cup predictions. In a World Cup full of upsets, one thing remains consistent: Brazil is the best soccer team in the world. The Selecao came into the tournament playing like the best team in the world. Through four games in Russia, they’ve played like the best team in the tournament — both in the way they attack and in the way they defend. As other favorites have fallen by the wayside, Brazil just keeps getting it done, and there’s reason to believe the team hasn’t peaked yet.But since its opening draw with Switzerland, the team has been mostly been the subject of negative press (some of which is warranted), which makes it easy to overlook the fact that this is still very much the team to beat in Russia, as is the case in most World Cups.There’s plenty of reason to criticize Brazil. For instance, some feel the team is playing the wrong striker. The team’s starting striker, Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus, has yet to score a goal, and while his Brazil teammates are defending him, Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino scored late in the game against Mexico and has looked dangerous in his limited appearances. Jesus is only taking 1.72 shots per 90 minutes. That’s almost a full shot less than the 2.71 per 90 minutes he took during World Cup qualifying games. His expected goal numbers have dropped accordingly. He was a major scoring threat when Brazil was on its path to the World Cup with 0.59 expected goals per 90, but he’s now down at 0.14.Brazil has also gotten a lot of negative press related to this now-universal opinion: Neymar is a flopper. After Brazil eliminated Mexico in the round of 16, Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio was livid over Neymar’s antics, focusing on a sideline incident where Neymar rolled on the ground theatrically after contact from Mexico’s Miguel Layun. More broadly, Neymar, who is coming off a long injury layoff, has received mixed reviews for his performances over the first four matches. He has an undeniably flamboyant and ball-dominant style, which frequently means that even when Brazil wins, as it has in three out of its four games so far, questions get asked about whether what Neymar brings to the table is worth enough to make up for what he takes away.Despite Jesus’s struggles and the criticism directed at Neymar, Brazil has been the best, most balanced team at this tournament. In attack, the team scored a relatively modest 1.61 goals per 90 minutes, a lower rate than all of its fellow quarterfinalists except Sweden, but its expected goals total is a robust 2.05 — only Belgium is higher, with 2.44. It’s likely that the only reason Brazil hasn’t scored more is that the finishing gods haven’t smiled down upon them. That expected goal total is built on a high volume of shots — 17.66 per 90 minutes — a rate that trails only Germany (who fell behind in three separate matches and was desperately chasing goals on its way to crashing out of the tournament) and Belgium.On the defensive side of the ball, Brazil’s dominance has been even more obvious. The team has conceded one total goal, a set piece header against Switzerland in their opening match. Brazil’s 0.23 goals conceded per 90 minutes is tied with Uruguay for the fewest of any team in the tournament, and its 0.64 expected goals conceded ranks third, behind France and Uruguay. Brazil is the only team in the tournament that has performed at elite levels on both the attacking and defending side of the ball.
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s March 2 Analytics Issue. Subscribe today!In the 2000 edition of Baseball Prospectus, Keith Woolner identified 23 problems — avenues of analysis that had been dead ends for turn-of-the-millennium statheads. (For instance, No. 10: “Projecting minor league pitchers accurately.”) Woolner named these Hilbert Problems, after mathematician David Hilbert, who in 1900 outlined his own set of 23 vexing mathematical problems that he hoped would be solved in the 20th century.Of Hilbert’s 23 math problems, just 10 have been answered — not a great track record for more than a century’s worth of work. While Woolner’s baseball problems don’t lend themselves to mathematics’ hard-and-fast proofs, we have become a lot better at, say, “measuring the catcher’s role in run prevention” (No. 3). There’s still a margin of error in calculating how valuable Yadier Molina is to the Cardinals; nevertheless, the progress in baseball is remarkable.Analysts have made huge strides in “separating defense into pitching and fielding” (problem No. 1): The discovery that pitchers have relatively little control over balls in play has increased the value put on fielding and pitchers’ strikeout ability. And research into “determining optimal pitcher usage strategies” (No. 20) has led teams to transform struggling starters into top-shelf middle relievers with ERAs that would make Bob Gibson blush. Indeed, the shift toward pitching and defense reflects the rise of sabermetrics as much as the decline of juiced balls or juiced players.And all of this has taken 15 years, rather than since William McKinley was president. Sure, teams could still glean more about “assessing the ‘coachability’ of players” (No. 13) or “quantifying the manager’s impact on winning” (No. 22). But baseball analysts can’t complain, unlike their counterparts in other fields.As I describe in my book “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail but Some Don’t,” the rapid and tangible progress in sports analytics is more the exception than the rule. It’s important to remind sports nerds — who, as they look at streams of PER or wRC+ numbers, have become a bit spoiled — of this fair and maybe even obvious point. Because out there in the wider world, questions far more basic than Woolner’s remain unresolved. We still have tremendous trouble predicting how the economy will perform more than a few months in advance, or understanding why a catastrophic earthquake occurs at a particular place and time, or knowing whether a flu outbreak will turn into a bad one.It’s not for any lack of interest in data and analytics. For a while, I gave a lot of talks to promote my book and met a lot of people I might not encounter otherwise: from Hollywood producers and CEOs of major companies to the dude from India who hoped to be the Billy Beane of cricket.But there’s a perfect storm of circumstances in sports that makes rapid analytical progress possible decades before other fields have their Moneyball moments. Here are three reasons sports nerds have it easy:1. Sports has awesome data.Give me a sec. Really, I’ll only need a second. I just went to Baseball-Reference.com and looked up how many at-bats have been taken in major league history. It’s 14,260,129.The volume is impressive. But what’s more impressive is that I can go to RetroSheet.org and, for many of those 14 million at-bats, look up the hitter, the pitcher, who was on base, how many people attended the game and whether the second baseman wore boxers or briefs. It’s not just “big data.” It’s something much better: rich data.By rich data, I mean data that’s accurate, precise and subjected to rigorous quality control. A few years ago, a debate raged about how many RBIs Cubs slugger Hack Wilson had in 1930. Researchers went to the microfiche, looked up box scores and found that it was 191, not 190. Absolutely nothing changed about our understanding of baseball, but it shows the level of scrutiny to which stats are subjected.Compare that to something like evaluating the American economy. The problems aren’t in the third decimal place: We sometimes don’t even know whether the sign is positive or negative. When the recession hit in December 2007 — the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression — most economists didn’t believe we were in one at all. The recession wasn’t officially identified until December 2008. Imagine what this would be like in sports! We’re not sure how many points Damian Lillard scored last night, but we’re reasonably confident it was between 27 and negative 2. Check back in a few months.As if statheads weren’t spoiled enough, we’re getting more data all the time. From PITCHf/x to SportVU, we have nearly a three-dimensional record of every object on the field in real time. Questions once directed at scouts — Does Carmelo really get back on defense? What’s the break on Kershaw’s curve? — are now measurable.2. In sports, we know the rules.And they don’t change much. As I noted, there has been little progress in predicting earthquakes. We know a few basic things — you’re more likely to experience an earthquake in California than in New Jersey — but not a lot more.What’s the problem? “We’re looking at rock,” one seismologist lamented to me for my book. Unlike a thunderstorm, we can’t see an earthquake coming, nor can we directly observe what triggers it. Scientists have identified lots of correlations in earthquake data, but they have relatively little understanding of what causes one at any particular time. If there are a billion possible relationships in geology’s historical data, you’ll come up with a thousand million-to-one coincidences on the basis of chance alone. In seismology, for instance, there have been failed predictions about earthquake behavior in locations from Peru to Sumatra — all based on patterns that looked foolproof in the historical data but were random after all.False positives are less of an issue in sports, where rules are explicit and where we know a lot about causality. Take how we evaluate pitcher performance. It turns out that if you want to forecast a pitcher’s future win-loss record, just about the last thing to look at is his previous record. Instead, focus on his ERA, or better yet his strikeout-to-walk ratio, or maybe even the PITCHf/x data on pitch velocity and location.Why? Winning is the name of the game, and you win by allowing fewer runs than your opponent. So ERA says more about winning than a pitcher’s record. But you can do even better: Runs are prevented by striking out batters (and not walking them), and strikeouts are generated by throwing good pitches, which is why WHIP and strikeouts per nine innings also serve predictive purposes. Understanding the structure of the system gives statistical analysis a much higher batting average.3. Sports offers fast feedback and clear marks of success.One hallmark of analytically progressive fields is the daily collection of new data that allows researchers to rapidly test ideas and chuck the silly ones. One example: dramatically improved weather forecasts. The accuracy of hurricane landfall predictions, for instance, has almost tripled over the past 30 years.Sports, especially baseball, fits in this category too. In Billy Beane’s first few years running the A’s, the team had awful defenses — bad enough that Matt Stairs briefly played center. Beane theorized that because defense was so hard to quantify, he shouldn’t focus on it. His assumption turned out to be completely wrong. As statheads came to learn about defense, it proved to be more important than everyone thought, not less. Because the A’s were playing every day and Beane could study the defensive metrics like dWAR that emerged, he learned quickly and adjusted his approach. His more recent teams have had much-improved defenses.Contrast this with something like presidential elections, in which lessons come once every four years, if at all. Mitt Romney’s belief that the 2012 election was his for the taking (it wasn’t, according to both public polls and political science research) may have led him to underinvest in his get-out-the-vote operations. He underestimated Barack Obama’s popularity and his own ability to sway voters with his message. Republicans will have to wait until 2016 to improve their approach.It also helps that sports has a clear objective: winning. Obvious? Sure. But that’s not the case in other subjects. What counts as “winning” for the U.S. economy, for instance? Is it low inflation or high growth? If it’s growth, does it matter how the income is distributed? You have opinions about that, and I do too, and we might not agree even given all the data in the world.But the zero-sum nature of sports competition (there are a finite number of wins and championships to go around) also yields the greatest risk to continued innovation. When I was working for Baseball Prospectus a decade ago, most of the innovation was occurring among outsiders like us. It was competitive, but the point of getting a data “scoop” was to publish it for the rest of the world to see.Now almost all MLB teams employ a statistical analyst, if not a small gaggle of them. But those analysts are working on behalf of just one team — and have less incentive to share. At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference every year, the panels featuring current employees of major league teams are deathly dull because if the panelists said anything useful to a roomful of their competitors, they would be fired. Sports analytics runs the risk of losing the momentum of the past 15 years.Woolner, for his part, is now the director of baseball analytics for the Indians. No doubt he has 23 new problems to solve. But now it will take the rest of us longer to know when he has cracked them.
History was made Thursday night at Yankee Stadium, when New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez launched his 661st career home run into the left center-field bleachers. The blast moved Rodriguez past Willie Mays into sole possession of fourth place on baseball’s all-time home run leaderboard.Certainly, we’ve reflected positively upon Rodriguez’s immense talent — steroids notwithstanding — in the past. But we also thought it would be a useful public service to once again point out that passing a legend on a prestigious statistical list doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the better player. In the case of the Say Hey Kid versus A-Rod, it’s Mays in a landslide.An easy way to measure Mays’ dominance over A-Rod is to look at the all-time wins above replacement (WAR) leaderboard1Using Baseball-Reference’s version.. By total WAR, Mays ranks as the fifth most-productive player in major-league history, trailing only Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds and pitchers Cy Young and Walter Johnson. Mays also ranks as the third-best non-pitcher ever, according to JAWS, which attempts to balance a player’s aggregate WAR compilation against the brilliance of his peak. Among position players in the history of baseball, only Ruth had a better prime — as measured by WAR in a player’s best seven seasons — than Mays did when he was at the top of his game.Rodriguez also ranks highly in WAR, but his numbers are nowhere near those of Mays. A-Rod ranks 17th all-time in total WAR, trailing Mays by about 40 wins. At his career rate of WAR per 162 games, Rodriguez would have to play five and a half more seasons of 162 games apiece — that is, until age 44 — to catch Mays. It also bears mentioning that Rodriguez hasn’t even played more than 150 games in a season since 2007; at a more realistic rate of 125 games per year, he’d have to play until age 46 (with no decline in performance) to reach Mays’ total.Since Rodriguez has recently missed big chunks of playing time in which he could have been accumulating raw WAR, his peak ranking fares a bit better than his overall WAR rank. That’s why A-Rod sits at 12th all-time in JAWS. But the difference in JAWS between No. 3 Mays and No. 12 Rodriguez is the same as the difference between Rodriguez and No. 33 Charlie Gehringer.And the gap isn’t likely to close much before Rodriguez retires. While A-Rod is having a resurgent start to the 2015 season, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection system still only predicts about 0.7 more wins above replacement left in his career before his contract runs out (and, coincidentally, he begins to provide negative value) following the 2017 season.So, any way you cut it, Mays provided much more value in his career than A-Rod.From a skills perspective, Mays was also a better ballplayer than Rodriguez in most facets of the game.Using percentile rankings in Fangraphs’ rate statistics for five key skill indicators — plate patience, contact and power hitting, speed, and (position-adjusted) defense — we can measure how good both Mays and Rodriguez have been in each category relative to their peers over the same range of ages2In this case, ages 20 through 39, since Mays didn’t debut until age 20 and Rodriguez hasn’t yet played past age 39.. They’re not exactly the canonical five tools of scouting lore (arm strength is wrapped up inexorably in defense), but they should give us an idea of the raw building blocks that made up Mays’ and Rodriguez’s playing styles:Mays and Rodriguez were both among the pre-eminent power hitters of their eras, and the two are also very close in terms of patience at the plate (in fact, A-Rod has drawn walks at a slightly greater rate than Mays, relative to his era). But Mays separated himself from Rodriguez — and just about everyone else ever — as an all-around ballplayer with his speed, defense and ability to make contact at the plate. Not only did Mays compile a fantastic statistical record, but he did it without any real flaws in his game.And it’s not as though Mays’ playing style was particularly better suited to his era. During Mays’ career, power hitting was more correlated with WAR — and defense less correlated — than during A-Rod’s era,3Relative speed, patience and contact-hitting were of roughly equal importance in both eras so it’s possible Mays’ edge in defense would have produced even more value in the modern game than it did during his playing days.Either way, Rodriguez — while an all-time great — is no Mays. The former’s passing of the latter on the all-time home run leaderboard should not be mistaken to mean that there’s any debate between the two in playing ability or career value. On both counts, Mays soars high above A-Rod.
(The list could have also included a few other notable snoozers, such as Washington’s 42-10 win over Denver in 1988 and Denver’s own easy 34-19 win over Atlanta in 1999.)Sure, there were a few all-time-great Super Bowls interspersed among those stinkers — such as Joe Montana’s final-drive victory in 1989, the aforementioned Giants-Bills classic from 1991, Elway’s first Super Bowl win in 1998 and the Rams’ epic finish against the Titans in 2000. But for most of the Super Bowl’s first four decades of existence, there were just as many duds, games that could make you wonder why so much hoopla was devoted to what would frequently turn into a boring blowout.More recently, though, we’ve been treated to far better games on the Super Bowl stage — and practically no true laughers. How can we prove it? Statistically, there are a number of ways we can measure the excitement of any given game, and this post from ESPN’s Brian Burke lays out a few of my favorites:Excitement Index is the sum total of movement in win probability across an entire game. This rewards back-and-forth games with a lot of uncertainty about the eventual winner until the very end of the game. Super Bowl XXIV (1990) — San Francisco 55, Denver 10Average score margin: +/-23.2 pointsTies/lead changes: 1John Elway’s Broncos were no match for Joe Montana and the 49ers, who took a 41-3 lead five-and-a-half minutes into the third quarter and cruised to the most dominating victory in Super Bowl history. Fewer than 15 minutes in this game were spent with Denver even being within one score of the lead. On paper, Sunday’s Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams has all the earmarks of an instant classic. The teams are evenly matched in their strengths and weaknesses, and the favored Patriots’ pregame chance of victory — 52.8 percent, according to our Elo model — is among the lowest113th-lowest, to be exact. of any favorite in Super Bowl history, meaning the game is close to a toss-up.In the past, though, this would have guaranteed nothing — and even could have been viewed as a bad omen. (Or at least, it wouldn’t have been reliably good.) It wasn’t too long ago that we were in an era of total Super Bowl stink bombs being a regular occurrence. Some of the best (i.e., worst) examples of this, in terms of time spent with the score lopsided, included:Super Bowl XX (1986) — Chicago 46, New England 10Average score margin:2Or the average of the game score differential at every second of the game. +/-19.6 pointsTies/lead changes:3Excluding the initial 0-0 tie. 3After the Pats took a quick 3-0 lead, the Bears rattled off 44 consecutive points. Chicago ended up with 167 yards and four touchdowns on the ground while burying New England QBs Tony Eason and Steve Grogan under relentless defensive pressure. Super Bowl XXXVII (2003) — Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21Average score margin: +/-11.1 pointsTies/lead changes: 3Led by another of history’s great defenses, Tampa jumped out to a 34-3 third-quarter lead and never looked back. (As it turns out, maybe you should change up your audibles and play calls when facing your former coach in the Super Bowl.) Comeback Factor is the eventual loser’s highest win probability in the game. This essentially measures how dramatic a comeback the winning team needed to stage, with larger numbers representing more unlikely victories.In concert, these metrics tend to do a good job of measuring what we want out of a thrilling Super Bowl — late-game heroics, big comebacks and results that come down to the wire. With win probability data provided by ESPN’s Stats & Information Group,4Using the version of win probability that doesn’t have the pregame odds baked into the formula, to make sure we’re focusing only on the way a game played out once the teams actually took the field. I calculated both metrics for every Super Bowl (since the first game was played in 1967) and plotted them out as a time series by season: Super Bowl XXVI (1992) — Washington 37, Buffalo 24Average score margin: +/-12.9 pointsTies/lead changes: 1A year after losing one of the most dramatic Super Bowls ever, the Bills were undone by Washington’s 24-0 run in the second and third quarters. Buffalo eventually found itself in a 37-10 hole before a couple of meaningless TDs made the final score seem far more respectable than it actually was. In recent years, you can see a pattern emerge: Very few Super Bowls have been duds, according to the Excitement Index. Since that Bucs-Raiders debacle in 2003, 13 of the past 15 matchups have registered an Excitement Index above the all-time average for Super Bowls.5The average Excitement Index for all Super Bowls ever is 4.4. And of the two that didn’t, one was New England’s unprecedented 28-3 comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in 2017, which only graded as below average because so much of the game was spent with the Falcons in command, before the Pats stormed back. (It made up for that lower Excitement Index with the highest Comeback Factor of any Super Bowl by far.)Over the past decade-and-a-half, the only genuinely terrible Super Bowl came in 2014, when the Legion of Boom Seahawks thoroughly routed Peyton Manning’s favored Broncos, 43-8. That game nearly set new records for the lowest Excitement Index and most lopsided average score margin in a Super Bowl (it ranks second in both categories). But it was also an aberration in an era when great Super Bowls are the norm and duds are very much the exception.Some of that may be because of the matchups actually becoming closer over time. According to our Elo ratings, the average Super Bowl’s pregame spread during the 2010s has been 2.1 points, the smallest in any decade since the 1970s. By comparison, that number was 3.2 from the 1980s through the 2000s. So it’s not exactly a coincidence that the games have gotten better in the same span — though that fact alone doesn’t necessarily explain all of the uptick in great Super Bowls.So does all of this mean we’re “due” for a dull game Sunday? No. But we’ve also been extremely spoiled by seeing so many great ones in recent history. We’ve watched just as many Super Bowls hit an Excitement Index of 5.0 in the past 14 seasons as we had in the 38 seasons beforehand. Something might have to give eventually, even if all signs point to this weekend’s game continuing the exciting run.ESPN’s Brian Burke contributed research. Super Bowl XXXV (2001) — Baltimore 34, N.Y. Giants 7Average score margin: +/-11.1 pointsTies/lead changes: 1Baltimore’s defense completely owned this game, keeping the New York offense from crossing the 50-yard line until late in the first half (they would only run four plays in Raven territory at all) and harassing Kerry Collins into the second-lowest-rated passing performance in Super Bowl history. Super Bowl XXIX (1995) — San Francisco 49, San Diego 26Average score margin: +/-19.1 pointsTies/lead changes: 1Any hope that this matchup might be competitive vanished when Steve Young hit Jerry Rice for a 44-yard TD a scant 1:24 into the game. It was the first of seven 49er touchdowns on the day and part of the 35-10 lead San Francisco would build minutes into the third quarter. Check out our latest NFL predictions.
Then-sophomore forward/midfielder Maddy Humphrey during a game against St. Louis on Aug. 28. OSU won 5-0.Credit: Kevin Stankiewicz | Oller ReporterFollowing two consecutive losses against top-15 competition, the Ohio State field hockey team heads to the state of Michigan to do battle with two Big Ten rivals.The Buckeyes (3-5, 0-1) suffered a 5-1 loss at the hands of No. 11 Northwestern (6-2, 1-0), followed by a 2-1 defeat at No. 7 Louisville (7-1, 0-1 ACC). Despite the unfavorable outcomes, the weekend’s competitions provided a few Buckeyes with career milestones.Junior goalkeeper Liz Tamburro had 13 saves between the two matches, giving her 41 saves in the first eight games, which leads the Big Ten. Freshmen midfielders Esther Clotet-Alsina and Adelaide Penzone continue to lead the Buckeye field hockey newcomers in points with seven goals and one assist collectively.Friday’s match between Michigan (6-1, 1-0) and OSU will bring a decades-old rivalry to life. While the Buckeyes have not defeated the Wolverines since 2011, junior midfielder Carolina Vergroesen said the rivalry is sure to drive OSU to showcase the height of its abilities.“I think Michigan is always a game where it doesn’t really matter what either team’s done up to that time,” Vergroesen said. “It’s kind of nice because we bring out the best in each other because we’re all so hyped up for the game. It’ll be interesting to see where it takes us.”The Wolverines enter the weekend on a high note after commanding wins over Michigan State and Central Michigan the previous weekend. Senior Courtney Enge leads the offense with five goals, contributing to a team average of 3.5 goals per game. Junior goalkeeper Sam Swenson is third in the nation with a .818 save percentage, only allowing four goals in the last seven games.Michigan State (4-3, 0-1) began Big Ten play last weekend with a 4-1 loss to Michigan. Still, the Spartans’ offensive line is a force to be reckoned with. The team averages 4.14 goals per game and is ranked second in the Big Ten for points and goals. Redshirt junior Kendal Anderson leads the offensive powerhouse with nine goals and seven assists for a total of 25 points. While Michigan State’s offensive edge differs greatly from Michigan’s defensive approach to the game, junior midfielder Morgan Kile said the Buckeyes’ edge is being able to modify their playing style from game to game.“We’re very adaptive in how we play other teams … which I think helps us in our success,” Kile said. “With Michigan, if we need to play a more vigorous, attacking style, then that’s what we’ll do and … if we take away (Michigan State’s) speed, then I think we should have them.”The Scarlet and Gray take on the Wolverines in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Friday at 7 p.m. The Buckeyes then travel to East Lansing, Michigan to face the Spartans on Sunday at 2 p.m.OSU vs. No. 8 Michigan History 6-1, 1-0Michigan holds a 35-26-2 advantage in the series against the Buckeyes, with the first game dating back to 1977. OSU has fallen to the Wolverines in the last five matchups, most recently a 3-0 shutout last October. Previous games include:10/31/15: Michigan 3, OSU 0 (Ann Arbor, Michigan)11/02/14: Michigan 2, OSU 1 (Columbus, Ohio)10/20/13: Michigan 2, OSU 1 OT (Columbus, Ohio)11/01/12: Michigan 1, OSU 0 (Iowa City, Iowa)10/14/12: Michigan 3, OSU 1 (Ann Arbor, Michigan)OSU vs. Michigan State History 4-3, 0-1Sunday’s game will be the 61st time that the Buckeyes and Spartans have faced off. OSU leads the series with a 36-21-3 record, despite having only beaten Michigan State once in the past five years. Previous games include:9/18/15: Michigan State 1, OSU 2 (East Lansing, Michigan)9/18/14: Michigan State 4, OSU 3 OT (Columbus, Ohio)11/08/13: Michigan State 2, OSU 1 2OT (Columbus, Ohio)9/28/13: Michigan State 3, OSU 2 (East Lansing, Michigan)10/05/16: Michigan State 1, OSU 0 (Columbus, Ohio)
Former Ohio State wrestler Nick Roberts was found dead in his Pennsylvania apartment late Saturday night. A cause of death has not yet been determined, although foul play is not suspected.The 23-year-old, who was wrestling for the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown at the time, qualified for the 2013-14 NCAA championships in his first year with Ohio State as a redshirt freshman. After transferring, he won a Division II national title with Pittsburgh-Johnstown.“It is with great sadness that I share with you the loss of one of our university family, Nicholas S. Roberts,” said Pitt-Johnstown president Jem Spectar. “Nick was a senior in the class of 2017. We also know Nick as a standout member of our Mountain Cat wrestling team. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his parents, family, friends and loved ones.”Roberts had been out of competition after suffering a knee injury, but was honored during the team’s Senior Night on Feb. 7.Pitt-Johnstown Mourns Loss of National Champion Nick Roberts https://t.co/VmKrl4el41— PittJohnstownSports (@MtnCatAthletics) February 26, 2017
“There’s always next year.”The famous adage, which easily rolls off the tongue for any Cubs, Lions, Clippers or Cleveland sports follower, is recited by fans of all but one team per sport each year.It’s a phrase that evokes a sense of disappointment, letdown or regret. But in the case of the Ohio State football team, it should imply a feeling of eagerness and anticipation.Losing to USC in such a heartbreaking fashion probably reduced the Buckeyes’ appeal as Big Ten play arrives and the team looks up in the rankings to conference rival Penn State.In college football, one loss — at any point in the season — can immediately quash a team’s lofty expectations or hopes. And while the Bucks’ chances of returning to a BCS bowl game are still favorable, the ideal target remains a BCS Championship. That bull’s-eye likely won’t be hit this season, not with the big-game failures reputation lingering around after the loss to Southern Cal.Next year, however, provides hope. Not the artificial, “we can’t possibly be this bad again,” or “we’re due for a ring,” type of pseudo-optimism. The Buckeyes are typically good every year. Next year, they will be great.Barring any premature jumps to the NFL, OSU should return all but two starters on offense and all but four on defense. Jim Cordle can be replaced at right tackle by the team’s myriad of options along the offensive line. And the Buckeyes rarely throw to their tight ends, so Jake Ballard won’t be missed too much in the passing game.Defensively, the departure of safeties Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell will have the largest effect. Coleman has been a consistent playmaker for three years, and his leadership will be missed. Junior Jermale Hines has already started to steal away playing time from Russell, so permanently inserting Hines into the secondary shouldn’t hamper the defense.The key, clearly, will still be the progression of sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor. An encouraging factor is that his supporting cast will be intact. He’ll still have his running back duo of “Boom” and “Zoom,” and highly touted freshman Jamaal Berry could play into the mix. Pryor’s top receiving option, sophomore DeVier Posey will have another year under his belt to nullify his lack of experience. He was thrust into a starting role this year after totaling just 11 receptions in his freshman season.In addition to Posey, Pryor has also found a rapport with junior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, who is expected back for one final year.Coach Jim Tressel will have the ideal roster he likely envisioned when recruiting each talent over the past few years.OSU also takes on a favorable schedule, with Ohio Stadium playing host to all of the potentially difficult contests.The Buckeyes welcome Miami (Fla.), Penn State and Michigan all to The Horseshoe, while playing weaker opponents such as Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota away from home.Clearly, the stars align for OSU in 2010. The loss to Southern Cal might have signaled some fans to throw up the white flag on ’09. If that’s the case, at least next season is shaping up in the Bucks’ favor. But opportunities like this appear few and far between — just ask Chicagoans or Clevelanders. When a bright future arises, keep in mind: there’s not always next year.
For the third time in his four-year career, former Buckeye and NBA No. 1 overall draft pick Greg Oden has suffered a season-ending injury. Oden missed the start of the season while rehabbing a fractured patella in his left knee, an injury that ended his 2009-10 campaign after 21 games. It was the same knee that required microfracture surgery Friday. The Portland Trail Blazers officially addressed the injury in a press conference Wednesday. Team trainer Jay Jensen said that even though the injuries occurred in the same knee, they were not related. “Greg’s patella fracture and his chondral injury that he has are not related although they’re in the same knee,” Jensen said. “They are two totally separate situations.” Oden missed his entire rookie season after having microfracture surgery on his right knee. Jensen said that in both cases, doctors didn’t know how the injuries occurred. “It’s the same procedure. It’s the same part of the bone that was damaged in his right knee,” Jensen said. Rose Backs, a physician assistant and assistant clinical professor in the Department of Orthopedics at Ohio State, said microfracture surgery is a technique used when a piece of cartilage breaks off in the knee and leaves a “pothole” where the bone is exposed. “This microfracture technique involves a series of holes that are either picked or drilled into the defect, or the pothole per se,” Backs said. “There’s a little blood clot that forms in that pothole, and what happens is scar cartilage grows over that. So in essence, it patches the pothole and the cartilage.” Backs said it could develop on its own. “There’s a number of things that we see commonly, and most commonly is probably the late effects of a previous injury, or even just spontaneously,” Backs said. Blazers coach Nate McMillan said Oden was devastated by the news that he would not be able to play this season. “Being so close to getting back on the floor, just all of a sudden this situation comes up and it’s like, ‘Here we go again’ for him,” McMillan said. “As I told him, he has to stay positive, and he has to keep believing. He’ll have an opportunity to continue to work to get back on the floor.” Oden has played in 82 out of a possible 260 games and will miss the 68 games remaining on the Blazers schedule this season. Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder forward who was drafted immediately after Oden, is leading the NBA in scoring. He won the league scoring title last season. Oden will be a restricted free agent in the offseason. Team president Larry Miller said that Oden remains a part of the team’s long-term plans. The Oregonian reported that Miller foresees the team making an $8.8 million qualifying offer this summer, hoping to keep him in town for at least another season. “We will see where (rehabilitation) things are at that level … I don’t feel like I’m ready to give up on Greg Oden,” Miller said. “I don’t think anybody in our organization is ready.” The Blazers franchise shooting guard Brandon Roy is also struggling with knee injuries. Jensen said that Oden practically had his own room in the Jensen household, and the trainer was noticeably shaken by the news at the press conference. “This is a really tough day, for us to have to sit here and talk about someone like Greg who doesn’t deserve what’s going on because he’s worked his tail off to get to where he’s at to get ready to play basketball,” Jensen said. “So it’s not easy for me to sit here and talk about someone that I care deeply about.” Jensen said he felt like someone close to him had just died when he noticed the defect on an X-ray. He attempted to describe the injury in a way that everyone could understand. “For lack of a better term, it’s like hitting a nine iron and taking a divot out of the grass,” Jensen said. “It’s a hole in that part of the cartilage.” Oden declined to comment for this story.