Louisville Favored in Final Four but Wichita State Could Become Unlikeliest Champion

This year’s N.C.A.A. tournament has not featured all that many great games — with some exceptions, like Michigan’s come-from-behind win against Kansas on Friday. The flip side is that the four teams that remain have all played exceptionally well, often dominating their opponents.Louisville won its first four games by an average of 22 points — the same margin by which it beat Duke on Sunday. Syracuse has won by 20 points, on average. Michigan’s margin of victory has averaged 16 points, despite the close call against Kansas. Even Wichita State, which has a chance to become the most poorly seeded team ever to win the tournament (and probably the least likely, statistically), has won its games by an average of 11 points.What follows is an overview of the four teams that remain — how their odds have evolved through the tournament and what their chances look like now.LOUISVILLE CARDINALSProbability of reaching Final Four before tournament began: 52.9 percentChance of winning tournament before tournament began: 22.7 percentChance of winning tournament before Round of 16: 32.4 percentChance of winning tournament now: 55.0 percentLouisville began the tournament as the nominal front-runner, with a 22.7 percent chance of winning the title according to the FiveThirtyEight model. Its odds increased sharply after its first two games and have continued to rise after wins against Oregon and Duke, and now stand at 55 percent.This is despite the gruesome injury suffered by the sophomore guard Kevin Ware on Sunday, which will affect Louisville’s depth. Ware had averaged just 17 minutes per game for the Cardinals, but he was productive when he played, shooting efficiently and averaging more than one steal per game despite the limited playing time. The FiveThirtyEight formula, which adjusts for player injuries, estimates that Louisville’s chances of winning the tournament would be closer to 57 percent (rather than 55 percent) if Ware were healthy. The intangible impact of the injury is obviously harder to gauge — especially after the Cardinals’ emotional second-half surge against Duke on Sunday.But there is little reason to doubt that Louisville is the favorite. Wichita State, its opponent in the national semifinal, is dangerous enough — but a favorable opponent for the Cardinals compared with Ohio State or Gonzaga. (The FiveThirtyEight model gives Louisville an 85 percent probability of beating Wichita State, which would translate to its being a 10 1/2-point favorite in the Las Vegas point spread.) Another bonus is that Louisville is the closest of the four remaining teams to Atlanta, the site of the Final Four games, and has had little travel throughout the tournament, which should help to ensure that it is well-rested physically under emotionally trying circumstances.MICHIGAN WOLVERINESProbability of reaching Final Four before tournament began: 12.7 percentChance of winning tournament before tournament began: 2.4 percentChance of winning tournament before Round of 16: 3.8 percent.Chance of winning tournament now: 21.2 percentThe FiveThirtyEight model viewed Michigan as underrated – but it thought that was even more true of Florida, and so had the Gators favored to win the South region. Instead, Michigan blew Florida out on Sunday.Still, Michigan provides some evidence for the hypothesis that the way a team finishes its regular season is not all that important — especially when one fails to account for changes to its strength of schedule. Michigan did not play an especially tough out-of-conference schedule this season, helping it go 13-0 in nonconference play. But the Big Ten was brutally competitive, and most of Michigan’s toughest games were stacked in the second half of its schedule. It’s not clear that Michigan played any worse down the stretch as much as it faced some tougher opponents.Michigan will present a clash of styles against Syracuse, and potentially Louisville. The Wolverines rate as having the best offense in college basketball, according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, whereas the Orange and the Cardinals have dominated defensively. Michigan enters the semifinal as essentially even-money against Syracuse (the FiveThirtyEight model gives Michigan a 51.9 percent chance of winning). But the score isn’t necessarily guaranteed to be close: the Wolverines’ reliance on the 3-point shot could yield a blowout or an embarrassment depending on their accuracy from behind the arc.SYRACUSE ORANGEProbability of reaching Final Four before tournament began: 11.7 percentChance of winning tournament before tournament began: 2.0 percentChance of winning tournament before Round of 16: 4.8 percent.Chance of winning tournament now: 19.0 percentWe’ve found that in contrast to how a team plays in the late stages of the regular season, how well it adapts to tournament conditions does have some predictive power. Hence, the FiveThirtyEight model increased Syracuse’s chances considerably after its record-setting opening-round win against Montana, and after its subsequent solid play against California, Indiana and Marquette.The catch is that the other teams in the Final Four have also played so well that it isn’t clear that you would pick Syracuse even if you were determined to choose the hot hand.WICHITA STATE SHOCKERSProbability of reaching Final Four before tournament began: 1.3 percentChance of winning tournament before tournament began: 0.08 percentChance of winning tournament before Round of 16: 1.2 percentChance of winning tournament now: 4.7 percentThe FiveThirtyEight model gave Wichita State only a 1.3 percent chance of reaching the Final Four before the tournament began, or about 75-to-1 odds against. Does that imply that the Shockers’ having reached the Final Four represents a once-every-75-year event –about as rare as Halley’s comet?Actually, the math is a little bit more complicated than that. There are four regions, and in each one, there are a number of long-shot teams, so there are a lot of opportunities every year for someone to defy the odds. Instead, our pretournament model suggested that there was about a 16 percent chance (roughly 1-in-6) that Wichita State or any of the other 37 teams with under a 2 percent chance of reaching the Final Four would do so.Some of the historical cases of teams that defied even longer odds are well-known. Pennsylvania, in 1979, overcame what we estimate were 500-to-1 odds against reaching the Final Four — while Virginia Commonwealth in 2011 was about an 800-to-1 underdog.However, Wichita State’s accomplishment holds up well against some other Cinderella teams, including Louisiana State in 1986 and George Mason in 2006, both of which made the Final Four as No. 11 seeds. Wichita State was a No. 9 seed, and a reasonably good one. The problem is that being a No. 9 seed is probably more difficult than being a No. 11. A No. 9 seed will almost certainly have to defeat a No. 1 seed in its second game (as Wichita State did against Gonzaga) – eliminating the chance of getting lucky because the favorite gets knocked out early. In addition, Wichita State beat a very tough No. 8 seed, Pittsburgh, and a very tough No. 2, Ohio State — and the Shockers have made some of these wins look easy.The issue, as is the case for Syracuse, is that the accomplishments for the other three Final Four teams have been just as impressive — and they began with considerably better regular-season résumés than Wichita State. So the FiveThirtyEight model gives the Shockers only about a 5 percent chance of winning out.But what if they do it? The initial model gave Wichita State only about a 0.08 percent chance of winning the tournament, or about 1,200-to-1 odds against. If the Shockers win the tournament, they would probably qualify as the least-likely champions in history — displacing the 1985 Villanova Wildcats, who won as a No. 8 seed and faced a somewhat more favorable draw.A version of this article appears in print on 04/02/2013, on page B9 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Four Dominant Teams, With One Standout.,This year’s N.C.A.A. tournament has not featured all that many great games — with some exceptions, like Michigan’s come-from-behind win against Kansas on Friday. The flip side is that the four teams that remain have all played exceptionally well, often dominating their opponents.Louisville won its first four games by an average of 22 points — the same margin by which it beat Duke on Sunday. Syracuse has won by 20 points, on average. Michigan’s margin of victory has averaged 16 points, despite the close call against Kansas. Even Wichita State, which has a chance to become the most poorly seeded team ever to win the tournament (and probably the least likely, statistically), has won its games by an average of 11 points.What follows is an overview of the four teams that remain — how their odds have evolved through the tournament and what their chances look like now.LOUISVILLE CARDINALSProbability of reaching Final Four before tournament began: 52.9 percentChance of winning tournament before tournament began: 22.7 percentChance of winning tournament before Round of 16: 32.4 percentChance of winning tournament now: 55.0 percentLouisville began the tournament as the nominal front-runner, with a 22.7 percent chance of winning the title according to the FiveThirtyEight model. Its odds increased sharply after its first two games and have continued to rise after wins against Oregon and Duke, and now stand at 55 percent.This is despite the gruesome injury suffered by the sophomore guard Kevin Ware on Sunday, which will affect Louisville’s depth. Ware had averaged just 17 minutes per game for the Cardinals, but he was productive when he played, shooting efficiently and averaging more than one steal per game despite the limited playing time. The FiveThirtyEight formula, which adjusts for player injuries, estimates that Louisville’s chances of winning the tournament would be closer to 57 percent (rather than 55 percent) if Ware were healthy. The intangible impact of the injury is obviously harder to gauge — especially after the Cardinals’ emotional second-half surge against Duke on Sunday.But there is little reason to doubt that Louisville is the favorite. Wichita State, its opponent in the national semifinal, is dangerous enough — but a favorable opponent for the Cardinals compared with Ohio State or Gonzaga. (The FiveThirtyEight model gives Louisville an 85 percent probability of beating Wichita State, which would translate to its being a 10 1/2-point favorite in the Las Vegas point spread.) Another bonus is that Louisville is the closest of the four remaining teams to Atlanta, the site of the Final Four games, and has had little travel throughout the tournament, which should help to ensure that it is well-rested physically under emotionally trying circumstances.MICHIGAN WOLVERINESProbability of reaching Final Four before tournament began: 12.7 percentChance of winning tournament before tournament began: 2.4 percentChance of winning tournament before Round of 16: 3.8 percent.Chance of winning tournament now: 21.2 percentThe FiveThirtyEight model viewed Michigan as underrated – but it thought that was even more true of Florida, and so had the Gators favored to win the South region. Instead, Michigan blew Florida out on Sunday.Still, Michigan provides some evidence for the hypothesis that the way a team finishes its regular season is not all that important — especially when one fails to account for changes to its strength of schedule. Michigan did not play an especially tough out-of-conference schedule this season, helping it go 13-0 in nonconference play. But the Big Ten was brutally competitive, and most of Michigan’s toughest games were stacked in the second half of its schedule. It’s not clear that Michigan played any worse down the stretch as much as it faced some tougher opponents.Michigan will present a clash of styles against Syracuse, and potentially Louisville. The Wolverines rate as having the best offense in college basketball, according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, whereas the Orange and the Cardinals have dominated defensively. Michigan enters the semifinal as essentially even-money against Syracuse (the FiveThirtyEight model gives Michigan a 51.9 percent chance of winning). But the score isn’t necessarily guaranteed to be close: the Wolverines’ reliance on the 3-point shot could yield a blowout or an embarrassment depending on their accuracy from behind the arc.SYRACUSE ORANGEProbability of reaching Final Four before tournament began: 11.7 percentChance of winning tournament before tournament began: 2.0 percentChance of winning tournament before Round of 16: 4.8 percent.Chance of winning tournament now: 19.0 percentWe’ve found that in contrast to how a team plays in the late stages of the regular season, how well it adapts to tournament conditions does have some predictive power. Hence, the FiveThirtyEight model increased Syracuse’s chances considerably after its record-setting opening-round win against Montana, and after its subsequent solid play against California, Indiana and Marquette.The catch is that the other teams in the Final Four have also played so well that it isn’t clear that you would pick Syracuse even if you were determined to choose the hot hand.WICHITA STATE SHOCKERSProbability of reaching Final Four before tournament began: 1.3 percentChance of winning tournament before tournament began: 0.08 percentChance of winning tournament before Round of 16: 1.2 percentChance of winning tournament now: 4.7 percentThe FiveThirtyEight model gave Wichita State only a 1.3 percent chance of reaching the Final Four before the tournament began, or about 75-to-1 odds against. Does that imply that the Shockers’ having reached the Final Four represents a once-every-75-year event –about as rare as Halley’s comet?Actually, the math is a little bit more complicated than that. There are four regions, and in each one, there are a number of long-shot teams, so there are a lot of opportunities every year for someone to defy the odds. Instead, our pretournament model suggested that there was about a 16 percent chance (roughly 1-in-6) that Wichita State or any of the other 37 teams with under a 2 percent chance of reaching the Final Four would do so.Some of the historical cases of teams that defied even longer odds are well-known. Pennsylvania, in 1979, overcame what we estimate were 500-to-1 odds against reaching the Final Four — while Virginia Commonwealth in 2011 was about an 800-to-1 underdog.However, Wichita State’s accomplishment holds up well against some other Cinderella teams, including Louisiana State in 1986 and George Mason in 2006, both of which made the Final Four as No. 11 seeds. Wichita State was a No. 9 seed, and a reasonably good one. The problem is that being a No. 9 seed is probably more difficult than being a No. 11. A No. 9 seed will almost certainly have to defeat a No. 1 seed in its second game (as Wichita State did against Gonzaga) – eliminating the chance of getting lucky because the favorite gets knocked out early. In addition, Wichita State beat a very tough No. 8 seed, Pittsburgh, and a very tough No. 2, Ohio State — and the Shockers have made some of these wins look easy.The issue, as is the case for Syracuse, is that the accomplishments for the other three Final Four teams have been just as impressive — and they began with considerably better regular-season résumés than Wichita State. So the FiveThirtyEight model gives the Shockers only about a 5 percent chance of winning out.But what if they do it? The initial model gave Wichita State only about a 0.08 percent chance of winning the tournament, or about 1,200-to-1 odds against. If the Shockers win the tournament, they would probably qualify as the least-likely champions in history — displacing the 1985 Villanova Wildcats, who won as a No. 8 seed and faced a somewhat more favorable draw.A version of this article appears in print on 04/02/2013, on page B9 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Four Dominant Teams, With One Standout. read more

Michael Vick To Wear Special Flak Jacket To Protect

The Philadelphia Eagles have taken new measures to protect Michael Vick’s oft-injured ribs.The team’s franchise quarterback will be under center for the team’s Sept. 9 regular season opener at Cleveland, only this time sporting a unique Kevlar flak jacket/vest that will cover up more of his torso than the one he was wearing when he took a helmet to the ribs in the Eagles’ second exhibition game at New England.“I really can’t explain what goes into this type of material,” he told the Philadelphia Daily News on Tuesday. “I’m just trying something different – that’s all I can tell you.”NFL quarterbacks have been wearing flak jackets for roughly 30 years to better protect the ribs they expose while passing the football.Some in the past have proven too bulky and restrictive, while some quarterbacks have just found wearing them at all to be annoying.But Vick, who says he’s still sore from the shot he received from Patriots linebacker Jermaine Cunningham that knocked him out of his second preseason game in as many weeks, says he doesn’t foresee any problems.“It’s Kevlar,” he said, adding that his current one is a much lighter version of the one he first tried. “I’m looking forward to it … to give me protection and just to see what comes out of it. It’s going to be custom-fitted and fitted to protect all across my sternum, across my ribs. I think it’ll be a better fit.“You can barely feel them, the way we get them fitted.”X-Rays taken at Gillette Stadium last weekend showed no broken bones or fractured cartilage, as were the MRI and CT scan he underwent on Tuesday. Vick, instead, bruised his ribs and the soft tissue surrounding it. He also needed X-Rays on his thumb, which were also negative.The 32-year-old four-time Pro Bowler has completed just one full season (2006) over his 11-year NFL career, leading some to question whether he will have to alter his style of play to stay healthy. Rib injuries have sidelined him for three games in each of the past two seasons.Philadelphia, which is expected to be a strong NFC contender this year, hosts the Jets on Thursday to wrap up the preseason. read more

Didnt Lose a Step Derek Jeter Homers on First

Derek Jeter boasted that he was ready to return to the New York Yankees dugout and one pitch after he took the plate he proved it.The All-Star shortstop homered on the first pitch he saw, his first at-bat Sunday, in the Yankees’ 6-5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.The slugger finished the game 2-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI as the Yankees won on a game-clinching single in the ninth from newly acquired Alfonso Soriano.“I said, ‘Thank God,’ because I didn’t want to go out there and play in extra innings because I was tired,” said Jeter. “We need contributions from a lot of people. It is not like I’m some savior.”

Petition Calling for Kobe Bryants Oscar Nomination to be

Salute @kobebryant on that Oscar!! #WeAreMoreThanShutUpDribble #UJustContinueToSitBackAndWatch— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 5, 2018 Congrats to KOBE first Oscar that’s big bro #dearbasketball. Proud of you, Big honor for you and your family. I’m jealous lol— SHAQ (@SHAQ) March 5, 2018 Kobe Bryant, won the Best Animated Short Film Oscar for ‘Dear Basketball.” (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)Despite the suit being settled 15 years ago, Kobe Bryant is still feeling the consequences of being accused of rape. The former Los Angeles Laker secured his first Oscar on Sunday, March 4 for his documentary, “Dear Basketball” as a petition that hoped his nomination would be removed continues to collect signatures.“The Oscars almost avoided nominating sexual predators for awards. Woody Allen and James Franco didn’t get anything. But Kobe Bryant, who was charged with a horrific sexual assault, was nominated,” petition creator Kelsey Bourgeois wrote on the Care2 petition, which has nearly met its 17,000 signature goal. “An important conversation has been started about sexual assault and harassment, so why is Bryant being honored for best animated short if Time really is Up?”Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel employee in 2003. The then-24-year-old NBA star, who was married to his wife, Vanessa, maintained the encounter was a consensual one. During a 2004 hearing, the 19-year-old accuser refused to testify and the parties ultimately settled out of court.During the 90th annual Academy Awards, Bryant appeared surprised by his honor for Best Animated Short. He continuously glanced down at the statue in his hands.“I don’t know if it’s possible. I mean, as basketball players, we are really supposed to shut up and dribble,” he said, referencing viral comments a Fox News host made about LeBron James and Kevin Durant. “But I am glad we do a little bit more than that.”If it were up to Bourgeois, however, he wouldn’t have been able to snag the trophy in the first place.“He settled with his accuser,” Bourgeois, an advocacy communications coordinator for ‎Care2 and sexual assault survivor told Broadly Friday, March 2. “So in my mind, that doesn’t really make him innocent — it just makes him able to pay off someone who he wronged. I, of course, couldn’t possibly know what actually happened. But we have to believe women, especially when they accuse men who are typically ‘above the law,’ so to speak.”Regardless, Bryant, who has not spoken publicly about the petition, got lots of congratulatory messages from fellow athletes upon winning the award.Congrts @kobebryant https://t.co/q5AmPq1SKH— DWade (@DwyaneWade) March 5, 2018 read more

A Decent Second Week Saved The US From Olympic Catastrophe

Now that the 2018 Winter Olympics are officially over, it’s time for one last update from our simple model that compares each country’s medal count with what we’d expect it to earn based on its history in each sport. Here’s how it works, in a nutshell: To get a given country’s baseline, we calculated how often it won gold, silver and bronze medals (out of all medals possible) in each Olympic sport from the 1998 Games through the 2014 Games.1With the exception of the Olympic athletes from Russia, who got a discounted version of the Russian Federation’s medal rates over the 1998-2014 span. Then, as things played out in Pyeongchang, we used those historical rates to determine how far every country was above or below its usual Winter Olympic pace. Here are the final numbers from 2018: Who impressed — and disappointed — in Pyeongchang?Actual and expected medal counts by country in the 2018 Winter Olympics 8Switzerland56415+1.4– 17Great Britain1045+2.6– 2Germany1410731-3.6– 12Japan45413+6.1– 18Belarus2103-0.9– Austria53614-7.1– New Zealand0022+2.0– 16Finland1146-3.3– Slovakia1203+1.7– 15Czech Republic2237+1.3– 10Sweden76114+2.5– 4United States98623-12.9– Liechtenstein0011+1.0– Slovenia0112-1.0– Ukraine1001-0.2– Olympic athletes from Russia26917-1.0*– 13Italy32510-0.7– Over the first half of the Olympics, the U.S. produced nine fewer medals than expected. In the second half, it was “only” 3.9 below its usual pace, and that number even briefly crept into positive territory after a five-medal performance on Day 13 that included a thrilling win over Canada in women’s ice hockey. Capping things off with a shocking upset gold in men’s curling (!!!), Team USA ended its stay in South Korea in better shape than it started.And, as Olympic researcher (and friend of the site) Bill Mallon points out, perhaps it was unfair to expect quite so much out of the U.S. this year anyway. The data we used to set America’s baseline included one Olympics with a home-field advantage (2002 in Salt Lake City), as well as another pseudo-home competition in Vancouver in 2010. Certainly, the travel to South Korea was much more grueling. Mallon also points out that the U.S.’s traditional dominance in X-Games style sports (such as snowboarding) might be eroding as other countries devote more attention to them — another reason why expectations based on recent history might have been unrealistic.Either way, the U.S. will leave Pyeongchang with a handful of indelible memories, despite the relative lack of medals overall. And the Norwegians, with their staggering 39 medals, will now have to grapple with their newfound status as an Olympic juggernaut.“We always want to win,” Norwegian sports commentator Fredrik Aukland told The New York Times. “But modesty is a big part of the culture here.”After Norway destroyed the field — and our medal tracker’s expectations — maybe braggadocio is the main thing it should work on going into the 2022 Games in Beijing. France54615+0.4– 14China1629-2.5– Australia0213-0.6– *Using medal rates for the Russian Federation, but with a 25 percent reduction to reflect that fewer athletes are competing this year, compared to previous games.Sources: Sports-Reference.com, International Olympic Committee CountryGoldSilverBronzeTotalvs. Expected 21Poland1012-1.8– 1Norway14141139+11.1– Latvia0011-0.7– Spain0022+2.0– Belgium0101+0.8– Kazakhstan0011+0.0 6South Korea58417+7.6– 5Netherlands86620+5.0– 25Hungary1001+1.0– Unsurprisingly, the record-breaking Norwegians blew away their expected total, nabbing 11 pieces of hardware more than expected based on the country’s track record. Olympic home-team South Korea also cleaned up, for nearly eight more medals than expected, continuing the general trend of host nations getting a major boost in performance at their own party. Meanwhile, others near the top of the table, such as Germany and Canada, medalled at a rate basically in line with what we’d expect (despite the latter’s existential curling crisis).And then there were the Americans. During the games, I wrote about the U.S.’s struggles, and Team USA did end up being the biggest underachiever in medals versus expected, with a -12.9 mark. That sense of letdown can be seen not just via our simple tracker, but also in the U.S. Olympic Committee’s internal projections — which, according to The Associated Press, set 37 medals as the expected target. Team USA is going home with 23 instead, its fewest in a Winter Olympics since 1998. (Interestingly, it did have the same number of golds — nine — as it did in each of the past three Winter Games, but many fewer silvers and bronzes.)A series of disappointing performances by big pre-Olympic favorites contributed to the generally mediocre showing for the U.S. But if there is any consolation, it’s that most of the U.S.’s underperformance happened in its first week or so in Pyeongchang, as Team USA did its best to right the ship in week 2: 3Canada1181029+1.2– read more

The Lynx Have The Best Stathead In The WNBA

The Minnesota Lynx have dominated the WNBA this season, as they have much of the last half-decade. The team has reached the finals in five of the past six seasons, including this one. And since Cheryl Reeve was hired as head coach in 2009, the Lynx have won three WNBA titles. They entered this year’s postseason as the top seed, with a 28-6 record, quickly dismantled the Phoenix Mercury in the semifinals, and now face the Los Angeles Sparks, a team the Lynx went 2-1 against during the regular season. The two play for the title tonight in a winner-take-all Game 5.The engines of this success are obvious: Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles both ranked in the league’s top five for Player Impact Estimate,1Among players who played in at least 10 games. a statistic that measures a player’s overall importance to her team’s success when on the court, and Moore’s offensive rating (1.11 points per possession) led the league.2Again among players who played in at least 10 games. Fowles has had double-doubles in three of four games in the finals, and Moore scored 31 points on 9-17 shooting to take Game 4.But for all of Minnesota’s obvious weaponry, it has a secret one as well: Paul Swanson — the reclusive, in-house statistician for the Lynx and Timberwolves who is integrated seamlessly into the Lynx coaching staff. “Swanny has this unique ability to provide us with stats I wouldn’t think to ask for,” said Reeve, who carries around pieces of paper full of what the coaching staff calls “Swanny Stats.” “There isn’t another team in the WNBA that has the resources to employ someone like him.”Just as the Lynx aren’t any ordinary pro franchise, Swanson isn’t any ordinary stat geek. He entered analytical lore as the unofficial creator of the net plus-minus formula, which he unveiled in 2003 to demonstrate the legitimacy of Kevin Garnett’s MVP candidacy (which he lost to Tim Duncan). And since the beginnings of the WNBA, he’s been one of the few people breaking down and logging the advanced stats of an WNBA team and the league as a whole.To hear it from the coaches and others within the WNBA statistical community, Swanson’s input has helped shape coaching decisions during the team’s title runs. But his effect on the game extends even further: His meticulously curated stats site (which, though publicly accessible, is buried on Google) was a beacon for those who were disappointed by the WNBA’s output.“For a long time, Paul was virtually the only person providing these sorts of advanced stats,” said Richard Cohen of WNBAlien.com, who has corresponded with Swanson over email for years. “This season is the first time the WNBA has actually provided decent stats, but for a long time, his site was the only place you could get anything of value.”Kevin Pelton knows about the league’s statistical desert first-hand. Before joining ESPN, Pelton worked for the Seattle Storm as its advanced stats guru. “There were more independent resources in the NBA that were stepping in to fill that void whereas that never really existed in the WNBA,” Pelton said. “It’s up to Paul.”Not that you’ll hear any of this from Swanson, who wouldn’t comment for this article and has next to no web presence. Other than his frequent postings on the women’s basketball forum RebKell and a handful of mentions by longtime Lynx assistant Jim Petersen (“I try to mention his name and give him shout-outs anytime I can,” he said. “I call him the Great Paul Swanson.”), Swanson is a ghost.There are conflicting accounts of when Swanson began working for the Lynx and the Timberwolves. According to Ashley Carlson, the Lynx’s PR manager, Swanson has been employed as the statistician for both franchises since their inceptions (the Wolves began operations in 1989, the Lynx in 1999). But both Reeve and Petersen said Swanson was a freelancer until the 2000s, when his position became more solidified within the organization. “It’s evolved as a whole from being an independent contractor to now a full-time position,” Reeve said.Initially, it was Swanson’s meticulous game notes that drew attention. He would stay up all night after a game compiling and then updating not only the standard box sheet, but also the so-called “advanced” basketball stats that focused on per-possession numbers.“He was putting out the best game notes in the NBA,” said Petersen, who doubles as an announcer for Timberwolves games. He was one of Swanson’s early converts: “I just looked at it as rebounding numbers and never thought about if a team played fast or played slow and how that impacts the number of shots that go up,” Petersen told MinnPost in 2012.The analytical community didn’t take notice of Swanson until 2002 or 2003, around the time he started including net plus-minus in his game notes. “We didn’t understand how to use it because obviously there are a lot of limitations to just looking at raw plus-minus and that one player only has so much control over what happens on the court,” Pelton said.What kicked things off was when Petersen repeated a few of Swanson’s per-48-minute computations during several Timberwolves broadcasts. Those stats found their way to the Association for Professional Basketball Research message boards — an early petri dish for basketball analytics — and incited a vigorous debate. According to Pelton, there were many skeptics, but because he had access to the game notes, he knew the stats were legit. “Paul was the first I saw to present the argument, ‘Let’s physically compare how a team does with a specific player on the court versus how they do with a specific player off the court,’” Pelton said.But while Swanson’s ideas were clever and gaining steam in the mathier circles, it took longer for them to take hold in the WNBA. “A lot of coaches had learned to work without it and weren’t searching for it,” Pelton said.That meant there was opportunity for the Lynx. “No one in the WNBA was crunching the per possession numbers, and we had access to, but didn’t use, efficiency stats that were unprecedented for the league,” Petersen said. “When Cheryl came in, I told her what Swanny could do for us in terms of advanced stats.” Swanson’s role slowly began to evolve. “He would come to practice, and you don’t ever really think about him,” Reeve said. “I was told he was a fabric of the organization, so I started him off with small tasks, like charting practice.”Those charts, which Reeve refers to as “heat zones,” formed the basis of the Lynx’s defensive philosophy when the coach first arrived in Minnesota. “We were really interested in what our opponents shot at different spots on the court,” she said. Eventually, Swanson began charting the Lynx’s own shots, which Reeve said helped the coaching staff better formulate the team’s offensive execution. “If we really know something, and we want to highlight it, we’ll support it with the stats that bear it out,” Reeve said. “That resonates more with our players, rather than just saying we watched game video.”Two years ago, Reeve extended Swanson an invitation to the daily coaches meetings — an uncommon situation for a statistician. Although both Petersen and Reeve declined to go into detail about Swanson’s specific contributions — “I don’t want to give people ideas of what we do,” Reeve said — the coaches’ conversations with Swanson help shape their game prep and decision making. “We formulate scouting reports based on his information,” Reeve said. “And we’ll use his analysis to put together lineups, whether it is whole lineups or just post pairs and perimeter trios. If Swanny said it, then it is so.”If the Lynx win tonight, they’ll tie the Houston Comets’ record for WNBA titles with four. But whatever the outcome, their sustained run of excellence over the past few years is, from a certain angle, proof of the value of having information and having the good sense to put it to use in a league that’s starved for it. read more

Commentary Ohio State mens basketball facing major issues as postseason play nears

Poor practices prior to games, on-court chemistry struggles during games and a disengaged star player have started to derail what seemed to be a promising year for the Ohio State men’s basketball team. After losing three of five games and dropping from No. 3 to No. 10 in the rankings during that span, the Buckeyes are facing major issues as the regular season winds down. OSU has two regular season games remaining, but the postgame mood following Sunday’s 63-60 defeat by Wisconsin was that of a NCAA Tournament loss. “Somebody’s got to step up and just be that guy to say, ‘This is enough,’ and bring us all together,” said sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas. It’s clear that the Buckeyes are desperate for leadership as the calendar turns to March, but where will it come from? Conventional wisdom would say that guard William Buford, the team’s lone senior, who sat inches to the right of Thomas as he professed the need for a leader, would be the primary player to speak out and rally the team. But the fact of the matter is that Buford’s leadership style doesn’t fit the needs of the Buckeyes right now. The team needs a vocal presence, something Buford has shown a discomfort with during his four years at OSU. That’s not to say that Buford isn’t a terrific player or a good leader. It’s just that his lead-by-example approach doesn’t seem to mesh well with a team that, aside from Buford, relies heavily on sophomores and a couple freshmen. What about All-American sophomore forward Jared Sullinger, whose past success and national recognition should instantly qualify him as a team leader? Sullinger has been quiet of late, failing to hit double digits points while shooting 1-of-7 on free throws the past two games combined. He was not made available for comment following the loss to Wisconsin, quite possibly his final game at the Schottenstein Center. During the postgame press conference, Matta implied that Sullinger has seemed disinterested lately. “I know this, when Jared is playing his best basketball, he’s engaged and into it,” Matta said. The theme of disengagement was prevalent throughout the team Saturday, leading Matta to throw the Buckeyes out of practice the day before their final home game. That’s a very alarming occurrence this late in the season when a supposed championship-contending team should be locked in for the stretch run. Matta dismissed immaturity as being at the root of OSU’s problems. “My freshmen always come to practice,” he said. “They do a great job. Honestly, I don’t know the answer.” Unfortunately at this point in the season the lightly-played freshmen will be of little help to a team devoid of leadership. If the Buckeyes want to make a serious run in March, the answer will have to come from within the quartet of sophomore guard Aaron Craft, Sullinger, Buford and Thomas. The most likely candidate at this point is Craft, who took the lead on answering postgame questions from the media Sunday. Whether or not this means Craft will elevate his leadership role moving forward remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, if the Buckeyes can’t come together and resolve their issues in the next couple weeks, the disappointment of February will turn into greater disappointment come March. read more

Bye week an unwelcome break for Buckeyes

Sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson (2) carries the ball as senior wide receiver Devin Smith (9) and sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott (15) block during a game against Maryland on Oct. 4 at Byrd Stadium in College Park, Md. OSU won, 52-24.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorFollowing back-to-back weeks in which the Ohio State football team amassed 710 and 533 yards on offense, respectively, it might face its biggest challenge yet — another bye week.Just as it seemed the Buckeyes were starting to gain momentum both offensively and defensively, they will now face their second bye week in a month.Coach Urban Meyer said during Tuesday’s Big Ten teleconference that the bye week comes at an unfortunate time for the Buckeyes.“I wish we were still playing,” Meyer said. “This is one of those weeks that there’s some momentum, guys are feeling good, so I need to keep that momentum, keep getting better, and get out of this week healthy.”Meyer added that he is treating this bye week slightly different than he normally would, taking practice one day at a time.“I just did a very unique thing. I just did today’s practice and I am going to wait until tomorrow to do tomorrow’s,” Meyer said. “I am going to see how we go today. We do have a little more dings — not injuries but just guys are beat up a little bit.”The bye week comes after sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott posted his best two games of the season — and of his career — as he rushed for back-to-back 100-plus-yard games for the first time since he arrived at OSU.Elliott said he agreed with Meyer about the off week.“I do wish we were playing this week,” Elliott said following the 52-24 win over Maryland on Saturday. “But we will take another week to get it all together, keep it rolling and get better.”Not only was Elliott starting to hit his stride, but redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett was beginning to impress as he totaled eight touchdown passes compared to zero interceptions in his last two games against Cincinnati and Maryland.Barrett said following the win against the Terrapins that he, along with the entire offense, is gaining confidence each week.“I feel like with the things that the defense present to us, we just take advantage of that. We just try to be prepared for anything and everything and so we just have to do a good job of executing,” Barrett said. “As far as myself, I’m just trying to get better during the week and not wait until gameday to just react to everything. I learn the defense on Tuesday and Wednesday so come Saturday I can have that confidence and go out and play.”Meyer said after the win against Maryland that he has been impressed with not only Barrett, but multiple players on the offensive side of the ball.“J.T. Barrett is playing very well and the big thing is we can still get better. The guys playing around him are pretty good too,” Meyer said. “There’s a lot of confidence when you start rotating six receivers in there and they are all quality guys.Meyer added that moving forward, his Buckeyes will have to keep up their intensity, especially during the bye week.“The road is just getting tougher and tougher. We are just worried about getting better this week,” he said after defeating the Terrapins. “It’s a bye week, I wish we were playing another one next week, our whole team wishes we (were) playing. I’m going to just give them as many game reps as I can to show maturity.”Following the bye week, the Buckeyes are scheduled to take on Rutgers on Oct. 18 at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. read more

Ohio State field hockey gearing up for No 9 Northwestern

OSU field hockey players gather in a huddle during a game against Iowa on Oct. 19 at Buckeye Varsity Field. OSU lost, 4-2.Credit: Ban Jackson / For The LanternThe Ohio State field hockey team is set to play its final road game of the season against a top-10 opponent.OSU (6-9, 1-5) is scheduled to travel to Evanston, Ill., on Saturday to take on No. 9 Northwestern at 1 p.m. The Wildcats are coming off a 5-2 victory against Michigan State on Sunday, which helped them regain a share of first place in the conference.Northwestern (11-5, 5-1) used its speed and set plays to take down the Spartans, connecting on two penalty corners to help put Michigan State away.The Wildcats could pose some problems for OSU in the midfield as they boast two of the top scorers in the Big Ten at that position.Sophomore midfielder Dominique Masters scored twice against the Spartans, bringing her season total to 10 goals. That mark is good enough for ninth in the conference to go along with her 26 total points.The Canterbury, U.K., native is joined in the midfield by fellow sophomore Isabel Flens.Flens is tied for second on the team in assists with eight, and is tied for seventh in the Big Ten with 28 points on the season. She hails from Hattem, Netherlands, and is one of six players from outside the United States playing for Northwestern.Regardless of international players or high-scoring attackers, both teams have their sights set on postseason play.The Buckeyes and the Wildcats are gearing up for a run in the Big Ten Tournament where the winner will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.But before OSU can turn its attention fully to the tournaments, it’ll have one more game remaining on the regular season slate.The Buckeyes are scheduled to play Michigan on Nov. 2 at Buckeye Varsity Field. The game is set to begin at noon before the Big Ten Tournament kicks off on Nov. 6 in Ann Arbor, Mich. read more

Mens Lacrosse Ohio State selected as No 3 seed in NCAA Tournament

Ohio State senior attack Eric Fannell scored five goals in the Buckeyes dramatic comeback 11-10 overtime victory over Maryland on April 22 at Ohio Stadium. Credit: Courtesy of OSU AthleticsComing off their 10-9 loss to No. 1 Maryland in the Big Ten tournament finals, Ohio State (13-4) has been selected as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament. The Buckeyes will host Patriot League champion Loyola (Md.) (10-5) on Sunday. This is the sixth NCAA tournament appearance for OSU, third under coach Nick Myers.The Buckeyes received three goals from freshman attacker Tre Leclaire on Saturday, but the team lost to Maryland in the finals of the Big Ten tournament. Junior midfielder Connor Kelly had five goals for the Terrapins.Loyola is coming off its third Patriot League tournament title in four years, and its third regular-season title over that same time span. The Greyhounds will be making their 20th appearance into the tournament and sixth since 2010. The game will begin at 5 p.m. on Sunday in Ohio Stadium. The winner of that game will face the winner of the Johns Hopkins/Duke matchup. read more