More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Hot Takedown Embed Code Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s show (March 29, 2016), we try and understand Syracuse’s miraculous run to the Final Four in both the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments, Ben Lindbergh joins the crew as we preview the 2016 baseball season and wonder whether this just might be the Cubs’ year, and we gab about the Cricket World Cup with Cricinfo’s Andrew Miller and ask whether there is greater parity in the shorter, 20/20 form of the game than there is in test matches. Plus, we check in on our bracket competition and find out which of our hosts is in the lead going into the last weekend of games.Stream the episode by clicking the play button, or subscribe using one of the podcast clients we’ve linked to above. Links to what we discuss are here:Neil Paine explains how the hell Syracuse made it to the Final Four.Reuben Fischer-Baum and Neil Paine discuss the parity in this year’s men’s NCAA tournament.Kate Fagan’s tweets about whether UConn’s women’s team is ruining the sport.There’s an 85 percent chance the Cubs won’t win the World Series this year, says Neil Paine.Rob Arthur asks whether 2016 will herald the end of balance in basketball.The Royals will look to be projection breakers once again, writes CBS’s Matt Snyder.The Guardian’s Vic Marks says anyone can win this year’s Cricket World Cup.Sexist discrimination is happening in cricket, according to the Telegraph’s Jonathan Liew.The English cricket team is rough and aggressive but raw around the edges, says ESPN’s Andrew Miller. If you’re a fan of our podcasts, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts and leave a rating/review. That helps spread the word to other listeners. And get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments. Tell us what you think, send us hot takes to discuss and tell us why we’re wrong.
The first two days of March Madness came in like a lion and went out like a lamb. On Thursday, two of the first three games in the men’s tournament featured major upsets, with No. 14 seeds UAB and Georgia State defeating No. 3 seeds Iowa State and Baylor. Those games were enough to ruin more than 99 percent of people’s prefect brackets.Then No. 6 Southern Methodist lost to No. 11 UCLA on a terrible goaltending call. And No. 7 seed VCU lost to No. 10 Ohio State (although Ohio State had been favored according to Vegas odds and the FiveThirtyEight forecast).But that was pretty much it. In fact, the better seed won 23 consecutive games on Thursday evening and Friday until No. 11 Dayton finally beat No. 6 Providence late Friday night. (That game wasn’t much of an upset either: Dayton had a 49 percent chance per the FiveThirtyEight model.) Somehow No. 5 seeds even avoided their historic “curse,” going 4-0. Upset magic dissipated into a cloud of chalk.So where does 2015 rank historically? Is it an upset that there were so few upsets?I came up with a quick way to score upsets in the round of 64 in men’s tournaments since 1985, when the field expanded to 64 teams. Every time the inferior seed wins, it accumulates “upset points” based on the difference in seeding. (See the footnote for more detail.1More technically, upset points are based on the typical power ratings associated with each seed. On average, for instance, No. 4 seeds have a power rating 8 or 9 points better than No. 13 seeds, which means they’d be favored by 8 or 9 points on a neutral court. That translates into the No. 13 seed having a 79 percent chance of being defeated. When the inferior seed wins, its number of upset points is calculated as its probability of losing minus 50 percent. So when a No. 13 seed beats a No. 4, it gets 29 upset points (a 79 percent chance of losing minus 50 percent), for example.) The more unlikely an upset, the more upset points. When a No. 9 seed beats a No. 8, it gets just 2 upset points. But a No. 16 would score 49 upset points for beating a No. 1 (something that’s never happened in the men’s tournament.)This year, underdogs scored 105 upset points in the round of 64:No. 14 UAB got 37 upset points for beating Iowa StateNo. 14 Georgia State got 37 points for beating BaylorNo. 11 UCLA got 12 points for beating SMUNo. 11 Dayton got 12 points for beating ProvidenceNo. 10 Ohio State got 7 points for beating VCUThis total is below average, especially by the standard of recent tournaments. Last year, there were 130 upset points in the round of 64. In 2012 and 2013, there were 195 and 192, respectively, the highest totals since the tournament expanded to 64 teams. However, this year’s tournament hasn’t been an outlier, by any means. The first round of the 2000 tournament featured just 26 upset points, while 2007 had just 30.In theory, we might expect to see upsets increase as parity increases in the men’s game and the differences between the teams becomes smaller. And it might not be so surprising that there have been fewer of them in this year’s tournament, which bucked the trend toward greater parity.But the NCAA has also made one move to reduce the number of upsets: It’s gotten better about seeding the teams correctly. The FiveThirtyEight model had the inferior seed favored in only 3 of the 32 games between Thursday and Friday, as did Las Vegas odds.2In fact, the FiveThirtyEight model and Vegas had the same favorite in all 32 games. So while real upsets like UAB over Iowa State may be increasing, “fake upsets” like Ohio State over VCU are on the wane.Check out FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions.
O Kobe! My Kobe! On Sunday night, after publishing a retirement poem that no one was waiting for, Bryant went 4 for 20, including a ghastly air ball in crunch time. It was yet another ugly loss for the Los Angeles Lakers and yet another data point suggesting that Bryant is toast. Sunday’s verse fit nicely in the sad ballad of the gray mamba — a morose composition marked by terrible shot selection, poor lift on a rickety jumper and a stubborn commitment to taking too many shots. But that’s not what Kobe has always been.Bryant is a shell of his former self, and he knows it. “My body knows it’s time to say goodbye,” he wrote in the poem. His numbers suggest the same: This season, Bryant has been the worst volume shooter in the NBA. So far this year, 57 players have attempted at least 200 shots from the field; within that group, the 37-year-old Bryant ranks dead last in effective field goal percentage.If shot charts could talk, this one would apologize: That’s one of the saddest charts I’ve ever made. On the one hand, it’s unsurprising to see aging scorers start to slip; on the other, it’s always alarming to see someone as iconic as Bryant slip so far so fast.Over the next few months, recency bias may be very unkind to Bryant. But his NBA career started the same autumn that Bill Clinton was elected to his second term in office. Kristaps Porzingis was 1-year-old and Karl-Anthony Towns hadn’t even had a birthday when Kobe made his debut. If those guys play as long as Bryant, they will retire in 2035.Still, as bleak as this year has been, this is not the Kobe Bryant we will remember.During the preseason, I went to Staples Center to interview Chris Paul. We were talking about his all-world ability to knock down elbow jumpers, when he suddenly had a flashback: “Do you remember Lakers versus Phoenix, a playoff game in 2006? Kobe. There was a jump ball. I think the game was tied up. Lakers won the tip. Kobe got it. And he just sort of dribbled. Dribbled. Dribbled. And he got over to the right elbow. And he just shot it.”“Kobe never even looked at the rim,” Paul continued. “It’s like he was getting to a spot. Looking at that play, it’s like there was an ‘X’ somewhere on the court and Kobe was like, ‘Once I get to it, I’m like, boom.’ ”That shot to beat the Suns happened almost a decade ago. From a scoring standpoint, that season — 2005-06 — might be Bryant’s finest hour. He averaged 35.4 points per game. Only three scoring champs in NBA history have averaged 35 points per game: Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and Bryant. If shot charts could talk, this one would talk all kinds of smack. When he was on the floor, Bryant used a ridiculous 38.7 percent of the Lakers possessions in the 2005-06 season but still somehow managed to perform pretty efficiently. That’s the Kobe to remember, the one who created, took and sunk any shot he wanted. The one who thumbed his nose at the very idea of a usage-efficiency curve. The one who was one of the most truly versatile scoring threats the NBA had ever seen.
2015116117115109— The Seattle Seahawks came into 2015 as championship favorites, having put up one of the best two-year runs in NFL history, with a bid for back-to-back titles undone by one of the most shocking twist endings in Super Bowl history. But things went downhill in a hurry. Seattle lost four of its first six games; then won two in a row, against the foundering 49ers and Cowboys; and in Week 10 dropped a crucial home game against the Cardinals that effectively killed any chance of a third consecutive NFC West crown. It was mid-November and the Seahawks were unlikely to make the playoffs, let alone win the Super Bowl.You can’t keep a good fish-eating bird of prey down, though. After three straight wins, including an impressive 38-7 dismantling of Minnesota on the road on Sunday, the Seahawks look like they’re rounding back into form — and are nearly back in their familiar perch atop our NFL Elo ratings. Elo even gives Seattle a healthy 83 percent shot at making the playoffs now. But making the playoffs and regaining the preseason championship favorite designation are two very different things, and reasons why the latter will be much more difficult for Seattle can be found both on the field and in the NFL’s playoff format.Russell Wilson is back!First, some good news: Seattle’s offense is showing signs of life. Since Week 11, QB Russell Wilson’s aerial attack has led the NFL by a mile in passing expected points added (EPA) per dropback — the difference between the No. 1 Seahawks and No. 2 Bengals is bigger than the gap between Cincinnati and the No. 19 Titans — after ranking 21st through Week 10. It helps that the three defenses Seattle has played — the 49ers, Steelers and Vikings — have mediocre EPA ratings against the pass, but the ways in which the passing game has improved are also encouraging.One puzzling thing about Seattle’s early-season passing woes is that they came despite the addition of Jimmy Graham — a tight end so productive with New Orleans that he wanted to be called a wide receiver. Graham had led all NFL TEs in receiving yards over the preceding three seasons and was expected to add a new dimension to the Seahawks’ offense.Thing is, Graham wasn’t associated with especially efficient short passing for New Orleans, doing most of his damage on seam routes and other deeper patterns. He was 17th among the league’s 32 qualifying1Minimum 80 targets. tight ends in yards per target on passes of 10 yards or fewer from 2012 to 2014; Saints QB Drew Brees ranked only 16th in Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) when tossing short to TEs.2Compared to his third-place ranking in passes of all yards, to all positions, over the same span. In Seattle this season, the same trends have manifested. The Seahawks have been great when Wilson throws the ball more than 10 yards downfield, but they ranked only 15th in per-dropback EPA on shorter routes during the season’s first 10 weeks, with Wilson also suffering the league’s worst sack rate.3Hence, their 21st overall ranking — they were good at deep passing but mediocre on short targets and allowed sacks at a frequency that would impress even David Carr. Graham ranks 17th once again in yards per target on short passes, and Wilson ranks 23rd in QBR on short passes to TEs.So perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the Seahawks’ short passing attack saw the opposite of adverse effects when Graham was injured for the season against the Steelers in Week 12. Or perhaps football is an incredibly complicated sport with a small sample of games each season, and it’s difficult to filter signal from noise in any individual player’s statistical footprint. Either way, Wilson and the Seahawks have finally found their passing rhythm of late and since Week 11 have had the league’s most efficient passing offense on both short and long routes, with Wilson being sacked 40 percent less often.It’s a good thing that the passing game is picking up. Seattle’s rushing EPA per play is down quite a bit from last year’s ridiculously efficient output, and the team’s defense has been on the downturn from its typical dominant form.Not the same SeahawksWe can trace Seattle’s evolution over the course of the Russell Wilson Era using the team grades I developed here, which place per-play EPA in a given category on a scale where the league average is 100 and one standard deviation in performance is +/- 15 points: OFFENSE RATINGDEFENSE RATING 2013116101139108Won Super Bowl YEARPASSINGRUSHINGPASSINGRUSHINGPLAYOFFS 2014104138122128Lost Super Bowl 201211811411993Lost divisional round Because passing is more important than rushing in today’s NFL, it won’t take much of an aerial improvement for the Seahawks to compensate for their decline in the ground game this season. However, the team’s defensive drop-off is more concerning. In 2013, Seattle defended the pass about as well as any team ever has, but it’s steadily become more mortal over time. The Seahawks now rank 14th — decent but not great — at defending short4Again, defined as pass attempts of 10 or fewer air yards. passes (they ranked second in 2013 and 2014) and a below-average 18th against deep ones (first in 2013 and 2014). Add in a commensurate drop in rush defense (to 10th this year) and the Seahawks — while still better than average on D — are no longer the fearsome defensive leviathan they built a reputation as over the past few seasons.As I mentioned earlier, even given all that, the Seahawks have still mustered nearly the best Elo rating in the league. But Elo also pegs Seattle’s chance of winning the Super Bowl at a mere 6 percent, far below the chances of their peers atop the Elo food chain. Even Denver and Cincinnati, inferior clubs according to Elo, have double-digit Super Bowl probabilities. The reason is simple: The teams ahead of Seattle have either already clinched their division (Carolina) or are overwhelmingly likely to do so.Seattle, meanwhile, almost certainly has a wild card date in its future. That means the Seahawks will need to win one more playoff game than most of their fellow title contenders. (Carolina and New England are practically guaranteed first-round byes; Arizona is highly likely to earn the same; and Denver and Cincinnati are nearly a toss-up to grab the remaining slot.) And as a likely No. 5 or 6 seed, Seattle will have to do it on the road. The reality of an extra single-elimination test slices into Seattle’s Super Bowl probability considerably.Assuming that the Seahawks do make the playoffs, though, they’ll be on everyone’s list of dark-horse Super Bowl candidates — and nobody’s list of preferred postseason opponents. They may not be in their typical role as title favorites, but all it might take to change that are sustained improvements in the passing game and a first-round playoff victory.
The Boston Celtics, after whiffing on trades for Jimmy Butler and Paul George, finally got some good news this week when Gordon Hayward announced that he was leaving the Utah Jazz to play for the Celtics. Although Isaiah Thomas would have some beef with this assessment, Hayward’s well-rounded combination of skills will probably make him the best player on the Celtics next year. He’s a good fit with the team’s approach.And yet, projection systems (including our own CARMELO) are somewhat skeptical of the Celtics, not expecting them to improve on last year’s 53-29 performance or to seriously challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers for Eastern Conference supremacy. Hayward is also fairly expensive; he’ll cost the Celtics $128 million over four years (the fourth season, 2020-21, is a player option). So let’s ask a tough question of Boston and general manager Danny Ainge: If Hayward is the best player on your team, could that team plausibly be good enough to win a championship?The answer is probably not. Hayward made the All-Star team last season, but he’s a long way from being a superstar. A handful of modern NBA teams — the 1988-89 and 1989-90 Detroit Pistons, the 2003-04 Pistons, and the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs — won a title with someone about as good as Hayward as their best player. But this is unusual: It requires a team to be constructed almost perfectly, with above-average players at nearly every position, a deep bench, and a cohesive rotation. It sometimes also requires a fair amount of luck.1The “Bad Boys” Pistons peaked just as the 1980s Celtics and Lakers were declining, but before Michael Jordan’s Bulls really took off, for example.But Hayward can be a building block toward a championship. He’s roughly as good as the second-best player on a typical championship team. That might sound like faint praise, but it’s no small achievement.Let’s develop some terminology to describe degrees of the stardom in the NBA. I’ll introduce three types of players: Alphas, Betas and Gammas.An Alpha is a player who’s as good as the best player on a typical championship-winning team. This is an MVP contender — one of the half-dozen best players in the league.A Beta is as good as the second-best player on a typical NBA champion. As I mentioned, Hayward is a good example of a Beta. Betas are usually All-Stars, perhaps even All-Star starters, and they’re among the best players at their position. But they’re not among the very best players in the league.And a Gamma is good as third-best player on a typical championship team. A Gamma might be an All-Star, but he usually won’t make one of the three All-NBA teams. He probably has one or two weaknesses (defense, shooting, etc.) along with his obvious strengths. But he’s still a very good player and might be the best player on a non-contending team. Thomas, although he’s somewhat difficult to evaluate because of his defense — various statistical systems rate it anywhere from mediocre to execrable2There’s a big difference between mediocre and execrable. If Thomas’s defense is merely somewhat below average, as the NBA’s opponents’ shooting data suggests, then his offense more than makes up for it and he’d probably qualify as a Beta. If it’s terrible, as RPM suggests, then Thomas is barely even an above-average player overall. Classifying Thomas as a Gamma, as CPM does, is something of a compromise between these assessments. — is a reasonably good example of a Gamma.At any given time, only a few dozen players in the league will rated as Alphas, Betas or Gammas. (CARMELO projects that there will be 35 of them in 2017-18, for example.) It’s these players who determine who competes for NBA championships. Doesn’t depth matter also? Well, sure. A well-rounded roster is often the difference between winning a title and losing one. But a team needs its share of star-level talent to compete for a championship in the first place. Otherwise, it’ll usually wind up like last year’s Celtics, a well-constructed team that was overmatched in the playoffs.Below, you’ll find a table listing the top three players on NBA championship teams since 1984-85 — the first year the league used a salary cap — as rated by a statistic called Consensus Plus-Minus. Consensus Plus-Minus, or CPM, is a statistic I use when I don’t want to get into arguments about the value of individual players. It reflects a combination of four popular statistics — Real Plus-Minus,3RPM is available from the 2000-01 season onward. For seasons prior to 2000-01, I use BPM twice in the average. Box Plus/Minus, Win Shares and player efficiency rating — equally weighted and translated to the same scale. It also adjusts for the player’s position, which the other metrics do not,4CPM measures a player’s value relative to the positional average, rather than relative to the league average. Right now, there’s an excess of good centers and point guards but less depth among small forwards and shooting guards. This adjustment helps Hayward, who plays both those positions. and it regresses players’ ratings to replacement level if they fall below a certain threshold of playing time.5If the player plays less than 20 minutes per team game — or 1640 minutes over an 82-game season — his actual CPM is blended with a replacement-level CPM of -2 points per 100 possessions. For predictive purposes, we think CPM is liable to be slightly less accurate than the blend of statistics CARMELO uses (a combination of RPM and BPM), but CPM is still a perfectly reasonable stat and much more in line with the consensus view of NBA players. Like BPM and RPM, CPM is expressed in net points added or subtracted per 100 possessions. So a player with a CPM of +2.5, teamed with four average players, would help his team to outscore his opponents by 2.5 points per 100 possessions, for example. 2000LakersO’Neal10.0Bryant5.0Horry2.5 1999SpursRobinson6.9Duncan5.2Elie2.8 Kyle Lowry3.7Paul Millsap2.6 2002LakersO’Neal8.4Bryant4.7Horry1.9 2006HeatWade8.0O’Neal5.2Mourning2.4 2011MavericksNowitzki4.9Chandler2.8Kidd1.9 216721.2– Rudy Gobert3.6Kevin Love2.4 2016CavaliersJames8.9Love3.2Irving2.1 PLAYER+/-PLAYER+/-PLAYER+/- 1993BullsJordan9.4Pippen3.6Grant2.7 DeMarcus Cousins4.1Isaiah Thomas2.8 STAR POINTSTEAMSCHAMPIONSCHAMPIONSHIP PROBABILITY How much star power does an NBA team need?Probability of team winning a championship based on star points 2004PistonsB. Wallace4.3Billups3.8R. Wallace*1.7 This makes for a fairly intuitive list. LeBron, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard are the league’s six Alphas. Chris Paul falls just short of the Alpha category; instead, he joins players such as Hayward, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis on the Beta list. Gammas include players like Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, John Wall, DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap.So then all you need is an Alpha, a Beta and a Gamma and — presto! — you win an NBA championship? Actually, your options are more flexible than that. A team with an Alpha and a Beta — say, this year’s Houston Rockets — could probably skip the Gamma if they had a deep rotation. A team with no Alphas but three Betas — say, Jimmy Butler, Antetokounmpo and Kyle Lowry — would more than likely be good enough to contend for a title. A team with a very strong Alpha could go without a Beta and make up for it with two or more Gammas instead — that’s sort of how the current Cavaliers are constructed.To help teams think through these decisions, let’s invent one more statistic, which I’ll call star points. The formula is simple: A team gets three star points for each Alpha on its roster, two for each Beta, and one for each Gamma. Next year’s Warriors project to have 9 star points, for example: three each for Curry and Durant, two for Draymond Green and one for Klay Thompson.Even having that much talent on your roster doesn’t necessarily guarantee a title. But historically, a team’s chances of winning a title are remote if it has four or fewer star points. It has a fighting chance with five or six star points, depending on how the rest of the roster is constructed. And its probability increases rapidly once it acquires seven or more star points. CPM reflects a combination of Real Plus-Minus, Box Plus/Minus, Win Shares and player efficiency rating 1987LakersJohnson8.2Abdul-Jabbar2.2Worthy2.0 1991BullsJordan10.9Pippen4.9Grant3.6 2001LakersO’Neal8.9Bryant4.8Fox0.6 57479.5– 2015WarriorsCurry9.9Green4.4Thompson4.3 114700.0 Hassan Whiteside2.0 2010LakersBryant4.5Gasol3.7Odom2.2 YEARTEAMNO. 1 PLAYER+/-NO. 2 PLAYER+/-NO. 3 PLAYER+/- ALPHASBETASGAMMAS How good were the best players on recent NBA champions?Player ratings based on Consensus Plus-Minus (CPM) 1992BullsJordan8.7Grant5.7Pippen5.6 2007SpursGinobili7.2Duncan6.6Parker3.4 1997BullsJordan7.7Pippen5.5Kukoc4.1 Kevin Durant6.7Karl-Anthony Towns4.1Mike Conley2.9 1989PistonsLaimbeer3.8Rodman3.1Johnson1.3 Kemba Walker2.2 1995RocketsDrexler*6.1Olajuwon5.7Smith1.0 1985LakersJohnson5.6Abdul-Jabbar5.3Worthy1.6 2012HeatJames10.8Wade7.5Bosh1.7 This system isn’t perfect, but it lines up intuitively with how we evaluate teams. After the Warriors and their nine projected star points next season, the Cavaliers and Rockets are the closest thing the league has to ready-made title contenders, as they’re tied for second at five star points each. They’re followed by the Thunder, Timberwolves and Pelicans at four each; these four-point teams probably need at least one more thing to click (say, George taking the next step in Oklahoma City) to be title-worthy. The Celtics are one of several teams with three star points.This measure can underrate the importance of team depth; the Spurs, who have only three star points, are rated too low, for instance. The Celtics — although they’re losing a few players to make room for Hayward — are also a deep team, with lots of average or slightly-above-average players and lots of draft picks to keep priming the pump. They could probably compete for a title with five star points, therefore, instead of needing six or seven. Adding another Beta-level player might be enough to do the trick.It’s hard to see where that player comes from, however. The Celtics lost some of their financial flexibility in signing Hayward. And while they could develop a star player rather than acquiring one, giving more playing time to young players such as Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum could make them less competitive in the short run.If there’s one Celtics move that looks bad in retrospect, it isn’t necessarily trying and failing to acquire Butler or George, it’s trading the No. 1 draft pick for Philadelphia’s No. 3 pick, with which they chose Tatum. While Tatum has a fairly promising projection, he doesn’t have the upside of No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz, whose comparables include players such as Harden, Westbrook and Wall. The trade might have made sense for a team that already had its stars in place and wanted to develop complementary players around them, but the Celtics have plenty of complementary players and are short on stars.At the same time, it would be easy to underestimate the challenge Ainge faced. The Celtics’ 53-29 record last year was deceptive, in that it came against a weak conference and relied on what were arguably career years from several players, including Thomas.7The Celtics also outperformed their 48-34 Pythagorean record by several games. In many respects, they were a rebuilding team dressed up as a competing team. And precisely because the Celtics weren’t just one player away from contending for a title, Ainge needed to acquire a player like Hayward or Butler without compromising the Celtics’ ability to acquire or develop another such player down the road. Even if the Celtics are still a star away from seriously contending for a title — maybe even a superstar away — that’s closer than they were last week. Average188.8.131.52 To no one’s surprise, the best players on title-winning teams are usually extraordinary talents. Among the 33 NBA champions since 1985, the top-rated player on the team, according to CPM, was one of the three best players in the league that season on 23 occasions. And the team’s best player was among the top 10 in the league on all but three occasions. The exceptions were Bill Laimbeer of the 1988-89 and 1989-90 Pistons (CPM, perhaps dubiously, rates Laimbeer ahead of his teammate, the other Isiah Thomas) and Ben Wallace of the 2003-04 Pistons. Pretty much all the other No. 1 players are current or future Hall of Famers, however, with the possible exception of Manu Ginobili, who may be a borderline case.No matter how brightly he shines, however, a superstar usually can’t deliver a title without a good sidekick or two.6Take LeBron James’s 2012-13 season, for example, when he had a CPM of +10.6 and played almost 38 minutes per game — about as good as an NBA player can be under modern conditions. A team with that version of LeBron, plus a roster full of replacement-level players, would still project to go only 41-41, according to our forecasting method. A team with that version of LeBron plus a roster full of league-average players (as opposed to replacement-level players) would project to go 59-23, which is closer to being a title contender. League-average players don’t just grow on trees, however. On average, the second-best player on these championship teams was the 14th-best player in the league, according to CPM. And although not every champ had a classic “Big Three” like LeBron James’s Miami Heat, the third-best player on the championship team rated as the 37th-best player in the league, on average — still very solid.So let’s get back to the idea of Alpha, Beta and Gamma players, which were meant to correspond to a typical championship team’s best, second-best and third-best players. By looking at the historical data, we can define these classifications as follows:An Alpha has a CPM of +6.0 or higher.A Beta has a CPM of between +3.5 and +6.0.And a Gamma has a CPM of between +2.0 and +3.5.I re-ran CARMELO using CPM instead of its usual blend of statistics, and it projected the following players to be Alphas, Betas and Gammas for the upcoming NBA season: 1990PistonsLaimbeer3.8Rodman2.6Thomas1.7 2014SpursGinobili4.8Leonard4.8Mills3.2 Klay Thompson2.1 2009LakersBryant6.0Gasol3.6Odom3.0 2017WarriorsDurant8.3Curry6.7Green3.7 Stephen Curry7.0Nikola Jokic4.8DeMar DeRozan3.0 Who are the NBA’s championship-caliber players?Projections based on Consensus Plus-Minus for 2017-18 2003SpursDuncan7.5Robinson3.8Ginobili1.1 314342.8– CONSENSUS PLUS-MINUS Gordon Hayward3.8DeAndre Jordan2.7 1994RocketsOlajuwon5.8Horry1.9Thorpe1.6 Blake Griffin3.7Otto Porter Jr.2.5 2008CelticsGarnett7.8Pierce4.5Allen2.8 Victor Oladipo2.1 Kawhi Leonard6.8Anthony Davis4.3Paul George2.9 410321.9– CJ McCollum2.1 021600.0% James Harden7.4Jimmy Butler5.5Bradley Beal3.2 2005SpursDuncan7.5Ginobili7.1Barry1.9 1998BullsJordan6.0Pippen5.0Kukoc2.5 LeBron James7.0G. Antetokounmpo5.2John Wall3.0 Russell Westbrook8.2Chris Paul5.9Damian Lillard3.3 Draymond Green3.8Kyrie Irving2.8 1996BullsJordan9.4Pippen5.6Kukoc4.6 Star points: 3 points per Alpha player, 2 points per Beta player, and 1 point per Gamma player. Table includes all teams since the 1984-85 season. 1986CelticsBird7.7McHale5.4Parish2.5 CPM reflects a combination of Real Plus-Minus, Box Plus/Minus, Win Shares and player efficiency rating.* Player was acquired midseason. His +/- total reflects performance for entire season, and not just for the acquiring club. 642614.3– 725832.0– 8 or more13430.8– 1988LakersJohnson5.2Scott3.1Worthy1.9 2013HeatJames10.6Wade5.8Bosh1.2
Then freshman Kyle Snyder during a match against Minnesota on Feb. 6 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 22-13. Credit: Lantern File PhotoThe No. 4 Ohio State wrestling team used bonus points from three pins to defeat the No. 12 Illinois Fighting Illini 29-18 on Sunday.The Buckeyes got off to a slow start, as Illinois’ Travis Piotrowski cruised to a 10-0 upset over twelfth ranked Jose Rodriguez in the 125-pound weight class. The team followed the loss in the first matchup with a 12-4 major decision victory by redshirt junior and No. 2 nationally ranked Nathan Tomasello over No. 4 Zane Richards.OSU true freshman Luke Pletcher continued his impressive first year, picking up a 10-4 decision over Mousa Jodehat at 141 pounds.In the 149-pound matchup, fifth-ranked Micah Jordan and Eric Barone got off to a slow 0-0 start after one period, but Jordan eventually defeated Barone with an emphatic pin in the third period, putting the Buckeyes up 13-4 for the day.Ohio State then dropped three matchups in a row, starting with an 18-4 technical fall loss by 157-pounder Anthony DeCarlo to Kyle Langenferder, which allowed Illinois to make up some ground. The teams went into halftime with an overall score of 13-9.Redshirt sophomore Cody Burcher was defeated by top-ranked Isaiah Martinez 22-7. Martinez, a two-time national champion, easily handled Burcher at 165 pounds before redshirt senior Justin Kresevic dropped a 18-9 major decision to No. 12 Zac Brunson at 174 pounds.However, the Buckeyes dominated the higher weight classes, starting with an 18-7 major decision by No. 10 Myles Martin over No. 13 Emery Parker. No. 5 Redshirt freshman Kollin Moore followed that performance up with a pin victory over Illinois’ Andre Lee.“When you get a guy taken down, you just gotta smell the blood,” Moore said about his victory over Lee. “You want the pin.”World champion and heavyweight Kyle Snyder returned for the Buckeyes after not competing in their Jan. 6 tilt against Wisconsin in dominant fashion, finishing with nine takedowns in less than two rounds en route to pinning Deuce Rachal of Illinois to put an exclamation point on the Buckeyes’ performance.“It’s huge (winning a match with a pin), you want to finish the match with a pin,” Tomasello said after the dual. “That’s six points for the team, and looking at the Big Ten and Nationals (championships) it’s going to come down to some big wins and to get bonus points, that’s huge.”The fourth-ranked Buckeyes are not lacking confidence, as shown by their head coach, Tom Ryan.“We know that we’re in the hunt for a championship this year. We also know that these bonus points are critical, not in a dual, but in the national tournament,” Ryan said. “We have got to be a team that scores bonus points come March.”Ohio State will travel to Olney, Maryland to take on the University of Maryland on Jan. 22 at Good Counsel High School. Good Counsel is the high school of Snyder, who amassed a 179-0 record while wrestling there.
As Ohio State honored its 1960 national champion men’s basketball team on Sunday, the day seemed destined to be more about the past than the present. The 2010 Buckeyes didn’t appear to get the memo.Against a Minnesota team that had beaten them just three weeks ago, the Buckeyes shot 63 percent from the field and routed the Gophers 85-63 in one of their best performances of the season.Sophomore guard William Buford, who has been dealing with the effects of a root canal he underwent last week, scored a career-high 26 points. Buford made four-of-five from beyond the 3-point arc and added five rebounds and five assists.“Will’s a very tough kid,” coach Thad Matta said. “I thought he played extremely well today.”Juniors Evan Turner and Jon Diebler each scored 19 points of their own, and Turner handed out a game-high eight assists.The 19 points were the most Diebler has scored since the first week of January. He connected on five of his nine 3-point attempts, and it was one of the few times since the Big Ten season started that Diebler was able to get into a rhythm offensively.“I thought we played well all day,” Diebler said. “When Evan [Turner] and Will are playing like they are, they draw so much attention. It just got me some good looks today.”As for the Gophers, they have dropped four of their last five games and, in the process, have shown their “worst defensive effort in a long time,” coach Tubby Smith said.“It was a game that we really didn’t give ourselves a chance to win today,” Smith said. “Ohio State is a very talented team and they are playing well right now, but we’re not.”The win was OSU’s 13th win in as many tries at Value City Arena this season. The undefeated home record is something that Diebler said his team prides itself on.“Just having the fans that we have makes it a tough place to play,” Diebler said. “It’s tough to play on the road in the Big Ten, and you have to protect your home court. I think we’ve done a good job of that this year.”But for Turner, it was more than just a normal home game. The Buckeye point guard said that with the 1960 team looking on, he and his teammates knew they couldn’t disappoint. Fortunately for Turner, they didn’t.“I’m sure everybody could feel the presence of them,” Turner said. “It was just a big day; it was huge.”After the game, Turner was asked if perhaps this performance was a sign of things to come. Is it possible that, 50 years from now, his team will be celebrating the anniversary of its own championship?“That would be pretty cool,” Turner said. “You never know.”
After shooting just 8-for-24 from the field over his last four games, fifth-year senior forward David Lighty started Tuesday’s game against Illinois 2-for-9 and it looked as though his offensive woes were destined to continue. Despite his struggles, Lighty kept shooting. As he kept shooting, he eventually started scoring, and it didn’t seem as though he would ever stop. Lighty led a 13-2 second-half run in which he scored all of Ohio State’s points, leading the Buckeyes (26-2, 13-2 Big Ten) to an 89-70 win against Illinois (17-11, 7-8 Big Ten) Tuesday night at the Schottenstein Center. Lighty finished with 21 points, 17 of which came in the second half, along with four rebounds and six steals. “It started opening up and they started laying off of me,” Lighty said of his second-half outburst. “I was just trying to find lanes, trying to make plays and be aggressive. Luckily shots started falling.” The Illini hung with the Buckeyes early on and cut the OSU lead to 33-30 after a 3-pointer from senior point guard Demetri McCamey with six minutes to go in the first half. But the Illini scored just two points in the final six minutes as the Buckeyes closed the first 20 minutes on a 14-2 run. Senior guard Jon Diebler capped the run with a 3-pointer as the half expired and, despite Illinois shooting a blistering 8-for-9 from beyond the 3-point line in the first half, the Buckeyes went to the break with a 47-32 lead. But Illinois, in desperate need of a rÃ©sumÃ©-building win, wasn’t going to go away easy. The Illini started the second half on an 11-2 run and quickly cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 49-43. Then Lighty took over. His 13 points and three steals during the next three minutes put the Buckeyes up, 62-45, with less than 12 minutes remaining. “Every time I looked out there he was like everywhere,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “His performance there in the second half was high-level and I think that David Lighty, he’s been here for five years, and I don’t think he’s ever gotten the credit he deserves for the player that he is and just the kid he is.” Illinois wouldn’t get any closer than nine the rest of the way, as OSU pulled away for a 19-point win. Junior guard William Buford scored 17 points, all of which came in the first half. Freshman forward Jared Sullinger scored 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for his 13th double-double of the season. After turning the ball over 18 times in Sunday’s loss at Purdue, the Buckeye had just three turnovers Tuesday, zero in the first half. Senior forward Mike Davis led Illinois with 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting. Tuesday’s loss was the Illini’s eighth loss in its last 12 games, and with only three games remaining, they need a serious push if they hope to make the NCAA Tournament. Illini coach Bruce Weber said that, despite all that was riding on this game for his team, Lighty was too much to overcome. “I’ve said since the beginning, I love him and I think he’s the (Big Ten) MVP,” Weber said. “He probably won’t get it because people aren’t smart enough, but he’s their heart and soul. “In the second half we made the run, but he just took over the game. Lighty, to me, is their heart and soul, and he’s the reason they win.”
Ohio State redhshirt junior goalie Sean Romeo during the game against Ryerson on Sep. 30. Ohio State lost 7-4. Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State AthleticsAfter the Ohio State men’s hockey team surprised the nation last year, the Buckeyes are coming out this season to prove their success was no fluke.Ohio State will get a chance to prove that early, with a season-opening series at No. 12 Wisconsin this weekend. The No. 19 Buckeyes are coming into this year after a season in which they finished 21-12-6, which was enough to earn the team’s seventh all-time NCAA tournament appearance and the first in eight years.In the tournament, the Buckeyes lost to eventual NCAA-runner-up Minnesota Duluth 3-2 in overtime in the first round. “We watched [the film] a couple of weeks ago in the locker room, and all those chances we had in overtime, I thought we were right there and hopefully we can get back to that point and make it further,” junior forward Mason Jobst said.Jobst is the most pivotal player returning to the Buckeyes this season, as he led the Big Ten in points last year with 55, and was named team captain.The Buckeyes lost their only exhibition game 7-4 to Ryerson. Ohio State roared out to a 4-1 lead midway through the second period, then proceeded to give up six unanswered goals, leading to the defeat.“[Ryerson] came in here and they were the better team no question,” head coach Steve Rohlik said. “It’s going to take hard work, and how we prepare Monday through Thursday is when you win the game, not showing up on Friday.”Ohio State had less than a week to get back on track after the defeat as it opens its season with a pair of road games at Wisconsin, the team that eliminated the Buckeyes from the 2017 Big Ten tournament. Ohio State opens the season against the Badgers Friday at 8 p.m. and the two teams return to action the next day at 7 p.m.“It’s going to be exciting,” junior defenseman Sasha Larocque said. “Obviously they’re a great team and it’s going to be a great test for us to see where we’re at at the start of the year.”The Buckeyes lost several All-Big Ten players from the previous season, including top goal-scorer Nick Schilkey, forward David Gust, defenseman Josh Healey and starting goalie Christian Frey.Now, the team will rely on their remaining talent, starting with two NHL draft picks — junior forward Dakota Joshua and sophomore forward Tanner Laczynski — who were fourth and fifth on the team in scoring, respectively. “I think I need to be more consistent,” Laczynski said. “Night in, night out not taking any games off, really just work hard and try to be a leader out there.”The Buckeyes managed to remain consistent on the road all last year, with an impressive 13-2-3 record away from home, the best in the NCAA. The problem was their record at the Schottenstein Center, which was a much less glamorous 7-7-2.When asked about improving the home record, Rohlik said, “Well if you know that answer let me know. I just think it’s a mindset of coming out here and just, in that locker room knowing that we have to step on the ice and win games here at home, and I think that’s something our guys want to do.”Season PredictionThis Ohio State team is going to need players to step up in big ways for them to have the same level of success they achieved last year, especially considering the Big Ten got even stronger with the addition of No. 8 Notre Dame to the conference. The good news is that this leaves Ohio State with numerous chances scattered throughout the schedule to prove themselves as a legitimate contender to make the NCAA tournament.Jobst will be a major factor if this team will want to succeed, as his incredible playmaking abilities allow for other players on his line to really strive. Ohio State will also need help from its newcomers, as transfers redshirt sophomore defenseman Wyatt Ege and redshirt junior goalie Sean Romeo could help the team massively on the defensive end, where it struggled mightily against Ryerson.The power-play success will be essential, as the Buckeyes were by far the best team in college last year with a man up, boasting a 31.4 percent success rate. That success had a lot to do with both Schilkey and Gust, who scored 26 of the team’s 49 goals with a man advantage. Still, Jobst had nine of the goals, and set up plenty of others, leaving open the possibility the power play will again be among the NCAA’s best.The road to the NCAA tournament will be tough, but it’s not completely out of the question. The opening series against Wisconsin will answer more questions as to where exactly this team sits, and just how much of a threat they will be in the Big Ten, but if the team gets stronger defensively, keeps its impressive power play, and gets Jobst some added help from some new faces, the Buckeyes could match last season’s success.
Ohio State freshman guard Duane Washington Jr. (4) runs the ball down the court during the second half of the game against UNC Pembroke on Nov. 1. Ohio State won 81-63. Credit: Amal Saeed | Assistant Photo EditorNo. 16 Ohio State suffered another loss in its 72-62 loss to Syracuse on Wednesday night. Late in the second half, freshman guard Luther Muhammad took a hard fall and was escorted off the court with the help of the training staff. Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said after the game that Muhammad had suffered a shoulder dislocation. The head coach said Tuesday that he is out indefinitely and there is no timetable for his return, saying he is doubtful for the Big Ten opener against Minnesota on Sunday. “It is a significant impact, but we’ve got confidence in the next guys in the rotation being able to step up in his absence,” Holtmann said. The head coach was not sure who would take Muhammad’s place in the starting lineup, saying he is thinking about how different lineups gel together, how specific players compliment each other when on the floor together. Sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson said the loss of Muhammad is big because of his defensive ability, but the different guards on the roster are ready. “Everybody is going to be ready like I always talk about. Everybody’s been ready since June,” Wesson said. “Losing him is huge because he is one of our better defenders … so he’s a loss, but we are going to have experience coming off the bench.” But Holtmann’s first thought was not who would replace Muhammad in the starting lineup. It was on senior guard C.J. Jackson, a player who the head coach expects to step up in a major way defensively. “C.J. Jackson has to defend better than what he has through this part of the season,” Holtmann said. “He’s more capable of that than what he has shown and I think having Luther alongside him has allowed him to maybe be a little bit looser in that area. So we are going to need more because he is capable of it.” Holtmann said he did have two guards in mind when it comes to taking more of a major role in the absence of Muhammad: redshirt senior Keyshawn Woods and freshman Duane Washington Jr. Through the first seven games of the season, both Woods and Washington have contributed consistent minutes off the bench, with the redshirt senior averaging eight points per game, shooting 45.7 percent from the floor with a team-leading 22 assists. Washington, in his first season on the team, is leading the team in 3-point shooting, connecting on 13 of 29 attempts from deep. The 13 made 3s is also tied for the team lead.Washington said he was prepared for an increased role, earning “starter’s minutes” as Holtmann said in the near future. “I’ll be ready for whatever coach needs me to do,” Washington said. “That’s what we practice every day for, that’s what workouts are for. Whatever he needs me to do, I’ll be there for it.” But Muhammad’s absence is not only about his defensive ability. Washington said Muhammad brings an emotion and a passion to the game, an energy that is not seen in every program around the country. The freshman guard said he saw it in Muhammad’s defense, clapping on defense, finding his way to the team’s best offensive player. Holtmann did not know how Muhammad’s injury would affect the spirit of the team moving forward. At this point, that was not his main focus. “Our first concern in all this is Luther’s health. It’s not by any stretch career damaging or anything along those lines,” Holtmann said. “It’s a significant injury that will need time to heal. How it affects the life of our team, I’m interested to see.” But in his absence, Washington sees himself becoming that emotional leader for Ohio State. “I definitely feel like I can help with that missing piece for however long he will be gone,” Washington said. “Hopefully he will be back soon, but most definitely.” Wesson said this was something he saw in Washington from the first time he visited Ohio State. The sophomore forward said the team was “dog tired” when Washington came, having an open gym for him and another recruit after already having a team workout and a lift. But Washington was different than other recruits, according to Wesson. “He was just like ‘pick it up.’ He was telling us ‘pick it up. Let’s play for real. I’m not trying to play if you are not playing for real.’ And we were just sitting there looking at him like, ‘This young guy don’t know what it is to play ours yet. What?’” Wesson said. “Ever since then, I just knew he’s intense, he wants to do this, he wants to be better, he wants to be great.” Washington said he used that open gym to test himself, to see of he is build to play at the college level, to play at Ohio State. With the loss of Muhammad, Washington and the rest of the roster will have to bring that energy, to “pick it up” in his absence.