Mario Ancic never won a Grand Slam tournament; he never even reached a final. He peaked at No. 7 in the world, with a Davis Cup win and an Olympic bronze medal, before illness and injury cut his tennis career short. This week, the 30-year-old Croatian started his final year at Columbia Law School, where he’s preparing for his next career — even as his old friends and rivals gather elsewhere in New York City to compete for the U.S. Open title.But Ancic earned one distinction that ranks him among only a few boldface names in tennis history: On the sport’s biggest stages, he almost always lost to the very best.In his seven years of Grand Slam play, Ancic lost 21 matches. The list of players who eliminated him is a partial who’s who of tennis greats over the last two decades, with just a few interlopers. Of the 25 men who have been No. 1 in the world in the 41 years of ATP World Tour rankings, seven beat Ancic at a Grand Slam. Andy Roddick beat Ancic twice at Grand Slams. Roger Federer did it four times in a little over two years.Even the 10 non-No. 1s who knocked off Ancic were a pretty impressive bunch. They include four other Grand Slam finalists, plus two others who were ranked in the Top 10 when they knocked him out of a major.The quality of a player’s conquerors is a product both of luck and of the player’s own abilities. Some players are so consistently good that they either win the big tournaments they enter or beat all but the very best. Others suffer from poor luck of the draw — like Ryan Harrison of the U.S., or Amer Delic of Bosnia, who faced one-time No. 1s in five of his 10 Grand Slam losses despite never advancing past the third round. Every time the guy thought he was going to get to kick the football, a Lucy — or Novak — yanked it away. Unlike, say, the orderly NCAA tournament bracket, tennis tournaments distribute their entrants randomly, within the constraints of rules preventing the best players from facing each other too early.A handful of other players have lost mostly to the very best, but for slightly different reasons than Ancic did. Only four men with more than 10 Grand Slam losses were facing former, current or future No. 1s in at least half of the losses, according to data provided by Jeff Sackmann, proprietor of the website Tennis Abstract: Ancic, Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro and Andre Agassi.Djokovic and del Potro are recent Grand Slam champions who have had the misfortune of playing during the reign of Federer and Rafael Nadal, one-time No. 1s who consistently reach the later stages of majors. Neither Djokovic nor del Potro has lost to as many different No. 1s as Ancic did, despite already having longer careers. Agassi is one of the all-time greats and usually was ranked in the Top 10 when he headed into Grand Slam events, so it’s not surprising that it usually took a top player to knock him out of big tournaments.Ancic’s story is quirkier. He was never ranked above 10th in the world heading into any Grand Slam tournament. But he often rolled in the early rounds, as his aggressive serve-and-volley style overwhelmed opponents. He combined that with a knack for drawing tough opponents in later rounds, and usually losing to them; he was 3-11 at Grand Slams against players who at one point were ranked No. 1. Sometimes he had to play them before their prime: As teenagers ranked outside the Top 75, both Nadal and Djokovic beat Ancic at Grand Slam tournaments. Sometimes he had to play them earlier in the tournament than he could have expected to: Ancic had a 25 percent chance of ending up in Federer’s quarter at any given event, yet he did so in four of five Grand Slams he played between 2006 and 2008. Federer was ranked No. 1 in the world each time. Ancic didn’t win a set in any of the matches.Ancic, who has a law degree from the University of Split in Croatia, sees no injustice in his tough Grand Slam record. He just wishes he could have reaped the benefits of his early losses by reversing some of those results once he reached what should have been his prime.“I saw those losses as a challenge — to improve my game, to improve the things I needed to do,” he said in a telephone interview. “That’s part of the fun of being an athlete: challenging yourself against the best of the world. I was never in despair — ‘Oh my God, if I didn’t play Roger in the quarters, if I had a better draw, maybe I’d play in the final of a Slam.’”Ancic felt he was learning from his losses. But then, when he was 22 years old, he battled mononucleosis and other health problems. He came back, several times, but other than one six-month stretch and a later five-month stretch in which he appeared in at least one event each month, his career was stop-and-go. Right when he thought he should be peaking, he was watching his career end. A back injury that would have kept him sidelined for a year convinced him to retire in 2011. Now he occasionally hits with the Columbia team and feels much better physically.Ancic is glad to be at Columbia and creating a new life, but he regrets not realizing his potential. “I’m sure I never achieved my top,” he said. “I still felt my peak was coming later.” He added, “I don’t like to think what would have happened if things were different.”If Ancic really had kept getting better, even more of his losses would have come against top players. And there’s lots of evidence that he was on pace to be one of the best of his generation. He led the under-20 rankings at the end of 2002 and the under-21s in 2004, and was second to Nadal among under-23s in 2006. And more tennis players stay competitive into their late 20s and early 30s these days. Six of the eight U.S. Open men’s quarterfinalists this week were 27 or older; Ancic is 30. Ancic faced each of those quarterfinalists during his career, beating six of them at least once — four at Wimbledon, his best tournament.Ancic remains close to the sport. At his invitation, Djokovic spoke to Columbia law students when in town for an exhibition in March. Ancic attended the U.S. Open on Monday as the tournament’s guest, where he caught up with some old friends who remain on tour. He also continues to follow the game keenly. He predicts Djokovic and Federer will meet in the final this year. If that matchup materializes and Federer wins, Djokovic will have the booby prize of increasing his percentage of Slam losses to one-time No. 1s.Ancic lost to both men at Grand Slams but also beat them both, at Wimbledon — no easy accomplishment against two all-time greats who together have won nine of the last 12 Wimbledons. “We are talking here about a couple of guys who are among the best ever,” Ancic said of Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. “It’s an honor to compete with them.”
But that’s not what I see on the tracks. Instead, I see that pulling the lever in favor of testosterone testing sends the trolley down a track that will harm not only women with high testosterone levels, but also every other woman athlete who looks too “manly” or otherwise does not conform to someone else’s notions of what a woman should be. I see the trolley barreling down a track that will crush the culture that I want sport to strive for — one that celebrates women athletes of all shapes, sizes, forms and talents. The Olympic stadium was quiet on Wednesday morning, and spectators in the sparsely filled stands seemed to pay little notice to South African runner Caster Semenya as she cruised to an easy win in her first-round heat of the 800 meters. But on Saturday evening, when Semenya will contest the 800-meter final, she’ll have the world’s eyes on her. “There is no more certain gold medal in the Rio Olympics than Semenya,” wrote Ross Tucker, an exercise scientist in South Africa, on his blog, The Science of Sport. “She could trip and fall, anywhere in the first lap, lose 20m, and still win the race.”If she does indeed dominate, some sports fans will be cheering Semenya, while others will be less inclined to celebrate, believing that she has an unfair advantage over her rivals. Semenya made headlines in 2009 amid rumors that track’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, had required her to undergo tests to confirm that she was female. Media accounts have reported that she has hyperandrogenism, a condition that causes higher-than-average testosterone levels — an allegation that neither Semenya nor the IAAF has publicly confirmed.Semenya’s case is the latest saga in sport’s checkered history of sex testing, a task that is purportedly aimed at creating an even playing field but — as I’ve discussed previously — raises serious questions about how athletics organizations treat women. Her muscular build, deep voice and remarkable results had raised suspicions among some of Semenya’s rivals about whether she was really a woman. “Just look at her,” said Mariya Savinova, a Russian runner now tangled in her country’s doping scandal.Savinova’s comment highlights what’s wrong with making competitors in women’s events prove that they’re women: It encourages people to police who looks “feminine enough” and sanctions discriminatory behavior that can have life-threatening consequences. Indian middle-distance runner Santhi Soundarajan attempted suicide after failing a gender test in 2007 and being shunned by her community.Even if you think sex testing is necessary to ensure that women’s athletics are fair, the rules would need to be enforced uniformly. Testimony presented at a hearing on the IAAF’s sex testing procedures last year showed that “to date, [the testosterone limit] has only been used against women from developing countries” and that the rules created “an inconsistent and unfair patchwork of compliance by different countries around the world.” It’s notable that the women who’ve made the news for being scrutinized under the testosterone rule have been people of color.Sport has a long history of humiliating women deemed “too masculine.” To ensure that men were not masquerading as women in order to compete and win at women’s sports, competitors were subjected to sex tests such as nude body inspections and chromosome testing. Eventually officials realized that these tests couldn’t definitively distinguish between male and female competitors, because sex is not a binary trait but exists along a continuum. For instance, people with androgen insensitivity syndrome are born with XY chromosomes but develop female anatomy, because their bodies don’t respond typically to testosterone. Others are born with female genitalia but have male sex anatomy internally. These are just two examples of the wide range of variations found across the spectrum.After an especially shameful 1980s episode in which Spanish hurdler María José Martínez-Patiño was publicly shunned and outed as having androgen insensitivity syndrome, the blanket tests were dropped, and instead women deemed suspicious could be called in for testing. This is what happened to Semenya. The invasion of privacy and testing she endured created a push for a less ostracizing way to ensure that athletes vying in women’s competitions were women, and in 2011 the IAAF settled on a new approach, which the International Olympic Committee also adopted in 2012.Rather than allow inspections of women’s bodies, the new rule set an upper limit on testosterone. Women could compete only if their testosterone levels were below 10 nanomoles per liter — a cutoff devised by sampling woman athletes with polycystic ovary syndrome (a condition associated with elevated testosterone levels) and adding five standard deviations to it. Tucker wrote on his blog that this limit is “threefold higher than a level that applies to 99 in 100 women participants.”The argument for testosterone testing says that we divide sport into men’s and women’s categories because men have a practically unconquerable natural advantage over women. World records for men’s track and field and road running events are an average of 12.6 percent faster than the equivalent women’s events, and we give women their own class, akin to a weight class in combat sports, so they can have a chance to excel.The argument against testing is that the competitive advantage that men have over women arises from biological factors linked to sex, but sex is a biological trait without hard and fast borders. And that we can pretend that we divide competition by sex, but what we’re really doing is separating athletes by gender, which is an identity that has a social and cultural context as well, and those contexts may confer distinct advantages and disadvantages, too. Under this system, there’s an obligation to recognize Semenya under the gender identity that she has inhabited since birth, and to do so without subjecting her to invasive and humiliating inspections or tests. Her identity should not be up to strangers to decide.The debate over whether hormone testing is fair doesn’t have a scientific answer, only science-informed ones. There’s pretty good evidence that testosterone, a muscle-building hormone that men typically produce in greater quantities than women, is a performance-enhancing substance — that’s why it’s so popular among dopers. Joanna Harper, an athlete, scientist and transgender woman, found that her running performance dropped within weeks of starting therapy to reduce her testosterone levels, and she has documented similar changes in other male-to-female transgender runners. Insofar as you can pin the male advantage to a single factor, testosterone is it.Science shows that testosterone gives athletes an advantage, but it can’t tell us how much advantage is too much or how to categorize athletes who are women by gender but also have male sex traits — those are philosophical questions, not scientific ones. But it’s hard not to see sexism in the answers that the IAAF is providing. As espnW columnist Kate Fagan tweeted recently, “I shall steal line from someone on Twitter: I know Semenya is a woman because people are trying to control her body.” Women with high testosterone levels have been pressured to undergo life-changing surgery and medical interventions in exchange for the right to compete.The IAAF’s testosterone limit is necessarily arbitrary, and when Indian sprinter Dutee Chand faced scrutiny and demands to undergo treatment to reduce her testosterone levels, she pushed back. The medical interventions would be invasive, would be potentially irreversible and would come with side effects that could “interfere with the way my body has worked my whole life,” she wrote in a letter to the secretary general of the Athletics Federation of India, asking to have her eligibility reinstated. “I was born a woman, reared up as a woman, I identify as a woman and I believe I should be allowed to compete with other women, many of whom are either taller than me or come from more privileged backgrounds, things that most certainly give them an edge over me.”The case ended up in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which suspended the policy in July 2015 and gave the IAAF two years to return with science to show that women with naturally occurring testosterone over the 10 nmol/L limit have an unfair advantage. The ruling meant that Chand, Semenya and other hyperandrogenic athletes could compete without altering their hormones.The decision was greeted in some corners of the internet as a sign of the apocalypse — the end of women’s sports as we know it. Hyperandrogenic athletes, this line of reasoning held, were being given a chance to compete in their identified gender at the expense of other women.You can think of this as a version of the classic trolley car problem in which a runaway trolley car is speeding down the tracks, and a human operator has an opportunity to pull a lever to direct the car down another track — but both options will result in casualties.When some testing advocates look at this problem, they see that sending the car down the track with no sex or hormone testing will mow down female athletes and women’s sports. Send the trolley down the track with testing, and you tear down Semenya, Chand and other athletes with unusually high testosterone levels.Stated this way, it seems like a straightforward equation. Someone will get run over, but if you pull the lever in favor of testosterone testing, the only people hurt are the women with naturally high levels. If it’s strictly a numbers game, you’ve found a solution that harms the fewest people. Although there’s been a lot of mansplaining about why a testosterone limit is warranted, this isn’t just a black-and-white case of sexism, since woman athletes (including Martinez-Patiño, the Spanish hurdler who was shunned after testing in the 1980s) have also spoken in favor of the rules. Tucker and Harper, high-profile proponents of hormone limits, have carefully acknowledged the cultural and social factors at play, but I don’t think they give these other considerations enough weight. When you’ve had people tell you that your body is too muscular or you’re not feminine enough (as I have), a system that makes it OK to enforce a particular kind of female body feels vindictive.There are consequences of an institutionalized process that seeks and targets women for looking like men (whatever that means). At the conclusion of a hearing on her case, Chand gave a brief statement telling the panel that “she fears that if she loses her appeal, she will have to leave her village.” This fear isn’t ungrounded. She also recounted the story of a young female friend who’d been forced out of her village after people refused to recognize her as a girl because of her appearance.It’s easy to sympathize with the women competing with Semenya. Her talents can seem insurmountable. But it’s wrong to prohibit her from competing with the body she was born with. She is not the first woman (or man) to dominate the competition. Once in a while someone comes along who’s an extreme case. Usually, we celebrate this.At Chand’s Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing, accomplished British runner Paula Radcliffe testified in favor of the hormone limit, saying that the rule fell under similar regulations “designed to ensure success is determined solely by talent and dedication, and not by ‘unfair’ advantage.”But what is “unfair?” Radcliffe also possesses extraordinary talent, and it’s hard to tease out and compare the boost that different advantages confer. Her marathon world record has remained untouched for more than a decade. Radcliffe herself has faced allegations of doping, abetted by a culture of doping that has made every performance suspect. Sex testing creates a similar atmosphere of suspicion, but the difference is that dopers are deliberately cheating. Hyperandrogenic women are simply competing with the bodies they were born with in the gender with which they identify and belong.In support of the hormone limit, the IAAF argued that dismissing conditions that produce unusually high levels of testosterone as “naturally occurring advantages would compromise the integrity of sport,” since that would be “analogous to having a system, where weight classifications exist, but then waiving the weight limit for certain individuals who cannot reduce their weight enough to fit into the required category.” The problem with that analogy is that in the case of a weight system, the person too heavy for a particular weight class has another class to compete in. What happens to Semenya under these rules if she doesn’t want to alter her body? The IAAF has said that a woman ineligible under the rules could compete with the men, but that feels a lot like shunning.Perhaps the most uncomfortable truth that this controversy forces us to confront is that there’s no such thing as a level playing field in sport. As much as we like the idea of athletes winning through hard work, guts and spirit, the fact is, much of it comes down to born talent. Most competitors never had a chance.In the end, the real question to ask is: What is the purpose of sport? Is it more important to provide uncomplicated stories that make us feel uplifted, or to celebrate extraordinary human effort and performance? My vote goes to the latter. Participating in sports taught me to feel powerful in my body, and I’m glad that no one put limits on how strong I could be. When Semenya takes to the line on Saturday, I’ll be cheering for her every step of the way.This was an edition of Strength in Numbers, my column exploring the science of sports and athleticism. Got feedback, suggestions or a news tip? Email me, leave suggestions in the comments section or tweet to me @CragCrest.
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill has been released from the hospital after suffering a seizure late Saturday afternoon.The school confirmed Kill’s release Sunday. Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys told local reporters Sunday that Kill’s seizure was minor and that the coach could return to the team as early as Sunday afternoon.Kill was taken to the hospital Saturday as a precaution and was reported to be resting comfortably by Saturday night.Kill, 51, has had seizure disorder since being diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2005. He suffered a more severe seizure on the sideline during a game last September and had to be hospitalized for several days.That hasn’t stopped Kill in the past from getting right back out there.“What the hell am I supposed to do? Stop? I mean, sit in the chair and wait for the next dang seizure to come along?” Kill said last year.It’s the latest bit of adversity for the Gophers, who started the season 4-0 to generate optimism among the program’s long-suffering fans that a bowl game could be had.But they were thumped 31-13 at Iowa in the Big Ten opener, then delivered a sloppy and mistake-filled performance in the loss to the Wildcats on Saturday to fall to 0-2 in the conference.
Colin Kaepernick, who made a rousing debut as the San Francisco 49ers’ starting quarterback Sunday replacing concussed Alex Smith, will take all the first-team reps for the Niners as they prepare to face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.This comes from none other than Smith, to ESPN.The move seemingly would put Kaepernick on track to start against the Saints; players who receive first-team reps usually draw starts for that week’s game.Harbaugh said earlier Wednesday the QB for the NFC West-leading Niners (7-2-1) could change week to week, and even during the course of a game.Kaepernick went 16 for 23 for 243 yards, two touchdowns and an impressive passer rating of 133.1 in his first NFL start Monday against Chicago. The second-round draft pick out of Nevada in 2011 hardly seemed fazed by football’s big stage. He directed scoring drives and made beautiful throws on the Niners’ initial four possessions and completed 12 of his first 14 passes, with a 57-yard throw to Kyle Williams, setting up Vernon Davis’ 3-yard TD on the next play.Harbaugh rated Kaepernick’s debut start as “A-plus-plus.”Smith said plans to fight for his job once he is fully healthy, but he had yet to be medically cleared Wednesday after missing Monday night’s 32-7 rout of the Bears while recovering from a concussion. He was supportive Wednesday of Kaepernick’s success, even if the second-year pro takes Smith’s starting job as 49ers quarterback.“If you can’t be happy for your teammate’s success you’re playing the wrong sport. Go play tennis or golf or something,” Smith said Wednesday. “That’s ridiculous, I think. That doesn’t belong in team sports, in my opinion. It’s the quarterback position. It gets a lot of attention. We’re going to get talked about.”Harbaugh underwent a follow-up evaluation for his irregular heartbeat Tuesday and said, “believe we’ve got that one licked.” He has quit chewing tobacco and given up the four or five Diet Cokes he was drinking daily after doctors encouraged him to improve his diet and decrease his caffeine intake. Harbaugh underwent a cardiovert procedure last Thursday.“Zero,” he said of soda and dipping. “Cold turkey.”He swears he’s had no headaches as he moves off caffeine.Smith completed 18-of-19 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in a Monday night win Oct. 29 at Arizona for a passer rating of 157.1. Smith then sustained a concussion in the second quarter of a 24-24 tie against St. Louis on Nov. 11. He even threw a touchdown pass with blurred vision six plays after taking the hit doctors believe caused his injury.
Michael Vick might be old in NFL football years, but he can still run like a track star. Just ask speedy Philadelphia Eagle teammate LeSean McCoy.Vick beat the running back in a 40-yard dash at practice after the running back had been calling him “old.”Vick, who will turn 33 next month, outran the 24-year-old McCoy and then tweeted about it after several teammates posted about the race on Twitter.“So today at the field 1 of my teammates called me old,” he wrote, adding that the teammate begged him to race the 40-yard dash. “Anybody want to guess which player?”“Beat him by a few yards too lol,” he wrote, adding #SpeedKILLS to the tweet.ProFootballTalk.com, citing a source with knowledge of the situation, reported that McCoy had been giving Vick a hard time for weeks, calling him “old man” and challenging him to a race. Vick reportedly had laughingly dismissed McCoy’s challenges until Thursday.According to the report, Vick asked Chip Kelly whether he would allow the two to race, and the coach granted them permission.Eagles teammates buzzed about the race through their own Twitter accounts.Tight end Clay Harbor wrote: “The rumors are true… Vick dusted McCoy in the 40yd dash.”Defensive end Clifton Geathers marveled at Vick’s win and took the opportunity to inform some of his former Cowboys teammates about the result. He tweeted: “Never seen a QB beat a runner back by 4yards until today Vick is a fast as mug @JayRat90 [Jay Ratliff] @hatcher97 [Jason Hatcher] @Fast_Teddy [Teddy Williams].McCoy took the loss in stride, joking on Twitter that Vick “cheated.”He gave Vick credit, however, writing that Vick was “Top 3 fastest man on the TEAM.”Vick made sure to let McCoy and his followers know there are no hard feelings between the two players.“Love you Lil bro @CutonDime25,” he wrote.
John Wall exceled with 31 points, including a crowd-pleasing 360-degree dunk, to go with nine assists as he led the Washington Wizards to a 116-111 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.The Lakers had a tough time dealing with Wall especially on a fast break play where he showed off his leaping ability.With the Wizards behind 42-41 in the second quarter, Wall stole a pass which was headed to Wesley Johnson jetted the towards Washington’s basket, finishing with a flashy 360 dunk.Wall has 30 points or more for the three straight game. This has been the first time he has accomplished that in his career. He scored 13 points with 4:41 left in the fourth-quarter to help the Wizards beat Los Angeles. Wall was also 10 for 18 in field goals and he made 11 of 12 free throws.Dunk is below:
On Sunday, in a 30-24 overtime win in Tampa Bay, the Oakland Raiders were flagged for 23 penalties, which cost them an even 200 yards. That was the most penalties for one team in a single game since at least 1940 and the third-most penalty yards that any one team has racked up in a single game in that same span. The Raiders have a history of committing penalties — the franchise led the NFL in that category for four straight years in the nineties and set the single-season record with 163 back in 2011 — so adding the single-game record to that legacy is at least in character. Heck, Oakland was already leading the NFL in penalties this season even before that, um, historic performance in Week 8. But what if I told you that the same factors that are driving the Raiders’ penalties are likely driving their surprising success?The Raiders have the second-most penalties through eight games of any team since 1940, but Oakland is also 6-2. That may not be as surprising as it appears, because committing more penalties isn’t as strongly correlated with losing as conventional wisdom suggests. I looked at all team penalties through Week 8 of each season since the NFL’s realignment in 2002, and there was only a slightly negative correlation between penalties and winning (i.e., the more penalties a team has, the lower its winning percentage).1The correlation coefficient between winning percentage and penalties over that span was just -0.10. And that correlation is actually positive for the 2016 season, thanks to the Bay Area teams: Not only is Oakland an outlier, but also the 1-6 49ers have the fewest penalties in the NFL this season. And while most coaches stress to players that they shouldn’t incur penalties, the relationship between penalties and success (as we can see from the chart) isn’t as clear as you might think. Sure, on any given play, a penalty is bad, but penalties are also associated with aggressive, physical play, and those can be very good things on the plays where penalties aren’t called.Of Oakland’s 103 total penalties (both accepted and declined), a league-high 53 (51 percent) of them have come on offense. (On average this season, 49 percent of all penalties have come on offense, compared to 37 percent on defense and 14 percent on special teams.) Of Oakland’s offensive penalties, 18 have come from offensive holding, which is tied for first with the Patriots (who have only played seven games), and 14 have come via false start, second in the league to Washington’s 16. And Oakland’s offense has been flagged a league-high four times for unnecessary roughness, with tackle Donald Penn owning two of those infractions.So far this season, 45 players have been flagged for at least five offensive penalties, and six of those players are Raiders: backup lineman Vadal Alexander (8), followed by Penn (7), center Rodney Hudson (6), guard Gabe Jackson (6), WR Michael Crabtree (5) and guard Kelechi Osemele (5). In total, Raiders offensive linemen have been flagged for 33 penalties, nine more than any other offensive line in the league.That’s a lot of penalties, but what that analysis is missing is what’s happening on all the plays that don’t result in a penalty — especially if those plays include ones where the refs don’t throw a flag because they’ve already thrown so many. And Oakland’s offensive line is doing really, really well on those plays. No team has spent more 2016 salary cap dollars on its offensive line than the Raiders, and it’s paid off: Oakland has been sacked on just 2.7 percent of all pass plays this season, the lowest rate in the NFL. And Oakland’s top three running backs — Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard — aren’t highly-regarded and weren’t drafted with premium picks, but they have rushed 156 times for 763 yards and 6 touchdowns, averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. The Oakland line is getting things done.We don’t often think of offensive linemen as boom-bust players, but that’s what the Raiders have created under OL coach Mike Tice. Because while that unit has been responsible for an enormous share of the team’s penalties, on most other plays, it’s operating as one of the best units in football. The Raiders have talked about building a nasty, physical, aggressive offensive line — and for better or worse, that’s exactly what they’ve done.CORRECTION (Nov. 2, 12:34 p.m.): An earlier version of the chart in this article misstated the time period of the penalties and win percentages shown in light purple. The correct time period is 2002 to 2016, not 2012 to 2016.
When the Kansas City Chiefs host the Oakland Raiders Thursday night, the outcome will go a long way toward determining who wins the AFC West and will influence the whole conference’s playoff picture. But further down the game’s list of notable implications is the fact that it’s one of the best Thursday night games1We’re counting any prime-time game played on a Thursday as a Thursday night game, even though some games played on Thursday nights are marketed as “Sunday Night Football” or “Monday Night Football” and some games marketed as “Thursday Night Football” are played on other days of the week. in NFL history.Just like when I sized up the awfulness of Week 8’s Jaguars-Titans Thursday night tilt, we can measure the quality of a given NFL matchup by taking the harmonic mean of the two teams’ pre-game Elo ratings (FiveThirtyEight’s pet metric for estimating a team’s quality at any given moment). And according to that measure, tonight’s K.C.-Oakland game is the seventh-best Thursday night matchup in NFL history: The best Thursday night NFL matchups of all time 111/29/07DallasGreen Bay166016491655 211/27/14**SeattleSan Francisco166816291648 69/9/04*New EnglandIndianapolis166715911628 310/23/14DenverSan Diego168816071646 99/5/13*BaltimoreDenver162816091618 109/10/09*PittsburghTennessee164515931618 411/26/98**MinnesotaDallas167716101643 712/8/16Kansas CityOakland166215861623 811/24/11**BaltimoreSan Francisco162816101619 DATETEAM 1TEAM 2TEAM 1TEAM 2HARMONIC MEAN 59/8/16*DenverCarolina163716341635 *NFL’s season-opening game.**Thanksgiving night game.In each matchup, “Team 1” is the higher-rated team according to Elo.Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com At the same time, Monday night matchups have been getting worse, and now the two days have very nearly pulled even in terms of their average quality.2At least in prime time; I excluded non-prime-time Thursday games such as Thanksgiving day games. Both are still far, far below the level established by the league’s flagship prime-time games on Sunday nights. But with more games like tonight’s Raiders-Chiefs tilt, Thursday night is no longer merely a place for the NFL to stash terrible matchups so it can get every team on prime-time TV.Check out our latest NFL predictions. In fact, if we toss out special Thursday occasions — Thanksgiving and the NFL’s annual opening-night showcase — Raiders-Chiefs rises to third-best among the ranks of ordinary Thursday night games. We haven’t seen a matchup this good emerge organically from the Thursday night schedule since the Broncos hosted the Chargers in Oct. 2014.Good Thursday night games like Chiefs-Raiders are part of a larger comeback trend. Thursday night football has been a perennial punchline, particularly since 2012, when the NFL decided to play a Thursday night game almost every week instead of firing the feature up at midseason for the stretch run, as it did between 2006 and 2011. But after a rocky start, the quality of these midweek games has slowly risen over the past five seasons: PRE-GAME ELO RATING
So depending on how quickly the duo jells (or re-jells), Wade may get far easier shots than he got last season in Chicago, when he generated just 3 percent of his offense from cuts to the basket and took his average shot attempt from more than 12 feet away, tied for the longest average shot distance of his 14-year career.Some will question whether Wade — and to a greater extent, Derrick Rose — is a good enough jump shooter to keep defenses honest while James is running the show and probing for driving lanes. But a closer evaluation of Wade’s game suggests that he can more than hold his own as an off-ball threat if used properly.Wade has shown himself to be a competent 3-point shooter when stationed in the corner, shooting almost 38 percent138 of 101. from the corner in the seven seasons since James signed with Miami in 2010 — considerably better than his 27 percent2147 of 550. on all other 3-point tries over that same span. That’s particularly meaningful for Cleveland, which led the NBA in corner 3-point makes and attempts by a huge margin, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Cavs launch far more corner triples when James — one of the best passers in the sport — is on the court compared to when he’s on the bench.) Miami Heat27769040.1 2008-09Miami3.1– 2015-16Miami5.0– Cleveland Cavaliers35385041.5% The Cavs take (and make) more corner 3s than anyone elseFor the 2016-17 regular season Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group 2013-14Miami9.4– 2012-13Miami11.4– 2011-12Miami8.6– After being bought out by the Chicago Bulls, 12-time All-Star Dwyane Wade had a handful of solid options to consider when deciding which team to sign with.There was the fairy-tale possibility of rejoining the Heat, the franchise he was drafted by and where he won three titles. The suddenly fortified Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs — the team that effectively ended Miami’s Big Three era back in 2014 by winning the title that year — were also suitors. But as enticing as those teams might have been, none of them have LeBron James.So it isn’t surprising that Wade is choosing to sign in Cleveland, where he not only has a great chance at reaching the NBA Finals again but also gets to reunite with one of his closest friends. But if we only examine those two factors, we might be overlooking the biggest incentive Wade has in all this: LeBron and the Cavs may be a fountain of youth for the 35-year-old.James makes life easier for everyone he plays with (well, Mario Chalmers might disagree), and Wade was no exception while the two were in Miami. Wade logged career bests in effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage during that four-year run, from his age-29 to age-32 seasons. His stark improvement as an off-ball threat — specifically as a cutter who would make his break toward the basket while defenses were preoccupied with James — helped take the Heat’s offense to another level. 2007-08Miami3.0– Utah Jazz23461238.2 2016-17Chicago3.1%– The years in bold highlight seasons in which Dwyane Wade was teammates with LeBron James.Source: Synergy Sports Technology 2009-10Miami4.6– Wade cut to the basket far more when playing with LeBron CORNER 3S The percentage of Wade’s offense that came from cuts to the basket basically doubled during the years he teamed with LeBron and then dropped back to its original level as soon as James went back to Cleveland. 2010-11Miami6.5– Boston Celtics25362340.6 SEASONTEAMSHARE OF OFFENSE THAT STEMS FROM CUTTING TO THE BASKET 2014-15Miami4.3– Houston Rockets26769038.7 TEAMMAKESATTEMPTSSHARE One variable that figures to be vital is how much Wade is being asked to do; especially in an offense that already features LeBron, Rose, the oft-forgotten Kevin Love and, at some point after the new year, Isaiah Thomas, who was acquired in the Kyrie Irving deal. It’s not hard to imagine Wade frequently handling the ball to give James a rest, though his game and Rose’s are similar in that both can develop tunnel vision when they’re driving to the basket.It would be wise for Cleveland to take a conservative approach that helps maintain Wade’s aging body for the postseason. J.R. Smith is seemingly a better fit for the Cavs’ starting lineup, thanks to both his size and his superior outside shooting.None of this is meant to suggest that Wade will be a perfect fit with the Cavs, as there are a handful of things that James and Wade simply won’t be able to replicate this many years after their first partnership. Chief among them: The swarming, blitzing defense the Heat used to trap pick-and-rolls. (Chris Bosh was truly special defensively with those teams.) In fact, a defense featuring the two of them might be a half-step slow now.However, even if Wade performs more fluidly during the regular season, it’s possible that, given his age, he and his body may not be totally dependable come playoff time, no matter how the Cavs manage his minutes. The 2014 Finals, in which the Heat got blasted by San Antonio four games to one, were a prime example.But if there’s one thing we’ve seen with Wade’s game in the past, it’s that James’s presence — as it has done for many others — will lessen the physical toll on Wade and possibly help offset the effects of Father Time. And that means the Cavaliers have little to lose with this signing.
The AL East has been really tough to winSince 2010, the most and fewest number of wins for the winner of each MLB division, with the average number of wins (per 162 games) required 2008Tampa Bay Rays1096673 2017Cleveland Indians937111 2019Tampa Bay Rays11611715 WAR Rankings by category YearTeamHittingRunningDefenseStartersBullpenOverall These Rays go to 11MLB teams who ranked among the top 11 in every subcategory of wins above replacement — across offense, defense and pitching — since 1995 NL Central1049095.3 1996Texas Rangers1039763 AL Central1028894.2 AL West1058896.6 2016L.A. Dodgers9951146 2002Anaheim Angels9211164 It’s tough to find a more successful baseball club over the past decade-plus than the Tampa Bay Rays, owners of a 1,035-901 record — fifth-best in MLB — ever since their stunning breakout in 2008. The Rays went to the World Series that season and made the playoffs in three of the five years that followed, creating a blueprint for other teams hoping to win on similarly microscopic budgets. Even this year, the Rays sit 10th in our Elo team rankings despite ranking 30th in payroll.But for all of those wins, Tampa Bay has had some lousy luck in actually getting to the playoffs. The Rays have made only three postseason appearances this decade — and none since 2013. Only three teams in the expanded wild-card era (since 2012) have won 90 games but failed to play in the postseason: One of those was the 2013 Texas Rangers; the other two were Rays clubs, in 2012 and 2018. And this year’s team, on pace for 95 wins, has just a 54 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to the FiveThirtyEight model. What do the Rays have to do to get some postseason love around here?Some of Tampa’s troubles simply have to do with playing in the cutthroat American League East, where the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are together currently spending more than twice as much on players as the rest of the division combined. Whether in terms of the average victories necessary to win the division or even just the bare-minimum requirement, those numbers have consistently been higher for the AL East than any other division in baseball this decade: 2001Seattle Mariners111951 AL East1089397.3 DivisionMostFewestAverage NL East1029096.1 NL West1049194.8 Winner’s Wins (per 162 games) 2002Seattle Mariners3410856 Source: Baseball-Reference.com In every division except the AL East and NL West, a 90-win team has had at least had some chance to come out in first place this decade. But in the AL East, no fewer than 93 wins have been required to win the division, and seldom fewer than 91 have been needed to make the playoffs, period.1Two 89-win teams — the 2016 Blue Jays and Orioles — and one 87-win team — the 2015 Yankees — have made the wild card this decade out of the AL East. By my accounting,2Using a logistic regression on team data since 1995, with a dummy variable for the extra wild-card slot MLB added in 2012. being in the AL East makes it 8 percentage points tougher for a 90-win team to make the playoffs than being in another division would make it, 10 percentage points tougher for an 89-win team and 12 percentage points tougher for an 88-win team.That sweet spot around 90 wins happens to be where Tampa tends to often find itself, and it’s tough to make the playoffs from that zone when you’re in the AL East. Last year was a great example: The Rays went 90-72 but were precluded from winning the division (the Red Sox won 108 games) or even finishing in second place (the Yankees won 100 on the number). That left only one solitary playoff spot even up for the Rays to battle for, and it was snapped up by the 97-win Oakland Athletics. Baseball’s seventh-best team by wins above replacement,3Using our JEFFBAGWELL metric to blend WAR from Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs. sporting a record that would normally earn a playoff slot 81 percent of the time in the double-wild-card era,4Once again, according to the logistic regression I ran. ended up missing the playoffs by seven whole games.But the Rays have found ways to miss the playoffs even when the Yankee/Red Sox hegemony was partially broken. Back in 2012, New York was good (95 wins) but hardly dominant, and Boston deteriorated completely under the not-so-watchful eye of Bobby Valentine, going 69-93. Meanwhile Tampa Bay had the fourth-most WAR in baseball, led by star seasons from Ben Zobrist (5.7 WAR) and David Price (5.5), plus solid years via players ranging from the expected (James Shields, Evan Longoria) to the out-of-nowhere (Jeff Keppinger??). By WAR, that was one of the most talented teams the Rays have ever produced. But they underperformed relative to the record their underlying stats say they “should” have had — according to BaseRuns, they should have made the playoffs with a 95-67 mark — wasting a red-hot 36-22 finish over the last two months of the season to end up three games shy of Texas and Baltimore for the wild card.The disappointing Red Sox will miss the playoffs this season as well, possibly finishing as many as 10 games behind the rival Rays. Although the Yankees have dominated this season, tracking for 105 wins, you would think 95 wins could at least buy the Rays a wild-card appearance, in a wide-open year with Boston out of the picture.And yet, here Tampa Bay is again, fighting for its playoff life on a nightly basis over the final few weeks of the season. Once again, the Oakland A’s — in many ways the West Coast mirror image of the Rays — are almost assured of one wild-card slot, putting themselves on pace for 97 wins by season’s end. And after the Minnesota Twins unexpectedly dominated the AL Central race, the Cleveland Indians’ only playoff hopes essentially rest on the same wild-card spot Tampa Bay has been eyeing all season. In the mega-top-heavy AL, one misfortunate team could win 95 games and still miss the playoffs entirely.5And the team that makes it would promptly haves to face a gauntlet of three hundred-win teams, and a 97-win one.If that team ends up being Tampa, it would obscure what has been maybe the most quintessentially Rays-y season of them all, in terms of doing more with less. The team’s best player by WAR (with 5.1) has been pitcher Charlie Morton, who had 1.5 career WAR to his name before joining the Astros in 2017; he is easily obliterating his previous career-best WAR (3.2 in 2018) this season at age 35. Left fielder Tommy Pham (3.9 WAR) had previously displayed his talent with 6.2 WAR in 2017, and shortstop Willy Adames had up-and-coming star potential. But the rest of Tampa Bay’s expected stars — such as pitcher Blake Snell and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier — have been merely OK, if also injured and/or underwhelming.Instead, the Rays have succeeded with a mishmash of acquired prospects (Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow), unheralded youngsters (Brandon Lowe), seemingly random pitchers (Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos, Emilio Pagan), retread veterans (Travis d’Arnaud) and other spare parts. They still use the opener, still shift a ton and still play relievers in the field before putting them back on the mound. They’ve fought through key injuries to rank fifth in the league in WAR per game, and through Sunday they were tracking to become just the eighth team since the 1994 strike to rank among MLB’s top 11 in WAR from every phase of the game — hitting, fielding, base-running and pitching (both starting and relieving):6Yes, “top 11” is arbitrary. Who cares? This is an impressive all-around team season! 2019 Rays’ rankings are through Sept. 15.Source: Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs.com (Fittingly, the 2008 Rays — the team that started it all — are also in that club.)If Tampa Bay does end up missing the playoffs, it would go down as one of the best teams ever to fit that criteria. Its current Elo rating of 1543 would tie last year’s Rays for the second-best among nonplayoff teams of the double-wild-card era (trailing only the 2012 Rays), and its 0.303 WAR per game would easily be the highest of any nonplayoff team since 2012. The last team to miss the postseason with as many WAR per game was the 2011 Red Sox, who fumbled away their playoff hopes with one of the most infamous collapses in baseball history.But if the baseball gods know what they’re doing, they would maybe consider giving the Rays a break this time around. The franchise has already seen several of the hardest-luck nonplayoff seasons in recent history — and this year’s might be the cruelest postseason snub of all, given how many wins the Rays might rack up in vain. After so many years spent knocking on the door with records that usually belong in the postseason, it seems like it’s time Tampa finally gets in.Check out our latest MLB predictions.
Update (July 13, 5:46 p.m.): Germany won the World Cup on Sunday, defeating Argentina 1-0 in extra time.In basketball, it’s a safe bet that the United States men’s national team would defeat even the best NBA teams more often than not. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine any single NHL squad being favored against the Canadian national hockey team, if there were ever an occasion for them to face off. Yet it’s pretty conventional wisdom in soccer circles that the best teams in the Champions League, the world’s top club-level competition, are better than those in the World Cup, soccer’s premier international tournament. That’s because thanks to the economics of soccer, it’s possible for clubs to assemble all-star teams even in the absence of All-Star Games.Intuitively, it’s not hard to see why. Unlike basketball and hockey, where global talent is concentrated in a relatively small number of countries, soccer is a sport played at a high level across a much wider and more diverse set of locales. Talent is then naturally more diluted at the international level. The most important club soccer leagues also lack North American-style salary caps, so the richest club teams are (checkbooks willing) free to accumulate a far greater amount of talent than any national team can.I went to the spreadsheets to settle this debate, and, based on my calculations, the conventional wisdom is indeed wise — to a certain extent. The top club teams in the world as a group are superior to the national teams in this year’s World Cup field. But even so, teams that are the cream of the international crop are not as far behind their club-level cousins as managers like Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger would have you believe.One way we can test this is to use the individual plus/minus player ratings that underlie ESPN’s Soccer Power Index (SPI) rankings. We’ve been over the gory details of those ratings before, but here are the basics: In addition to using head-to-head results from international matches, SPI also attempts to measure the talent level of every team based on the skill of its component players. To that end, each player is assigned a per-minute effect rating determined both by his individual statistics and by how his team performs with him in the lineup (compared to its performance without him). ESPN’s Stats & Info team computes this for both national and club teams, provided the player’s club is in one of the “Big Five” European leagues1Those of Spain, England, Italy, Germany and France. or appeared in the Champions League.These numbers give us a player’s approximated influence on his team’s rate of scoring and preventing goals. For instance, Lionel Messi, the impossibly good attacker for Barcelona (on the club side) and Argentina (in this World Cup), is estimated to add 0.62 more goals per 90 minutes than an average player on offense, and save 0.03 more goals per 90 minutes than the average player on defense, for a net value of 0.65 goals per 90 minutes. (Nobody tops Messi among players with any kind of playing time over the past two seasons, although Messi’s longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo is a close second at 0.63.)If we aggregate these ratings for an entire roster, weighting by the number of minutes each player was on the pitch,2The minutes data I used for club teams was from the 2013-14 season; for national teams it was from the 2014 World Cup, through the semifinal round. we can derive an SPI-like number to describe the amount of talent on any team, whether it plays for club or country.3A team’s overall SPI is determined by a combination of its projected goals scored (offensive SPI) and its projected goals allowed (defensive SPI) against a theoretical average international opponent. And according to these numbers,4SPI player ratings are up to date through the World Cup quarterfinals. the three best club teams in the world — Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich — are a cut above the best national teams. But, in turn, the four most talented national teams — Brazil,5Remember, this rating includes Neymar and Thiago Silva both playing more than 80 percent of their available minutes. Argentina, Germany and Spain — are solidly better than the next tier of club teams, a group that includes Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and the Champions League runners-up, Atletico Madrid.According to these numbers, Messi’s club team (Barcelona) would win 56 percent of its matches against his national team (Argentina) if they somehow played in a knockout setting at a neutral location (this model obviously assumes a dramatic development in cloning technology). But Argentina would be expected to win 56 percent of its matches against Manchester City or Atletico Madrid under similar circumstances. The top national teams would be favored (or at least evenly matched) against all but the world’s very best club teams.Perhaps this shouldn’t be overly surprising. I combined Transfermarkt values for every player on this year’s World Cup rosters6Thanks to the research of my Grantland colleague Bill Barnwell. with Transfermarkt’s list of the 100 most valuable club teams in the world and found a similar pattern. A handful of club teams dominate the list of most valuable teams,7There’s one big divergence here from the SPI list: According to Transfermarkt’s player values, the Spanish national team roster is better than any in the world. but after that it’s a relatively equal smattering of club and national teams rounding out the top 20.8The dollar amounts in the table below were converted from British pounds, at $1.70 per GBP. The top-tier national teams at least appear capable of standing toe to toe in talent against most of the leading clubs in the world.9Occasional FiveThirtyEight contributor Roger Pielke, Jr., noticed a version of this phenomenon back before the 2010 World Cup. But aside from that top tier, national teams just can’t keep up with their counterparts on the club side. According to both the SPI talent ratings and the Transfermarkt valuations, there are about 10 or so national sides capable of contending with the top 10 club teams in the world. After that, the supply of strong national squads quickly starts to dry up. Based on the SPI estimates, the 15th-best national team in the world (Ivory Coast) would have just a 40 percent chance of beating the 15th-best club team (Benfica of Portugal’s Primeira Liga), and only a 21 percent probability of beating Real Madrid. According to SPI’s player ratings, 33 of the 50 most talented teams in the world are club teams.In that sense, pundits are right when they contend that the quality of play in a circuit like the Champions League is higher than that of the World Cup. Certainly it’s hard to argue that the worst teams in the World Cup’s group stage would be able to consistently compete with their counterparts in the Champions League group stage. But in its later rounds, the World Cup contains teams — like the German and Argentine squads that will face off in Sunday’s final — whose rosters rival almost any in the sphere of big-time club soccer.
As of Aug. 23,1We haven’t yet updated our Elo ratings to include the results of the U.S. Open so far, or of the warmup tournament the week before the Open started in New Haven, Conn. So the numbers we’re basing this on are slightly out of date. Vinci won five tour-level matches and lost one between our last Elo update and today’s upset, so her Elo has risen, although not by enough to undermine her win as the biggest upset in a quarterfinal or later at a Slam. Williams had won five matches, too, since our last Elo update, which would have increased her rating slightly and mitigated the effects of Vinci’s rise. Williams’s Elo rating was 2505 and Vinci’s was 1852 — a difference of 652 points.2The numbers don’t add up because of rounding. That gave Vinci about a 3 percent chance of beating Serena. The biggest previous Elo gap for an upset in a Slam quarterfinal, semifinal or final was 574, when Czech player Helena Sukova beat Martina Navratilova in the 1984 Australian Open semifinals. The upset ended a run of six consecutive Slam titles for Navratilova, who never managed to win a calendar-year Grand Slam.Sukova’s elation was short-lived. Chris Evert beat her to win the title. And that’s not atypical. The winners in these historic upsets have gone just 1-7 when trying to repeat their feats in the next match at the same event.3Arantxa Sanchez Vicario’s upset of Steffi Graf in the 1989 French Open came in the final, so Sanchez Vicario had no more matches at that tournament. After Roberta Vinci, the No. 43 ranked player in the world, defeated No. 1 Serena Williams in the U.S. Open semifinals on Friday, someone asked Vinci if she remembered a bigger upset in women’s tennis. She answered, “No. Just today.”We took a more quantitative approach and arrived at the same answer. Vinci’s victory was the biggest upset in women’s Open-era tennis history this late in a Grand Slam tournament.Before the tournament, we used Elo — the ratings system that takes into account players’ match results and quality of opposition and creates power rankings for anything from chess to the NFL — to rate the best women’s tennis players of all time. According to this system, Williams is one of the greatest but not the greatest. (Despite her loss, however, she is still playing well enough to keep building her case.) It’s this system that shows just how historic Vinci’s upset was. 1984Helena SukovaMartina NavratilovaAustralian OpenSF574L 1988Zina GarrisonMartina NavratilovaU.S. OpenQF471L 1999Amelie MauresmoLindsay DavenportAustralian OpenSF463L 1979Barbara JordanHana MandlikovaAustralian OpenQF513W 1989Arantxa Sanchez VicarioSteffi GrafFrench OpenF488N/A 1994Mary PierceSteffi GrafFrench OpenSF502L The real upset is that Vinci made the semifinals at all. These upsets are so rare late in majors because by the quarterfinals or later, both players’ ratings are usually far closer to each others’ than Williams’s and Vinci’s were.Bigger upsets have happened earlier in majors. Katarina Studenikova’s second-round upset of Monica Seles at Wimbledon in 1996 overcame an Elo gap of 764 points. Williams herself has suffered bigger upsets. Her loss in the third round of Wimbledon in 2005 to Jill Craybas occurred despite a 710-point gap in their Elo ratings.Men suffer upsets too, despite their best-of-five-set format that gives favorites more chances to come back and assert their superiority. The biggest in a quarterfinal or later was Christophe Roger-Vasselin’s defeat of Jimmy Connors, whose Elo rating was 580 points higher, in the 1983 French Open quarterfinals.Elo doesn’t capture the stakes of Friday’s upset. Williams’s quest for the Grand Slam made Friday’s result loom larger than most before it. And the upset is even more shocking when you consider that Williams has an extraordinary record late in Grand Slam tournaments. So what happened Friday?“I thought she played the best tennis in her career,” Williams said in her postmatch press conference about Vinci. ”I think she played literally out of her mind.” 1990Zina GarrisonSteffi GrafWimbledonSF473L 2007Marion BartoliJustine HeninWimbledonSF462L 2015Roberta VinciSerena WilliamsU.S. OpenSF652? YEARWINNERLOSEREVENTROUNDELO DIFF.WINNER’S NEXT MATCH 1997Amanda CoetzerSteffi GrafFrench OpenQF453L Baseline: A U.S. Open mini-podcastCarl Bialik and Grantland’s Brian Phillips discuss Roberta Vinci’s upset of Serena Williams and preview the Djokovic-Federer final. For more subscribe to our sports podcast Hot Takedown.
Dirk Nowitzki is putting up a valiant fight against Father Time, but the seventh-leading scorer in NBA history is now a complementary piece on offense, and a guy you have to try to hide on defense. Zaza Pachulia is big, smart, tough, dependable and reliable and has a surprisingly soft mid-range jumper, all qualities that make Pachulia a good backup center. He isn’t exactly athletic, which makes him a major downgrade from Tyson Chandler and the DeAndre Jordan dream. Here’s what CARMELO thinks of the Mavs’ main pieces (check out every NBA player here): As Chandler Parsons transitions into being the pretty face of the franchise, the Mavs need him to back up his belief that he can be one of the NBA’s premier point-forwards. If you ask him, all he needs is the ball in his hands more, now that he’s surrounded by shooters. Wesley Matthews, 29 and coming off a torn left Achilles tendon, has been a terrific role player and parlayed that success into a max contract. As a dude who thrives on disrespect, “Iron Man” will be intrigued that CARMELO considers him a mediocre defender. The Dallas Mavericks failed to make it past the first round for the fourth consecutive time last season, and now they’re sprinting on the mediocrity treadmill that owner Mark Cuban was so determined to avoid. If anything, they took steps backward after scrambling to fill the roster spot they thought would go to big fish DeAndre Jordan. The Las Vegas over-under for Mavs wins this season is 38.5. FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projection system is a bit more optimistic, 41-41, but even that would match the worst record in Cuban’s tenure, now entering its 16th season. We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here. As Deron Williams has said, he was “kind of a consolation prize” after the disappointment of the Jordan debacle. He was a huge bust in Brooklyn after signing a max contract, prompting the Nets to pay $27 million to buy out his final two seasons, but the Mavs hope he’ll be a $5.4 million bargain in Dallas. Dallas certainly believes he’ll be an upgrade over the post-Jason Kidd point guard carousel, so they can’t be happy to see 2014 Jameer Nelson (whom they dumped as quickly as possible) come up in Williams’s player comps. Devin Harris’s top comp is Brad Davis, so Harris is clearly a candidate to have his number hanging from the American Airlines Center rafters after he retires.
FiveThirtyEight’s 2015-16 NBA predictions post dropped on Monday and included, right up at the top, a detail remarkable enough to elicit a double-take from any NBA fan still fogging a mirror: the Warriors’ projected record. As of this writing it sits at a tidy 72-10 — as in the same 72-10 that MJ’s Bulls put up in the 1995-96 season, and the standing record for the most wins ever in an NBA regular season.By now there’s a whole cottage industry dedicated to handicapping the Warriors. On Monday, our colleagues at ESPN Stats & Info published an article about whether Golden State had a shot at breaking the 1995-96 Bulls’ record. They found that the Warriors had a 45 percent chance of getting to at least 72 wins and a 31 percent chance of at least 73. Our CARM-Elo projection is a little more bullish: It has the odds of 72+ wins at 54 percent, and 73+ wins at 44 percent. Still, bear in mind: Sensitivity to excellence (and awfulness) doesn’t mean the model simply takes the current data and makes it the new baseline. Case in point: The projection depresses the 2015 Dubs’ point differential of 14.9, which would be a record, to an average of 12.6 across all 10,000 simulations. This is the expected outcome once the model takes into account regression to the mean, a bigger sample size and all the other flattening effects near to disbelievers’ nagging hearts, yet it’s still a few ticks higher than the second-place mark of 12.3, set by the 1971-72 Lakers.What the model can’t account for is the possibility that Golden State clinches home court some time around the trade deadline and suspends its starting five in carbonite. But then, that isn’t really what we’re looking to measure here, anyway. “Will the Warriors break the record, given all the external incentives not to?” is a much less interesting question than can they. To answer the latter: There’s a damn good chance they can. 652612.694.5 59240.299.4 80610.60.8 663423.491.9 WINSSIMSCHANCE OF EXACTLY THIS MANY WINSCHANCE OF AT LEAST THIS MANY WINS Golden State’s odds of hitting astonishing win totals — we’ve highlighted a few milestones in the table next to this paragraph, like the one-in-four chance the Warriors win at least 75 games — are probably a good deal higher than you’ll see in other models, or in the betting markets, where the Warriors are still about a 3-to-1 underdog to hit 73. That’s for — we think — a pretty good reason. One of the advantages of the CARM-Elo projection is that it allows runs of good play (in the simulation) to inform future performance, meaning hot and cold streaks can occur organically within the model.1This happens because the model adjusts each team’s Elo rating after each game in the simulation. So if a team wins one simulated game, its rating goes up, and it is slightly more likely to win the next. When it loses a game, the same is true in reverse. With CARM-Elo, the spread of potential season outcomes will be a little wider than in other models, as it’s a little more capable of assigning extreme outcomes when prompted by extreme performance.That’s helpful given that the Warriors are performing at the extreme reaches of professional basketball. Right now, they have an Elo of 1831, which is a franchise-high mark and the second-highest of all time, behind only the peak of Jordan’s ’96 Bulls (1853), who floated above the Warriors’ current mark for only four games in the ’96 playoffs. For reference, the Boston Celtics have the third-highest franchise peak ever, at just 1816. A falling piano could take Steph Curry’s size 13s off at the ankle on his way to the arena tonight, and Golden State’s sustained level of play this season would already put it right there at the top of the short list of great NBA squads. 641621.696.1 749379.434.3 60300.399.1 61700.798.8 56150.299.9 521<0.1%>99.9% 739779.844.1 530<0.1>99.9 81170.20.2 674394.488.5 631211.297.3 552<0.1>99.9 708208.271.5 57200.299.8 822<0.1<0.1 544<0.1>99.9 696906.978.4 758128.125.0 58220.299.6 Hot Takedown wonders: Just how good are the Warriors?Conversation begins at 13:20. Subscribe to all of FiveThirtyEight’s podcasts here. 62810.898.1 791531.52.3 783153.25.5 719329.363.3 729899.954.0 774594.610.1 685655.784.1 Check out FiveThirtyEight’s 2015-16 NBA predictions » 766776.816.8
2France 1England, Germany, Italy, Spain Top divisions only. Countries are listed alphabetically within each tier. 6Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia, Cyprus, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Georgia, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Northern Ireland, Serbia, Wales European countries’ soccer leagues, sorted into six tiers by strength This methodology article is for an old version of our club soccer forecasts. See how our latest club soccer predictions work.Today we’re publishing FiveThirtyEight’s club soccer predictions interactive, which includes team ratings, odds for upcoming matches and forecasts for the top five European domestic soccer leagues — the Premier League (England), La Liga (Spain), Bundesliga (Germany), Serie A (Italy) and Ligue 1 (France) — along with the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s premier club competition. Our forecasts are available in both English and Spanish, and we‘ll be adding more leagues in the future, likely starting in a few months with Liga MX, MLS and NWSL.The forecasts are based on a substantially revised version of ESPN’s Soccer Power Index (SPI), a rating system originally devised by FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver in 2009 for rating international soccer teams and last revised for the 2014 World Cup. For the interactive, we have updated and adapted SPI to incorporate club soccer scores going back to 1888 (from more than 550,000 matches in all),1Including matches from the six leagues we’re forecasting. The data comes from ESPN’s database and James Curley’s GitHub. The model doesn’t take into account matches in lower domestic divisions or in other competitions such as league cups or Europa League. as well as newer play-by-play data from Opta that has been available since summer 2010.In SPI, each team is assigned an offensive and defensive rating, expressed in terms of number of goals it would expect to score and yield against a middling team — so a high offensive rating is good, and a high defensive rating is bad.2Think of a team’s ratings as roughly how it would do against Swansea, Bordeaux or Leganes, based on those teams’ current strength. Unlike with national-team SPI, our club-soccer SPI doesn’t include an overall rating, in part because we plan to add other leagues, and as the pool of teams changes, the overall ratings would shift, too. Given the ratings for any two teams, we can project the result of a match between them in a variety of formats — such as a league match, a home-and-away tie or a cup final — as well as simulate whole seasons to arrive at the probability each team will win the league, qualify for the Champions League or be relegated to a lower division. After every match, a team’s ratings are adjusted based on its performance in that match and the strength of its opponent. Unlike with the Elo rating system we use in several other sports, when a soccer team wins a match but performs worse than expected, its ratings decline.Underlying quality of playSoccer can be tricky to model because there are so few goals scored in each match. The final scoreline fairly often will disagree with most people’s impressions of the quality of each team’s play, and the low-scoring nature of the sport sometimes will lead to prolonged periods of luck, where a team may be getting good results despite playing poorly (or vice versa).To mitigate this randomness, and better estimate each team’s underlying quality of play, we’re using four metrics to evaluate a team’s performance after each match: goals, adjusted goals, shot-based expected goals and non-shot expected goals.The first is simply how many goals a team scored in the match. The second, adjusted goals, accounts for the conditions under which each goal was scored. For adjusted goals, we reduce the value of goals scored when a team has more players on the field,3These are worth about 0.8 goals. This and all other weights were chosen in order to optimize the model for predicting match outcomes. as well as goals scored late in a match when a team is already leading.4Specifically, after the 70th minute, the value of a goal when a team is leading decreases linearly to the end of the game, when a goal is worth half a goal. So a 70th minute goal when leading is worth a full goal, an 80th minute goal is worth 0.75 goals, and a goal in the 90th minute or later is worth 0.5 goals. We increased the value of all other goals to make the total number of adjusted goals add up to the total number of goals scored.Shot-based expected goals are an estimate of how many goals a team “should” have scored given the shots they took in that match. Each shot is assigned a probability of scoring based on the distance and angle from the goal, as well as the part of the body the shot was taken with, with an adjustment for the player who took the shot.5All players who have enough shots in our database are given a modifier based on their historical conversion rates (the number of goals they’ve scored given the shots they’ve had). For example, Lionel Messi has historically converted a shot into a goal about 1.4 times as often as expected, so the probability of any shot he takes is multiplied by 1.4. These individual shot probabilities are added together to produce a team’s shot-based expected goals for that match, which may be bigger or smaller than the number of goals it actually scored.Non-shot expected goals are an estimate of how many goals a team “should” have scored based on non-shooting actions they took around the opposing team’s goal:6That is, within an area slightly larger than the 18-yard box. passes, interceptions, take-ons and tackles. For example, we know that intercepting the ball at the opposing team’s penalty spot results in a goal about 9 percent of the time, and a completed pass that is received six yards directly in front of the goal leads to a score about 14 percent of the time. We add these individual actions up across an entire match to arrive at a team’s non-shot expected goals. Just as for shot-based expected goals, there is an adjustment for each action based on the success rates of the player or players taking the action (both the passer and the receiver in the case of a pass). 4Belgium, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Russia, Ukraine 5Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Poland, Romania, Scotland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey TIERLEAGUES Take Sunday’s match between Everton and Manchester City, for example. Although Everton won 4-0, our model didn’t see the match as nearly so lopsided. Two of Everton’s goals came with the lead after the 70th minute. Furthermore, Everton took only six shots. Our shot-based expected goals model would expect only about 0.4 of those shots to go in the net, not the four that did. Man City also was the better team according to our non-shot based expected goals model. In all, our composite scores saw the final result as a 2.16-0.84 win for Everton — much narrower than 4-0.Since all four metrics represent the number of goals a team scored or could have been expected to score during the match, they’re directly comparable, and a team’s composite offensive score is an average of the four metrics; its composite defensive score is an average of the four metrics for its opponent. “An average doesn’t sound very empirical,” you might say, but our testing indicates it does about as well as any other way of combining the metrics. If anything, the expected goals components should count a bit more toward the overall match rating than the goals-based measures, but we have only a little more than six seasons’ worth of data for those components, while we have goals data back to 1888. Therefore, we’re being a little cautious about incorporating this new data. A team is assigned an offensive and defensive rating for a match based on its composite score and the pre-match ratings of its opponent, and these game ratings are combined with the team’s pre-match ratings to produce its updated ratings.As with our Elo-based rating systems, each team’s ratings change in the offseason. Rather than reverting each team toward the same mean, we revert it toward a time-weighted average of its final rating over the past five seasons. In addition, we adjust each team’s preseason rating based on players it acquires or sells in the offseason.7Specifically, these adjustments are based on subtracting transfer fees a team got in the offseason from how much it spent on acquiring players, relative to league average. For every standard deviation of net spend above league average, a team’s rating is boosted by about 0.09 points, split evenly between the team’s offensive and defensive ratings.ForecastingOnce we’ve established ratings for every team in the leagues we cover, we forecast the outcomes of upcoming matches with a Poisson model that forecasts the estimated number of goals we expect each team to score. The parameters in the model are the offensive and defensive ratings of the two teams, home-field advantage,8This varies based on the year of the match and the league the game is being played in. As Oliver Roeder and James Curley documented in 2014 on FiveThirtyEight about English soccer, home-field advantage has decreased over time. and the number of days of rest for each team. We can use these goal forecasts to estimate the probability of each team winning, as well as the chance the match will end in any given score.We then run Monte Carlo simulations to play out each league’s season 10,000 times using our individual match forecasts. As with our other forecasts, we run our Monte Carlo simulations “hot,” meaning that instead of a team’s ratings remaining static within each simulated season, the ratings can rise or fall based on the simulated matches the team plays. In effect, this widens the distribution of possible outcomes by allowing a weak team to go on a winning streak and increase its ratings substantially, or providing for the possibility that a strong team loses its first few games of a simulated season and is penalized accordingly.Leagues and tiersOne challenge when building such a system is the large number of leagues around the world: we have over 400 in our database. Determining a team’s strength within its league is relatively straightforward, but figuring out its strength relative to teams in other leagues is a second challenge. There are often few matches between teams in different leagues or regions. For example, clubs in the Americas rarely play European clubs aside from the Club World Cup or summer warmup matches, for which European sides often don’t field their best teams. 3Portugal To compare different leagues, we’ve come up with a tiered system. Each league belongs to a tier, and each successive tier is a bit weaker9By a margin equivalent to 0.2 goals per game, spread between offensive and defensive ratings. than the one above it. We calculated these tiers using both an analysis of interleague matches (e.g. Champions League or Europa League) and UEFA’s league-strength coefficients.Right now we’re about halfway through the European club season, and several leagues have good races brewing for the last few months. You can follow along at our interactive.
Those same numbers haven’t exactly been on-brand for the Pats so far this year. Although they’ve still forced opponents to drive from the league’s third-worst field position, their takeaways per drive have slipped to 12th, and their goal-to-go efficiency has fallen to 30th. And no defense has yielded more touchdowns per drive — the most elemental sign of whether a defense is bending or just flat-out snapping into pieces.Indicators of a defense’s ability to bend and not break are notoriously noisy, so the Patriots may very well rediscover their usual form before long. But by the same token, it was remarkable that the Pats’ D was able to survive as long as it had with such fickle metrics serving as strategic cornerstones. Given the team’s dynastic track record, nobody should think about counting New England out yet — particularly as long as Brady keeps playing at such a high level — but with their usual defensive formula disrupted and their home-field aura shaken, the Pats suddenly have more issues to address than they’re accustomed to.Check out our latest NFL predictions. Takeaways per drive115.7%1211.1% 2015Saints+0.8-11.2-11.2 2010Texans-0.4-9.2-9.5 2016Browns-1.1-8.6-9.5 YEARTEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL 2008Lions-2.5-7.5-9.9 2017Patriots+0.4-12.4-12.2 Goal-to-go efficiency allowed364.5%30100.0% 2011Buccaneers-2.3-4.9-7.7 2008Broncos-1.9-6.4-8.3 Touchdowns allowed per drive317.0%3231.1% The Patriots’ D is bending — and now breakingKey defensive metrics for New England EPA Total EPA may not match passing + rushing because of penalties.Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group CATEGORYNFL RANKAVG. VALUENFL RANKAVG. VALUE Opponent’s avg. starting field position127.4325.9 2001-20162017 Opponent yards per point118.02214.3 Red zone efficiency allowed1252.0%2764.3% 2010Jaguars-1.0-6.9-7.7 2014Saints-2.1-6.1-7.7 The worst defenses since ’06Most expected points added (EPA) allowed per game by NFL defenses, 2006-17 But even that by itself understates just how bad the Pats’ D has been this season. So far, New England is allowing a staggering 116.5 passer rating — essentially turning every opposing QB into Peyton Manning — and has also been carved up for 5.1 yards per carry. With an average of 12.2 EPA allowed per game, the Pats’ defense is tracking to be the single most porous D of the past 12 NFL seasons.New England has been in a similar position before. In 2011, the Patriots were roughly as good on offense as they’ve been this season — they ranked third in offensive EPA behind the Saints and Packers — and although they weren’t as much of a defensive dumpster fire as the 2017 edition has been, they still ranked eighth-to-last in EPA allowed and had the league’s sixth-worst pass defense.That team went 13-3, finished third in point differential (+171) and eventually made it to the Super Bowl before being upset by the New York Giants. This year’s version, by contrast, is barely outscoring opponents (they have a +1 point differential) and might be lucky to extend the franchise’s streak of winning a double-digit number of games to 15 years.So how were the Pats able to survive this kind of all-offense configuration in the past? By bending but not breaking. As we noted before the Super Bowl in February, one of the hallmarks of Belichick’s Patriots has been a defense that readily yields yardage but refuses to let opponents ultimately convert ball movement into points. From 2001 to 2016, the Pats’ average ranking in yards allowed was 16.1, while their average ranking in points allowed was 7.7; they ranked better by points allowed than yards allowed 14 times in those 16 seasons.The gap was a function of several important factors, including forcing opponents to drive from the deepest field position in the league, grabbing the most takeaways per drive of any team and summoning the league’s third-best goal-to-go defense (i.e., the rate of touchdowns allowed per drive that contained a down with the goal to go). These were all markers of strong situational defense — meaning that the Patriots’ D would play better the more heavily the situation determined whether they would allow points or (ultimately) win the game. 2017Titans-0.2-8.8-8.9 Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group The New England Patriots are usually immune to Super Bowl hangovers; you don’t win five championships and 14 division crowns in 16 seasons by resting on laurels. But early in this year’s title defense, the Pats find themselves with an uncharacteristic 2-2 record — including 1-2 at home, where they’re usually invincible.1According to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, this is the first time since 2000 that New England has lost multiple home games before Week 5. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been doing this thing long enough that Pats fans shouldn’t be fully panicked quite yet — our NFL predictions still give them nearly a 70 percent chance of making the playoffs — but it’s worth dissecting these four games to see if they represent a momentary hiccup, or if the champs are truly in trouble.If someone had told you before the season that the Patriots would struggle through four weeks, it would have been logical to assume that the 40-year-old Brady had started to show his age, like so many QBs have before. But the funny thing is, Brady has been nothing less than outstanding so far: According to adjusted net yards per attempt,2A measure of passing efficiency that tracks yards per attempt with a bonus for touchdowns and penalties for interceptions and sacks. this is shaping up to be the most efficient season of Brady’s career, which is remarkable for a QB who might be the best in history.Brady has even done it despite having to abruptly adjust his quarterbacking style in the wake of a season-ending injury suffered in the preseason by top 2016 target Julian Edelman. Without Edelman running underneath routes to stretch defenses horizontally, Brady’s average air yards per attempt has skyrocketed from 7.5 a year ago to 10.0 this season. After throwing only 19 percent of his passes more than 15 yards downfield last season, Brady now airs it out 28 percent of the time, with newcomer Brandin Cooks ranking fourth among all NFL receivers in air yards per target.3Minimum 10 targets. And yet, in spite of the more difficult throws, Brady is also completing 66.5 percent of his passes, one of the best rates of his career. He hasn’t been perfect — he’s taking a lot of sacks despite facing less pressure in the pocket — but Brady has done some of his best-ever work under center so far in 2017.Because of Brady’s heroics, the Patriots have easily been the best offensive team in football thus far according to expected points added (EPA), generating 52.2 net points when they have the ball (nearly 7 more than the second-place Chiefs). Trouble is, they’ve also been the league’s worst defensive team. And it’s not even remotely close.The Pats’ defense is yielding 48.8 net points when the opponent has possession, 13.1 more than the second-to-last Titans. If that holds up, it would be the first time since 20064The earliest season in Stats & Info’s EPA database. for the same team to finish first in one category and last in the other. (No team has ever ranked first in defense and last in offense.)
Welcome to The Lab, FiveThirtyEight’s basketball podcast. On this week’s show (Feb. 1, 2018), Neil, Chris and Kyle break down the recent rash of significant injuries to key players on the Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder. John Wall and Kevin Love suffered injuries that will sideline them for at least several weeks, and DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Roberson are out for the remainder of the season. How will these losses affect each team and the playoff forecast? We take a look. Next, we talk about the Los Angeles Clippers’ decision to trade star Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons, and speculate about how Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy might use the power forward.Here are links to what we discussed this week:ESPN reported that the Wizards’ John Wall’s knee surgery would have him out at least two months.The Pelicans’ Boogie Cousins will be out for the rest of the season with a torn Achilles.Meanwhile, the Cavaliers’ Kevin Love will miss six to eight weeks with a hand fracture.And the Thunder’s Andre Roberson is done for the year with a ruptured patellar tendon.Chris Herring calls the Pistons’ trade for Griffin a desperate move that may backfire. More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Embed Code By Neil Paine, Chris Herring and Kyle Wagner
The loss had a major ripple effect on the rest of the World Cup. With Germany — which we rated as the team most likely to make the Round of 16 going into the tournament (oops!) — on the sidelines, Brazil added 3.5 percentage points to its odds of winning the World Cup. That’s the most of any team — Brazil might have faced the Germans in the next round had they advanced — but England and Belgium were the next-biggest gainers (other than Sweden, which punched its ticket to the knockouts by beating Mexico) because of their own potential proximity to Germany in the bracket.Now there’s one fewer powerhouse for the top teams to contend with — and one more defending champion to toss onto the pile of recent disappointments.Jay Boice contributed research. Expected Goals UnderdogFavoriteWinner’s Pregame Probabilities 6/18/2014SpainChile2.00-2.0 Biggest upsets of the 2018 World CupFor match winners, according to pregame Soccer Power Index odds Say goodbye to another defending World Cup champion: Germany, the team that won it all four years ago, is officially out of the 2018 tournament. Despite ultimately only needing a win over South Korea — the fourth-worst team in the field, according to our pre-tournament soccer power index ratings — to advance to the knockout round, the Germans were upended 2-0 on Wednesday in what was easily the biggest upset of the World Cup thus far. (Going into the match, our model only gave South Korea a 5 percent probability of winning.) Source: ESPN Stats & Info Source: ESPN Stats & Info 6/18/2006CroatiaJapan2.00-2.0 The World Cup’s most disappointing games since 1966Biggest single-match gaps between actual and expected goals, 1966-2018 6/17/2014BrazilMexico1.80-1.8 Jun. 27South Korea2Germany05%14%81% 6/14/1978PolandArgentina2.10-2.1 Jun. 25Saudi Arabia2Egypt1232849 Perhaps more surprising than the fact that another defending champ fell was just how Germany managed to let its chance slip away. It peppered South Korean goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-Woo with scoring attempts, out-shooting the Koreans 26-11 and holding possession for 70 percent of the match. According to ESPN’s expected goals model, we would predict that a team with Germany’s opportunities would net 2.9 goals — instead, it scored zero.It was the sixth-most expected goals that any team has had during this World Cup; the five teams above Germany averaged 3.6 actual goals per game. But Germany was unable to break through when even one goal potentially would have been enough to propel it to the next phase of the tournament. (South Korea’s late goals were essentially the product of Germany playing an all-out offensive strategy, knowing it needed to win outright because of Sweden’s lead over Mexico in the other group game happening at the same time.) According to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, Germany’s 2.9-goal shortfall was the worst in any World Cup match since 1966: DateTeamOpponentExpectedActualDiff. Jun. 22Nigeria2Iceland0343036 6/25/2014FranceEcuador1.80-1.8 7/1/2014SwitzerlandArgentina2.10-2.1 7/19/1966ItalyNorth Korea1.90-1.9 6/27/2018GermanySouth Korea2.90-2.9 6/30/2014GermanyAlgeria4.52-2.5 6/19/1974NetherlandsSweden2.00-2.0 DateTeamScoreTeamScoreWinDrawLose
OSU wrestling coach Tom Ryan watches on during a match against Minnesota on Feb. 6, 2015. Credit: Lantern file photoIt doesn’t take a diehard fan of collegiate wrestling to see how much improvement the Ohio State wrestling team has undergone in the past decade. Much of the change can be attributed to its coach, Tom Ryan.Throughout his first 10 years with the program, Ryan has produced a pair of runner-up finishes in the NCAA tournament, the first conference title for the Buckeyes in 64 years and a team national championship, the first in the history of an OSU wrestling program that first hit the mats in 1921.Along with the team accomplishments, six Buckeyes have earned 10 national championships with Ryan at the helm. Two of the individual crowns were won this season by sophomore Kyle Snyder and freshman Myles Martin, Nathan Tomasello won as a redshirt freshman in 2015, Logan Stieber won four times, J Jaggers won twice and Mike Pucillo won in 2008.The backing and following of the OSU wrestling team has reached new levels under the guidance of the former Iowa wrestler. “I remember when I first got the job here, I had a blow-up mattress and I would just sleep in the office,” Ryan said. “(OSU) hooked me up with a hotel room downtown, but I rarely left here.”With his family still back in New York preparing to make the move to Columbus, Ryan said he could immerse himself in his work, dedicating every moment to wrestling. This time was used to assemble his coaching staff, as well as structure the program for the foreseeable future.Through tireless work and effort, Ryan was able to produce back-to-back second-place finishes at the NCAA championships in his second and third seasons. Fast forward six years, and the Buckeyes were hoisting a national-championship trophy for the first time in the team’s existence. The turnaround has brought national attention to the Buckeyes as a powerhouse in the wrestling world, giving OSU great leverage in terms of recruiting. Since 2012, each of Ryan’s recruiting classes have been ranked in the top 10, according to D1 College Wrestling, with the 2014 class peaking at No. 5. “The younger kids now that are growing up, the seed that’s planted in their brain watching the TV is Ohio State,” Ryan said. “When I first got here, they were not saying that necessarily.”A change in culture and networking across the state with people who have a passion for the sport have helped the program to grow at OSU. The support of donors and contributors to the program and the university have also been instrumental, Ryan said. Tangible evidence of the rise in prominence is the proposed training center for the team, which is set to begin construction sometime this year. Although things would seem to be going in an entirely new direction, Ryan claimed there was nothing revolutionary or new implemented by the three-time national coach of the year when he arrived in Ohio’s capital city. “We haven’t reinvented any wheels here,” Ryan said. “You study what schools in various sports have done really well, and you try to put that in place where you are.”Following a decade of being at the helm for the Scarlet and Gray, Ryan has solidified the wrestling program as one of OSU’s most-followed sports outside of football and basketball. Ryan said fans should continue to watch and cheer on the wrestling team as it continues to build. “I think the best days are ahead of us,” he said with a smile.Correction 4/5: An earlier version of the story said Kyle Snyder, Myles Martin and Logan Stieber made up the three wrestlers to win six national championships, when in fact Nathan Tomasello, J Jaggers and Mike Pucillo also won, making the total 10.
Derevon Guyton cheers on PSG in the International Champions Cup at Ohio Stadium on July 27, 2016. Credit: Jacob Myers | Assistant Sports EditorWednesday night was another night inside Ohio Stadium where the fans were loud, somewhat obnoxious, donning their team’s colors, but it wasn’t quite September yet. A warm night in July pitted European soccer powerhouse clubs Paris Saint-Germain against Real Madrid.The International Champions Cup came to Columbus for the first game in the ‘Shoe since 1998 when the Columbus Crew played their last home season on Ohio State’s campus. All night, the atmosphere was electric, filled with an attendance of 86,641—a record for the state of Ohio. For some, this was the first chance they got to see the stars they idolize oversees.Derevon Guyton, 28, traveled from Washington state to see his beloved PSG squad play for the first time.“PSG to the death of me, bro,” Guyton said. “That’s my boys out there, man. I’m sitting out here, but I feel like I’m on the field with them.”A soccer fan since high school, Guyton flew out to Baltimore on Saturday to meet with his girlfriend for two days before they travelled to Columbus for the international friendly. He estimated his trip to be $1,200.Sporting a Zlatan Ibrahimovic jersey, who has since left PSG for the Premier League’s Manchester United, Guyton waved his red and blue PSG flag for the entire crowd to see, as if they couldn’t hear him already. Cheering at every moment, mocking Real Madrid defender Marcelo as he fell to the turf, the passion exuding from Guyton represented the growth of soccer in America.“I’ve been waiting to see them for years. It just costs too much to go to Paris. It’s not really feasible unless you’re like a millionaire, bro. It’s like $5,000,” said Guyton. “So for them to come here, it’s a big deal for me. I’ll always remember this.”Fans from nearby Dayton, Cincinnati, Toledo and Detroit made the journey to OSU for Wednesday’s friendly, as well as some from Chicago. These fans may live in the U.S., but some of them represent nationalities of Spain, France, Canada and even Nepal. One family made the trip to Columbus from Columbia to cheer on their national hero.“James (Rodriguez for Real Madrid). We came to see James,” said the family. Their trip cost around $2,000.A nationwide obsession of the video game FIFA has been a major impact in the expansion of soccer in the U.S. Major League Soccer has 20 teams currently playing across the country and some in Canada.Former Columbus Crew player Frankie Hejduk, who won a championship for the Crew in 2008 when there were just 14 teams in the MLS was in attendance on Wednesday night. He said that seeing die-hard soccer fans from many nationalities bonding with an American football-dominant crowd is something he didn’t think would have been possible five years ago.“This game really brings attention to the fans who don’t know much about soccer that could potentially say, ‘I had a blast,’” Hejduk said. “That’s what I see is people are learning to respect the game a lot more because these guys are athletes.”PSG won 3-1 with all scoring in the first half. The first goal came at the two-minute mark sending the crowd into a frenzy. Personal photos were being taken just about everywhere around the stadium to remember the moment they first got to see their team play in America. Fans also took part in a resounding stadium “O-H-I-O” in the second half.Real Madrid midfielder Lucas Vasquez said that he felt at home on the pitch and the atmosphere was phenomenal.“I think what we have seen is that all around the world we have fans, and we saw them when we got to the hotel,” said Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane. “Overall, we’re happy to be here and to spend a little time with the fans in Columbus.”The preseason exhibition between PSG and Real Madrid is one of four games played in the U.S. this month as a part of the ICC. Columbus has been a city that has adapted well to the game, but Wednesday night may have been another installment into how the sport continues to grow in the country.“It promotes real football. It shows them what football really is,” Guyton said. “I still believe that the MLS is years behind all the other leagues. But this right here is a spectacle.”