Drafting Sophomores Is a Smart Strategy For NBA Teams

When Jared Sullinger, the nation’s No. 2 high-school recruit, finished his freshman year playing center at Ohio State in 2011, he was forecast to be drafted into the NBA in the top three. But when he declared that he was going back to school for his sophomore season, his draft stock plummeted, bottoming out at the 20th pick the next year, according to one mock draft. This was despite a season in which Sullinger won his second consensus All-American award and led Ohio State to the Final Four. Eventually, he went No. 21 to the Celtics — a bargain considering he’s outperformed most of the players who went in the lottery that year.The Celtics have had success with sophomores. Their best player, Rajon Rondo, entered the draft after his sophomore year at Kentucky,1The Phoenix Suns drafted Rondo in 2006 on behalf of the Celtics, who traded their 2007 first-round pick to acquire him. and they were the first team to take a sophomore in Thursday’s NBA draft, choosing Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State with the sixth pick. But the Celtics are atypical. The draft’s top four picks, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and Aaron Gordon, left college after their freshman year. Two freshmen whom the Celtics bypassed, Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh, went No. 7 and No. 9.Drafting freshmen has become the new normal in the NBA. Since 2006, when the NBA raised its age limit to 19 years and precluded high school players from entering the draft, the roster of players chosen Nos. 1 through 5 has consisted of 23 freshmen, nine sophomores, eight juniors, four international players and just one college senior.2The senior was Shelden Williams of Duke, in 2006. (By contrast, just four of the 40 top-five picks from 1998 through 2005 were freshmen.3Along with eight high schoolers, eight sophomores, 13 juniors, three seniors and four international players.)From the players’ point of view, the trend is easy to explain. Elite basketball prospects aren’t typical college students: They’re sacrificing millions of dollars every year they stay in school. Since 2006, 32 of the top 40 high school recruits4This set of 40 players consists of the top five high school recruits in each season from 2006 to 2013 as ranked by the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI). — 80 percent — played one year in college and then declared for the NBA draft. Only 20 percent played through their sophomore year or beyond.The percentage of top recruits to play at least two years in college has decreased since the NBA instituted its age limit. Between 1998 and 2005, 35 percent of top high school recruits5Again, I’m going by the top five players each year in the RSCI ratings. (rather than 20 percent) played through at least their sophomore year of college. True, another 45 percent did not attend college at all. But the one-and-done “compromise”6The new eligibility requirements were agreed to by the NBA players’ union in 2005. But high school and college players had no say in the arrangement. has become the league standard. Given where players such as Sullinger and Kawhi Leonard, who slipped to No. 15 in the 2011 draft after being projected higher, were drafted, it seems like teams may hold something against players who take a second year in school.So the Celtics’ attraction to sophomores may be no accident. They’ve been zigging while the rest of the league is zagging.NBA teams are generally correct to assume that players who exit college as freshmen have more upside. The chart below, which is spun off from earlier data I gathered on the NBA lottery, lists the number of win shares accumulated by first-round draft picks7Technically speaking, my data includes the top 30 draft picks from each season rather than first-rounders per se. There are currently 30 picks in the first round, but there were fewer before the league added the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004. during their first 10 NBA seasons. Ideally, we’d run the numbers only from 2006, when the NBA changed its eligibility requirements, onward. However, that would leave us with a small sample — and no one who’s played 10 years in the league. So instead, I’ve included all NBA drafts from 1995 through 20138The averages include only players who had an opportunity to compete in the season in question. For instance, Anthony Bennett of the Cavaliers, a freshman who was last year’s No. 1 overall pick, is included in the average for first-year players but not for subsequent seasons. However, players who had an opportunity to play but failed to do so because they were injured, playing abroad, retired or unsigned by any NBA team, are included in the averages as zeroes rather than being omitted. and grouped high school players and freshmen together. Juniors and seniors are also grouped together, while sophomores and international players get their own categories.Freshmen and high school draft picks have better careers on average. Through their first 10 NBA seasons, they produce about 15 percent more win shares than sophomores, and 70 percent more than juniors and seniors.However, they can take longer to come into their own. The average sophomore draft pick has been slightly better than the average freshman through his first five NBA seasons.9Juniors and seniors get something of the worst of both worlds. They hold their own against freshmen and sophomores during their first NBA season but show comparatively little improvement and peak on average in their third year in the league. International players may be underrated by this method because they sometimes play abroad for one or more seasons while an NBA team retains their rights; my technique counts these seasons as producing zero win shares. Even so, there have been a lot of Nikoloz Tskitishvilis and Maciej Lampes for every Dirk Nowitzki.But the slow development of a freshman can sometimes happen too late for the team that drafts him. Under the NBA’s current collective bargaining agreement (CBA), teams are guaranteed to have control of a first-round pick only through his first four or five NBA seasons. After that, a team theoretically has some option value in having the right to offer a player a max or “supermax” extension. But there are a host of problems with this: Relatively few players are worth the max, and even fewer are worth substantially more than the max. It’s hard to predict who is who. A team doesn’t get a “hometown discount”; instead it has the right to pay more than anyone else to retain a player. And even when a team identifies such a player, he’s under no obligation to sign with it.In basketball terms, the problem with drafting a guy like Andrew Wiggins is that he might get really expensive right when he gets really good. Or he might take his talents to Los Angeles or Manhattan or South Beach. Teams should probably assume that any surplus value from a draft pick comes from his first four or five seasons and draft on that basis.There’s a flip-side for sophomores like Marcus Smart. They might get really expensive right when they start to stink — unlike freshmen, sophomores typically begin to decline after about five seasons in the league. An incautious team might sign such a player to a massive extension when he isn’t worth one, as in the case of Rudy Gay and the Memphis Grizzlies. A rational team, however, should be able to resist that temptation — or even exploit other teams’ failure to appreciate the aging curve by trading a player like Smart right when he’s at his peak.There’s another benefit to drafting sophomores. In addition to being slightly better than freshmen in their first few NBA seasons, they come slightly cheaper. The table below compares the win shares produced by each class of player in its first four NBA seasons10More precisely, the first four NBA seasons after the players are drafted. If a player is drafted but doesn’t participate in the league, I count him as having zero value. against the value produced by other players in the same draft position (for instance, a No. 3 overall pick is compared against other No. 3 picks).11The data on the value associated with a particular draft position is slightly noisy, so I’ve estimated it by calculating a trend line on the natural logarithm of the draft pick number. The method is highly similar to the one I used in the NBA lottery article, although it’s calibrated based on a player’s first four seasons rather than his first five and considers draft picks since 1995 instead of 1985. Through their first four NBA seasons, sophomores produce about 10 percent more wins than the average players chosen in their draft slots, while freshmen produce 5 percent to 10 percent fewer wins. Because sophomores are drafted slightly later on average, they’ll also be paid slightly less under the league’s rookie salary scale.Exploiting a 10 percent edge won’t ensure a team a title. The Celtics will need some luck to build a championship contender around Smart, Rondo and rotation players like Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk. The sophomore strategy isn’t sexy, and other players chosen on Thursday have higher upsides than Smart. But the Celtics are playing the percentages while other teams are playing the lottery. read more

NFL Player Contemplated Murder After Losing Millions Through Bad

A couple didn’t fault the athlete. Clinton Portis seems to have learned from his excessive spending and poor investments. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)Former Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis was in such dire straits financially he thought about murdering one of his advisors responsible for mismanaging his decimated $43.1 million fortune.“It wasn’t no beat up,” Portis told Sports Illustrated of the 2013 night he waited outside a Washington, D.C., building in his car holding a pistol. “It was kill.”An unnamed friend who had trained as a family therapist talked Portis, 35, out of murdering his ex-financial manager, which the magazine did not identify.“We’d probably be doing this interview from prison,” Portis said, if he hadn’t been talked down from pulling the trigger.With the money Portis earned in his nine-year NFL career, he made what he thought were safe investments and set aside money for the security of his mother and four sons. But according to lawsuits filed between 2011 and 2013, most of the wealth was lost due to financial advisor Jeff Rubin and his team persuading the RB to make poor investments like sinking $1 million into an Alabama casino and withdrawing $3.1 million without his consent from a BB&T bank account that was opened with a forged signature card. Portis said another manager, Jinesh Brahmbhatt, caused him to lose more money in a Ponzi scheme by Success Trade Securities.Those advisers, who had the designation of being registered with the NFL, were prohibited from working in finance but were not sent to prison.“No jail time, no nothing,” Portis said. “Living happily ever after.”But Portis’ own spending also was out of hand. After he was traded from the Broncos to the Redskins in 2002, he scored one of the largest payouts for an NFL running back —$50.5 million and $17 million in bonuses over eight years. With those funds, a 22-year-old Portis bought “a lot” of houses with huge fish tanks, stripper poles and a slew of vehicles. While he also supported his family, the big spending led Portis to file for bankruptcy in 2015, which put his financial woes on the public stage, including four women’s owed domestic support totaling $412,000, $390,000 due to the IRS and over $287,000 owed to the MGM Grand casino. “Potential” $2 million and $8 million claims against Brahmbhatt’s and Rubin’s respective firms also were listed in the filing.Portis only had $150 left in the bank at the time.“The biggest regret is trusting people with my money,” Portis said. “You shouldn’t. Go to a bank.”Many have taken Portis’ plight as a warning to anyone experiencing immense wealth. read more

New Englands NonReceiver Receivers May Be The Greatest Threat To Philadelphia

On paper, the Eagles seem well constructed to stop the Patriots’ fearsome passing game. Like most teams that can defend in this league, the Eagles built their pass defense around edge rushers and cornerbacks in order to keep teams from beating them on deeper passes outside the numbers to wide receivers. This approach paid huge dividends in their upset victory over the Vikings in the NFC Championship, as Minnesota quarterback Case Keenum simply didn’t have the time to find his elite wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, who also were given less cushion to operate. The Eagles have the fourth-worst differential between how they defend wide receivers (71.2 passer rating allowed) versus how they defend tight ends and running backs (100.5). And this deficiency has played a significant role in their infrequent struggles this year. In Philly’s lone low point in the NFC Championship, it was tight end Kyle Rudolph who Keenum found for a 25-yard touchdown on the game’s opening drive. In the regular season, three of the Eagles’ four worst games in terms of passer rating allowed when guarding running backs were in the team’s three defeats, including a 144.1 passer rating allowed on RB/TE targets against the Seahawks (including two touchdowns), and 134.3 on 13 targets against the Chiefs. While they allowed a 100.0 rating on eight targets in an otherwise sterling defensive effort during a 6-0 loss to the Cowboys in the final week, many starters were sitting for large stretches of that game.1The Eagles also allowed a 143 passer rating when defending RB/TE in a Week 7 win over Washington.But there’s also statistical evidence that passer rating may be underselling Philadelphia’s efficiency in defending targets to running backs and tight ends. When we focus only on yards per attempt on these targets, the Eagles defense ranks as the fourth best (6.18 allowed per attempt). Similarly, the Eagles rank fifth-best in Raw Quarterback Rating (Raw QBR) because that statistic is based on expected points and makes an adjustment for yards after the catch.But before any jubilant Eagle fan starts scaling the “Rocky” steps in a dune buggy, consider that the Eagles didn’t play many teams this season that excel at passing to non-WRs. The Patriots’ offense is No. 1 not just in total yards on passes to RB/TEs but also in Raw QBR on passes to those players, and the only offenses the Eagles faced that ranked in the top 10 in both of those statistics were Kansas City, Washington (twice) and the Los Angeles Chargers. So let’s isolate those games: OpponentWeekYd/AttPass TDRatingRawQBR 3Denver113.381.7+31.6 TeamTight ends/running backsWide receiversDifference 23Minnesota76.775.0+1.7 LA Chargers44.7199.126.1 Passer Rating Against 4Philadelphia100.571.2+29.3 7Cincinnati99.376.3+23.0 6Miami110.485.7+24.7 19Carolina99.795.3+4.4 Their average Raw QBR allowed to these teams was 69.1, which is 30 points worse than their average in all other games. And that 69.1 Raw QBR against would rank sixth-worst in the league. Similarly, the Eagles allowed an average of 7.37 yards per attempt to these opponents versus just 5.72 to teams that are not nearly as prolific in throwing to non-WRs.So when you adjust for tendencies of opponent, all three statistics (rating, Raw QBR and yards per attempt) converge and it’s clear that, on paper, the Patriots have a decided edge against an otherwise sound pass defense. Of course, all this largely evaporates if Gronkowski, who suffered a concussion 10 days ago, is not recovered and can participate in Minnesota. While he’s returned to practice, he’s still in the concussion protocol and has to be cleared to play by an independent doctor. The team’s backup tight end, Dwayne Allen, caught just 10 passes all year and wasn’t even targeted by Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game, though Allen played over two quarters after Gronkowski’s injury against the Jaguars.If Gronkowski does play, the Patriots will be in an unusual spot for a game of this magnitude. The Patriots have long been famous for their a chameleon-like offense — the team will find your biggest weakness and design a fresh game plan around exploiting it. But based on the Eagles’ defensive splits, the New England offense may not have to morph into something else this time, but instead may be able to simply play to its greatest strength. 2Jacksonville95.155.9+39.2 Passes to tight ends and running backs cause problemsRegular-season difference in passer rating allowed when the opponent threw to wide receivers vs. when it threw to tight ends or running backs 10NY Giants108.389.2+19.1 Average7.41.50118.869.1 Average vs. all other teams5.70.3386.339.1 31Pittsburgh81.387.9-6.6 15Dallas102.493.9+8.5 11Cleveland113.097.4+15.6 30Houston101.6106.9-5.3 17Tennessee95.988.9+7.0 12Indianapolis103.890.6+13.2 21Atlanta96.993.9+3.0 5Buffalo96.169.7+26.4 13NY Jets102.889.6+13.2 14Washington90.679.0+11.6 26Kansas City82.685.1-2.5 Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group This is all well and good until you consider that the Patriots pass like no other team. No team in the NFL needs to worry less than the Patriots about a defense like Philadelphia’s taking away their wide receivers because no team in the NFL does more damage on throws to running backs and tight ends. Top threat Rob Gronkowski at tight end (health permitting), along with pass-catching running backs James White and Dion Lewis, can consistently abuse vulnerable linebackers and safeties that opposing teams typically try to hide in pass coverage.So will the Eagles be able to slow the non-receiver receivers of New England? The regular-season evidence looks damning for Philadelphia. The traditional measure of NFL passing efficiency is passer rating. So let’s look at how opponents’ passers fare when the Eagles defend running backs and tight ends in coverage versus when they defend wide receivers. 9LA Rams92.472.4+20.0 28Oakland102.6105.5-2.9 29Green Bay102.2107.2-5.0 24Arizona87.085.7+1.3 Kansas City210.11134.383.1 32Seattle72.288.0-15.8 25New England92.592.3+0.2 18Chicago95.389.8+5.5 Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group 27San Francisco96.098.8-2.8 Washington78.83143.092.7 20New Orleans84.980.5+4.4 1Baltimore100.860.4+40.4 Washington15.9198.874.4 16LA Chargers84.476.5+7.9 22Tampa Bay98.896.5+2.3 The Eagles had trouble with teams that pass well to TE/RBsHow Philadelphia’s pass defense did in the regular season when it faced teams that ranked highly in passing to non-receivers vs. teams that didn’t 8Detroit98.677.1+21.5 read more

The Cavs Are Trying But The Warriors Are Just Too Good

FiveThirtyEight More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Embed Code Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s show (June 7, 2016), we welcome ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz as a special guest host to discuss the NBA Finals and ask him what is going wrong for the Cleveland Cavaliers. We also assess the legacy of Muhammad Ali and wonder whether analytics are useful when trying to understand just how great he was. Finally, Mike Goodman of ESPN FC joins us to discuss the Copa America and the U.S. men’s national team’s chances in the rest of the tournament. Plus, a special segment on the definition of the hot take inspired by Slate’s Stefan Fatsis. Please send your own definition and your favorite examples to podcasts@fivethirtyeight.com. We’ll pass them along to Slate!Links to what we discuss are here:Neil Paine writes that the Cavs’ shooting went to hell in Game 1 of the NBA Finals but that they probably won’t get swept by the Warriors.ESPN Stats & Information Group says Draymond Green’s return to form makes the Warriors look unstoppable.The Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg writes that blame for the Cavs’ defeats must lie at the feet of LeBron James.Kyle Wagner says Muhammad Ali can’t be judged by mere statistics.Wesley Morris writes in The New York Times that Ali evolved from a great fighter into the nation’s conscience.BBC Sport tries to assess what it was about Ali that made him so great.According to Tom Dart in the Guardian, this is crunch time for Jürgen Klinsmann as he tries to find a winning formula for the U.S. men’s national soccer team.Mike Goodman explains why Clint Dempsey doesn’t fit into Klinsmann’s new-look attack.Michael Caley says Christian Pulisic might be the key to U.S. success at the Copa America.Finally, here’s a link to the episode of Slate’s “Hang Up and Listen” in which Fatsis announced his hot-take-crowd-sourcing project. Get involved! If you’re a fan of our podcasts, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts and leave a rating/review. That helps spread the word to other listeners. And get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments. Tell us what you think, send us hot takes to discuss and tell us why we’re wrong. read more

The Rams And Patriots Have Reversed Roles Since Their First Super Bowl

Home teams are in bold.The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction. One of the most wonderfully ironic moments in Super Bowl history happened just before kickoff in February 2002, when St. Louis Rams wide receiver Ricky Proehl turned to NFL Films’ cameras during warmups and declared: “Tonight, a dynasty is born!”Proehl was right, of course. A dynasty was born that night — just not the one he was imagining. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots ended up toppling the heavily favored Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, using it as a springboard for the greatest run of sustained success any NFL team has ever known.The Patriots were the up-and-coming team back then, while the Rams were the established champions with the veteran, future Hall of Fame quarterback. This time around, though, the roles will be reversed for the two franchises — with the Patriots serving as the elder statesmen, while the Rams are the team on the rise. It’s a fitting turnabout, one featuring what the Elias Sports Bureau determined was the largest gap in age between both starting quarterbacks (Tom Brady is 17 years and 72 days older than Jared Goff) and head coaches (Bill Belichick is 33 years and 283 days older than Sean McVay) in Super Bowl history.The Rams opened the betting Sunday night as slight favorites with some sportsbooks (so yes, you can say you were an underdog, Tom), though that didn’t last long. A flood of bets for the Patriots pushed the line to favor New England by 2½ points, according to the current consensus in Vegas. Here’s what our Elo ratings think about the matchup, using both the classic version from our interactive and one with the experimental quarterback adjustments we’ve been tinkering with: How did L.A. do it? The cornerstones of the 2018 team — Goff, DT Aaron Donald and RB Todd Gurley2Well, during the regular season, at least. Gurley has been something of a nonfactor in the playoffs, particularly against the Saints in the NFC title game. — were all drafted by the club from 2014 to 2016. But general manager Les Snead did his best work over the 2017 and 2018 offseasons, snagging the majority of the current team’s other starters either via the draft or in a flurry of win-now moves that mostly look smart in hindsight. The other key ingredient was coaching, where (with a few weird exceptions on Sunday) McVay has shown a fantastic knack for incorporating analytical thinking into his play-calling, and he remains the master of keeping defenses off-balance by running almost all of his plays out of the same personnel package. While there are very legitimate questions as to whether Goff or Gurley could be as successful in a different system, the pair has powered a Super Bowl run under McVay’s scheme.Each team needed luck to get here, too. The Rams likely wouldn’t be headed to Atlanta without a blown pass-interference call that kept New Orleans from running down most of the clock in regulation, instead giving L.A. the chance to force overtime and eventually win the game. The Patriots benefited from a phantom roughing-the-passer penalty and a (legitimate) offside call that negated what would have been a game-ending interception, then rattled off what felt like a million straight third-and-long conversions in overtime. But there isn’t a single Super Bowl team in history that didn’t have big moments when fortune smiled on it. You have to be lucky and good to win a championship, and these teams fit both criteria.Now, they’ll get a chance to battle on the game’s biggest stage. Will a new dynasty be born? Or will an old one keep rolling? Will the new Greatest Show on Turf avenge the old one? Or will Belichick draw up another brilliant game plan to shut down this latest version? Either way, it should be a fitting way to end one of the most entertaining NFL seasons in a while.FiveThirtyEight vs. the readersAs you prepare for the Super Bowl, be sure to check out FiveThirtyEight’s NFL predictions page, which uses our Elo ratings to simulate the game 100,000 times, tracking how likely each team is to win. You can also make your Super Bowl pick against the Elo algorithm in our prediction game and make one last bid to climb up our giant leaderboard.According to data from the game, here’s how readers did against the computer last weekend: Standard EloQB-Adjusted Elo OUR PREDICTION (ELO)READERS’ PREDICTION The Patriots still somehow have two very important components from that original Super Bowl against the Rams: Brady and Belichick. At age 41, Brady had his worst passing numbers in several years, yet he also was still a top-10 QB (at worst), a Pro Bowler and — it bears emphasizing — impossibly productive for his age. All of that came despite throwing to a revolving-door cast of receivers and a less-dominant version of longtime security blanket Rob Gronkowski. All told, Brady led an offense that still ranked fourth in scoring and eighth in expected points added, albeit with a lower per-game EPA average than any Pats team with Brady as starter since 2013.For Belichick’s part, this season saw his Patriots improve significantly on defense, jumping from 24th in EPA in 2017 to seventh in 2018. Although New England tied for the second-fewest sacks in the league, it generated the third-most pressure (according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group), forced the second-lowest completion percentage and generally was the best Patriots pass defense in a while. And this team was also a celebration of Belichick the (de facto) general manager: In addition to shrewd veteran acquisitions such as CB Stephon Gilmore and LB Kyle Van Noy, a large share of the Pats’ production came from draft picks made over the past few years, including DLs Trey Flowers and Malcom Brown, OLs Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney, and rookie RB Sony Michel.1Undrafted free agent C David Andrews should probably fit into this group as well. All of those pickups helped fuel a Pats roster that still relied heavily on Brady to work his magic but also blocked well and played sound defense. NO64%NO62%LAR 26, NO 23-4.6– Elo’s smartest conference championship picksAverage difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 20 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game NE1686531645Tom Brady+4254 Elo quarterback adjustments are relative to average, based on a rolling average of defense-adjusted QB stats (including rushing).Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com OK, Elo — who ya got in the Super Bowl?Win probabilities for Week 21 games according to two methods: standard Elo and adjusting for starting quarterbacks KC61KC59NE 37, KC 31-7.1– After a divisional weekend in which all the home teams won, both home squads lost their conference championship games for just the fifth time in the Super Bowl era. Elo tends to love home teams, especially in the playoffs, so you might think that would be bad news for its picks. (Indeed, the average probability set by the reader was closer to picking the road team than Elo’s default probabilities.) However, Elo still came out ahead on net points because more individual readers made extreme picks in favor of the Saints and Chiefs, costing the field points on average. It’s an instructive example of something we discussed back in Week 9 — that, because of the nonlinear scoring system in our contest, overly confident picks can really wreak havoc on your point totals. When in doubt, set a conservative probability! (Unless, say, you are in 59th place going into the Super Bowl and need a Hail Mary to move up the rankings. Know anybody like that?)Congratulations are in order to reader Deryl Mundell, who leapfrogged long-standing leaderboard-toppers Neil Mehta and Greg Chili Van Hollebeke to claim first place on the season, checking in with 1,202.5 points. Deryl is also our No. 1 (identified) player on the postseason, with 294.2 points since the playoffs started. Thanks to everyone who has been playing — and the game isn’t over yet! You now have one last chance to make your Super Bowl pick. Make it count! TeamRatingWin Prob.Base RtgStarting QBQB Adj.Win Prob. LAR166747%1656Jared Goff+446% The Patriots’ run wasn’t always easy, of course. The 2018 edition had the second-worst points per game differential and lowest Elo rating of the franchise’s Super Bowl-bound squads since … you guessed it, the 2001 team. But maybe that’s just further proof that everything truly has come full circle in New England. They’re certainly hoping the story ends the same way this time around.As for these current Rams, they are not too dissimilar from their Greatest Show on Turf forebears, either. Los Angeles outscored opponents by 143 total points in the regular season (third-best in football) and got high marks in every power ranking out there, including Elo (which ranks them No. 2), Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (No. 2), ProFootballFocus’s rankings (No. 2), Jeff Sagarin’s ratings (No. 2), Andy Dolphin’s predictive rating (No. 3) and Pro-Football-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System (No. 3). Though they never actually ranked first in Elo at any point during the season, the Rams were consistently one of the game’s top contenders all year long.And they got that way just about as quickly as those fabled 1999 Rams, who went 4-12 the year before Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk changed the franchise’s fortunes forever. The 2018 season culminated a remarkable two-year turnaround arc under soon-to-be-33-year-old coach Sean McVay, who took L.A. from a 4-12 disaster in 2016 under former coach Jeff Fisher to an 11-5 record last year, and now a Super Bowl. Over that span, the Rams went from an Elo rating of 1346 to 1667, a gain of 321 Elo points. Only four other Super Bowl teams in history have gained more rating points from the end of two seasons prior to the start of the big game itself — the 1998 Atlanta Falcons (+368), 1981 San Francisco 49ers (+360), 1992 Dallas Cowboys (+357) and 1971 Miami Dolphins (+339). Even the ’99 Rams had “only” gained 246 points of Elo from the end of 1997, though they do own the largest single-season gain ever for a Super Bowl team. PICKWIN PROB.PICKWIN PROB.ResultREADERS’ NET PTS Check out our latest NFL predictions. read more

Buckeyes outgunned by Pilots in 20 loss

Senior forward Danny Jensen advances the ball down the field against a UC Santa Barbara defender. Credit: Ohio State AthleticsThe Ohio State men’s soccer team entered the night looking for that elusive first goal of the season. By the time the night came to an end, the Buckeyes would still be searching.The Buckeyes fell 2-0 to the Portland Pilots, dropping to 0-3 on the season.Portland looked to be in control of the game right out of the gate, and the Ohio State defense could only bend so much before eventually breaking in front of the 2,972 in attendance.  The match entered halftime with the Pilots owning a 7-1 shot advantage. They also had a 5-0 advantage in corner kicks.The first goal for the Pilots came in the 67th minute, a shot from nine yards out in the lower right corner by midfielder Gio Magana-Rivera. It was the freshman’s first career goal.Portland’s second goal came just 10 minutes later in the 77th minute. Pilots junior forward Erik Edwardson was able to corral a rebound off the goalpost and get a slow roller just past redshirt freshman goalkeeper Parker Siegfried to give the Pilots a 2-0 lead.Sophomore midfielder Jackson Jellah continued to shine for Portland. Jellah assisted on both of the team’s goals in the game. After scoring the Pilots’ first three goals of the season, Jellah has now been a part of all five goals the team has scored so far.While the offense still remains a concern for the Buckeyes, their biggest problem in this game was fouls. Ohio State committed 14 fouls in the game, compared to Portland’s seven.Five yellow cards were assessed to OSU in the game.In the 83rd minute, Buckeyes senior forward Yaw Amankwa was given a red card. The team was forced to play a man down for the remainder of the game.  Their next contest is Monday, Sept. 5 at 3 p.m. at Oregon State. It is the last game on this West Coast road trip. read more

OSU aims to buck losing trend at Miami

Solidified at the goaltender position, the Ohio State men’s hockey team prepares for its final regular season series with rival Miami.Two weeks ago, with just six games remaining in the season, coach John Markell sat down his top two goaltenders and told them they needed to step up.“I told them I want to ride the hot goalie, and that’s what you need at this time of the year,” Markell said. His message hit home with both goaltenders, Cal Heeter and Dustin Carlson, who have split time tending the net for the Buckeyes this season.“It’s kind of tough hearing that because he pointed out we weren’t playing as well as we were at the beginning of the year,” Carlson said. “I think we both took it as a challenge and it really showed. The next week in practice we both were battling really hard.”Carlson’s increased intensity on the ice, both in practice and in games, has earned him more ice time down the stretch. “I knew I just had to step it up,” he said. “It’s an important time of the year and we’ve got to get our job done.” Since the conversation with Markell, Carlson has been doing exactly that. The junior has started the last three games for the Buckeyes and is unbeaten in that stretch. That stretch is the longest consecutive start streak Carlson has had this season. While both goalies say they prepare as if they’re going to start every game, it appears Carlson has developed a rhythm since starting on consecutive nights.“I’m definitely happy I’m playing now,” Carlson said. “We had a great weekend last weekend. [Saturday night] my team pulled out for me, and in the shootout I pulled out for them.”Two of the last three games the Buckeyes have tied and eventually won in shootouts. Neither Western Michigan or Alaska were able to score against Carlson in a combined nine attempts in the shootouts.“Cal [Heeter] is working hard in practice but right now Dusty [Carlson] has responded like you’d think he would. He’s responding the right way and that’s what we need from a junior,” Markell said. “I think everyone knows you have to have good goaltending at this time of the year. There’s not a better time than right now for Dusty to be playing hard and Cal to be waiting for his chance.”Carlson and the rest of the Buckeyes will be put to the test this weekend when they face No. 2 Miami in a home-and-home series. Markell expects the RedHawks to be amped up for the in-state rivalry. “This is huge for them. Ohio State coming to town is big for them and their fans,” Markell said. “They’re a good hockey team. They’ve proved that throughout the nation. But that doesn’t mean we can’t play [the way we’re capable of playing] hockey and sustain that for 60 minutes.”Miami comes into the series ranked No.2 in both the USA Today and USCHO polls, and deservingly so. The RedHawks are 20-2-4 in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association this season and 23-5-6 overall.“They have an explosive team,” Markell said. “They have depth, good defense, good specialty teams and their goaltending is good.”Miami’s play has been especially dominant in the conference, including a series against OSU earlier this season. The RedHawks swept the Buckeyes on Dec. 11 and 12, winning 6-0 and 4-2.However, no one on the Buckeye squad is fazed by facing Miami and are entering this weekend’s series looking for wins. “We need points [heading into the post season]. We just have to get as many points as we can,” Carlson said. “History shows we don’t have the best record against them recently but we always play them strong. It’s our rivalry; they hate us and we hate them. We’re going to go in there with everything we’ve got.”Friday’s game will be played in Oxford, Ohio and Saturday night’s finale will be at the Schottenstein Center. Both games face off at 8:05 p.m. read more

Home course unkind to Ohio State in Kepler Invitational

The Ohio State Men’s Golf team fell short of their expectations in defending their home course over the weekend, finishing seventh out of 11 teams at the Robert Kepler Invitational.The Buckeyes totaled a score of 894, 42-over par for the tournament, which trailed champion Eastern Michigan by 33 strokes.“We didn’t do too well this weekend, to be honest. We kind of struggled. We didn’t really take advantage of our home course,” said Bo Hoag, a junior from Upper Arlington, Ohio. “I don’t know if we were kind of pressing, because sometimes when you’re playing at your home course you feel a little more pressure to play well, and I think that may have gotten to us a little bit.”Brad Smith, a senior from Cambridge, Ohio, led the Buckeyes with a 1-over par 214 for the weekend, finishing sixth among all golfers at the tournament.“I played well this weekend, obviously anytime anyone tries to play in a golf tournament, they want to go out and win,” Wright said. “I might not show it, but I’m really competitive. I wanted to defend this week, but I think that any time you finish inside the top 10 you’ve got to be happy with that.”Hoag started off well with a 1-under par 70 on the first day, but struggled as the tournament went on, finishing Sunday with a 6-over par 77, and a 9-over par 222 for the weekend.“I didn’t really play that well today. I got off to a tough start, and I had to press just to get back to even par all day, which is not a spot you want to be in,” Hoag said. “The positive from this is that I was tied for the lead or a shot back, and I learned how to deal with all that and get back into the flow of things.”Coach Donnie Darr was not pleased with the tournament’s results.“It’s a disappointing weekend, because we were playing really well coming into the event. I still feel that if we go out tomorrow, we are going to play well,” Darr said. “The big thing is our guys have struggled a little bit when they go between the ropes in a competition, and we haven’t figured out just how to relax and let good golf come to us.”Darr went on to say that the weather couldn’t have been better, and that the wind was negligible and the course played just about how he expected it to.Darr didn’t think that there was any pressure to defend their home course, and that it should’ve been an advantage rather than a weight on their shoulders.“I think the big thing was, that the pressure was all self-induced. It’s been that way all year where guys have gotten a lot better individually, but we haven’t gotten the team result out of it,” Darr said. “We have a lot more talent, more natural golf talent than what we’ve shown, and I think we’re just lacking a little confidence.”The Buckeyes have one last tournament at Purdue in two weeks before the Big Ten championships start up on April 30.“The way things are looking right now, both are looking like must-wins for us,” Wright said. “Especially the Big Tens if we want to see any postseason play.” read more

Nichelle Prince leading the way for No 17 OSU womens soccer team

Then-sophomore Nichelle Prince (7) fights for a ball during a match Oct. 24, 2014 against Iowa at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. Credit: Lantern File PhotoJunior forward Nichelle Prince has already made a splash for the No. 17 Ohio State women’s soccer team (3-0-1) in its four opening matches, scoring two goals. The Ajax, Ontario, native’s junior year is off to an exciting start as she was just named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after her overtime game-winning goal against then-No. 8 Florida on Aug. 23. The forward said she approached the honor humbly and with confidence moving forward.“It’s obviously a big honor to be able to be named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week and have those titles, but I think it is a lot about how I can contribute to my team and how I can get better every week,” she said.Prince said she feels as though she carries much more responsibility on and off the field as an upperclassman.“I’m a junior now, so I think I have a lot more influence on the field, and I just want to make sure that everyone feels a part of the team,” she said. “Hopefully I can spread my knowledge to younger players.”Prince said she started playing soccer when she was 4 years old.“The first time I went, my parents were driving me, and I was begging for them to take me home,” she said, “But as soon as I got on the field I loved it and I’ve played ever since.” As Prince’s career continued through childhood and into her high school years, she then faced the decision of choosing where she would play her collegiate career.“I could see myself living here for four years and growing up here. It wasn’t all about soccer, it was a lot about the atmosphere,” Prince said about what drew her to OSU.Prince’s soccer career at OSU has seen its share of ups and downs. As a freshman, Prince saw action in all 20 games, being named second team All-Big Ten as well as earning a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman team. She collected three Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, as well as ranking fifth in the conference for goals and points. She was unable to duplicate that level of success as a sophomore. Prince started only 10 matches due to a leg injury that kept her out of the season’s first nine contests. Prince’s teammates are glad to have her back on the pitch.“Having Nichelle back and fully healthy gives our team a lot of confidence. It’s awesome being able to play up top with her again,” junior forward Lindsay Agnew said. Prince and the rest of the women’s soccer team are scheduled to be back in action on Thursday as they host Florida International at 7:30 p.m. at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. read more

Football Versatility breeds NFL opportunities for Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes

OSU redshirt sophomore defensive end Sam Hubbard and OSU junior defensive end Jayln Holmes (11) celebrate after Hubbard’s sack during the first quarter against Tulsa on Sept.10. The Buckeyes won 48-3. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorINDIANAPOLIS — Sam Hubbard used to show up at Jalyn Holmes’ apartment door at 4:30 a.m. He would knock on the door to get his fellow Ohio State defensive end up and out the door an hour early for practice despite the two living just 10 minutes from the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Holmes said Hubbard wanted to be “a whole two hours early to everything.” But he abided with the early wake-up call because Hubbard was his only teammate with a car.“Sam’s been my road dog since I got there at Ohio State,” Holmes said Saturday at the NFL combine. “I don’t know where I’d be because he was my little Uber for real, for real. That’s my man.”Holmes might not know where he would be without Hubbard’s early-morning rides. But with the drives, he ended up Saturday standing beside Hubbard at a podium at the NFL combine.The two NFL hopefuls — along with Tyquan Lewis, Nick Bosa, Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper — helped make up one of the deepest groups of defensive ends in the country last season. Now, after splitting reps with each other, they are hoping the versatility the group learned to utilize last season to their advantage at the next level.Ohio State junior defensive end Sam Hubbard (6) prepares to defend in the second quarter of the 2017 Cotton Bowl against USC on Dec. 29 in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Ohio State won 24-7. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor“If you look at where it got us, we’re all here and we’re all in great position to play at the next level,” Hubbard said Saturday at the NFL combine. “That’s kind of the picture we had in our heads, what [defensive line] coach [Larry] Johnson told us would happen. Although we don’t have crazy numbers, it all worked out in the end and we’re here.”A second-team All-Big Ten honoree in his final season as a Buckeye, Hubbard had 42 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. His biggest plays came from all over the field. Hubbard often moved around on defense with defensive coordinator Greg Schiano even giving him a shot as a stand-up linebacker at times by dropping the redshirt junior into coverage. “[Schiano] wanted to do a lot of different things to switch up the looks and he used me and my versatility to be able to stand up, drop, rush, rush from different spots, and he just wanted to give different looks and surprise offenses,” Hubbard said. “I was able to be the moving piece that did that. It also showcased what I can do with teams at the next level.”He said he enjoys watching 3-4 outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan because he plays the game “fast” and “violent,” though Hubbard does not have experience playing primarily as a standup linebacker.Hubbard did not have the type of numbers expected of an elite NFL pass-rush prospect. Instead, he expects the ability to fit into multiple defensive schemes to boost his value.“A lot of teams have different opinions on me, where I’ll play,” Hubbard said Saturday at the NFL combine. “Obviously I’d play anywhere and do any job that I was asked to play. But I could play a 4-3 base end, a 3-4 outside backer, 3-4 five-technique, four-technique. I can really do it all.”Holmes offers similar versatility, though of a different variety. While Hubbard will likely stand up and play some linebacker, Holmes often slid inside and played defensive tackle, especially when Ohio State used its Rushman package of four defensive ends playing at once.Ohio State senior defensive end Jalyn Holmes (11) attacks the Trojan offense in the first quarter of the 2017 Cotton Bowl against University of Southern California on Dec. 29 in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Ohio State won 24-7. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorHe said Johnson approached him while watching film before his junior season and asked him if he would be interested in playing three-technique on third downs. The 6-foot-5, 283-pound defensive end jumped at the opportunity to take advantage of his size and immediately started watching defensive end Joey Bosa, who sometimes slid inside to defensive tackle, and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington.That jump-started Holmes’ interest in extending his ability to play positions beyond defensive end, if called upon, which he plans to bring to the NFL.“I feel like these drills — [40-yard dash], bench press, everything here — just to show everybody I’m versatile,” Holmes said. “I’m a big guy that can also run and can play a lot of positions on the football field. I’m just out here showing what I do on film every Saturday, try to get it to Sunday.”Holmes said the question he has most frequently been asked is what position he would prefer to play in the NFL. He has as simple answer for them.“The way I answer it is any one that will get me on the field as quickly as possible. That’s it,” Holmes said.Though Holmes slid inside to play defensive tackle in college at times, he said NFL teams have even asked him to go through linebacker drills, which he said is not that much different than what he has experience playing.Neither Holmes nor Hubbard are quite sure what position they will play at the next level, so they are more than willing to let the NFL teams make the choice themselves. Regardless of where they end up, both are extremely confident in their ability to make the position work. read more