Modern life has become the algorithmized life, a data-rich dreamscape in which the solution to nearly every problem lies somewhere inside a spreadsheet. Every problem, that is, except for college football’s.On Tuesday night, the new College Football Playoff (CFP) Committee will release its ranking of the best teams in college football. It’s a list generated by 13 human experts1Minus Archie Manning. — they’ll have the aid of simple statistics, sure, but ultimately the committee and its members’ human biases are the ones accountable. College football has moved the onus from the machines to the men.But only because the machines got them in trouble. In an unlikely marriage,2For a sport that still clings to the distinctly 19th-century notion of amateurism in the face of furious resistance. college football became an early adopter of numerically driven policymaking in 1998, when it ratified the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) to determine its consensus national champion.3To the extent that such a thing exists; Division I-A football is famously the only NCAA sport whose postseason is not governed by college athletics’ chief organizing body. Billed as an enlightened merger between the old-guard media polls — thus preserving the sport’s strong sense of tradition — and the computer rankings that so easily proliferated in the tech-boom ‘90s, the BCS was supposed to use data to help usher in a new era of college football.Instead, all it produced was controversy, revolt and a system so universally loathed that its demise was one of the few initiatives for which President Obama was able to marshall bipartisan support. A great deal of the criticism centered on “the computers,” a faceless army of machines that supposedly wouldn’t know a 3-4 defense from a 4-3. One of the biggest selling points of the College Football Playoff has been that it involves people who do know defensive formations.Yet there’s evidence that the switch from BCS to CFP won’t matter much, at least in terms of actually picking a champion with more efficiency. The big leap forward may simply be a lateral move.College football’s champion has always been more beauty-pageant winner than undisputed warrior. There are far too many teams — playing far too few games — to be able to rely on wins and losses alone as sole arbiters of worth. NFL teams make the playoffs through their records alone,4And, when necessary, an incredibly arcane tie-breaking process. but college football teams, marooned in various conferences, play schedules of vastly differing quality. Any endeavor to pick a truly national champion has to, by necessity, grapple with the balance between performance and strength of opposition.Originally, the media and coaches were the arbiters of who was great and who wasn’t, through the Associated Press Top 25 and the Coaches’ Poll. In theory, those who followed the sport most closely should produce a relatively equitable ranking of the country’s best teams. But the rankings became fraught with controversy and accusations of regional bias. The two major polls couldn’t always agree about which team was No. 1, producing a number of years in which multiple schools “won” the national championship. And college football’s longstanding system of bowl games, which act at once as postseason contests and meaningless exhibitions, occasionally complicated matters even further by contractually preventing the best teams from facing off even when there was clarity atop the polls.The BCS, which mixed polls with the supposed objectivity of computers, was supposed to fix all that. The existence of mathematical ranking systems in college football dated back at least 70 years prior, but since the AP began continuously issuing polls in 1936 these systems had never been the game’s preeminent selectors.It didn’t go smoothly. The computers became an easy punching bag for everything that fans and media hated about the BCS as a whole. “I think over the years, the computers were a scapegoat,” algorithm-maker Richard Billingsley told ESPN’s Mark Schlabach in August. “If there was an issue or if somebody didn’t like the results, it was the computers’ fault, and that wasn’t fair at all.”“Humans had more to do with the BCS than the computers did, but people were just wrong about it,” former BCS director Bill Hancock added. “I think the computers got a bum rap.”Even so, computer ratings played a large role in the BCS, and there were a number of reasons why the foray into data-crunching failed. First, the formula concocted by BCS creator Roy Kramer was inelegant, stirring the polls and computer ratings into an arbitrary statistical mishmash that included team loss totals and an arcane strength of schedule calculation. Also, it was badly overfit. As Stewart Mandel writes in “Bowls, Polls, and Tattered Souls,” Kramer “had his minions test the formula by applying it to past seasons’ results and making sure it spit out the correct two teams each year.” When future seasons5The ultimate out-of-sample test. failed to play out as tidily as the test sample did, the BCS endlessly tweaked its formula to retroactively “fix” whatever the previous year’s controversy was, rather than anticipating future fusses.And perhaps the BCS’s biggest sin of all was banishing computer rating systems that took into account a team’s margin of victory in its games. It was seeking to reduce the incentive for coaches to run up the score on overmatched opponents, but in doing so it also deprived the computer ratings of key data points. One of the most crucial findings in sabermetrics, across virtually all sports, is that the average margin by which a team wins or loses conveys more information than wins and losses alone. This is especially true in a sport like college football, where the sample of games is so small.Perhaps a computerized system could work if it were deployed with more skill. But college football’s decision-makers have decided instead that using no data — or at least a fuzzy interpretation of what’s available — is better than rigidly adhering to a defective model.And it may not make much of a difference.There will likely be a great deal of crossover between the playoff committee’s selection and the teams the BCS would have listed in its top four slots. In the estimation of SB Nation’s Bill Connelly, no fewer than 75 percent of the top four teams in the BCS rankings each year from 1998 to 2012 — and probably closer to 85 percent to 90 percent — aligned perfectly with the teams a hypothetical playoff committee would have selected had the current system been in place over those years.There also isn’t much distinction between the BCS’s and the CFP’s accuracy in determining the nation’s true best team. The CFP’s four-team bracket would be more likely to feature the deserving champion (a four-team playoff system has about a 45 percent greater chance of including the best team than a two-team setup like the BCS). But the CFP loses that advantage by forcing the top team to play an additional game, opening it up to becoming the victim of bad luck. According to past research of mine, a two-team playoff is won by the best team in the country about 29 percent of the time, while a four-team playoff crowns the best team at a 31 percent clip — hardly any improvement at all.The debut of the College Football Playoff is being celebrated as progress because it returns to the simplicity of human debate. But data and formulae ultimately weren’t to blame for the BCS’s woes, and it’s unlikely that its committee-based successor will reduce the number of college football controversies. Only an emotionless algorithm would have it any other way.
The Cubs are the best (through 24 games) YEARTEAMRUN DIFFERENTIALSCALED RUN DIFFERENTIALWON LEAGUEWON WS 2012St. Louis Cardinals+65+2.67 2003New York Yankees+85+3.42√ 2016Chicago Cubs+83+3.50—— 1962San Francisco Giants+74+2.89√ Source: Baseball PRospectus 1993Detroit Tigers+69+2.84 To put it in perspective, the distance between the Cubs’ run differential and that of the second-best team (the Washington Nationals) is the same as the difference between the Nationals and the 20th-ranked Oakland A’s. Not only is Chicago scoring the most runs in baseball, it’s also tied for allowing the fewest. And as if that wasn’t enough, the Cubs boast the best base running of any team as well.This Cubs squad wasn’t always an unstoppable force. According to our Elo ratings, which measure the quality of a team at any given point in time, the club Theo Epstein inherited bottomed out around the end of the 2012 season, when their 1439 rating left them ranked second-to-last in the majors — ahead of only the tanking Houston Astros. But in the 521 games since,3Including the playoffs. the Cubs have gained 120 points of Elo rating, a level of sustained increase exceedingly rare in MLB history. For every thousand similar stretches, we’d expect to see a 120-point Elo increase only about two or three times.4It’s difficult to determine the exact probability because there are so many possible 521-game stretches, but we can estimate it by looking at a sample of 1,000 such sets.In only three years, the Cubs have risen from one of the worst teams in baseball to achieve an unprecedented degree of dominance. But there’s no pennant for the best Elo rating, no trophy for the highest run differential. And it might take playing at this level all season to overcome the most stunning streak of postseason futility in professional sports and win a championship for the first time in 107 years.Check out our latest MLB predictions. 1984Detroit Tigers+71+3.08√√ The Chicago Cubs have started the 2016 season on a roll, amassing a 19-6 record — with one of the wins coming via a no-hitter — and outscoring opponents by an average of 3.6 runs per game. Tabbed in spring training as a potential 100-game winner by nearly every projection algorithm, the Cubs are somehow exceeding even those lofty expectations. Now the benchmark is quickly shifting to whether they can become one of the best teams in baseball history.By run differential, the Cubs’ start ties for fourth-best in MLB’s modern era (going back to 1900). But that fun fact doesn’t quite do their dominance justice, because MLB is also currently in an epoch of incredible parity, with the spread of talent between teams smaller than it’s ever been. If you adjust for how bunched-up team run differentials have become in recent years,1I did this by calculating the standard deviation in run differential at game 24 of each season, and smoothing the trend over time using local regression. the Cubs are off to the strongest 24-game start since at least 1950.2Which is as far back as Baseball Prospectus has data. 1974Los Angeles Dodgers+71+2.95√ 1955Brooklyn Dodgers+69+2.54√√ 2010Tampa Bay Rays+66+2.69 2002Boston Red Sox+65+2.61
Mike Tomlin became the youngest coach in NFL history to win the Super Bowl when he directed the Pittsburgh Steelers to the title in 2009 – and the second black coach to sit atop the league after Tony Dungy.He has exhibited beautiful leadership his entire tenure, balancing of discipline and freedom with his players, who respect and like him.At 40 and entering the final year of his contract, the Steelers showed they did not want Tomlin feeling any insecurity about his job status. And so, they signed him to a three-year extension Tuesday.Terms of the deal were not released, but Forbes magazine had Tomilin listed as the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL entering the season.“I am excited that I will continue to be the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers for years to come,” Tomlin said in a statement. “I am grateful to the Steelers organization for the opportunity I have been given over the past five years to work and live in this great city, and I am excited to continue to work to bring another championship to the Steelers and the city of Pittsburgh.”The extension displays the team’s total confidence in Tomlin’s leadership prowess. He skillfully managed the team when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went through rape allegations that could have infected the team.When injuries beset the team, they followed Tomlin’s poised leadership and held it together.He has led Pittsburgh to the playoffs four times in his first five seasons, including two trips to the Super Bowl.“We are pleased to announce that Mike Tomlin will remain with the Steelers for at least five more years,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said. “Mike is one of the top head coaches in the National Football League and we are thrilled he will continue to lead our team as we pursue another Super Bowl title.”
Jalan McClendon, a highly touted high school quarterback in Charlotte, obviously is a Cam Newton fan. And when he replicated the Carolina Panthers’ QB touchdown celebration during a playoff game Friday, McClendon was ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct.McClendon of West Mecklenburg pretended to rip open his jersey following a touchdown run — just as Newton does. But unlike the NFL, where such maneuvers are acceptable, high school officials considered it poor sportsmanship and threw him out of the game.His team won 45-10 and McClendon, a junior who his being recruited by a number of schools, will be allowed to play this weekend.West Mecklenburg coach Jeff Caldwell said Wednesday that McClendon wasn’t trying to taunt. Newton said: “I was like, ‘Wow,’ because where I’m from if you get kicked out, you sit out the next game.”State high school officials ruled he was disqualified for an unsportsmanlike act, not taunting, which just meant he had to sit out the remainder of the game.Caldwell couldn’t see the celebration from where he was standing, but said McClendon is a “solid kid.”“I don’t think it’s any different than when kids jump at each other,” Caldwell said. “It’s a hard call to make. Every year you have kids get caught up in the moment. It’s up to us as coaches to keep reiterating what is allowed and what isn’t.”Newton said he was flattered that McClendon, and others, have taken to his celebration.“Taunting is taunting, but at the end of the day, you still have to have fun playing the game,” Newton said. “I don’t think my (celebration) is anything derogatory of any sort.“It’s not on the ‘Tebowing’ level, but it goes to show you as a professional athlete what type of an impact you have on your community or on guys that look up to you,” Newton added. “The result wasn’t the result I wanted to hear for (McClendon), but it goes to show that if I go out and do a good deed in the community, people are going to hear about it or read about it.“And the same thing if I do something crazy. … All eyes are on you.”
Remember Allen Iverson’s infamous practice rant? You probably don’t, so refresh your recollection by watching the clip below. Former NBA player Gary Payton has just shed some light on Iverson’s odd rant. Now that Iverson is done playing NBA basketball for good, Gary Payton revealed that he was potentially the reason Iverson went on the infamous practice rant.In a segment on Fox Sports Live, Payton explained that a group of players were out having a good time and they had “a little bit too many.” Iverson asked Payton how he stayed in such good shape, avoided injuries and always remained on the court. Payton replied, “I told him for real that my coach, George Karl, didn’t let me practice. That was it. I said, ‘You have to stop practicing.’”Bleacher Reports‘ Dan Favale compared the two players’ stats, maybe Payton was on to something.In Payton’s 17-year career, he averaged 16.3 points, 6.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game. He played 80 or more games in a season 12 times.In Iverson’s 14-year career, he averaged 26.7 points, 6.2 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game. He played 80 or more games in a season three times.
Here’s an old Caruana family legend. While traveling in Europe, years ago, Caruana and his parents boarded a plane — one of many planes that he’s boarded in his young life. Once seated, he immediately pulled out a little chess set and began to play the game that has come to define him. The plane taxied and accelerated and took to the sky, cruising high above the earth at hundreds of miles an hour toward their destination. A rapt and oblivious Caruana kept playing, transfixed. Eventually he looked up, turned to his father and asked him a question.“When are we going to take off?” If you search the archives for Caruana, one of his earliest mentions you’ll find is a television news segment from early 2001, when he was 8 years old and living in Brooklyn. “Here’s the story of a boy who could be the next Bobby Fischer,” the host says. Caruana’s mother, Santina, describes her son’s play as art (“I just — I can’t take my eyes off him”); his coach describes him as “mentally quite tough;” and a chess club manager says he’s sure to become a grandmaster and possibly world champion.The 8-year-old Caruana: “I just think it’s a fun game.” Another early appearance was in 2002 in the New York Daily News. That story featured a photo of a 10-year-old Caruana in an oversized T-shirt staring at a chessboard and grasping a bishop. He was taking on 15 opponents simultaneously in Bryant Park in Manhattan. He didn’t lose a single game.When you look at stories like those, Caruana’s championship bid seems preordained, the unavoidable result of an intense, prodigious and celebrated chess upbringing. But another quick search of the archives turns up dozens of other names that have also had their chess picture in the paper, and have also been teased by the press as The Next Bobby Fischer: Josh Waitzkin, Carissa Yip, Hikaru Nakamura, Eric Hicks, Jorge Zamora, Michael Wilder, Steven Zierk, Robert Lau, Gata Kamsky, Vinay Bhat, Ray Robson, Jordy Mont-Reynaud, Alan Tsoi, David Newmuis, Jeff Sarwer, Kayden Troff, Sam Sevian, etc., etc.You almost certainly haven’t heard of most — or any — of these people. None of them has played for the world championship of chess. Caruana will. If you ask the people who know Fabiano Caruana what Fabiano Caruana is like, they will tell you that Fabiano Caruana is, you know, just a normal guy.He likes movies. He likes music. He likes to eat. He works out. He goes on dates.Just a normal guy.Just a normal guy who is ranked second in the world in chess. A normal guy who was pulled out of school after seventh grade to do nothing but play the ancient and intricate game. A normal guy who is a hairbreadth away from prying the No. 1 position loose from probably the best player ever to play the game. A normal guy who, beginning Friday, will sit down at a table in London with this probably-the-best-ever player, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, in a grueling, weeks-long battle for the world championship of chess. A normal guy who could be the first American to win the title since Bobby Fischer in 1972. Real 99.99999999th percentile stuff.Just a normal guy. Caruana makes his move during an event with the Turinese Chess Club in 2008. Caruana became a grandmaster at the age of 14. Pigi Cipelli/Archivio Pigi Cipelli/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images
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 (Apr. 4, 2017), we say goodbye to March Madness and break down the women’s and men’s NCAA championship games. Next, we investigate why NBA teams are resting their players early and often. Plus, a significant digit on Madison Bumgarner.FiveThirtyEight’s Benjamin Morris argues that Mississippi State earned every bit of their upset over UConn.Mississippi State ultimately lost the women’s championship game to South Carolina.Neil Paine notes that even though the men’s championship was tough to watch, UNC played ugly enough to win.That was not a good national title game, writes ESPN’s Myron Medcalf.The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman says it wasn’t UNC players who won the night — it was the referees.NBA teams are resting players earlier and earlier, Todd Whitehead writes for FiveThirtyEight.Significant Digit: 16.5, the average number of at-bats that San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner takes between hitting home runs, since 2014. Last Sunday, Bumgarner hit two home runs and became the first pitcher to hit more than one on Opening Day.
To make the World Cup every four years, the United States men’s national team needs to do the bare minimum — that usually entails not being worse than teams from a couple of Central American or Caribbean countries that have a GDP roughly 0.1 percent the size of ours. In Honduras on Tuesday night, the USMNT delivered on that promise: They accomplished the bare minimum.A late Bobby Wood goal secured a 1-1 draw, salvaged a crucial road point and calmed anxiety about the U.S. qualifying for next summer’s World Cup. According to ESPN’s Soccer Power Index, the U.S. now has a 69 percent chance of qualifying. Of course, those odds are more a reflection of the forgiving nature of the Hex, the round-robin CONCACAF World Cup qualification tournament, than the U.S. men’s skill. Six teams enter, three leave with a World Cup bid, and the fourth-place team can still score a spot by beating the fifth-place Asian qualifier.The path to qualification is easy, so it’s still likely that the U.S. team will be off to Russia next summer, but they’ve used up much of their margin for error. As it stands, there’s no scenario in which the U.S. can qualify for the World Cup before the final match in Trinidad and Tobago. The last time the U.S. was still hoping to clinch a spot entering its final game was heading into the 1990 World Cup, basically the dawn of modern American soccer. Even if things go perfectly next month, when they take on Panama and Trinidad and Tobago, this will still go down as the team’s worst modern qualifying campaign.Now the U.S. is faced with two simple questions. What the heck is wrong with this team? And can it be fixed?Where the U.S. went wrongThe problem right now isn’t so much that the U.S. team is bad. It’s not. The problem is that the U.S. was really bad last year when this phase of qualification started, and it hasn’t really ever made up for it. Jurgen Klinsmann was fired two games into the USMNT’s final-round qualifying bid, after a home loss against Mexico and a 4-0 thumping away to Costa Rica. The team was a mess, and Bruce Arena was brought in to stabilize the ship. And he did. In his first four games in charge, he led the team to two home wins and two road draws, the exact kind of record that leads to easy qualification. But the record didn’t earn back any of the points the team dropped in its first two games. Arena stopped the bleeding, but he didn’t fill in the hole that Klinsmann had dug.That left that the men’s team vulnerable to a single bad match — like the match last Friday, in which Costa Rica beat the U.S. 2-0 in New Jersey. Realistically, Arena’s team didn’t play all that badly. The USMNT outshot its opponents 14-9 and produced a 1.26 to 0.62 expected goal advantage. Arena’s men conceded an early goal thanks to some poor positioning from central defenders Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream and some questionable goalkeeping from Tim Howard. Then they were denied a second-half equalizer when Costa Rica’s goalkeeper, Keylor Navas, made an absolutely inhuman save on a shot from U.S. midfielder Christian Pulisic that took a wicked deflection. If either the blown defense or the amazing save had gone slightly differently, the game looks different, the qualifying campaign looks different, and the answer to the question of “What is wrong with the team?” is basically “Nothing.” This team as currently constituted is just about good enough to qualify for the World Cup. The problem is that it isn’t much better than that.Fixing what’s wrongArena’s emergency stabilization job was built around two main pillars. First, he handed the keys of the attack to teenage superstar Pulisic, and second, he narrowed midfielder Michael Bradley’s responsibilities, shifting him from the hub of the team to a more traditional deep-lying playmaker. Everything around them has been in flux. Personnel has changed, formations have changed, tactical approaches have changed.Without much continuity, the team ends up in trouble when the game plan breaks down. Against Costa Rica last week, the defense was badly exposed without protection from midfield. Cameron and Ream were both called upon to step into midfield frequently and neither were able to do the job. And against Honduras this week, the attack sputtered when Pulisic wasn’t able to get on the ball. Since starting to play with the senior national team, he’s averaged 53 touches per 90 minutes, but against Honduras he only got 42, and the U.S. struggled to create chances without his influence.The defensive problems will likely sort themselves out eventually. The team is currently missing half of its starting defense, as both John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin are injured. If they get healthy and back on the field, the defense will immediately take a step in the right direction.On the attack side, the solution is less clear-cut. Pulisic is the team’s crown jewel, and it’s Arena’s job to figure out which players in his fairly deep attacking talent pool best complement the young star. Arena has yet to settle on the best combination. Pulisic has played as a winger in a front three, as a wide midfielder with two strikers in front of him, and as the attacking midfielder at the tip of a diamond. In the last two games alone, he played with four different strikers in Wood, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris. Settling on a more consistent lineup might not only help get the best out of Pulisic but also allow the U.S. to develop a more effective plan B for those times an opponent is able to take Pulisic out of the match.Arena is facing the same challenges all managers do. He has to balance the need for short-term results against the desire to develop a team that over the medium term can steadily improve and peak at the right moment. Up until this week, it seemed like he had gotten the balance mostly right, winning enough to put the U.S. solidly on course while also developing a basic plan. This week, that plan broke down. Now October’s matches can’t serve as a platform to help build the team for the future; instead, they’re all about short-term goals.There’s nothing wrong with this team that time can’t fix. But with two must-win games on the horizon, time is the one thing this team doesn’t have.
During that 2016-17 season, though, five other teams exceeded the Moreyball Rate of the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, who had the highest non-Rockets Moreyball Rate of any team from 2012 through 2016. That incredible jump from one-sixth of the league foreshadowed what has happened since: The league’s Moreyball Rate has been rising far faster than it did during the McHale years, meaning that the Rockets’ math advantage is once again shrinking, through no fault of their own offensive priorities.While the average Moreyball Rate jumped only 3.7 percentage points from 2012 (58.1 percent) through 2016 (60.8 percent), it has rocketed (pun very much intended) all the way up to 68.3 percent in 2019. That’s a jump of 7.5 percentage points in just three seasons, compared with the four it took to erase a smaller advantage for the previous incarnation of the Rockets. And at the same time that the NBA’s average Moreyball Rate has shot through the roof, the Rockets themselves have once again stalled out. They appear to have hit a ceiling in terms of how many of their shots can really be taken from the most efficient areas of the floor.Houston’s sky-high Moreyball Rates during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons helped them to two of the most efficient offensive seasons in NBA history. During that 2016-17 campaign, the Rockets registered the 10th-best offensive efficiency in NBA history, per Basketball-Reference. During the 2017-18 season, they posted the 11th-best offensive efficiency in history. And during both seasons, the Rockets led the NBA in Moreyball Rate by a healthy margin, even while the league as a whole was catching up.This year, however, they don’t even lead the league in Moreyball Rate, marking the first time since the 2011-12 campaign that they’ve fallen out of first place. (They’ve been passed by Mike Budenholzer’s Milwaukee Bucks, who are at 82.6 percent, the highest figure that can be gleaned from the shot location data in NBA.com’s database, which reaches back to the 1996-97 season.) Amazingly, Houston’s Morey+ this season has already dropped below where it was during the 2015-16 season that inspired Morey to bring in D’Antoni in the first place. And even while they’ve cleaned up their defense a bit these past two years, the rate at which leaguewide Moreyball Rates are spiking has left their Moreyball Advantage at the lowest point it’s been in years.It seems unlikely that other NBA teams will simply stop pursuing shots from the Moreyball areas of the floor, so the league average will presumably continue to rise — if not necessarily at quite the rate it has these past few years. And with the Rockets having seemingly maxed out their own Moreyball Rates in the low 80s, it looks like the best way for them to regain the sky-high Moreyball Advantage they had in the early 2010s is by engineering their defense so that opponents simply can’t access the most efficient areas of the floor. But that’s also what every other team in the league has been trying to do to the Rockets for years, and as they’ve been showing us for quite some time now, it’s easier said than done. By attempting so many more of their shots from the most efficient areas of the floor than any other team, the Rockets created for themselves a healthy math advantage. Through shot selection alone, they essentially began each game with a small lead that their opponents needed to erase in addition to out-scoring them over the course of 48 minutes in order to win the game.For the next three seasons under Kevin McHale, however, the Rockets’ Moreyball Rate stayed fairly stagnant. They still led the NBA in Moreyball Rate during each of those seasons, but they did so with rates that hovered between 72.6 and 73.8 percent. At the same time, the league average Moreyball Rate crept upward, eating into the Rockets’ math advantage and, by extension, that small de facto lead with which they began every game.This is perhaps best exemplified by scaling their Moreyball Rate against the league average. Fans familiar with baseball statistics like OPS+ will recognize this formula: The NBA average Moreyball Rate is given a score of 100, while a team whose Moreyball Rate is 10 percent better than league average receives a Morey+ score of 110, and a team whose Moreyball Rate is 10 percent worse than league average receives a Morey+ score of 90. So, in a world where the league average Moreyball Rate is 50 percent, a team with a 55 percent Moreyball Rate has a Morey+ of 110, while a team with a 45 percent Moreyball Rate has a Morey+ of 90.Using the same formula, we can calculate that during the 2012-13 season when the Rockets had a Moreyball Rate of 73.6 percent against a league average of 57.1 percent, they had a Morey+ of 129.1, meaning they attempted shots in the restricted area or from three-point territory at a rate 29.1 percent higher than that of the average NBA team. That is a ridiculously high mark. But it was also essentially the high-water mark for the McHale-era Rockets, whose Morey+ plummeted over the next few seasons, though not through any offensive fault of their own.At the same time the Rockets’ math advantage on offense was shrinking, the same thing was happening on the defensive end of the court. During that 2012-13 campaign, the Rockets did an excellent job of limiting their opponents’ attempts from the Moreyball areas of the floor. Slowly but surely, however, they ended up yielding better and better shots, and their opponents’ Moreyball Rate crept upward at an even faster rate than the league average.The decline of the Rockets’ math advantage during that time looks even starker when pitting their offense and defense against each other. At the same time as they were shooting 29.1 percent more often from Moreyball areas than the average team in 2012-13, they were forcing opponents to shoot from those areas 3.2 percent less often than the average squad. Add those two numbers up, and the Rockets had a Moreyball Advantage of 32.2 points during that season. By the time they got to the 2015-16 campaign, however, their Moreyball Advantage had been cut by more than half (to 13.8 points).During those four years, the Rockets were the only team to have a Moreyball Rate above 68.8 percent, but the average team still gained steadily gained on them, and their ability to prevent their own opponents from getting to Moreyball areas declined as well. And it was then that Morey decided to hire Mike D’Antoni. Because if the Rockets couldn’t stop the rest of the league from following their lead in following The Math, then the next-best option was for them to take The Math to new heights.In D’Antoni’s first season, the Rockets had a Moreyball Rate of 81.8 percent, blasting the previous league highs they’d set over the prior few seasons. That 81.8 percent figure was, obviously, the highest in the NBA by far, making it the fifth consecutive season during which the Rockets led the league. Crucially, that rate bumped their Morey+ all the way back up to 128.8 — almost all the way back to where it was during that 2012-13 campaign, when the Rockets first began truly orienting their offense around The Math. Morey+ score* for the Houston Rockets 2018-19119.8– Winners of five straight games, the Houston Rockets nudged their record back up to their season-high mark of two games over .500 (16-14) with a blowout win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night, during which they set an NBA record by making 26 3-pointers. Despite this hot streak, however, it’s still fair to say that the Rockets have not performed as expected thus far this season. When searching for reasons why that might be the case, the focus has often been on their inability to replicate last season’s switch-happy defense or the early-season injuries and suspensions they had to weather or their general offensive malaise. (If ranking fifth in offensive efficiency can be described as a malaise.) But the root of Houston’s issues may actually just be that the rest of the league is increasingly subscribing to Houston’s core beliefs, which has eaten into the team’s math advantage.To fully understand what that means and how that’s happened, we need to back up a bit. Daryl Morey has been the general manager of the Rockets since 2007, but it wasn’t until the 2012-13 season that the purest form of Morey’s basketball philosophies truly began to shine through on the floor.Coming off three consecutive non-playoff seasons and having just traded for James Harden, the Rockets re-engineered their offense to play not only to their new star’s strengths, but also to The Math. It was during that season that the Rockets began their maniacal pursuit of the most efficient shot on every single possession, turning their collective backs on years of NBA tradition by eschewing the lost art of the mid-range jumper whenever possible in favor of attempts either at the rim or behind the three-point line.It’s easy to see the benefits of that offensive strategy now — six years after the Rockets took it to what then seemed like its logical extreme — but at the time, it was not yet really accepted that this was a healthy way to construct an offense. Not everybody believed in The Math. The Rockets did, however, and they did to a degree that was then unheard of in league history.During that 2012-13 campaign, the Rockets attempted 73.6 percent of their shots from either the restricted area or three-point range, per NBA.com. (For the balance of this piece, we’ll refer to this percentage as a team’s “Moreyball Rate,” in keeping with certain segments of the basketball analytics community.) The next closest team was the Denver Nuggets at 67.4 percent, while the average NBA team had a Moreyball Rate of 57.1 percent. SeasonMorey+ score 2012-13129.1– * A rating where 100 equals the NBA average and every point above or below 100 equals a one percent change (up or down). 2013-14124.8– 2017-18126.1– 2015-16120.1– 2016-17128.8– 2014-15125.3–
This was supposed to be the year of eight for the Ohio State football team. The team seemingly had all the pieces to go 12-0 during the regular season and win the school’s eighth national championship. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor would also become OSU’s eighth recipient of the Heisman Trophy, thrusting him into Buckeye lore. Then, after the Buckeyes were beaten and battered by Wisconsin Saturday night, most fans gave up hope on the season. Everyone together now, take a deep breath. Through seven weeks of the season, three teams have ascended to the No. 1 ranking (Alabama, OSU and now Oregon). Verdict? No dominant college football team exists in 2010. Here’s a rundown of what the apparent national title contenders face the rest of the season. Oregon still has to play at Southern California, home versus Washington, home against No. 18 Arizona (who has already beaten Iowa) and at Oregon State. Its defense has put up good numbers but hasn’t faced a team as physical as USC or a quarterback with the shake-and-bake of Washington’s Jake Locker. No. 2 Oklahoma travels to No. 18 Missouri and No. 17 Oklahoma State before its regular season ends. It’ll likely face Missouri or No. 14 Nebraska in the Big 12 title game. The Sooner defense gave up 24 points to lowly Utah State and 351 rushing yards to Air Force. It isn’t going undefeated with a cupcake defense. After they face each other next week, all No. 5 Auburn and No. 6 LSU have to do is take on No. 7 Alabama, as well as the SEC East winner in the SEC championship game. Auburn gave up 332 yards passing and four touchdowns to Arkansas’ backup quarterback last weekend — in a little more than one half. LSU can’t decide who its quarterback is. Enough said. There will be a mid-major elimination game on Nov. 6 as No. 9 Utah and No. 4 TCU square off. The loser of the game is immediately eliminated from the title picture, and the winner isn’t guaranteed anything even if it doesn’t lose a game. Although it’s already beaten Wisconsin and won’t have to play OSU, I’m not sold on No. 8 Michigan State. One, it hasn’t played a game outside the state of Michigan yet. Two, it travels to No. 13 Iowa a week from Saturday. If the Spartans are still undefeated in two weeks, go ahead and crown them. The only team that will go untested the rest of the season is No. 2 Boise State. With that being said, a lot has to go right for OSU to re-enter the national title picture. On the other hand, the 2010 college football season is a masterpiece that is far from finished. And if recent history in college football has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected in a season with no clear-cut top team. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the chaos of the 2007 college football season. Week One: Appalachian State stuns No. 5 Michigan in the Big House. Week Five: No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 Florida lose to unranked Colorado and Auburn. Week Six: No. 2 USC loses at home to 41-point underdog Stanford. Week Seven: OSU and South Florida rise to No. 1 and No. 2 after previous No. 1 and No. 2, LSU and Cal, lose to division foes. Week Eight: South Florida’s stay at No. 2 is short as it falls to Rutgers. Week 10: New No. 2 Boston College falls to unranked Florida State. Week 11: OSU suffers embarrassing loss on Senior Day to Illinois. Week 12: Not only is No. 2 Oregon defeated by Arizona, but it loses its quarterback, likely Heisman winner quarterback Dennis Dixon, to a season-ending injury while No. 4 Oklahoma is beaten by Texas Tech. Week: 13: No. 1 LSU is topped by Arkansas in a wild triple-overtime loss, and No. 4 Missouri beats No. 2 Kansas to move within one win of playing for the school’s first national championship. Week 14: No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia choke in the final week of the season, giving rise to No. 1 OSU and No. 2 LSU, which ended up being the first national champion with two losses. The Buckeyes need to win their remaining games, preferably quite handily, to stand any chance. Furthermore, they need a ton of help. I’m convinced Oklahoma, Oregon and Michigan State will each lose at least once. It would help OSU tremendously if Oklahoma and Oregon lost twice. Then, OSU needs the three SEC West teams to take each other out and produce only one one-loss team. Utah and TCU also both need to lose. If all of that shakes out, and depending on the voters, OSU might stumble upon another national champion game berth against an SEC team. Far-fetched? Yes. Impossible? No. As college football fans are well-aware of by now, nothing’s impossible with the BCS.