Category Archives: Sport

Playing with Pythagorean Wins

I’m sort of falling in love with football’s Pythagorean Wins Theorem.

Before we get into that data, there are two questions worth answering quickly:

1) How accurate are Pythagorean Wins in college football? – This concept works very well in the NFL but there’s some debate, or at least there was a few years back based on Google searches, over how well it applies to the college game. Based on my numbers, the football formula predicted win totals within one game of the actual win totals nearly two-thirds (63.07%) of the time between 2007 and 2012. The formula projected 35.96% of the teams within a half game of the actual win totals over the same span. It’s reasonably accurate.

2) How predictive is it? – Pythagorean Wins does a pretty good job of identifying teams that drastically over or underperformed. Over the last five seasons, teams that were +/- 1.5 or more wins typically played to their actual form the next season, particularly the underperforming teams. Between 2007 and 2012, 64.8% of teams that were 1.5 games or more below their expected win total improved their win total the next season, while just 14.8% got worse. On the other end of the spectrum, teams that were 1.5 games or more above their expected win total saw their win total decline 62.2% of the time the following season, while 31.1% improved.

Read the entire thing over at HailVarsity.com.

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A Cap Collection: 1986-99

Bears_edited-1

I’m enjoying the Medium.com format so far. It’s got the cleanest writing interface I’ve ever used — the em-dashes look like em-dashes! — and the community there is quite active when it comes to commenting and collaboration.

I wrote my second thing over there and it’s on a project I’ve been thinking about for a while: documenting my childhood baseball cap collection.

You can see the full collection over on my Flickr page, and read the story, “The Sad and Rapid Decline of the Ball Cap,” at Medium.

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What do champions have in common?

Stretching the limits of my statistical prowess here, but I decided to use standard deviation to examine what modern day national champions in college football have in common. A short excerpt below:

If we were to write out those results in plain English, the profile of a national champion over the past six years would read something like this: The last six national champions have consistently ran the ball well (rushing YPG and YPC), pressured the quarterback (sacks/g), stopped the run (rushing YPG and YPC allowed), scored enough points to rank in the top 25 (PPG) because they get to the red zone frequently (red zone attempts) and convert those attempts (red zone scoring percentage), had a merely adequate passing game (passing YPG), and got off the field on third down (opponent third down conversion percentage).

You can read the whole thing at HailVarsity.com.

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Before/After

April ’12

 

March ’13

 

Sorta changes the look of Memorial Stadium a bit, no?

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Goodbye, Bob

Great ending for the last Nebraska basketball game at the Bob Devaney Center. My game story is here.

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The New Issue of Hail Varsity in 6 Seconds

 

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The Derby from the Downs

Revisiting old writing is a very humbling experience. I was sorting through old grad school papers a few weeks ago and had to toss most of them out of sheer embarassment. That said, this piece has its moments so I’m reposting it out of some archivist’s impulse. Also, due to unforeseen circumstances, I’m woefully under-prepared for this year’s Derby, so this is my contribution. Here’s how the Kentucky Derby was in Boston in 2006.

It’s racing biggest day and everything smells like vomit. I stepped off the Blue Line at the Sufflok Downs T stop and almost directly into a pile of someone’s Cinco de Mayo celebration. Before I even feel the juice of my first wager of the season, I’m already a bit depressed. We couldn’t be further from the big hats and bigger cigars of Louisville, but that’s the Derby via simulcast: some of the excitement, none of the decadence.

I shared the five minute walk to the track with a guy wearing a personalized New York Giants away jersey. There was no greeting, no pleasantries, he simply asked the question Kid Rock had been asking me all week in those NTRA commercials, “Who do you like?” It’s racing’s version of “how you doing” and I’m relieved to be back at the track.

Continue reading

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Super Scarves

If you’re like me you thought there was nothing endearing left in the monstrosity known as the Super Bowl. But then this comes along:

Love that lady, love that idea. Good work Indianapolis.

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The best sports story of 2012

I know we’re only 11 days in but the best sports story of 2012 has already been written. It’s Thomas Lake’s profile of Clifton ‘Pop’ Herring for Sports Illustrated. Who is Pop Herring? The Wilmington, N.C. high school basketball coach who famously “cut” Michael Jordan as a sophomore at Laney High.

I, like Lake in the story, use “cut” because, as a child who was infatuated with Jordan and reading, I never really bought the story of how Michael Jordan didn’t end up on varsity as a 5-10 sophomore. He was a sophomore. He  did grow eight inches by the time he went to college. There are any number of strategic decisions that would’ve made cutting Jordan feasible. I knew all of these things as a 12-year-old who adored “Come Fly With Me” and would regularly watch 70-plus NBA games a year, but needing a big man — the actual explanation — will never trump cutting the eventual best basketball player in the world.  That’s a hook that will grab even non-sports fans’ interest.

That Jordan, the most ruthlessly competitive athlete we’ve ever seen, used the snub to become the greatest basketball player in the world also made for a convenient backstory. But thirty years on from when Jordan first emerged on the national scene as a freshman at North Carolina, nobody had ever stopped to ask one simple question: Was it actually true? That led to a better question: What ever happened to Pop Herring b.k.a. “The Man Who Cut Michael Jordan?”

It’s not a story, like so many sports stories, of an extraordinary triumph over unbelievable odds. It’s an ordinary story of an ordinary life the was, to this point, known only as a plot point in the vast machine-made mythos of Michael Jordan. That’s why it’s the best sports story of the year.