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Monthly Archive: September 2019

NFL Week 20 Elo Ratings And Playoff Odds Conference Championships

This has not been an enormously surprising NFL season. The four teams remaining in the playoffs — the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts — were well liked by Vegas bettors before the season began. There are a couple of compelling story lines surrounding Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. (Is Manning finished? Not necessarily. Is he a playoff choker? Not really.) But betting favorites have won six of eight playoff games so far, and the two upsets (Indianapolis over Denver last week; the Baltimore Ravens over the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks ago) were fairly ordinary.One of the great things about being a sports fan is that you can take some pleasure either way. Upsets are fun when they happen. But when they don’t, you get to see higher-quality opponents remain in contention. The joy football fans might take from the remainder of this NFL season is tilted toward the latter: We should have two compelling conference championship games this weekend, and they ought to produce a compelling Super Bowl.In fact, the four remaining teams rank Nos. 1 through 4 in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL Elo Ratings. The Colts were ranked No. 7 last week, but their big win over the Broncos was enough to vault them into the fourth position.None of the remaining teams is a slouch. And one has a chance to finish among the best NFL teams of all-time.The Elo ratings have a bird crush on the Seahawks. Only four previous teams (the 2004 and 2007 Patriots, the 1997 Packers and the 1983 Washington Redskins) have entered the conference championship game with a higher Elo rating.So, is this the best conference championship field of all time? No, that’s getting a little carried away. But it’s well above average. Based on the average Elo rating of the four conference championship teams, it ranks seventh among the 45 seasons since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. We’ve seen a shift away from the parity of the late 1980s and 1990s toward more dominant franchises.Seattle remains the Elo favorite to win the Super Bowl — as it was at the start of the season. Its chances of a repeat are up to 45 percent — not quite even money, but close — followed by the Patriots at 30 percent and the Packers and Colts at 12 percent each.These probabilities are almost identical to those established by betting markets. Accordingly, the point spreads that Elo sets for the conference championship games — Elo has had a pretty good year against Vegas, but we don’t recommend that you bet on these — are largely in line with the gambling consensus:Elo has Seattle favored by a touchdown over Green Bay, just as prevailing betting lines do. This is a bit surprising given how much Elo likes the Seahawks and how it’s been comparatively down on Green Bay. But Elo does not consider that the Seahawks may have an especially large home-field advantage.In the AFC Championship game, Elo favors the Patriots by five points — consensus betting lines have New England as 6.5-point favorites instead. That’s a marginal difference. And as I’ve said, we wouldn’t recommend placing bets based on Elo ratings, especially given that it’s been unwise historically to wager against Bill Belichick and the Pats. read more

Has NFL Play Gotten Worse Or Is It Just You

FiveThirtyEight Embed Code More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. The New York Giants’ season is off to a disappointing 0-2 start, and quarterback Eli Manning is getting much of the blame. On this week’s episode (Sept. 19, 2017), we take a deeper look at Manning’s stats, discuss whether he’s a Hall of Famer and ponder where the Giants go from here. Next, after a second week of blowouts in the NFL, some are complaining that the quality of play has decreased significantly. We discuss a piece by our ESPN colleague Bill Barnwell that pushes back against that idea. Plus, a significant digit on baseball.If you have suggestions for what we should call our new NBA podcast, please drop us a note at podcasts@fivethirtyeight.com!Here are links to what we discussed this week:Eli Manning is profoundly mediocre, writes Ty Schalter for FiveThirtyEight.A 2015 analysis from Nate Silver found that Eli Manning is the most clutch postseason quarterback of all time.ESPN’s Bill Barnwell says NFL quality of play isn’t worse (but Colin Kaepernick might make it better).Significant Digit: 1 in 65,566, the odds that a generic, contending-quality MLB team would be able to pull off the Cleveland Indians’ streak of 22 victories in a row. Cleveland’s streak finally came to an end Friday night, and while it wasn’t MLB’s longest, it was perhaps the most impressive, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine. read more

UCF Might Not Even Be As Good As Fresno State — Let

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group TEAMTotal EfficiencyRKFPIRKSagarinRKOpp. Win %RK Fresno State81.6713.11982.617.48888 Share of plays for 10+ yards19.3%20.2% Utah State77.81111.62679.829.415122 Share of rush first downs or TDs per rush23.5%27.2% While UCF has indeed blown out its competition, the Knights are effectively playing a junior-varsity schedule.3Though so is Utah State. Central Florida’s case is acutely hurt by its mere membership in the American Athletic Conference, which boasts five of the 35 worst teams nationally, according to ESPN’s FPI. In total, UCF’s opponents have combined to go 37-51 over the season — and the Knights have yet to play a team that has compiled fewer than four losses or one ranked better than 50th in FPI.4UCF hosts No. 24 Cincinnati this weekend in what will be the Knights’ toughest game of the regular season. The Bearcats rank 44th in FPI. The Knights’ nonconference schedule didn’t do the team any favors; South Carolina State, for example, is a member of the Football Championship Subdivision. As ESPN’s Heather Dinich notes, an average team ranked in the top 25 would have a 42 percent chance of going 9-0 against UCF’s schedule, according to ESPN’s strength of record metric.Then there’s another team that UCF can’t measure up to: the 2017 Knights. This year’s version is lagging the team from a season ago, when it had a much stronger case for playoff inclusion, in nearly every phase of the game. Some of that is certainly attributable to the departure of head coach Scott Frost and his entire coaching staff. New head coach Josh Heupel hasn’t had difficulty hitting his talking points, but the Knights have regressed in offensive, defensive and special teams efficiency.5Efficiency is ESPN’s measure of per-play effectiveness on a 0-100 scale. No facet has ebbed more than the defense. No modern-day college football program has publicly coveted the role of Cinderella quite like Central Florida. Just two years removed from a winless season in 2015, the Knights went undefeated a year ago and even proclaimed themselves national champions. After beating Auburn in the Peach Bowl, the Knights threw themselves a parade at Disney World and took photos in front of, yes, Cinderella’s Castle.But a more fitting photo might have been in front of Epcot’s Imagination Pavilion. UCF’s fairytale narrative, at least for the time being, doesn’t really exist. After all, it’s not much of a story if Cinderella never gets invited to the ball and just continues scrubbing the floors.Just like last year, 11th-ranked UCF is again undefeated and clamoring for a spot in the College Football Playoff — which, barring a late-season Armageddon, it won’t get. This doesn’t sit too well with the team holding the nation’s longest winning streak, nor with officials of the American Athletic Conference, one of the Group-of-Five conferences1The others are Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt Conference. that sit just below the Power Five.2The Big Ten, the Big 12, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Southeastern Conference and the Pac-12. But lost in the endless debate over whether UCF deserves to be considered one of the four best teams in the country is a more interesting question: Is UCF even the best Group-of-Five team?Two teams from the Mountain West — Fresno State (8-2) and Utah State (9-1) — have arguably better resumes than the Knights. Utah State lost in the waning moments to Michigan State in East Lansing but has rebounded to win nine consecutive games by ostentatious scores — only Alabama and Clemson tout stronger average scoring margins. Fresno State has dropped two road games — at Minnesota and Boise State — but has overwhelmed the rest of its schedule. Fresno State is averaging 20-point victories this season, the sixth-best average scoring margin in the country.Comprehensive metrics such as ESPN’s team efficiency and Football Power Index and Jeff Sagarin’s team ratings all favor Fresno State over UCF, and both of the ESPN metrics also favor Utah State over the Knights. The Knights trail six teams with one loss in the College Football Playoff rankings. A team with two losses is also ranked ahead of the Knights. The Knights’ defense has regressedHow Central Florida’s defense this year compares with the defense of last year’s team Share of plays for 5+ yards39.3%40.0% Defensive efficiency national ranking32nd54th Undefeated UCF may not be the best non-Power Five teamHow Central Florida, Fresno State and Utah State compare in a variety of metrics and ranking systems UCF71.7219.93080.823.458104 Defensive StatisTIC20172018 Source: ESPN.com, Jeff Sagarin Rate of drives with a first down resulting in a score37.8%40.5% Share of plays for zero or negative yards35.6%34.8% The Knights startled the country last season when their defensive front dominated an SEC offensive line in the Peach Bowl. However, this season has been chock-full of poor defensive performances. UCF transitioned to a 4-3 base scheme from a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Randy Shannon, and the team has seen improvements in yardage allowed per play and per contest. However, the Knights have dropped from 32nd to 54th in defensive efficiency. Only 27 teams have allowed more running yards after contact than UCF, and the school ranks 96th in three-and-out rate and 83rd in third-down conversion defense. These shoddy marks are further amplified when taking into consideration the quality of opponent that UCF has faced.Until the playoffs expand beyond four teams, there will always be frustrated fan bases at the end of the regular season. The playoff selection committee has never taken a Group-of-Five team, a streak that will almost certainly be extended this season because the argument for UCF’s inclusion doesn’t hold much water. If anything, Fresno State and Utah State have pieced together stronger seasons and candidacies for a spot in the playoff. The Knights desperately want their Cinderella slipper to fit, but the clock may have already struck midnight for them.Check out our latest college football predictions. read more

The NCAA Tournament Has Turned Into A Dunk Contest

In one of the most intoxicating games of this year’s NCAA Tournament, the UCF Knights went toe-to-toe with the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils. Leading up to and throughout the game, considerable bandwidth was spent debating whether the soon-to-be top pick in this year’s NBA draft, Zion Williamson, would add another body to his posterized graveyard. UCF center Tacko Fall, the would-be victim, chipped in 15 points on seven made shots, each of which came in eerily similar fashion. They were all dunks. At 7-foot-6, Fall is genetically predisposed to excel above the rim, as evidenced by his ability to jam it, flat-footed.Nobody this season dunked on Mike Krzyzewski’s squad more than Fall and the Knights. But the Blue Devils, which ultimately moved on with a win, are even more dunk crazy. And they aren’t the only team still playing in this tournament with eyes trained on the rim.This season’s Sweet 16 features a number of teams that relish slamming the ball through the cylinder. The teams have combined to produce 1,866 dunks this season. Three of the four dunk-happiest teams this season — Florida State, Duke, and LSU — are still in the field. Another contender, Gonzaga, ranks in the top 10 while Auburn, Virginia, Tennessee and Michigan rank in the top 30 by this measure. In all, six of this year’s Sweet 16 entries have a dunk share1The percentage of 2-point field-goal attempts that were dunks. exceeding 10 percent. Four years ago, only one did. Murray St.13.8✓ The dunkers are thrivingDivision I men’s college basketball teams for whom at least 10 percent of their 2-point field-goal attempts in 2018-19 were dunk attempts Stanford14.9 Of course, there are outliers. Most noticeably, Loyola-Chicago made a surprise run into and past the Sweet 16 a season ago. The Ramblers had just 15 dunks, accumulating a 1.6 percent dunk share. Duke squares off with Virginia Tech on Friday and has a clear edge on dunking; the Hokies (62 dunks) have fewer than a third as many dunks as the Blue Devils (188). But far more often, it seems that the high-flyers are moving on.Dunks have held a special place in the NCAA Tournament for decades. It’s how many came to know the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. It’s where Florida Gulf Coast, a plucky No. 15-seed in 2013, became known Dunk City. They have been everywhere this season and will continue to be, particularly with the regional semifinals featuring Florida State, Duke and LSU, three teams that have already skied for at least 177 dunks. The play has elevated the entertainment of the sport by a considerable measure.While the rise of the 3-pointer has justifiably garnered much attention, the dunk is the sport’s most marketable shot. The feat of athleticism is frequent fodder for highlight reels and commercials. And, since nearly 90 percent of all dunk attempts since 2010 have been converted into points, it’s likely the most efficient shot in basketball. What was once banned is now propelling the sport forward. So keep your eye on the rim this weekend as the Sweet 16 takes flight. Mississippi St.12.3✓ Little Rock10.6 William & Mary10.4 Marshall10.1 Xavier13.2 Auburn13.4✓✓ UCF14.0✓ Duke14.4✓✓ Nevada11.3✓ UCLA13.5 Vanderbilt10.3 Texas12.8 This is less about a few dunk-crazed teams and more a reflection of the nationwide trend in college basketball. As of Tuesday, there had been 19,550 dunks this season, the highest total of any season since at least 2010. Five years ago, for comparison, there were 17,687. Individually, the 2010 season featured 23 players who had at least 45 dunks. This season there are 36, seven of whom remain in the tournament. “We’re seeing more dunks,” Jay Bilas told The New York Times, “because there are more spectacular athletes out there.” Arkansas12.5 Arizona St.12.0✓ LSU14.2✓✓ Maryland10.7✓ To be sure, some of this is intuitive. Advances in science and technology make comparing today’s college athlete to those of yesteryear a comical examination. Perhaps more than ever, basketball rewards height — and, increasingly, arm length — and athleticism. Nowadays, warm-up lines seem to be as much for the fans as for the players. Tennessee is credited for starting a choreographed dunk during warm-ups that involves the entire team. It spread around the country and even reached the NBA.The digital market is saturated with looped clips of diminutive high-flyers, players leapfrogging multiple humans and guards audaciously double-pumping in transition. The NCAA’s official website ran a listicle of players it wants to see in a dunk contest.2Some posit that college already boasts the better contest. Because of his dunking prowess, Williamson eclipsed 1 million Instagram followers before he even got to college.As the number of dunk attempts has spiked, so too has their importance. Dunks accounted for 5.4 percent of all 2-point field goal attempts this season, the highest portion since 2014-15, and the fourth consecutive season that the national dunk share has risen.In fact, according to Bart Torvik’s website, three3Duke, Florida State and LSU. of the 12 teams with the most single-season dunks since 2010 can be found in this weekend’s regional semifinals. Source: Barttovik.com Georgia10.9 Alabama10.6 Texas Southern10.5 Washington10.3✓ Villanova12.8✓ Creighton10.3 Eastern Michigan12.6 Florida St.16.0✓✓ Texas A&M10.2 Virginia10.7✓✓ Gonzaga11.4✓✓ Dayton12.2 TeamShare of offense from DunksMade Tournament?Made Sweet 16? Northeastern10.4✓ read more

Cabreras Millions And Baseballs Billions

I was surprised by my colleague Neil Paine’s analysis of Miguel Cabrera’s record-breaking new contract extension. I thought the Detroit Tigers would come out looking much worse.According to Neil’s estimate, which used projections from Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system, Cabrera’s market value for the next 10 years is roughly $275 million. That’s not as much as the $292 million that the Tigers will be paying him, but the difference is modest.Neil’s valuation assumed that teams are willing to pay about $6.5 million per additional win in the free-agent market, based on research from Dave Cameron and Lewie Pollis. These estimates come from comparing the salaries given to free agents against their expected on-field production. (Neil further assumed that the market price of a win will increase by 5 percent per year.)In other words, Cabrera isn’t that vastly overpaid as compared to recent free agents. If Mike Napoli is making $16 million per year, then Cabrera’s $29 million per year doesn’t look so bad.But Cabrera’s market value is not the same as Cabrera’s economic value to the Tigers. It could be that free agents as a group are vastly overpaid, relative to the revenue they bring to their teams.In the 2006 book “Baseball Between the Numbers,” I estimated the marginal value of a win to a baseball team, based on how responsive different categories of revenue (such as ticket sales and TV deals) are to a team’s quality. I estimated that an additional game won added only about $1.2 million to a team’s bottom line, after subtracting revenue-sharing payments. (This assumes that the value of a win is constant from team to team, which it isn’t, but we’ll leave that aside for now.)That estimate is now eight years old. Total gross revenue accruing to the 30 Major League Baseball clubs has increased since then; it was $7.1 billion in 2013, according to Forbes, as compared to $4.7 billion in 2005.If the marginal economic value of a win has increased proportionately, a win would now be worth about $1.8 million. That’s still far less than the $6.5 million that teams are willing to pay for a win. Are baseball owners being irrational?Perhaps, but their motivation to own a baseball team may not be based solely in profits and losses. They may just be having fun. (I can think of a lot of worse ways to splurge.)And they may know that if they choose to sell their teams, they can do so — probably at a significant profit. The market value of an MLB franchise has increased by more than 600 percent since 1990, according to valuations from Financial World and Forbes magazine (see Rodney Fort’s website for the data). By comparison, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose by about 450 percent between March 27, 1990, and March 27, 2014. (Framed in terms of compound annual growth rates, baseball teams have increased in value by 8.5 percent per year since 1990, as compared with 7.3 percent for the stock market.)Not only have baseball franchises outperformed the stock market, but the patterns in their growth rates have been quite different. The stock market rose dramatically in the 1990s, but has teetered back and forth since then. By contrast, the rise in MLB franchise values has been much steadier.What accounts for this?Here’s a theory. The average baseball franchise is now worth $817 million, according to Forbes. Loosely speaking, you need to be a billionaire to afford one. And there are a lot more billionaires than there used to be.Forbes estimates that there are 492 billionaires in the United States, as compared to 99 in 1990. The increase in the number of billionaires, like the increase in baseball franchise values, has been relatively steady. (The number of American billionaires fell after the financial crisis of 2007-09 but has risen to a new high since then.)In a sense, the Tigers may be betting less on Cabrera’s performance and more on economic and regulatory conditions. If the number of billionaires continues to rise, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch (worth $3.6 billion) should find plenty of buyers should he sell the team down the line. Cabrera’s presence might make the Tigers a more attractive purchase — or if not, the liability might be modest as compared with the Tigers’ resale price. But if the rise of the billionaire reverses, Cabrera’s contract might come to look like the peak of a bubble. read more

Comparing the WWFs Death Rate to the NFLs And Other Pro Leagues

On Monday, we posted “Are Pro Wrestlers Dying at an Unusual Rate?,” showing that wrestlers from the WWF era have passed away at a clip far exceeding actuarial expectations. One of the most common questions I received about the blog post was how wrestlers compared to other professional athletes.  Here’s commenter Matthew Durst:Is this phenomenon unique to wrestling or is it a cost of doing any professional sport? What’s the years of life loss on average for the big 4 sports?I’m glad he asked.To investigate, I used ESPN’s athlete bio database, pulling out anyone who had played at least five seasons in any of the Big Four sports (football, baseball, basketball and hockey). I used the same five age groups (35-40, 40-45, 45-50, 50-55, 55-60) that I did for the wrestling analysis, except as of Dec. 31, 2010 (the most recent year for which we have data). I used only athletes whose careers had ended in 1998 or earlier (to match the period I looked at for the WWF, which changed its name to WWE in 2002). Then I took the simple percentage dead from each age group, as before:Outside of the WWF, professional athletes beat actuarial expectations. The NFL — which is commonly portrayed as being one step up from the Ludi —  at the very least doesn’t appear to produce many early deaths. Even offensive linemen, whose curve would be a bit higher on the grid, come in well under average (with about 4 percent dead in the entire age range).Though a bit surprising, there are good reasons why we might expect successful pro athletes to be better than average at surviving the 35- to 60-year-old period of their lives. They make a lot of money during their careers and have fairly good job prospects (relative to average) thereafter. They operate in a disciplined, highly regulated environment during a formative period of their lives and face extensive drug testing. Not to mention, these athletes are highly skilled and physically honed professionals. Their bodies may take a lot of damage that may stay with them for the rest of their lives, but it’s not the kind of damage that typically leads to an early grave.Wrestling in the WWF era, on the other hand, is reputed to have had a party culture, extensive performance-enhancing and recreational drug use, training focused on more aesthetic than functional physical improvements, a brutal schedule, and fewer monetary rewards than fans might think. read more

Listen To How Walt Hickey And Neil Paine Tried To Break Madden

Neil on the statistical importance of Madden ratings:“It can be a kind of strange archival record of who was good or who was bad in a given year. And the players take it very seriously.” Walt on how the piece came together:“We came up with the originally that was, ‘What would the ratings of a normal person in Madden be?’ This was originally going to be a quick blog post, and then it just started snowballing. And then they [EA Sports] said, ‘OK, cool, how many people do you want to do?’ That wasn’t a question we were expecting.” (This is part of the prelaunch experimentation for the FiveThirtyEight podcast. We’ll be posting audio of different kinds on SoundCloud and then launching the actual podcast later this spring. Stay tuned! And let us know what you think by tweeting our podcast producer/host, @jodyavirgan, or emailing us.) Neil on whether Madden Ratings Czar Donny Moore is basically a scout:“Scouts are trying to project what a player will do, perhaps five or even more years down the road. … Donny [Moore’s] process is a little different — he’s just trying to capture a snapshot of how good a guy is at this moment.” Audio Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/fivethirtyeight_maddenpod.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Elsewhere on FiveThirtyEight, Walt Hickey and Neil Paine have a two-part opus describing how EA Sports makes the wildly popular Madden video game. Go read it if you haven’t.The story doesn’t end there. Listen to the two talk with podcast producer/host Jody Avirgan about how the piece came together, what they learned about Madden — and how Walt’s totally inept avatar got Tom Coughlin fired, over and over.Play or download using the player above. Some highlights from the conversation are below. Walt on trying to break Madden:“It was a cool challenge, seeing how bad someone could get.” Walt Hickey tells Neil Paine and Jody Avirgan how awful his Madden self was at quarterback. read more

Limiting fouls is key to Buckeye defense

Thad Matta and his team will tell you it’s their focus on defense that has gotten them their 24-1 record this season. But a key detail that often goes overlooked is how the team rarely fouls its opponents. Ohio State is the second-best team in the country in terms of average fouls per game, with 14.3. In turn, the Buckeyes lead the country in opponents’ free throws attempted per game at 10.8 — 3.5 fewer than second-place Florida. Matta’s emphasis on defensive fundamentals and positioning is critical to his team’s success in that area. “I think that you foul when you’re not playing hard because you automatically put yourself out of position,” Matta said. “That’s something we’ve tried to get these guys to understand.” Keeping opponents off the charity stripe is a key factor to the team being No. 6 in the nation in scoring defense by allowing only 58.3 points per game. Matta and his team critique the film after each game they play. Often, they discuss the difference between a “good” foul and a “bad” foul. The fouls that come from lack of effort are the ones that Matta and his players try to avoid. “He always says, ‘If you’re fouling, you’re not playing hard.’ So that’s one thing we take into consideration when we’re out there, and just playing smart and knowing the system,” fifth-year senior forward David Lighty said after the Jan. 22 win against Illinois. The Buckeyes’ rotation usually features only seven players, whose ability to stay on the floor, out of foul trouble, is key to the team’s success. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, their key players have yet to put themselves in a position where foul trouble has cost them significantly. Arguably the team’s most important player, freshman forward Jared Sullinger, averages fewer than 2.3 fouls per game — an impressive number for a post player who relies heavily on physicality. “I think Jared has really grown as a defensive player early on this season,” Matta said. Freshman point guard Aaron Craft’s 69 fouls are the most on the team, but he only averages 2.8 fouls per game. Craft uses lateral quickness to beat his opponent to the spot and avoid blocking fouls. Junior guard William Buford and senior guard Jon Diebler average 2.4 fouls and 1 foul per game, respectively. Matta has campaigned throughout the season for Lighty, who commits just two fouls per contest, to receive the Defensive Player of the Year award for his work on the perimeter. The 6-foot-5 swingman has quickness comparable to Craft’s, but has the size to guard both post and perimeter players. Lighty’s defensive versatility is one of Matta’s favorite attributes. In Saturday’s loss to Wisconsin, Lighty spent time guarding the 6-10 Jon Leuer, and later switched to 6-1 Badger point guard Jordan Taylor after he caught fire from beyond the 3-point line in the second half. “I think at times we’re all kind of on a different page defensively, but when we’re making those runs and shutting teams out, we’re playing as a unit on the defensive end,” Diebler said. “We all have each other’s back. … That’s what makes good defensive teams.” read more

Buckeye briefs Mens tennis loses first Big Ten Championship in 7 years

Men’s Tennis loses to Illinois in Big Ten Tournament Final All was going as planned for the No. 3 Ohio State tennis team when they reached the Big Ten Tournament final for the seventh consecutive year, but Illinois threw that plan off track Sunday. The Illini defeated the Buckeyes, 4-3, and earned the Big Ten Tournament Championship at the Vandy Christie Tennis Center in Evanston, Ill. Illinios and OSU weren’t strangers in the conference final. In six of the last seven years, the two teams met in the final with the championship on the line. But for the first time, the Buckeyes did not come away with the victory. OSU led 3-1 after the first four matches, but two Illini victories tied the match, 3-3. The Big Ten Championship came down to the final match of the contest between OSU sophomore Blaz Rola and Illinois senior Roy Kalmanovich. They split the first two sets, but Kalmanovich broke Rola twice in the final set to win the match and the Big Ten Championship. The OSU team will await to hear what seed it will be in the NCAA Tournament which begins May 10. Men’s golf sputters in Big Ten Championships The Ohio State men’s golf team lost its mojo at the Big Ten Championships over the weekend, finishing ninth with a team score of 1220 (+68). Entering the competition, the Buckeyes had top-five finishes in their previous three events, including a win earlier this month at the Wildcat Invitational. OSU’s ninth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships, played Friday through Sunday in French Lick, Ind., ties its worst-finish at the event in the last six seasons. The Buckeyes finished ninth in 2010 as well. Freshman Grant Weaver led OSU with a 14-over 302 in his first conference championship. Weaver shot 75s in each of the first three rounds on the par-72 Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort, and closed out the tournament with a 77. The Buckeyes No. 1 golfer, senior Alex Redfield, struggled after an opening-round 72. The Columbus-native finished 24-over shooting 85, 75 and 80 in the final three rounds, respectively. The 85 was his highest round of the season. Freshmen Boo Timko and Logan Jones each finished the championship 22-over while junior Matt Turner finished the event at 23-over. Illinois won the event and the automatic bid to the NCAA Regional Tournament with a four-round score of 1175 (+23). The Illini also captured the individual title as senior Luke Guthrie posted a 5-under 283, four strokes better than Northwestern senior Sam Chien. The Buckeyes top individual finisher was Weaver, finishing tied for 21st. The NCAA Regional Tournament begins May 17, but the field of teams and individuals competing has not been set. Women’s track finds success in relay competition The No. 22 Ohio State women’s track and field team closed out competition at the 118th Penn Relays Saturday with performances in the 4×400-meter and 4×800-meter relays. The Buckeyes began the three-day competition in Philadelphia on Thursday. Thirteen members of the Scarlet and Gray competed during the opening day of the meet. In the first running event of the meet, junior Nyjah Cousar posted a time of 58.64 to finish third in the 400-meter hurdles race. Senior Big Ten rival Latoya Griffith from Illinois claimed first with a time of 57.88. Senior Norianna Brown set a personal record of 15.48 meters (50-9.5) and took the bronze medal in the shot put. Freshman Carly Pendleton joined Cousar and Brown in collecting bronze for the Buckeyes. Pendleton set a personal record throw of 47.86 meters (157-0) in the discus throw college division; Brown took ninth overall with a mark of 44.16 meters (144-10). Also taking the track Thursday was the distance medley relay team. The Buckeyes competed in the Championship of the America division, which highlights the best college relay teams in the country. The team consisted of redshirt senior Jordan Jennewine, freshman Alexandria Johnson, junior Tori Brink and freshman Katie Betts, who finished 10th with a time of 11:52.34. In the 100-meter dash college division, senior Christina Manning (11.68) qualified for the finals, while sophomore Chesna Sykes (11.90) came in 17th. In the college division of the 100-meter hurdles, junior Christienne Linton (14.19) placed 21st. The sprint medley team also competed in the Championship of America division. Recording the second-best time in OSU history were Linton, Johnson, senior Jackie Dim and senior Shaniqua McGinnis, who posted a 3:53.90. On the final day of competition, Cousar, Dim, Cavin and McGinnis competed in the Championship of America division to earn a fourth-place finish in the 4×400 with a time of 3:36.53. The Buckeyes will head to Madison, Wis. for the 2012 Big Ten Championships May 11-13. read more