The Baltimore Orioles-Chicago White Sox game at Camden Yards on Wednesday will be played under the rarest of circumstances — in front of an entirely empty stadium. Due to public unrest in Baltimore after the funeral for Freddie Gray, who died this month while in police custody, Orioles officials decided Tuesday to close the game to fans.Wednesday’s game appears to be a first. According to Baseball-Reference.com’s database, no major league game since 1914 has been staged in an empty stadium. The sport’s official historian, John Thorn, tweeted that the previous record for the lowest attendance at a major league game was six — a mark set all the way back in 1882.In other sports, however, empty stadiums are a bit more common. For instance, the authors Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim note in their book “Scorecasting” that in Italy alone, more than 20 soccer matches have been held before empty stadiums. The authors use those games, and the research of Swedish economists Per Pettersson-Lidbom and Mikael Priks, to support their case that home-field advantage (across various sports) is mostly driven by referee bias favoring the home team.The findings from empty-stadium games suggest that fans do influence the refs. In their original paper, Pettersson-Lidbom and Priks found the typical officiating advantage home teams enjoy (at least in terms of foul calls) to be substantially reduced when fans were removed, even after controlling for the specific teams and referees involved.Research about home-field advantage in baseball has demonstrated that while umpires do show bias toward the home team in terms of strike-zone calls, it doesn’t have much of an effect on who wins. But a later study showed that umpires’ tendencies to vary the shape of the strike zone in favor of the home team became heightened as the leverage index of the game situation increased.In other words, if it’s the case that baseball umpires are influenced by pressure of the crowd around them — particularly in big moments — the Orioles will be playing under unusually neutral conditions for a game at Camden Yards.It goes without saying that one game, however crowdless, isn’t much of a sample in baseball. But the effect it will have on the umpires is an additional wrinkle to keep an eye on during Wednesday’s unique matchup.UPDATE(April 29, 11:55 a.m.): After reaching out to Baseball-Reference’s Sean Forman, we learned that the attendance number we quoted for a 1930 Giants-Reds game, 10, may be incorrect due to a clerical error in Retrosheet.org‘s data. The reference to that game has been removed.
Green Bay Packers’ rookie Eddie Lacy is the first to admit he’s a big guy. But maybe he is bigger than he thinks.A photo surfaced online of the running back turning back to look for a ball during a recent training camp practice, and he looked out of shape.Circulation of the photo went viral and by late Monday, Lacy caught wind of all the fat jokes that were being made at his expense.Listed at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds, Lacy brushed off the jokes, saying his coaches have no issues with his weight or conditioning.“I’m at a weight where I’m comfortable at and the coaching staff feels as though they’re comfortable where I’m at,” Lacy said after Tuesday’s practice, which was his best of camp so far. “So as far as that’s concerned, we’re all on the same page.”Coach Mike McCarthy didn’t seem worried about Lacy’s size.“If we had any concerns about any of our guys conditioning-wise, they wouldn’t be on the field,” said McCarthy.
In other Black quarterback news, Michael Vick has been relieved of his starting duties with the New York Jets in favor of Geno Smith. The real news is that Vick’s days as a consistently productive NFL QB appear to be done.Face it: If he cannot hold the position over Geno Smith, who has has his moments but has been mostly deplorable in his 1 1/2 years in the league, then Vick cannot beat out anyone else. Which means perhaps he should let this season be his last, and depart with some dignity. Last thing he needs is another year or two subbing for injured quarterbacks or wearing a cap and holding a clipboard while feigning to be interested.And if he cannot beat out Smith, after having had a fair chance to do so, why would another team consider Vick a viable option?His aforementioned dignity, by the way, was regained in how humbly and remorsefully he comported himself after the dog-fighting scandal that landed him in prison. He could have been outwardly angry for the over-the-top punishment he received. He could have been surly. He could have been shut down.Instead, he became an advocate for animal safety and opened up about his demons and his flaws and worked on them. On the field with the Philadelphia Eagles, he at times was brilliant. He earned a second $100-million contract, the ultimate mark of his ascension.But he’s played 12 years, taken some vicious hits and just no longer has the sharpness in his reads or bounce in his step. His accuracy always was an issue, and it has not gotten better. Last week, the Jets lost to the Buffalo Bills 38-3. Vick threw for 79 yards. Enough said.When Jets coach Rex Ryan deems Smith as a stronger alternative, well, enough said.“The main factor is you want to give your guys a chance to win the game,” Ryan said. “That’s the No. 1 factor you look into. But that’s what we did. We feel good. . . As an organization, all of our decisions are organizational driven. We just want to get Geno another opportunity to show what he can do. Obviously we like the way he finished last season. We’ve had some bumps in the road this year. We sat him down for a few weeks and we’ll see how he responds.”At the same time, the Jets sit down Vick, perhaps for the last time. If so, he had a memorable career. Some flashes of spectacular early with the Falcons, and less frequent flashes along the way–with a prison stint in between.If this does mark the end for Vick, he can be proud that he stayed around for a dozen seasons, even if they were not what he or anyone projected them to be when he joined the NFL.Vick went 1-2 as the starter. He played turnover-free football in his first two starts, steadying the offense with his veteran leadership. But he was terrible on Monday night, completing only 7 of 19 passes for 76 yards and an interception. Smith replaced him in the third quarter. QB rating of 22.2. Not good.
When the Montreal Canadiens dealt P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber last offseason, it was one of the NHL’s biggest challenge trades in years. Both players play defense, though each represents a different philosophy of how the position should be played — Weber is big and strong and tough and represents more of the old guard of NHL defensemen, while Subban is fast, slick and immensely skilled with the puck, the perfect prototype of the modern NHL defenseman.As the two blueliners prepare for Thursday’s game, their first head-to-head matchup since the trade, it might be tempting to think Montreal has gotten the better end of the deal. The Habs have a better record and goal differential than the Preds so far in 2016-17, and Weber has provided more individual production than Subban as well.But although Montreal might have the better hockey team, the Subban-Weber swap still probably made the Habs slightly worse in the long run. Although Weber is very, very good at hockey, a closer look at the numbers shows that Subban is better.To be clear, Weber isn’t a traffic cone. He has finished in the top five in voting for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, which is given to the league’s best defenseman, five times in his career, and he hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since his second full NHL season in 2007-08. By any metric, Weber is among the best backliners of his generation. In fact, he’d probably sit at the head of the table at a “Best Defensemen to Never Win a Norris” banquet.Weber is also having a very productive first season with his new club. He has notched 37 points in 64 games, good for 0.58 points per game — tying his career average. Subban, on the other hand, was injured in mid-December (the nebulous “upper-body injury”) and missed 16 games, so he trails Weber in total points. But Subban’s 30 points in 47 games are good for a pace of 0.64 points per game, also matching his career average. On a rate basis, then, Subban still looks better right now, and that’s without looking at what the two defensemen will be doing two or three (or even six) years down the line.What will those seasons look like? Major League Baseball has PECOTA1PECOTA was developed by FiveThirtyEight’s editor-in-chief, Nate Silver. to project a player’s future performance, but the NHL doesn’t have much in the way of similar projection tools.2The guys at Hockey Prospectus have developed an analogous model called VUKOTA, but it’s proprietary. It’s difficult, therefore, to predict when a player might be in his prime seasons. But a study published in 2014 by University of British Columbia professor James Brander examined the effects of age on scoring and plus-minus, concluding that an NHL defenseman peaks at age 29 and generally plays at 90 percent or better of his peak productivity from age 24 to 34.Subban and Weber’s careers have overlapped for seven full seasons, counting this one.3Subban’s NHL career technically began during the 2009-10 season, but he only played two games, so according to NHL policy, his rookie season was officially 2010-11. (For what it’s worth, Subban dished out two assists in those first two games.) Subban was 21 when that stretch began and is 27 now; Weber was 25 at the beginning of the 2010-11 season and is 31 now. If Brander’s assumptions are correct, Subban has not yet reached his peak, while Weber is on the downslope.According to Brander’s study, Weber has been either at or near his peak for the entire time his career has overlapped with Subban’s, and yet Subban still tops Weber in a number of advanced metrics. For starters, the numbers suggest that Subban is a better possession driver than Weber: During the years they overlapped, Subban’s Corsi for percentage (the proportion of total shot attempts — including misses and blocks — that a team amasses in its games) at 5-on-5 is 52.6 to Weber’s 50.3, according to Corsica Hockey. Relative to teammates at 5-on-5, Subban’s Corsi for percentage is 3.8 points higher than his team’s is when he sits; Weber’s is only 0.1 better. In an era when possession matters as much as it ever has, Subban looks to be the more valuable player.What’s driving those Corsi numbers? Subban’s teams have taken more shots while he’s on the ice in the past seven seasons than Weber’s teams have; at even strength, Subban-led squads have taken nearly 33 shots for every 60 minutes he’s on the ice while Weber’s teams have taken approximately 31. And despite Weber’s billing as the more conventional, defensive-minded blueliner, Subban’s teams have also allowed fewer even-strength shots per 60 minutes while he’s on the ice than Weber’s have: 29.7 vs. 30. In other words, Subban’s even beating Weber at his own game.Beyond possession metrics, Subban has a slight edge in points per game over the same stretch, 0.64 to Weber’s 0.62, an advantage that is likely to increase over the next few seasons. Weber is a better shooter than Subban — his career shooting percentage of 8.2 far outpaces Subban’s lifetime mark of 5.9 — and the Montreal defenseman is averaging more time on ice than his Nashville counterpart this season, but these are the only two metrics that could be weaponized against Subban evangelists.At 31, Weber still passes the eye test as a top defenseman (because he is) and he gives the Canadiens those mythic “tough minutes.” But Subban beats Weber in possession, points and team shooting rates. Subban likely has not peaked, but Weber probably has. On the ice, Nashville remains the clear winner in this trade.Now, there is one scenario where Nashville ends up the loser in this trade: if Weber retires before the end of his contract.4Contracts like Weber’s, which is heavily front-loaded and was signed back in 2012, are now illegal under the NHL’s revised salary-cap rules. Should Weber choose to hang up his skates before the last year of his deal, the Preds would be on the hook for a “cap recapture” fee to the tune of $24.5 million. That represents roughly a third of each team’s entire salary cap this season — needless to say, it would not be great for Nashville. The penalties are less severe if Weber retires earlier, between the ages of 32 and 39, but Nashville will still be crossing its fingers that Weber will stay on the roster till the end of his deal (he’ll be 40 the next time he becomes an unrestricted free agent).There’s no evidence to suggest that Weber will not play through the end of his deal, though. It’s not uncommon for an NHL defenseman to play till he’s 40, and in Weber’s eleven full seasons, he’s never played less than 54 games.5He played in all 48 games in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season. Bad things can happen and bodies do break down, but Weber has been an ironman to this point. Even though he doesn’t play for them anymore, Nashville will hope that trend continues.At the end of the day, both Nashville and Montreal wound up with two of the 10 best defensemen in the NHL. Subban, though, has won a Norris — Weber is still waiting for his first. He might get it under new Habs coach Claude Julien, whose defense-first style of coaching suits Weber’s style of play. But history suggests that as he ages past his prime, Weber’s prestige will fade, even if only slightly. Meanwhile, Subban is probably still getting better. That means the Predators will likely come out ahead in the long run, even if Montreal has the better record so far this season.
Although Major League Baseball’s audience is old enough to give golf a run for its erectile-dysfunction ad dollars, its player pool is skewing younger each year. Research suggests that players are peaking — and declining — more quickly, placing them in their primes ever earlier. It’s no coincidence that young stars such as Bryce Harper and Carlos Correa seem emboldened this spring, openly advocating a more demonstrative style of play. This is their game; modern MLB is no sport for old men.As the game has gotten younger, it has also picked up the pace — and not just between pitches. The average (four-seam) fastball has sped up by about two miles per hour over the last decade, incinerating countless chyrons along the way. In the eight full seasons for which we have complete PITCHf/x data, the proportion of MLB fastballs topping 93 mph has increased by almost 50 percent, with the percentage breaking 95 mph nearly doubling and the share above 97 mph nearly quadrupling.In a recent edition of his newsletter, Sports Illustrated contributor and Baseball Prospectus co-founder Joe Sheehan drew a connection between these two trends, speculating that faster pitches are forcing older hitters into early retirement.“Which players are best equipped to see and hit velocity?” Sheehan asked. “The youngest ones with the sharpest eyes and quickest reflexes. It’s not the hitter pool that is changing, whether through substance usage or otherwise. It’s that the skills of pitchers have changed in a way that hurts older players more than younger ones.”Sheehan’s proposal sounds plausible. Reaction time is known to decrease from a peak at approximately age 24. Faster pitches leave hitters less time to react. It seems intuitive, then, that older hitters would have a tougher time adjusting to baseball’s current hard-throwing conditions.Sheehan did, however, acknowledge that this is only a theory. “To prove it, what we need is a look at whether young players do better at hitting high-velocity pitches than older ones do,” he wrote. “On servers somewhere there’s enough information to see what players of every age do against pitches of every velocity. That’s where the answer lies.”That’s where we come in. We’ve accessed that server, but it looks as if the data — unlike the latest radar-gun readings — is saying “not so fast.”The chart below displays the average offensive performance — as measured by run expectancy added per pitch — against four-seam fastballs1Pitch classifications and data come from Pitch Info. above and below 93 mph, broken down by batter age:The green “against high velocity” line is consistently lower than its orange counterpart, which tells us that faster pitches are generally harder to hit, regardless of the batter’s age. (No surprise there.) But the gap between the two lines stays constant as a batter gets older, suggesting that age doesn’t necessarily make it harder to catch up to fast pitches. If old hitters are at a greater disadvantage against gas, it’s not showing up here.Of course, there are other ways to test Sheehan’s hypothesis. We can also create an aging curve using the delta method, which measures the typical change in a player’s performance over time by grouping players of each age and isolating their performances in consecutive seasons. If rising pitch speeds are responsible for hitters’ declining earlier, we would expect to see the performance gap against faster and slower heaters grow as players get further from their physical peaks. (In this case, a negative number on the y-axis indicates that players got worse at hitting harder fastballs, relative to softer fastballs.)Instead of a widening gap, we again see essentially no change as a player passes out of his prime. Although we know that, on the whole, hitters get worse as they age, their declines don’t seem to be steeper against eliteheat.2The aging curves against fastballs above 95 and 97 mph, respectively, do show slight drop-offs, but they don’t come until a hitter’s late 30s, long after most bats begin to fade. The same is true of the 95-mph trend line even with sinkers and cutters included.We can even try to corroborate the theory in indirect ways. If aging batters were “cheating” against good fastballs, for instance, starting their swings early to mask delayed reactions, we would expect them to be more vulnerable to pitchers who are adept at changing speeds — yet hitters don’t decline any more quickly against pitchers with especially large speed separations between their fastballs and nonfastballs. Similarly, if veterans couldn’t catch up to good fastballs, we would expect pitchers to exploit that weakness by throwing more of them to older hitters than younger ones — but batters barely experience an uptick in the percentage of 93+ mph pitches they see over time.More anecdotally, many of baseball’s best fastball hitters aren’t exactly spring chickens. Last year’s 10 best hitters against fastballs topping 95 mph3Among players who saw at least 1,000 fastballs of any speed. had an average age of 31.2 and included Mark Teixeira (age 35), Jose Bautista (34) and Carlos Beltran (38); only 24-year-old Nolan Arenado checked in at or under the aforementioned peak age for response time.So why wouldn’t older hitters be burned most severely as pitchers turn up the temperature? Although slowing response speed probably contributes to age-related hitting declines, it likely affects performance against all pitches. (It’s not as if any major league offerings were easy to hit.) In addition, the same study that pegged peak response time at 24 noted that older competitors can compensate for a loss in response speed with strategies born of experience. For instance, older hitters could be better at anticipating fastballs, which would help them offset slowing bat speed. And while decrepitude eventually comes for all players, the ability to catch up to good fastballs may not be the first (or the worst) thing to go. Declines in durability, stamina and muscle mass may combine to claim careers before hard-throwing pitchers start to take a higher toll.Admittedly, we may also be missing something. It’s almost impossible to eliminate selection bias from aging studies in sports, because players who decline quickly disappear from the sample. In this case, though, we believe that bias would be slight, in part because we’re focusing not on overall performance against fastballs — which does a lot to determine whether a hitter’s career continues — but on the difference in performance against fastballs of certain speeds.It’s indisputable that hitters are aging less gracefully than they did two decades ago, so if we can’t blame better fastballs, we need another culprit. It could be that baseball’s anti-PED policies have (mostly) removed an unnatural advantage that was propping up older players, although that presumes the unprovable — that veterans were disproportionately using (and benefiting from) steroids and/or amphetamines before the bans. It could be that teams have gotten smarter about evaluating defense, which tends to decline quickly, or that year-round amateur play and improvements in professional player development have better prepared young players to displace their predecessors. (Or even that skyrocketing salaries have made it more common for players — cough, Adam LaRoche — to walk away before they’re forced out.)Or maybe our perspective is skewed by one anomalous era. Although the current percentage of wins above replacement4As calculated by Baseball-Reference. produced by hitters over 30 looks extremely low compared with its 1998 peak, it’s roughly in line with the same proportion from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, when the typical fastball was far slower:So, sorry, Joe: for better or worse, access to servers can’t confirm this appealing hypothesis. Some sports mysteries still resist the neat narrative, no matter how many stats we have on our side.
FiveThirtyEight’s NFL predictions currently give the Carolina Panthers a less than 1 percent chance of making the playoffs. In the video above, Reuben Fischer-Baum walks us through the unlikely scenario that would allow the 6-8 Panthers to squeak into the playoffs as an NFC wild-card team. Share on Facebook
Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo is likely to make an appearance during the July match at Ohio Stadium. Credit: Courtesy of TNSA different kind of football is set to come to Ohio Stadium this summer.An international exhibition match scheduled for July 27 at the ’Shoe between two of Europe’s premier clubs, Spain’s Real Madrid and French club Paris Saint-Germain, was officially announced Tuesday morning. The match, which is a part of the International Champions Cup, a soccer series that has been pairing together the world’s top clubs for summer friendlies since 2013, could bring some of the sport’s biggest names to Columbus, headlined by Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid. “We’re very excited to work with The Ohio State University to bring this match here,” said Kwame Bryan, the vice president of stadium partnerships for Relevant Sports, the New York-based firm that hosts the ICC, at a press conference Tuesday. “We’ve been working for countless months to bring a game here,” he said. Tickets for the match, which is set to be the first international soccer match ever to be played at Ohio Stadium, go on sale to the general public April 5 through Ticketmaster. Exclusive presale tickets are available beginning 10 a.m. on March 29. Fans can sign up for a chance to obtain presale tickets via the ICC’s website, but Bryan told The Lantern the OSU community — students, staff and faculty — will have access to them. Final ticket details are still being ironed out, Bryan said, though he added they will likely start at $35.“We hope there is a price point for everyone,” he said. The match is another extension of the university’s push in recent years to bring events to the ’Shoe beyond football games, OSU Vice President and Athletic Director Gene Smith said.To date, that has primarily meant concerts, but Smith said the soccer match allows the school — and Columbus — to showcase itself to the global audience that the sport has. “We feel very comfortable that that particular day, July 27, we’ll have an opportunity to showcase two of the greatest, most valuable teams in this world right here in the ’Shoe,” he said. Both Columbus Crew SC President Andy Loughnane and OSU men’s soccer coach John Bluem praised the match’s capacity to highlight Columbus’ passion for the world’s most popular sport.Loughnane said it is a “landmark match for the city of Columbus.” It will be the first professional soccer match in the ’Shoe since Sept. 30, 1998, when Crew SC played its final game there before moving to its own stadium for the 1999 season. A mere 10,966 fans were on hand for it. The number of fans anticipated for the July exhibition could dwarf that figure.Although Smith and Bryan were hesitant to make an attendance projection, both said they expect it to be more than 100,000. The stadium’s attendance record is 108,975, which was set on Nov. 21 when the Buckeyes played Michigan State. The largest crowd at a soccer game in America was also an ICC match. In that game, 109,318 fans packed in the University of Michigan’s stadium to watch Manchester United take on Real Madrid on Aug. 2, 2014.Smith laughed after being asked if the university was out to top its archrival. “We don’t look at it that way,” he said. “We’re not competing with anyone. Our focus is to make sure that these professionals — and these are the best of the best — have a quality experience. So we want make sure we have a packed house for them, regardless of where our number falls relative to anyone else in the world.” Real Madrid, according to Forbes, is the most valuable sports franchise in the world. Its roster is littered with elite talent, headlined by Ronaldo and James Rodriguez. The Royal Whites have captured the La Liga title 32 times, while also winning 10 European Cup competitions — the most of any club. PSG has won its league title each of the past three seasons and is currently on pace to take the crown again this year. The club is anchored by Thiago Silva and Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, though the latter is rumored to be exploring transfer options. In addition to the match at Ohio Stadium, there are currently seven other ICC matches set to take place in the United States this summer. But for one day, the soccer world will turn its attention to Ohio’s capital city.“Soccer is the world’s sport … so on July 27, all eyes, literally around the world, will be tuned in to Columbus,” Loughnane said. “No matter what time a day it is in Europe, or elsewhere throughout the world, Columbus will be the focus.”
When Ohio State’s Tyler Moeller tore his left pectoral muscle in the Buckeyes’ win over Illinois on Oct. 2, it was hard to tell exactly what OSU lost: a defensive back or linebacker? The truth is, the Buckeyes lost a combination of the two. Moeller played the “star” position — a hybrid defensive back/linebacker who lines up over the slot receiver as the Buckeyes’ nickelback, or fifth defensive back, when teams present three- or four-receiver sets. “You’re called on to fill in on the run, be more physical and things like that, as other nickelbacks probably do a lot of covering,” said senior safety Jermale Hines, who started at the star position for OSU in 2008 and 2009. “A lot more blitzing and things like that, so you have to be tough.” The position is ideal for players like Moeller and Hines. Both players were recruited to OSU as undersized linebackers and were eventually converted to safeties. The star position lets the Buckeye defense effectively match up with opponents who use the spread offense. Should the opposing offense attempt a pass, the star has safety skills to drop back into coverage with a receiver. If the offense runs the ball, OSU has a third linebacker on the field. OSU coach Jim Tressel said the Buckeyes’ defense is designed to stop teams that run either spread or traditional offenses. “You have to be ready to go against the whole gamut,” Tressel said. “That’s why we try to give them as much of that whole gamut as we can.” The star also tends to blitz more often than a traditional nickelback would, evidenced by Moeller’s blindside sack and subsequent forced fumble on Marshall quarterback Brian Anderson in OSU’s season-opening win. With Moeller out for the season, the OSU coaching staff made true freshman Christian Bryant the first-string star until he was sidelined with a foot infection. Tressel said Bryant will miss another month. At 5-feet-9-inches and 178 pounds, Bryant is more of a traditional nickelback than either Moeller or Hines. However, his hard-hitting style and his high-school experience as safety make him a natural fit for the position. Hines said he welcomed the move back to the position he played for the previous two seasons. “I definitely embrace it,” Hines said. “I’m willing to do anything for the team. No matter what my role is, I’m willing to do it.”
With the Big Ten becoming bigger and better, one might expect the victors of the Big Ten Championship to receive a trophy that reflects the opulent pride — bordering on arrogance — that comes with besting 11 other teams. It seems that despite the recent addition of Nebraska to the burgeoning Big Ten, though, those in charge of the trophy design have opted for a delightfully-understated, yet cutting edge aesthetic that channels a classy and simplistic piece of art in lieu of the oversized embodiments of hubris seen in other conferences. Perhaps it’s the downtrodden economy cutting frivolous spending money from the Big Ten budget, but the conference has crafted a product that, without the football topper, could easily be found in upscale Hollywood homes as an accent piece or in highbrow museums where it would be lauded as a bold statement in modern beauty. No matter the reason, it is nice to see a trophy that is not impressive just because someone managed to fix an LCD TV to it, but impressive because it is a sophisticated symbol of decades of rich history and hundreds of hours of hard work for deserving athletes.
Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison (left) and Willie Cauley-Stein (15) celebrate at the end in a 68-66 win against Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite 8 on March 28 in Cleveland. Credit: Courtesy of TNSEveryone loves a Cinderella story, but underdogs running through March Madness to win the NCAA basketball title are bad for the game.That’s why I’m glad Michigan State — a seven seed — was the lowest ranked team in this year’s Elite Eight. That’s why I’m glad Georgia State and UAB were knocked out after moments of glory, and, most of all, that’s why I’m glad 38-0 Kentucky is writing its very own version of a Cinderella story.Was it hard for Shabazz Napier to lead seventh-seeded Connecticut to a title last season? Sure, and it was fun to watch.But that has nothing on what it takes to run the table with 40 straight wins.Kentucky starts identical twins at guard and two freshmen at forward and has a Naismith Award candidate at center who doesn’t even average 10 points per game. Coach John Calipari, regardless of questionable activities at past stops in his career, has built perhaps the best team in college basketball history.Now with the Final Four just around the corner, two more Wildcat wins would be best for the sport.After tossing Hampton out of the tournament with ease, dispatching Cincinnati and embarrassing West Virginia, Kentucky got its first true test of the tournament. Once again, the Wildcats came out on top, this time against Notre Dame in the quarterfinals.A date with Wisconsin is the only thing in the way of a return trip to the title game for the Wildcats, but the story this year is much more of a Cinderella than what it was for the then-eighth-seeded men in blue.I couldn’t care less what their ratings were in high school or how many scholarship offers they had — to take a roster of 15 players and win 40 games in a row would be the most impressive feat in basketball history since UCLA’s 88-game run.And to an extent, one clean slate with such a young roster under the watchful eye of the nation’s media could be even more impressive.It’s hard to win a basketball game. It’s even harder to win two. And to keep doing that even after undefeated predictions were coming down before the season started is truly incredible, regardless of who the players are.Kentucky is the best team this year. That’s not a question, but regardless of how good you are, 40-win seasons don’t come around very often. And by not very often, I mean it has never happened before.No matter your opinion of Calipari and his recruiting tactics, the Wildcats deserve the title, and will probably get it.If that projection comes true, it’ll be the best-case scenario for college basketball.And if you’re still stuck on hoping for a Cinderella story, just remember that there have been the same number of 40-win teams as 16-seeds that won a tournament game.