With the first round of the NBA playoffs nearing its halfway point, much has played out according to pre-playoff expectations, and that’s been good news for the better-seeded team in each series. Six of eight matchups have had double-digit average per-game victory margins; hell, the San Antonio Spurs have thumped the Memphis Grizzlies by an average of 29 points per game. It’s a massacre out there.But not everything has followed that pattern. Using our Elo ratings (which measure a team’s strength at a given moment), we found the teams that have exceeded their regular-season expectations the most since the playoffs tipped off last weekend. And even given the lack of first-round surprises so far, some teams have managed to raise eyebrows with their play, as we highlight in the video below:Chief among those teams: the Miami Heat, who are, um, torching [One of you owes me 20 push-ups. — Ed.] the Charlotte Hornets in their series thus far. Although our model expected Miami to win by 3.9 points per game, the Heat have prevailed by an average margin of 22 a game. With guys like Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow in the mix, you might think the Heat’s defense — stingy during the regular season — is behind this run. But no, it’s an unstoppable offense that’s driving the Heat’s blowouts.That Heat attack is averaging 1.24 points per play, according to Synergy Sports Technology; that’s the best of any team in the playoffs. According to data from the NBA’s player-tracking SportVU tech, Miami’s pick-and-roll performance has jumped from 91.1 points per 100 chances created by those plays during the regular season to 121.8 per 100 chances in the playoffs. Luol Deng is hitting 55 percent of his 3-pointers; Whiteside is shooting 88 percent around the rim; and Dwyane Wade is scoring 22 points per game with an assortment of crafty, old-man moves.Josh Richardson is perhaps most emblematic of the Heat getting, well, hot [Forty. — Ed.]. The rookie averaged only 21 minutes over 52 games this regular season, but he’s second on the Heat in minutes during the playoffs and, according to Synergy, is tied for the league lead in spot-up attempts — and leads outright in makes.As a team, the Heat are shooting out of their minds. So on to the natural question: Can this last? According to SportVU data that estimates shot difficulty using variables such as location, shot distance and the defender’s proximity, the Heat are taking extremely difficult shots — their playoff shot selection is of a similar difficulty to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ during the regular season, which was third-worst in the league. The difference is, their effective field goal percentage on those shots is 14.2 percentage points higher than you’d expect, given the types of shots they’re taking. (For reference, no team finished the regular season more than 4.1 percentage points better than expectation.)But although the Heat will probably cool off [I’ll just let you know when you can stop. — Ed.] before their series against Charlotte is over, our predictions now list them as 82 percent favorites to advance into the second round. If Miami gets there, a matchup against Toronto — which has underperformed its own expectations in the first round — seems likely, so we might even get to witness a fun experiment in whether “momentum” can carry over from one round to the next.Check out FiveThirtyEight’s 2016 NBA Playoff Predictions. read more


Earlier this week wrestling fans rushed to the Demba Diop Stadium in Senegal to see the monumental match up between Yahya Diop (Yekini) and Omar Sakho (Balla Gaye 2). The event didn’t start until seven in the afternoon but at nine in the morning fans were already camped outside the stadium. Laamb wrestling has become even more popular than soccer in Senegal, according to Magatte Diop, the director of sponsorship at Sonatel, Orange’s Senegalese subsidiary.Despite the massive size of the two combatants, the two wrestlers gracefully performed the “dance of champions” as drums and musical odes welcomed them into the arena. The dance was meant to repel black magic from the wrestlers before they stepped foot into the ring. Their “uniforms” consisted of magical talismans called gris-gris and before the match both men poured a protective bath all over their bodies. According Mbaye Gueye Dieng, a spiritual guide or marabout in the mystical Sufi tradition, “The gris-gris and baths are just for protection against negative tongues and eyes.” Despite all the physical training that goes on in order to get the wrestlers prepared for the big matches, many spectators believe that the spirits are the ones who determine the winner.“The most important preparations are made in the home of the marabout,” Dieng added.In order to be victorious in laamb, the wrestler has to get his opponent’s head, back, or both hands and knees to the ground. Only certain matches of laamb allow for punches, and these matches often gain the most publicity.Malick Thiandom, a sports broadcaster for Senegalese Radio and Television, said, “We used to wrestle for the honor of the village. Today…with the sponsors who inject lots of money to have visibility, it has become a breadwinner for lots of wrestlers.” Orange has become a major sponsor for the Senegalese sport. The most successful laamb wrestlers earn more than $100,000 per match, but the odds of most wrestlers gaining this much success are slim. Thiandoum admitted that he is constantly telling the youth not to pursue this sport in an attempt to gain financial success because there is a “gap” between what they believe and reality. Most combatants will earn less than $2,000 a year in the ring.The recent match between Yekini and Balla Gaye 2 was an example of one of the rare high-profile and high paying matches. Sources told the New York Times that each combatant received about $300,000 for the match. Yekini was defeated after two minutes and six seconds, his first defeat in over 15 years. Promoters are currently trying to arrange a match between the victor, Balla Gaye 2, and the last wrestler who was able to defeat him, Eumeu Sene. read more


Amid the fallout from Donald Trump’s impending presidency, Jalen Rose believes many NBA stars will refuse White House visits.The retired basketball player made the proclamation on ESPN’s “NBA Countdown” Nov. 9 ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ visit to the president’s estate.He began by describing how Trump has alienated the Black community and other non-white groups. During his campaign, the Republican president-elect re-tweeted an inaccurate tweet about Black people murdering whites, to name one indiscretion. Such rhetoric led Black Twitter users to flip the script on his flawed logic earlier this month.“How it’s going to affect sports?” Rose said of Trump’s stance. “Unlike Tom Brady – when his team won the championship, and he chose not to go to the White House, saying it was a scheduling conflict when Barack Obama was in office – what we’re going to see in professional sports — NBA and NFL — mark my words. There will be players that decline the opportunity to visit the White House under his presidency.”If Rose’s words are true, that means the Cavs would be the last team to accept recognition from the Oval Office.Members of the Ohio-based team stopped by 1600 Pennsylvania Ave to celebrate their championship during the 2016 NBA season.President Obama praised the team in a speech Nov. 10, especially LeBron James.“When you see LeBron James, it is not just his power and his speed and his verticle,” Obama said. “It is his unselfishness, it is his work ethic, it is his insistence on always making the right play, his determination. All of which make him one of the great players of all time.””Let’s give it up for the world champs one last time!” —@POTUS honors the 2016 NBA Champion Cleveland @Cavs https://t.co/E82ea3Dq5l— The White House (@WhiteHouse) November 10, 2016Additionally, the team took part in the Mannequin Challenge with first lady Michelle Obama. The craze involves participants standing perfectly still as they interact with one another on video.Freezing our @WhiteHouse visit in time forever with @FLOTUS!#MannequinChallenge ?? pic.twitter.com/iX1qaJ8qQQ— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) November 11, 2016 read more


DENVER — Kawhi Leonard is indispensable to the San Antonio Spurs — or at least that’s how he’s now perceived. His mysterious injury not only threatens to snap the Spurs’ two-decade-long playoff streak, but there’s a chance it could also derail the club’s future by driving Leonard away.If there’s an irony in how monumentally important Leonard is to the Spurs’ chances now, though, it’s that he was still relatively anonymous to the casual basketball fan just four years ago, despite performing at a fairly high level on one of the league’s best teams at that time. It wasn’t until June 2014, when Leonard earned NBA Finals MVP honors, that he began drawing broader attention en route to becoming a bona fide star, one whose health could shift the tenor of a conference finals series.Now, another player — Nuggets shooting guard Gary Harris — quietly appears to be on a similar trajectory. From afar, nothing Harris does seems truly spectacular. But zoom in just a little, watch a handful of Denver’s games, and you’ll see elements of Harris’s consistent, well-rounded skill set start to stand out. Just the way Leonard’s once did.“When I got here, there were questions about whether Gary Harris was an NBA player,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone told me, a reference to Harris’s rookie season, in which he shot just over 30 percent from the field.1While part of that poor performance was due to his over-reliance on threes, Harris was one of just three rookies since 1960 to have shot that poorly on 200 attempts or more. The thought seems comical now, as Harris is serving as both Denver’s best on-ball defender and its leading scorer.For a while, Harris was far stronger on the defensive side of the ball, where it’s harder for the average fan to notice excellence. A solid scorer, by contrast, handles the ball more and gets his name called while the camera pans to his face every time he finds the bottom of the basket. Forcing a missed shot or denying your man the ball on the other end, however, usually isn’t enough to garner that same attention. So that may partially explain why the 23-year-old Harris flies under the radar.At 6 foot 4, he doesn’t force teams to alter entire offensive schemes the way that the 6-foot-7 Leonard, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, can. Yet Harris constantly seems to find ways to disrupt the league’s best wing players.Harris ranks ninth in the NBA in deflections per game — the same ranking Leonard held last season — hounding volume scorers as they come around screens and illustrating nearly perfect timing as he swats down directly on the ball just as a player is lifting up to launch his shot attempt. Harris’s quick hands and defensive persistence are pretty much the only things that prevent the Nuggets, who surrender more layups than anyone except Orlando, from having the worst defense in basketball. With Harris on the court, Denver surrenders 107.4 points per 100 possessions, which would tie for 20th among the league’s 30 teams. With Harris on the bench, the Nuggets allow 110.6 points per 100 possessions, a rate that would tie for dead last.It’s incredibly difficult to draw the types of defensive assignments that Harris typically gets without committing a lot of fouls. But just like Leonard did in his fourth season, Harris has collected more steals than fouls so far this year, a feat that only elite defensive shooting guards and small forwards generally manage.Harris could be named an All-NBA defender in the coming years without changing much about his game. But to achieve true stardom, he will likely need two things: More scoring — he’s still pretty limited in creating looks for himself — and more wins for the Nuggets.“If we make the playoffs, a lot more people are going to see and know who the hell Gary Harris is,” said Malone, whose team is locked in a crowded playoff race. “It’s funny: Last year, Nikola Jokic wasn’t going to be a part of All-Star Weekend. Then he puts up 40 points at Madison Square Garden and gets a phone call from the NBA the very next day. ‘Hey, we want you to be part of All-Star Weekend!’ So, we know Nikola and how special he is. And I think the same is true of Gary.”Harris has shown true scoring progress every year since his dismal rookie campaign. The former Michigan State star has gone from 3, to 12, to 15 and now 18 points per game; he has become one of the league’s best offensive threats in transition; and he’s on track to shoot 40 percent from the 3-point line for a second straight year. He moves incredibly well without the ball and has perhaps the team’s best on-court chemistry with Jokic, the face of the Nuggets and one of the league’s most skilled young big men.2Through Monday night’s games, Harris was logging a ridiculous 64.3 effective field-goal percentage off Jokic’s passes, according Second Spectrum and NBA Advanced Stats — a rate that’s on par with the most efficient scorers in the NBA. Similarly, Jokic posts a 62.1 effective field-goal rate off Harris’s passes, a figure that narrowly outpaces that Stephen Curry’s overall rate.Harris’s development on offense bears similarities to Leonard’s rise. Through their first four seasons, their numbers looked identical — 12.2 points and 2.1 assists on 47 percent shooting and 37 percent from 3 for Harris3Harris’s fourth year is still ongoing; 12.3 points and 1.8 assists on 50 percent shooting overall and 37 percent from 3 for Leonard.Perhaps even more important: The two men play with an unusually quiet, workmanlike approach, and they are among the most consistent players in the NBA on a night-to-night basis. “He just puts his head down and goes about his business. He doesn’t talk about it much — he just goes out and does it, and we’re fine with that,” says Denver guard Will Barton, whose locker is next to Harris’s. (Harris’s noticeably quiet disposition, along with the Nuggets’ struggles to really break through on TV with local fans,4During the ride to the arena in Denver, my Uber driver, a self-described huge NBA fan, admitted he didn’t know who Harris was. undoubtedly contributes to why Harris isn’t better known around the league yet.)In Harris’s case, one could argue that his consistency on both ends has him on the cusp of joining the elite. Using effective field-goal percentage, a stat that accounts for 3-pointers by looking at the number of points generated per field-goal attempt rather than just shots made per attempt, the chart below illustrates how often the league’s starting shooting guards and small forwards have good shooting nights compared to bad ones. Unsurprisingly, Kevin Durant and LeBron James are at the very top of that list. Leonard rates fifth. And right behind him is Harris at No. 6. Of course, none of this is to say that Harris will continue ascending the way Leonard has during his fifth and sixth seasons, when he went from scoring 16.5 points a contest to 25.5 points while managing to become more efficient despite a heavier offensive load. Without Harris becoming more of a one-on-one threat, which Kawhi has become stellar at in relatively short order, it’s more sensible to compare his offense to Golden State’s Klay Thompson or Washington’s Otto Porter, who play better off the ball than with it.Should Harris develop a more aggressive brand of offense, though, there’s reason to think he could find success with it. While he’s not built like Leonard — one of the NBA’s strongest players, and just one of four NBA wing players last season to record more and-1s than he had shots blocked — Harris is far stronger than he looks and doesn’t shy away from contact. The former All-American high school football player is one of three guards, after James and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, who shoots 70 percent at the rim — elite company for strength around the basket.Malone said Harris has been diligent every summer about taking direction from coaches and staff each offseason to continue improving. But Harris told me it was simpler than that for him. “Really, I just want go out there to play and have fun,” he said. “It’s not about me going out and saying, ‘I’ve got to go out and be better than I was last year.’ If you put in the work, it’s going to show itself.”And if Harris continues to improve and show his work to this extent, it may be only a matter of time until just about every basketball fan knows who he is.Senior writer Neil Paine contributed to research for this story.Check out our latest NBA predictions. read more


Check out FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions. The shading shows you the general range of strengths for each seed.Although not a huge effect, the gap between the No. 5 and 6 seeds and their competition has been narrowing over time. The average difference between No. 5 and 12 seeds from 2000 to 2002 was about 7.6 points, but it has been about 5.8 from 2012 to 2014.More importantly, the 5 vs. 12 matchup looks a lot more like the 6 vs. 11 one than it does the 4 vs. 13. The No. 5 seeds have been considerably weaker than No. 4 seeds, and No. 12 seeds have been considerably stronger than No. 13 seeds. The average No. 5 seed had a 6.6 point expected advantage going into a game against its No. 12 seed opponent. That’s only 2.2 points higher than the average advantage that No. 6 seeds held against No. 11 seeds (4.4 points), but it’s 5.1 points lower than the average advantage that No. 4 seeds held against No. 13 seeds (11.7 points).It seems like the 5 vs. 12 seed matchup is the threshold where the games should start being much more competitive. Combine that with the psychological effect of thinking five is a number that has more in common with four than six (blame our five fingers), and you have a recipe for “shocking” upsets.That is, there are a number of upsets, but we shouldn’t really be shocked. Even just looking at recent history, No. 5 seeds have only been a greater than 10 point SRS favorite in eight round-of-64 games since 2005, and they won 7 of them.3The loser was Illinois against Western Kentucky in 2009. The No. 5 seed has been an SRS underdog three times (and lost twice). Still, the No. 5 seed has performed below what one would expect based on the difference between them and their opponents. But so have most seeds. Here’s a chart comparing the average expected outcomes based on SRS difference and average actual outcomes for each seed over the past 12 years:From this angle, the No. 5 seed “outlier” doesn’t look as impressive. Seeds No. 1 through 6 all underperformed expectations by a smallish — but somewhat consistent — amount. The main difference with the No. 5 seed is that it didn’t have a big enough advantage to underperform this much without losing a lot more games.In other words, if there’s something that has systematically led tournament favorites to underperform their expectations by a few points or so across the board,4As a strictly mathy thing, having a somewhat constant deviation isn’t as weird as it may seem because the standard deviation for a team’s actual SRS is similarly stable. So in this case, it’s a bit like the stronger teams are all running one standard deviation below the expected mean. No. 5 seeds would be disproportionately hard-hit. Thus the 5-seed jinx may be more like the proverbial “canary in a coal mine,” indicating that something bigger is going on.We know the Big Dance is exciting, but could there really be something about the tournament that makes favorites underperform and gives underdogs better-than-normal chances?It’s tricky. For example, the selection committee may systematically overvalue particular types/classes of teams, but that doesn’t necessarily explain why teams would underperform relative to SRS. Some of it could be that SRS is poorly calibrated for the types of matchups we see in the tournament (e.g., between larger and smaller conferences that rarely play each other). It could be that favorites are more likely to regress to the mean.5This is always a good candidate, but, interestingly, there is no such effect in the women’s tournament.Or it could just be that this is March Madness, and anything can happen. If there’s one piece of folk wisdom that has emerged over the past decade or so of March Madness, it’s that No. 5 seeds are jinxed. SportsCenter did a whole story on the subject featuring Virginia Commonwealth University. In 2012, VCU was a No. 12 seed that pulled off a “shocking” upset against Wichita State. In 2013, VCU was itself a No. 5 but defied the trend, crushing No. 12 Akron by 46 points to become the only No. 5 seed to win its opening-round (round of 64) game that year. In 2014, VCU’s story came full circle. It again entered the tournament as a No. 5 seed but was upset by unheralded No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin University. The tournament quirk that was once VCU’s magic was now its curse.Including those VCU games, No. 12 seeds over the past three years have pulled off upsets in eight of 12 round-of-64 matchups, including six of their last eight. It would be extremely easy to dismiss this as a freak occurrence. (I certainly did at first.) But it’s a real phenomenon. And after looking into it, I think it may be indicative of something larger. The 5-seed jinx may be a sign that March Madness — at least on the men’s side — is even madder than we think.But I’ll get there. First, let’s look at the phenomenon. If it seems like No. 12 seeds beat No. 5 seeds more than they should, it’s because they have. Going back to 1995, No. 5 seeds have been upset 33 times in 80 games. Their 59 percent win rate compares unfavorably to the 66 percent win rate of No. 6 seeds. Based on the trend, it would appear that No. 5 seeds should be winning more like 72 percent. Take a look at how far No. 5 seeds deviate in the chart below. The gray region is the standard error on the fit between seed and win percentage when not including the No. 5 seed:So they’re an outlier, but is it significant? Particularly, how unlikely is this to have happened by chance? Let us consult the oracle of binom.dist() — Excel’s handy function that tells you the probability of things happening a certain number of times, given the probability of them happening once. In a fun bit of symmetry, given an expected win rate of 72 percent, the odds of No. 5 seeds losing six of eight, eight of 12, or 33 of 80 are all about the same: Each is a little under 1 percent.10.8 percent, 0.6 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively.Note that it would be unremarkable for this to have happened by chance: One in a hundred-type things happen every day. But, as a committed Bayesian, I have to consult my priors and determine whether the phenomenon of No. 5 seeds’ underperforming is more likely to be a result of chance or other plausible factors.First, let’s look at how strong each seed’s teams have been since 1995. As you go from the 1 vs. 16 matchups down to the 8 vs. 9 ones, the better-seeded teams get worse and the worse-seeded teams get better, making the contests much closer. To see how much so, we can plot each team’s SRS (Simple Rating System, a metric that measures margin of victory adjusted for strength of schedule) prior to the game.2I backed these out myself, so there may be very small differences from what was actually recorded at the time. They’re as prior to each team’s round-of-64 match for each year (since 1995). read more


4Shaquille O’Neal5220251.84+4.7517.3 27Ben Wallace299691.88+3.6212.3 9Rasheed Wallace4816271.97+3.6369.6 28Patrick Ewing197031.76+6.1209.9 30Shawn Kemp144892.09+7.3195.9 7Richard Hamilton3514442.01+4.7402.7 8Hakeem Olajuwon229311.59+10.4382.9 6Scottie Pippen5220071.75+3.7420.1 20Terry Porter227881.66+7.0242.3 12Dwyane Wade3714502.02+3.2316.7 1LeBron James3716082.12+9.4790.2 The first two rounds of the NBA playoffs were relatively shaky for the Atlanta Hawks. After winning 60 games and posting a +4.8 Simple Rating System (SRS) score during the regular season, the Hawks have played at only a +2.7 SRS level in the playoffs,1Even after weighting performances in big games more heavily. having been taken to six games by both the Washington Wizards (+0.2 regular-season SRS) and Brooklyn Nets (-3.1) despite holding home-court advantage in each series.And now the real test begins: Atlanta’s first Eastern Conference finals berth ever.2The franchise went to 12 division finals — the precursor to the conference finals — before the NBA split into conferences in 1970-71 but hasn’t advanced this far in the playoffs since. Waiting for the Hawks are the Cleveland Cavaliers, the second-biggest overachievers of the playoffs thus far, according to SRS. Despite the Hawks’ home-court edge, our power ratings set the Cavaliers’ odds of winning the series at 63 percent, and the Vegas sportsbooks concur, setting Cleveland as roughly 67 percent favorites in the series.Much of the difference in talent between the two teams boils down to one simple fact: The Cavaliers have LeBron James, and the Hawks do not. According to the latest update of ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus ratings,3Specifically, the short-term version supplied to us by Jeremias Engelmann. James has inched past Stephen Curry as the most effective player in the NBA right now.But maybe the math is even simpler than that.At the most elemental level of analysis, a James-led team hasn’t lost before the NBA Finals since 2010. James has won five conference finals in six tries. And, most notably, he is arguably the best conference finals performer the league has seen since 1985 (the first year for which Basketball-Reference.com has complete playoff game logs and — coincidentally — Michael Jordan’s rookie season). James has been mostly stellar in every round of the playoffs, but in this particular stage, the only peer James has is Jordan himself.This is apparent using the single-game version of Daniel Myers’s Box Plus/Minus (BPM), which is one of (if not the) best box-score metrics4A little background on the link: BPM was known as ASPM, or Advanced Statistical Plus/Minus, when I backtested it in 2013. available to the public because of its ability to predict team performance in pseudo out-of-sample tests. Using BPM, with adjustments for the level of competition faced, home-court advantage and the leverage of each game, we can measure how many points above replacement were contributed by every player to appear in each round since 1985.And here’s a closer look at just the conference finals, where James has shined his brightest: 5Tim Duncan4516831.57+6.0438.1 11Reggie Miller3914331.97+3.4319.5 13Magic Johnson3112311.61+5.2299.7 15John Stockton289971.60+6.0265.0 16Byron Scott4513271.63+3.6252.4 19Chauncey Billups4115992.02+1.7245.5 3Kobe Bryant4518221.84+6.5590.6 21Manu Ginobili3710711.65+4.6242.2 18Karl Malone3414171.62+3.3250.1 25Robert Horry4713781.70+2.5219.9 James and Jordan, separated by a mere 0.1 units of leverage-adjusted points above replacement, are probably interchangeable picks for the No. 1 conference finals players in that span.Jordan was marginally more effective on a per-minute basis, although James has played more crucial minutes from the perspective of championship probability added. James has shot more efficiently, rebounded with greater frequency and blocked more shots; Jordan was the superior passer and ballhandler (while taking on a slightly greater offensive role) and recorded more steals. James’s teams have played better offensively; Jordan’s were better on defense. The choice might be more a matter of preference in playing style than anything else.But beyond those two, few have any legitimate claim to the modern conference final crown. Only Hakeem Olajuwon, whose +10.4 leverage-weighted BPM was higher than either His Airness or The King, might have a serious case. Yet Olajuwon also played fewer than half as many minutes as Jordan in his conference finals career, a gap that widens still when leverage is accounted for.That’s why, when it comes to accumulating big performances in crucial conference final games over the course of many seasons, Jordan and James tower over the rest. And unfortunately for Atlanta, the latter is a force with which the Hawks will have to reckon if they want to advance to the NBA Finals. 22James Worthy3111881.60+3.9233.6 10Isiah Thomas3011631.86+5.3326.0 23Jeff Hornacek3211441.59+4.0226.3 14Larry Bird229351.62+7.2285.8 26Kevin Durant177171.87+5.7213.8 2Michael Jordan4518681.71+9.8790.1 PLAYERGMPAVERAGE LEVERAGEBPMLEVERAGED PTS ABOVE REPLACEMENT 29Kevin McHale228811.58+5.1204.3 17Clyde Drexler3012001.73+3.8250.3 24Ray Allen3913462.02+1.9222.2 read more


In the wake of American Pharoah’s stunning wire-to-wire Triple Crown-clinching victory at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, I compared him to Secretariat, finding that — despite having one of the finest Triple Crown campaigns ever — American Pharoah still likely would have finished the Belmont well behind his great-great-great-grandfather. Some readers seem to think this was a cheap shot at the slump-busting champion, although you’d think being called second-best to a mutant horse sent from the future would be considered high praise.Secretariat’s 2:24 Belmont time is safe; no other horse has run under 2:26 (even that is about 10 lengths behind Secretariat). Oh, and he still owns the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes records by two to three lengths each. It has been over four decades, and great horses still can’t come close.But what do we make of this? How is it that even the best horse this era has to offer — with a stride so smooth that it borders on poetic — would still finish 13 lengths behind Big Red?Clearly, it’s that Secretariat is overrated.OK, exhale. I’m not trolling you. I’m just being extremely nitty about the marginal shades of “really, really great.” By “overrated,” I certainly don’t mean to imply that Secretariat isn’t the best 3-year-old American racehorse in history — he is. Or that his Belmont run wasn’t one of the most dazzling moments in sports history (I practically sleep with this footage of it under my pillow). I mean simply that one of the key selling points of his unfathomable greatness is slightly undermined by its broader context. Specifically, that his records — did I mention it has been over 40 years? — have lasted so long in part because the quality of thoroughbred racing has plateaued and perhaps even weakened.To illustrate, I’ve charted all the winning times for Triple Crown races at Pimlico, Churchill Downs and Belmont Park (excluding races that were held at alternative venues) over 9.5, 10 or 12 furlongs (the current distances of the Preakness, Derby and Belmont, respectively).1These distances have been paired with these races since 1926. Each race changed its distance at various points before that (for example, the Derby was 12 furlongs from 1875 to 1895). I’ve marked the trend for the winning times for each distance as of Secretariat’s Triple Crown in 1973 (dashed line) and record progression for each distance (solid line). Winning times for all three distances improved fairly steadily through 1973 but have been trending slightly slower since then:It’s as if God saw the perfect race and thought, “OK, I’m done with horses.”Again, for purposes of parsing different shades of awesome, note that in 1973, for all the drama, Secretariat’s records were pretty garden-variety awesome. That is, they weren’t really far off from where we’d expect the progression of records to have led. Indeed, the gap between his record times and the linear (pre-plateau) trend for winning times was reasonably narrow.Which is to say, Secretariat was no Bob Beamon. Beamon’s 1968 long jump in Mexico City beat the previous long jump record by 0.55 meters — which still accounts for 41 percent of the improvement seen in that event’s entire recorded history (and Beamon’s record still stood for only 22 years). Secretariat’s records have stood for this long not because they were so absurd at the time that we have yet to catch up, but because we stopped catching up.For watchers of human sports, this can be hard to interpret. We’re used to top human athletes getting better and better. This is somewhat concealed in competitive and team sports in which opponents’ skill levels offset each other (making millions of bar arguments over the “Greatest of All Time” more interesting). But evidence of athletic progress is laid bare in virtually any discipline that has objective measures, like speed. Here’s a similar chart for men’s 100-meter to 800-meter race winning times at the Olympics:Only Michael Johnson’s 400-meter Olympic record has been around since before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The single longest standing world record in any IAAF track-and-field event dates back only to 1983. For some athletic disciplines, the constant improvement over time has been so consistent as to be almost creepy.As to why horse racing hasn’t improved the way human racing has, this old FiveThirtyEight article has a good roundup of speculation — including small population size and lack of genetic diversity. The elite genes in the racing gene pool may be drifting overseas, and, in general, thoroughbred racing’s center of gravity may be shifting.All of that serves as a reminder that although we often celebrate horses as athletes, the sport of horse racing isn’t really comparable to human athletics. If it were, a superhorse as super as American Pharoah would be rewriting the record books. read more


Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com Joe Montana1979-945,3919,50413,106 YARDS ABOVE… Jim Kelly1986-964,7792,8156,295 Dan Marino1983-998,35812,04919,029 Brett Favre1991-1010,1695,81613,971 Tony Romo2006-154,3315,3048,414 Warren Moon1984-006,8232,9478,062 Steve Young1985-994,1499,89011,175 Manning (2nd half)2006-155,0478,18412,456 Peyton Manning1998-159,38016,56024,101 Troy Aikman1989-004,7153,2927,035 Dan Fouts1973-875,6047,33511,280 Manning (odd years)1999-154,1757,64811,002 QUARTERBACKYEARSPASS ATT.AVERAGE QBBACKUP QB Aaron Rodgers2005-154,0477,7919,775 John Elway1983-987,2504,9309,793 Ben Roethlisberger2004-155,4235,9219,426 Carson Palmer2004-155,4433,4968,053 Ken Anderson1971-864,4757,0879,162 Roger Staubach1969-792,9586,2847,187 Manning (even years)1998-145,2058,91313,098 Philip Rivers2004-155,3395,1749,217 Drew Brees2001-158,0859,57216,151 After a month of speculation that began almost immediately after the clock expired in his Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers, Peyton Manning has finally made it official: He’s retiring from football after 17 NFL seasons.You don’t need fancy stats to tell you that Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, if not the greatest. (Granted, we’ve used statistics to describe Manning’s impact a number of times over the years.) But they do help us put his accomplishments in perspective. Much like Jerry Rice, consensus G.O.A.T. among wide receivers, there are two (!) Hall of Fame careers lurking inside Manning’s résumé, according to a variant of Chase Stuart’s all-time QB ranking algorithm:1Setting each passer’s adjusted yards against the replacement level of a backup QB, the same baseline used by Football Outsiders in their Yards Above Replacement metric. Manning (1st half)1998-054,3338,37611,645 Terry Bradshaw1970-833,9012,1124,465 Peyton Manning’s had two Hall of Fame careers Tom Brady2000-157,79212,32718,245 Whether you break Manning’s career into two parts chronologically or based on even- and odd-numbered seasons, each half is of essentially the same quality as a Hall of Fame QB — like, say, Dan Fouts or Steve Young — by itself. Manning had more opportunities to throw the ball than just about anyone, ever, so he’s had an advantage in piling up value over replacement compared with quarterbacks of previous eras. But he also helped shape the NFL into the pass-heavy game it’s become, serving as the ultimate archetype of a modern field general.The end of Manning’s career was ugly — both statistically and in terms of off-field allegations — even if he did cap it off with a Super Bowl title. But in terms of his on-field performance, few QBs could match even half of what Manning accomplished over his storied career. read more


LOS ANGELES – It only took an exceptionally bad basketball half to end an 11-game winning streak and Ohio State’s season. With its dreams of returning to the Final Four left to fester in the Los Angeles sun, the No. 2-seeded Buckeyes watched their NCAA Tournament run collapse as Wichita State toppled them, 70-66, at the Staples Center Saturday evening. The No. 9-seeded Shockers jumped OSU early, laying the foundation for a 20-point lead that would force coach Thad Matta’s squad to play from behind for nearly 34 of 40 minutes of play. In a dizzyingly woeful outing, OSU shot 31 percent and, more miserably, connected on just 5 of 25 tries from 3-point range in its first loss since Feb. 17. “I thought we had some pretty good looks – they just weren’t going down for us,” Matta said in a somber Buckeye locker room following the game. “It’s been a great season for this basketball team. It never ends the way you want it to, but I love the fact of what this team was able to accomplish in terms of sitting at 18-7 (on Feb. 17) and finishing 29-8. They hit their stride at the right time.” But against Wichita State, OSU finally stumbled. Deshaun Thomas led the Buckeyes with 23 points but struggled mightily to do so. The junior forward made just eight of 20 attempts in addition to missing all six of his shots from behind the arc. Sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross added 19 points, but he too found a well-glued Wichita State defense to be problematic. So did the rest of OSU. “Those are shots you have to make – that we’ve been making in this tournament, that we’ve been making in the Big Ten. Guys had good looks,” Matta said. “Unfortunately, they didn’t go down. And a lot of times that becomes contagious. A guy hits one, another guy hits one, things kind of pick for you. It just didn’t happen tonight.” In a first-half performance worthy of elimination, the Buckeyes clanked and clunked their way to 24 percent shooting and found themselves down by as many as 13. Namely, Thomas, a beacon of scoring consistency for OSU, found it difficult to connect on much of anything early. The Big Ten’s leading scorer mustered nine points on 4 of 13 shooting and 0 for 5 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. “(It was) very frustrating, very, very frustrating,” Thomas said. “And, you know, it’s just crazy.” The recent development of scoring accomplices like Ross and junior guard Aaron Craft were missing, too. The two combined for seven points on 2 of 11 shooting in the game’s first act. Also nowhere to be found was the swagger that often comes with a team playing for a chance at venturing back to college basketball’s mecca. On the boards, the Buckeyes (29-8) were outmuscled, 27-17, in the first. Any attempt to puncture the Shockers’ interior defense, headed by senior forward Carl Hall, who finished with six blocks, was rendered futile. Admittedly, OSU players have said they’re at their best when playing in transition. But against Wichita State (30-8), such movement was non-existent in the first period as the Buckeyes failed to score a single point off fast breaks. “The funny thing about it, I looked at the box scores, we didn’t have no fast break points,” Thomas said. “You ain’t got no fast break points, you can’t (get them to turn the ball over) and you’re shooting 24 percent. It’s hard to win in the Elite 8.” They went into the half down, 35-22. Matta said his message in the locker room during intermission was simple. “We talked about it at halftime, let’s just cut (the lead) under 10 in the first four minutes,” he said. “We got off to a not-so-good start in the second half and it got kind of deep.” Deep as in the worst deficit OSU had faced since its lost to Wisconsin in Madison more than a month earlier. The shooting woes continued. So did the inability to attack the basket and – perhaps more importantly – defend its own. Time and again, Wichita State gashed OSU’s interior defense for the type of layups you might see during shootaround before the game. On the other end, Hall defended the rim and refused the advances of Craft, among others. “They played Big Ten defense, that’s what you see in the Big Ten,” Matta said. “It’s a loaded box and what you have to do is be able to knock a couple shots down and get some points in transition. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do either today.” Thomas said the Shockers’ defense reminded him of a particular conference foe. “They packed it real well. They was physical. That was a physical team. They reminded me of a Michigan State a little bit in the Big Ten. They was physical, they had shot blockers. They packed it in, they dared us to shoot the 3,” he said. For most of the contest, it worked. But Behind Ross and Thomas, though, the Buckeyes would rally and cut the hole to eight points with 3:55 to play. “We was down like that against Michigan State in the first half, like 12 or 13 points. When we dug ourselves (in a hole), we came back. And we tried to do that this game,” Thomas said. While the momentum continued and brought fans clad in scarlet and gray to their feet, it would ultimately come to a halt against a Shockers squad that remained posed down the stretch. Sophomore forward Shannon Scott hit a pair of free throws to make it 62-59 with 2:49 remaining, but Wichita State sophomore guard Tekele Cotton answered with a gut-punch 3-pointer to again extend the Shockers’ lead. After a layup by Thomas on the ensuing possession, Shockers freshman guard Fred VanVleet’s jumper would make it 67-61 with a minute to play. While the Buckeyes heaved desperate shots in the game’s final 60 seconds, it was ultimately too little, too late against a Wichita State squad on the cusp of reaching its first Final Four since 1965. In his last game, OSU senior forward Evan Ravenel said had his team put the pieces together Saturday, it might’ve been a different story. “If we played a complete game of basketball today,” he said, “we would definitely would be going out to Atlanta.” Instead, the Buckeyes will travel about 2,250 miles back to Columbus. read more


Scotland Yard allege Maxwell had amassed a library of instructions “regarding the manufacture of explosive substances, the construction of explosive devices and tactics used by terrorist organisations”. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. A serving member of the British armed forces is charged with terrorism offences https://t.co/IkKxw4x3r2 pic.twitter.com/0eUHktv6gt— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) September 2, 2016 A statement said he had allegedly collected “chemicals and components to be use in the manufacture of explosive substances, the construction of explosive devices” and also faced charges of “manufacturing explosive substances” and “constructing explosive devices”.The Met police allege had created hides “to store explosive substances, explosive devices, components for explosive devices, ammunition, weapons, tools and resources used during the construction of explosive devices and assorted other items linked to the preparation of an act of terrorism”.Maxwell is also charged with getting an image of an adapted Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) pass card and items of PSNI uniform.He has yet to enter a plea and was remanded into police custody at Westminster Magistrates’ Court. The case was adjourned until September 5. A serving Royal Marine has been charged with bomb-making and building secret caches for arms and explosives in England and Northern Ireland.Ciaran Maxwell, serving with Taunton-based 40 Commando, faces charges under the 2006 Terrorism Act for intending to help another commit acts of terrorism.The 30-year-old from Exminster in Devon was arrested last week by counter terrorism police who have since spent days searching sites nearby and in Larne, Co Antrim. read more