NEW YORK (AP) — Seun Adigun told herself her athletic career was done after she ran her last race at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. But for some reason, she couldn’t bring herself to tell the world.Three years later, she realized: Adigun wasn’t retiring — she was readying for a new sport. And her years competing as a 100-meter hurdler were great preparation what would come next.“It was the speed and the power and the strength that I needed to be able to be a successful bobsled athlete,” she said.Adigun, 31, soon convinced fellow former runners Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga to join the team as brakemen. But they wouldn’t just be newcomers to the sport.Next month, the trio will represent Nigeria as the country fields its first-ever bobsled team at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The team is also a first, men’s or women’s, for the entire continent of Africa.Yes, they get the comparisons to “Cool Runnings” — the 1993 film based on the true story of the Jamaica’s first bobsled team, which was male, who competed in the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Canada — and say it’s a legacy they embrace and a following they hope to emulate.But the peppy pioneers, all American-born and whose parents emigrated from Nigeria, said they also look forward to representing a positive story about their motherland.“Nigerians are so excited to see the country being represented,” said Adigun, a Chicago native who is also a three-time national track champion for Nigeria. “I realized exactly what was a void from the country of Nigeria, from the continent of Africa, and for women in general being represented.”Onwumere, 26, agreed, adding: “To be the first to do anything is, I think, it’s just something that you can’t really explain.”Their story will likely take on added meaning next month, after President Donald Trump’s recent remarks about Africa’s “shithole countries.”Their journey to South Korea has also been a fast one. Three years ago, the team was little more than an idea, a “crazy but amazing journey,” said Adigun, the driver in role and personality who also helped recruit and coach Onwumere, who hails from Dallas, at their alma mater, the University of Houston.Once her teammates were on board, official Olympic rules required them to operate under a national governing body. None existed.The Bobsled and Skeleton Federation of Nigeria was formed. A GoFund Me campaign was created in 2016, and the team raised more than $75,000 in 14 months to pay for necessities like helmets, uniforms, travel and their first sled — a wooden vessel affectionately named “The Maeflower.” They began practicing in Houston, without snow.The team’s popularity soon attracted Visa and Under Armour as sponsors. To qualify for the Winter Games, the women had to complete five races. They met their goal in November.Along the way, their energy and enthusiasm has attracted attention in the U.S. and Nigeria. In December, they appeared on “The Ellen Show,” and last week, tennis icon Serena Williams retweeted their Under Armour Olympics ad.The team said they’re excited to walk into the stadium in Pyeongchang next month and have been working hard to be competitive as rookies among a pool of talented and experienced bobsledders. Their main goal is to be an example for their country and for women in the sport.A medal is almost too much to think of, said Omeoga, 26, who ran track at the University of Minnesota.“That actually has never even crossed my mind yet,” she said. “I’m just taking things one day at a time: Don’t get too ahead of yourself, don’t get too behind yourself, don’t sell yourself short on anything.”
The play he’s talking about came as the Falcons clung to a 28-20 lead with about four minutes left in regulation time. The Patriots had just finished scoring 17 unanswered points to pull to within a single score of Atlanta, and the Falcons had run a grand total of six offensive plays over that span before QB Matt Ryan started the drive at his own 10. Atlanta still had about a 92 percent chance of winning the game according to ESPN’s win probability model, but a window had been opened for the Pats.At first, the Falcons appeared to close it again. Ryan hit Devonta Freeman for a 39-yard gain to reach midfield, and a few plays later, Julio Jones made an amazing catch that seemed destined to join the pantheon of great Patriot-killing Super Bowl grabs. But on second and 11 from the New England 23, the Falcons decided to pass instead of running the ball and setting up an insurance field goal, and Ryan was sacked for a loss of 12. Between that and a 10-yard holding penalty on the subsequent play, the Falcons were pushed out of accurate kicker Matt Bryant’s field-goal range and had to punt the ball back to Brady.The rest, as they say, was history.If the Falcons had run the ball on those second and third downs instead, then kicked the field goal, they’d have forced the Patriots to mount an 11-point comeback with something like 2:30 to play — not an 8-point comeback with 3:30 to go. The odds of a team doing the former are about 3 percent; for the latter, 8 percent.The counter-argument, of course, is that 8 percent is still improbable. Even after the sack and the punt, the Falcons were still overwhelmingly likely to win the game. Only one Super Bowl in history had ever seen a team overcome longer second-half odds. (Granted, it was the Patriots’ victory two years ago.) In order to tie the game, Brady and the Pats still needed to:Convert a third-and-10 from their own 9;Complete a 23-yard pass to Julian Edelman, whose catch rivaled the greatest in Super Bowl history;Complete a 20-yard pass to Danny Amendola;Have James White scamper 20 more yards on two catches;Score a touchdown from the Falcons’ 1;Successfully pull off the 2-point conversion.If just one of those plays goes differently, we might be talking about Atlanta’s first Super Bowl title. And even after all that, the Pats still needed to stop Ryan and the Falcons from quickly driving for the game-winning score with under a minute left (which has happened before), and they needed luck on the opening coin toss of overtime and they needed a handful of big plays in OT in order to win. As you may have heard by now — perhaps from the eardrum-shattering sound of New England Patriots fans booing Roger Goodell — the Patriots are Super Bowl champs, having rallied back from a 28-3 deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 on Sunday. The comeback alone was historic, ranking as the most improbable in Super Bowl history, but there’s also a whole layer of history attached to the accomplishments of New England quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, plus the revenge narrative of Deflategate. It’s a lot to keep track of.Amidst all the postgame analysis, however, there’s always a place for second-guessing the Super Bowl loser’s coach. And on Sunday night, New Yorker staff writer James Surowiecki provided an instant classic in the genre: Related: Hot Takedown Hot Takedown’s Super Bowl Special It’s true that the decision to pass instead of run and kick was the proverbial turning point, from which most subsequent plays saw the Pats increase their chances of winning until they hit 100 percent on White’s game-winning TD run. It’s also true that running the ball and going up 11 would have made the Pats’ comeback more difficult — and when you’re going up against the best coach/QB tandem ever, it’s generally not a good idea to gift them free win probability.But in the end, the Falcons still had plenty more chances to snuff out the Pats’ comeback from that point onward. Whether because of poor defense or Brady’s clutch-ness (or both), they didn’t — and it’s the totality of many plays that has us talking about Brady and Belichick’s legacies on Monday, and not crowning a new champion in Atlanta.
The College Football Playoff’s two New Year’s Day semifinal games were a study in unexpected contrasts: a mostly dull blowout in the Sugar Bowl rubber match between Alabama and Clemson after the two teams had been so even in their previous playoff meetings, which followed an all-time double-overtime Rose Bowl classic between Georgia and Oklahoma that threatened to blow up the scoreboard with its big plays. The net result, however, was a pair of SEC teams in next Monday’s championship final, even if they got there in very different ways.For Georgia, Monday’s victory over Oklahoma was all about absorbing the toughest blows the fearsome Sooner offense could dish out — then fighting back in the second half and finally outlasting Baker Mayfield and company in double overtime.We knew going into the Rose Bowl that the Sooners would probably find themselves in a shootout. In fact, on paper this was exactly the kind of game you could picture Oklahoma thriving in, with 1,058 combined yards and 102 total points by both teams. (In that sense, it was reminiscent of the Sooners’ November win over Oklahoma State, which saw the teams put up 1,446 total yards and 114 points.) Thanks to a world-beating offense and a leaky D, Oklahoma specializes in winning when neither side bothers to play much defense.But that game plan only works when you can either pull away with your firepower late or gut out stops when you need to. And the Bulldogs had an answer for all of Oklahoma’s explosions.In the first half, Georgia hung around just enough to stay within striking distance, especially after picking up three quick points before halftime. (A clumsy Sooners squib-kick left Georgia within a completion of field-goal range to end the half, which ended up proving quite important.) In the third quarter, the same defense that had been shredded for 360 first-half yards held the Sooners to 29 yards and zero points. Even when the Sooners roared back to life with a pair of touchdowns in the fourth, the Bulldogs summoned a crucial sequence: With five minutes remaining, they forced Oklahoma into a 3-and-out; strung together a seven-play, 59-yard TD drive to tie the game; then stopped OU’s offense again with under a minute left to force overtime.It was a setting where Oklahoma is used to getting the last word — and Georgia just wouldn’t let the Sooners have it. That carried over into OT, when a big third-down stop stalled Oklahoma’s bid for the winning touchdown, and again when Lorenzo Carter tipped Austin Seibert’s go-ahead field goal short of the uprights. After Sony Michel sprinted 27 yards for the walk-off score, the balanced Bulldogs, not the Sooner scoring machine, had closed the game on a 16-3 run. In the end, Georgia essentially managed to match the mighty Oklahoma offense yard for yard. And in a game absolutely loaded with big plays, the ledger improbably favored the Bulldogs (who had 321 total yards on their nine plays of 20 or more) rather than the Sooners, who’d led the nation in the category during the season.Alabama’s road to victory was smoother than Georgia’s, to put it mildly. Although Clemson’s defense had posted superior regular-season numbers, the Crimson Tide D set the tone early by holding the Tigers’ offense to zero points, zero first downs and 3 total yards in the first quarter, opening up a quick lead that Alabama would never surrender. The Tide ended up dominating the Tigers in terms of yardage (261-188), with the outcome practically sealed by the middle of the third quarter.Maybe the biggest surprise was simply in how the Crimson Tide cruised to their win. Although nobody expected the third installment in this rivalry to match the pyrotechnics of Georgia and Oklahoma, Clemson and Alabama had combined for 75.5 total points per game in their last two championship showdowns, and Bama had become a better offensive team (and a shakier defensive one) since last season. It seemed possible that fans in New Orleans could at least be in store for some version of the shootout in Pasadena.Instead, defense carried the day: Neither team gained 300 yards or averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry or 5 yards per pass. Following in the footsteps of Deshaun Watson, who’d generated 463 yards of total offense on 77 touches against Alabama a year ago, Clemson QB Kelly Bryant mustered merely 143 on 55 touches — and was picked off twice for good measure. The Tigers’ offense, which relied on an improved running game this season, was never able to gather much momentum on the ground or in the air until it was too late. This Tide defense seemed to channel Nick Saban’s teams of old, rather than the unit that looked uncharacteristically mortal against Auburn when it last played.And so, it’s an all-SEC championship for the first time since 2012’s Alabama-LSU rematch. That game ended up being a snoozer, and if the Tide have their way defensively again, history could repeat. But after Georgia’s thrilling semifinal victory, laden as it was with huge plays, and an Alabama win that saw the Tide answer every potential comeback by forcing a backbreaking turnover, this title game might overcome its regional matchup and send off the 2017 season in style.
20Jackie Stewart1969-731877 6Alain Prost1987-912048 F1′s top racers (according to Elo)Top Formula 1 drivers since 1950, by the highest average Elo rating over a racer’s best five-year span 15Rubens Barrichello2000-041935 3Lewis Hamilton2014-182060 27Jacques Villeneuve1996-001856 7Mika Hakkinen1997-012047 29John Surtees1963-671846 17James Hunt1974-781905 11Nico Rosberg2012-161981 MethodologyUnlike most other sports where FiveThirtyEight uses Elo, Formula One is not a head-to-head sport; multiple drivers take to the circuit at the same time or in the same session, and the result is a combination of both car and driver. In order to make this work, we’ve made some assumptions about how to view the results:Driver and car are considered to be inseparable from Elo’s point of view. So when we say that Nigel Mansell’s peak Elo in 1992 was 2428, we really mean, “Nigel Mansell, driving the Williams-Renault FW14B, had a peak Elo of 2428.”Each session or race is treated as if it were a round-robin 1-on-1 tournament. A driver who finishes second out of 15 cars is viewed as having gone 13-1 in this tournament, losing to the first place finisher and defeating the rest.Elo includes each race that awards Formula One championship points3Except for the Indianapolis 500, which was part of the Formula One circuit in the 1950s. and the primary qualifying session for that race.If a driver fails to finish a race — whether because of mechanical failure or a crash — we treat that driver as if he or she didn’t compete in the race. This may reward drivers who are overly brave (or stupid) by not punishing them, or cars that were quick yet unreliable, but it avoids having to assign blame in controversial incidents or, even worse, clear cases where a crash was not a driver’s fault.Like several other FiveThirtyEight Elo systems, the average driver has an Elo score around 1500, while new drivers start with 1300 points. The “K-factors” in this version of Elo — which are multipliers that determine the sensitivity and fluctuation of a driver’s rating — are more extreme in the beginning of a driver’s career. Drivers start with a K-factor of 24 for approximately the first year, then reduce as they gain experience. Qualifying results are predictive of race results, which makes sense considering that qualifying results both set the starting grid for the following race and allow for drivers to demonstrate their raw speed and talent on a level field. The minimum K-factor for qualifying sessions is 16, while the minimum K-factor for races is 12. Drivers always gain Elo points after “defeating” another driver and lose ground after “losing” to them.The overall system is zero-sum, in that the total number of points remains constant before and after a session or race, but given that each session or race can include drivers with a range of K-factors, there can be asymmetric point gains and losses. We adjust for this by normalizing participants’ scores after each session. Without this normalization, it is possible in the short term both for Elo deflation to occur — a new driver does poorly and gives away more points than the opponents claim — and Elo inflation to occur — a new driver does well and gains more points than opponents lose. Given the rapid driver churn in Formula One — especially during the early years of the sport — these effects would be more noticeable than in other sports and would quickly lead to skewed rating scales across the seven decades of championships.To build the Formula One Elo, we used the historical race results compiled at github.com/emkael/elof1. These were pulled from various sources: Data for the 1950 and 1951 seasons came from Wikipedia, for 1952 and 1953 from second-a-lap.blogspot.com, and for subsequent seasons from ergast.com/mrd. Data for qualifying races was also pulled from chicanef1.com.Additional contributions by Gus Wezerek. 9Damon Hill1993-972000 26Juan Pablo Montoya2001-051860 France’s Alain Prost (No. 6) won a grand total of four championships in his career, tied for the third most ever. But from 1988 to 1991, he would claim only a single title, thanks largely to the otherworldly skills of Ayrton Senna (No. 1), his one-time McLaren teammate. Senna won more than 40 percent of the races he entered during that span, peaking with one of the highest Elo ratings ever in 1989. Even Prost’s lone title in those seasons — in 1989 — was more about Senna’s bad luck than Prost outracing him; although Prost beat his teammate only once all year in races they both finished, Senna suffered six retirements2And one controversial disqualification. to Prost’s three. Senna was so dominant that Prost ended up leaving McLaren for Ferrari in 1990; the rivalry would continue off and on for the next few seasons until Prost retired after his 1993 championship. Senna died the next year in a crash in the San Marino Grand Prix. Prost was a once-in-a-generation driving talent, but he had the misfortune to race against Senna, a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. 1Ayrton Senna1988-922178 12Jim Clark1963-671978 23Mario Andretti1975-791865 8Niki Lauda1974-782025 21Graham Hill1961-651875 18Mark Webber2009-131899 10David Coulthard1998-021983 14Riccardo Patrese1989-931936 DriverBest five yearsAvg. Elo Rating 13Nelson Piquet1983-871946 Friends away from the track, Niki Lauda (No. 8) and James Hunt (No. 17) had a fierce rivalry behind the wheel that peaked during the 1976 season. Lauda went into the year as F1’s top-rated driver by Elo before suffering a fiery crash at the German Grand Prix that nearly took his life. Six weeks after being given last rites, Lauda somehow bounced back to finish fourth at the Italian Grand Prix. But in the end, Hunt ended up eking out the 1976 title by a single point over his Austrian rival. Hunt was quick again the following season, but he was unable to keep his car on the track; he took six poles to Lauda’s two but retired from eight of 17 races, six of which were due to mechanical failure. Lauda took advantage, claiming his second title in three years. 22Fernando Alonso2010-141870 19Alberto Ascari1950-541890 25Stirling Moss1957-611863 Argentine driver Juan Manuel Fangio (No. 5 in our all-time list) was F1’s first superstar, winning five of the first eight World Championships ever awarded, in 1951 and 1954-57. It would be 45 years before Michael Schumacher equaled (and then surpassed) Fangio’s title count. But Fangio did have a fierce contemporary challenger, in the form of Ferrari’s Alberto Ascari (No. 19). Ascari was the only racer to beat Fangio for the championship between 1951 and 1957 — even granting that Fangio sat out 1952. Ascari would die in a training accident in 1955, though, robbing Fangio of his greatest on-track rival. “I have lost my greatest opponent,” Fangio said. “Ascari was a driver of supreme skill and I felt my title (in 1955) lost some of its value because he was not there to fight me for it.” 16Gerhard Berger1990-941914 28Carlos Reutemann1977-811850 24Jean Alesi1992-961864 30Nigel Mansell1983-871846 * Includes the 2018 season, which is currently in progress.To be eligible, drivers prior to 1970 needed to take part in 25 percent of the season’s races and qualifying sessions. Drivers since then needed to participate in 60 percent of the year’s races and qualifying sessions. This should come as no surprise to racing fans — Senna is regarded by many other champions as F1’s greatest driver. Nor is it a shock to see Michael Schumacher, the seven-time World Champion, coming in at No. 2. But what’s striking is that Nos. 3 and 4 in the ranking above are current rivals: Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. How lucky are modern F1 fans, that we get to see two names on the all-time short list of greatest drivers going head-to-head every few weeks?Here are some of the racers and rivalries that defined entire eras of F1 history, according to our Elo rankings: 4Sebastian Vettel2009-132056 5Juan Manuel Fangio1953-572053 2Michael Schumacher2000-042106 Over the four-season stretch from 1962 to 1965, British rivals Jim Clark (No. 12) and Graham Hill (No. 21) represented the emergence of Britain as a force in the Formula One landscape, with Hill at British Racing Motors and Clark at the Lotus team founded by legendary designer Colin Chapman. During that time, the duo combined to claim 32 of F1’s 39 available pole positions — including every single pole of the 1965 season — and won 29 of 39 total races. They’d have been a perfect 4-for-4 on championships in that span, too, if not for bad luck in the last race of the 1964 season: Mechanical problems struck both Clark and Hill during the race, allowing John Surtees to claim the title by a single point over Hill. (Naturally, Clark and Hill bounced back to finish 1-2 in the standings the following year.) While most of the rivalries on this list were fueled by emotion, this one was all about the driving. Michael Schumacher (No. 2) had captured back-to-back F1 crowns with Benetton in 1994 and 1995 but had experienced uneven results after leaving for Ferrari, including a disqualification for dangerous driving in 1997. Driving for McLaren, Mika Hakkinen (No. 7) captured back-to-back championships in 1998 (with Schumacher finishing second) and ’99. Then in 2000, Schumacher finally outdueled his Finnish rival with four straight wins to close the season. It was his third career title and the first in the set of five in a row Schumacher would win until he was unseated by up-and-coming phenom Fernando Alonso in 2005. Schumacher finished his career with the most total championships of any driver ever, and he would call Hakkinen his “best opponent.” From 2008 to 2017, Lewis Hamilton (No. 3) and Sebastian Vettel (No. 4) won the F1 title every season except for two (2009 and 2016) — and one of them was runner-up in each of those years. And yet, we’re somehow only reaching the peak of this rivalry right now, since the dominant periods for Vettel’s former team, Red Bull (2010-13), and Hamilton’s Mercedes squad (2014-16) didn’t quite overlap. Starting last season, though, we’re finally getting some direct competition between these two four-time champions, and it’s given us moments like this deliberate collision at the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. According to Elo, Vettel has one of the best peak ratings of any driver ever, and Hamilton isn’t far behind, so if these two continue on their current trend, there’s plenty of room for the legend of this rivalry to grow. The greatest drivers in the world are assembling in Monte Carlo this weekend for Formula One’s flagship race, the Monaco Grand Prix. So we thought it was the right time to dive into the history of road racing’s fastest sport — and this being FiveThirtyEight, what better way to investigate that history than to use our favorite benchmark, the Elo rating system, to rate every driver of all time?Elo is a simple way to grade competitors based on a series of head-to-head results. Longtime FiveThirtyEight readers will know that we’ve put it to work before in ranking NFL, NBA, MLB, college basketball and football, and women’s and men’s club soccer teams. Here, we’re using it to rate F1 drivers going back to 1950, the first season in which the FIA World Championship of Drivers was staged.Rating each contestant in fields of more than 20 drivers is a bit different from rating teams that play one-on-one games, so we had to make a few tweaks to our usual Elo formula. (Skip to the bottom for all the details.) The short version, though, is that all drivers are assigned Elo ratings going into each qualifying session and race, which represent their form — along with that of their engine manufacturer, mechanics, pit crew and so forth — at that particular moment. The average is around 1500, with the best racers soaring into the 2000s. After each event, the driver’s rating will change based on the result: In general, finishing high helps you gain Elo points, while finishing low costs you Elo points. (Duh.) If a driver doesn’t finish a race, Elo acts as though that driver never entered the race. That avoids the question of fault for a crash or a mechanical failure, though it may reward drivers who take more risks to finish higher. It may also reward drivers who qualify well but do poorly on Sundays. But the best racers will consistently outduel the highest-rated of their peers.Most racers, of course, aren’t in that category. But a few drivers In F1’s history have managed to dominate for long stretches of time; sometimes they even came along at the right time to have an epic rivalry with another all-time great. You can see these legendary racers highlighted in the chart above, which you can also search and click to isolate other individual drivers’ ratings over time.So … who’s the best ever?To judge the best-ever racers according to Elo, we wanted to strike a balance between career performance and peak form. So we made a compromise: We averaged a driver’s Elo across the five best consecutive seasons of his or her career, provided the driver participated in a minimum percentage of that season’s races.1This threshold varies by era because of the low rate of finishing races in the early days of Formula One. Prior to 1970, a racer must have appeared in 25 percent of all races and qualifying sessions to be considered a participant that year; after that, the threshold was moved to 60 percent. According to the resulting metric, no driver in history was more dominant than the late Brazilian racer Ayrton Senna:
It’s been a long time since the New York Islanders were any good. Despite a few playoff berths here and there, the Islanders’ past decade has been defined more by venue changes, managerial shakeups, another venue change, and losing John Tavares, its franchise player and captain to free agency. From the middle of the 1970s through the middle of the 1980s, the Islanders were among the NHL’s elite franchises, but they’ve mostly been a punchline since. But that narrative could be shifting this season.The Islanders currently sit in second place in the Metropolitan division, two points behind the Washington Capitals with a game in hand and a superior goal differential. In fact, they’ve already gained more points in 65 games this season than they did during all of last season. Any team would be expected to struggle immediately after failing to re-sign a player of Tavares’s caliber — only five players have scored more points than Tavares since his rookie season in 2009-10 — but the Islanders have somehow flourished.Goaltending has been key to that success: Isles netminders Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss have split time almost equally and boast the NHL’s third and fourth best save percentages, respectively, while their combined save percentage paces the league. Goaltending is as bad as it’s been in a decade across the NHL, but apparently no one sent the memo to Lehner or Greiss.The exceptional play between the pipes has been bolstered by an emphasis on improving the defense by new coach Barry Trotz — who was hired fresh off a Stanley Cup win with the Capitals — and new president of hockey operations Lou Lamoriello, who won three Stanley Cups in New Jersey with a similar, defense-first philosophy. In 2017-18, the Isles gave up a league-high 296 goals. So far in 2018-19, they’ve given up a league-low 157. At their current rate, the Isles will surrender nearly 100 fewer goals in 2018-19 than they did just a season ago.But Tavares is missed on offense: The Islanders rank in the bottom third of the league for goals scored, and none of their players rank among the top 65 point getters. Last season’s rookie of the year Mathew Barzal is having a solid second season, leading the Islanders with 52 points.This doesn’t necessarily rule out the Islanders from winning the biggest prize: Defense can still be enough to prevail in this sport. The 2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks ranked 17th in goals scored and second in goals allowed during the regular season, and things ended up working out pretty well for them.Whether the Islanders finish the season as Stanley Cup champions remains to be seen, but what is clear is that for the first time in a very long time, they’re at the very least the kings of the New York metro area (yes, New Jersey Devils, we’re counting you). This isn’t exactly unfamiliar territory — the Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1979-80 to 1982-83 — but it’s territory they haven’t set foot in for a while. According to Hockey-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System (SRS), which estimates the strength of every team in the NHL,1Technically speaking, SRS measures a team’s average goal differential after adjusting for strength of schedule. the Islanders haven’t been the outright best team in New York/New Jersey since 1992-93. New York/New Jersey preeminence notwithstanding, the Islanders still have major problems on the business end of their operation. The team has the worst attendance in the NHL. The Devils and the Rangers might both be bad (and they are), but at least their fans are still showing up to watch hockey games (attrition can be fascinating, after all). Islanders fans have been notoriously absent for the last 20 seasons, but that’s because they were constantly given a reason to be absent. The team is good now, yet still the Barclays Center in Brooklyn had thousands of empty seats whenever they played there. (Attendance at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale has been far better, suggesting the Isles should probably play every game at that arena — and they will the rest of the regular season.)It’s hard to predict what the Islanders are capable of in the playoffs. They’re currently ranked 3rd in PDO, which is the sum of shooting percentage and save percentage, which might suggest they’re in the position they’re in because they’ve been more lucky than good. Puck luck is real, and it might be favoring the Islanders so far this season. But that doesn’t mean it’ll hold for the playoffs.Lucky or otherwise, if they continue winning at their current rate they’ll amass 102 points. That would be the franchise’s best total since the 1983-84 season, which is also the last time the Isles reached the Stanley Cup final. That team lost to some 23 year-old kid named Gretzky.Neil Paine contributed research to this article.
The popular narrative for the NBA Finals that just concluded is pretty straightforward: The San Antonio Spurs “play basketball the way it’s supposed to be played,” and they beat the star-studded Miami Heat in what Zach Lowe called “the triumph of the NBA’s beautiful game.” The Spurs’ offense whipped the ball around, and Miami couldn’t handle such a multifaceted attack. The Heat, on the other hand, were forced to rely on what is increasingly becoming their Big One. LeBron James was epic throughout the playoffs and had an MVP-quality performance in the finals, but the top-heavy Heat collapsed under their own weight.A variety of statistics back up this description of the difference between the two teams, if not the normative judgment. For example, the Spurs had nine different players take four or more field goal attempts per game throughout the playoffs, compared to just six for Miami. More advanced statistics show something similar.One stat we can use to see how much offensive responsibilities are being spread around is “usage rate,” which estimates the percentage of a team’s possessions that were “used” by a particular player. Possessions are “used” by making field goal attempts, getting fouled or turning the ball over. Players such as James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony typically “use” a lot of possessions because they handle the ball a lot, take a lot of shots and play a lot of minutes. And because there are only so many possessions to go around, one player’s high usage rate means fewer scoring opportunities for his teammates. Teams like the Spurs, however, spread the ball around more, and more players get significant minutes, so they have a more flat distribution of possessions used.Here’s a look at how top-heavy NBA teams were in 2014, with the Spurs and Heat singled out:The x-axis on this graph is a player’s rank in a team’s usage rate, and the y-axis is the difference between the number of possessions that player used per game and the number used by the player with the highest rate. The lower the line, the more evenly a team distributes its chances across its players.Depending on how deep down the roster you look, the Heat are between the second- and fourth-most top-heavy team, while the Spurs are one of the most balanced. So that backs up the narrative.On the other hand, spreading the ball around isn’t easy, and it’s not the normal path to victory in the NBA. The most top-heavy team (and the top line on the chart) is the Oklahoma City Thunder, who had the second-best record in basketball and did better against this Spurs team than Miami did. The most evenly distributed team overall was the Brooklyn Nets, who did make the playoffs but lost in five games to the Heat.The Spurs won a lot more than we would expect for a team as balanced as they are. The 15 teams with the largest gaps between their top player and their eighth player (by possessions used per game) won 57.5 percent of their games, while the 15 with the smallest gaps won 42.5 percent (the Spurs were second-lowest).Of course, not all sharing is created equal: Sometimes a team has a more equitable distribution of possessions because it has a lot of talent and it needs to incorporate it all. Sometimes it does it because it has very little talent and doesn’t have anyone it can consistently rely on. Likewise, being top-heavy can be a result of having an overly ambitious shooter on a team, or it can just be that a team has a great player doing his job.
April 10@ SA32.6 Upcoming Warriors games 68<0.1%>99.9% April 9@ MEM82.7 712.699.7 The Spurs game is where things get muddy. I wrote a few days back about why prediction models tend to have trouble with end-of-season scenarios, but as the Warriors keep on winning, we can find some clarity. The Warriors and Spurs both won Wednesday night, leaving San Antonio five back in the loss column with seven to play for Golden State. That functionally locks up the 1-seed for the Warriors and leaves little reason for Gregg Popovich to play his starters in both games against Golden State.Complicating matters, the Spurs, like the Warriors, are undefeated at home. With a day of rest before and after the April 10 game against the Warriors, with Golden State on the second night of a back-to-back, San Antonio might just decide to play ball — CARM-Elo gives the Warriors just a 32.6 percent chance of winning if that happens. Then again, Popovich might run Kyle Anderson at the point for 40 minutes. It’s hard to tell with the Spurs.In a way, though, all you need to know about the Warriors’ late-season run can be found in those two plays up above. They’re still stylish as all hell, and they still deliver when it matters. It’s been a long season, and fatigue comes for every team this time of year, but if the quick-change shift to championship-level defense in the final four minutes or so of regulation and OT Wednesday night is anything to go by, there’s plenty left in the tank.Jay Boice contributed research. April 1vs. BOS89.2% April 3vs. POR90.1 700.399.9 WINSEXACTLY THIS MANY WINSAT LEAST THIS MANY WINS 7514.414.4 Using our CARM-Elo predictions, we now give the Warriors an 85.4 percent chance of breaking the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ record of 72 wins and a 97 percent chance of at least tying it. Our colleagues at ESPN Stats & Info, using a model based on their Basketball Power Index, put the chances of 73 or more wins at 80 percent (one of the key differences is that the Spurs have overtaken the Warriors in BPI and play Golden State twice more this season).The Jazz game might have been the toughest left on the schedule for the Warriors. Golden State was on the second night of a back-to-back, on the road, and playing a defense that is in the top 10 in efficiency for the season but is much more formidable when Rudy Gobert is in the lineup (he’s played in just 55 games this season). The relative difficulty of the Utah game — Golden State was “only” a 61 percent favorite according to CARM-Elo — is one reason the Warriors’ odds of winning 73 or more leapt from 66 percent two games ago to more than 85 percent now. Of the team’s remaining seven games, five are at home, and only one comes as the second leg of a back-to-back.Golden State’s next game is Friday, against the Celtics, and the Warriors are an 89.2 percent favorite, according to CARM-Elo. That’s followed by home games against the Blazers (90.1 percent), Timberwolves (95.6 percent) and Spurs (65.7 percent). 690.1>99.9 April 13vs. MEM93.4 7331.585.4 Chance Warriors finish with: April 7vs. SA65.7 April 5vs. MIN95.6 DATEOPPONENTWIN PROB. 7211.797.0 Here are the first points scored in Wednesday night’s game between the Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz:And here are the last in regulation, when Golden State needed a last-second three to force overtime:The Warriors won easily in the extra period, mainly behind Draymond Green’s burly defending. Of course they did. Golden State has outscored opponents by +41 per 48 minutes in seven OT periods this season. At 68-7, the team is tied for the fourth-most wins ever in an NBA season — with seven games to play. 7439.453.9
272006PITS. Crosby102S. Gonchar58+44 Source: Hockey-Reference.com 221990DETS. Yzerman127G. Gallant80+47 262006NYRJ. Jagr123M. Nylander79+44 171991QUEJ. Sakic109M. Sundin59+50 To find a bigger gap than Hall’s lead over Hischier, you’d have to go back to 2007-08, when Ovechkin topped fellow Washington forward Nicklas Backstrom by 43 points. It’s no coincidence that most of the biggest differences on that list came in the high-flying offensive era of the 1980s and early ’90s, or in the first few seasons after the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Today’s game isn’t really set up for a player to shoulder as much of his team’s offensive burden as Hall does for the Devils — but New Jersey has made it work anyway. According to Hockey-Reference.com, the Hall-centric Devils have a 97 percent chance of making the playoffs.And there’s no question the Devils would be in major trouble without their star scorer. In addition to Hall’s lack of offensive support, New Jersey ranks 17th in save percentage with Keith Kinkaid and Cory Schneider between the pipes and is only in the middle of the pack in terms of denying opponent shots. Hall’s evolution from a 53-point scorer last season (his first with New Jersey) to an MVP candidate2Granted, Hall also showed flashes of this potential in Edmonton, tallying 27 goals and 80 points during the 2013-14 season. Perhaps the Oilers shouldn’t have shipped him away in one of the worst NHL trades in recent memory… has been directly responsible for lifting the Devils from last in the Eastern Conference to a likely playoff berth, the team’s first since 2012.Now, Hall isn’t the only player running on that specific narrative. MacKinnon in particular has also built his Hart candidacy around elevating a formerly terrible team into postseason contention. Nor is Hall likely the best player in the league — that honor probably belongs to McDavid, if not an old standby like Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby. But in terms of pure value to a team, it’s difficult to find a player whose production is more indispensable than Hall’s has been to the Devils this season. 31981EDMW. Gretzky164J. Kurri75+89 41988PITM. Lemieux168D. Quinn79+89 211981CGYK. Nilsson131G. Chouinard83+48 21983EDMW. Gretzky196M. Messier106+90 51989PITM. Lemieux199R. Brown115+84 91985EDMW. Gretzky208J. Kurri135+73 111996MDAP. Kariya108S. Rucchin44+64 101991LAKW. Gretzky163L. Robitaille91+72 No. 1 scorerNo. 2 scorer 121989DETS. Yzerman155G. Gallant93+62 131986PITM. Lemieux141M. Bullard83+58 Taylor Hall’s place among the NHL’s top one-man offensesBiggest difference between a team’s No. 1 and No. 2 scorers, 1951-2018 151993TORD. Gilmour127N. Borschevsky74+53 191993PITM. Lemieux160K. Stevens111+49 202006WSHA. Ovechkin106D. Zubrus57+49 281980EDMW. Gretzky137B. MacDonald94+43 292008WSHA. Ovechkin112N. Backstrom69+43 161979MTLG. Lafleur129S. Shutt77+52 142001FLAP. Bure92V. Kozlov37+55 81987EDMW. Gretzky183J. Kurri108+75 231993NYIP. Turgeon132S. Thomas87+45 241994LAKW. Gretzky130L. Robitaille86+44 11982EDMW. Gretzky212G. Anderson105+107 61984EDMW. Gretzky205P. Coffey126+79 SeasonTeamPlayerPointsPlayerPointsGap 181982WSHD. Maruk136R. Walter87+49 71986EDMW. Gretzky215P. Coffey138+77 302018NJDT. Hall93N. Hischier51+42 With days left in the NHL regular season, the race for the Hart Trophy — the league’s MVP award — is as wide-open as it’s been in years. The defending winner, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, once again leads the league in scoring … but his team will miss the playoffs. Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov ranks second, but he cooled off after a red-hot start (and he has to share credit/votes with teammate Steven Stamkos anyway). The leading goal-scorer, three-time MVP Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals, doesn’t even crack the top 10 in total points. And while Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon is the betting favorite for MVP, he’s hardly a lock at only fifth in points and 10th in goals.Right into the middle of this fracas has skated New Jersey Devils left wing Taylor Hall, who has been scorching hot in the second half of the season and is seemingly willing New Jersey back into relevance. Hall, who earlier this year had a franchise-record 26-game point streak, now has seven goals and 15 points in his last seven games, including this short-handed game-winner Sunday against the Canadiens:The Hall-for-MVP case mainly rests in just how vital he’s been to the Devils’ offense this season. Hall has either scored or assisted on 39 percent of New Jersey’s goals, almost single-handedly dragging the team to its current 12th-place ranking in scoring. The Devils’ second-leading scorer, 19-year-old NHL rookie Nico Hischier, has notched 51 points on the season — 42 fewer than Hall’s team-leading tally.1For good measure, Hall has had a hand in nearly half of Hischier’s points this season. Not only is that easily the biggest gap in the NHL this year (No. 2 is the 35-point gulf between McDavid and Leon Draisaitl), it’s the biggest the league has seen in a decade and the 30th-biggest difference between a team’s leading scorer and runner-up in a season since 1950-51: 251999PITJ. Jagr127M. Straka83+44
In its third game of the season, the Ohio State women’s volleyball team suffered its first loss of the year Saturday against the No. 20 Oregon Ducks, 3-2. The No. 24-ranked Buckeyes opened up the Sports Imports DC Koehl Classic at St. John Arena with back-to-back wins against Houston and Toledo, 3-0. OSU, though, could not extend its winning streak to three as the Ducks outlasted the Buckeyes down the stretch Saturday. Playing its third game in two days, it appeared that fatigue and endurance were factors in the loss. “We came out with a lot of energy and played our game in the first couple of games,” said senior setter Amanda Peterson. “After we came out of the locker room for the third game, we kind of lost a little bit of energy at the beginning.” During the first two sets, the Buckeyes dominated early on the floor by winning both sets. As the game continued, however, the Buckeyes had several chances to close out on match points, but could not finish the game on a strong note. Senior outside hitter Emily Danks, who is an American Volleyball Coaches Association honorable mention All-American selection, tried to stay positive in the team’s first loss of the season. “The beauty of playing such tough competition at the beginning of the season is that it prepares us for the best volleyball conference in the country,” Danks said. “We can take a lot from this match. We’ve shown how strong we can come out and we just need to prove that we can maintain that energy, and finish at the end of games because we could have had it.” The Buckeyes were lead by a strong performance behind their four seniors in Danks, Peterson, outside hitter Mari Hole and middle blocker Mariah Booth, but the Ducks made their adjustments as their redshirt senior outside hitter, Alaina Bergsma, shifted into a new gear in the last three sets. “I thought we played really clean, solid, aggressive volleyball in the first two sets and did the game plan,” said Buckeyes coach Geoff Carlston. “Basically their best player Bergsma really stepped up and I got to give her credit for that. Our game plan broke down a little bit, and we just weren’t able to make the adjustments to slow her down.” In the end, the Buckeyes lost by five points in the last set, and let a chance at victory slip away in the final seconds. But with the season being so young, Danks and Peterson said they know the team will continue to get better. “(Oregon is) a really good team, and we’re just going to keep getting better, learn from our mistakes and keep on moving up,” Peterson said. Danks agreed with her teammate, and took it a step further by challenging herself and her teammates. “Everyday is a learning experience for me, whether it is physically or terms of leadership. So I am just going to continue to get better and not be complacent. I am going to take it up another notch by being more demanding of my teammates and myself,” she said. “(I need to) keep perfecting my shots, my serve and my defense so that at the end of the year, I know I got every ounce of talent I have out.” Carlston said he expects more from his seniors and believes that this unit is one of the best in the country. “It’s a tough loss because (Oregon is) one of the top teams in the country, as I feel we are too,” Carlston said. “We have a veteran team, and with four seniors starting, I am challenging them to step up every weekend because we have a very tough schedule.” Carlston said he was not happy with how his team responded during certain moments of the game, but knows that his team will continue to push each other to be better. “I am disappointed in how we responded at times towards the end of the match. I know were going to come back and work hard on Monday,” Carlston said. “You lose by four points and after three hours, it’s a tough loss, but this is a group that is going to grow from it, and as a staff grow from it and continue to get better.” OSU is next scheduled to play Binghamton at the Maryland Invitational on Friday, Aug. 31.
The No. 14 Ohio State Buckeyes travel to East Lansing, Mich., this weekend for its Big Ten Conference opener against No. 20 Michigan State. We check in with both coaches at the weekly Big Ten coaches teleconference. A shot at redemption Last year’s 10-7 loss to the Spartans was historic in many ways for OSU. It marked the first time since 1999 that the Spartans beat the Buckeyes, and the first time an OSU team dropped its conference opener since 2004. It was also the first Big Ten start for quarterback Braxton Miller. The then-freshman Miller struggled mightily in his conference debut, completing just five of 10 passes for 56 yards and an interception. First-year OSU coach Urban Meyer said that his sophomore signal-caller has come a long way since then. “It’s pretty dramatic,” said Meyer. “He’s a lot different now.” Miller will have a shot at redemption against a staunch Spartan defense that has allowed 11.8 points per game this season, 11th best in the country. Ready to ring the Bell? Ohio State ranks last in the Big Ten conference in total defense, which Meyer said is “very alarming.” They now face their toughest test yet this weekend, in MSU running back Le’Veon Bell. The sophomore Bell ranks second nationally in rushing yards per game, highlighted by a 210-yard outburst in the team’s opener against then-No. 24 Boise State. Meyer said that sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier is a big part of the defense’s game plan, with the task of plugging holes in the middle to contain Bell. When asked if the sophomore linebacker is up for the challenge, Meyer quipped, “he better be.” “This will be a great test for him,” Meyer said. “I have a lot of confidence in him obviously.” Dantonio Compares Quarterbacks MSU coach Mark Dantonio called Miller a “dynamic player,” while praising the quarterback’s running abilities. But containing mobile quarterbacks is not a foreign challenge for the Spartans. Miller has 441 rushing yards on 67 carries this season, leading all quarterbacks aside from Michigan’s Denard Robinson, who has rushed for the same amount of yards on one less carry. Robinson has been one of college football’s most dangerous duel-threat quarterbacks the past two seasons, but consistently struggled against the Spartans. In the team’s two meetings with Robinson starting under center, MSU prevailed against their instate rival, while holding Robinson below his season average on the ground. While comparing Miller and Robinson, Dantonio said, “there are certainly some similarities, but differences as well. Braxton has more tailback type features back there, he’s a spin runner on contact, but he runs the power at times. He can elude you as well.” Dantonio was the defensive coordinator at OSU from 2001-2003. While at MSU, he has posted a 1-2 record against the Buckeyes, beating his former club for the first time last season.