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The Heat Do as Much Damage in the Fourth Quarter as in

With just over five minutes left in Game 2 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals and the Miami Heat trailing by three, LeBron James threw a wild alley-oop attempt toward Dwyane Wade. The ball sailed 10 feet over Wade, off the backboard and into the hands of Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert. At that point, the win probability models at InPredictable gave the Heat just a 29 percent chance of winning.Then the Heat turned those probabilities inside out, outscoring the Pacers 15 to 8 in the last five minutes of the game; James and Wade scored all 15 points.Poof! After a frustrating fourth-quarter performance by Indiana, its home-court advantage was gone. The series is tied 1-1.Maybe we should have seen this coming; end-of-game struggles have been all too common for the Heat’s opponents in these playoffs. Through Tuesday night, the Heat have outscored their opponents by an average of 14.7 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter, the best mark by any team in the playoffs.Miami Heat Point Differential Per 100 PossessionsThe Heat’s differential by quarter was fairly even in the regular season, although there’s a tilt toward the second half. Miami has often gotten off to slow starts in the playoffs, but, more often than not, the Heat have finished by blowing teams apart down the final stretch. If we narrow the focus to those mystical “clutch” moments (less than five minutes left in the game, neither team ahead by more than five points) the Heat’s per 100 possession point differential jumps to a ludicrous +82.1 (of course, that’s in a sample of just 14 minutes, three of which came in Tuesday night’s game).Seeking matchups to exploit in the fourth quarter has been part of a consistent pattern in the Heat’s rotations. Nine different five-man units have played at least five or more fourth-quarter minutes for the Heat in the playoffs, compared with just four such units in the first quarter. Of those nine units, six have a positive point differential. Only one of those first-quarter units does.Case in point: In Game 2, guard Norris Cole and big man Chris Anderson gave the Heat a boost of energy and defensive intensity off the bench in the first half. Seeing how effective those two were early in this game, Erik Spoelstra, the Heat’s coach, left them in for almost the entire fourth quarter. The key stretch, when the Heat turned a four-point deficit into a six-point lead, came when Cole and Anderson were playing with James, Wade and Chris Bosh. That lineup had not played a single minute for the Heat in the playoffs before Game 2.The Pacers have shown they can compete with, and beat, the Heat. But doing that four times in a series will require much more in-game consistency, because on most nights the Heat are building toward something. read more

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The NFLs New Defensive Rules Probably Arent Going To Make A Difference

Every offseason, NFL officials make an instructional video that highlights new rules and gives players a warning about which existing ones will be called more tightly in the upcoming season. This year, officials say they’re going to key in on defensive holding and illegal contact, ensuring they’re called correctly.According to reporting by ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha, officials became concerned that those particular penalties were not being called as often as they were a decade ago. (Conspiracy theorists, on the other hand, blamed the Seattle Seahawks’ dominant defensive performance against Peyton Manning’s record-setting Denver Broncos offense in the Super Bowl.) With an assist from the data of Pro-Football-Reference.com, we wondered if the official rationale holds up: Have illegal contact and defensive holding really been called less (on a per-pass basis) in recent seasons?In the case of illegal contact, yes. In 2004, Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian spent the offseason lobbying the NFL Competition Committee to more strictly enforce the illegal contact rule in the wake of his team’s 24-14 playoff defeat against the New England Patriots (a game in which Manning — then playing for Indianapolis — tossed four interceptions).As the chart below shows, referees began calling the penalty much more often the very next season, a 15-year high point. Since then, the penalty’s frequency has steadily receded.However, the pattern is less obvious with defensive holding, which also peaked around the middle of the decade but reversed its decline by 2010, and was near its 15-year high just last season. It doesn’t seem to be a penalty in need of greater emphasis.Then again, concerns about the wisdom of placing more restrictions on defenders in an already pass-happy league may be largely academic. At least in terms of illegal contact and defensive holding, there doesn’t seem to be any relationship between the frequency of either penalty being called and the NFL’s overall level of passing efficiency (as measured by Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt).The last time the NFL cracked down on holding and contact by defenders, it didn’t make any noticeable dent in the rising trend of passing efficiency. Pass offenses have steadily become more and more efficient over the last decade and a half — but that’s part of a longterm trend of increased passing efficacy, not because of the rule changes inspired by Polian a decade ago. The same will likely be true for the changes made this offseason as well. read more

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Paul George Blasted by NY Judge in Paternity Case

Paul George, the Indiana Pacers star forward, was lambasted by New York judge Matthew Cooper in his paternity case involving a 5-month-old he fathered with former stripper Daniela Rajic.“Even though it is all but certain that [George] is the father of the 5-month-old baby girl at the center of this case,” the New York Post reports that Cooper wrote, “he has gone to every length imaginable to avoid taking responsibility for his actions.”Those lengths include requesting the case be heard in federal court. That was denied, and so Paul then brought a competing proceeding in Florida, where they first had sex, at the Fontainebleu Hotel in Miami. The baby, however, was conceived in California and born in New York, so the fatherhood question rests in New York.Insulting to Cooper was that George, while trying to avoid paternity in New York, is asking for full custody in Florida because Rajic is unemployed.“It is beyond comprehension how [George] could vouch for his skill at caring for the child while disparaging [Rajic’s] abilities when he has never even seen the child, asked to see the child, or offered to provide for the child’s needs,” Cooper wrote in the 10-page decision.George missed a court appearance after breaking his leg in August, which did not sit well with Cooper because the player was still “able to attend press conferences, travel for recreation and ride in his new Ferrari.”Cooper blames the lawyers of Gordon & Rees for bringing the failed federal claim with statements that were “complete and utter fabrication.”The lawyers, C. Anthony Mulrain and Mercedes Colwin, tried to move the state court matter to federal court under false pretenses, claiming it was a child support case when Rajic was only asking for paternity to be resolved. Cooper called the move “an egregious abuse of court resources” that likely violates the state’s professional conduct code.”Rajic’s lawyer, Raoul Felder, said, “On behalf of our client we are, of course, gratified.” read more

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The Packers Need To Depend On Aaron … Jones

Aaron Rodgers is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time,1By career quarterback passer rating, he is. so it’s hard to imagine that there could ever be too much Rodgers in a game plan. Yet this seemed to be the problem for Mike McCarthy and Green Bay through the first nine weeks of the season. On Sunday, though, the Packers flipped the script for a 31-12 victory against the Miami Dolphins, a win keyed by one of the best rushing performances in the Rodgers era.The Packers entered Week 10 last in the NFL in share of running plays on first down (39.6 percent) despite being second in the league in play success on those runs (48.5 percent).2A successful first-down play is defined as getting a first down or touchdown or gaining at least 40 percent of the yardage needed to convert a first down. But on Sunday, they ran on more than half of their first downs (51.85 percent) and gained 142 yards on their 14 carries, including 117 yards on nine carries by Aaron Jones.Even with their Week 10 performance, the Packers still stand out when we juxtapose how often they run on first down with how well they run: On Sunday, the Packers weren’t just taking advantage of a soft run defense to make this kind of structural change: Miami entered the game in the middle of the pack in play success allowed to opponents running on first down. Instead, a renewed focus on the run has been in the works in Green Bay for several weeks.Just giving the ball to Jones was a massive step in the right direction for Green Bay. He only recently became the Packers’ primary running back. After serving a suspension the first two games of the year for a substance abuse violation, Jones split snaps with Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams largely because of the Packers’ passing emphasis. McCarthy saw him as an incomplete running back because of his shortcomings as a blocker and as a receiving threat.“There’s more to playing the position than just running the football,” McCarthy said in early October. And that’s especially true if running the football is not remotely a point of emphasis for a team.But that’s changing now. And why shouldn’t it? Let’s compare the first 19 games of Aaron Jones’s career to the first 19 games of another back with a Hall of Fame quarterback who ended up changing his team’s scheme:Jones: 154 carries for 942 yards (6.12 yards per rush), 8 rushing TDsAlvin Kamara: 157 carries for 869 yards (5.54 yards per rush), 10 rushing TDsWhile NFL teams generally run too much — especially on first down — it’s a problem specifically when defenses are geared to stop the run. But that’s not the case for teams facing Green Bay. Like Kamara and the Saints last year, Jones has a quarterback whom defenses fear so much that they don’t dare put an extra defender in the box to stuff the running back.This season, the Packers have faced eight or more defenders in the box on first down just eight times in 272 snaps, a league-low rate of 2.94 percent (8.75 percent is average). Defenses are pretty much willing to concede the run — similar to how teams defend the Los Angeles Rams, who face stacked boxes almost as infrequently (3.8 percent). But the Rams, who are the only team better than the Packers in rushing success rate (51.1 percent), run the ball on first down 56.3 percent of the time, including 49.4 percent in the first half, when the score of the game is less likely to influence these play calls.Can the Packers, at 4-4-1, maintain this newfound offensive balance and ride their running ways to the postseason? Their first test will be Thursday at Seattle before they travel to Minnesota in Week 12 in a game that could determine an NFC wild-card spot. The promos and advertisements for that Sunday Night Football contest will spotlight Aaron Rodgers, but the Packers featuring less of him may be the key to getting that victory.Check out our latest NFL predictions. read more

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How Much Did Having Ryan Lindley At QB Cost The Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals won 11 games this year — the long-suffering franchise’s highest single-season win total since 1975. But Arizona went 2-4 down the stretch of the regular season, then were handled rather easily by the Carolina Panthers in a playoff contest where the Cardinals’ win probability broke 50 percent for just three plays.There was a certain injustice to a team like Arizona (the runner-up in what our Elo ratings consider far and away the best division in football), having to travel to Carolina for a playoff game against the Panthers, winners of one of the worst divisions in NFL history and only the second team ever to qualify for the playoffs with a losing record (excluding strike seasons). But the Cardinals also squandered their chances to avoid such a scenario during the regular season.Going into Week 12, Arizona was an NFL-best 9-1 and had a 71 percent probability of winning the NFC West, which would have guaranteed it home-field advantage in its opening playoff game. (There was also a 66 percent chance the Cardinals wouldn’t even have to play a divisional-round game, because the top two seeds in each conference are awarded first-round playoff byes.)However, starting quarterback Carson Palmer had also been lost for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee shortly before. And while Palmer’s understudy, Drew Stanton, played admirably in his stead, he, too, was sidelined indefinitely several games later. That left third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley to close out the team’s regular season in poor form, then post one of the worst QB performances in playoff history as the Cardinals lost in Carolina on Saturday.So, what might have been for the Cardinals had Palmer not been injured?They certainly might have fared better against Carolina with their No. 1 quarterback under center. Lindley’s -0.59 adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A) in Saturday’s game was 6.44 below that of Cam Newton, his counterpart on the Panthers, and there’s a definite relationship between ANY/A differential and winning football games. Based on a logistic regression model for all games since the league opened up the passing attack with major rule changes in 1978, there’s just a 3.7 percent chance that a team would have a -6.44 ANY/A differential in a game and somehow find a way to win.For Palmer’s part, his career ANY/A index is 104 (where average is 100, and every 15 units represents one standard deviation in performance), which would translate against the 2014 Panthers’ defense to an expected ANY/A of +0.23 relative to Newton’s performance. That differential would buy a team the win about 53 percent of the time. But in fairness, Saturday’s terrible game was something of an outlier for Lindley as well; although his career ANY/A index of 58 is rather ghastly, if he had even played to that norm, the Cardinals could expect to steal a win nearly 20 percent of the time. That means Palmer’s absence may have cost the team something like a third of a win.Back when Palmer was last healthy, Elo graded Arizona as the fourth-best team in football, with the league’s second-highest probability of winning the Super Bowl (narrowly trailing New England). But on the other hand, those Super Bowl chances were still just 19 percent at their peak, while the betting markets were nowhere near as high on the Cardinals as Elo was (largely because statistics say a chunk of their success was the product of unusually good luck).We’ll never know how high the Cardinals might have soared if not for their epic spate of QB injuries, though — and that’s a shame for a franchise that almost never has seasons as magical as 2014 was shaping up to be. read more

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The Neymar Deal Was Certainly Crazy But Was It Smart

NAMECLUBAGESCORINGBALL PROGRESSION Lionel MessiBarcelona301.317.64 Among the younger players, Douglas Costa just moved to Juventus and is likely unavailable. Likewise, Eden Hazard is under contract with Chelsea and is also unlikely to be sold. That leaves three Neymar replacement options: Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele, Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne and Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho. The fact that Dembele makes this list based on the strength of his performance when he was only a teenager is particularly impressive. If he can be pried from Borussia Dortmund, the French attacker could immediately replace a major chunk of Neymar’s production for Barcelona, and would have room to grow into a superstar.With the right purchase at wide forward, Barcelona could take advantage of PSG’s unprecedented spending. But Barca has less than a month until the transfer window closes. The Catalans are flush with cash, but they need to get busy shopping. Scoring measured by expected goals + expected assists per 90 minutes (XG+XAOP/90) — excluding assists notched off set piecesBall progression measured by progressive passes or runs per 90 minutes (PPR/90)Position measured by share of time in the position of wide forwardSource: Opta Sports NeymarBarcelona250.944.69 Scoring measured by expected goals + expected assists per 90 minutes (XG+XAOP/90) excluding assists off set piecesBall progression measured by progressive passes or runs per 90 minutes (PPR/90)Players who registered 0.6 or more Expected Goals + Assists Per 90 (XG+XA/90) qualified as scorers; min. 4000 minutes played in club league and Champions League playSource: Opta Sports Lorenzo InsigneNapoli260.564.44964.80 Paris Saint-Germain didn’t break the transfer record when it signed Neymar from Barcelona on Thursday, it destroyed it. Over the last decade, the transfer record has been nudged forward by small increments, 5 to 10 percent every few years: Real Madrid’s 2009 signing of Cristiano Ronaldo for $110 million was surpassed four years later when Madrid dropped $117 million on Gareth Bale. And last summer Manchester United set a new record by spending $123 million on Paul Pogba. Then PSG cut a check to Barcelona for just over $260 million.1These figures are based on 2017 conversion rates. The conversion rate between euros/pounds and dollars shifted between 2013 and 2016 such that Pogba’s fee, while the largest in history in pounds or euros, comes in as fewer dollars based on the exchange rate at the time. It’s unprecedented. Neymar’s reported wage of $53 million per year could lead to Pogba, stuck on a piddling $20 million, demanding a raise himself soon.Neymar isn’t twice as good as any other top soccer player, as you’ll see below. By any normal accounting, PSG overpaid. But the precise mechanics of the transaction may explain the why the club forked over all that money. All Spanish contracts must by law include a buyout clause, under which the player can pay to sever the contract. Barcelona set Neymar’s buyout well beyond his presumed market value. But the buyout meant Neymar was available for a fixed price. If Neymar offers a combination of skills and value which cannot reasonably be replicated on the transfer market, then overbidding the market at least leads to a return that couldn’t be replicated any other way.And Neymar does offer unusual value as a forward. He provides an elite goal-scoring threat, ranking sixth among all players in the top five leagues2The Premier League in England, La Liga in Spain, Bundesliga in Germany, Serie A in Italy and Ligue 1 in France. in combined non-penalty goals and assists in his last two seasons for Barcelona. He is also a playmaker, using dribbling skills and creative passing to open up opposition defenses. There are a good number of strikers who get shots and goals at similar rates to Neymar, and there are midfielders who provide great ball progression value, but the combination of the two in one player is rare.To measure Neymar’s production, we can use two sets of statistics. The first, expected goals and expected assists, estimates the quality of scoring chances. The second, progressive passes and runs, identifies actions which advance the ball 10 or more yards in attack, or into the 18-yard-box. A successful progressive pass or run doubles the likelihood that the attacking team will score within the next seven seconds, on average.Of the 32 players with at least 0.6 expected goals and assists per 90 minutes in the last two seasons,3Excluding assists off set pieces. only seven have created more than three progressive passes or runs per 90 minutes as well. Dries MertensNapoli301.013.40 Raheem SterlingManchester City220.613.33 Neymar has a rare combination of playmaking and scoringThe major European league scorers with the highest rate of progressive passes and runs in the past two seasons NeymarPSG250.944.6998%0.00 Dries MertensNapoli301.013.40385.29 NAMECLUBAGESCORINGBALL PROGRESSIONPOSITIONSIMILARITY SCORE Angel Di MariaPSG290.675.72944.19 Gareth BaleReal Madrid280.873.76 Angel Di MariaPSG290.675.72 Alexis SanchezArsenal280.835.79714.24 Neymar’s possible replacements at BarcaThe players rated most similar to Neymar based on scoring, progressive passing and share of time spent in the wide forward position Ousmane DembeleDortmund200.574.64674.38 Eden HazardChelsea260.455.50855.19 Douglas CostaJuventus260.474.81895.17 Gareth BaleReal Madrid280.873.76873.19 Philippe CoutinhoLiverpool250.586.16815.34 Other than Raheem Sterling, whose expected goals production is far short of Neymar’s, the other players on this list are well into the primes of their careers and unlikely to maintain peak production through a five-year contract. If PSG is aiming to get the full possible return on a five-year contract, Neymar is the best bet. The best bet just happened to cost $261 million in this case.At the same time — if you ignore age — the Brazilian forward falls well short of his now former teammate, Lionel Messi. Neymar may be the best creative forward of his generation, but his generation did not produce a Messi. Barcelona will still have the better player leading its attack, at least for now.The weakening of Barcelona may be a side benefit for PSG. The French side has been eliminated by Barcelona from the Champions League knockout round three times in the last five years. In those five seasons, PSG has never made the semifinals. Last season, in league play and Champions League competition, only Barcelona and Real Madrid had a better expected goals difference per match than PSG. If Barcelona does struggle to replace Neymar, it may benefit PSG in European competition.The problem is, Paris Saint-Germain just gave Barcelona hundreds of millions of Euros to spend to improve its team. Barcelona will be able to claw back some of Neymar’s production from the wide forward position, and then spend the remaining cash on another star. To identify players that will fit Barca’s needs, I created a similarity score to Neymar based on the key creative forward statistics listed above — as well as minutes played in a wide role over the last two seasons:4This similarity score compares other players to Neymar across five statistics: xG+xA/90, ProgPassRun / 90, combined xG + Prog, % of minutes played at wide attacker, and combined ratio of xG to xA and ratio of prog passes to prog runs. Alexis SanchezArsenal280.835.79 read more

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Beside The Points For Thursday Jan 25 2018

See more NBA predictions All newsletters NBA See more NFL predictions Oh, and don’t forgetSHOCKER: Klement’s out as sponsor of Milwaukee Brewers’ Famous Racing Sausages We’re launching a sports newsletter. 🏆  Join the squad. Subscribe Things That Caught My EyeFuture of U.S. Soccer to be decided soonFollowing the end of Sunil Gulati’s run as president of U.S. Soccer Federation — a term that culminated in the men’s team failing to make the World Cup — U.S. Soccer is poised to select its next president to lead the troubled organization in the coming weeks, and eight people are gunning for the job. Of the 500 people who cast ballots, they’re essentially in four constituencies: the youth council, the adult council, the professional council and the athletes council. The first three comprise around 25.8 percent each of the tally and the athletes who account for 20 percent. [ESPN]Sports entertainment magnate to pivot to sportsVince McMahon is poised to announce a new football league that would try to compete with the NFL, a move that comes just weeks after he filed paperwork to sell $100 million of his stake in the WWE to fund a new venture called Alpha Entertainment. [ESPN, Sports Business Daily]Caroline Wozniacki may be the Slam-less GOATWozniacki is the second ranked player in the world, has a 542-223 record, has won 27 WTA singles titles and has 314 net wins. She also has not won a Grand Slam title, and may go down as the best player to never win one. [FiveThirtyEight]Try out our interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?Vladimir Guerrero, the indie band of baseballThe best seasons of new MLB Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrer were with the Montreal Expos, but despite having a 29.5 Wins Above Replacement from 1998 to 2002 he also had the lowest average attendance per game on record among Hall of Famers in their prime, with an average 10,038 people attending each magnificent game. [FiveThirtyEight]Momentum is not a thing at Super BowlsSorry, Eagles fans: just because the Birds trounced the Vikings in the NFC Conference Championship doesn’t mean they’re any more likely to beat New England, a team that slipped past the Jags with moments to go. There’s no relationship between conference championship blowouts and winning the Super Bowl. Well, not exactly: Since 1970 Super Bowl losers won their conference championship game by 14.2 points on average, while the winners won theirs by only 12.8 points. Advantage, New England? [FiveThirtyEight]Big Number43 percentPercentage of the top 40 free agents who signed in the 82 days since the Astros beat the Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series. That is remarkably low, in historical context: by this point (from 2006 to 2016) an average of 76 percent of the top 40 free agents had signed. [FiveThirtyEight]Leaks from Slack, Sunday Night: cwickkobe bryant just got nominated for an oscar.tchow:Going for the EGOT post retirementchris.herring:Silly that he’s nominated. But that short film is so cool. He hired an Academy Award-winning animation artist and I think he had John Williams write the score.So it’s not all that surprising in that sensejody:Someone told Kobe about “storytelling” two years ago and here we are.Predictions NFL read more

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Clemsons Run Game Could Give Notre Dame Fits

The Tigers have a punishing ground gameClemson’s rushing attack by season* under head coach Dabo Swinney 2011158.54.1924.326.0 Percentage of … 2013174.64.1726.723.9 2015223.04.9327.218.6 2017194.14.7027.520.9 Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group SeasonRushing Yards per GameYards per RushFirst Downs or TDs Per RushRushes For zero or Negative Yards 2015Alabama91.62015Boston College97.0 2016169.74.3126.620.8 2014146.53.5322.424.7 The Irish rank second nationally in passing yards allowed per pass attempt (5.35) and passing yards allowed per completion (9.54). Specifically, the Notre Dame secondary is adept at taking away play-action throws. Only three teams allowed fewer yards per play on the play-action. Eight of Notre Dame’s 20 takeaways this season came against play-action looks.2Only five teams in the nation forced more turnovers against play-action passes.However, the interior of the Irish defense has been suspect, and this year’s team is among coach Brian Kelly’s worst at stopping the run, with -10.9 expected points added on run defense. Opponents pick up 2.52 yards after contact per rush against Notre Dame, placing the Irish 70th of the 130 FBS teams. This will be the best secondary Lawrence has faced, but it might not matter if Etienne can find the running avenues he’s grown accustomed to breaking through this season.Will Clemson’s NFL-ready defensive line raze the Irish?Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables’s defensive line is formidable, probably the best in the country. It’s certainly the most NFL-ready — ESPN projects that three of its members will be selected in the first round of the NFL draft. As Irish quarterback Ian Book put it, “In terms of their defensive line, everyone knows about them.”The quartet of Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence3Lawrence may be ineligible for the playoff after he tested positive for a banned substance. and Austin Bryant is an embarrassment of riches that keeps opponents up at night. It’s the teeth of a defense that ranks first in efficiency (92.3), yards allowed per play (4.2)4Tied with Miami and Mississippi State. and yards allowed per carry (2.6); second in points allowed per game (13.7); and a dismal third in stuff rate (27.0 percent), which is the percentage of carries stopped at or before the line of scrimmage, and sacks (46). This year’s Clemson squad is in line to rank first in expected points added on rush defense and fourth in defensive efficiency among all FBS teams since 2005, the first year ESPN tracked both stats. 2016Alabama97.42018Clemson109.4 This Clemson defense is among the bestThe top five FBS teams since 2005 by defensive efficiency and expected points added on run defense 2010139.03.9521.424.5 Etienne amassed 1,463 rushing yards this season, the fifth-most in the country and the second-most by a Clemson running back in the past 15 years. Nearly half of those yards came after contact — and despite his collision-inviting style, the loping Etienne is among five major-conference running backs to tote the rock at least 175 times without fumbling. He has cleared the goal line on 21 carries, one shy of the national lead. It appears that Wide Receiver U has itself an elite running back.Behind Etienne on the depth chart are Lyn-J Dixon and Adam Choice, each of whom has more than 50 carries and 500 rushing yards on the season. Clemson features three of the 15 best players this season in yards per carry (among players with at least 50 carries).An imposing run game opens up the field for Trevor Lawrence, the freshman quarterback and No. 1 national recruit from the 2018 class. The 19-year-old ranks 12th in FBS in Total Quarterback Rating, at 79.1, and has proved to be more than capable since usurping veteran Kelly Bryant’s starting spot. On play-action looks, he leads the nation in touchdowns per attempt.As it happens, Notre Dame likely has the best pass defense of any team in the playoff. 2009170.44.8125.825.0 2018Clemson92.42016Alabama99.5 7Alabama84.36 Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group rankingTeamPass defense EPA 120Oklahoma-94.92 2018259.86.7533.6%16.0% Clemson and Notre Dame have a lot in common. The programs put together two of the quietest undefeated regular-season campaigns in recent memory. The Tigers’ credentials were diluted by an unspectacular ACC, the Irish by independent classification and lack of a conference title. Each team has a first-year starting quarterback who won the job in late September. Both have breakout running backs and elite defenses.Admission to the playoff has become the expectation for Clemson.1This will be the fourth consecutive appearance for the Tigers, who are a combined 53-4 since 2015. Meanwhile, Notre Dame has rebounded from a four-win campaign in 2016 to find itself on the doorstep of the national championship game for the first time in six years.Though the teams may be similar in many ways, there’s still plenty that separates them. Las Vegas oddsmakers don’t see the matchup as being particularly close, opening with the Tigers as 10.5-point favorites. According to FiveThirtyEight’s college football prediction model, Clemson has a 36 percent probability of winning the national title, while Notre Dame’s probability is considerably lower, at 11 percent.Here’s what to look for when the two programs meet in the Cotton Bowl semifinal Saturday at 4 p.m. Eastern.Can Notre Dame temper Clemson’s run game or run-pass option attack?In the words of Notre Dame linebacker Drue Tranquill, “You’ve got to stop the run in order to beat this team.”Behind the fearless Travis Etienne, the Tigers feature one of the best inside rushing attacks in the nation. Most of the successful action is funneled inside the tackles, as evidenced by the Tigers ranking inside the top 15 nationally in rushing yards on carries taken up the middle, toward the left guard and toward the right guard. The team averages 6.8 yards per carry, which leads the Football Bowl Subdivision, and has compiled 46 rushing touchdowns, good for third best nationally. For a program that had six running backs selected in the NFL draft over the past decade, this is undoubtedly the best ground game that head coach Dabo Swinney has overseen. 2011Alabama94.52007Oregon State103.1 SeasonTeamDefensive EfficiencySeasonTeamRun defense EPA 2012191.14.2228.221.6 They get teams off the field, having helped force the most three-and-outs (81) in the country — at a clip of 44.3 percent. This is largely because offensive plays tend to go the opposite direction against Clemson. A measly 30.6 percent of plays earn five yards or more against Venables’s defense, the best rate in the country, while 40.5 percent of plays earn zero or negative yards, the third-best rate in the country.The Irish offensive line has done a commendable job keeping Book upright. Notre Dame is among the best 35 teams in sack rate and in the top 15 in sack rate on passing downs. However, Notre Dame’s offensive line has been pushed around, as evidenced by the team ranking outside the top 100 in line yards, passing downs line yards per carry, opportunity rate and stuff rate.Clemson has controlled games in the trenches all season. To pull off the upset, Notre Dame must first temper the Tigers’ quartet.Check out our latest college football predictions. The Irish can stop air attacksThis year’s playoff participants in expected points added (EPA) on pass defense 2014Clemson92.52012Rutgers102.6 * In full seasons under Swinney, who took over as head coach midway through the 2008 seasonSource: ESPN Stats & Information Group 2Notre Dame96.95 15Clemson68.46 read more

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How Our 2019 Womens World Cup Predictions Work

Before a match, we can determine each team’s rate of scoring based on the number of goals it’s projected to score over the entire match. This rate isn’t constant over the entire match, however, as more goals tend to be scored near the end of a match than near the beginning.2The rate of scoring in the 85th minute is about 1.4 times the rate of scoring in the fifth minute. We account for this increase as the match progresses, which results in added uncertainty and variance toward the end of the match.We also account for added time. On average, a soccer match is 96 minutes long, with two minutes of added time in the first half and four minutes of added time in the second half. The data that powers our forecast doesn’t provide the exact amount of added time, but we can approximate the number of added minutes in the second half by looking at two things:The number of bookings so far in the match. Historically, each second-half booking tends to add about 11 seconds of time to the end of the match.Whether the match is close. There tends to be about 40 extra seconds of added time when the two teams are within a goal of each other in the 90th minute.Our live model also factors in overtime and shootouts, should we see any in the knockout phase of this World Cup. Our live shootout forecasts follow the same methodology described in this 2014 article.Finally, we make three types of adjustments to each team’s scoring rates based on what has happened so far in the match itself.Red cards are important. A one-player advantage is significant in soccer and adjusts scoring rates by about 1.1 goals per match, split between the two teams (one rate goes up; the other down). Put another way, a red card for the opposing team is worth roughly three times home-field advantage.Consider a match in which our SPI-based goal projection is 1.50-1.50 and the home team has a 37 percent chance of winning before the match. If a red card were shown to the away team in the first minute, our projected goals would shift to 2.05-0.95, and the home team’s chance of winning would go up to 62 percent.Good teams tend to score at a higher rate than expected when losing. The most exciting matches to watch live are often ones in which the favored team goes down a goal or two and has to fight its way back. An exploration of the data behind our live model confirmed that any team that’s down by a goal tends to score at a higher rate than its pre-match rate would indicate, but the better the team that’s behind is, the bigger the effect.Take the 2014 Brazil vs. Croatia match. Before the match, Brazil was a substantial favorite, with an 86 percent chance of winning, but it went down 1-0 after Marcelo’s own goal in the 11th minute. Without adjusting for this effect, our model would have given Brazil a 58 percent chance to come back and win the match, but with the adjustment, our model gave the team a 66 percent chance of winning. (Brazil went on to win the match 3-1.)Non-shot expected goals are a good indication that a team is performing above or below expectation. Anyone who has watched soccer knows that a team can come very close to scoring even if it doesn’t get off a shot, perhaps stopped by a last-minute tackle or an offside call. A team that puts its opponent in a lot of dangerous situations may be dominating the game in a way that isn’t reflected by traditional metrics.As a match progresses, each team accumulates non-shot expected goals (xG) as they take actions near the opposing team’s goal. Each non-shot xG above our pre-match expectation is worth a 0.34 goal adjustment to the pre-match scoring rates. For example, if we expect non-shot xG accumulation to be 1.0-0.5 at halftime but it is actually 0.5-1.0, this would be a swing of 1.0 non-shot xG, and a 0.34 goal adjustment would be applied to the original scoring rates. This isn’t a huge adjustment; at halftime, the away team in this example would have about a 5-percentage-point better chance of winning the match than if non-shot xG were proceeding as expected.In the case that there has been a red card in a match, the red card adjustment takes precedence over the non-shot xG adjustment.We took particular care to calibrate the live model appropriately; that is, when our model says a team has a 32 percent chance of winning, it should win approximately 32 percent of the time. Just as important is having the appropriate amount of uncertainty around the tails of the model; when our model says a team has only a 1 in 1,000 chance of coming back to win the match, that should happen every 1,000 matches or so. The 2019 Women’s World Cup is only 52 matches, so it’s unlikely that our model will be perfectly calibrated over such a small sample, but we’re confident that it’s well-calibrated over the long run.The U.S. — as usual — is one of the favorites this year, and we hope you follow along with us as the tournament plays out.Check out our latest Women’s World Cup predictions. Editor’s note: This article is adapted from an article about our 2018 World Cup predictions.The Women’s World Cup is back, and so is another edition of FiveThirtyEight’s Women’s World Cup predictions. For those of you familiar with our World Cup forecast for the men in 2018, or our club soccer predictions, much of our 2019 forecast will look familiar. We show the chance that each team will win, lose or tie every one of its matches, as well as a table that details how likely each team is to finish first, second or third in its group and advance to the knockout stage. Our predictions also incorporate in-game win probabilities that update in real time.Below is a summary of how the forecast works, including a description of FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index (SPI) ratings, how we turn those ratings into a forecast and how we calculate our in-game win probabilities.SPI ratingsAt the heart of our forecast are FiveThirtyEight’s SPI ratings, which are our best estimate of overall team strength. In our system, every team has an offensive rating that represents the number of goals that it would be expected to score against an average team on a neutral field and a defensive rating that represents the number of goals that it would be expected to concede. These ratings, in turn, produce an overall SPI rating, which represents the percentage of points — a win is worth 3 points, a tie worth 1 point and a loss worth 0 points — the team would be expected to take if that match were played over and over again.To generate our SPI ratings, we run through every past match in our database of women’s international matches — back to 1971 — evaluating the performance of both teams with four metrics:The number of goals they scored.The number of goals they scored, adjusted to account for red cards and the time and score of the match when each goal was scored.The number of goals they were expected to score given the shots they took.The number of goals they were expected to score given the nonshooting actions they took near the opposing team’s goal.(These metrics are described in more detail in our post explaining how our club soccer predictions work. In matches for which we don’t have play-by-play data, only the final score is considered.)Given a team’s performance in the metrics above and the defensive SPI rating of the opposing team, it is assigned an offensive rating for the current match. It is also assigned a defensive rating based on its pre-match defensive rating and the attacking performance of the other team.These match ratings are combined with the team’s pre-match ratings to produce new offensive and defensive SPI ratings for the team. The weight assigned to the new match’s ratings is relative to the game’s importance; a World Cup qualifier, for example, would be weighted more heavily than an international friendly.Match forecastsGiven each team’s SPI rating, the process for generating win/loss/draw probabilities for a World Cup match is three-fold:We calculate the number of goals that we expect each team to score during the match. These projected match scores represent the number of goals that each team would need to score to keep its offensive rating exactly the same as it was going into the match.Using our projected match scores and the assumption that goal scoring in soccer follows a Poisson process, which is essentially a way to model random events at a known rate, we generate two Poisson distributions around those scores. Those give us the likelihood that each team will score no goals, one goal, two goals, etc.We take the two Poisson distributions and turn them into a matrix of all possible match scores, from which we can calculate the likelihood of a win, loss or draw for each team. To avoid undercounting draws, we increase the corresponding probabilities in the matrix.1There has been some debate about what kind of distribution best models scoring in soccer. We’ve found that two independent Poisson distributions work well with the addition of diagonal inflation. That is, we generate the two distributions independently but increase the value of each cell in the matrix where the scores are equal by some constant (somewhere around 9 percent, but this differs by league and is based on the degree to which we would have undercounted draws had we not inflated the diagonal). Take, for example, the 2014 men’s World Cup opening match between Brazil and Croatia. Before the match, our model was very confident that Croatia would score no goals or one goal. Brazil’s, distribution, however, was much wider, leading to its being a significant — 86 percent — favorite in the match. Although there is evidence that home-field advantage in soccer is shrinking, teams still get a boost in performance when playing the World Cup on home soil. Similarly, teams from the same confederation as the host nation experience a smaller but still measurable improvement in their performances. In the 2019 Women’s World Cup, we’re applying a home-field advantage for France of about 0.15 goals and a bonus about one-half that size to all teams from the UEFA confederation. These are both a bit smaller than the advantage that historical World Cup results suggest.Tournament forecastOnce we’re able to forecast individual matches, we turn those match-by-match probabilities into a tournament forecast using Monte Carlo simulations. This means that we simulate the tournament thousands of times, and the probability that a team wins the tournament represents the share of simulations in which it wins it. As with our other forecasts, we run our Women’s World Cup simulations hot, which means that each team’s rating changes based on what is happening in a given simulation.Live match forecastsOur live match forecasts calculate each team’s chances of winning, losing or drawing a match in real time. These live win probabilities feed into our tournament forecast to give a real-time view of the World Cup as it plays out.Because we lack enough play-by-play data for women’s international soccer to build a live model from scratch, the parameters described below were initially established while building our live model for the 2018 men’s World Cup. When possible, we’ve verified that these parameters and decisions carry over to the women’s game.Our live model works essentially the same way as our pre-match forecasts. At any point in the match, we can calculate the number of goals we expect each team to score in the remaining time. We generate Poisson distributions based on those projected goals and a matrix of all possible scores for the remainder of the match. When the matrix is combined with the current score of the match, we can use it to calculate live win probabilities.For example, in the 65th minute of that same Brazil vs. Croatia match, with the score tied 1-1, our projected distributions for the remainder of the match had narrowed considerably. A Brazil win was still the most likely outcome, but much less so than at the start of the match. read more

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Myles Martin and Kyle Snyder return to Ohio State as NCAA champions

OSU freshman Myles Martin celebrates after winning the 2016 NCAA Wrestling Championships on March 19 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Credit: Courtesy of OSUAfter another grueling and taxing season of wrestling for the Ohio State team, two champions returned home after winning individual crowns at the NCAA tournament. Freshman Myles Martin and sophomore Kyle Snyder picked up their first national championships Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.Each Buckeye won five bouts to claim titles in their respective weight classes. Martin defeated Bo Nickal of Penn State in the 174-pound class, while Snyder upset top-seeded Nick Gwiazdowski of North Carolina State to capture the 285-pound crown.The wins by the Scarlet and Gray wrestlers propelled the team to a third-place finish. OSU entered the final day in fifth place but passed Iowa and Virginia Tech. A Big Ten rival, Penn State, led coming into the final day and won by a significant margin.Pandemonium ensued after Martin took an 11-9 decision in the championship match, becoming just the 15th true-freshman champion in the 86 years of the tournament. The crowd erupted as the New Jersey native embraced OSU coach Tom Ryan before bolting to the stands to find his loved ones.A similar scene occurred when Snyder drove Gwiazdowski to the mat in sudden victory for a takedown. The youngest world champion ever from the United States thwarted Gwiazdowski’s 88-match win streak, sending shockwaves through a sold-out Madison Square Garden.  Although Snyder faced Gwiazdowski for the first time in a match on Saturday, Martin had squared off against Nickal three times prior to the championship bout. All three were losses for the freshman.“I felt like if those matches that I had before with (Nickal) weren’t under my belt, my wrestling would have been different in that match,” Martin said. “Just being able to have the confidence and the ability to stay in that position and wrestle through it and end up on top was pretty cool.” Taking what has been learned from previous experiences has been a keystone of Ryan’s coaching tenure at OSU. A belief in focusing more on what can be improved on rather than winning or losing clearly showed as Martin gained the advantage and picked up the win. Ryan was one of the first people Martin embraced post-victory. The bond between the two has grown since the beginning of the year.“I just love that guy so much,” Martin said.OSU sophomore Kyle Snyder enters the arena during the 2016 NCAA Wrestling Championships on March 19 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Credit: Courtesy of OSUAs for Snyder, the path to being named the NCAA’s top heavyweight has been intensely watched by wrestling enthusiasts from around the world. Earlier this year, Snyder captured a Big Ten title after winning a world championships at 97 kilograms. Until January, Snyder wasn’t even supposed to be competing this year. The Maryland native was amid a redshirt season to train for the Olympics before he opted to don the Scarlet and Gray again as a heavyweight. The removal of the redshirt turned out to be the right choice.Even after just 11 matches, Snyder captured the top spot among 285-pound wrestlers. Those bouts, he said, served as a precursor and a learning experience.“I think overall the more you can compete against anybody, doesn’t matter what size or what level, it’s going to make you a better wrestler,” Snyder said. Snyder continues his preparation for the Olympic trials, where he might be joined by a teammate. Martin said he received an invite after winning the championship, but he said he needs to discuss the matter with coaches before making a decision on the matter.  Martin finishes the year at 33-6, the highest win total for the team this season. Snyder finished with a perfect 11-0 record. Although the two individual titles and third-place team finish certainly add up to a successful trip for OSU, a national champion from last season suffered a tough defeat during the tournament. Redshirt sophomore Nathan Tomasello, who captured the 125-pound crown in 2015, had his 43-match win streak severed in the semifinals by Iowa’s Thomas Gilman. Tomasello was pinned in overtime. The Parma, Ohio, native rebounded from the defeat, though. He would go on to win two more matches to finish in third place, which helped vault OSU into a third-place team finish. Another OSU wrestler, Bo Jordan, also grabbed a third-place victory. The redshirt sophomore lost to his cousin, Isaac Jordan, for the fourth time on Friday, but he came back to top Virginia Tech’s David McFadden 8-2 for the bronze. read more

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