For years, Tiger Woods dominated golf and anyone who came along as he predecessor, he demolished. As Woods returns to form – and he is playing outstanding again – he has finally met his golfing match.Rory McIlroy has, in the last several weeks, solidified himself as the No. 1 player in the world. More than that, at just 23, he has made a case for being the new dominant force in the sport.Sunday, McIlroy eclipsed the strongest field of the year – a field that included Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Lee Westwood, et al – shooting a final-round 67 for a two-shot win.It was McIlroy’s second straight win in two weeks, making him the first to do so since Woods in 2009. He’s won three of his last four tournaments – including the PGA Championshp for his second major. He is a remarkable 53-under par in those wins.”He’s going out there and is up near the lead and posts a good number,” Woods said. ”He’s doing the things he needs to do, and as he said, he’s feeling very confident about his game. Right now he’s just really played well, and he’s making a ton of putts. That’s a great combo.”Woods and McIlroy have been spending a lot of time together in the last month – whether they’re in the same group on the golf course, as they have been four times during the playoffs and will be again for the opening round of the Tour Championship; in TV interviews together; in the interview room, where one is behind a microphone and the other waiting his turn in the back of the room; or at lunch after the pro-am.McIlroy from Northern Ireland said he recalls vividly watching Woods do as he is doing now.”I think I’ve always had an appreciation for what Tiger did over the years,” McIlroy said. ”The more you put yourself in this position, and the more you win, and the more you pick up trophies, it becomes normal, and it feels like this is what you’re supposed to do. I’m sure that’s how he felt when he was on that run, and how he still feels. He still won three times this year.”Part of McIlroy’s success is that he seems humble.”I don’t think I’m quite there yet,” he said. ”But I’m getting to that stage where I’m thinking, ‘This is what I should be doing. I should be lifting a trophy at the end of the week.’ It’s been great. The last four weeks, five weeks have been incredible, some of the best golf that I’ve ever played. I’m going to try and keep the run going for as long as possible.”
Kobe Bryant is so concerned about the state of affairs with his struggling Los Angeles Lakers that he reached out to another champion, Magic Johnson, for guidance on how to handle the drama.After seeing the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall with his family, Bryant called Johnson and said the conversation was “very helpful. . .“We just talked about some of the experiences he went through and some of the systematic changes that he had to go through after Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) retired and how he kind of managed through that and how he dealt with that,” Bryant said to the media after the Lakers shootaround in preparation for their game against the New York Knicks on Thursday.Bryant was guarded about the specifics of the conversation, saying, “The advice I get from Magic, Michael (Jordan) and those guys, that’s always sacred. That’s going to the mountain top and talking to Buddha, know what I mean? That’s privileged information.”Johnson expressed his displeasure with the way coach Mike D’Antoni has used all-star big man Pau Gasol, said it “doesn’t make sesnes.” A 7-footer with immense talent in the low post, D’Antoni has him playing on the perimeter mostly, which means the team has not been maximizing his skill set.Bryant remained relatively calm after the Lakers lost their fifth in six games at lowly Cleveland Tuesday night. But the fact that he called on Johnson speaks to his concern at his team’s 9-15 record going into Madison Square Garden.It would help Bryant and the Lakers if point guard Steve Nash could get healthy. He has missed all but one game with a leg injury that still will require another two weeks to heal, he said.“He’s getting closer,” D’Antoni said of Nash. “He worked out pretty well today. We see some flickers at the end of the tunnel.”Then he added: “He hasn’t progressed that far. But we’re getting closer. I just don’t want to build up expectations and he has a little setback and then everybody goes crazy. It’s going to be a whille. But a while, I don’t know what that is.”
Running back Trent Richardson, who was traded from the Cleveland Brown to Indianapolis Colts earlier this week, says he has no malice towards his former team for their decision. In a recent interview, Richardson focused on the excitement of being a Colts player.The 2012 No. 3 overall draft pick will now be on a team with all-star players such as Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne and up-and-coming receiver, T.Y. Hilton, which is why Richardson may be so positive about the trade.“[The Colts] gave up a first-round pick. That shows a lot of respect they have for me,” said Richardson, who will wear No. 34 with the Colts. “Playing against these guys twice, just seeing how they are around each other when they’re on the sideline, how they’re jelling together, just being in the locker room for these couple hours, it’s been a big change. They’re happy to come to work, and they’re ready to go.”The Colts traded a first-round pick in the 2014 draft to get Richardson from Cleveland on Wednesday. Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said he first approached the Browns about Richardson earlier in the week.“He loves football,” Grigson said about Richardson. “He has the right body type for his style as a runner, and his style fits this offense.”Richardson has 1,055 yards, 3.5 yards per carry, on 298 carries through his first 17 career games—a total of 11 touchdowns with the Browns. He also caught 58 passes for 418 yards and another TD.
O.J. Simpon sided with President Trump over Colin Kaepernick when it comes to protesting the national anthem. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)/Julie Jacobson-Pool/Getty Images/)O.J. Simpson doesn’t think Colin Kaepernick made the best decision when he decided to kneel during the national anthem two NFL seasons ago. While the formerly incarcerated football star initially gave the ex-San Francisco 49er credit for standing up for his beliefs, he admitted he felt Kaep made a “mistake.”“I think Colin made a mistake,” Simpson told Buffalo News Friday, March 16. “I really appreciate what he was trying to say. I thought he made a bad choice in attacking the flag.“I grew up at a time when deacons were in the KKK,” adds Simpson, who generally sides with President Donald Trump on his stance on NFL players protesting. “I don’t disrespect the Bible because of those guys. The flag shouldn’t be disrespected because of what cops do. The flag represents what we want America to be.”Trump has voiced similar support for the flag and last year he called for players who exercise their first amendment right on the field to be fired.Ahead of Trump’s statement, Kaepernick left the 49ers and became a free agent. He hasn’t been signed by an NFL team ever since.Still, other athletes have protested the anthem too and his movement has spread beyond football and into leagues like the NHL.“When he did it the first time I thought, ‘Well, you took a gamble, and I give you credit,’” Simpson said, reflecting on Kaepernick. “But it was him continuing to do it where he made the biggest mistake.“I’m a firm believer of doing what you think is right, but I would always stand for the flag.”
LeBron JamesSFCleveland136.3+1.4 Manu GinobiliSGSan Antonio5739.2+1.1 PJ TuckerSFPhoenix/Toronto3535.7+1.4 2016-17203726 Khris MiddletonSGMilwaukee3943.3+1.1 Jimmy ButlerSFChicago3036.7+2.2 Danny GreenSGSan Antonio4637.9+2.0 2013-14153039 James Ennis IIISFMemphis5037.2+1.4 Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder washed out of the playoffs Tuesday night in a 105-99 Game 5 loss, the last sigh of a frustrating 4-1 series loss to the Houston Rockets. The game followed a familiar script, with the Thunder rushing out to an early lead as Westbrook put a good and thorough thumping on the Rockets defense. But as the game wore on, Westbrook began to tire, the Houston defense began to tighten, and the OKC bench hemorrhaged an enormous number of points. As the Rockets pulled away, the Thunder had no means to make up that ground, because the Thunder cannot shoot.Oklahoma City’s glaring lack of shooting is nothing new. The team shot just 31.1 percent from 3 in the series, and that’s humiliating, sure, but it’s also not too far off of the Thunder’s regular season average of 32.7. Westbrook himself threw up brick after brick, going 13 for 49 from 3 (26.5 percent), many in the desperate fourth-quarter scrums that always seem to wrap up Oklahoma City’s games. But this paucity of reliable shooters isn’t simply because Kevin Durant left town over the summer and the team traded Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo; it’s the result of a yearslong failure of the Thunder to find perimeter players who fit the modern NBA landscape.For as long as there’s been an NBA analytics movement, the 3-and-D wing player has been one of the atomic units of the mathematically sound game. The role of perimeter defender and long-range specialist isn’t necessarily new. In the generation before Shane Battier was beatified by Michael Lewis in The New York Times Magazine, Bruce Bowen, Rick Fox and Doug Christie were manning the position, and before them, guys such as the Showtime Lakers’ Michael Cooper or the Bad Boy Pistons’ Joe Dumars filled the role. But now the 3-and-D guy is more in focus than ever. Which is why it might be a surprise that there are still relatively few players who fit the description.Over the last four seasons, the number of players who qualify1These cutoffs are somewhat arbitrary — they’re only meant to broadly capture the essence of the role — but if anything they stand to underestimate the number of players with the skills to perform roles other than 3-and-D. That’s because there’s a theoretically limitless number of players who fit the 3-and-D description, while rebound rate and assist rate are limited by the number of opportunities for a team, so the thresholds wouldn’t pick up a good rebounder like Steven Adams who yields rebounds to Westbrook, or a point guard such as the Spurs’ Patty Mills, who shares time with distributors like Kyle Anderson and Manu Ginobili. as a 3-and-D (hitting a breakeven 33 percent of their 3s and a defensive Real Plus/Minus of at least 12While playing at least 15 minutes per game in 20 or more games.) has lagged far behind the number of players who fit other traditional roles, such as the rebounding, defensive big man3Defensive RPM of at least 1 and a defensive rebounding percentage of at least 20 or the playmaking point guard.4Offensive RPM of at least 0 and an assist percentage of at least 20. Andre IguodalaSFGolden State936.2+1.8 The Thunder have had a lot more success finding big men — rebounding defenders like Steven Adams, or players to clean the offensive boards, like Enes Kanter — but such players are far more common than a prototypical 3-and-D guy, and even if they weren’t, a surplus of rebounding isn’t as viable as a surplus of shooting.Yet while there isn’t an abundance of shooter-defenders, they also aren’t impossible to find for a team that knows where to look. Yes, some like Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant and LeBron James are simply good at everything. And some, like Portland’s Al-Farouq Aminu, are lottery picks who end up as just role players. But the vast majority of the players who turn out to be 3-and-D studs come from the late-first or second round of the draft, meaning every team has a chance at drafting and developing them. Here are the 20 players who fit the bill this season: Luke BabbittSFMiami1641.4+1.2 Number of NBA players in key roles, by season Solomon HillSFNew Orleans2334.8+1.5 Rudy GaySFSacramento837.2+2.0 2015-16114728 DeMarre CarrollSFToronto2734.1+1.0 Al-Farouq AminuSFPortland833.0+3.2 The NBA’s 3-and-D wings, 2016-17 Jae CrowderSFBoston3439.8+1.4 Since the Thunder allowed Thabo Sefolosha to leave via sign-and-trade in 2014, the Thunder have struggled to find perimeter role players who can both shoot from distance and hold their own on defense. This season, Oladipo has taken on Ibaka and Durant’s spacing responsibilities (and beginning next year, much of their salary cap space) while being a worse shooter than either. In past seasons, the Thunder’s meek supporting cast could be somewhat attributed to the luxury of having Durant and Ibaka — both excellent spot-up shooters — which let the Thunder fill out the roster with more specialized (or, to put it less generously, more limited) players thanks to Durant and Westbrook’s versatility. But even that strategy eventually reached its limits late in games, when the Thunder offense would grind down to Durant holding the ball, surrounded by questionable-at-best shooters. And this season the issues have only intensified: The Thunder placed their man on the table above, sure, but only after replacing one of the best players in the league with a baseline role player.That’s because the few shooters the team has come up with in recent years have all been uniformly bad defenders. Teams can get away with having mediocre defenders who can shoot — think Kevin Love and Channing Frye on the Cavs — but not apocalyptically bad ones. In 2014-15 and 2015-16, the Thunder filled that role with Anthony Morrow, who was the functional counterweight to Andre Roberson, a superb defender who might as well be shooting with his eyes closed. Morrow shot 38.7 from 3 in 2015-16 for the Thunder but was one of the worst defenders in the league, with a defensive RPM of -3.05. This season’s Morrow is Alex Abrines, a 23-year-old out of Spain who shot 38.1 percent from 3 and made the opposing offense 4.3 points better when he was on the court. The maxim might be that a player only needs one elite skill to be useful to an NBA team, but the corollary is that he can’t be among the worst in the league at everything else to be useful to a playoff contender.These specific deficiencies showed themselves during those late-game panics against the Rockets. The Oklahoma City bench units have been lambasted for their startlingly bad numbers without Westbrook, and the shooters’ inability to play defense is a big reason why. The defense gave up 117.1 points per 100 possessions (-12.1 net) when Abrines shared the floor with Westbrook, and a shocking 147.1 points per 100 (-42.1) when he was paired with Jerami Grant, one of the Thunder’s other sort-of shooters off the bench.It’s clear that the Thunder roster cannot persist in its current state, and in the first season after losing a player like Durant, certain allowances ought to be made for holes in the team’s roster. But the persistent lack of shooting in Oklahoma City, and the persistent rostering of one-dimensional players in a league run by multidimensional lineups, is reason enough to question whether the problems facing the Thunder are ones the team is capable of overcoming. Data includes regular season games only. 3-and-D players hit 33 percent of their 3s and a defensive Real Plus/Minus of at least 1. Rebounding bigs had a defensive RPM of at least 1 and a defensive rebounding percentage of at least 20. Playmaker point guards had an offensive RPM of at least 0 and an assist percentage of at least 20.Sources: NBA.com, basketball-reference.com Kevin DurantSFGolden State237.5+1.4 NAMEPOSITIONTEAMDRAFT #3 POINT %DEFENSIVE REAL +/- Robert CovingtonSFPhiladelphia—33.3%+4.3 Trevor ArizaSFHouston4334.4+1.3 Victor OladipoSGOklahoma City236.1+1.6 SEASON3-AND-DREBOUNDING BIGPLAYMAKER PG Thabo SefoloshaSFAtlanta1334.2+2.4 2014-15184235 Patrick BeverleySGHouston4238.2+1.6 Data includes regular-season games only.Sources: basketball-reference.com, nba.com
Russell Wilson has carried the Seattle Seahawks this year, and his play in the fourth quarter has been particularly brilliant. Watch the video above to find out just how good he’s been — and how crucial the Seahawks’ matchup against the Los Angeles Rams is on Sunday.
When I was asked to write a data-driven “analytical profile” of the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT) before it heads to Canada for the World Cup, I quickly realized something: There wasn’t enough data. I wasn’t that surprised; women’s sports data is severely lacking.Sure, there are goals and assists, but anything beyond basic stats is unlikely to exist for non-World Cup matches. Looking at how a team performed four years ago with a different coach and different players isn’t very informative.We’re left with the USWNT’s three “send-off series” matches against Ireland, Mexico and South Korea. These games received top-notch coverage and provide some rich data.What did we learn about the USWNT during these matches — a 3-0 win against Ireland, a 5-1 victory over Mexico and an uninspiring 0-0 draw against South Korea? With the understanding that the competition and substitutions patterns will differ in Canada, and that three games does not a large sample size make, below are five takeaways from the U.S.’s friendly matches.1. The backline looks ready defensively for the World CupGoalie Hope Solo barely broke a sweat in any of these games; she faced 14 shots (six on goal), made five saves and allowed one goal in 270 minutes. Only two of those shots came from inside the box.Solo’s relative boredom is a testament to the team’s backline, which featured starters Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg, Julie Johnston and Ali Krieger. Christie Rampone, who will turn 40 during the World Cup, Lori Chalupny and Kelley O’Hara also contributed as substitutes.Overall, the U.S. allowed a total of 68 completed passes in its defensive third in the three games, including just nine into the penalty area. To put that in perspective, the USWNT completed at least 80 passes in the attacking third in each of the three games.The one area where the defense might need to improve is set pieces. Mexico’s lone goal came off a free kick, and the only other shot the U.S. relinquished in the box was off a corner. The outside defenders will also be key attacking up the wing in Coach Jill Ellis’ 4-4-2 formation, an area that was lacking in the U.S.’s final game against South Korea.Here’s the ESPN/TruMedia/Opta shot chart:2. They’re creating opportunities but having trouble finishingThe U.S. averaged more than 23 shots per game, including an average of 16 from inside the penalty area. Both of those stats would have led all teams at the 2011 Women’s World Cup.The good news for the U.S. is that it is creating chances; the Americans created more than 15 scoring chances per game off passes, and all seven of their non-penalty-kick goals were assisted. Most of those chances led directly to a shot from within the penalty box.The U.S. left a number of goals on the table, however, particularly early in games. In the first 40 minutes, they took 30 shots and scored one goal. As a result, they entered halftime tied with both Mexico and South Korea.In the second half against Mexico, the U.S. exploded for four goals, but otherwise they struggled to put the ball in the back of the net. In the other five halves combined, the U.S. scored about three fewer goals than was expected based on the type and location of their shots, according to ESPN/TruMedia’s model for predicting a team’s expected goals. Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Christen Press were all held scoreless despite a number of opportunities from close range.3. Possession/tempo will be keyThe United States was one of the most direct teams in the 2011 World Cup, and when Ellis took the job, there were fears that she would continue to focus on long forward passes. Although the U.S. played more direct than they probably wanted to against South Korea, it appears they have taken steps toward a more possession-oriented style in this small sample of games.In the three friendlies, the U.S. had a higher possession percentage (64 percent vs. 53 percent) and pass-completion rate (77 percent vs. 70 percent) than it had in the 2011 World Cup. Besides the lower level of competition, the main reason for the higher percentage is the length of their passes; the U.S.’s average pass traveled 17.4 yards, about 4 fewer than in 2011, and their percentage of long balls (passes of 35 yards or longer) dropped significantly. For context, no team had an average pass distance shorter than 18 yards in the 2011 World Cup.In the game in which the U.S. struggled most, against South Korea, the Americans slowed the pace and resorted to more long balls. As Ellis has noted, it is essential for the U.S. to push the tempo and play at a faster pace, especially since the tournament is played on turf.4. They have options at forwardAlex Morgan was held out of the friendlies with a bone bruise on her knee, which gave Abby Wambach, Amy Rodriguez, Christen Press and Sydney Leroux the chance to start at forward. Morgan is expected to be healthy for the tournament, which gives Ellis choices up top.Wambach, the international leader in goals, is always a threat to score. She led the U.S. with four goals, including two signature headers, in the friendlies. Wambach turns 35 on Tuesday, and she is likely to have a mixed role as a sub and starter at the World Cup, which opens up playing time for others.Leroux enters the World Cup averaging the fewest minutes per goal in USWNT history. In the friendlies she led the U.S. with 16 shots, including 14 in the penalty area, but struggled to get them on target. In limited action, Rodriguez showcased her speed and could also start for the Americans. With so many options at forward, the biggest question will be whether they can develop chemistry. No two forwards completed more than seven passes to each other in the three matches combined, and at various points this year each forward missed time with injury or illness.5. There will be no easy games in CanadaOver the next month, you will hear over and over again that the rest of the world is catching up to the top teams in women’s soccer. The U.S.’s 0-0 draw against South Korea is just one example of how the U.S. could lose to anyone if it is not on top of its game.The U.S. is second in the FIFA World Rankings behind Germany, but in 2015 the Americans already have two ties (Iceland and South Korea), one loss (France) and two one-goal victories (England and Norway) in 10 games. Even in its seemingly “easy” victories against Ireland and Mexico, the Americans struggled to finish in the first half.Although questions remain after the three friendlies, the U.S. heads to Canada with a “title or bust” mentality. Can the U.S. win its first World Cup since 1999? To do so, they’ll need to build on the defensive prowess they’ve shown and find a set of forwards who can convert scoring chances.
2Ohio StateMichigan Wisconsin OklahomaPenn State— How accounting for head-to-head results changes playoff odds 5MichiganWisconsin Penn State ColoradoOhio State— 8Colorado—MichiganWashington Alabama9292 How the top 10 teams have fared head-to-head 6Wisconsin—Ohio State MichiganPenn State 4Washington——Colorado We’ve been getting a lot of angry notes from Michigan fans. And even though I’m from East Lansing, I think they have a point. Sort of.Here’s the rub: Michigan fans claim their Wolverines have a shot at the college football playoff, even though they rank fifth (the top four teams make the playoff) and have finished their regular season (Wisconsin and Penn State are playing for the Big Ten championship instead).Even the most rabid Michigan backers don’t expect their team to displace any of the current top four if everyone wins out. Undefeated No. 1 Alabama is one of the strongest college teams in history and will become the SEC Champion if it beats Florida on Saturday. No. 2 Ohio State — which, like Michigan, is idle this weekend — just beat Michigan last Saturday. And No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington are potential one-loss conference champions, while two-loss Michigan is neither of those things.Alabama would have a decent shot at the playoff even with a loss, but if either Clemson or Washington falls, another slot could open up. Apart from Michigan, the most plausible contenders to fill it are Wisconsin and Penn State — whichever one wins the Big Ten championship — and Colorado, if it beats Washington for the Pac-12 title.Wisconsin, Penn State and Colorado would each be 11-2 conference champions, as compared to 10-2 non-champion Michigan. The playoff selection committee explicitly accounts for conference championships as part of its selection criteria. So Michigan has a hard argument to make, it would seem.Except for one thing: Michigan played Wisconsin, Penn State and Colorado. It beat all three of them. And although the committee says it considers conference championships, it also says it takes head-to-head results into account. How would the committee weigh everything? Nobody’s quite sure. RANKSCHOOLWINSLOSSESPLAYING THIS WEEK Oklahoma65 10Oklahoma State——Oklahoma Oklahoma State12 Michigan16 3Clemson——— Ohio State92%94% CHANCE OF MAKING COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF Penn State2122 Clemson8081 Washington6666 SCHOOLPREVIOUSLYWITH HEAD-TO-HEAD ADJUSTMENT Wisconsin3021 Colorado1010 7Penn StateOhio StateMichiganWisconsin 9Oklahoma—Ohio StateOklahoma State Our college football playoff model, however, had been putting a fairly heavy thumb on the scale against Michigan. That’s because we’d programmed it to account for conference championships, but not for head-to-head results. Why not? There wasn’t any particularly good reason; we’d intended to build in a head-to-head adjustment earlier this fall and then got distracted by that whole presidential election thing. Also, because head-to-head results didn’t happen to matter very much in the first two years of the committee’s rankings — there was no case analogous to the one Michigan faces this year — we didn’t have much data on how much the committee really cares about them.Still, we think making some effort to account for head-to-head results is better than nothing, even if we’re basically just making an educated guess about the magnitude of the effect. So we’ve built an adjustment into our model. As before, the program runs a series of simulations in which it plays out the remaining games and estimates how the committee will rank the teams. Then there’s a new step: It checks to see if teams that are ranked in close proximity played one another. If in one simulation it initially had Colorado ranked No. 4 and Michigan No. 5, for instance, it might flip them because of the head-to-head result. Or it might not: The magnitude of the head-to-head adjustment is randomized a bit from simulation to simulation but generally set to a fairly conservative value. (We’ll recalibrate everything next year; how the committee untangles Michigan and the other teams will tell us a lot about how much it really cares about head-to-head play.)As a result of this change, Michigan’s chance of making the playoff increases to 6 percent. That’s still not very good — the model thinks it’s unlikely that the committee will put an idle team into the playoff, especially when it has two losses and didn’t win its conference championship. (The loss to Ohio State is especially complicating, because the committee would have to take two teams from the Big Ten but not the conference champion?) The committee could also evade the head-to-head question by taking two-loss Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, whichever one wins the Big 12 this weekend,1The Big 12 doesn’t have a championship game, but Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are playing one another, and it just so happens that the winner of that game will win the Big 12. instead of a second Big Ten team. But 6 percent is an improvement for Michigan from the 1 percent chance our model gave it before the adjustment. 1Alabama——— Apart from Michigan, this change also affects Ohio State’s calculus a bit. Aren’t the Buckeyes shoo-ins? Would the committee really demote a team all the way from No. 2 to No. 5?Probably not, but consider what happened in 2014. The committee — to our model’s surprise — dropped TCU all the way from No. 3 to No. 6 in its final rankings despite TCU having won. We learned from that experience that the committee isn’t necessarily all that consistent from week to week. So Ohio State, which won’t be the Big Ten champion, might be just a little bit nervous if the committee decides it values conference championships highly.But it matters which team wins the Big Ten instead of Ohio State. If it’s Wisconsin, the Buckeyes have less to worry about because they beat the Badgers head-to-head. (Wisconsin might make the playoff as a second Big Ten team, but probably not without Ohio State making it as well.) Ohio State lost to Penn State in the regular season, however. So if Penn State wins the Big Ten, it will be able to cite both a head-to-head victory and a conference championship in its case to get in ahead of Ohio State. Our model expects that Ohio State would probably still make it under such circumstances — quite possibly alongside Penn State — but it isn’t quite as safe. (In the new version of our model, Ohio State has a 97 percent chance of making the playoff if Wisconsin wins the Big Ten and a 91 percent chance if Penn State wins instead.)So almost no matter what happens, we’ll be left with a bit of a mess. One solution? Expand the playoff to six or eight teams, so the close calls stemming from janky conference-championship scenarios are resolved on the field and not in a conference room.
kyle:and champions leaguesurely counts more than mlsneil:MLS fans get in my inbox every time I’ve written about the Sports Equinoxtony:LA derby > Manchester Derbycwick:El Trafico is such a great name for a derbyPredictions NBA See more NBA predictions Things That Caught My EyePredators are the starless favoritesThe Nashville Predators are the betting favorites to win the Stanley Cup, with the team accumulating the most overall points this past season. What’s remarkable about the Predators is that they don’t have a single offensive star; seven forwards finished with at least 35 points but none of them had more than 64 points. That’s the fewest points for an NHL Presidents’ Cup winner’s top scorer in more than 30 years. [FiveThirtyEight]Ohtani is bona fideAngels phenomenon Shohei Ohtani is the superstar he was touted to be; he got three homers and two wins as a pitcher in his first 10 games, the first time a pitcher has pulled that off since about 1920 and the dead ball era. He’s got the fourth highest strikeout rate and the 17th lowest walk percentage this year. [FiveThirtyEight]LeBron is new StephThrough Monday, LeBron James has made 52.3 percent of his shots from 28 feet or further from the hoop. That is the best deep ball percentage since at least the 2000-01 season, when such play-by-play data is first available. That success is outpacing Steph Curry’s death-from-above three pointer season in 2015-16. [FiveThirtyEight]Try out our interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?FIFA officials offered money, gosh I wonder if they take it.A consortium of investors is offering FIFA $25 billion for the rights to FIFA’s club competitions and a potential global league for national teams. This eye-popping figure wasn’t enough to overcome a tabling of the matter ahead of additional research — European representatives worry that such a competition would compete with UEFA Champions League. But come on, money is offered to FIFA you think they can push that off forever? [The New York Times]Good luck seeing playoff hockey in CanadaThere are 18,201 total seats in the Toronto Maple Leafs arena. There were 672 of those seats available to an exclusive pre-sale for their first home game. After the pre-sale, there were a mere 96 available seats left to the general public. I’m beginning to get the idea that the biggest city in Canada may like hockey. [CBC]LGMAs of right now, FiveThirtyEight’s model gives the 10-1 New York Mets a 50 percent chance of making the playoffs. Eleven games ago, during the preseason, the odds were half that, with a 24 percent chance of making the playoffs. Heck of a start for the Mets. Meanwhile, a bit uptown, the 6-6 Yankees’ odds of making the postseason have fallen around 10 points in the same period to 65 percent. [FiveThirtyEight]Big Number(s)150/1Those were the Las Vegas preseason odds of the expansion team Vegas Golden Knights winning the Stanley Cup. As of March 18, those long odds had steadily dropped to 6/1, and now the William Hill sportsbook puts them at 13/2. [Darren Rovell]Leaks from Slackneil: Oh, and don’t forgetNew record We’re launching a sports newsletter. 🏆 Join the squad. Subscribe All newsletters
The dream-team paradigm has gone through several permutations over the years. In the era before the salary cap, star-powered rosters could stay together for many consecutive seasons, resulting in monstrous talent collections such as the Steel Curtain-era Pittsburgh Steelers (who had an absurd nine Hall of Famers on their roster in 1978) and even more recent teams such as Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers and Jimmy Johnson’s Dallas Cowboys. But the advent of free agency in 1993 — and the subsequent addition of the salary cap — made such dream teams more difficult to keep together, whether by pre-emptively forcing teams to let useful players go or penalizing for years teams that tried to skirt the cap by pushing player paydays into the future.More recent dream team attempts have been the subject of ridicule, such as when the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles signed a group of veteran free agents that included Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jason Babin and — of course — Vince Young. When Young was asked to describe Philly’s new squad, he infamously responded with a smile and two words: “dream team.” In the end, the Eagles went a disappointing 8-8, writing a cautionary tale for future free-agent spending sprees.But around the same time, the NFL’s current preferred team-building strategy began to come into focus as young, cheap (at the time) quarterbacks such as Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Seattle’s Russell Wilson won Super Bowls. With a change to the league’s collective bargaining agreement significantly lowering the price tags on incoming rookie QBs, teams realized that they could use the draft to acquire the most important asset in football — a star quarterback — for a relatively low price and then trick out the rest of their roster with the savings. The dream team concept was reborn.Take the 2017 champion Eagles, who spent a combined 4.5 percent of the cap on signal-callers Carson Wentz and Nick Foles — the former of whom vied for league MVP honors before a knee injury ended his season and the latter of whom was the Super Bowl MVP. That Philly team was laden with non-QB talent, and many of its members were productive veterans (Ronald Darby, Jay Ajayi, Alshon Jeffery, Timmy Jernigan, etc.) who had been plucked from other teams.This season’s Rams have taken a version of that same formula and run with it even further. They got 40 total points of Approximate Value1Pro-Football-Reference.com’s single-number measure of player value. out of veteran newcomers, which would rank 10th among Super Bowl winners, and that was with Talib, Peters, Suh and Fowler all having relative down seasons.That last part makes the Rams a bit different from other successful dream teams of the past. The 1994 49ers, for instance, were jam-packed with talented veteran newcomers — including Rickey Jackson, Ken Norton Jr. and Bart Oates, each of whom posted double-digit AV the previous season. The crown jewel, of course, was Deion Sanders, who arrived from Atlanta in free agency. They were all meaningful contributors to the Niners’ Super Bowl win that season, most notably Sanders, who won defensive player of the year honors. Similarly, the 1999 St. Louis Rams picked up Marshall Faulk from the Indianapolis Colts, along with many other newcomers, and went on to win the Super Bowl thanks to Faulk’s NFL offensive player of the year season.2An MVP turn from QB Kurt Warner didn’t hurt, either.The 2018 Rams don’t have anyone with the instant impact of a Sanders or Faulk. But one thing that makes them intriguing is how they’ve supplemented the dream-teamers they do have with younger, cheaper talent. The average age (weighted by AV) for the 10 Super Bowl champs most laden with new veteran talent3Ages are as of Dec. 31 for each season. I used a quick-and-dirty calculation that multiplies together AV from the current and previous seasons for incoming veteran players, to capture both established production and current-season value. was 27.6 years old; for L.A. this season, that number is 26.8. The Rams’ four best players by AV — Gurley, Donald, Jared Goff and Robert Woods — are all 27 or younger, and none of them were among the newcomers L.A. brought in this season. (And only Donald and Gurley were playing on contracts guaranteeing more than $30 million.) Whereas yesterday’s dream teams rose or fell more on the performances of their incoming stars, the new formula for general manager Les Snead and coach Sean McVay has been to use them as supplemental pieces to help support a young core.Not that the current Rams have nothing in common with their dream-team precursors, mind you. Even though teams have gotten much savvier about using contractual tricks to free up cap space and avoid the kind of “salary-cap hell” that, say, the 49ers found themselves in during the late 1990s, the Rams’ aggressive roster moves have still ratcheted up the pressure to win in a relatively short window of time. While most of the Rams’ key starters are still locked up in 2019 as well (with the exceptions of Suh, Cory Littleton and Rodger Saffold), they will begin facing tough salary constraints in the offseason before 2020 — when most of the current secondary and offensive line hits free agency — and particularly before 2021, when Goff will need to sign an extension. Compounding things, L.A. also traded away its second- and third-round draft picks this spring to snag Peters and Fowler.4On top of downgrading from the fourth round to the sixth in 2018 and losing a 2020 fifth-rounder. Even a smartly managed win-now strategy has an expiration date.But then again, so does every team-building tactic in the NFL — unless we’re talking about the Patriots. The Rams are exactly where they knew they’d need to be to justify their all-in roster strategy. They have the young stars and the veteran talent, plus the right coach to steer things in McVay. All that’s left is one more win to prove that dream teams are a viable way to build an NFL champion after all. The Super Bowl-bound Los Angeles Rams are a fascinating exercise in modern NFL team-building. While their opponents in Atlanta, the dynastic New England Patriots, seldom break the bank for anybody other than quarterback Tom Brady — who has been under center for a record nine Super Bowls with the Pats — the Rams spent aggressively after the end of last season. They opened the pocketbook for homegrown stars such as Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley, who each signed massive extensions, and also made a handful of outside pickups, including Brandin Cooks, Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Dante Fowler Jr.All told, the spree left L.A. with 34 percent of its 2018 salary-cap dollars committed to returning veteran players on fresh extensions (tops among playoff teams) and an additional 22 percent of the cap spent on incoming veterans (third only to the Bears and Texans among playoff teams), according to data from ESPN’s Stats & Information Group. The result was a star-studded roster that many called the dreaded D-word — “dream team” — a label that has come to symbolize a roster concept that doesn’t always work in the NFL. But unlike previous dream-team iterations, the Rams have made it work, primarily by relying less on the newcomers and more on the talent they’ve developed. And that might provide a blueprint for future champions, if not exactly future dynasties.
Following Ohio State football’s 24-17 loss to Florida in the 2012 Gator Bowl, members of the team are turning the page on this past season and turning off their Twitter accounts. Several players confirmed after the Monday loss to the Gators in Jacksonville, Fla., that new OSU head coach Urban Meyer had scheduled a 7 a.m. Tuesday meeting with non-senior members of the program. At the meeting, the team was informed that Twitter use would be banned, according to several players’ Twitter accounts. The OSU athletic department did not immediately respond to The Lantern’s request for comment regarding the team’s new social media guidelines. Players took their Twitter accounts to alert the public to the new policy. From his Twitter account, @STONEYeleven, junior tight end Jake Stoneburner said at approximately 1 p.m.: “Twitter=Done. Me=back for senior year, leading this team, and shocking the world!! #gobucks #12-0″ Junior tight end Reid Fragel commented on the newly implemented Twitter ban from his account, @FRAGEL88, at around noon Tuesday, saying: “New staff new rules. No more twitter, not a big deal and probably for the better. Love our fans, love this place. Go Bucks #2012” Not every player praised the social media ban. From his account, @phillybrown10, sophomore wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown said: “I’m not leaving my followers lol.” Meyer, along with his new coaching staff, assumed control of the football team following OSU’s Monday loss in the bowl game.
Going into the Ohio State men’s basketball team’s matchup against Michigan, the Buckeyes had yet to be tested at home. That changed Sunday. The Buckeyes battled the Wolverines in front of a sold-out Schottenstein Center and emerged with a 64-49 victory. Michigan jumped out first with a 5-0 run, but the Buckeyes quickly responded with a 7-0 run of their own to take the lead. In the first half alone, there were seven lead changes and four ties. Neither team led by more than four points throughout the first half after Michigan’s initial 5-0 burst. “We knew going in it was going to be a hard fought battle,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “We haven’t had those. We’ve had sizable leads going into halftime. Hopefully we’re a better team because of it.” OSU sophomore forward Jared Sullinger picked up two fouls in the first half and was limited to just 12 minutes, but sophomore guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. did his best to make up for Sullinger’s presence on offense and on the boards. With under five minutes remaining in the first half and OSU trailing 19-15, OSU sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas missed a 3-pointer, but sophomore guard Smith Jr. grabbed the rebound and finished inside. On the ensuing Michigan possession, two Michigan players were in position to get an offensive rebound, but Smith Jr. leaped over his taller opponents to get the rebound and found Thomas streaking down the court for a layup. Thomas was fouled and made one of two free throws to cut the deficit to one. After a timeout, it was Smith Jr. who put the Buckeyes back on top, 20-19, with a layup from the left block. Smith Jr. said he was focused on doing the little things to help his team win. “I knew that was going to be our edge, rebounding and just doing the little things,” Smith Jr. said. “I stuck to that early and just got myself in a position where I could get the rebounds.” Smith Jr. had four offensive rebounds and seven total in the first half to go along with nine points. Matta said Smith Jr. is a “jack of all trades” and his versatility causes problems for opposing defenses. “Lenzelle is a winner,” Matta said. “He really understands his role.” With just over a minute remaining in the first half the game was tied at 21, but a 3-pointer from the right corner by OSU senior William Buford gave OSU a 24-21 lead. That score held going into halftime. The Buckeyes, who shot just 36 percent in the first half, started off the second half on a roll, connecting on six of their first 10 shots from the field. With OSU leading 38-33, Buford intercepted a Michigan pass and finished on the other end with a one-handed jam. Buford fist-pumped and the crowd erupted in cheers. The next OSU possession, sophomore guard Aaron Craft crossed over Michigan freshman guard Trey Burke, dove left, absorbed a foul, and finished with his left hand. The sequence gave OSU a 42-33 lead and was part of a 14-2 run by the Buckeyes. A pair of free throws by Deshaun Thomas gave OSU a 13-point advantage, but Michigan wouldn’t go away. Three-pointers from Burke and sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. helped Michigan whittle down OSU’s lead back to seven. But with under five minutes remaining, a Craft steal on the defensive end led to a Sullinger dunk in transition. OSU continued to look for Sullinger offensively as the Buckeye big man converted two more buckets inside to give his team a 12-point lead. Sullinger finished the game with 13 points and five rebounds. The Wolverines never threatened again and OSU pulled away for the victory. Smith Jr. led all scorers with 17 points and also added 12 rebounds, eight of which were offensive. The win moves the Buckeyes into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten and improves their record to 19-3 overall. But Sullinger refused to speculate on his team’s place in the standings. “Game on Saturday against Wisconsin,” Sullinger said. “That’s the biggest focus right now.” OSU next contest is Feb. 4 when the Buckeyes will travel to Wisconsin to take on the Badgers. Tip is set for 2 p.m.
Every four years a sporting event comes around that unites the world for a month of fun, friends and football – or as its known in the U.S., soccer. The World Cup, coming again in 2014, is one of the most well-viewed sporting events in the world. With 32 countries worldwide taking part, it brings people together in a way no event besides the Olympics truly does. Even in the United States, a country where soccer generally takes a backseat to football, basketball and baseball, the World Cup is an event that draws many sports fans and patriots. But with an aging group of stars and a tight race in World Cup Qualifying, the status of United States soccer fandom could potentially hang in the balance this summer. Without a Confederations Cup spot this summer to help boost its reputation, like in 2009 when the United States upset Spain, 2-0, qualifying remains the only outlet for U.S. national team fans to cheer on their team. Sitting in third on goal differential in Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) World Cup Qualifying’s final round after three matches, the U.S. team’s qualification chances could be on the line when Mexico comes to Columbus on Sept. 10. But much more than that, soccer’s growth over the past few years could also be at risk in this qualification cycle. This is a country of short attention spans, and if a sport isn’t keeping its attention, it will move on. If the men’s national team fails to make it to Brazil in 2014 then it might be in danger of being forgotten. In recent years, the U.S. has reached an unprecedented level of success, making it to six straight World Cups, dating back to 1990, but the team is a state of flux. Although stars like Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan are still with the team, many players are getting older and might be participating in one of their last World Cup cycles. Without an attention-grabbing team, or even star, the U.S. could find itself in a precarious position of slipping into obscurity. Fortunately for the U.S., this is all just speculation. It is too early in the final round of qualifying to start talking about what will happen if the goal of a World Cup isn’t achieved. But once September rolls around, who knows? A win against Mexico could mean everything to the team. Will there always be a small group of loyal U.S. soccer fans? Of course, but for a sport that has been trying to break into the mainstream in this country for years, it is incredibly important not to slip up at one of its most vital moments. The U.S. is set to continue its qualifying push on a road game against Jamaica on June 7.
Sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker (68) gets set to block a defender during a game against Iowa Oct. 19 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 34-24.Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editorHeading into the 2013 season, the Ohio State football team felt comfortable with most of its offensive line.The Buckeyes returned four starters from the 2012 team — redshirt-seniors Jack Mewhort, Marcus Hall and Corey Linsley and senior Andrew Norwell — who had started a combined 80 games for OSU before the season began.Sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker hadn’t started one.Decker, who has started all seven games at right tackle for OSU this season, said his relationship with the other lineman has helped him grow as a player.“I’ll definitely always be the younger guy, sort of thing because I’m like a little brother to them basically, I would say,” Decker said. “They’ve had good careers and they’ve established themselves and they deserve respect that comes along with that … I do feel I’ve improved and gotten closer with them, but it’s kind of a little brother relationship. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”Against Iowa, Decker played potentially his best game, coach Urban Meyer said in a press conference Monday, going as far as to name him honorable mention for team champion.The offensive line dominated the team award, with Hall, Mewhort and Linsley all being named champions.“Our offensive line played exceptional,” Meyer said. “The champions were Marcus Hall, Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley … Four to five were champions, because Norwell was one of the players of the game, and Taylor Decker received honorable mention, you’ll win most games if that happens.”Senior running back Carlos Hyde benefited from the performance of the offensive line against the Hawkeyes, rushing for 149 yards and two touchdowns.“It was a great performance by those guys. I love those guys to death and I’m happy to be able to run behind those guys and it’s exciting to see them … I came in with four of them. Taylor’s a (sophomore), to see them have success, it’s nice. When they go, I go.”Decker, a Vandalia, Ohio, native did play in all 12 games during Meyer’s first season in Columbus, but was second on the depth chart after former-Buckeye Reid Fragel and did not record a start.Coming into the season, there was some doubt surrounding Decker, co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner said, but the coaching staff was confident he would “turn the corner.”“You have to believe in the decisions you made, you have to believe in the talent you see and you have to know if you stay the course and you do things the right way, usually they work out pretty well for you,” Warinner said. “And I didn’t have any doubt that at some point he would turn the corner.”The line is a tight-knit group, Decker said, and they don’t let anything get in the way of working together as a unit.“I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily competing against each other because we have to work together as a whole unit to accomplish anything,” Decker said. “I think it’s more of ‘Did we play together well as a unit? Did we have enough rushing yards? Did we protect the quarterback well?’ Obviously, you want to grade out well, but I don’t think there’s any animosity toward each other about it.”Warinner agreed and said everyone is pulling for each other when they are out on the field.“It’s a group that wants everybody to do well and doesn’t care who gets the credit and that’s the beautiful thing about offensive lines, when you can get that, that’s when it’s fun to coach them,” Warinner said.The drive to succeed on the field doesn’t stop some players on the line from joking around though, Decker said.“It’s fun. I mean we got all kinds of personalities in there and like you said, there’s some goofballs in there,” Decker said. “Everybody’s pretty humorous, pretty funny guys and when it comes down to it they all get the job done. Being able to have fun while we’re playing this game just makes it so much better.”He specifically pointed out Hall as being a clown when he is off the field.“Marcus, he’s really funny. He cracks me up. He’s always real positive about everything — got a really positive outlook on it,” Decker said. “He’s got that positive attitude and he’s always just picking people up. Off the field, he’s a jokester, he’s a pretty funny guy.”Despite his recent performances, Decker struggled in his first career start against Buffalo Aug. 31, where he often lined up across the line from Bulls senior linebacker Khalil Mack, a top NFL prospect.If it weren’t for his teammates and the coaching staff keeping his spirits up after the tough games, he wouldn’t have been able to be where he is, Decker said.“I knew that wasn’t me, that’s not how I had been playing and performed in camp prior to (Buffalo) and the weeks leading into it,” Decker said. “It was a tough pill to swallow but just had to bounce back and recover from it and play the way I could play.”Warinner said his struggles against the Bulls are not a representation of Decker as a player.“He has great talent. He’s a young kid. He could easily be a redshirt-freshman, we played him a few snaps last year … His progress has been good. He’s playing solid football for us and continues to get better with a big upside,” Warinner said. “He’s getting to where we need him for this Big Ten stretch.”Next up, the Buckeyes are set to host Penn State Saturday at 8 p.m.The Nittany Lions are ranked 21st in rushing defense in the country, only allowing an average of 117.7 yards a game, but Decker said he thinks the line will be able to handle the pressure.“I know they got a good rushing defense,” Decker said. “They got good athletes and they’ve always been a good program. They’re going to have good players and we’re just going to have to focus on that and this upcoming week prepare for them.”
The Buckeyes have been susceptible to big plays through the deep ball, and, coming in against Nebraska, they were without sophomore cornerback Jeffrey Okudah with a groin injury and sophomore safety Isaiah Pryor to an impingement of the shoulder.Then, in the second quarter, junior safety Jordan Fuller was ejected for a targeting penalty, leaving a depleted secondary with major question marks on who would step up.This gave sophomore safety Brendon White the opportunity to be the guy. White proved he could be that and more in Ohio State’s 36-31 victory over the Cornhuskers.“Dream come true actually. After the game, I started tearing up,” White said. “I just couldn’t believe, you know, growing up from Ohio … went to Olentangy Liberty 15 minutes from here and, always went to the games as a high school kid and then, being able to play at your dream school, it’s pretty cool.”White finished the game with 13 tackles and two for a loss in the game, both of which were team highs. The sophomore had six tackles in his collegiate career before Saturday’s game.“Brendon White came in and did a hell of a job,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “He’s been working very hard in practice to earn the trust of the coaches to get on the field.”White made big plays all night for Ohio State, including on the biggest stop of the night. With Nebraska down 30-21 in the fourth quarter, the ball was at the Buckeyes’ four-yard line. Senior running back Devine Ozigbo carried the ball up the middle on third down, and was stopped by White at the one, forcing Nebraska to kick a field goal, missing an opportunity that ended up costing the Cornhuskers in the long run.“My time is ready, you know, we all prepare for this. You never know what’s gonna happen in any game,” White said. “You gotta face adversity and we faced it in the right way, in a positive manner and no one got worried and we just did our job and the rest took care of itself.”White said the success has come from hard work at practice, where he gained confidence and stayed ready for his opportunity to make a difference.Meyer echoed that belief, and that started away from the defensive end.“He’s been working very hard in practice to earn the trust of the coaches to get on the field,” Meyer said. “First thing, you gotta earn the trust to get on the special teams. And to see that he started and I kept hearing about it, earning the trust — he’s getting better, he’s getting better, he’s getting better, and then he obviously proved it today.”White was a big factor in helping Ohio State survive a potential upset against Nebraska, and he may have earned himself a right to start alongside Fuller in the future.But to go along with a career game from the sophomore, White’s dad, William, who played safety at Ohio State for four years, had a tribute video on the screen at Ohio Stadium for his battle with ALS.White said that only added to a game he most certainly won’t forget.“I definitely saw that, definitely didn’t want to tear up but I got emotional about it, and it was pretty cool to see that,” White said. “My dad is one of my idols, so, you know hopefully I made him proud today, and hopefully it can go up from here.”
Police officers with special skills for recognising the faces of offenders will be monitoring Notting Hill Carnival in a crackdown on crime.The “super-recognisers” will be inside a CCTV control room seeking out both offenders committing crimes and anyone with bail conditions which ought to stop them from attending the event.It is one of a number of measures the Met will be taking to ensure visitors from all over the country can stay safe and enjoy themselves during the carnival, which will be marking its 50th anniversary on Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday.Sunday will start at 10.30am with the colourful parade for Children’s Day, and Monday will be the traditional Grand Finale. The force will also be trialling a facial recognition system to help identify wanted offenders, by using cameras which scan the faces of those passing by and flag up potential matches against a database of custody images.London’s “threat level” has been set at “severe” for some time now and the police are urging all those planning to attend the carnival to remain vigilant and report anything suspicious.Over the last week, police have arrested 215 people they believe planned to use the carnival as a cover for committing crime or violence. More than 200 search warrants were also made.Although the arrests were mostly for drugs-related offences, officers have also taken six firearms and 50 rounds of ammunition, as well as a number of knives and machetes from the streets. Three motor vehicles and £30,000 were also seized.Superintendent Robyn Williams said: “This weekend is the highlight of the year, not only for the Caribbean community, but also for many visitors from London and the rest of the country. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. “The Met has worked hard to ensure that Carnival is a safe and enjoyable weekend for everyone who attends and I would ask all carnival-goers to enjoy this family event and make sure that you follow officers’ and stewards’ instructions.”His tips for staying safe at the carnival include::: Checking public transport in advance using the TfL website to avoid stations which may be closed or exit-only;:: Going with the flow of the crowd, instead of against it, even if police mark out a longer route. Officers will also be handing out maps of the area at the event;:: Having a set meeting place in case you lose family or friends, rather than rely on mobile phones;:: Avoiding bringing valuables or too much cash and always being conscious to keep them out of sight, to avoid tempting opportunistic thieves;:: Staying alert all the way home, even when the party is over;Police have also asked people to be on the lookout for a missing teenager, who they believe may attend the carnival;Veronica Sbircea, 15, was last seen around Brixton Road in south London on the afternoon of Thursday July 28.Veronica, who sometimes goes by the name of Rachel, went missing from Kettering, Northamptonshire, but is originally from London. She is described as white, 5ft and with long straight black hair and brown eyes.
But Richard Eales, one of the national park’s rangers who sits on a new Exmoor Rural Crime Initiative board, vowed the authorities would not surrender in the face of the poachers’ increasingly violent tactics.”As the criminals get more organised, so are we. We will eventually crack poaching,” he said. “Killing deer is not a victimless crime, there are firearms offences, threats to landowners and farmers, trespass, and illegal and possibly unsafe meat.” Credit:ALAMY Last week early morning dog walkers were confronted with the remains of a butchered deer in the town’s Beacon Road, a residential street close to St Michael’s Church.Jane Bates, a Minehead resident, posted a message on social media to warn others. “This is awful and I don’t feel safe walking there any more if there are people walking around with guns,” she said. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. Police have launched a dedicated text number for tip-offs about suspicious sightings, a new mobile phone app called Project Poacher and put up posters.Sgt Andy Whysall, of Avon and Somerset Constabulary, said: “This is now organised crime and it will be met with a higher degree of organisation and cross border initiatives from us. We will wipe this poaching out.”A spokesperson for Avon and Somerset Constabulary added: “In those cases where police are acting on intelligence they will have armed back-up.” The meat from one carcass is worth around £200 and a large set of antlers alone can fetch £500, fuelling the trade in poached venison.And while red deer are hunted legally on Exmoor to control numbers, the Devon and Somerset Staghounds only kill about 250 a year.While it is illegal to shoot deer at night, prosecutions for poaching are rare. Within the national park’s 267 square miles there are vast deep valleys, dense forests, the highest sea cliffs in mainland Britain, and wide desolate moors – where criminals are almost impossible to find in the pitch dark. Not since the court of Henry VIII perhaps, has its rich, gamey flesh been as popular with diners as it is now – for both its taste and its healthy properties.But such is the fashion for venison that the very existence of England’s largest population of red deer is under threat from gangs of armed poachers determined to cash in on rising demand.Poachers are travelling to Exmoor National Park in increasing numbers, armed with rifles and powerful lamps to stun the animals in the darkness.Police in the West Country have armed officers on standby in order to provide backup for patrols attempting to stop what they describe as “organised slaughter” by criminals.There are even reports of the deer being chased off the moors at night and butchered in the streets of the nearby Somerset town of Minehead by the poachers. A poster warning against the poaching of red deer and other wildlifeCredit:Crimestoppers An estimated 2,500 deer are thought to live on the moor, down from around 3,700 five years ago. But there is no official record of the population.Local farmers and wildlife experts now fear the red deer, the largest wild animals in the UK, could be wiped out.Johnny Kingdom, a wildlife TV documentary maker who has studied the deer for years said: “There are certain parts of the moor where I know I could once find 100 deer together, today it’s maybe 50. They are going, they are disappearing.”If the police are armed, it might help deter these poachers. What is Exmoor without its wild deer?”But Exmoor veterinary surgeon Peter Green says consumers should also start to take responsibility for the venison they eat.“Every diner eating a venison meal should ask the pub landlord or restaurant owner where the meat has come from,” he said. “The meat could be infected, and there are twits out there driven by the ridiculous notion they can prove their prowess by killing something that has got antlers. Yet at night, shooting stags is as easy as shooting cattle in a field.” Credit:ALAMY Part of a deer carcass discarded by poachers on the streets of Minehead, SomersetCredit:The Telegraph A spokesman for the National Wildlife Crime Unit said the influx of organised gangs is transforming poaching from a cottage criminal activity into an industrial scale operation.With sales of venison up by more than 400 per cent in 2016 from the previous year, the lone poacher has been pushed aside by criminal gangs. A red deer stag on a fern and bracken covered hillside in North Devon, likely to have wandered from the Exmoor areaCredit:ALAMY
A keeper killed in a “freak accident” after a tiger entered the enclosure she was in has been described as the “shining light” of the zoo where she worked.Rosa King, who has been named as the Hamerton Zoo Park keeper who died on Monday, was a “lovely lady” who was “absolutely passionate” about the animals in her care, a friend said.Garry Chisholm, 59, a wildlife photographer in his spare time who knew Ms King through visiting the attraction in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, said the zoo revolved around the keeper. Rosa King with the tigers at Hamerton Zoo ParkCredit:SWNS Mr Chisholm, from Irchester, Northamptonshire, said “Rosa wasn’t just a keeper at Hamerton Zoo – she was Hamerton Zoo.”She was the absolute central point of it, the focal point of it. She was the shining light of it. It revolved around her.” The statement gave no more details, but said said at no point had any of the animals escaped and the public had not been in danger.Pete Davis, who had been visiting the 25-acre zoo with his family, said he had seen a young female keeper run into a tiger enclosure to help a colleague who was shouting. Soon after she entered, Mr Davis said he heard screams. Police at Hamerton Zoo in Cambridgeshire after the death of a keeperCredit:Bav Media/Terry Harris Police were called at 11.15am on Monday to reports of a serious incident at the zoo.A Magpas air ambulance was on the scene 20 minutes later and visitors were evacuated from the attraction just before midday on Monday.Witnesses recalled hearing screams and keepers desperately trying to distract tigers with pieces of meat as Bank Holiday visitors were evacuated from the zoo. “At this point we understood by the reactions of the staff that something was going on inside the enclosure. We could see staff members on the other side of the fence with pieces of meat trying to get whatever s attention . It was heart-breaking seeing them trying to help.”Witnesses posted pictures online of the emergency services at the scene.Jessica Russell tweeted: “I shouldn’t leave the house … Try to go to Hamerton zoo and all hell breaks loose. Evacuated and air ambulance/police/ambulances.” In a Facebook post she said she had been taking photographs of tigers when keepers ran up to a neighbouring enclosure.She wrote: “We didn’t know what was happening but they looked worried. I carried on walking down the hill towards the next enclosure when someone shouted run.“A group of us ran into the keepers’ rooms for about 10 minutes until a keeper said we could leave . He told the Press Association: “We had been in the zoo since about 10.30am and heard/seen nothing until asked to leave about 11.45am.”Staff were very calm and professional. All visitors around us were leaving in a very calm manner – no running, shouting or anything similar.”The Hamerton Zoo Park hit the headlines nearly a decade ago after a cheetah escaped from its enclosure.Toby Taylor, then nine, encountered the escaped animal in his back garden. Toby, who lived with his family near Hamerton Zoo at the time, immediately ran indoors when he saw the animal.The three-year-old cheetah, thought to have escaped through a faulty electric fence, was collected by its keepers, accompanied by the police a short time later. Mr Davis, 55, said: “There’s no doubting it was a girl’s scream and something terrible had happened. It sounds like a tiger turned on her.”Another keeper then ran out and ordered visitors to run.He said: “It was a case of total panic. There were keepers rushing about throwing about buckets of meat to try and get the tigers under control.”They ushered us away to another building where they made us stay for around ten minutes but you could see the keepers with their heads in their hands.”People were really scared, they asked us to leave straight after that and closed the park.” Cambridgeshire Constabulary said the tiger involved was believed to be fine, as Twitter users expressed fears over what would happen to the animal.Witness Jeff Knott, 32, from Cambridgeshire, said staff had been “a real credit” to the zoo during the evacuation. I shouldn’t leave the house… Try to go to @HamertonZoo and all hell breaks loose. Evacuated and air ambulance/police/ambulances. pic.twitter.com/Kgusnwqm0f— Jessica Russell (@jesscakatie) May 29, 2017 Another witness Kevin Fernandez earlier wrote on Facebook: “Never run so fast in my life… they closed the zoo ambulance turned up I think someone got bitten.”The zoo near Sawtry, Cambs, has tigers, cheetahs and a number of other wild cats, including lynxes, servals and oncillas. The zoo also has wolves. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. Members of staff at Hamerton Zoo in Cambridgeshire leave after a keeper died in a tiger incidentCredit:Terry Harris/Bav Media Another witness, Victoria Northover Holmes, said on Facebook that she had had been visiting when staff told her to run. She said she fled thinking a tiger was on the loose, but believed “something has gone wrong with a keeper and a tiger”. A statement from the zoo released on Monday evening said staff were too upset to talk because “one of our colleagues was killed in a freak accident”.
Use regions/landmarks to skip ahead to chart and navigate between data series.Gender gap: The GCSEs with the biggest gender divides. Percentage of males and females taking the 10 subjects with the biggest gender gap in 2016Long description.No description available.Structure.Chart type: column chart.The chart has 1 X axis displaying categories.The chart has 1 Y axis displaying values.Chart graphic.Gender gap: The GCSEs with the biggest gender dividesGender gap: The GCSEs with the biggest gender divides – Highcharts CloudGender gap: The GCSEs with the biggest gender dividesPercentage of males and females taking the 10 subjects with the biggestgender gap in 2016Percentage of males and females taking the 10 subjects with the biggest gender gap in 2016MaleFemaleConstructionHealth & Social CareEngineeringHome EconomicsPerforming / Expressive ArtsComputingManufacturingSocial Science subjectsEconomicsArt and Design subjects020406080100Source: JQC; excludes other technology Use regions/landmarks to skip ahead to chart and navigate between data series.The biggest increases in A* – A pass rate by subject. Across the last six year, the five GCSEs whose A*-A pass rate has increased the most (percentage points, 2011-16)Long description.No description available.Structure.Chart type: line chart.The chart has 1 X axis displaying values.The chart has 1 Y axis displaying values.Chart graphic.The biggest increases in A* – A pass rate by subjectThe biggest increases in A* – A pass rate by subject – Highcharts CloudThe biggest increases in A* – A pass rate by subjectAcross the last six year, the five GCSEs whose A*-A pass rate has increasedthe most (percentage points, 2011-16)Across the last six year, the five GCSEs whose A*-A pass rate has increased the most (percentage points, 2011-16)Additional mathsConstructionManufacturingWelsh: Second LanguageLeisure & Tourism2011201220132014201520160204060Source: JCQ, excludes other modern languages and other sciences Use regions/landmarks to skip ahead to chart.Best GCSEs for A* – A pass rates. Percentage of students getting A* or A in 2016Long description.No description available.Structure.Chart type: column chart.column series with 5 columns.The chart has 1 X axis displaying categories.The chart has 1 Y axis displaying values.Chart graphic.Best GCSEs for A* – A pass ratesBest GCSEs for A* – A pass rates – Highcharts CloudBest GCSEs for A* – A pass ratesPercentage of students getting A* or A in 2016Classical subjectsAdditional mathsIrishChemistryPhysics010203040506070Source: JCQ, excludes other modern languages This makes it the most improved GCSE for achieving A* or A grades between 2011 and 2016.Other GCSEs to see significant improvements include construction, manufacturing and Welsh. Which subjects are students taking?There has been a significant increase in the number of students taking subjects such as engineering and ICT in recent years. The largest falls in A* – A pass rate since 2011 were seen in ICT and chemistry.In a worrying sign for STEM subjects, the five subjects with the largest falls in attaining top grades since 2011 have all been in the science and technology areas. Use regions/landmarks to skip ahead to chart and navigate between data series.The biggest falls in A* – A pass rate by subject. Across the last six year, the five GCSEs whose A*-A pass rate has fallen the most (percentage points)Long description.No description available.Structure.Chart type: line chart.The chart has 1 X axis displaying values.The chart has 1 Y axis displaying values.Chart graphic.The biggest falls in A* – A pass rate by subjectThe biggest falls in A* – A pass rate by subject – Highcharts CloudThe biggest falls in A* – A pass rate by subjectAcross the last six year, the five GCSEs whose A*-A pass rate has fallen themost (percentage points)Across the last six year, the five GCSEs whose A*-A pass rate has fallen the most (percentage points)ICTChemistryStatisticsBiologyPhysics201120122013201420152016102030405060Source: JCQ Use regions/landmarks to skip ahead to chart.Worst GCSEs for A* – A pass rates. Percentage of students getting A* or A in 2016Long description.No description available.Structure.Chart type: column chart.column series with 5 columns.The chart has 1 X axis displaying categories.The chart has 1 Y axis displaying values.Chart graphic.Worst GCSEs for A* – A pass ratesWorst GCSEs for A* – A pass rates – Highcharts CloudWorst GCSEs for A* – A pass ratesPercentage of students getting A* or A in 2016EngineeringScienceLeisure & TourismHumanitiesAdditional Science0246810Source: JCQ, excludes other technology This is a trend that seems to be continuing into students’ A level choices, with computing being the A level with the biggest increase in entries since 2011.Humanities and additional maths have seen their number of entries fall the most since 2011. Find the results of your GCSE subject Additional maths hasn’t always been so successful. The proportion of its students reaching the best grades has soared in recent years – from 29.9 per cent in 2011 to 56.6 per cent in 2016. The gender gap is there from a young ageGender gaps seen across subjects start from a young age, with construction being dominated by boys and girls flocking to health and social care. Boys account for around nine in 10 students in subjects such as construction, engineering and computing, leading to a knock-on effect in future education and career choices. The subjects with the highest proportion of girls are health and social care and home economics – continuing a trend seen for several years. The worst performing GCSEsOn the other hand, students struggled to achieve A* and A grades in engineering and science, which saw the lowest pass rates for top grades in both 2015 and 2016.Just 0.9 and 0.7 per cent of students received an A* in these subjects in 2016, respectively. The pass rate for the top grades has fallen again this year, as GCSE students from across the UK find out how they’ve performed on Results Day. Some 20.5 per cent of students across all subjects received an A* or A, falling from 2011 when the pass rate for the top grades stood at 23.2 per cent. This trend is also mirrored in A level results. Students have performed well in classical subjects and additional maths, while those taking engineering and science have struggled to gain the top grades of A* and A.Meanwhile, there are concerning patterns revealed in the number of boys and girls taking particular GCSEs in 2016, with boys taking construction and engineering courses while girls opt for home economics and social care.The best performing GCSEsGCSE students have excelled in classical subjects and additional maths, with more than half getting an A* or A. These subjects were also the best performing in 2015, continuing their success in achieving the top grades.Two out of every five students taking classical subjects gained an A* this year – the highest of any subject in the UK. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.
However, the scale of the work is likely to cause mayhem for millions of travellers trying to reach friends and family, The Times reported last night.Heathrow and Gatwick, the two busiest airports in Britain, will be closed to rail travellers or face significantly reduced services for periods of the Christmas break, while new track at Heathrow will mean no trains will travel between the airport and Paddington from Dec 23 until Boxing Day. The Great Western Railway to the South West will also be affected by the works, while work at London Victoria station will mean no Gatwick Express services to the airport from Sunday, Dec 23, until New Year’s Day. Passengers will be required to travel from London Bridge instead.Darren Shirley, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “All passengers should benefit from the improvements to the railways being made over the Christmas break, which should cut disruption and delays in the longer term. It will be frustrating for people travelling over Christmas that their plans will be altered. They should make alternative arrangements for their Christmas getaways now.” Trains on the West Coast Main Line, including those operated by Virgin Trains, London Northwestern, London Overground and the Caledonian Sleeper, will be affected by work at Euston from Christmas Eve to Dec 30.Trains to Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield will all be affected.The Great Eastern Main Line which serves Essex, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk, will also be hit by work outside London Liverpool Street.A spokesperson for Network Rail, said: “Taking on and delivering these huge transformational schemes at this time of year minimises our impact on passengers who, so research shows, understand the need for such activity . . . We strongly advise passengers to plan ahead.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. Commuters will be hit by one of the biggest Christmas and new year rail shutdowns, which is expected to partly cut off two of Britain’s busiest airports.Network Rail is reported to be planning 330 engineering projects between Christmas and new year, an increase of more than 30 per cent on last year. The works to upgrade the ageing system will affect services on major lines including the West Coast, Great Western, Great Eastern, the Midland Main Line and the main route into Merseyside.Network Rail has defended the works, saying the £148 million it is spending over the Christmas period will lead to a more reliable and efficient service for passengers.It added that Christmas was the best time to carry out the work because passenger numbers across the network were usually 50 per cent lower than normal.