The draw ceremony last week for the Australian Open turned into a draw celebration for the hosts: Australian tennis players got relatively easy matchups in the first round. Their draws were among the most favorable for a host country’s players since Grand Slam tournaments started awarding prize money in 1968. And so far the Aussies have taken advantage, with three men in the third round for the first time since 2004.Host nations’ national tennis associations run the Grand Slam events, and organizers like to be able to showcase home players. So, a draw like this year’s might look suspicious. But there’s no evidence that hosts rig draws in favor of their players. If anything, home-nation players have had rougher matchups than you’d expect by random chance.The difference is small, but the toughest Slam, even including this year’s draw, has been Australia’s. Last year’s was as tough as this year’s was easy, a point hinted at by Craig Tiley, CEO of Tennis Australia, at the draw ceremony last week.Draw luck matters a lot in Grand Slam tennis, because most players are placed randomly. In each of the men’s and women’s singles tournaments, just 1 in 4 players gets a seed, which governs roughly — though not precisely — where they’re placed in the first round. The other three-quarters of players could go anywhere. One-third of them have to face a seed, including one unlucky soul who worked all year to make the tournament, only to face the top seed. The other two-thirds get to play another unseeded player.The winners of those matchups get a seeded player in the second round, unless that favorite was upset in the first round. For unseeded players struggling to make ends meet, good draw luck at one of these lucrative events could mean their biggest paycheck of the year.The draw has been so favorable to Australians that three men have reached third-round matches Friday without having to face an opponent with a Top 20 seed. Two of them face each other, which means an Australian man will reach the fourth round for the first time since 2012.That kind of home advantage has been more the exception than the norm. I checked by looking at men’s singles draws back to 1968 and women’s singles draws back to 1981 at all four Grand Slam tournaments, as provided by Jeff Sackmann, who runs tennisabstract.com. The draw sizes and number of seeds varied in the earliest years in the data set. I tossed the draws that had first-round byes and focused only on unseeded players, because they’re the ones most subject to draw luck. I also excluded host-nation players who made their way through the qualifying draw, because they’re usually slotted in after the rest of the draw has been set. Then for each event, I compared how many seeded opponents the home players could have expected to draw in the first round with how many they did.For instance, this year, with a 128-player draw and 32 seeds, each unseeded player had a 1-in-3 chance of drawing a seed in the first round. Eight Australian men and six Australian women were unseeded and reached the main draw without having to play the qualifying tournament. Just two of them drew seeded opponents in the first round. On average, we’d have expected four and two-thirds of them to draw seeded opponents.That makes this year’s Australian Open one of the luckiest draws for the hosts in our data set of 178 Grand Slam events. Just twice was there both a bigger ratio and a bigger gap between expected and actual seeds drawn: at the 2003 Australian Open, when unseeded home players got two seeded opponents instead of the expected five, and at Wimbledon in 2001, when unseeded British players drew just one seed instead of the expected four and two-thirds.But there is no nefarious pattern here. Last year’s Australian Open was one of the worst for hosts, whose unseeded players could have expected to draw 4.5 seeded opponents but instead drew eight. Wimbledon in 2002 was one of the toughest for hosts, a year after the cushy draw. And the favorable 2003 Australian Open draw followed two straight unfavorable ones for the hosts.Overall in the data set, home-nation unseeded players have drawn 4 percent more seeded opponents in the first round than expected by chance. That’s probably a fluke, particularly for the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, where the difference between actual and expected seeded opponents is in the narrow range between -1 percent to 6 percent. The Australian Open has been the toughest for home players, with 16 percent more seeded opponents than expected. It would take a few more draws like this year’s to even that out.
Pelicans3850.5100.4 That’s more proportionate to the small difference separating Minnesota, New York and Philly in the standings.Here’s how the lottery balls would have been distributed in each of the past 10 seasons.4For 2012, which was shortened by a labor dispute, I’ve prorated loss totals to an 82-game schedule. On average, the worst team would have had about a 25 percent chance of winding up with the top pick, as it does now. But those chances would have been as high as 38.5 percent (for the record-setting 2012 Charlotte Bobcats) or as low as 19.0 percent (for the 2013 Orlando Magic), depending on how much separated the very worst team from the almost-as-bad ones. In a year like 2010, in which there was a big gap between the second-worst team (the 15-67 Timberwolves) and the third-worst (the 25-57 Sacramento Kings), that’s where the sharpest break in lottery chances would have been.It’s not the radical change that I’d prefer! But it’s a simple enough reform that even the Knicks couldn’t screw it up.CORRECTION (April 15, 3:36 p.m.): An earlier version of the chart in this post gave the incorrect location of the second-worst NBA team in 2005. At that time, the Hornets were located in New Orleans, not Charlotte. Suns4360.6100.4 TEAMLOSSESLOTTERY BALLSCHANCE OF FIRST PICKLOTTERY BALLSCHANCE OF FIRST PICK Lakers6011911.936112.7 Nets4470.7100.4 Hornets49171.7642.3 76ers6415615.652918.6 Knicks6519919.957620.3 Jazz4480.8100.4 Magic57888.82569.0 Timberwolves6625025.0%62522.0% Kings54636.31696.0 Nuggets52434.31214.3 Pistons50282.8812.9 CURRENT SYSTEMREVISED SYSTEM The New York Knicks did something unusual Monday night: They won a basketball game — just their 17th this season. What wasn’t so unusual — from a franchise that starred in such tragicomedies as Amar’e Stoudemire punching a fire extinguisher and Andrea Bargnani nearly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory — was the Knicks’ poor sense of timing. Having spent most of the season ridding their roster of anyone who could possibly help them win, the Knicks have now won twice in a row.Those two wins could make a lot of difference to the Knicks’ chance of drafting Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns. With one game left for each team, the Knicks are 17-64, a game better than the Minnesota Timberwolves at 16-65. The Philadelphia 76ers have the third-worst record at 18-63.Let’s say each team loses its final game. Under the NBA’s lottery formula, the Timberwolves would have a 25.0 percent chance of landing the first pick, the Knicks would have a 19.9 percent shot, and the Sixers a 15.6 percent chance.That seems like an awfully big difference for teams that are separated by just one or two games in the standings. But it’s how the NBA’s rules work. The number of losses doesn’t matter, only the order of the teams.1The league does, at least, split the difference in the event of ties, so if the Knicks and Timberwolves each finish at 17-65, they’ll each have about a 22.5 percent chance at the first pick.There’s a better way to award those pingpong balls, one that maintains the spirit of the current lottery system without allowing a one-game difference to matter so much.Here’s how it works. Take each team’s number of losses. Subtract 41 (41-41 represents a breakeven record in the NBA). Then square the result. That’s how many pingpong balls a team gets. (OK, one more provision: A team gets a minimum of 10 lottery balls, including if it has a winning record.2Otherwise, a team with a winning record would get more lottery balls than a team with a 41-41 record, since subtracting 41 from a number less than 41 and squaring the result would produce a positive number.)That might seem arbitrary — but it produces results that are remarkably similar to the current formula, only fairer. What chance would each team have at the first pick this year, for example? Assuming each team’s final game goes according to the FiveThirtyEight NBA Power Ratings,3Meaning that the Wolves, Knicks and Sixers all lose. that would leave the Wolves with a 22.0 percent chance at the first pick, the Knicks at 20.3 percent and the Sixers at 18.6 percent. Heat45111.1160.6
On what is called “moving day” in golf, Tiger Woods moved the wrong way at the British Open. After posting 67 in consecutive rounds, Woods got off to a slow start and shot an even par 70, which left him five shots off the lead going into Sunday’s final round.Adam Scott, after a 68, is 11-under for the championship and leads Graeme McDowell and Brandt Snedeker by four shots, Woods by five and Ernie Els and Zach Johnson by six.The weather at Royal St. Lytham for the third straight day was benign, leaving plenty of scoring opportunities. Tiger Woods, however, did not take advantage of the lack of wind and rain. He missed two putts the he rued and generally was unable to gain any kind of momentum.“I just didn’t make anything,” Woods said simply.Did not win any of his 14 majors while trailing in the final round. He also held the lead or shared it with someone else.Having to play from behind Sunday, Woods said he has “to make birdies” to apply pressure on Scott, who has been virtually flawless. On his bag is Steve Williams, the caddie Woods fired. Woods will be playing in the group behind Tiger Woods.Weather also could be a factor. If the forecast of wind and rain happens, it could help bring Scott back to the pack. Even still, Woos has to hold his round together, unlike Saturday.Woods got off to a sluggish start with a couple of bogeys, but he made the turn at 1-under 33 after closing the front side with three birdies in four holes. He hasn’t won a major title in more than four years, the last of his 14 championships coming at the 2008 U.S. Open, before his personal life imploded and his body was wracked by injuries.Tiger Woods couldn’t keep it going on the back side, a couple of misread putts costing him two crucial strokes.
San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) kneels during the national anthem in front of teammates before an NFL football game (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL says the message players and teams are trying to express is being lost in a political firestorm.The issues have been “overtaken by political forces,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said Thursday, referring to President Trump’s criticism of the league, team owners and players for kneeling during the national anthem.More than 200 players either knelt or used other means as expressions of unity last weekend. Lockhart said such actions are not a protest against the anthem or the flag.“One of the impacts is to distort the views of the NFL and particularly our players,” Lockhart said.Trump said NFL owners fear their players, and he renewed calls for action against those who kneel during the anthem.“I think they are afraid of their players if you want to know the truth, and I think it’s disgraceful,” he said in an interview that aired Thursday on “Fox and Friends.” He says “most people agree” with him.The players knelt last weekend in response to social injustice. Full teams, along with some team owners, linked arms either before or during the anthem. Three teams — Pittsburgh, Seattle and Tennessee — did not take the field until after the anthem.“They are under attack now and the (original) lesson has been forgotten,” Lockhart said. “It is important for everyone to understand what they are talking about, to not see everything in terms of who is up or down politically.“The NFL players are men of character, many of whom are leaders in their community. They are patriotic, support the military. … They understand their platform can be used to make the country a better place.”Lockhart insisted there will be no “leaguewide directive” for future demonstrations.“This is an issue that should involve the owners of the 32 clubs, the coaches and players to work out together,” he said. “There is very regular dialogue going on between the players, coaches and owners. This is an issue that has sort of gripped the headlines. We all care very deeply about this.“All of our owners don’t always agree with even each other, and the players often have a position at odds with the league, and we work hard to resolve those,” he added. “We have been united on this issue. They are all pulling in the same direction, but we understand each locker room is different.”On Thursday, Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker said he and his family have received death threats since he told fans not to come to games if they felt disrespected by NFL players’ protests. The Pro Bowl tight end shared the “heartbreaking” threats in a social media post.“The racist and violent words directed at me and my son only serve as another reminder that our country remains divided and full of hateful rhetoric,” Walker wrote. “These words of hate will only fuel me in my efforts to continue my work reaching out to different community groups, listening to opposing voices, and honoring the men and women in the Armed Forces who risk their lives every day so that we may have this dialogue.”Detroit Lions defensive tackle Akeem Spence said on Twitter earlier Thursday that his father, a contractor, was denied a job on a house because of his protest.
Since FiveThirtyEight relaunched with ESPN, we’ve created predictions for the NFL, NBA, MLB, NWSL, the men’s and women’s World Cup, college football, college basketball and tennis. Now we’re adding another set for the world’s most popular sport. Introducing: Club soccer predictions!Our new ratings — which are a revamped version of the ESPN Soccer Power Index (SPI) of national teams, adapted to the club game — use in-game player and ball-location data to assess the quality of shots and opportunities that teams generate. This gives us a better picture of performance than can be gleaned from game outcomes alone; you can read more in our full methodology here. Based on each team’s performance we calculate an offensive and defensive rating, which are used to predict the outcome of matches over the rest of the season.Right now, our predictions cover Europe’s five strongest club leagues — England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A and France’s Ligue 1 — and the Champions League. Our prediction pages are available in English and Spanish. Here’s how each league stands.Premier League Italy’s club season also started with a clear favorite, as Juventus sought its sixth-straight title. The club currently holds a one-point lead with a game in hand, and we rate Juve’s defense as the best in Serie A. AS Roma and Napoli have slightly stronger offenses and a combined 36 percent chance of winning the league. Those three teams are the favorites to take the league’s three Champions League spots as well, with Lazio and both Milan clubs capable of making spoiler runs.Ligue 1 Eintracht34<1 Sevilla94 CHANCE OF … Teams with a greater than 5 percent chance of qualifying for Champions League Real Madrid>99%49% Dortmund146 Man. United29<1 CHANCE OF … Lazio222 FC Cologne14<1 On the other side of the table, 2015-16 Cinderella Leicester City has fallen hard. While at the start of the season we projected the Foxes to finish ninth, they currently sit in 15th place, and we give them a 12 percent chance of being relegated. Swansea City, which skyrocketed from the fourth tier to the Premier League between 2005 and 2011, has a 61 percent chance of relegation.La Liga CHANCE OF … Lyon512 Teams with a greater than 5 percent chance of qualifying for Champions League Juventus93%60% Inter Milan211 Atletico Madrid68<1 Roma7823 Real Sociedad18<1 Nice471 TEAMMAKING CHAMP. LG.WINNING SERIE A Teams with a greater than 5 percent chance of qualifying for Champions League Man. City544 Napoli6413 CHANCE OF … PSG97%48% TEAMMAKING FINALWINNING CHAMP. LG. Hertha Berlin32<1 Villarreal22<1 Bayer17<1 Monaco9748 The group stage of the Champions League is behind us, with relatively few surprises. Tottenham and Dynamo Kiev probably were the two best teams eliminated: They had a 68 percent and 58 percent chance of advancing, respectively. AS Monaco and Benfica advanced in their stead.The knockout stage begins on February 14. Barcelona, which faces Paris Saint-Germain in the Round of 16, remains the favorite to win the title at 25 percent. Bayern, Real and Juventus are close behind. We give the other 12 teams just a 37 percent chance of winning, combined. Leicester City’s magic carried the club through the group stage, but its poor Premier League play has lowered its ratings. We give Leicester just a 29 percent chance of advancing past Sevilla to the quarterfinals, and a 1 percent chance of making the final.Check out our latest soccer predictions. Atletico Madrid125 Hoffenheim27<1 Barcelona43%25% Liverpool7915 CHANCE OF … Sevilla823 Bayern Munich>99%91% Real Madrid recently saw its 40-game unbeaten streak come to an end, but the club still holds a one-point lead in La Liga with a game in hand. Our ratings still consider third-place Barcelona to be the stronger team on both sides of the ball, which makes Real’s offense merely the second-best in the world. This leaves us with a neck-and-neck race for the league title, with a pivotal matchup between the two clubs looming in Madrid on April 23.Sevilla sits in second place, but we don’t expect the club to finish in first. Its goal differential is nearly half that of Real and Barcelona, and we rate Sevilla’s offense as about a goal per game worse than the other two teams’. Nevertheless, Sevilla is in good position to qualify for the Champions League by finishing in the top four in La Liga, after having qualified as the Europa League champion in each of the last two seasons.Bundesliga AC Milan11<1 Chelsea96%62% Teams with a greater than 5 percent chance of qualifying for Champions League TEAMMAKING CHAMP. LG.WINNING BUNDESLIGA TEAMMAKING CHAMP. LG.WINNING PREMIER LG. Teams with a greater than 5 percent chance of qualifying for Champions League RB Leipzig836 Bayern is in the driver’s seat here, seeking its fifth-straight Bundesliga title. RB Leipzig — which played in Germany’s second division last season but isn’t exactly a heartwarming underdog — is only three points behind in the table. Our ratings consider RB to be a much inferior team to Bayern, though, and goal differential agrees. We peg Dortmund as the second-best offense and fourth-best defense in the league, but an ugly 7-win, 6-draw, 3-loss start has the club in sixth place, with too much ground to make up.The battle for Champions League qualification is a bit more exciting. Bayern is a lock and we expect RB and Dortmund to qualify as well, but the league’s fourth spot is wide open. Hoffenheim — which narrowly avoided relegation last season — has a 27 percent chance of completing an impressive turnaround by finishing in the top four.Serie A Arsenal719 Juventus2110 Arsenal105 Paris Saint-Germain entered the 2016-17 season as a heavy favorite to win its fifth-straight league title, with our preseason projections giving PSG a 91 percent chance against its relatively weak opposition. Twenty matches in, PSG sits at third in the table with 42 points, three behind Nice and Monaco. We have ourselves a race!We expect the title battle to come down to PSG and Monaco, which are now closely matched in our ratings (with Nice considerably lower). Fourth-place Lyon has only 34 points in 19 games, but it’s also much stronger than Nice and we expect the two clubs to closely contest the league’s third Champions League spot.Champions League Napoli84 Tottenham709 Atalanta7<1 Bayern Munich2816 Real Madrid2312 Barcelona>9946 Man. City146 Dortmund803 Teams with a greater than 5 percent chance of reaching the Champions League final TEAMMAKING CHAMP. LG.WINNING LIGUE 1 CHANCE OF … Chelsea has opened up a seven-point lead on its Premier League rivals, and is threatening to run away with the title. Our ratings don’t consider the Blues to be significantly stronger than the other teams at the top of the table: We narrowly rate their defense as the league’s best, but their offense as just the third-best behind Arsenal’s and Liverpool’s. But even though Chelsea isn’t necessarily the best team in the league, seven points is a large margin with 17 games to play; we give Chelsea a 62 percent chance of taking the title. If our forecasted standings hold, both Manchester United and Manchester City will be left out of the top four for the first time in Premier League history. Who will win the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Champions League? See our predictions » TEAMMAKING CHAMP. LG.WinningLa Liga
Embed Code More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed FiveThirtyEight Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s show (Apr. 25, 2017), we preview the NFL draft by discussing why the Cleveland Browns seem to be hoarding draft picks — and whether it will matter. Next, we’re joined by FiveThirtyEight’s Kyle Wagner, who chats with us about the Golden State Warriors, LeBron James in the playoffs and Harden vs. Westbrook. Finally, we give resident soccer expert Mike Goodman of ESPN and the Double Pivot podcast a call to get our heads around the upcoming Champions League semifinals. Plus, a significant digit on tie games in baseball.SB Nation’s Jeanna Thomas writes that the Browns could ace the 2017 NFL draft — if they don’t screw it up.The Ringer profiles the 14 best NFL draft prospects.Check out FiveThirtyEight’s NBA predictions, updated after every game.ESPN is chronicling the key dates, matchups and news you need to know about for the NBA playoffs.For more soccer insights from Mike Goodman, listen to the Double Pivot podcast.It will be Real Madrid vs. Atletico and Juventus vs. Monaco in the Champions League semifinals.Significant Digit: 1918, the year daylight saving time was first adopted in the United States. FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten found that before 1918, upwards of 3 percent of baseball games ended in a tie — with many games being cut short on account of darkness. These days, that percentage is essentially zero.
The vast majority of the attention given to the Carmelo Anthony trade has focused on Oklahoma City, and rightfully so. The Thunder, coming off a campaign in which MVP Russell Westbrook was perhaps the NBA’s loneliest franchise player, have added two All-Stars this summer and possibly positioned themselves as the top challenger to the Golden State Warriors.Meanwhile, the Knicks — the league’s most valuable club and the team on the other end of the Anthony deal — have been an afterthought in all this. The swap was one New York badly needed to make so it could fully turn the page on an era in which the Knicks haven’t secured a playoff berth in four seasons. But this new chapter without Anthony figures to present an entirely new set of questions.Chief among them: Can 22-year-old Kristaps Porzingis — who averaged 18 points a night as a second or third option — step into Anthony’s role and become the Knicks’ leading man?At first glance, the answer would appear to be yes. This past season, Porzingis became a far more efficient scorer at the rim and from midrange. He improved from 58 percent at the basket as a rookie to 70 percent in Year 2 while also jumping from 41 percent from the 10-to-16-foot range to 48 percent. He managed to get better from the 3-point stripe, too, knocking down shots from the arc at a league-average clip. And it can’t be overlooked that the 7-foot-3 big man with the skill set of a guard actually managed to shoot better when Anthony (and former MVP Derrick Rose) was off the court than when they played together.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/kpfadeaway.mp400:0000:0000:08Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/kpdrive.mp400:0000:0000:09Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Still, that detail alone isn’t evidence that Porzingis will thrive without Anthony. In fact, when you look more closely, it appears that at least some of Porzingis’s success as a lead option stemmed from who his competition was. Specifically, he turned in some of his most accurate shooting during the first six minutes of second and fourth periods last season, per NBA Savant — times where he likely would’ve been feasting on second-string defenses.1Though it may be a coincidence, Porzingis has struggled most in his first two seasons during first quarters, when he’d likely be facing starting-level competition. By contrast, he’s shot nearly 50 percent for his career during the first six minutes of second periods, when he’d be facing backups, since the majority of NBA starters catch their breath for the first few minutes of the second quarter.That speaks to why the Knicks were just 2-16 without Anthony2And 2-11 when Porzingis played without Anthony. the past two seasons: No one else on the roster could generate offense as efficiently as Melo while also facing the sort of defensive pressure he was seeing.3While he generated a greater share of his own baskets with Anthony off the court, it’s worth noting that nearly 42 percent of Porzingis’s makes last season were assisted by Anthony, Derrick Rose or Brandon Jennings, all players who are no longer with the Knicks. That was especially the case in one-on-ones and post-ups, for which Melo has an affinity.New York scored on 47 percent of Anthony’s one-on-one plays and came away with at least one point when he was aggressively double-teamed in the post 43 percent of the time, according to Synergy Sports. The Knicks scored on just 34 percent of Porzingis’s one-on-ones and were successful just 23 percent of the time — for a measly 0.57 points per play — when opponents sent hard double-teams at him in the post. A lot can be attributed to Porzingis’s need to develop more lower-body strength and establish better position, as he often catches the ball way too far from the paint to back down his man.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/badearlyshot.mp400:0000:0000:14Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/porzingistoofarout.mp400:0000:0000:13Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.None of this is to suggest that Porzingis — the rare budding star who has as much defensive ability as offensive ability — isn’t capable of eventually being the centerpiece of a team. At this point, he should be the least of the Knicks’ worries; the club should be using this coming season to figure out who to slot next to him going forward.However, that open-tryout mentality will be complicated by the current roster configuration, as the Knicks are currently heavy on bigs they need to find playing time for. Enes Kanter (acquired in the trade), Willy Hernangomez and Kyle O’Quinn are all talented, but figure to create a logjam at center if they all make it to opening night. The presence of 32-year-old Joakim Noah, who has three years left on one of the NBA’s worst contracts, doesn’t help matters, either.A trade to move one of them — and possibly veteran swingman Courtney Lee, who deserves an opportunity to latch on with a contender rather than taking part in a rebuild — would make sense. Ideally, the Knicks would use those returns to get future draft picks and a young player or two who can defend, since Kanter, Doug McDermott (also acquired in the Melo deal) and Tim Hardaway Jr. are all solid scorers while being subpar on the other side of the ball. New York, which has ranked in the bottom 10 on defense for 11 of the last 15 seasons, will need to find some sense of balance — a process that will likely take the better part of the next few years as these players figure themselves out.But even if the next couple seasons are marked by growing pains, at least the Knicks can finally turn their attention to roster development instead of wondering how to make the failed marriage with Anthony work.
Even with Winston, this Michigan State team does not look the part of a No. 2 seed in the Final Four — certainly not one that can knock off high-powered Duke. This is Izzo’s seventh top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament. Only one of the first six did not have a player selected in that year’s NBA draft, but this team does not have a sure draft pick. Before the tournament started, the 6-foot-1 Winston was Michigan State’s highest-rated player in ESPN’s draft rankings, at No. 87. “You’d line up and I’m not sure you’d pick him out to be one of the best basketball players in the country, but when you watch the things he does and the way he handles himself and the IQ that he has, which is off the charts, he’s found a way to be a hell of a player,” Izzo said at the press conference Sunday.On Sunday, the Blue Devils were taller and more athletic at almost every position. They were the spectacle of the college basketball season. They had four players in the top 30 of those draft rankings, led by Williamson at No. 1. Yet, after Sunday’s loss, the presumptive top pick told reporters Winston “took over.”Winston finished the Duke game with 20 points and 10 assists, pushing his four-game NCAA Tournament total to 76 points and 31 assists. Since the tournament expanded in 1985, only one other player — Billy Donovan for Providence in 1987 — has averaged 19 points and seven assists in four wins leading to the Final Four.When Langford was out and Ward was sidelined or limited, Winston’s workload became a concern. But with one weekend left in the season, Winston hasn’t slowed down yet. He has battled knee tendinitis for most of the season yet started every game. He injured his toe and foot in the regular-season finale against Michigan on March 9 but still led Michigan State to the Big Ten tournament title. “He carries the locker room, and he has a lot on his plate,” Michigan State freshman Aaron Henry told me before the Duke game. “He does a good job of getting everybody involved and helping us win games.”After Winston ended Duke’s season, Krzyzewski took the point guard’s impact beyond numbers. “He’s able to run what Tom is thinking in real time and feel the game, and that’s really one of the biggest gifts a player can give a coach,” he said. Krzyzewski, who typically relies on four freshmen, hinted at another theme of this year’s Final Four: experience. With the exception of Henry and Gabe Brown, everyone in the Spartans’ rotation has played together for at least two seasons.On that inbounds play with 4.7 seconds left, in front of Duke’s bench, Tillman subtly motioned for Winston to speed up the floor for the pass, which allowed Winston to run out the clock. “I think he was telling everybody what to do,” Winston said afterward. “He was looking at me telling me to go this way, go this way.”Added Krzyzewski: “I thought they played older than we did. But that’s happened to us — we’re young.” The Spartans played solid defense, limited turnovers and started and ended the weekend with the ball in Winston’s hands. In this tournament, you could do worse. When Michigan State settled into its locker room, each player with a piece of the net tied to his cap, Brown shouted from his chair, “CASSIUS WINSTON,” as if nothing else needed to be said.Check out our latest March Madness predictions. WASHINGTON — At the end it was Cassius Winston, all alone, dribbling out the clock on Michigan State’s 68-67 victory against Duke on Sunday. With 4.7 seconds left, up by one, Michigan State passed the ball out of bounds to Winston, who did the rest. The Blue Devils could not foul him because they could not catch him. Four NBA draft prospects chased Winston around the court until he heaved the ball upward as the buzzer sounded.The team that vanquished the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed lost its second-leading scorer, Joshua Langford, in late December. Its third-leading scorer, Nick Ward, missed the last five regular-season games with a hand injury. At that point, it looked less likely every day that Tom Izzo would take the Spartans to his eighth Final Four. But they remained standing Sunday because Winston just kept doing more.The junior point guard is second to Murray State’s Ja Morant in assist rate, at 45.4 percent. He is second to Duke’s Zion Williamson in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive rating stat, among players with at least 28 percent of possessions used and 40 percent of minutes played. “He is as good a player as we’ve played against,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski in a press conference after the game on Sunday.When Langford’s season ended, Winston found another level. He played four more minutes per game and averaged 2 more points. He took one extra shot per game but did not drop significantly in his shooting percentage. He drove to the basket more and shot 52 percent on 2-pointers. And he maintained his assist clip despite the absence of his best playmaker. Outside of Winston and Ward, who now comes off the bench, no active Spartan was averaging double-digit scoring entering Sunday. (Sophomore big man Xavier Tillman scored 19 on Sunday, though.) Winston’s combination of passing and scoring efficiency makes him an outlier among high-major players.
The vast majority of our collective sports-viewing is on television. Around 21 million people watch an average Sunday Night Football game on TV, for example — some 300 times more than the 70,000 who are able to see it in person. Our sports experience is, to a first approximation, a television experience. I’ve seen Tom Brady play dozens of times, even though I’ve never seen Tom Brady play.And television has been enhancing — or, at the very least, altering — how we watch sports ever since TV was invented. NBC coverage of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the first sporting event ever televised, used slow motion footage to “show the form, the poetry of motion” of a pole vaulter.It seems a natural fit. Cameras and technology can do many things our eyes can’t. If we can see closeups of Pluto, surely we deserve a crystal-clear view of Odell Beckham Jr.’s catch. “Keep your eye on the ball” is the child’s earliest and most universal sports lesson. And nowadays we can see just about every little thing that happens to the ball. Or puck.Nearly 20 years ago, on Jan. 20, 1996, at the NHL All-Star Game, FoxTrax made its debut. FoxTrax is better known as a glowing hockey puck whizzing around the screen. Matt Ginsberg’s technology may be able to tell us mortals what the universe already knows — it may let the universe whisper in our ear. We may not have to wait for a resolution. We may, for example, have been able to hear Cinderella’s death knell just a little bit sooner. Rather than “keep your eye on the ball,” it’s now “keep your eye on where the ball will be.”Sportvision — the company behind football’s 1st & Ten, baseball’s PITCHf/x, sailing’s LiveLine and other tech — has undertaken some real-time projections of a different sort. It has tech that tells TV viewers when one car is expected to pass another in NASCAR, for example. But Hank Adams, Sportvision’s CEO, told me he wasn’t aware of any other technology like Ginsberg’s. It seemed reasonable. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he could predict, with some accuracy, whether a ball was going to go in or not,” Adams said.Adams also mused on the implications of Ginsberg’s technology. Its use as a TV storytelling tool may be limited, he said, given the mere second or two that it allows us to see into the future. He was also skeptical that the NBA would allow any in-game use by teams. It could be a valuable coaching tool, he thought. Or in training. Perhaps in a golf telecast. Maybe for players in a volleyball game. Neither of us was really sure. Watch FiveThirtyEight’s Oliver Roeder and Jody Avirgan talk about Ginsberg’s invention. The development of this tech, which looks quaint in retrospect, was a major undertaking. In 1994, an executive vice president at News Corp. promised to develop glow puck technology within two years, for $2 million, according to a 2003 article in IEEE Spectrum. He scooped up a team of 10 with military engineering experience — in radar, underwater sensors and radio-positioning systems — and sought outside help from other defense engineers. It was all hands on deck to track a hockey puck.But the system was discontinued after three years. FoxTrax’s main problem was probably aesthetics. It was distracting, and the puck’s “tail” looked better suited to a comic book than a hockey game. Hockey fans protested, the broadcast rights changed networks, and the phenomenon died.But its developers were undeterred. They turned their attention to a problem that sounds easier, but was much trickier. A couple years later — on Sept. 27, 1998 — the middling Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens met in Baltimore. At 8:20 p.m. local time, a technology called 1st & Ten debuted. It’s better known as the yellow first-down line. The yellow line isn’t official — as anyone who’s ever watched a football game on TV could tell you — but the yellow line is beloved. I had 13 good football-watching years under my belt before its introduction, but I can’t remember watching a single game without it. The yellow line is ubiquitous. The yellow line won an Emmy. The yellow line is here to stay. Truth No. 1: Most of us watch sports to see the unexpected. Truth No. 2: Plenty of us want to predict the future.Somewhere, where those two contradictory truths meet, there has been a movement afoot. For decades now, sports-crazed statheads — the sabermetricians and forecasters and moneyballers bent on winning their fantasy leagues, assembling an actual professional team or simply understanding the sports world — have been honing their techniques, trying to find the signal hiding in the noise. In baseball alone, an alphabet soup of player projection systems have been born — ZiPS, CAIRO, CHONE. We just introduced CARMELO to basketball. The movement is trying, in other words, to predict the unexpected.There are some in the movement who want to project the future, quite literally, on the screens in front of our eyes. Somewhere in the foothills of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, an astrophysicist and his son are working, with the backing of an outspoken billionaire, to bring us just such a glimpse. Armed only with a camera, a laptop and their custom code, they’re working on a system that calls a 3-pointer a swish or a brick, a volleyball serve in or out, a soccer shot over the bar or in the goal, all before the ball completes its flight. If the system works — and that’s a big “if” — it would be equivalent to a minor superpower: flash precognition. The sports fan would become, if only for a second or two, a superhero.And the system is almost done. This, right here, could be the future of sports: Matt Ginsberg is tall and fit with sharp features and, aside from his closely cut grey hair, resembles a 40-year-old rock climber more closely than the 60-year-old technologist and businessman that he is. He’s affable but deeply serious. I first met him in Stamford, Connecticut, in March, at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, where he was operating Dr. Fill, his artificial intelligence crossword puzzle solver. In the crossword community, he’s both loved and hated — he’s the guy who might be a little too clever for his own good who’s trying to ruin all the fun with his fancy computer program.His would-be revolution in sports technology grew out of his role as unofficial statistical analyst for the University of Oregon’s women’s volleyball team. He has, among other things, imported basketball’s adjusted plus-minus system to volleyball, and convinced the team’s coach that the way timeouts were traditionally used was inefficient. Last November, while Ginsberg was watching a game, a player hit a serve that, from Ginsberg’s bleacher seat, looked like it was sure to go out. The returning players should’ve simply let the ball go out but they didn’t. Ginsberg was annoyed. “I can fix this. We can have a computer help,” he told me. “I did not realize how hard it would be.”While the development of FoxTrax and 1st & Ten resembled military contracts, Matt Ginsberg’s purported crystal ball was developed in a son-and-pop shop in Eugene, Oregon. Navarre Ginsberg is a 21-year-old programmer and Matt Ginsberg’s son. When I reached Navarre Ginsberg by phone in early October, his dad told me not to take up too much of his time — he had to get the camera working. It was the younger Ginsberg who first suggested to his dad that this technology could be taken far beyond just volleyball. Matt is in charge of the big picture; Navarre is responsible for handling coding issues as they arise, and making sure the damn thing works.The result looks like this. Here’s a Rajon Rondo shot that misses right — as correctly called by the computer: Technologies like these told us more about what we were looking at by putting a visual layer between us and a game on our TV. FoxTrax told us where the puck was at all times. 1st & Ten tells us where a team is trying to go. But they were just building blocks. Data was the next frontier.A torrent of new innovations followed in their wake. The NFL and Zebra Technologies have strapped radio-frequency identification chips onto players this season. The camera-tracking system SportVU has been hailed as the future of the NBA by our friends at Grantland. ProTracer technology has given golf fans something to stare at other than the warm plasma-screen glow of the summer sky. Hawk-Eye technology in tennis powers replay challenges and can track a ball to within mere millimeters. LiveLine, another Emmy winner, does its best to make sailing interesting to watch. And one word — in press releases, company websites and media coverage of these technologies — appears over and over again: “revolutionary.” Layering data on top of a sports broadcast is the frontier.But, as with most revolutions, there is a staunch establishment that leans against the shifting winds. In April, Vice published a philippic against K-Zone, the imaginary strike zone projected on the screen during baseball games. “The calculus at the root of this experiment seems to be that we prefer perfect information to beauty, precision to custom,” Robert O’Connell wrote. And some even rebel against television itself. Each season, the supremacy of radio-baseball to TV-baseball is vocally declaimed by acolytes. “Listening to a game on the radio, while driving along through the night hits some sort of cosmic level of perfection, especially if you can find it on an AM station, with a slight whine from some other signal, scratchy static calling the game in from across time and space,” Todd VanDerWerff, Vox’s culture editor, wrote in his newsletter earlier this month. “The fall of baseball could certainly be tied to the slow decline of radio as well,” he added.The natural-human-beauty-vs.-cold-mechanical-statistics sports debate has been thoroughly litigated, including on FiveThirtyEight. The jury is hopelessly hung. Do you want a dressed-up broadcast? Do you want a television screen augmented with pitch counts and wind speeds and strike zones and Bryce Harper’s velocity running to first? Or do you simply want to tune your dial to AM 720 for the crack of the bat and the passionate, pained voice of Ron Santo, may he rest in peace?I’d guess the split is largely generational. As the aesthetics of real televised sports approach those of sports video games, with their elaborate heads-up displays and options, the younger set may feel more at ease. But there’s more than just aesthetics that sports share with video games. The outcomes of events in both are pre-known, if you know where to look. When you kick a field goal in Madden 16, for example, the path of the ball is already written. Sure, you’ll see the ball fly through the air for a few seconds, and perhaps drift slowly toward the right upright, causing you to clench. But the game and your Xbox already “know” if it’s good or wide right — the kick’s power and distance, the wind, etc. have already been thrown into whatever algorithm and the result already spat out. The anticipation is just an illusion. But isn’t that the same in real life? When Butler’s Gordon Hayward launched the shot that would’ve beaten Duke in the 2010 NCAA final, it hangs in the air for-seemingly-ever — in fact it’s just shy of two seconds — and we don’t know whether it will go in or out. (See Truth No. 1, above.) But the universe “knows.” Physics “knows.” Again, the idea is simple. Almost comically so, judging by illustrations in the patent application.The execution, on the other hand, is not simple. Matt Ginsberg’s training is in astrophysics. He got his Ph.D. from Oxford when he was 24 years old. His doctoral advisor there was the famed mathematical physicist Roger Penrose, and he recalls rubbing elbows with the academic rock stars Stephen Hawking and the late Richard Feynman. He created an artificial intelligence crossword puzzle solver called Dr. Fill and a computer bridge world champion called GIB.Unsurprisingly, there’s pretty heavy math involved to make this real-time sports predictor work. For one element of the system’s calculations, Ginsberg sent me a pdf with eight dense pages of physics diagrams and systems of equations and notes on derivations. It uses something called the Levenberg-Marquardt algorithm. It requires Jacobians and the taking of partial derivatives and the solving of quartics, and code efficient enough to calculate it all up to the split second. If predicting the future were easy, I suppose everybody would do it. (See Truth No. 2, above.)One thing this project can’t predict, however, is its own future. Its uses are, so far, largely speculative, and cashing in on a minor superpower might not be easy. Even gamblers who bet during play would struggle to make much money from a half-second heads-up that a shot is going in. But Ginsberg’s system would find a natural place in the long line of sports technologies that have been used for a singular end — TV. The footage is from a Dallas Mavericks game against the San Antonio Spurs in March. What you see was calculated in real time, but for demonstration purposes the shot itself is slowed down. A computer tracked the ball’s position as well as its projected position, and the three red bars underneath the action indicate the system’s confidence that the ball would miss left, go in, or miss right, respectively. In this clip, it was a Monta Ellis jumper that went in, just as the tech predicted.“Many decisions in sports relate to the trajectory of a ball or similar object, such as a puck or shuttlecock,” reads the patent application for this technology filed in late August. There are three names on the patent application: Matthew L. Ginsberg, Navarre S. Ginsberg and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. The Ginsbergs have ambitions to spread their technology far and high, including to the NBA and its billionaire owners, including Cuban.When Matt Ginsberg first mentioned this project to me, back in March, he began the conversation like this: “I’m going to revolutionize sports.”His idea is simple: Find a ball with a camera and have it tell a computer what’s up with the ball (or shuttlecock or javelin or frisbee or whatever). Then have the computer calculate, in real time, where the ball’s going. Then turn that into some useful piece of information, knowing what sport we’re watching and the dimensions of that sport’s infrastructure — lines on the ground, baskets in the air, and so on. Have the computer tell you, maybe along with some measurement of its certainty, “that basketball will go in the basket” or “that volleyball will land outside the lines.”Then do something interesting with that fact. Have a red light go off to signal an out-of-bounds serve to the returning team. Have a soccer goalie’s smartwatch buzz if a shot is going to clear the bar, telling her she needn’t parry it and concede a corner kick. Put it on the TV screen for the folks at home. The Ginsbergs are aware of their system’s imperfections, but they share an enthusiasm for what it can become. And they want to get it out into the world, perhaps as soon as this NBA season.“If we haven’t figured out why that’s valuable to a sport yet, we just haven’t thought hard enough yet,” Navarre Ginsberg said.Looking for investors, and an eventual outlet for his project, Matt Ginsberg approached Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Mavericks, in January. The idea had applications beyond volleyball, Ginsberg had realized. Cuban was hesitant, Ginsberg said, until Ginsberg proposed a deal: Give me $50,000, he said, and I’ll develop it, and the Mavericks can use it in one game.“$50,000 to win an NBA game of your choice is incredibly cheap,” Ginsberg recalled telling Cuban. “And you don’t care about the 50 grand but I do. And I’ll also give you a right of first refusal across the NBA.” Cuban wanted two years, and Ginsberg could keep the right of first refusal. Ginsberg agreed. A lawyer came in to iron out the finer points of the deal. The lawyer was suspicious. What the hell were the Mavs even buying? It could be unicorns.Cuban described his involvement in the project to me as “active” — providing tech and design recommendations. But Ginsberg is the brains behind the coding, he said in an email last week. The most promising use of the project, in Cuban’s view? “Real-time predictions on court that can be relayed to the sidelines.” He wouldn’t comment on how the Mavericks intend to use it, if at all.When I asked Cuban how he thought the NBA would respond, he deflected a bit: “It will have amazing real-time applications in the future — things like detecting whether or not a shot was goaltended, in real time, and relaying that information to officials or displaying it on the backboard.”“If we can make basketball more fun to watch on TV, how much is that worth? I am completely clueless.”Ginsberg’s views on the technology’s uses have been evolving dramatically since we first talked in March, but they’ve always been broad. Some uses seem doable; some no doubt pie-in-the-sky. Goaltending, as Cuban suggested, is one humble but useful application. The technology could ensure that goaltending is always called correctly — it analyzes a ball’s arc, so finding the apex of a given ball’s trajectory to check for goaltending would be easy pickings. Another use is volleyball serves. A system like this is legal in NCAA volleyball — or at least it’s not illegal. Yet. (The Ginsbergs are unabashed Oregon Duck homers. “I’m excited about helping my team,” the elder said.) Another is for soccer goalies. The tech could prevent them from ceding unnecessary corner kicks. Another is tennis. Tennis players could train with the technology, and learn in real time what types of passing shots they should let go at the net and which they should go all out to try to volley.But the killer app, in many of our conversations, has been basketball tactics. Imagine, Ginsberg would describe, if the home team’s players knew when their opponents’ shots were going to go in. They’d be signaled — a flashing light, maybe — and most of them could immediately race down to their offensive end, knowing they needn’t play any more defense on that play. A huge advantage; a sea change in basketball strategy.Now, whether that’s practical or would be allowed by the NBA seems questionable, at best. And Ginsberg has backed off this idea somewhat. At the very least, he doesn’t want this tactic available to just one team.“I don’t want to have every basketball fan who doesn’t live in Dallas hating me,” he said. “That would not make my life better.”So what about TV?“There are going to be media applications that I can’t predict, because I’m not a media guy,” he said. “The other thing that’s really become apparent to me, as we’ve gotten closer here, is that I don’t know what I’m doing. In the sense that there’s huge economic value to this. If we can make basketball more fun to watch on TV, how much is that worth to NBC? And I am completely clueless” — so clueless he didn’t realize the NBA hasn’t aired on NBC since 2002. But the system’s not perfect — not yet. It occasionally doesn’t even recognize a shot is happening, or it thinks a pass is a shot, or it simply makes the wrong call after identifying a shot. Here, it thinks a long pass is a long shot: This technology’s future may become a lot clearer very soon. Ginsberg has been taking meetings over the phone. This month, he talked with an NBA executive vice president to discuss what impact this technology should have on the game. And he talked with Marc Lasry, the billionaire hedge-fund manager and co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, who Ginsberg thinks can help advise him on the economics.But here’s the thing about predicting the future: You’d better be right. In the 13-minute video Ginsberg sent me, the computer was right on 23 of its 30 calls — about 77 percent accuracy. It also didn’t recognize a shot, or thought a pass was a shot, on 10 occasions. Even just miscalling a few shots in a game could doom a project like this. If this tech is ever integral to the game — for a broadcaster or a pro team — it’ll be a fine line between the computer as Oracle of Delphi and the computer as useless hunk of junk.The Ginsbergs know this, and have been so busy hammering away at the last pesky nails sticking out of their project that they haven’t even named the thing yet. The patent application calls it Real-Time Sports Advisory System Using Ball Trajectory Prediction — and RTSASUBTP doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. My suggestion: The tRuth. The technological Babe Ruth. He called his shot, after all.
More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed FiveThirtyEight Embed Code If you’re a fan of our podcasts, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts and leave a rating/review. That helps spread the word to other listeners. And get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments. Tell us what you think, send us hot takes to discuss and tell us why we’re wrong. Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s show (July 5, 2016), we break down the numbers behind Kevin Durant’s move to the Golden State Warriors and ask if this means they have a real chance of going 82-0. Then, we talk to Michael Caley of the “The Double Pivot” podcast about Wales’s run to the semifinals of the UEFA European soccer tournament and whether Gareth Bale will get the better of Cristiano Ronaldo when Wales and Portugal play each other on Wednesday. Finally, FiveThirtyEight’s Carl Bialik comes on to chat about just how momentous Novak Djokovic’s loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon really was. Plus, a significant digit on the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest, which took place July 4.Links to what we discuss are here:Kyle Wagner and Nate Silver say that even with Durant, the Warriors are unlikely to repeat their record-breaking 73-9 season.Neil Paine says that historically, superteams underperform.Zach Lowe writes that with Durant, the Warriors have a good chance of becoming the greatest team of all time.Neil Greenberg in The Washington Post breaks down how much better the Warriors will be with Durant.Also in The Post, Michael Caley explains why you can’t let Gareth Bale of Wales have space to play on the soccer pitch.The Guardian’s Barney Ronay says the Welsh and the Portuguese reached the semifinal through a collective effort.Carl Bialik writes that Djokovic’s defeat to Querrey was an upset out of another era.Significant Digit: 215 percent. That’s how much the record for hot dog consumption in the Nathan’s contest has increased since 1996. That year, Ed Krachie wolfed down 22.25 dogs; this year, Joey Chestnut consumed 70. Here’s a video of Chestnut’s feat. And here’s Walt Hickey’s article from last week on competitive hot dog eating.