The San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich won his third NBA Coach of the Year Award on Tuesday. To an extent, these awards are about which coach most exceeds expectations: They’re the opposite of coach firings, which are better predicted by a coach’s performance relative to preseason Las Vegas over-under lines than by his win-loss record. Popovich’s Spurs won 62 games in the regular season — more than the 55.5 wins Vegas predicted. That’s reasonably impressive, but nothing as compared to the Phoenix Suns’ Jeff Hornacek, who finished second in the balloting after winning 27 more games than Vegas anticipated.What’s more amazing is how Popovich and the Spurs keep beating even consistently high expectations. From the 2006-07 through the 2013-14 seasons, the Spurs have outperformed their preseason over-under lines by a cumulative 35.5 games. That is the second-best total in the NBA, after the Suns, who were boosted by their extraordinary performance this year. It comes despite the fact that the Spurs have been projected to win an average of 53.2 games during this period, the highest figure in the league over this stretch. (These figures include the labor-shortened 2011-12 season, for which I’ve prorated totals to 82 games.)Popovich took over as coach of the Spurs early in the 1996-97 season. I wanted to evaluate his performance against the preseason over-under line further back, but I couldn’t find reliable numbers. However, there are records of how the Spurs performed against the point spread for individual games dating to the beginning of Popovich’s tenure. Popovich has done just as impressively by this benchmark.The table below lists the Spurs’ win-loss record against the point spread since Popovich took over as coach. It includes regular-season and playoff games, although a handful of regular-season games from his earliest seasons are missing. In total, in the games for which we have data, Popovich has 843 wins, 728 losses and 32 pushes against the point spread. That’s a 53.7 percent winning percentage, ignoring pushes, a win rate that all but the best sports bettors in the world would have trouble sustaining.How plausible is it that Popovich has just gotten lucky? We can check this by means of a binomial distribution. If Popovich were just a .500 coach against the point spread, the probability that he’d achieve a 843-728 record or better against it is just 0.17 percent. In other words, this is an awful lot of games, and Pop has done awfully well. It’s likely that there’s something going on — something the betting public has been missing. (And it’s something that it has been missing continually; Popovich’s edge has not abated recently. The Spurs’ record against the point spread over the past five seasons is 54.5 percent.)I looked at a few theories. For instance, could the Spurs’ excellent record against the point spread reflect a bias against small-market teams, rather than anything about Popovich? This may represent a tiny part of it; there’s a modest inverse correlation between teams’ performance against the point spread and their market size (meaning that teams in smaller markets tend to do a bit better against the spread). But the effect is small; it’s enough to account for the Spurs winning 50.4 percent of their games against the point spread, but nothing like 53.7 percent.Another theory: Perhaps the Spurs tend to perform poorly early in the season — lowering bettors’ expectations — and then improve as Popovich determines the strengths of his roster and adjusts? That doesn’t quite pan out. Since the 1997-98 season, the Spurs are 53.5 percent against the point spread in the first 20 games of the regular season, about the same as their performance overall. (They have done somewhat better against the point spread — a 55.9 percent winning percentage — during the playoffs.)Maybe there’s something odd about the Spurs’ point distribution? If they took an unusual number of blowout losses for a good team — say, games when Popovich was resting his starters — that could artificially lower their average margin of victory and lead bettors to underrate them in other matchups.However, the Spurs’ point distribution appears to be relatively normal (both in the common-language and mathematical senses of the term) and relatively symmetrical about their average margin of victory. The Spurs have been somewhat less likely to win or lose games by exactly one point than the normal distribution would predict, but this is true of all NBA teams, largely as a result of late fouling. I don’t want to completely dismiss these explanations: How NBA teams manage endgame situations is something that can affect their scoring distribution and performance against the point spread quite a bit. But there’s nothing obvious that jumps out about the Spurs. Nor have they won more games than would be expected based on their overall scoring margin.Another tempting explanation is that the Spurs, under Popovich, have great “intangibles” that bettors underrate. Undoubtedly, Popovich (like Tim Duncan) is a great leader. But eventually those intangibles should manifest themselves in the form of the Spurs winning more games than they otherwise would, and bettors should see the results and adjust accordingly. Furthermore, Popovich and the Spurs have a reputation for strong coaching and veteran leadership that could be recognized by the betting market. For many years, Popovich has ranked at or near the top when NBA general managers were asked to rank the top coaches.In the absence of an explanation, I was curious about another data point. The coach I think of as being most Pop-like is Bill Belichick of the NFL’s New England Patriots. Like Popovich, Belichick seems to have a preternatural ability to make the most of his circumstances — he got 11 wins out of Matt Cassel! Like Popovich, Belichick has a reputation as a great and ruthless tactician.Also like Popovich, Belichick has done quite well against the point spread. He’s 179-144-9 against it lifetime (a 55.4 percent winning percentage, ignoring pushes), counting his time as coach of the Cleveland Browns. (He’s 138-106-6 against the point spread, a 56.6 percent winning percentage, as coach of the Patriots.)I’m aware of the risk of confirmation bias here. If you seek out coaches who have a reputation for exceeding expectations, you’re likely to find expectations exceeded in all sorts of data, including their performance against the point spread. Nevertheless, it’s worth asking whether there is something about coaches like Popovich and Belichick that leads them to outperform bettors’ expectations.I don’t have a sexy answer. Nor am I sure that there is a sexy answer. It may be that Popovich’s strong performance against the point spread reflects a little bit of luck, a little bit of small-market bias, a little bit of something funny about how the Spurs manage endgame situations — along with a healthy dose of selection bias in our decision to examine his record (and not that of other coaches) after the fact.But I have a romantic notion of what could be going on.What you might say about Popovich is that he’s been uniquely able to stave off regression to the mean. He adopts tactics and strategies to suit his situation; he stays one step ahead of his opponents. Under Popovich, the Spurs have succeed as an old team and as a young team, and as a fast-paced team and a slow-paced team. There isn’t much gimmicky about Popovich.Perhaps in staying one step ahead of his opponents, he has stayed one step ahead of Las Vegas. The reason it’s hard to succeed in sports betting, or in any other market-based activity, is not just that markets are reasonably efficient to begin with. It’s also that when you’ve identified a historical tendency worth exploiting, other participants in the market may have found it as well. You may have an advantage for a while, but it will evaporate soon. Or, like in the game rock-paper-scissors, your opponents will exploit you for trying to exploit them.But what if your advantage is not in finding one particular loophole in the market, but in having the aptitude to continually come up with new advantages? Before your opponent has identified a counter to your tactic, you’re on to the next tactic. Great poker players have this skill: They have a sense for when a particular tactic in a particular situation has gone from being underutilized to overutilized in the poker “market.” They’ve adjusted a moment before everyone else.My romantic notion — my intuition — is that the way coaches like Popovich and Belichick exploit edges in their games is pretty similar to how sports bettors exploit edges in theirs. So the fact that opponents have never caught up with Popovich and Belichick may have something to do with why betting markets haven’t either. I do know that I wouldn’t bet against Popovich or Belichick. And I wouldn’t want to play poker against them.
Serena Williams was blasted by Sloane Stephens’ in an ESPN The Magazine story, but said she still supports the young, up-and-coming potential tennis star.“I don’t really know. I don’t have many thoughts,” Williams told reporters in Spain after defeating Lourdes Dominguez Lino 6-2, 7-5 in the second round of the Madrid Open, answering a question posed to her about Stephens. “I’m a big Sloane Stephens fan and always have been. I’ve always said that I think she can be the best in the world. I’ll always continue to think that and always be rooting for her.“So I really just always wish her—and anyone, really, especially from America—the best. We don’t have that many American players, so it’s always exciting to see so many young players doing so well.”Stephens told the magazine that Williams had stopped communicating with her after Stephens’ victory in their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open in January.“She’s not said one word to me, not spoken to me, not said hi, not looked my way, not been in the same room with me since I played her in Australia,” Stephens says emphatically. “And that should tell everyone something, how she went from saying all these nice things about me to unfollowing me on Twitter.”Her mom tries to slow her down, but Sloane is insistent. “Like, seriously! People should know. They think she’s so friendly and she’s so this and she’s so that — no, that’s not reality! You don’t unfollow someone on Twitter, delete them off of BlackBerry Messenger. I mean, what for? Why?”She went on. “For the first 16 years of my life, she said one word to me and was never involved in my tennis whatsoever,” Stephens said. “I really don’t think it’s that big of a deal that she’s not involved now. If you mentor someone, that means you speak to them, that means you help them, that means you know about their life, that means you care about them. Are any of those things true at this moment? No, so therefore…”Stephens hardly was done. She recalled an encounter with the Williams sisters when she was a 12-year-old in Delray Beach, Fla., at a Fed Cup tie (ironically, the two were Fed Cup teammates two weeks ago in Delray Beach),.“I waited all day [for an autograph],” she explains. “They walked by three times and never signed our posters.”Stephens added of the poster: “I hung it up [in my room] for a while. I was, like, devastated because they didn’t sign it, whatever, and then after that I was over it. I found a new player to like (Kim Clijsters) because I didn’t like them anymore.”
Executive producer LeBron James attends a premiere for “The Carter Effect” on day 3 of the Toronto International Film Festival at the Princess of Wales Theatre, in Toronto. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP, File)LOS ANGELES (AP) — “Space Jam 2?” A whole new “House Party” franchise?Will LA Mean LeBron Behind the Scenes and on the Big Screen?With the leadership of LeBron James, anything is possible.As James comes from Cleveland to Los Angeles looking to take the Lakers to more championships with a blockbuster $154 million contract announced this week, he could also push those two 1990s properties closer to reality and go from part-time presence to major player in Hollywood.James hasn’t yet spoken about his plans for Los Angeles. But if he wants to, he’s already shown he can act, and not just in that good-for-an-athlete way.His one real film role, playing himself in the 2015 Amy Schumer film “Trainwreck,” directed by Judd Apatow, won big raves.The Associated Press’ Lindsey Bahr called him “a comedic revelation.” Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post said he showed “expert, deadpan timing.”James’ co-stars agreed.“He was really good. Like everything with him it was very effortless,” said Bill Hader, who played the movie’s male lead with James as his sidekick and previously acted with James when he hosted “Saturday Night Live.” ”He’s always listening. I know actors that don’t listen, they’re just waiting to say their line. He listened.”Hader said there was a frequent improvisation on “Trainwreck,” and LeBron easily kept up with the sketch comedy pros like Hader.“You’ll never believe this, but he was super confident,” Hader told the AP with a laugh by phone from the Toronto set of the film “It 2.”“But not cocky,” Hader added.“I remember Chris Rock was on set and rattled off a line suggestion really fast for LeBron, and LeBron said it back during the scene verbatim,” Hader said. “I remember thinking, “I can’t do that.”He wouldn’t be the first Laker to try acting. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal had their share of famous, and infamous roles. And Kobe Bryant ended up with an unlikely Academy Award for an animated short based on a poem he wrote about basketball.Whether or not he appears on screen, James has already begun a major media career that can only get a boost from LA.Gone are the days when athletes had to be in a major market to make it in film and television, as James himself has shown through his years building his brand in Cleveland.But there’s nothing like face-time for becoming a force in Hollywood.James and his business partner Maverick Carter have a production company, SpringHill Entertainment, that has a deal with Warner Bros. and office space on the legendary movie company’s lot, where he could become a regular.“Certainly the proximity will make it easier for LeBron personally to be part of future projects,” said David Schwab, an executive vice president at Octagon, a global sports and entertainment marketing and management firm. “The advantage of a market like New York, Los Angeles and Golden State is the ability to have coffee, lunch or dinner daily” with key decision makers. “In a smaller market you don’t get those consistent opportunities,” he said.Schwab said James’ partners at Warner Bros. and elsewhere are most likely “excited that he’s in Los Angeles as they could possibly use LeBron personally to close business deals with future partners of their own.”James, via SpringHill and his digital film company Uninterrupted has already brought some projects to big and small screens, with many more in the works. Here are some highlights:— “Space Jam 2.” The idea of James reviving the 1996 movie starring another candidate for greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, has been in circulation for several years. The movie with Jordan battling animated aliens alongside Bugs Bunny and his Warner Bros. cartoon buddies brought mixed reviews and eyerolls at the time, but has become a cult classic. Justin Lin of the “Fast & Furious” films has been attached as director.— “House Party.” Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori of “Atlanta” are writing a script that James and SpringHill hope will revive the franchise that starred Kid n’ Play and spawned three big-screen sequels from 1990 to 1994.— “Smallfoot.” James will have another chance to show off his comic chops as the voice of a skeptical yeti in Warner Bros’ animated film.— “Now We’re Talking.” A digital comedy series on Uninterrupted that features two rival professional football quarterbacks who become broadcasters and frequent pro athlete cameos is about to enter its second season.— SpringHill is also producing several more television projects including the game shows “The Wall” and “Do or Dare” and “Rise Up,” a documentary about the civil rights movement for the History Channel.
It’s hard to predict whether Ajax pups like de Jong, de Ligt and van de Beek will go on to have the kinds of long, fruitful careers their elder countrymen did, but there’s little doubt that they’ve cemented themselves as club legends. They’ve made Ajax relevant again. Now all that’s left for them to do is to make Ajax champions again.Check out our latest soccer predictions. Eight days ago, the FiveThirtyEight Soccer Power Index (SPI) gave Manchester City the best chance to win the Champions League. On Wednesday, Manchester City crashed out of the competition in spectacular fashion, conceding three goals at home to Premier League rival Tottenham Hotspur. The series finished 4-4 on aggregate, but Spurs get to play on because of the competition’s away-goals rule. Remember all that talk about City winning the historic quadruple? That’s all over now.Pep Guardiola’s Sky Blues got off to a quick start, grabbing the lead via a strike from Raheem Sterling in the game’s fourth minute. Sterling’s goal canceled out Tottenham’s 1-0 aggregate lead, and the tilt was on. But it wasn’t long before Son Heung-min struck to give the lead back to Spurs, and it wasn’t long before he struck again. At that point it looked like City was doomed, but then they stormed back, scoring twice to tilt things back in their favor. Spurs were not done, however, and got the series-winning goal from unlikely hero Fernando Llorente in the 73rd minute. They still had to survive some end-of-the-game drama: City scored what appeared to be the winning goal, but VAR ruled that forward Sergio Aguero was offside in the buildup, and Tottenham was on to the semifinals to face Ajax.1At the sight of the goal, a blissful Guardiola sprinted down the touchline like a man possessed. After the VAR ruling, a doleful Guardiola looked as though he’d just been given a bad diagnosis. Bring on the memes.City is out, but the favorites to win the whole thing still hail from Northern England. According to our SPI, Liverpool has the best chance to conquer Europe. The Reds followed up their very professional 2-0 win over Porto at Anfield last week with a very professional 4-1 win over Porto at Estadio de Dragao on Wednesday. Porto needed to score at least two goals to send the series to extra time — and at least three to win it outright — and the first 35 minutes of the match reflected that: Porto completed twice as many passes in the attacking third as did its opponents from Merseyside en route to outshooting them 14 to 3.But then Liverpool scored a goal in the 26th minute, and it was all but in the bag for Jurgen Klopp’s side. Eder Militao, future center back for Real Madrid, scored a late goal for Porto, but it was merely consolation. And Liverpool’s reward for its 6-1 aggregate victory? A date with Barcelona in the semifinals.Speaking of the Catalonians, they made relatively light work of Manchester United in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Lionel Messi did Lionel Messi things at Camp Nou, scoring twice from outside the box — one shot with his left foot, the other with his weaker right — in a matter of four minutes. The first was vintage Messi, a left-footed effort driven low that curled past the outstretched body of Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea and into the bottom left corner of the goal. The second was less spectacular, a speculative effort that de Gea whiffed on uncharacteristically. Gift or not, the goal put Messi two clear at the top of the Champions League Golden Boot race. A goal in the 61st minute from old United foe Philippe Coutinho put the series out of reach for the Mancs. And now the soccer world can salivate over a Messi-vs.-Salah showdown in the semifinals.If the result in Barcelona felt like a forgone conclusion, the result in Turin felt like anything but. Ajax’s 2-1 Tuesday win (3-2 aggregate) marked a sort of long-fermented revenge: In April 1997, the last time the Dutch giants played in the Champions League semifinals — a month before the team’s current best player, Frenkie de Jong, was born — they were eviscerated by Juventus, losing by an aggregate score of 6-2. That Ajax team featured club and country legends Edwin van der Sar, Frank de Boer, Marc Overmars and Danny Blind,2Danny Blind is the father of current Ajax star Daley Blind. but Lucky Ajax wasn’t very lucky on that occasion.This time around, Ajax took the game to Juventus from the opening whistle, a strategy that should have stunned exactly no one who watched the team embarrass Real Madrid last month. Total shots and shots on target were nearly equal Tuesday in Turin, but Ajax created more big chances and completed a higher percentage of passes in the attacking third than Juventus. Crucially, the Dutchmen didn’t panic when Cristiano Ronaldo scored to give the Italians the lead in the 28th minute. They kept pressing, kept playing on the front foot, and midfielder Donny van de Beek bagged an equalizer just six minutes later. And even after it took the lead on a header from team captain Matthijs de Ligt in the 67th minute, Ajax didn’t sit back. The side smelled blood and attempted more passes inside the penalty area in the final 23 minutes plus stoppage time than its opponents. Ajax could have scored a couple more — and now it has a 16 percent chance in our SPI model to win the whole thing, up significantly from before the quarterfinal’s second leg.
2017-18Lionel MessiBarcelona0.6970.4191.117 2017-18Cristiano RonaldoReal Madrid0.9000.2191.119 2016-17Lionel MessiBarcelona0.6910.4161.107 Dele AlliTottenham3.0130.556 If Tottenham can get Dele and Dier back — while keeping just about everyone else healthy — there is enough talent in this squad to make a run.Atletico MadridChance: 9 percentSPI: 87.2 (6th)Status: Up 2-0 on Juventus going into second legDiego Simeone’s club has been here before. But with the big three weakened, the formula that has brought Atletico to the brink of a trophy in the past could now take it over the line. The statistical indicators are all the same, and the team has maintained its lockdown defensive style. Atletico has conceded the fewest goals in La Liga (17) and the second-fewest expected goals (24) despite allowing opponents the majority of possession (51 percent). The club has managed continuity despite the fact that Simeone has overhauled his midfield personnel, as Rodrigo replaced Gabi at defensive midfield and Thomas Lemar joined from Monaco to support Saul Niguez as a hybrid wide/center midfielder.What Atletico will need to go deep in this tournament is a second goal-scorer. Antoine Griezmann remains the club’s star forward, but he has had no support this year. The expensive signing of Diego Costa has turned into a bust; he has managed just 14 shots and one goal in nearly 1,000 minutes. But in the winter window, Atleti pulled off a coup by signing Alvaro Morata on loan from Chelsea. The Spanish forward had put up big underlying numbers for the Blues but disappointed with his finishing, converting just 16 Premier League goals from more than 21 expected goals. But for Atleti, he already has scored three goals and assisted one in less than 400 minutes. If Morata can maintain his shot production and the goals return, he and Griezmann should be a formidable strike pairing to set in front of that defense.LiverpoolChance: 10 percentSPI: 92.8 (2nd)Status: Tied 0-0 with Bayern going into second legLiverpool faces a much more dangerous second-leg match than Spurs or Atletico. The Reds solidly outplayed Bayern in their first match, but Liverpool’s forwards, particularly Sadio Mane, struggled to finish their chances. Now Liverpool needs either a draw or a win in Munich.The key question for Liverpool is its ball progression. This season, Liverpool has been highly effective at moving the ball up the field, ranking second in progressive passes and runs in the Premier League behind Manchester City.2A progressive pass or run is defined as a pass that advances the ball at least 10 yards beyond its furthest progression in the move or into the 18-yard box, and a progressive run must progress the ball similarly and eliminate a defender with a successful dribble. But the club has spread the responsibility around. No Liverpool player is in the league’s top 10 in progressive passing. Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri and James Milner rank 11th, 16th and 17th, respectively. Liverpool recently drew 0-0 against rivals Manchester United and Everton in two matches during which Keita didn’t play at all and Shaqiri and Milner made only substitute appearances in midfield (of 18 and 27 minutes respectively). Manager Jurgen Klopp needs to find more ways to get two of Keita, Milner and Shaqiri on the pitch in big matches to carry the load. Again, this is a doable task. Liverpool’s quality is there if it can just get through a high-stakes match next Wednesday.Paris Saint-GermainChance: 16 percentSPI: 91.6 (5th)Status: Up 2-0 on Manchester United going into second legPSG has an unbalanced roster. After an unprecedented spending spree in 2017, manager Thomas Tuchel ended up cobbling together a midfield this season by converting one of his defenders, Marquinhos, to the position. But it has hardly mattered. So long as PSG can at least contain its opponent’s attack, Kylian Mbappe and company will do enough on their end: It took only one chance in the first leg against Manchester United for Mbappe to change the game, outpacing the defenders at a sprint by several yards. Mbappe has married his incredible speed to a quickly improving perception of space, and his production has been unreal. So far this season, he’s outproducing even Lionel Messi, who has defied age with one of his best seasons in the past five years. Even accounting for the easier opposition the French striker faces in Ligue 1, Mbappe’s production has been incredible. Matt DohertyWolverhampton3.4620.282 2014-15Lionel MessiBarcelona0.7850.4741.259 2015-16Luis SuarezBarcelona0.8200.3491.169 Jordan AyewCrystal Palace3.3030.327 As of March 4, 2019The big five are the Premier League (England), Ligue 1 (France), La Liga (Spain), Serie A (Italy) and the Bundesliga (Germany).Source: Opta Sports Ander HerreraManchester United6.0990.287 NameTeamTackles + Int per 90xG +xA per 90 2014-15Luis SuarezBarcelona0.6520.5031.155 Gylfi SigurdssonEverton2.6190.349 2015-16Cristiano RonaldoReal Madrid0.8680.2391.107 Lucas MouraTottenham2.8050.399 expected per 90 minutes Sead KolasinacArsenal2.9350.370 2014-15Cristiano RonaldoReal Madrid0.8300.3211.151 2018-19Lionel MessiBarcelona0.7200.5411.261 2015-16NeymarBarcelona0.6240.5341.158 The most offensive of the defensive-minded2018-19 Premier League leaders in expected goals plus expected assists per 90 minutes among players with at least 2.5 tackles and interceptions 2015-16Pierre-Emerick AubameyangBorussia Dortmund0.8750.2401.114 With Neymar expected to return in April, Mbappe should have his primary creative support back in time for at least one leg of the quarterfinals (so long as PSG does not falter against United). The pair of them rival Messi and Luis Suarez as the best attacking duo in the world, and if Tuchel can maintain a structure behind them, Neymar and Mbappe are easily enough firepower to win the Champions League.Manchester CityChance: 24 percentSPI: 94.2 (1st)Status: Up 3-2 on Schalke going into second legHere is the favorite. With a one-goal lead going into a home leg against Schalke, City is strongly favored for the quarterfinals. Once there, Pep Guardiola’s side continues to look like the most well-rounded in Europe. The only thing that can hold City back seems to be injuries. The club went into a tailspin when both Fernadinho and David Silva were injured in December. These two midfielders, both 33 years old, remain the guts of the club. Silva leads the Premier League by a wide margin in progressive passing, with more than 5.4 progressive passes and runs per 90 minutes, and only Eden Hazard is also over 5.0. Fernandinho seems even more central to City’s success: He stands 12th in the league in progressive passing and leads the team in both tackles and interceptions. Guardiola has yet to figure out a successor to either player in the squad or a true replacement when either of them is unavailable.With its dominant underlying numbers, a weakened field and an easily winnable round of 16 match, City is just 540 minutes away from a Champions League trophy. If Silva and Fernandinho can just be healthy from April on, the Citizens should be the Champions League favorites.Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich are hardly out of it. But PSG and City rate ahead of them, and Liverpool likely will move up if the Reds can get by Bayern. With the traditional powers of European soccer increasingly wobbly, one of these other clubs could, with the right mix of quality play and good fortune, be the team to finally knock them off and lift the trophy.Check out our latest soccer predictions.CORRECTION (March 4, 2019, 7 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a group of five teams, including Liverpool, had not won the Champions League before. Liverpool won the competition in 2005. Felipe AndersonWest Ham3.7270.340 SeasonNameTeamgoalsassistsgoals + assists Abdoulaye DoucoureWatford3.1750.377 2018-19Robert LewandowskiBayern Munich0.8370.2891.125 2017-18NeymarPSG0.6340.5391.173 2015-16Lionel MessiBarcelona0.7630.4591.222 2018-19Kylian MbappePSG0.9980.3631.360 As of March 4, 2019Source: Opta Sports European soccer’s “big three” — Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich — have combined to win the past six Champions League trophies and seven of the past eight. But this season, these clubs aren’t quite as dominant as they used to be, and there’s just a 31 percent chance that one of them will win it all this year, according to the FiveThirtyEight Soccer Power Index. The door is wide open for a new champion. So who will walk through?The SPI projections identify five other clubs with at least a 5 percent chance of lifting the trophy. But while it seems that change is coming to the Champions League, don’t expect a Leicester City-style underdog run. None of the five clubs that could knock off Barcelona, Madrid and Bayern quite qualifies as an “underdog.” Two contenders — Liverpool and Atletico Madrid — have appeared in three of the past five Champions League finals, losing all three. Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City have never reached a Champions League final but boast massively expensive squads paid for by unfathomably wealthy owners.1City’s owner, Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is a high-ranking member of the Emirati royal family, and PSG is a subsidiary of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund. Even Tottenham Hotspur ranks among the world’s 10 richest clubs, according to Deloitte’s estimates.So we are not exactly seeing a revolution in European soccer. Rather, it appears that the gap has narrowed between the big three and a larger elite — the next five to 10 best clubs in the world. Still, the Champions League is more wide open than it has been in recent memory. Each of these five teams has a real chance to break the big three’s lock on the trophy.Tottenham HotspurChance: 5 percentSPI: 83.6 (11th)Status: Up 3-0 on Borussia Dortmund going into second legTottenham is statistically the weakest club on the list. It also features one of the thinnest squads of the clubs remaining, having pressed youth team players like Oliver Skipp and Kyle Walker-Peters into service in key matches this season. With no signings at all made in the past two transfer windows, Spurs are not built to weather an injury crisis and compete against the world’s best teams at the same time.Health is Tottenham’s chief concern. Striker Harry Kane has returned from injury, but the club is still missing two key midfielders, Dele Alli and Eric Dier. Without either, Spurs have struggled to turn over opponents in midfield as the press of manager Mauricio Pochettino requires — Dier and Dele are the team’s only midfielders averaging more than 3 tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes.Dele in particular is key for Spurs, as he manages to produce as both a ball winner in midfield and a shot creator. No one in the Premier League with similar defensive numbers comes close to Dele’s shot production. Lucas Moura, Dele’s Tottenham teammate, comes in second in expected goals plus assists among players with at least 2.5 tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes, and but the gap between them is huge. Ayoze PerezNewcastle3.5150.337 Mbappe is having a Messi-like seasonThe best seasons in the big five European leagues by expected goals per 90 minutes plus expected assists per 90, 2014-19
OSU then-sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell (3) dribbles the ball during a game against Nebraska on Feb. 18 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Lantern File PhotoWhen the Ohio State women’s basketball team faces Ashland University in an exhibition game on Sunday, fans will finally get to see the new wave of talent donning the Scarlet and Gray.Gone are guards Cait Craft — who provided both defense and leadership — and Ameryst Alston, who was second on the 2015-16 team in scoring at 18.3 points per game. Forward Kalpana Beach and center Lisa Blair have departed the program as well.But the Buckeyes will debut six new players this season, starting with freshmen guards Kiara Lewis and Jensen Caretti, and forward Tori McCoy, who all ranked within the top-31 in their class by ESPN.“I think all three of our freshmen are going to really contribute this year,” OSU coach Kevin McGuff said. “They’ve got a lot of talent. They are going to be really great in our program.”OSU will also welcome the additions of three transfers. Redshirt junior forward Stephanie Mavunga (previously at North Carolina) and redshirt sophomore guard Sierra Calhoun (Duke) will jump right into the Buckeyes’ lineup. Redshirt junior guard Linnae Harper (Kentucky) will have to wait until the end of OSU’s fall semester before hitting the court.All six players bring plenty of on-the-court talent to the Buckeyes, but Mavunga also believes that she has taken on an important vocal leadership role with the team.“That’s one of the biggest things that drives a team to really be great,” Mavunga said. “If the team is really quiet out there, especially on defense, then you don’t really know what’s going on.”With the additions of Mavunga and McCoy, OSU now boasts more size in the interior, something that hurt last year’s team. In the Buckeyes’ season-ending, 78-62 Sweet-16 loss to Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament, Volunteers’ center Mercedes Russell put up a game- and career-high 25 points.“We’ve got a little bit more presence around the basket,” McGuff said. “We need to utilize people and get them the ball.”New faces, new depthWith the talented additions, OSU is looking at one of its deepest rosters in recent memory. Throughout this offseason, Buckeyes’ coaches and players have been harping on the team’s new depth and what it could mean for the program.“I think it put us in a little bit better position here early on, hopefully,” McGuff said.OSU wasn’t in too great of a situation early on last year, dropping its first two regular season contests. The Buckeyes fell 88-80 to No. 2 South Carolina in the season opener on the road and followed it up with a 100-56 loss to No. 1 UConn in the home opener.McGuff believes that the competitive nature of this year’s team, thanks to depth, will help the team get off to a better start this time around.“Ultimately, that’s got to be what really drives this team — the competitive environment we have on a daily basis,” McGuff said.Mitchell expanding her roleAssociated Press preseason first-team All-American junior guard Kelsey Mitchell earns plenty of national praise, but there may be no one who speaks more highly of her than her coach.“She’s, in my opinion, the best player in college basketball,” McGuff said. “She obviously scores a lot of points, but she also makes others around her better.”The praise is warranted. Mitchell has accomplished quite a bit in her two seasons at OSU, including breaking her own single-season scoring record in her sophomore year after breaking the record the year before.She is widely regarded as one of the better players in all of women’s college basketball, but she never lets the spotlight shine too bright.“I just show up every day,” Mitchell said. “I just go to school, play basketball, go to school, play basketball. I don’t try to think ahead; I don’t try to think too far behind.”Mitchell said that she is excited for this year’s Buckeye team and what some of the newcomers can bring to the program.“I think the one thing that separates us from other teams is that we are down to try anything, whatever the team needs,” Mitchell said. “I think our new people will do that.”Sunday’s preseason game against Ashland will tip off at 1 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center, preparing OSU for its regular-season opener against Duquesne on Friday, Nov. 11 at St. John Arena.
Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer and former Buckeye running back Jeff Logan posted a score of 7-under in the sixth annual Chick-fil-A Bowl Challenge charity golf tournament, earning OSU a tie for sixth place and $25,000 in scholarship money for OSU. In total, $520,000 were up for grabs among the schools competing for scholarships and $243,000 was raised charity organizations. Georgia Tech’s team, comprised of football coach Paul Johnson and former Yellow Jackets basketball player Jon Barry, won the competition for the second consecutive year, posting a round of 10-under par. Fifteen schools sent teams to compete in the 18-hole event, and all participating schools will receive a portion of the $500,000 in scholarship money competed for on Tuesday. Played at the Reynolds Plantation’s par-72 Oconee course in Greensboro, Ga., the two-man scramble competition featured 15 teams of NCAA football coaches and a celebrity alumnus from the same school. The field was originally set at 16, but the University of Virginia dropped out before the competition began. In a scramble, both players tee off on each hole. The better of the two tee shots is selected and both players play their second shot from that spot. The same process is applied to each subsequent shot until the ball is holed. By winning the challenge, Johnson and Barry earned $125,000 in scholarship-funds for Georgia Tech and the remaining $375,000 will be awarded to the other 14 schools with the amount based on its team’s finish in the challenge. On Monday, the other $20,000 available in scholarship money was awarded between four skills competitions. Separate Long Drive challenges and Closest To The Pin challenges were held for the field of NCAA coaches and the celebrity alumni, with an award of $5,000 in scholarship money for the winner of each skills competition. With a 94-yard shot that rolled to within two feet of the cup, Meyer won the coaches’ Closest To The Pin challenge and an additional $5,000 scholarship for OSU. He finished third in the driving contest with a 271.6-yard drive. Miami University coach Al Golden (303 yards) won the coaches’ Long Drive challenge, while former Mississippi State football player Fred McCrary (5 feet) and Barry (308.7 yards) won the alumni’s Closest To The Pin challenge and Long Drive challenge, respectively. The annual competition is a primary contributor to the Chick-fil-A Bowl’s charitable and scholarship donation efforts. All told, the 2012 event raised $763,000 for scholarships and charities.
Ohio State freshman midfielder Liza Hernandez looks to score against Vermont on Feb. 6 at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Credit: Courtesy of Walt Middleton – OSU AthleticsThe Ohio State women’s lacrosse team (5-2) will return to Columbus after an opportunity missed in a close 16-13 loss to No. 8 Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, on Tuesday.The Fighting Irish historically have given the Scarlet and Gray trouble, with OSU now having just a .348 winning percentage in 23 all-time matchups. Notre Dame defeated the then-No.9 Buckeyes 19-7 in their meeting last season.Freshmen midfielders Sage Darling and Liza Hernandez led the Buckeyes in scoring with four and three goals, respectively. Notre Dame freshman midfielder Savannah Buchanan and sophomore attack Nikki Ortega each scored a hat trick.In what was a strong defensive outing for both teams in the first few minutes, Notre Dame struck first, scoring three goals in less than a minute of play. Irish senior midfielder Casey Pearsall scored her 11th goal of the season to begin the onslaught. Ortega and fellow sophomore attack Samantha Lynch would add one each in a span of 23 seconds, stretching their lead to three.Darling scooped up a loose ball in the offensive zone and scored her third goal of the season as she was falling to give the Buckeyes their first point of the day. Ortega then added her second goal of the game before Darling found the net again for OSU.Down 4-2, OSU pulled to within one after sophomore midfielder Erika Keselman bounced one past Notre Dame sophomore goalie Samantha Giacalone. But the Fighting Irish responded with three consecutive goals, moving their lead out to four. The third goal came from senior attack Cortney Fortunato for her 29th of the year.Ortega secured her hat trick with 12:39 left in the first half, pushing the Fighting Irish lead to five. Hernandez scored her first goal of the day, weaving through traffic before shooting as she fell to the ground. Notre Dame picked up two more goals in less than a minute, one from Savannah Buchanan and the other from Fortunato, the second goal of the game for both players. Keselman also scored her second of the contest with 6:51 left in the half, keeping them down 10-5.Fighting Irish senior attack Grace Muller netted her first of the day with 3:07 remaining in the half to give her team a six-goal advantage headed into half. Notre Dame outshot OSU 25-10 in the first and were kept at arm’s reach from the Irish the entire way. OSU sophomore Baley Parrott opened up the second half with two goals, her 14th and 15th of the season. Hernandez added a free-position goal a few minutes later to cut the Notre Dame lead down to three.Darling earned her first career hat trick when she found the net in the second half. Darling’s goal was followed by junior attack, and Co-Big Ten Player of the Week, Molly Wood’s first score of the day, cutting the Buckeye deficit to just two. Ten minutes later at the 8:51 mark, Notre Dame’s Pearsall scored her second of the game giving her team the 13-10 lead, before sophomore defender Hannah Proctor added her first of the year, moving that lead to four. OSU answered quickly with two back-to-back goals from Darling and Hernandez trailed by just two with 6:26 remaining in the game. OSU continuously found a way to get within striking distance, but the Irish scored a few goals of their own to dispel any comeback.Leading 14-12, Notre Dame found a way to net two more goals putting them up by four yet again, this time with just 3:25 left in the game. The Buckeyes added another goal with just 1:29 left when Wood scored her second of the game, but it was too little too late. The Fighting Irish gained possession and ran off the remaining seconds on the shot clock. While OSU had the advantage in draw controls, the Buckeyes turned the ball over a season-high 18 times and were outshot by 10. The win gave Notre Dame its eighth consecutive win of the season.Up NextThe Buckeyes travel to Worcester, Massachusetts, on Saturday to play Holy Cross at noon.
Miss Kelly even modelled for Boyd’s sportswear brandCredit:FACEBOOK Fife-born Sophie KellyCredit:FACEBOOK The couple went on luxury holidays togetherCredit:FACEBOOK Aspiring doctor Tony Boyd, 2Credit:FACEBOOK Miss Kelly, from Inverkeithing, Fife, said: “When over here, he attacked myself and a friend of mine and fired a gun at us. He was arrested and put in the county jail.” A British medical student accused of firing a gun at his girlfriend in the US will be allowed to continue studies in the UK after paying £11,000 bail.Tony Boyd, 23, from Ayrshire, Scotland, was released on bail following his arrest in Waukesha, Wisconsin, for an alleged attack on Sophie Kelly.The aspiring doctor, who also runs an online sportswear company, is accused of firing at his girlfriend and a friend just weeks after she moved to the US to work as a veterinary surgeon.Court papers show Boyd is charged with one count of discharging a firearm, two charges of battery and a charge of criminal damage to a property on August 11.The couple dated for several months and enjoyed luxury holidays to Thailand, Spain and Greece together, and Miss Kelly even modelled for Boyd’s sportswear brand. Boyd denies all of the charges against him.The medical student is listed in court papers as living in Troon with his father, restaurant boss Lewis Boyd. Since Boyd was released on bail, he has been ordered to abide by strict restrictions, including a complete alcohol ban and having no contact with his ex-girlfriend.Court papers state: “Absolute sobriety, defendant is not to possess or consume any alcohol.”As well as studying medicine, Boyd runs a company called Nero Apparel in Glasgow. After paying bail fees of $15,000 – more than £11,000 – he was released and allowed to return to Scotland for his final year of study at the University of Glasgow. Court papers in Boyd’s case stated: “In exchange to the agreed-upon bail, the state will not be requesting that the defendant turnover his passport.”At a hearing of the case on Monday, the court noted that Boyd was absent due to his studies in Scotland. A further hearing was set for March next year. Miss Kelly claims Boyd attacked her and a friend after travelling to Wisconsin to help her settle in to her new life there.A court in the US noted this week that Boyd was not in attendance due to his studies in Scotland and another hearing was set for March next year.He has been told he cannot drink alcohol or contact his ex-girlfriend while on bail. 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.
For years they have wondered precisely where and how their loved ones lost their lives.Now, more than 70 years on, relatives of 58 sailors lost when a British submarine was sunk during a German attack are planning to visit the spot where it went down.It promises to be an emotional journey, especially as it might never have been on the cards.The wreck of the HMS Narwhal was only discovered by accident when members of a Polish diving team came across it while searching the North Sea for one of their own missing subs.The families of those lost on the Narwhal are now calling for the wreck to be treated as a war grave to protect it from scavengers. A sonar scan of the HMS Narwhal taken by the Polish Santi Diving teamCredit:Santi Diving Tomasz Stachura, the 52-year-old CEO of Santi Diving, said: “The size of this craft – 90 metres – is a very unique point of identification. We know that German U-boats are only 65-metres long, so we were prepared for this to be either the Narwhal or the Eagle, as no other Navies reported a loss in this area and there are only a few vessels like it in the world.”It was only analyzing the detailed 3D sonar scans that the authorities were able to confirm that it was indeed most likely the HMS Narwhal, lost in the Battle of Britain in July 1940 after being attacked by the Luftwaffe.The submarine had left its base in Blyth Northumberland to lay mines near German-occupied Norway. But the Germans, who had cracked the Royal Navy’s secret codes, knew the Narwhal’s route and attacked it with a bomber. It was presumed sank in July 1940. The Luftwaffe’s report said the submarine had been hit in the stern. The side-scan sonar, in fact, reveals just that. “The sonar shows the wreck is intact, except for the damage we can see on the stern exactly in the place where the pilot reported it,” Mr. Stachura said.The dive team continued their search for their own sub, the Eagle, without success and upon returning to Poland, contacted the Royal Navy about their find, but never heard back.Since their discovery the Polish divers have flooded with letters and emails from as far away as Malta and India from relatives of the British seamen lost on board.After a report was posted on the World Naval Ships Forum, Santi’s Facebook site began to overflow with messages from relatives of the lost seamen.“We decided to try to put all these different people in touch with one another,” said Mr Stachura.“We kept thinking, ‘what we can do for them?’ “We thought, ‘well, we are experts in diving, so we can dive on Narwhal, perhaps take a memorial plaque and place flowers there so that all of these people they feel they can finally close their stories.’”Diving the HMS NarwhalIn diving, any depth below 60 metres (200 feet) is considered a “deep dive” requiring with special equipment necessary to stay down longer.The Narwhal is a diveable wreck lying 308 (94 metres) feet beneath the surface, in international waters. The Santi dive team are masters of deep diving on wrecks in the frigid conditions of the Baltic Sea. They were the first divers to explore the lost Nazi aircraft carrier the Graf Zeppelin, which sunk off the Polish coast in 1947.The team use the most advanced technology available today – rebreathers, a computerized technology that mixes three gases (oxygen, helium and nitrogen) in accordance to depths and the body’s needs, while at the same time removing exhaled carbon dioxide using scrubbers, allowing the divers to stay underwater for longer. Because the diver’s breath is being recycled, the diver leaves no telltale bubble-trails – ideal for specialized military or hard-core technical divers in scientific and commercial sectors.The Santi dive team wear their own dry suits with heating systems and rugged JJ CCR rebreathers, the same kind used by Scandinavian military units. Each diver also carries a bailout system. Not only is the Narwhal a very deep dive, it is also lying just 80 metres from a gas pipeline, despite regulations requiring pipelines be at least 500 metres from wrecks.“This makes it very complicated – the diving is very demanding, but there is a lot of paperwork necessary to get permissions, and we also need to talk to local divers in Scotland about the current,” said Mr. Stachura.Once all permissions have been secured, the team hopes to go out to the site next May with a 20-metre research vessel, with a team made up of six Polish divers and two British divers with expert knowledge of the North Sea currents. George Clandon, 71, a retired plumber from Burscough, Lancashire, whose uncle, George Lawson, was an engineer on the Narwhal when it went down, said: “The Polish guys did a magnificent job finding the Narwhal, albeit with a little luck. “As a family we are absolutely delighted they stumbled on the Narwhal. For years we had wondered where it had gone down and what happened had happened. Uncle George can really rest in peace now.”Tamara Lo, the daughter of the Narwhal’s Captain, Lieutenant Commander Robert Burch, said: “I was two in 1940 and only have the vaguest ‘memories’ of my father – rather like short loops of film.“So, after nearly 8 decades of knowing about the loss of the boat, the information that divers had found Narwhal made me cry. I never realised how numerous the crew was.”Mr Clandon, Mrs Lo and other relatives of those lost on board are to meet next month as a first step towards organising a memorial visit to the spot where HMS Narwhal went down next May.The mission would involve six Polish and two British divers going down to the wreck while the mens’ relatives cast a wreath onto the waters above from a research vessel on the surface.There are hopes the divers may be able to affix a permanent plaque to the wreck in memory of those whose remains still lie inside.The HMS Narwhal lies in international waters and is therefore not closed to dives, although it remains the property of the British government. Families of those who died have called for other diving teams to treat the wreck with the respect it deserves.Mr Clandon, who himself served in the Royal Navy until 1970, said: “My uncle was an engineer and would have taken the full impact of the bomb because he was in the engine room.“People didn’t really appreciate what he and the other sailors were doing. There was also a lot of secrecy surrounding their work as they were laying mines to stop enemy ships leaving their harbours.“Of course it should be treated as a war grave to protect it from scavengers and memorabilia hunters.”A Royal Navy Spokesperson said: “Any site of naval military remains, such as this one, should remain undisturbed as a mark of respect for all those who may have lost their lives on such vessels.”The Polish Santi Diving team, armed with sophisticated sonar equipment, confirmed the location of Narwhal earlier this year while on mission to try to find the ORP Orzel (Eagle), which disappeared mysteriously while on a secret mission for the Royal Navy’s 2nd submarine flotilla in 1940.It was no secret there was a 90-metre long vessel lying intact 140 miles off the east coast of Scotland, but no-one knew exactly whose vessel it was.The North Sea is littered with submarine wrecks – 150 sunken German U-Boats, as well as 50 British submarines, several French ones, two Dutch and one Polish one, the long lost Eagle that Poland has been searching for over the last decade. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. A contemporary tribute to the men lost at sea when the HMS Narwhal went down with all hands on board on August 5, 1940