Monthly Archives: February 2018

The U.S. Is On Pace For A Lousy Olympics

The 2018 Winter Olympics are basically halfway over,Which is sad, because winter is the best kind of Olympics.

‘>1 and the usual suspects are off to a great start. The Norwegians, the kings of cross-country skiing, currently lead the medal table with 22 pieces of hardware, including seven golds. The Germans, who traditionally rule luge and biathlon, are not far behind with nine golds and 17 medals. The United States, meanwhile, is in a four-way tie for fifth, having nabbed only nine total medals.

How many should we expect the U.S. to have at this stage of the games, though? Since medals in different sports are awarded at different times, it can be difficult to know whether a country is behind where they should be or right on track. To help with that, we created a simple medal tracker. It compares a given country’s medal count with how many we’d expect based on its historical performance in the sports that have already been completed at this year’s games. It also tells you how many remaining medals a country should pick up over the rest of the Olympics if its athletes play to form. (One note on this: We’re looking at the broad categories of events that make up the Olympics — Alpine skiing, snowboarding, curling, etc. — not the specific events within those categories.)

Here’s how it works: We collected Winter Olympics medal data going back to 1998, when snowboarding was added to the official program as a new sport,As of the 2018 Games, snowboarding is the most recent new sport to be added to the Winter Olympics.

‘>2 and then calculated the share of medals that each country won in each sport. For example, from 1998 to 2014, the U.S. won 33 percent of all gold medals in snowboarding, to go with 17 percent of silvers and 30 percent of bronzes. (Yes, we’re pretty good at snowboarding.) Then we used those historical rates to set the baseline expectations — the expected medals — for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.For example, anytime a snowboarding medal is awarded, we add 0.33 golds, 0.17 silvers and 0.30 bronzes to the U.S.’s expected medal tally.

“>3 There is one big exception to note: The Olympic athletes from Russia use the Russian Federation’s expected-medal rates, but with a 25 percent reduction to reflect the reduced number of Russian athletes competing in the 2018 Games (plus whatever other negative effects the Russian doping scandal might have on their medal tally).

Add up all of those expected medals, and you can see where a country “should” be based on what it’s good at and what’s happened at the games so far. And the U.S. is definitely underperforming in South Korea, relative to expectations. Based on the events that have already been completed at the games, we would expect to have seen 18 American podium appearances thus far, which is exactly double the number the U.S. has actually had. From Lindsey Jacobellis’s coming up short again in boardercross to Mikaela Shiffrin’s shocking non-medal in slalom, Lindsey Vonn’s super-G struggles and Nathan Chen’s disappointing fifth-place finish in men’s figure-skating, no country is off to a rougher start in Pyeongchang than the Americans.

The good news for the U.S., however, is that there are plenty of medal events remaining in which American athletes excel. Based on its rates over the 1998-2014 period, we would expect the U.S. to pick up about 18 more medals before the games are over, which is more than any other country’s projection. Even if that happens, however, our tracker projects that the U.S. would finish a distant fourth in the final medal table — which would be its worst showing at the Winter Olympics since 1998 — but at least it would mean the second half of the games was a lot better than the first.

For Norway, this is shaping up to be its best performance at the Winter Games ever. Even though a number of their best events are over, the Norwegians should still finish strong. Indeed, if they (and everyone else) simply perform to expected baselines over the rest of the Olympics, Norway will finish first in the standings, with 34 medals, ahead of Germany and Canada.

Who will win the most golds?

Medal projections based on each country’s current medals and historical performance in remaining events, as of the end of competition on Feb. 17

Gold medals All medals
Germany 9 13.8 17 30.4
Norway 7 11.4 22 34.1
Netherlands 6 8.9 13 20.5
Canada 5 11.7 15 30.3
United States 5 10.7 9 27.1
Sweden 4 5.6 7 12.6
Austria 3 5.1 9 17.5
France 3 4.7 7 13.7
South Korea 3 5.2 5 9.7
Italy 2 3.1 6 10.3
Switzerland 2 4.5 7 13.7
Belarus 1 1.9 2 3.9
Czech Republic 1 2.0 5 7.7
Great Britain 1 1.2 4 4.9
Japan 1 1.8 9 12.0
Poland 1 1.4 1 2.4
Slovakia 1 1.2 3 3.5
Australia 0 0.9 3 5.0
China 0 1.4 5 10.9
Spain 0 <0.1 2 2.0
Finland 0 0.9 3 8.0
Kazakhstan 0 <0.1 1 1.4
Liechtenstein 0 <0.1 1 1.0
Olympic athletes from Russia* 0 2.7 9 16.6
Slovenia 0 0.2 1 2.1

*Using medal rates for the Russian Federation, but with a 25 percent reduction to reflect that fewer athletes are competing this year, compared to previous games.

SOURCES:, international olympic committee

How Much Did Russian Interference Affect The 2016 Election?

One of my least favorite questions is: “Did Russian interference cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 election?” The question is newly relevant because of special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians on Friday on charges that they used a variety of shady techniques to discourage people from voting for Clinton and encourage them to vote for Donald Trump. That doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to answer, however. But here are my high-level thoughts in light of the indictment. (For more detail on these, listen to our emergency politics podcast.)

1. Russian interference is hard to measure because it wasn’t a discrete event.

You know what probably did cost Clinton the election? The letter that former FBI Director James Comey sent to Congress on Oct. 28, 2016, and the subsequent media firestorm over it. The impact is relatively easy to measure because it was the biggest news event in the final two weeks of the campaign, and we can compare polls conducted just before the Comey letter to the ones conducted just after it.Even there, there’s some ambiguity — but considering that Clinton essentially lost the election by only 0.8 percentage points (Trump’s margin of victory in the tipping-point state, Wisconsin) and that the Comey letter coincided with a polling shift of about 3 points toward Trump, we can be reasonably confident that it was enough to make the difference.


Russian interference isn’t like that. By contrast, the indictment (and previous reporting on the subject) suggests that the interference campaign had been underway for years (since at least 2014) and gradually evolved from a more general-purpose trolling operation into something that sought to undermine Clinton while promoting Trump (and to a lesser degree, Bernie Sanders). To the extent it mattered, it would have blended into the background and had a cumulative effect over the entirety of the campaign.

2. The magnitude of the interference revealed so far is not trivial but is still fairly modest as compared with the operations of the Clinton and Trump campaigns.

The indictment alleges that an organization called the Internet Research Agency had a monthly budget of approximately $1.25 million toward interference efforts by September 2016 and that it employed “hundreds of individuals for its online operation.” This is a fairly significant magnitude — much larger than the paltry sums that Russian operatives had previously been revealed to spend on Facebook advertising.

Nonetheless, it’s small as compared with the campaigns. The Clinton campaign and Clinton-backing super PACs spent a combined $1.2 billion over the course of the campaign. The Trump campaign and pro-Trump super PACs spent $617 million overall.

In terms of headcounts rather than budgets, the gap isn’t quite so dramatic. The “hundreds” of people working for the Internet Research Agency compare with 4,200 paid Clinton staffersIncluding Democratic National Committee staffers and people who worked for state parties.

“>2 and 880 paid Trump staffers.Including Republican National Committee staffers and people who worked for state parties.

“>3 Russian per-capita GDP is estimated at around $10,000 U.S. dollars — about one-sixth of what it is in the U.S. — so a $1.25 million monthly budget potentially goes a lot farther there than it does here. The Russian efforts were on the small side as compared with the massive magnitudes of the campaigns, but not so small that you’d consider them a rounding error.

3. Thematically, the Russian interference tactics were consistent with the reasons Clinton lost.

How did Trump win? Or more to the point, how did Trump win given that he only had a 38 percent favorability rating among people who voted on Election Day? The answer is partly the Electoral College, of course. But it’s also that Clinton was really, really unpopular herself — almost as unpopular as Trump — with a favorability rating of just 43 percent among Election Day voters. Also, the substantial number of voters who disliked both Clinton and Trump went to Trump by a 17-point margin. Voters really weren’t willing to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt.

That’s largely because Clinton was viewed as dishonest and untrustworthy, exactly the sort of message that the Russian campaign (which used hashtags such as #Hillary4Prison) was trying to cultivate. Trump, of course, was trying to cultivate this message too. Media coverage often struck the same themes. And voters sometimes heard variations on this theme from Sanders and his supporters in the more contentious moments of the Democratic primaries. Was some of this Clinton’s fault? Yep, of course. Would Clinton still have been “Crooked Hillary” even without the Russians? Almost certainly. But the Russians were at least adding fuel to the right fire — the one that wound up consuming Clinton’s campaign.

The indictment also alleges that the Russian conspirators sought to suppress African-American turnout. A decline in black turnout was an important — perhaps even decisive — factor in Clinton’s defeat, although it may have been inevitable given that Barack Obama, the first African-American president, had been on the ballot in 2012.

Overall, then, my view on the effects of Russian interference is fairly agnostic. I tend to focus more on factors — such as Clinton’s email scandal or the Comey letter (and the media’s handling of those stories) — that had easier-to-prove effects. The hacked emails from the Clinton campaign and the DNC (which may or may not have had anything to do with the Russians) potentially also were more influential than the Russian efforts detailed in Friday’s indictments. Clinton’s Electoral College strategy didn’t have as much of an effect as some people assume — but it was pretty stupid all the same and is certainly worth mentioning.

But if it’s hard to prove anything about Russian interference, it’s equally hard to disprove anything: The interference campaign could easily have had chronic, insidious effects that could be mistaken for background noise but which in the aggregate were enough to swing the election by 0.8 percentage points toward Trump — not a high hurdle to clear because 0.8 points isn’t much at all.

Perhaps there are more clever methodologies that one could undertake. For instance, if we knew which states the efforts were concentrated in, we might be able to make a few additional inferences. Maybe some of that information will come to light as the result of Mueller’s probe and further investigative reporting. For the time being, however, we’re still somewhat in the dark.

Beside The Points For Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018

Things That Caught My Eye

Kane sure looks like the best striker in the world

Harry Kane on the Tottenham Hotspur got his 100th goal in the English Premier League two weeks ago, with only Alan Shearer accomplishing it in fewer games. This season alone, Harry Kane is at the top of the five European leagues, with 23 goals from 61 shots on goals in 26 games. [FiveThirtyEight]

The Dutch came here to skate with alacrity and not much else

As of the end of competition on Wednesday, players from the Netherlands have won 121 medals of which 42 were gold in the Winter Olympics. Of those, 95.4 percent of the golds and 94.2 percent of the total medals were in the sport of speedskating, making them the top one-trick nation in the games. [FiveThirtyEight]

Try out our interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?

Kim gets Gold and Gold gets Bronze

Americans Chloe Kim and Arielle Gold medaled in the halfpipe snowboarding competition, with the seventeen year old phenom Kim taking a gold medal and Gold, who suffered a freak injury in Sochi, dislocating her shoulder on the flukey halfpipe at that games, taking third place. [The Washington Post]

Yeah, well, we’ll get ’em in the rematch

Two of the best teams in the world, Canada and the United States, had a tumultuous first game in women’s hockey at the Olympics, with Canada’s 2-1 victory meaning they clinch the top seed in pool play. The two teams could very well face off against one another in next week’s final. Meanwhile, Team USA stomped the Olympic Athletes from Russia, with Jocelyne Lamoureaux scoring two goals in six seconds, an Olympic record. [ESPN]

Try out our brand new super fun quiz, Which Winter Olympic Sport Is Best For You? I got ski jumping!

The men aren’t doing that well

Meanwhile, the U.S. men lost 3-2 to Slovenia in overtime after coughing up a 2-0 lead heading into the third period. The good news is that that game just helped to figure out the seeding for the knockout rounds, but that concludes our good news regarding the men’s U.S. hockey team for the time being. [Deadspin]

She doesn’t even go here!

About six percent of Olympic athletes do not actually live in the nations they represent, which adds up to an estimated total of 178. Of those 178, at least 37 of them are Americans playing for other teams. Typically these folks have either dual citizenship or have fast-tracked naturalization in their chosen nation. [ESPN]

Big Number

29.6 percent

That’s the percentage of alpine ski race runs that are unfinished. While skeleton certainly looks like it’s designed for people to wipe out all the time, only 0.6 percent of races end in DQs. [FiveThirtyEight]

Leaks from Slack:


wow BIG curling comeback for the USA
we were down 6-1 and now its 6-6
against Italy




yay curling


[i do not]


italy just hit a great shot


OMG you guys are watching too???
We’re watching in the alcove
This match has been crazy
3+ points in almost every end, multiple steals


the USA outfits are cute




Oh, and don’t forget
What are the men scared of?

How To Find The Best Soccer Matches Of The Week

On any given week during peak soccer season, FiveThirtyEight offers projections for dozens of club soccer matches across the globe. The sheer volume of matches taking place this time of year can be paralyzing. With that in mind, we’ve added a feature to our club soccer predictions that rates upcoming matches on their quality and importance. You can use this page to pick a few good ones to be sure not to miss.

This week’s biggest match — rated an overall 96 out of 100 — is today’s Champions League round of 16 first leg between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain. This is a bit of a no-brainer — it features Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo leading the second- and third-best teams in the world against each other in a high-stakes clash. But there are some other good matches to watch: Borussia Dortmund and Atalanta — two of the best eight remaining teams in the Europa League — play each other on Thursday in the round of 32. If we dig deeper, Empoli and Parma — two teams fighting for promotion and the league title at the top of a very tight Italian Serie B — play each other Saturday. And Manchester United plays Chelsea on Feb. 25 in the Premier League in what is a pivotal match for Champions League qualification.

Here’s how we calculate our match ratings:

Quality is simply a measure of how good the teams are. Specifically, it’s the harmonic mean of the two teams’ Soccer Power Index ratings. (We’re using the harmonic mean instead of merely averaging the two ratings because in lopsided matches it limits the impact of very high or low ratings, resulting in a more balanced number.) Because every team has an SPI rating between 0 and 100, our match quality stat also ranges from 0 to 100.

Importance is a measure of how much the outcome of the match will affect our forecast for how likely the two teams are to win the league, or be relegated or promoted, among other things. To calculate it, we generate probabilities conditional on each team winning the match and then find the difference between those two possible numbers.

We consider different factors depending on which league the match is being played in. For some leagues, our forecasts cover winning the league and qualifying for the Champions League, for example.

We take a weighted average of the change in each applicable factor and scale the result to between 0 and 100. All leagues are treated equally when calculating importance, so a match to decide the winner of the Swedish Allsvenskan would rate just as high as a match to decide the winner of the English Premier League.

The overall match rating is just the average of quality and importance.

Visit our club soccer predictions to explore the ratings of all the upcoming matches yourself.

Harry Kane Is Making His Case For World’s Best Striker

The stage has never been bigger for Tottenham Hotspur’s star striker Harry Kane. On Saturday, Spurs defeated Arsenal 1-0 in the North London Derby, one of the Premier League’s most storied rivalries. Now it’s off to Turin, Italy, where they’ll take on Juventus, one of Europe’s most storied clubs, in the Champions League round of 16. And there will never be a better moment than now for Kane to demonstrate, in front of the entire soccer-loving world, that he just might be the best pure striker alive.

Kane won himself a place in history when he notched his 100th English Premier League goal on a controversial stoppage time penalty two weekends ago against Liverpool. It’s an incredible achievement for a player who, at 24 years old, is only just now hitting the prime years of his career. Kane is not the fastest ever to the century mark, but only Alan Shearer managed it in fewer appearances than Kane’s 141, and only Wayne Rooney, Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen did it at a younger age. The milestone also just happens to come during the best season of Kane’s young career. If anything, his league-leading 23 goals undersells just how good Kane has been.

The top of the Premier League scoring table is increasingly split between traditional forwards, like Kane, Sergio Aguero and Romelu Lukaku, and more hybrid attacking wingers, like Mohamed Salah and Raheem Sterling, which makes it difficult to define what the center forward role looks like in modern soccer. The same problem crops up around the rest of Europe. Calling Lionel Messi a center forward undersells all the things he does for Barcelona, especially considering that he’s playing next to, behind and generally all around a truer version of a center forward in Luis Suarez. At Paris-Saint Germain, Neymar might be the best attacking player in the world, but he’s also a winger while Edinson Cavani occupies the center forward position. The line between forward and winger is increasingly blurry, and a list of the most productive scorers in Europe is littered with goal-scoring wingers. But Kane still sits atop that list.

Kane is Europe’s best pure scorer

The top goal scorers in the five major European leagues this season

Player Team Games Total on goal goals
1 H. Kane Tottenham 26 150 61 23
2 M. Salah Liverpool 26 103 49 22
3 E. Cavani PSG 23 81 41 21
S. Agüero Manchester City 22 88 39 21
5 L. Messi Barcelona 23 132 61 20
C. Immobile Lazio 21 75 37 20
7 Neymar PSG 18 82 37 19
R. Lewandowski Bayern Munich 21 87 35 19
9 M. Icardi Inter Milan 22 68 38 18
10 R. Falcao Monaco 20 59 30 17
F. Quagliarella Sampdoria 23 86 38 17
12 N. Fekir Lyon 22 70 38 16
L. Suárez Barcelona 20 76 38 16
14 R. Sterling Manchester City 25 63 26 15
I. Aspas Celta Vigo 22 65 30 15
D. Mertens Napoli 24 89 35 15
17 F. Thauvin Marseille 25 92 34 14
Mariano Lyon 24 70 32 14
P. Aubameyang* Arsenal 18 61 29 14
G. Higuaín Juventus 23 75 30 14
P. Dybala Juventus 19 75 30 14

*Recently transferred from Borussia Dortmund

The five leagues are the English Premier League, Serie A (Italy), La Liga (Spain), Ligue 1 (France) and the Bundesliga (Germany).

Source: Espn Stats & Information Group

Kane posts tremendous numbers in many scoring measures. Looking at goals from open play (so removing penalty shots and direct free kicks), Kane is scoring 0.8 goals per 90 minutes. That’s the third-best rate in Europe’s big five leagues,Among players who have played at least 1000 minutes.

“>1 behind only Salah and Cavani. Kane has the second-most shots per 90 from open play as well, with 5.30. Only Cristiano Ronaldo, who is mired in a terrible shooting season, takes more shots, with 5.71 per 90. Only five other players are even over four shots per game: Roma’s Edin Dzeko, Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne, Messi, Salah, and Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski.In fact, if Kane stays on pace and finishes the season with more than five shots per 90 minutes, he’ll be one of only three players to do so in the last five years, joining Ronaldo (who did it four times) and Gonzalo Higuain, who managed it with Napoli in 2015/16.


Kane is similarly at the top of the list when it comes to expected goals per 90 minutes. His 0.78 expected goals per 90 tracks pretty closely with his actual goals scored and is good for fifth best among players with at least 1,000 minutes, trailing only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who just transferred to Arsenal, Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City, Ronaldo and Lewandowski. The fact that Kane’s finishing is roughly in line with his expected goals is an important marker of how he has developed from last season to this year.

His scoring on shots from open play actually remains essentially unchanged from last year, going from 0.81 to 0.80, but his expected goal rate last season was much lower, only 0.48. Finishing more chances than expected, as Kane did a year ago, is a real skill but it’s also almost impossible to do consistently, and players’ numbers are incredibly noisy and undergo wild fluctuations. Some of Kane’s goal scoring last season came on the types of wonderful finishes that typically fly over the bar, or on contested headers that usually glance just wide. In other words, if Kane’s current season were similar to last year, it’s very likely that his goal scoring would have gone down. Instead, Kane has upped his game, creating and taking more shots and better shots. Last season, Kane scored like a great striker, but he played like a very good one. This year, he’s both playing and scoring like one of the best in the game.

The case for Kane as one of the world’s best strikers is easy to make, but once you get up into the rarified air of players like Salah, Lewandowski and Aubameyang, differentiating between them becomes difficult. Where Kane stands out is in just how big a share of the team’s workload he takes on. Again looking at shots not including penalties and direct free kicks, there are 101 players in the top five leagues who have scored seven or more goals. Harry Kane takes 32.7 percent of his team’s shots when he’s on the field — none of the other 100 players are more involved. Ronaldo is second at 32.0 percent, Messi is third at 31.4. (Ronaldo and Messi, of course, both take a large number of direct free kicks that aren’t getting counted here, while Kane gets credit for all the shots he accumulates on set plays that aren’t direct free kicks. So Kane has some advantage that comes from how we’re defining the center forward role.)

Kane is similarly dominant when it comes to expected goals from these shots. When he’s on the field, he accounts for a whopping 41.7 percent of Spurs’ expected goals, the third most of this set of players. Only Antonio Sanabria of Real Betis, who is having an improbable season with seven goals in six substitute appearances, and Cristhian Stuani of the surprisingly competent Spanish side Girona are responsible for a higher percentage of their teams’ expected goals. This is the primary argument for Kane. While some players have scored more goals, and some players may have slightly higher underlying expected goals numbers, no strikers in the world have put up the gaudy numbers Kane has while accounting for as high a share of their team’s shooting and finishing.

Harry Kane isn’t a complete forward. His job isn’t to facilitate play, or bring wingers into the game, or create holes in the defense for his teammates to take advantage of. Tottenham Hotspur’s star striker does one thing: He scores. But that goal scoring has Tottenham challenging for a top-four place in the Premier League and has gotten Spurs into the knockout rounds of the Champions League. Nobody scores as much while accounting for as high a percentage of their team’s scoring. He’s the ultimate scoring forward, and at only 24 years old, he’s likely to be a dominant force for years to come.

Politics Podcast: What’s So Wrong With Nancy Pelosi?



Nancy Pelosi has been a key figure in Republican attack ads for years, and this year is no different. The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast team debates why she is the focus of so much negative attention from the right (and often the left, too). The crew also breaks down the findings in a new study claiming that the “use of election forecasts in campaign coverage can confuse voters and may lower turnout.”

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with occasional special episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

Why Tennessee — The Men! — Could Easily Get A No. 1 Seed

With roughly a month left in the college basketball season, three teams already have a tight grip on one of the four No. 1 seeds in this year’s men’s NCAA tournament: Villanova, Virginia and Purdue. But the last top spot is very much up for grabs. And one team that is a legitimate contender to snag it may be a surprise to college hoops fans: Tennessee.

Tennessee, on paper, may seem like a long shot for a coveted top seed: The Vols have five losses and are only ranked 15th in the latest AP poll. What’s more, Tennessee has never been a top seed in the NCAA tournament, has never made it to the Final Four, and was predicted to finish 13th in its conference in a preseason SEC media poll.

But according to ESPN’s College Basketball Power Index, which estimates team strength and is designed to predict future performance, the Volunteers have a 37 percent chance of earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. That gives them the best shot of any of the remaining teams outside the top three.

One last No. 1 seed up for grabs

Men’s college basketball teams with the best chances of getting a No. 1 seed according to ESPN’s College Basketball Power Index

Team BPI Rank Chance at No. 1 seed
Virginia 2 >99%
Villanova 1 >99
Purdue 3 94
Tennessee 12 37
Xavier 14 21
Kansas 7 16
Michigan St. 6 10
North Carolina 10 8
Duke 5 6

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

One key to BPI’s projection is that it considers not only what Tennessee has done so far but also what it thinks every team will do over the remainder of the regular season and conference tournament. So what makes the Volunteers’ chances so strong? A combination of accomplishment, a front-loaded schedule and tough roads for competitors.

Let’s start with what Tennessee has done so far this year. The Vols rank seventh in Strength of Record — strong, especially for a team with five losses, but not enough to justify making them a No. 1 seed if the season ended today. One reason Tennessee ranks so high in this measure is that those losses are made more palatable by the circumstances (opponent and game location) they came in. The Volunteers lost to the best team in Division I, Villanova, on a neutral court before falling to two top-20 BPI teams in North Carolina and Auburn at home. They have two losses against lesser opponents, Missouri and Arkansas, but both came on the road. And while neither the Tigers or Razorbacks are ranked, both are currently forecast to make the tournament and rank in the Top 50 in BPI, so these losses aren’t complete clunkers (like, say, this one).

Even if the members of the selection committee ignored Strength of Record (though it will now be right in front of them when they perform the selection), they would only see “quality” losses. In its current team sheets, the committee divides games up into quadrants of difficulty according to RPI rank and whether the game was played at home, on the road or on a neutral court. Of the four levels of difficulty, all five of Tennessee’s losses appear in the toughest quadrant at the moment. In addition, the Volunteers have recorded impressive wins against Purdue earlier this season and at Kentucky on Tuesday.

If facing all of those teams already this season sounds difficult, that’s because it is. The Volunteers have faced the fourth-toughest schedule thus far per BPI, but it’s about to get easier, because they have just the 64th-most-difficult regular-season schedule remaining. That’s right in the sweet spot: There’s a 56 percent chance they only take one or zero losses during that stretch, according to BPI, but the games are still challenging enough that they’ll get some credit for the wins. From there, they’ll likely need to win the SEC tournament to land a No. 1 seed, but they are the favorite (36 percent) to do that according to BPI. If the Vols can lose no more than once the rest of the way and win their conference tournament, their projection for getting a No. 1 seed will rise to a 85 percent.

The road gets easier for the Volunteers

The chances of Tennessee’s men’s basketball team winning each of their remaining regular-season games

Date Opponent Location Chance of Winning
Feb. 10 Alabama Away 65%
Feb. 13 South Carolina Home 92
Feb. 17 Georgia Away 77
Feb. 21 Florida Home 81
Feb. 24 U. of Mississippi Away 79
Feb. 27 Mississippi State Away 71
March 3 Georgia Home 91

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

Part of the reason Tennessee could earn a top seed even without meeting the above criteria is that its competitors have a tough road ahead.

Xavier, for example, currently has the third-best Strength of Record in Division I, but BPI projects it to lose twice more this regular season — the team is an underdog at Creighton Saturday and at Villanova the following Saturday — and is a long shot to win the Big East tournament (17 percent), which all combines to suppress the Musketeers’ chances.

Kansas is a similar story. Though it’s the best team in the Big 12, the conference is so stacked that the Jayhawks only have a 36 percent chance to win their conference tournament. Michigan State is only projected to lose about one more game during the regular season, but it isn’t as good as Purdue, according to BPI, so the Spartans will likely take another loss in their conference tournament. Duke was a serious contender until Thursday night, when the Blue Devils dropped a close game to their rival Tar Heels, reducing Duke’s chances of earning a No. 1 seed from 29 percent to 6 percent.

In other words, the best thing that Tennessee has going for it is that it’s in a slightly weaker conference than most of the other majors and happens to be the best team in that conference, per BPI. Granted, if one of those other teams outperforms its projection, then Tennessee will probably be left off the top seed line. But right now, the Vols have a shot.

Paul Sabin contributed to this story.

Beside The Points For Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018

Things That Caught My Eye

Teams to watch in Pyeongchang

Tomorrow the Olympic Games kicks off in Pyeongchang, South Korea. For the U.S., we’re going to see a number of winter Olympic staples — Lindsey Vonn is back at it again — but there are a few newcomers to watch. Nathan Chen of Salt Lake City won the last two U.S. titles in figure skating and is poised to be a serious competitor this year. And the U.S. Women’s Hockey Team is hot off a pay raise fight and is the favorite to win gold. [The Atlantic]

Five weeks in, a barrier gets smashed

Kim “Geguri” Se-yeon, a South Korean Overwatch off-tank, will be the first woman to sign with a professional Overwatch team as the Shanghai Dragons try to shake up their line up. The Dragons are in dire need of a pace reset, as they’re currently at the bottom of the esports league and are winless five weeks into the inaugural season. [ESPN]

Try out our interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?

OWL first round playoffs this Saturday

The first round of the Overwatch League comes to an end this Saturday, with the 7-1 New York and London teams definitely in the playoff and several other teams — including the Houston Outlaws, Los Angeles Valiant, Seoul Dynasty — in the hunt today and tomorrow for that last spot. Houston has a major tiebreaker advantage over Seoul and Los Angeles, but is a game back and still has to face two imposing rivals. Once the favorites, Seoul has been in a tailspin recently and was blanked by Los Angeles Wednesday. [ESPN, ESPN]

Drafted a win

The Philadelphia Eagles have the sixth highest weighted draft value on their roster of all Super Bowl champions since 1993. They had the most impact players who were drafted high than any team since the Ravens in 2000, with six of the nine starters on the offensive and defensive lines taken in the first two rounds. [FiveThirtyEight]

NHL not represented in Olympics

Given the league’s decision to not allow players to participate in the Olympic Games, who on earth is actually playing hockey in Pyeongchang? Old timers, it turns out, with plenty of former NHL players suiting up to represent their countries. Canada leads when it comes to aggregate NHL experience, with its team having played a cumulative 5,444 games in the league. [FiveThirtyEight]

Niners nail down Jimmy

Jimmy Garoppolo signed a five year $137.5 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers, $90 million of which is guaranteed in the first three years, and instantly making a player who has seven NFL starts one of the league’s best paid players. [ESPN]

Big Number

3 trades

The Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off three explosive trades in the final hours ahead of the NBA trade deadline, first trading Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye to the Lakers, then trading Dwayne Wade to Miami, then trading Iman Shumpert to Sacramento and Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose to Utah in a three team deal. [ESPN]

Leaks from Slack:



This kind of lays the blame for slow free agency at the feet of tanking:

The Rising Storm That Froze Baseball’s Hot Stove Market

I wonder, though, how much more teams really are tanking now than in the past. We could compare Fangraphs’ preseason forecasted wins this year to forecasts from the past and see where the distribution is different


Oh, and don’t forget
Jason Kelce is a madman

20 Years Of Congress’s Budget Procrastination, In One Chart

Every year, Congress faces an Oct. 1 deadline to pass a spending package that will pay for our government through the following fiscal year. And every year since 1998, Congress has blown straight past that deadline. The government is prohibited from operating without funding, so lawmakers rely on stopgap legislation, called “continuing resolutions,” to temporarily approve funding and avoid a shutdown while they negotiate a longer-term deal. But those resolutions don’t buy Congress a lot of time, sometimes as little as one day. The result — to use the go-to cliché for government funding — is that Congress repeatedly kicks the can down the road.

If the two-year, bipartisan spending deal that the Senate announced Wednesday is any indicator, legislators appear to have had enough of the recurring budget drama. House members will vote on the bill just ahead of a looming Thursday deadline, which was set when the most recent continuing resolution was signed into effect, ending last month’s three-day shutdown.

This is an old dance for legislators — there have been an average of 4.6 continuing resolutions per fiscal year since 1977. But keeping the government open for a few weeks at a time has its costs. A new study by the Government Accountability Office describes how these temporary deals create inefficiencies in contracting, hiring and clinical research. And when the government does shut down, the productivity losses can add up. The Bureau of Economic analysis estimated that the growth of the country’s gross domestic product was slowed by 0.3 percentage points in the fourth quarter of 2013 as a result of that year’s shutdown. Setting spending levels for the next two years might open up space for more compromise on next year’s appropriations bills because a breakdown in negotiations won’t result in a government shutdown. Or the longer-term bill might just free lawmakers from the pressure of being in Washington next October — right before the midterm elections.

Screw It — Let’s Debate Some Hypothetical LeBron Trades

The NBA trade deadline is Thursday afternoon, so we assembled FiveThirtyEight’s resident basketball writers — plus editor-in-chief/trade machine troll Nate Silver — to bandy about some, um, creative trade ideas for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Sure, James says he won’t waive his no-trade clause. (He says a lot of things.) But if LeBron somehow does assent to a deal, should the Cavs think about trading him? The transcript below has been lightly edited.

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): We are all gathered here because FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver had a very hot NBA trade deadline take that he needed to get out into the world. Nate, what is your idea?

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): I think the Cavaliers should trade LeBron James.


neil: Go on …

natesilver: I think the Cavaliers are a dumpster fire right now, and their trade options aren’t very attractive because their second- and third-best players are at the bottom of their market value (because of an injury in Kevin Love’s case). And I think it’s too risky to trade Brooklyn’s No. 1 pick when there’s a good chance that LeBron leaves anyway this summer. So it’s maybe their least-worst option.

kyle (Kyle Wagner, senior editor): Disagree, vehemently, but also I have a muscle emoji trade proposal for if they do, so willing to hear this out.

natesilver: I’m assuming they can get something pretty good, though.

chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): Funny thing is, I think Love’s value would have been pretty decent now had it not been for his injury.

neil: So this notion implicitly assumes that the Cavs have no chance this year and should just wave the white flag on the season. Is that fair for a LeBron-led team that has won the East three years running, even given how bad they look right now?

chris.herring: But this dumpster fire does feel fundamentally different from the past midseason lulls.

natesilver: Just to set a fairly low bar here … what if the Cavs could get Brandon Ingram + Lonzo Ball + an unprotected No. 1 from the Lakers. (Plus a bunch of crap to make the salaries work.) They’d definitely be smart to do that, right? (Assuming that LeBron telegraphs that he’ll sign in LA long term, which is part of the Lakers’ calculus.)

chris.herring: I guess it comes down to this: Yes, it would be devastating and perhaps crippling to lose the guy for nothing. At the same time, don’t you have to be 100 percent sure that he wouldn’t come back before you deal him?

(It’s also worth mentioning here that he has a no-trade clause. So they couldn’t just deal him away without talking with him first.)


According to our projections, the Cavs have a 16 percent chance of reaching the finals again and a 5 percent chance of winning the title. And that’s with giving them a huge post-season bonus that assumes they’ll be a much better team in April than they are now.

kyle: The reason the Cavs shouldn’t trade LeBron is pretty simple to me: certainty. They are trash right now, but we do expect at least some elevation come playoff time, just given recent history. But if you can make two assumptions, it’s crazy to trade him:

Assumption 1: The Cavs are still a lock or a heavy favorite to advance out of the East. This is not a certainty! But I’m still having a very, very hard time taking Boston and Toronto at face value.

Assumption 2: If a star Warrior is injured, the Cavs, as currently constructed, can beat that team, or at least be competitive.

Assumption 1 gives you certainty: For the same reason that teams’ championship odds go WAY up once they advance a round and the other teams in the pool are still locking up their series, being chalk for the finals gives the Cavs a huge edge — if we think that’s still true.

Assumption 2 is more important, though: If we think it’s true, it means their win-condition has not meaningfully changed. The Cavs were never going to compete with a full-strength Warriors team. They may have thought they were, but given the state of their roster and the state of Golden State’s, it was not going to happen. They always needed something to go sideways. In other words, this is still the best chance the Cavs will have at a title, and those chances maybe aren’t as diminished from earlier this season, or last season, as it seems.

natesilver: (If you use a system like Basketball Power Index that doesn’t include a playoff boost, the Cavs’ odds of winning the title are … 0.2%).

kyle: That said, they should definitely try to trade LeBron for Kawhi Leonard and see what happens.

neil: Yes!

natesilver: But what are the chances that Isaiah Thomas isn’t still complete trash by the playoffs?

Or maybe that’s setting a low bar — but that he’s an above-average point guard (meaning very good offensively given his defensive liabilities).

kyle: Low! But that doesn’t change the premise here. The question isn’t how much better the Cavs can get here; it’s whether improving this last-gasp roster with LeBron, who may leave this summer, is the best shot Cleveland has at a title. The alternative is tearing it all down and playing the lottery game, but that isn’t anything close to a guarantee at a roster that can mount even an empty challenge for the title.

We’ve seen what rebuilding without LeBron looks like in Cleveland.

natesilver: I guess I’m just assuming that he’s more likely than not to leave and that if he stays, he might only stay for a year.

neil: What do you think those odds are, Nate, if you had to put a number on it?

natesilver: I think there’s a … 70 percent chance that he leaves? I dunno. I’m not Woj. I just think there are other places where he’d be more likely to win a title and that he doesn’t have a lot to prove in Cleveland.

kyle: I get that, but my argument here is that one playoff run with LeBron is worth several years of potential value, because certainty is very hard to come by and LeBron is as close to a sure thing as we’ve had. So if you can flip the Nets pick and Isaiah for, say, Kemba Walker, you should max out in your window. The bill will come due, but I think it’s reasonable to max out when you think you’ve got a shot, even a faint one.

(FWIW, Woj-types believe Cleveland won’t trade the pick before the deadline.)

neil: Yeah, a lot of it depends on what we think the Cavs’ odds of winning this season are as currently constructed in addition to the odds that LeBron would return to Cleveland (which could happen!), versus the chance that they’d be able to build a team as close to contending as this one using the Brooklyn pick plus whatever assets they get in a LeBron trade.

Which I think is what you’re getting at, Kyle.

natesilver: I think our odds showing them with only a 16 percent chance of winning the East are too low. But they’re really dysfunctional right now, they have a lot of work to do just get functional, they’re probably going to have to win a couple of road series just to make the finals … and then they’re going to have to beat the Warriors, or maybe the Rockets.

kyle: Anyway, back to my Kawhi trade. LeBron and Pop! LeBron could make a pairing with LaMarcus Aldridge work! Remember that no-look Hammer pass that LeBron claimed he was the the only person in the world capable of throwing but actually Boris Diaw threw for the Spurs for years and years? Run that back!!!

Also not for nothing, but Boris was a useful player in the league very recently, and he was essentially Washed-Up LeBron. I’m pretty sure LeBron could be 2015 Boris at age 60.

natesilver: Why would San Antonio do that, though?

chris.herring: There’s a part of me that wants Bron to play out the rest of the season as a Cav and then just maneuver a way to San Antonio or Houston.

kyle: So LeBron’s no-trade clause makes all of this very academic. But in the timeline in which this happens, it would be backchanneled that he’d stick around a while. And IF the rift between Kawhi and the front office is real and IF Kawhi’s mysterious leg injury persists … Pop still tells Cavs owner Dan Gilbert to eat dirt, but it would be fun.

And in theory, it would get him down there under the cap.

chris.herring: I don’t think he would truly elevate anyone to championship level this year, aside from maybe Boston. The gap is too wide between the Warriors, the Rockets and everyone else.

neil: And that factor is a big part of any LeBron trade — since he has the no-trade clause, as you mentioned, Chris, he basically gets to choose what situation would be best for winning over the rest of this season.

natesilver: Here’s another idea that I stole from some Bucks blog I was reading: (Edit: Actually, here.)


That’s … not terrible, right?

kyle: I don’t think the Bucks make sense at all, tbh. There’s a ton of duplication of skills with Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Giannis isn’t developed the way Dwyane Wade was in 2010 to play next to LeBron as a non-shooter.

natesilver: But they’re getting 2018 Wade in the deal! Return to Milwaukee!

I agree that they have overlapping-ish skill sets (which is a very, very nice thing to say about Giannis). But if the Bucks already had LeBron and you could clone him — well, you’d give up Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton and Thon Maker and Matthew Dellavedova for that, wouldn’t you?

kyle: That’s the same reason the 76ers don’t really work. Joel Embiid is an amazing fit, but Ben Simmons not being able to shoot past the length of his arm is a tough, tough sell. Look at the players who have thrived next to LeBron — aside from Wade, who turned into a killer off-ball cutter and could always get to the rack, there isn’t really another guy who thrived with James without an outside shot. LeBron teams just run the LeBron offense, and a star like Giannis or Simmons doesn’t really fit that mold.

In a way, the Bucks would be better off keeping Jabari and Middleton in that deal and finding another way to get value for Giannis.

natesilver: Are you ready to get trolled? Here’s my next idea.

chris.herring: LOL. Nate’s next idea must be a doozy



neil: LOL

chris.herring: 😒😒😒😒😒😒😒

natesilver: It’s basically the Arizona Wranglers-Chicago Blitz franchise swap option.

chris.herring: I will say this: We don’t exactly know how Gordon Hayward comes back. And he hasn’t shown to be someone you can run your offense through. It grinded my gears last year that Iso Joe Johnson was Utah’s end-of-game shot taker.

neil: I just wanna see the look on Kyrie Irving’s face when that is announced.

chris.herring: Exactly! Kyrie would throw a hissy fit if that happened. He just ran away from that situation. So you can’t deal for a guy that would put him in that scenario all over again.

natesilver: You can also include a Al Horford-for-Love swap if you want as part of it — the salaries work out.

neil: Even better!

But, seriously, I’m curious — does the destination in-season have to be the team LeBron would be interested in re-signing with? How would the return package change between a team that thinks it can hang onto LeBron past 2018 and a team for whom he’s just a five-month rental?

natesilver: I guess I’m thinking back to the Carmelo Anthony precedent — where a team would pay a lot to “lock him in.” Maybe a big premium over fair market price.

chris.herring: Kind of like the Rockets just did with Chris Paul, before he hit free agency?

kyle: OK, here’s an actual (and still idiotic) idea: If Cleveland is going to trade for a Boston guard, it should target Marcus Smart. Cleveland’s defense is awful. Marcus is a one-man defense. Boston very likely can’t pay Marcus this summer. Given Cleveland’s needs, Smart makes as much sense as a microwave scoring option to replace Kyrie one-to-one. It’s just much harder to justify spending assets on him to your fans and owner.

natesilver: But Cleveland doesn’t really have needs anymore if they trade LeBron, right?

Or at least, not short-term needs?

kyle: If Cleveland trades LeBron, its short-term needs include riot gear and tarps for the 300-level.

chris.herring: LOL

neil: What’s incredible is that even after all of their struggles, the Cavs are still quite likely to make the playoffs. So basically this would have them limp into the postseason as a hollowed-out zombie version of a team, while some other team actually trying will miss the playoffs.


kyle: This is a real thing, though: Building in a small market is HARD. This is why teams like the Pistons take such big risks just to get a guy like Blake Griffin or why Memphis paid Mike Conley and Marc Gasol knowing the clock was up on that core. Things worked out, eventually, for the Philly teardown, but even those guys, good as they look, are playing .500 ball in the East at the stage Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal were making the finals.

If the Cavs parachute out of the LeBron era, they have to be VERY certain that there’s no chance whatsoever this season and that LeBron is very, very likely to leave.

chris.herring: I honestly think he’d have to straight-up tell them he’s gone. Anything short of that, and fans will never forgive you. We’re a site that deals in probabilities, but no fan would give a damn about that.

natesilver: I mean, I feel like we’re going in circles here. Let’s say the Cavs have a (i) 5 percent to 10 percent chance to win the title this year; (ii) 70 percent chance that LeBron leaves this summer; (iii) a further 70 percent chance that LeBron leaves next summer, even if he’s still here this summer. And let’s say you can get a potential franchise talent — not a Ben Simmons level talent, but say Donovan Mitchell or Ingram — in return.

chris.herring: All it would take is LeBron saying 20 years from now that he never wanted to leave, and Dan Gilbert would get threatening letters in droves for a decision that actually seemed wise at the time.

neil: That’s the thing with LeBron — he loves to keep his options open.


This is the kind of thing that all parties might be able to get behind IF they all admit this season is a wash.

natesilver: Yeah, if LeBron went to the Lakers this year, part of the idea might be that he’d get to take the playoffs off or maybe even end his regular season early (unless they won like six in a row or something).

kyle: It clears the decks for LeBron in LA salary-wise, moves one but not all of the young talent, and slots in LeBron with Lonzo, Kyle Kuzma, a possible Julius Randle re-signing (haven’t done that exact math) and another free agent.

tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): Jumping in late here, but if we’re doing Lakers trades, I’m just going to leave this here. TEAM BANANA BOAT!


natesilver: Wait, what is happening? I can’t even process it with all those colors.

kyle: The Lakers would win 25 games.

This makes some sense from both sides if you think about it.

natesilver: :inhales from vape:

kyle: The Cavs add rebounding and passing in the frontcourt and youth in the backcourt.

natesilver: :inhales deeply:

chris.herring: Wow, Kyle.

neil: LOL. I think we’re done here.