Why The Warriors Are So Tough To Beat

The Warriors were 17-4 during the regular season with average shooting. That equals a .810 winning percentage — tops in the the NBA — or the equivalent of a 66-16 record over an 82-game schedule.The reason for the Warriors’ strong record with average shooting is simple: They also play great defense. It gets overlooked because they play at a frenetic pace, but the Dubs held opponents to a .514 TS% during the regular season, the third-best figure in the league after Chicago and Portland.It can get even worse for opponents, and it often does: The Warriors went 46-3 with good shooting during the regular season. But “pretty good” shooting — average shooting, even — is usually plenty good enough for the Warriors. They’ll need to throw up a lot of bricks the rest of the way. Otherwise, James — as brilliant as he’s been — may become the first finals MVP in a losing cause since Jerry West in 1969. Through the first three games of the NBA Finals, the storylines were intricate and rich:Could LeBron James carry one of the worst supporting casts in recent finals history to an NBA title?Was James’s experience — and sheer force of will — trumping the Golden State Warriors’ youth?Was Steph Curry just in a shooting slump, or was he rattled by his scary injury against the Houston Rockets?Could the Cleveland Cavaliers keep playing stifling defense, or might Golden State’s smallball lineup be its ace in the hole?Were Cleveland’s poor finishes — it was outscored by a combined margin of 105-84 in the fourth quarter and overtime of the first three games1And if you include Game 4, it’s now been outscored 132-96 from the fourth quarter onward. — the sign of a spent team?Was Kevin Love’s injury (suffered in the opening round against the Boston Celtics) the ultimate example of Bill Simmons’s Ewing Theory? And maybe Kyrie Irving’s injury too?Is Matthew Dellavedova the Australian Tim Tebow?Does God hate Cleveland?But after a 103-82 Golden State win in Game 4, it all seems so simple.The Warriors are really, really good. You have a shot at beating them if their shooting goes ice-cold. Otherwise, it’s next to impossible.Let’s review the series from the standpoint of true shooting percentage (TS%), a relatively simple stat that gives appropriate credit for 3-pointers and free throws along with 2-point shooting attempts. Golden State led the NBA with a .571 TS% during the regular season, while Cleveland (.557) ranked fourth. The adjacent table lists each team’s TS% in each finals game so far, along with its percentile rank as compared to all NBA games during the 2014-15 regular season.Game 4 was the first time we’ve seen the Warriors shoot like they typically did during the regular season. Their .579 TS% was close to their regular-season average, and — since an average Golden State performance is so good — ranks in the 77th percentile as compared to all NBA games.But the Warriors’ defense has also been very good. It held Cleveland to a .409 TS% in Game 4, which ranks in just the 1st percentile. And it kept the Cavaliers to a .441 TS%, in the 6th percentile, in Game 2 on Sunday night.Wait — didn’t the Cavs win Game 2? They did (in overtime). The team with the higher TS% wins about 85 percent of the time2Based on the 2014-15 regular season. — this was one of the exceptions. Cleveland was able to take seven more field-goal attempts and 15 more free-throw attempts than the Warriors as a result of rebounding, turnovers and fouls. You can win as the slightly less efficient team when there’s a big differential in those categories.Still, Cleveland wouldn’t have won Game 2 had Golden State shot a little better. If the Warriors had hit shots at the NBA average TS% of .535 (never mind that the team’s TS% is typically way better than that), they’d have scored an additional eight points and won 101-95.And that’s the thing: The Warriors don’t have to shoot the lights out to win. If they shoot as well as the average NBA team, they’re very likely to win also.In the next chart, I’ve tracked each team’s record based on its TS% during the regular season. I divide games into three categories, which include about a third of regular-season games each:Good shooting — a TS% of .560 or higher.Poor shooting — a TS% of .510 or lower.Average shooting — anything in between. read more

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Meadowlark Lemon Harlem Globetrotter Dies at 83

Meadowlark Lemon also known as the “Clown Prince of Basketball” died Sunday in Scottsdale, Ariz at the age of 83.The famous Harlem Globetrotter was a legendary prankster and athlete that wowed audiences with his raw talent. Meadow Lemon III (commonly known by his stage name Meadowlark Lemon) played nearly 16,000 games in nearly 22 years.  A graduate of Florida A&M University, he was a Navy man for two years after graduating. Throughout his career, he traveled the world, performing for all kinds of people.Lemon joined the Globetrotters in 1955 at the young age of 22, and played on the team until 1983. Between 1983 and 1994, he joined and created a variety of different teams before heading back to play for the Globetrotters. He played 50 games at an advanced age.“I don’t worry that I never played against some of those guys,” Lemon said in a 2010 Sport Illustrated interview when asked about never having played in the N.B.A. “I’ll put it this way… When you go to the Ice Capades, you see all these beautiful skaters, and then you see the clown come out on the ice, stumbling and pretending like he can hardly stay up on his skates, just to make you laugh. A lot of times that clown is the best skater of the bunch.”After leaving the world of basketball, Lemon became a minister and family man, spreading good cheer to the people he loved the most. His likeness has been captured in two 1970s Hanna-Barbera animated shows, The Super Globetrotters and Harlem Globetrotters. Lemon was also inducted into Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.“Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I’ve ever seen,” Chamberlain said in a television interview not long before he died in 1999. “People would say it would be Dr. J or even Jordan. For me, it would be Meadowlark Lemon.” read more

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Just How Much Does Tiger Affect TV Ratings For The Masters

Tiger Woods returned to the Masters on Thursday for the first time since 2015, shooting an opening-round 1-over 73 and slotting into 29th place headed into Friday. One year after his fourth back surgery — and six months removed from talk that he might never play competitive golf again — the 42-year-old is in the midst of a highly anticipated comeback.So far, Woods has delivered. He finished in the top five at back-to-back PGA Tour events in March, and television ratings, ticket prices and fan excitement have swelled with his return. And that got me wondering — just how much of an impact does Woods have on television ratings for the Masters? Considering that the likes of Jordan Spieth (first place through round one) and Rory McIlroy (tied for fourth) remain in contention as we near the weekend, are they a decent enough consolation prize for CBS if Woods falls off pace by Sunday?I looked back at the event’s national Nielsen ratings since 1958,1CBS first televised the Masters in 1956, covering the final four holes. There are no Nielsen ratings available for that telecast. In 1957, CBS aired one hour of Sunday Masters coverage, earning a rating of 3.0. Given the limitations, I excluded those two years from this analysis. showing the percentage of TV-owning households tuning in, with an eye toward some of golf’s biggest names — players who commonly appear on lists of the “greatest golfers of all time,”2Excluding golfers who played or peaked before CBS began televising the Masters. those who have won the Masters multiple times in the television era and a couple of recent winners. I specifically focused on the ratings for Masters Sunday, when the four-day tournament’s final round is usually played.3The Masters has concluded on Monday six times since 1958. In 1961, 1973 and 1983, the final round was completed on Monday because of rain earlier in the tournament. In 1962, 1966 and 1970, players who were tied for the lead after the final round competed in an 18-hole playoff on Monday. The Masters switched to a sudden-death playoff in 1976. I elected to show Sunday ratings to maintain consistency of day, as Monday afternoon telecasts can be subject to ratings drop-offs.Tiger Woods’s first two Masters victories, in 1997 (14.1 Sunday rating) and 2001 (13.3), produced the highest Sunday ratings in event history — about 50 percent above the long-term average. In ratings terms, that’s roughly on par with last year’s college football national championship and the deciding game of the NBA Finals. In 1997, Woods became the youngest champion at the Masters, set a new margin-of-victory record and shot the tournament’s lowest-ever 72-hole score.4270, equaled by Jordan Spieth in 2015. Ratings came back to earth when he won again in 2002 (9.2) and 2005 (9.8) but were still above average. The next three highest-rated rounds came in 1975 (11.9), 1972 (11.8) and 1966 (10.9),5The 1966 Monday playoff between Jack Nicklaus, Tommy Jacobs and Gay Brewer earned a Nielsen rating of 12.0. when Jack Nicklaus won three of his six green jackets. Player1st mastersWonTop 10Other* Ernie Els1994—9.49.8 Phil Mickelson19918.89.38.8 Vijay Singh199410.08.89.5 Bubba Watson20087.57.58.7 Sergio García19997.68.49.0 Jose Maria Olazabal19859.18.79.9 Tiger and Jack move the Masters ratings needleAverage Sunday Nielsen rating by player performance, 1958-2017 Lee Trevino1968—9.99.1 Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Phil Mickelson also boast one Masters victory apiece with a Sunday rating of 10.5 or better, though all of Palmer, Watson and Mickelson’s other wins were below average in terms of viewership.6Faldo’s two other wins drew above-average viewership.And that matters. From a ratings perspective, viewers don’t seem to care very much who’s battling it out atop the leaderboard on the final day of the Masters — unless it’s Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus. In the table below, you can see how television ratings increase with the success of those two. Statistics bear this out, too. High finishes by Woods and Nicklaus are the only variables I identified that have a statistically significant effect on Sunday ratings. There’s no bounce when most other big names do well — and in many cases, there’s a decline. Arnold Palmer19558.68.89.2 Jordan Spieth20148.87.87.6 And what about when lesser-known golfers take home the green jacket — like if Tony Finau or Bernd Wiesberger were to make a run on Sunday after solid starts? In those cases, CBS should hope they’re dueling with Tiger Woods. When Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel and Trevor Immelman won in 2013, 2011 and 2008, respectively, Tiger finished in the top five. Those Sundays saw an average rating of 9.2. Meanwhile, Danny Willett and Mike Weir’s victories — with Woods out of the tournament in 2016 and out of the top 10 in 2003 — produced an average final-round rating of 8.0. In fact, since Tiger burst onto the scene in 1997, the five lowest-rated final rounds have coincided with his three Masters absences and two worst finishes.Even Mickelson — who has long been one of the most popular golfers on tour — didn’t move the Masters rating needle on his own. Before Lefty finally won his first title at Augusta in 2004, he was the best golfer without a major and had finished in the top 10 at a major 17 times. And yet, his narrative garnered the Masters a 7.3 rating, at the time the fourth lowest since 1958. This may have had to do with Tiger being well off the lead that Sunday, finishing tied for 22nd.7The final round of the 2004 Masters also started one hour early because of the possibility of inclement weather. Flash-forward to 2010: Woods — who was playing in the wake of scandal — was competing with Mickelson and others in a dramatic final round on Sunday. Phil would win his third green jacket, Woods finished tied for fourth, and the broadcast notched a 10.7 rating, sixth highest ever.8Mickelson’s second Masters victory in 2006 produced a below-average 8.4 rating despite Tiger finishing tied for third. Woods had won in 2005, and each time he’s pursued a repeat, ratings have declined from the year before.Masters ratings are ultimately influenced by more than just who’s in the mix toward the end of the final round. But when you’re basking in the Masters theme song and Bob Ross-like whispers of CBS’s Jim Nantz this Sunday, rest assured that if he’s calling Tiger’s name on 18, CBS will be enjoying the type of ratings that only Woods (or Nicklaus) can create. Bernhard Langer19827.39.59.2 Gary Player19578.28.79.4 Ben Crenshaw19729.39.39.6 Tiger Woods199511.610.08.7 Jack Nicklaus195910.49.58.9 Tom Watson19709.89.68.9 Rory McIlroy2009—7.88.8 Average rating Nick Faldo19799.99.98.7 Greg Norman1981—9.48.6 Billy Casper19578.39.39.0 *Includes tournaments in which the player made the cut but finished outside the top 10Sources: PGA Tour, GolfStats.com, CBS Press Express, USA Today Seve Ballesteros19778.08.88.8 read more

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More on Joey Vottos Swinging Habits

Responding to my piece earlier on Friday about the Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto and his approach to at-bats with runners in scoring position, reader Keith Anderson asked:How does his [swing] percentage compare to when there isn’t anyone in [scoring] position? Is there a noticeable/meaningful difference? I just wonder if people are picking at how his play changes or just how he plays.Funny you ask, Keith! Before deciding to focus specifically on whether Votto swings at pitches in the strike zone with runners in scoring position, I collected a bunch of other data covering different scenarios.Let’s look at this year first. Here are Votto’s 2014 numbers in RISP situations versus bases empty.Votto with RISP, 2014121 pitches47.1 percent strike rate (strikes + balls in play/pitches)29.8 percent swing rate24.7 percent called strike rate8.7 percent chase rate (swings at pitches out of the strike zone)57.9 percent fastballs57.7 percent swings on pitches in strike zoneVotto with bases empty, 2014437 pitches58.8 percent strike rate40.5 percent swing rate30.8 percent called strike rate17.4 percent chase rate59.3 percent fastballs64.8 percent swings on pitches in strike zoneSo Votto is swinging a lot more often this year in bases-empty situations than he is with runners in scoring position. Not coincidentally, he’s getting a lot more strikes to swing at with nobody on. Interestingly, he’s also doing something very un-Votto like: chasing pitches out of the zone, in this case twice as often with the bases empty as with runners in scoring position. Of course it’s only May 9, so we’re dealing with relatively small sample sizes.Now let’s take a look at how often Votto has swung at strikes with the bases empty over time.Votto swing percentage on pitches in strike zone with bases empty, 2009-20142009 73.32010 69.42011 66.82012 59.72013 64.32014 64.8Votto swing percentage on pitches in strike zone with RISP, 2009-20142009 78.22010 76.22011 69.82012 62.42013 69.22014 57.7The same trend governing Votto’s swing rate with runners in scoring position can be seen with the bases empty. He’s far less aggressive today than he was in 2009, and somewhat less aggressive than he was during his 2010 MVP season. After that, things level out, assuming we discount (or simply ignore) 2012, when a knee injury messed with his entire stat line. Also note that the small-sample-size issues that make Votto’s swing percentage on pitches in the strike zone with runners in scoring position has not carried over to the same stat with the bases empty; 2011, 2013 and 2014 look nearly identical with the bases empty.One other thing. If we assume that the 57.7 percent figure for runners in scoring position this year is a small-sample-size fluke that will even out shortly, then we’re left with a clear and healthy trend: The better the RBI opportunity, the more Joey Votto swings at pitches in the strike zone. read more

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Elite Prospects Like Ben Simmons Almost Never Miss The Tournament

The crew of prospects Simmons will join if LSU fails to make the tournament isn’t exactly bad — even Steph Curry ended his Davidson career in the NIT, after all. (Granted, Davidson in the Southern Conference and LSU in the Southeastern Conference are apples and oranges; perhaps a better comp for Simmons is Chris Bosh, who couldn’t elevate Georgia Tech into the tournament out of the ACC in 2002-03.) But the distribution of basketball talent is steep. Top draft picks are, on average, so much better than their peers that a No. 1-ranked prospect should probably be held to a higher standard than the rest of the top five.And, sure enough, in the 15 years before Simmons only one No. 1 prospect was on a team that missed the NCAA Tournament: Nerlens Noel, in 2012-13. The other 92 percent of No. 1s at least got to the round of 64, and even Noel’s case comes with a huge asterisk. Before Noel was lost for the season with a knee injury, his Kentucky team was on the bubble at 17-6, but improving; afterward, the Wildcats closed out the season 4-5 and stamped a nonrefundable ticket to the NIT. The rest of the No. 1s went far — and I mean really far. Half went to the Final Four, and a third went to the national title game. They didn’t do it alone, though. Shane Battier, Anthony Davis and Greg Oden, for instance, generated almost exactly 25 percent of their teams’ win shares when they blazed a path to the championship game. Simmons has been a bit less productive than that trio on a per-minute basis, but he’s also generated 33 percent of LSU’s win shares this season, with his teammates creating roughly 45 percent fewer wins per game than those of Battier, Davis and Oden. If Simmons had anything close to their supporting casts, LSU probably wouldn’t be fretting about Selection Sunday.Instead, we’ll probably be left with a March Madness that doesn’t feature the nation’s best NBA prospect. That isn’t unprecedented, but it is pretty rare — and, mainly, it’s a bummer because Simmons is such an electrifying all-around talent in a sport that needs all the excitement it can get. LSU’s Ben Simmons is a ludicrously versatile basketball prodigy whose freshman numbers already compare favorably with greats of the past. He’ll probably go first overall in this summer’s NBA draft, and deservedly so. But for all of Simmons’s brilliance, his Tigers aren’t very good — they rank 75th in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, and at 18-12 they’re a long shot to make the NCAA Tournament.This pairing of an exceptional individual and an unremarkable team is pretty rare. When a team has a prospect as good as Simmons, it doesn’t usually lose before the second weekend of the tourney, much less miss the field entirely. To measure this, I gathered ESPN’s prospect rankings for collegiate players from 2001 through last season, tracking how far their teams went in the postseason during their final NCAA season. Among top-five prospects in that span — and Simmons ranks No. 1 this year — 87 percent were on teams that made the NCAA Tournament, with about half going as far as the Elite Eight before losing. read more

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Opting for golf on a football Saturday

Likely buried beneath the headlines of yet another boring weekend of Tressel-ball and the Bengals being, well, the Bengals, you’ll find that one of the world’s most unique and passionate sporting events took place. It’s called the Ryder Cup. It’s a golf tournament. Stay with me here. The Ryder Cup is different from virtually every other incarnation of golf in existence. This isn’t a tournament with a bunch of rich business-executives golf-clapping in the background, this is a raucous event with the pride of countries, and heck, even continents, on the line. Take the 12 best American players and pit them against the 12 best European players, alternate the tournament — which takes place every two years — between American and European soil, provide lots and lots of alcohol to the patrons, and provide lots more alcohol when the event takes place in Great Britain. Bam. You’ve got the equivalent of the Ohio State-Michigan game on a really nice golf course. This is the one golf tournament where the golfers carry more on their shoulders than just their desire to win. They’re carrying the hopes of their nation or continent – and it shows. Players are visibly nervous with the expectations they carry. It’s not unusual to see a player take much more time thinking about a Ryder Cup putt than a putt to win the Masters. And when one team hits a good shot or the other shanks, the reactions of the players and the crowds are like none-other in golf. The 2010 tournament is taking place in rain-soaked Wales. Apparently the American squad didn’t know this and ordered basketball warm-ups for rain jackets. “Watergate,” as the wardrobe malfunction has been dubbed, might be the reason the Americans are down heading into Monday’s final round of singles, 9.5 – 6.5. Even being down three, you can count on the last round of singles to be exciting. In 1999, the Americans faced a seemingly insurmountable deficit when they came back and stole the cup out of the Europeans’ grasp. This is the time when mediocre match-play players like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson step up. In 2012, the Ryder Cup will happen again, but on American soil. Instead of watching Tressel attempt to break the world record for field goal attempts and the Bengals continue to fail to live up to expectations, turn on the Ryder Cup for a little while. I guarantee it will be a lot more exciting than you think. read more

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Commentary One Buckeye fell through the cracks

There exists a “Buckeye brotherhood” amongst Ohio State football players.It is a fraternity of sorts, and the members forged their bond on the football battlefields of the Big Ten Conference.This brotherhood is a lifelong connection shared between players past and present, they say. For the fortunate members of this brotherhood, they surely must be ensured lifelong friendships with former teammates.The late Michael Current, a former OSU lineman under coach Woody Hayes and a co-captain of the Buckeyes his senior year, does not appear to have been so fortunate.Current was found dead in the Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge near Salem, Ore., Monday. The former Buckeye was in a troubled state during what we now know were his final days of life as he faced five counts of sexual assault charges, as well as a count of luring a minor, according to multiple reports.Current, who spent the majority of his professional career with the Denver Broncos and also had stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins, is believed to have taken his own life.In the wake of the tragedy, the most notable reactions and statements issued on Current’s passing came from the Broncos organization and former Broncos teammates — not OSU.Broncos spokesman Patrick Smyth told The Lantern the organization is always saddened to learn of a tragedy involving a former Bronco.“… Our hearts go out to Mike’s family and friends during this most difficult of times,” Smyth said.Randy Gradishar, a former linebacker for the Buckeyes and Broncos, told The Denver Post he thought Current’s suicide was tragic, but added that he hadn’t been in contact with his former teammate for a long time.However strong the “Buckeye brotherhood” might or might not be, perhaps that is the way of life — you get old and separate from old friends.Sgt. Michael Holsapple of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon did not immediately respond to The Lantern’s request for comment. Holsapple painted a chilling picture of the scene where Current took his own life for The Denver Post report.It was night time and a light snowfall blew about the scenic overlook where Current apparently shot himself with a shotgun, according to the report.One Buckeye fell through the cracks of the brotherhood. read more

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Ohio State mens basketball announces Top 5 recruiting class for 2014

OSU coach Thad Matta lectures his players during a game against Ohio Nov. 12 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU won, 79-69.Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editorOhio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta has officially finalized his 2014 recruiting class, and he’s happy with the group set to don the Scarlet and Gray next year.“(I’m) just very, very excited about this class,” Matta said Thursday. “I think the biggest thing with this particular class is we got what we wanted.”Matta announced Thursday the signing of four players, including two from Ohio, to complete yet another class that ranks in the Top 5 of the country.The four players Matta added to his crew for 2014 include guard D’Angelo Russell, forward Keita Bates-Diop, forward Jae’Sean Tate and center David Bell.Matta spoke about Tate, a Pickerington, Ohio native, first Thursday, calling him “a warrior,” and someone who can play multiple positions.“Everybody’s asking me, ‘What position is Jae’Sean?’ And I always answer the same, ‘I don’t know, but I know he’s going to be on the floor,’” Matta said. “He’s got a great first step. He can guard I think all five positions on the floor … You’re getting a great player and you’re getting a guy who is a Buckeye.”Matta called Russell  “another great guard at Ohio State,” even though it may be unclear whether he will play point guard or shooting guard.“Is he a point guard? Is he a two guard? I don’t know. I think we can run him at both,” Matta said. “He’s got the ability to make big time plays with the ball in his hands.”Russell is the complete package, Matta said, because he does all things well.“The first time I ever saw him play, he had six threes in the first half and the second half, he didn’t take a one but he probably had 10 assists,” Matta said. “He’s just got something about him.”Another player who Matta said “wants to be at Ohio State” is Bell, who is from Garfield Heights, Ohio.“I think we’ll bring his skill along, but he runs the floor, he blocks shots, he rebounds out of his area,” Matta said of Bell.Bates-Diop is another player that can do it all because of his athleticism, Matta said.“I think from the standpoint of playing multiple positions, he scores, he passes, he rebounds, he can defend, can handle the basketball,” Matta said of Bates-Diop.Matta said he and the rest of the coaching staff set out on the recruiting trail with mindset that they wanted to replace current senior guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. — which he said they did.“We feel unequivocally we did that with guys that can do a lot of different things,” Matta said. “I kind of like the position we’re in.”Matta and the Buckeyes are set to travel to Milwaukee for their first road game of the season Saturday, taking on Marquette at 1 p.m. read more

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Islamic State fighters try to shoot down RAF jets with missiles

first_imgA major offensive to liberate Islamic State’s last stronghold in Iraq will begin within weeks the Defence Secretary has said, as it was disclosed the militants have tried to shoot down RAF jets with surface-to-air missiles.Tornado and Typhoon jets are carrying out the RAF’s most intensive strike campaign for more than 25 years as they launch scores of attacks to back Iraqi and Kurdish forces preparing to move into Iraq’s second city of Mosul.British commanders have for the first time disclosed the risks of the air campaign as they admitted Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (Isil) fighters have repeatedly used missiles to try to bring down jets. He went on: “There is always the possibility that the piece of air that you are flying through could be contested. It might be contested by a Daesh bullet or a Daesh missile.“As the campaign changes they will try different tactics and certainly firing at coalition aircraft is a tactic which thus far has proved to be pretty fool hardy for those who are doing it.” “They are not a comfy armchair up there. Toilet arrangements are possible, but challenging.”As the jets patrol a 30 miles square ‘kill box’, every 90 minutes or so they climb to around 29,000ft to meet a Voyager refuelling tanker that accompanies them.Pilots must guide their refuelling nozzles into a waiting basket-shaped drogue suspended at the end of 90 feet of hose, while both aircraft are travelling at around 480mph and buffeted by turbulence.Once connected, the jets take on thousands of kilograms of aviation fuel, which allows them to continue their mission. There is no doubt now that Daesh is facing defeat. Indeed we are on the cusp of liberating the last major city it holds in Iraq – MosulMichael Fallon They try to shoot at our aeroplanes. When they do, they expose themselves and invariably when they expose themselves, we strike themAir Cdre Martin ‘Sammy’ Sampson Pairs of aircraft from the 903 Expeditionary Air Wing based at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus fly armed reconnaissance missions day and night, circling above northern Iraq collecting intelligence or striking targets in sorties lasting six or seven hours.“They are long old missions to be strapped to a single seat,” explained one Typhoon pilot who cannot be identified for security reasons. This week the Telegraph joined an RAF Voyager refuelling tanker to accompany Typhoon and Tornado jets carrying out close air support sorties near Sharqat and north of Ramadi. Iraqi forces are gathering in staging areas such as Qayara air base before the assault on MosulCredit:Susannah George/AP A general view of Qayara air base on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016 that Iraqi forces say they plan to use as a key staging area for the long awaited operation to retake militant-held Mosul, which has been almost completely destroyed by the Islamic State group British pilots have used evasive manoeuvres, electronic defences and decoys to avoid ground fire including missiles and anti-aircraft artillery.The militants, also known as Daesh, have launched “sporadic” attacks against RAF planes in the past 12 months.Air Cdre Martin ‘Sammy’ Sampson, commander of the UK’s air war, said: “They try to shoot at our aeroplanes. When they do, they expose themselves and invariably when they expose themselves, we strike them. Ground crew working on a Typhoon fighter bomber at RAF Akrotiri Sunni militants used ageing shoulder-launched, anti-aircraft missiles against US forces throughout their occupation of Iraq. But Isil fighters and other rebel groups have since either looted or been given more sophisticated versions. Several Iraqi government and Syrian regime aircraft have been shot down.Air Cdre Sampson said he could not recall a British aircraft being damaged by ground fire and “we’ve not had anything that’s caused us any problems”.RAF aircraft have carried out more than 200 strikes to help Iraqi and Kurdish troops manoeuvring on Mosul since June.center_img Air Cdre Martin ‘Sammy’ Sampson, UK air component commander for the war on IsilCredit: Heathcliff O’Malley Air Cdre Martin 'Sammy' Sampson, UK air component commander for the war on Isil Ground crew working on a Typhoon fighter bomber at RAF AkrotiriCredit:Heathcliff O’Malley An RAF Tornado GR4 refuelling over IraqCredit:Heathcliff O’Malley While their aircraft stock up on fuel, the pilots keep going on sandwiches, soft drinks and chocolate bars.Another Typhoon pilot explained: “Yesterday I was halfway through eating a sandwich when we got called in to do a second strike, so with a mouthful of beef and pickle sandwich I was trying to get on the radio.”Last month the RAF announced it had carried out more than 1,000 strikes since the air war against Isil began in September 2014.One Tornado navigator, who earlier this week helped destroy a truck bomb being ferried by barge across the Tigris, said: “You never forget the sense of danger that is involved, both for you and more importantly for those on the ground. We are there to support the Iraqi security forces and they are the ones who are down in the fight.“When a target gets hit and you know that that vehicle could have potentially been driven into a town, or anywhere where there are civilians or friendly forces, and exploded, and therefore we have denied that to the enemy, then that’s a satisfying feeling.” The crew of a Tornado GR4 aircraft at RAF Akrotiri Credit:Heathcliff O’Malley The crew of a Tornado GR4 aircraft at RAF Akrotiri  Michael Fallon said: “There is no doubt now that Daesh is facing defeat. Indeed we are on the cusp of liberating the last major city it holds in Iraq – Mosul.”The city of around 1 million residents was seized by Isil in June 2014 as the Iraqi army melted away in the face of the militants’ dash across the Syrian border.An Iraqi army plan to encircle and cut off the estimated 3,000 remaining Isil fighters in the city is scheduled to begin next month. An RAF Tornado GR4 refuelling over Iraq 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.last_img read more

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