Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Texas Tech Lady Raider basketball team lost 49-47 to nationally ranked Texas A&M last night. Intensifying the frustration, no doubt, was Texas Tech's 9-of-22 performance at the free-throw line.

Including the A&M game, Texas Tech is 233-339 (.69) on free throws, but subtracting the 9 for 22 to get a "prior" estimate yields 224-317 (.71).

Using an online calculator for this type of problem (known as a binomial distribution), we find that for a team with a long-term percentage of hitting free throws at .71, its probability of then making nine (or fewer) out of 22 is only .003, or three in a thousand.

One issue often raised in connection with this type of analysis is whether, perhaps, the team's poorest free-throw shooters got to the line disproportionately often. Thus, it would not be that the team got cold at the stripe across the board, but rather that each player shot to his or her normal level and it was only the poor free-throw shooters' increased attempts that knocked the team's average down.

A few things would argue against such an interpretation, in my view.

First, the two Lady Raiders who shot the most free throws against A&M were, respectively, first and (roughly) tied for second in this category for the season to this point.

Second, in an analysis of Kansas's 12-of-30 free-throw shooting in the 2003 NCAA men's championship game against Syracuse -- where I initially got the ball rolling and then Ken Pomeroy came along and did a much more elaborate study -- the finding that the Jayhawks had an excessively poor night from the stripe was pretty robust, regardless of whether adjustments were made for which individual players took precisely how many FT attempts in the title game. (Note: In Ken's analysis, you'll see where he put in a link to my initial study; mine is no longer available online, as it was on the old version of my Hot Hand page, before I switched to blog format. Ken's summary of my analysis should be sufficient, however.)

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