Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Some brief streak-related items of late:

In NBA action tonight, San Antonio's Manu Ginobili scored all 24 Spurs' points during a roughly five-minute stretch of his team's game against Atlanta. His one-man wrecking-crew performance started with 2:27 remaining in the first quarter and went until 9:40 remained in the second (article, play-by-play sheet).

By losing to the New York Islanders on Monday, the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins ended a 16-game stretch in which they won 14 times (each time earning two points in the standings) and lost in overtime (or a shoot-out if neither team scored during the extra five minutes of play) in the other two games. For each of those two OT-L games, the Pens received one point in the standings, essentially for achieving a tie in regulation. Thus, Pittsburgh had garnered at least one point for 16 straight games, but now it's over (article, Penguins' game-by-game log).

In reviewing the Pens' game-by-game results, one sees that they appear to be a streaky team. Overlapping October and November, they had a five-game winning streak, followed immediately by a five-game losing streak. Then, from late November, carrying over all the way into January, they lost seven of eight, then won four straight, then lost five straight, then won three straight, and finally, lost three straight. When the season is over, I'll conduct more thorough analyses.

The last item concerns women's NCAA softball. According to this recent University of Kentucky athletic news release, in early 2007 action the Wildcats' Brooke Marnitz:

...set a new NCAA record for hits in consecutive at-bats with 12 straight hits dating back to the final two games of 2006 against Mississippi State. She reached base in 17 consecutive plate appearances with five walks included in the streak. Marnitz started the 2007 season by going 9-9 at the plate with two walks, two doubles, two home runs, a triple and nine RBI.

Monday, February 12, 2007

This past Saturday, the Texas Tech men's basketball team lost a wild, controversial (regarding some foul calls and non-calls) double-overtime game at Oklahoma State, 93-91. As the resident streakologist, the part of the game that most captured my attention was when Texas Tech opened the second half by making its first seven shots from the floor, including three three-pointers.

The eternal question in hot hand research is, naturally, whether the streak of seven straight made shots is just random fluctuation -- like having several heads (or tails) in a row come up in a long series of coin flips -- or does it represent a deeper tendency of the team to be streaky? One way to answer this question is to compare the observed frequency of such streaks to what would be expected by chance, which is best done over longer stretches than just one game.

More immediately, I have been trying to come up with ways of depicting hot and cold shooting sequences graphically, and the figure below is my latest effort. It shows all of Texas Tech's field-goal attempts, whether each shot was made or missed, roughly how many minutes were left in the period at the point of each shot, and roughly the distance of each shot attempt (grouped into lay-up/dunk, longer two-point attempt, and three-point attempt). The chart does not show other outcomes of possessions, such as turnovers or trips to the free-throw line.

One obvious candidate for another piece of information to add is the identity of the player taking each shot; whether player numbers or initials could be shrunk small enough to fit in the diagram, yet remain big enough to be seen, is a matter for another day. For now, interested readers will have to look at the play-by-play sheet, on which my chart is based, to see who took each shot. Please feel free to share any suggestions for the chart's format in the Comments section below.

At a team level, at least, hot and cold streaks are readily apparent. Other questions, such as whether a team on a hot streak will attempt more ambitious (i.e., long-distance) shots, can also be examined.

As is shown in the chart above, for most of the game's five-minute blocks, Texas Tech's shots consisted of a mixture of made and missed attempts. However, the early minutes of the game featured a stretch of predominantly misses, whereas the second half started off with the aforementioned hot streak. Now, are these two deviant blocks just due to random chance, or part of a larger propensity for streakiness?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Probably the top storyline in the NBA at the moment is the Boston Celtics' losing streak, now at 17 games. Things have gotten so bad for the 16-time NBA champion Celtics -- the franchise of Auerbach, Russell, Havlicek, Cousy, and Bird -- that articles on their games are starting to include charts of the league's all-time longest losing streaks (24 is the record). With star player Paul Pierce now coming back from injury, perhaps the C's can stanch the bleeding, but we'll see...

[Update: Boston's losing streak, which reached 18, finally ended, with a win over Milwaukee.]

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

As I discussed in my fifth anniversary posting below, I think that team runs in basketball are likely a "beyond chance" phenomenon and worthy of further study. Last night, in two men's college basketball games each involving a team with "Tech" in its name, there were some pronounced team runs.

In one of the games, North Carolina State jumped out to a 17-2 lead over Georgia Tech, but the Yellowjackets came back later on with an 18-0 spurt of their own to win the game, 74-65.

Meanwhile, right here in Lubbock, Texas Tech closed out the first half of its game against Nebraska on a 21-2 run. However, the Huskers unleashed a 13-2 spree of their own late in the game, ultimately pulling out a 61-59 decision over the Red Raiders (play-by-play sheet).

The closing minutes of games have not, for the most part, been kind to Texas Tech of late.

On January 20, although the host Red Raiders ultimately prevailed, here is how the last five and a half minutes went against Kansas (article):

Tech widened their lead steadily and got ahead 59-47 on two free throws by [Darryl] Dora with 5:27 remaining. But when Tech got up 61-49, Kansas used a 13-1 run to tie it at 62 with 1:42 remaining.

On January 31, with Texas Tech home this time against Texas (article):

The Longhorns used a 29-6 run midway through the second half to put the game away.

Finally, this past Saturday in Norman (article):

Charlie Burgess beat Oklahoma's defense for a layup in transition and then completed the three-point play to give the Red Raiders a 59-55 lead with 6:53 left.

From that point onward, the Sooners outscored Texas Tech 20-2 to claim a 75-61 victory.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

As pointed out in an ESPN television graphic at the completion of last night's play, 17 seems to be the limit on men's basketball winning streaks, of late. Consider the following...

Wisconsin had its 17-game winning streak stopped last night at Indiana.

Clemson, which for a time this season was the nation's only remaining team with a perfect record, got as far as 17-0 before losing at Maryland in mid-January.

Defending NCAA champion Florida had a 17-game winning streak going (the last 11 games of the 2005-06 season and first six of the 2006-07 season) before losing to Kansas.

And finally, shifting to the NBA, the Phoenix Suns had their 17-game winning streak snapped in Minnesota this past Monday night.

At the college level, one could argue that if a team had an easy non-conference schedule, it would make sense that a long winning streak would end once conference play began (as long as the team was in a tough conference). In the NBA, I can't think of why a streak would be likely to end around the 17-game mark.