Saturday, March 17, 2007


UCLA has just withstood a late 16-3 run by Indiana, which tied their men's NCAA tournament game at 49-49, to beat the Hoosiers, 54-49. This brings to an end an exciting day of action in the tournament.

Since I wrote about the Ohio State-Xavier overtime contest earlier today, two more games needed extra time (since I previously discussed a statistic about which team scored last in regulation to force overtime, I'll be mentioning that again).

In one, Virginia Commonwealth came back from a 19-point deficit (51-32) to Pitt with about 12 minutes remaining, suggesting that VCU would be the team with the momentum heading into OT (officially, though, Pitt scored the final points of regulation, making it 69-69, and also had a free-throwing opportunity to win in regulation). Ultimately, though, Pitt won the game in overtime, 84-79.

The other late game to go into overtime -- two OT's, actually -- was that between Vanderbilt and Washington State. Vandy had gone on a 12-0 run midway through the second half (play-by-play sheet), making four three-pointers to turn a 51-43 Cougar lead into a 55-51 Commodore advantage. It was a tight battle for the remainder of the second half, with the game tied at 55-55, 57-57, and 60-60 (the score at the end of regulation); WSU was the last team to score in regulation. The ultimate winner here was Vandy, 78-74.

One last game I want to discuss for today is that between Texas A&M and Louisville, won by the Aggies, 72-69. From a statistical perspective, probably the most interesting thing about this game was the free-throw shooting of Cardinals frosh guard Edgar Sosa. As summarized in the linked game article:

In the end, however, Sosa simply ran out of magic. After making 15 straight free throws, he missed two with 29.8 seconds left and the Cardinals trailing by one.

Coming into the game, Sosa's FT% was .676. Given this baseline, his probability of making 15 or more free throws in 17 attempts was .052 (online calculator). One way to look at this is that Louisville was fortunate to get as many points on Sosa's free-throwing as it did; however, with his having been perfect on 15 attempts going into the two late attempts, Cardinal fans probably were not expecting him to miss both.

Late afternoon

A basketball scenario that really seems to suggest the operation of momentum/streakiness is when one team stages a dramatic rally to send a game into overtime, then continues riding the wave to blow out the opponent in the extra period.

This, of course, is precisely the story of South region No. 1 seed Ohio State's comeback victory over No. 9 seed Xavier. Quoting from's game article:

Ohio State... was still down 61-52 with 2:54 left... [Xavier's Justin] Cage then made of one of two foul shots with 9.3 seconds left for a 62-59 lead, giving Ohio State its last chance. [Ron] Lewis came down and, with two defenders flying at him, swished the tying 3-pointer from several feet beyond the arc.

The Buckeyes then breezed through the overtime, winning 78-71. It would be hard to dispute that Xavier seemed demoralized and Ohio State, energized. But this was just one game. Are there more comprehensive statistics on overtime games?

Indeed there are, from NBA games, as displayed at the website

Q: How often does the team that comes from behind to send the game to overtime end up winning?

If we look at the team that scored last in the fourth quarter (thus being the final "come from behind team" since leads can go back and forth), they have won 44 of 79 overtime games, good for a mild 56% win rate which given the sample size doesn't suggest momentum plays a big role. In multi-overtime games, the team scoring last in an overtime period to send it on to another OT round, is only 5-9 (36%) and so if we combine the two (scoring last in the fourth quarter/overtime to send it to overtime/another overtime) the "momentum team" is just 49-44 (53%).

One can argue that the overall category of "scored last in the fourth quarter" is very broad, perhaps including some scenarios as dramatic as Ohio State's, but others that were not that dramatic, thus watering down a potential momentum effect. For example, if one team scored to tie a game with two minutes remaining in regulation and then neither team scored during the final two minutes, one would not expect the team that tied the score to necessarily get much of a lift in overtime.

Until more extensive analyses are done, however, our best current evidence seems to be that any carryover momentum of sending a game into overtime is fairly modest.

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