Saturday, March 22, 2008

During the 2003 NCAA men's basketball tournament, I coined the term "Cool Hand Duke" (a word play on a movie title) to characterize the difficult shooting stretches the Blue Devils experienced in losing to Kansas.

Well, the "cool hand" moniker needs to be dusted off and reapplied to Duke, as it missed 15 straight three-point attempts in losing this afternoon to West Virginia in NCAA tourney play (play-by-play sheet).

As many commentators had noted heading into the tournament, extensive shooting from behind the arc was Duke's modus operandi; the Blue Devils came into March Madness having launched 773 trey attempts, 16th among all Division I men's teams in the nation.

The team's three-point shooting percentage entering today's game was a good -- though not spectacular -- .382. In looking just at the players who shot treys during the 0-for-15 streak and weighting for each player's shot frequency, the adjusted shooting percentage was a similar .394. For simplicity, let's say that Duke's baseline three-point shooting was .400.

How likely is it that a .400 shooting team will miss 15 straight three-pointers? A .400 success rate translates into a .600 miss rate. We then simply raise .600 to the 15th power, which yields .0005 or about 1-in-2,000.

Two qualifications to this statistic are that (a) I was attracted to this event by its unusual nature and surveying a large, random sample of games may make such a phenomenon appear less rare; and (b) the calculation assumes independence of observations, like coin-flipping -- humans are not coins, but athletic performances do seem to be modeled well by random processes.

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