Saturday, January 31, 2009

Denis Clemente was perfect offensively in two departments -- 12-of-12 on free-throws and 6-of-6 on three-point attempts -- as visiting Kansas State scored a shocking overtime win against the University of Texas in men's Big 12 basketball action Saturday afternoon.

Clemente's official statistic from behind the arc appears to deserve the proverbial "asterisk," however. Though the box score says 6-of-6, he missed a desperation three (narrowly) to try to win the game in regulation, which is documented on the play-by-play sheet.

Regardless of how this stat-keeping issue was -- or should have been -- resolved, there's no question that Clemente had an amazing game for the Wildcats.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The consecutive made free-throw streak of Toronto's Jose Calderon, which we'd been following in recent days, ended tonight at 87 during the Raptors' game against Milwaukee. As noted in this article, Calderon's stretch of free-throw perfection was "the second-longest streak in NBA history behind Minnesota's Micheal Williams, who made 97 straight in 1993."


Last night, the UCLA men's basketball team reeled off a 20-2 run in the second half against Cal, as the Bruins bested the Golden Bears. The spurt expanded UCLA's 31-28 lead to 51-30 (play-by-play sheet).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

"Call 9-1-1 -- The House is on fire!" It was several years ago that I first heard some TV announcer use this line to narrate basketball highlights. In light of recent events, this exclamation is now as relevant as ever. The Celtics' Eddie House hit 8-of-9 three-point attempts last night. Further, according to this article, "House has hit at least seven 3-pointers in three of the last four games..."

Texas A&M's B.J. Holmes wasn't far behind last night. Against Big 12 rival Texas Tech, he was 6-of-7 from behind the arc.

Experts on the finer points of domestic living often talk of House and Home. Last night in the basketball world, the hot shooting belonged to House and Holmes!


Toronto's Jose Calderon did not get to the free-throw line at all in last night's NBA game against New Jersey, so his consecutive made free-throw streak remains at 86.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Nene, the Denver Nuggets' Brazilian forward who goes by one name, had a shooting performance last night that can be described in one word: perfect. In going 12-for-12 from the field, Nene tied Bobby Jones's 31-year-old franchise record for most made baskets without a miss.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jose Calderon's streak of consecutive made free-throws is now at 86.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Hot Hand page would like to pay tribute to North Carolina State women's basketball coach Kay Yow, who died today at age 66 following a 20-year-plus battle with cancer. Over the years, the cancer kept coming back, but each time Yow fought back even harder. Further, Yow's determination could, at times, fuel her team to heightened levels of performance. As noted in this article on Yow's passing:

Yow's fight was never more public than when she took a 16-game leave to focus on her treatments during the 2006-07 season. After her return, her inspired Wolfpack won 12 of its final 15 games with wins against highly ranked rivals Duke and North Carolina in a run that attracted plenty of fans wearing pink -- the color of breast-cancer awareness.

Friday, January 23, 2009

With Friday night's NBA win over Chicago on the books, Toronto point guard Jose Calderon now "has made 83 straight free throws dating to last season, the second-longest streak in NBA history. Michael Williams holds the record, making 97 in a row for Minnesota in 1993" (article).

In addition to making all four of his free-throw attempts to keep the streak going, Calderon shot 9-of-10 from the floor against the Bulls. Remarkably, Calderon's sharp-shooting performance came after a long stretch of inactivity due to a hamstring injury!

The next few games for the Raptors, during which Calderon conceivably could approach -- or even surpass -- the record, are as follows:

Sun, Jan 25 Sacramento
Wed, Jan 28 at New Jersey
Fri, Jan 30 Milwaukee

(Click here for the team's full schedule.)

As seen in Calderon's career statistics, this is his fourth season in the league and his annual free-throw percentage has never been below .818.

Check back for updates!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

New Jersey Institute of Technology ended its 51-game losing streak in men's college basketball last night.

Long losing streaks would appear to stem from one (or both) of two factors: either a team is repeatedly overmatched physically, or it plays opponents of a comparable ability level but keeps losing due to a "momentum" of failure. The latter, which could include a randomness component, would consist of missed shots in the clutch, a loss of confidence, etc. The "overmatched" explanation would presumably yield a long streak of blow-out losses, whereas the "negative momentum" explanation would seem to call for a number of the losses to be by relatively small margins.

(Long winning streaks would represent the opposite patterns -- a team either being physically superior to its opponents or taking advantage of some combination of luck, clutch play, and confidence).

Which factor played a bigger role in NJIT's losing streak? Given that the team is currently making the transition from Division II to Division I play, one might be tempted to argue that inferiority of physical ability and talent is the culprit. Indeed, NJIT has played against many schools with well-established basketball (or general athletic) programs, such as Penn State, St. John's, and Rutgers.

However, if one looks at NJIT's page on Ken Pomeroy's statistical ranking website, one finds that a large share of the team's games appear to have been against comparably weak opposition.

NJIT is ranked No. 344 -- and last -- among Division I teams and several of its losses have come to teams ranked 250th or worse in the nation (Yale, 250; Towson, 268; Hartford, 274; Columbia, 294; St. Peter's, 296; Wagner, 299; Monmouth, 303; and Maryland-Eastern Shore, 334). Bryant University, whom NJIT defeated to end the streak, was ranked No. 329.

Admittedly, some of the games don't fit into my dichotomous scheme. NJIT lost to Yale by 29 points and to Columbia by 23 -- in other words, blow-out losses to teams with comparable rankings to NJIT. Go figure!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

In losing yesterday to Arizona State, the UCLA men's basketball team appears to have borrowed a page from Notre Dame's protracted dry spell down the stretch against Louisville a few nights ago.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In men's college basketball last night, Kentucky's Jodie Meeks scored 54 points. He was a perfect 14-for-14 from the free-throw line, and hit on 10 out of 15 three-point attempts (article).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

So much for momentum! One would have thought Notre Dame was on a clear path to victory against Louisville last night in Big East men's basketball action, when Luke Harangody made two free throws with 5:35 remaining to cap a 14-3 Irish run and give Notre Dame a 71-67 lead.

However, the Irish went on to score no more points in regulation (with Louisville only scoring four) and only two in overtime. The result: An 87-73 Cardinal win (play-by-play sheet).

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I recently received the 2008 annual Baseball Research Journal (volume 37) from SABR (the Society for American Baseball Research). In it, Trent McCotter has published an article entitled "Hitting Streaks Don't Obey Your Rules: Evidence That Hitting Streaks Aren't Just By-Products of Random Variation."

McCotter, a recent Phi Beta Kappa inductee at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill who has written extensively on baseball hitting streaks, once again presents an interesting take on the statistical aspect of streak hitting in his latest effort.

McCotter and his faculty collaborator Peter Mucha started by creating a huge database of year-specific game-by-game hitting data for all players active from 1957-2006. Someone who played 10 years would thus have 10 different lines of data. Each line (hypothetically) would look something like the following, where H = getting at least one hit in a game, and N = no hits in the game; in reality, however, there would be up to 162 entries for a player, depending on how many games he appeared in:


For each player-year, McCotter and Mucha then re-sorted the sequences of H's and N's into some random alternative, such as the following (the number of H's and N's would, of course, be constant between the player's actual sequence and the random re-sorting):


In fact, each player-season was randomly re-sorted 10,000 times!

McCotter's reasoning was that, if lengthy hitting streaks were simply a result of random variation on a player's underlying hitting ability, the random simulations should produce as many streaks of a given length as actually occurred in a player's real-life hitting portfolio.

The initial results (summarized in Table 2 of the article) showed the actual frequency of lengthy hitting streaks to be greater than the frequency obtained in the random simulations. For example, 274 actual hitting streaks of 20 or more games occurred in real life, whereas the average of all the excess simulated hitting logs generated 192.43 streaks of that length. For streaks of 25 or more games, 62 actually occurred whereas 35.74 were generated randomly. Similar trends occurred for 30+ and 35+ hitting streaks, although the numbers started to get very small (i.e., 5 streaks of 35 or more games actually occurred in real life, whereas 1.48 were generated randomly).

The greater number of actual, real-life hitting streaks of a given length, relative to the random simulations, is consistent with the idea of a "hot hand" (i.e., a player systematically raising his underlying hitting ability when in the midst of a hot streak), but does not prove the existence of one. As McCotter acknowledges, there could be other reasons for a greater number of lengthy hitting streaks existing than would be expected by chance.

For example, a player could be highly aware of his hitting streak and take special action to perpetuate it, such as an aggressive pull-hitter "going with what he's given" and slapping an outside pitch to the opposite field for a single. Also, a hitter may benefit from a generous ruling of "hit" (vs. "error") by the official scorer. (As an aside, a theory of Joe DiMaggio achieving his record 56-game hitting streak in part through such generosity has been making the rounds.)

Further, McCotter noted that his original random simulations included games in which the batter had not started, which could downwardly affect the numbers of streaks in the simulated sequences (i.e., a non-hit game owing to when the batter only appeared once as a pinch-hitter, could insert itself between hit games in the random sequences, thus holding down the length of hitting streaks).

A second series of simulations was run, this time excluding non-start games. Indeed, much of the difference between the actual and simulated numbers of streaks disappeared. McCotter describes the following finding, as one example: real life for 1957-2006, there were 274 streaks of 20 or more games; the first permutation (including non-starts) had an average of a mere 192 such streaks; and the second permutation (leaving out non-starts) had an average of 259 such streaks. The difference between 259 and 274 may not sound like much, but it is still very significant when viewed over 10,000 permutations, especially since we still aren't quite comparing apples to apples (p. 68).

McCotter concludes his article on the following note:

This study shows that sometimes batters really may have a hot hand, or at least that they adapt their approach to try to keep a long hitting streak going -- and baseball players are nothing if not adapters (p. 69).

To the extent McCotter is claiming evidence for a relatively modest-sized hot-hand effect, subject to other possible interpretations, I would concur with him.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The other night, the Arizona State men's basketball team exploded for a 20-0 run en route to routing Oregon State, 69-38 (play-by-play sheet).

After the Beavers' Lathen Wallace made a layup to narrow an early ASU lead to 19-15 with 5:29 to go in the first half, the Sun Devils ran their advantage up to 39-15, until Wallace scored again with 14:23 left in the second half, to break the streak. In fact, for almost exactly a 20-minute stretch (from 9:49 remaining in the first half to 9:32 remaining in the second half) Wallace was the only Beaver to score!

As many readers will be aware, Oregon State has a new coach this year, Craig Robinson, who is the brother of Michelle Obama. The ASU debacle notwithstanding, Robinson is showing some early signs of giving Beaver fans "change they can believe in." OSU was 0-18 in Pacific-10 play last year, and this year has already beaten USC.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Happy New Year to everyone! Please pardon my lack of timeliness, but back on Christmas Day, Shaquille O'Neal recorded the dubious career milestone of missing 5,000 free throws. Wilt Chamberlain is the only other member of this club.

Though O'Neal has carried a well-deserved reputation throughout his career as a disaster at the stripe (detailed here), strange things can happen when one plays as many games as he has (somewhat over 1,000, coming into this season).

As stated on O'Neal's official NBA biography page, he "was a perfect 13-13 from the foul line against Denver on Apr. 17, establishing a career high for most free throws made in a game without a miss" in the 2000-01 season (this is the only perfect free-throw shooting game by O'Neal, with a large number of attempts, I'm aware of, but I can't rule out the existence of others; he also once had a 16-of-18 game ).

For his career, O'Neal has been around a 52% free-throw shooter. His probability of pulling off a perfect 13-for-13 free-throw performance purely by chance (i.e., under an independence model) can therefore be estimated by raising .52 to the 13th power, which yields .0002. This probability is somewhat smaller than O'Neal's (apparent) actual rate of flawless nights from the line -- once in roughly 1,000 games -- but not all that different. Phil Maymin comes up with some similar calculations here.

Maymin's article makes an important point regarding the symmetry of extreme tails on the normal, bell-shaped curve: "If Shaq takes, for simplicity, about ten free throw attempts per game, then it would take one thousand games before he either made or missed all ten" (my emphasis added). In fact, O'Neal once had an 0-for-11 free-throw game (again, I can't be sure that he hasn't had additional all-miss games from the stripe).

I hope readers will forgive me for not looking up box scores from all 1,000-plus O'Neal games and creating a frequency distribution of game-specific free-throw percentages to compare to the normal curve. Based on this cursory review, however, Shaq's free-throw shooting appears consistent with coin-tossing.