Sunday, March 28, 2010

The icon to the right actually should be modified to say STREAKS (plural) in progress. Two college baseball teams, which both happen to play in the Pacific 10 conference, have gotten well into the season with no losses. No. 1-ranked Arizona State today extended its mark to 23-0, with a win over Cal. Meanwhile, No. 9 UCLA has started the season with a 20-0 record (my thanks to GM in Los Angeles for keeping me posted on UCLA). The NCAA Division I record for longest winning streak is 34, jointly held by Texas in 1977 and Florida Atlantic in 1999. The Texas streak was to start a season, whereas FAU's was not. Interested readers can consult the year-by-year historical data in the Texas and FAU online media guides to get details of the two record streaks.

Friday, March 26, 2010

KLBK Channel 13, the Lubbock CBS affiliate that is providing coverage of March Madness tournament action, came by my office today to do a story on statistical ways of looking at the games. The story was then broadcast on the late local news, following the buzzer of tonight's last game. I spoke about two topics. One was my own hot hand research, on streaks and other statistical oddities; KLBK was kind enough to plug the site, as shown above.

The other topic I addressed, which seemed to be the reporter's primary interest, was the use of statistical equations and the like to predict who would win particular games. I don't do this kind of research, but I was able to refer to the studies of Georgia Tech professor Joel Sokol, who does. In this article, Sokol and his colleague George Nemhauser show how their statistical tool (known as LRMC for Logistic Regression Markov Chain) has exhibited a better record of predicting NCAA tournament games than actual seedings, statistical ratings such as RPI and Sagarin, and media/coaches' polls such as AP and ESPN/USA Today. The LRMC may have worked well in the past, but this year it's laying a major egg.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

NCAA Sweet Sixteen Night 1 -- Butler's Streakiness

The No. 5 West-regional seed Butler Bulldogs upset the region's top seed Syracuse, 63-59, in men's NCAA basketball tournament action. In extending their winning streak to 23 straight games, the Bulldogs made use of two within-game spurts, outscoring the Orange 12-1 to begin the game and 11-0 down the stretch to turn a 50-54 deficit into a 61-54 lead (play-by-play sheet).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

When last we left the Michigan men's hockey team in early February, the Wolverines had just lost to Wisconsin in an outdoor game at the Badgers' Camp Randall football stadium. Literally, given the 16-degree Fahrenheit temperature at game's end, and figuratively, given their uncharacteristically mediocre 16-13-1 record at the time, the Wolverines were in the midst of a cold spell.

Now, however, Michigan has gotten hot. Behind unlikely goaltending hero Shawn Hunwick, the Wolverines have now won six straight games to capture their conference tournament (Central Collegiate Hockey Association) and head to the NCAA tournament. In fact, it is UM's 20th straight NCAA appearance. As this article on Hunwick and the team points out, "without a CCHA title, [Michigan] had zero chance of getting a tournament invite."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

NCAA Hoops Day 4 -- Maryland's Stunning, But Unsuccessful, Comeback vs. Michigan State

Trailing 78-66 to Michigan State with 4:48 remaining in the teams' second-round NCAA men's match-up, Maryland went on a 15-2 run to take an 81-80 lead with 39 seconds left (play-by-play sheet). At that point, there was a bang-bang exchange of baskets -- MSU, Maryland, MSU -- with the Spartans prevailing, 85-83, on a last second three-pointer by Korie Lucious.


Purdue used a 17-2 second-half run to overcome a Texas A&M lead and set the stage for a close finish. Ultimately, the Boilermakers garnered a 63-61 win in overtime.

Friday, March 19, 2010

NCAA Hoops Day 2 -- Georgia Tech FT Shooting

The Georgia Tech Yellowjackets (also known as the Ramblin' Wreck) finished the regular season ranked 12th (and last) in team free-throw shooting in Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) men's play at .645 (here and here). One of the great things about NCAA tournament action is that odd things can -- and often do -- happen. That includes Georgia Tech making 24 out of 25 free-throw attempts tonight in a 64-59 win over Oklahoma State.

It is a familiar probability question, known as the binomial expansion, to ask how likely it is for a process with a long-term baserate success probability of [fill in the blank] to succeed in a new set of attempts [blank] times or more out of [blank] attempts. In Georgia Tech's case, we would ask how likely it is for a team with a .645 baserate to make 24 or more free-throws out of 25 (assuming the shots are independent of each other, such as coin tosses). There's even an online calculator for the occasion that, when supplied with the particulars of Georgia Tech's accomplishment, yields a probability of .00026 (26-in-100,000 or approximately 1-in-4,000) of the Yellowjackets doing what they did.

Where does that final probability come from? First, we calculate the probability of Georgia Tech going a perfect 25-of-25. If you think of the likelihood of rolling double-sixes with a pair of dice, it's the probability of a six on a single die, 1/6, raised to the second power (given there are two dice) or 1/36. Analogously in our basketball example, we take the Yellowjackets' probability of success on a single free-throw attempt, .645, to the 25th power, yielding .000017 as the probability of a perfect run of 25 out of 25 made free-throws.

We also have to calculate the probability of 24 made free throws and one miss, which is: (.645 to the 24th power) times .355 (the latter being the probability of a miss). That yields .0000095. However, there are 25 different sequences in which a team could make 24 free-throws and miss one; the one miss could occur on the first, second, third,... all the way through the 25th attempt. We must therefore multiply .0000095 times 25, yielding .0002375.

Lastly, we add .000017 (probability of making all 25 attempts) to .0002375 (probability of making 24 out of 25, taking into account all the different possible sequences of doing so), to get .0002545 (within rounding error of the .00026 from earlier).

A few cautions are in order. First, with all the tens of thousands of games taking place in a single season at all levels of college and professional basketball -- never mind multiple years of play -- a feat like Georgia Tech's will occur every so often. Second, I did not take a random cross-section of games, but rather jumped straight to Georgia Tech vs. Oklahoma State because there was a dramatic accomplishment. Third, it could have been the case that the Yellowjackets had one or two great free-throw shooters (along with a bunch of poor shooters who bring down the average) and that these stellar shooters took a disproportionate share of free-throw attempts against Oklahoma State. As it turns out, however, none of the eight Yellowjackets who played tonight is any better than a .787 free-throw shooter, as seen in the team's statistics.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

NCAA Hoops Day 1 -- BYU FT Shooting

I finally have everything together regarding the consecutive made free-throw streaks of BYU's Tyler Haws and Jimmer Fredette. Now, at the conclusion of the Cougars' 99-92 double-OT win over Florida in men's first-round action, here is where things stand. According to these BYU post-game notes:

Fredette ended his free throw streak at 37, two short of the mark he set earlier this season. Fredette hit 21 against TCU, all 12 of his attempts versus UNLV, and 4-of-4 against Florida before missing...

Tyler Haws has converted 42 free throws in a row, passing Jimmer Fredette’s record of 39 set earlier this season as the longest in BYU history. The freshman forward has been perfect from the line after hitting his last five against Colorado State, going 10-of-10 at Wyoming, 8-of-8 against SDSU, 5-of-5 against New Mexico, 4-of-4 at Utah, 6-of-6 versus TCU and 4-of-4 against Florida.

Monday, March 15, 2010

When Purdue called time-out with 4:33 remaining in the first half of its Big 10 men's tournament game against Minnesota Saturday, the Boilermakers had scored only four points (to the Golden Gophers' 26). How does a highly regarded team -- Purdue came in having won 13 of its last 14 -- score only four points in over 15 minutes of play?

I have listed Purdue's offensive sequences in tabular form below, based on the play-by-play sheet for the game. At the top of each column is the outcome of a possession (e.g., missed layup or dunk; missed other two-point shot). When you see a time listed in a particular category, that's when an instance of that outcome occurred. You can click on the graphic to enlarge it.

Overall, Purdue went 2-of-20 on field-goal attempts. One factor that can contribute to a shooting slump is that a team panics while falling behind and jacks up a bunch of desperation three-point attempts to try to get back in the game quickly. The Boilermakers tried some treys, to be sure, but it doesn't look like they went on an all-out barrage from behind the arc.

Two other factors seemed to contribute to Purdue's scoring drought. First, the Boilers had no midrange game (i.e., ability to shoot two-pointers beyond layup range), missing 12 such shots. Second, Purdue didn't seem to attack the basket much, with only two layup attempts (one made and one missed) and two free-throw opportunities (both missed).

Throw in late February's season-ending ACL injury to key player Robbie Hummel and one can see why Purdue would be having difficulties. The Boilermakers will have to make some quick adjustments to be able to do well in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The University of Nebraska women's basketball team, a perfect 30-0 for the season entering today's Big 12 tournament game against Texas A&M, fell to the Aggies, 80-70. Until this season, the Cornhuskers had never been a major factor in women's hoops in the tough Big 12, which features former NCAA champions Baylor, Texas, and Texas Tech, along with other strong programs such as Oklahoma. Nebraska can still recover and do well in the NCAA tournament, but its long winning streak is over.


Two quick developments from Friday's men's conference tournaments:

Wisconsin's Trevon Hughes made three three-pointers in a 32-second span near the end of the game, but they were not enough to rescue the Badgers against Illinois in Big 10 play.

Kansas used a 21-2 run to pull away from Texas A&M in the Big 12 tourney.

Monday, March 08, 2010

With tonight's 59-44 UConn victory over Notre Dame in the Big East tournament semifinals, the Huskies have now set an NCAA Division I women's basketball record for longest winning streak, with 71 straight wins. Connecticut went 39-0 in the 2008-09 season and are 32-0 (thus far) in the current, 2009-10 season.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The New York Knicks went 0-for-18 on three-point shot attempts in a 113-93 loss to the lowly New Jersey Nets (box score). This AP/ article states that, "According to research by STATS, LLC dating to the 1986-87 season, the previous most attempts without a make was 16 by Washington against the Celtics on Nov. 2, 2007."


Michigan State went on separate scoring runs of 12-0 and 17-0 en route to a 64-48 victory over intra-state rival University of Michigan in men's Big Ten basketball action.


Shifting to college baseball, the University of Houston put together eight straight hits (five consecutive singles, followed by a homer, a single, and a double) against Texas Tech pitching, as part of a 10-run outburst in the bottom of the second. In the end, the Cougars prevailed 15-8 (see Gametracker).

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Tennessee men's basketball team opened up a 17-0 lead on Mississippi State on Saturday, en route to a 75-59 victory.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Tonight at Notre Dame, the University of Connecticut women's basketball team goes for its 69th straight win, which would be one away from the women's NCAA Division I record of 70 straight, which is also held by UConn (from 2001-2003). The Big East conference tournament and NCAA tournament will follow in the coming weeks. Barring any mishaps, the UConn women would be in a position early next season to challenge the UCLA men's record of 88 straight victories from 1971-1974.

UPDATE: UConn has gotten its 69th straight win and will go for 70 on Sunday, in the Big East tourney.