Saturday, November 26, 2011

Losing Streaks in College Football Rivalries Coming to an End

On this rivalry weekend of college football, some teams that had lost many consecutive games to a particular opponent have ended their string of setbacks.

Michigan ended its seven-game losing streak to archrival Ohio State, with a 40-34 win in Ann Arbor.

Kentucky, which had lost 26 straight to Tennessee, finally vanquished the Vols today, 10-7.

Baylor snapped a 15-game losing streak to Texas Tech, outscoring the Red Raiders 66-42.

Friday, November 25, 2011

South Alabama 0-for-24 on Treys

The South Alabama men's basketball team went 0-for-24 on three-point shot attempts last Sunday against Florida State. South Alabama now shares the record for most three-point tries without a make, as Dayton's men also went 0-for-24 behind the arc in a 2008 game. In doing some research today, I discovered that I had previously missed the fact that there is a third school with an 0-for-24 day on treys, namely South Carolina State in 2004.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Baylor Gets First Football Win Over Oklahoma After 20 Straight Losses

Baylor's football team ended the school's 0-for-20 all-time drought against Oklahoma (dating back to the teams' first meeting in 1901) with a 45-38 win over the No. 5 Sooners last night. The Bears also had lost 33 straight to teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 10, since a 1986 win over then-No. 10 Arkansas.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hot Hand, the book, is here!

I am pleased to announce the arrival of my new book, Hot Hand: The Statistics Behind Sports' Greatest Streaks. It represents the culmination of many years of writing about sports streaks on this blog and elsewhere. I have picked out what I consider the most interesting streaks I've written about on the blog for inclusion in the book, plus I've added some new stuff. On, you can "Look Inside" for a free preview of Chapter 1 (here's a direct link to Amazon's information about the book).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Yaari & Eisenmann Article on Free-Throw Shooting

Gur Yaari, a researcher at Yale School of Medicine, recently notified me of an online article on free-throw shooting and the hot hand that he co-authored with Shmuel Eisenmann. The study focused on whether basketball players have a higher probability of making the second of two free throws after making the first than after missing the first.

The classic Gilovich, Vallone, and Tversky (1985) article failed to find evidence of streakiness in free-throw shooting, but Yaari and Eisenmann noted that they were using a much larger sample than that of Gilovich and colleagues -- 308,862 free-throws taken from 2005-06 through 2009-10 in the National Basketball Association (situations in which shooters were awarded three shots after being fouled behind the arc were studied, but I don't discuss them).

Some of the statistical concepts cited were beyond my expertise, such as the hypergeometric distribution. The basic finding was clear, however. Players made around 72-75% of their free throws (depending on the season) after missing a free throw, whereas they hit on around 76-80% after making the first. The paper is full of technicality and subtlety. The authors precisely characterize their findings as: "essentially that the results are unlikely to emerge from a collection of uncorrelated sequences each with a constant probability of success and no auto correlation."

Yaari and Eisenmann also raised two possible explanations for their findings: what I would consider a traditional hot-hand scenario ("success breeds success and failure breeds failure"); and fluctuations between "better and worse periods." The authors found that players' hotness levels were uncorrelated from season to season, thus going against the idea that some shooters possess inherent streakiness.

The website "Sweat Science" also reviewed the Yaari and Eisenmann study. The review ended with the following call for caution, with which I concur:

...we’re usually referring to time frames that are longer than two back-to-back free throws [for a sequence to be considered a hot or cold hand] ... but far shorter than game-to-game variations. So in the end, I’m going to keep believing that the hot hand doesn’t exist until better evidence emerges.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

NFL Streak Tidbits

This weekend's play in the National Football League had several streak-relevant developments.

The defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers advanced to 8-0 on the season. With wins in the team's final two regular-season games of the 2010 campaign and four postseason games, Green Bay has now won 14 straight.

A team heading in the opposite direction is the Indianapolis Colts, who today fell to 0-9 on the season. It doesn't seem so long ago that the Colts were playing in Super Bowls (following the 2009 and 2006 regular seasons), but with star quarterback Peyton Manning not playing this season due to multiple neck surgeries, the team seems totally adrift.

Whereas the Packers' and Colts' respective streaks continue onward, there were also some streaks that ended today.

The Miami Dolphins won their first game of the season, after starting off 0-7. Adding in losses in their final three games of the 2010 season, the Dolphins had lost 10 straight.

Finally, this Associated Press article on the New England Patriots' loss to the New York Giants notes a couple of streak-ending elements associated with the Patriots' defeat:

The loss ended several impressive streaks: wins in an NFL-record 31 regular-season starts at home for [quarterback Tom] Brady and in 20 regular-season home games for the Patriots.