Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Louisville's Hancock and Michigan's Albrecht Exhibit Hot Hands in First Half of Men's College Hoops Title Game

With 3:02 remaining in the first half of Monday night's NCAA championship game and Michigan leading 35-23, Cardinal coach Rick Pitino called a time-out. Hot shooting from behind the three-point arc -- including four straight shots without a miss by reserve guard Spike Albrecht -- had given the Wolverines their sizable lead at this point. However, in a two-minute stretch that will give Michigan fans nightmares for years to come, Louisville's Luke Hancock hit four straight treys of his own and, next thing you knew, the teams were heading to the locker room with the Wolverines ahead only 38-37 at intermission. So compelling was the first-half three-point duel, it inspired the New York Times to write a human interest story on Hancock and Albrecht.

Based on the play-by-play sheet of the Louisville-Michigan game, I have graphed all three-point attempts of the first half. The chart indicates which player (by last initial) took each shot (UM players depicted in blue and UL players in red), with how much time remaining in the half, and whether the shot was good (bright colors in top row) or a miss (lighter colors in bottom row). You may click on the graphic to enlarge it.

Though Albrecht and Hancock each hit four first-half threes, as can be seen, Hancock's occurred in much quicker succession. Also, until Hancock's shooting outburst, Michigan had made six treys to only one for Louisville.

Louisville dominated the second half except for some brief stretches, with Hancock hitting a fifth three-pointer to put the Cardinals up 76-66 with 3:27 left in the game. The final score was 82-76 for UL.

Hancock went 5-for-5 from downtown in the title game, as well as 3-for-5 on treys vs. Wichita State in the national semifinal, giving him an impressive 8-for-10 three-point shooting percentage in the Final Four (see Hancock's game-by-game log). Such a shooting performance by Hancock in the biggest games of the season would have seemed very unlikely, however, based on his start to the 2012-13 campaign. A transfer from George Mason University whose Louisville career began last fall, Hancock compiled an ugly 9-of-41 (.220) record on three-point attempts in his first eight games.

Though he later had some good three-point shooting games (e.g., 4-of-5 at Syracuse on March 2), Hancock entered the Final Four (including the regular season, Big East tournament, and first four games of the NCAA tournament) hitting only 55-for-148 (.372) from downtown.

One can calculate the probability of a prior .372 shooter hitting 8 (or more) of his next 10 three-point attempts, using what is known as a binomial probability calculator. This probability turns out to be .007, a little less than 1-in-100. Unlikely, but not astronomical.

What about Michigan's Albrecht? As his game-by-game log shows, Albrecht attempted far fewer three-pointers during the season than did Hancock. In fact, until Monday night's championship game, the frosh Albrecht had never attempted more than 2 three-point shots in a single game. For the regular season and Big 10 tournament combined, Albrecht made 9-of-23 (.391) behind the arc.

In the Wolverines' NCAA tournament opener vs. South Dakota State, Albrecht didn't attempt any treys. In each of the next three tournament games -- vs. Virginia Commonwealth, Kansas, and Florida -- Albrecht went 1-for-1 on three-pointers. In the national semifinal vs. Syracuse, Albrecht upped his three-point output to 2-for-2. He then, of course, hit his first 4 shots from beyond the arc in the title game against Louisville, making him 9-of-9 for the entire NCAA tournament at that point. With 11:28 left in the game, Albrecht missed a three-point shot that would have put UM, then trailing 52-54, back in the lead. The miss was the only mar on Albrecht's tournament three-point record, which ended up 9-for-10.

Returning to the binomial probability calculator, we ask in Albrecht's case what the probability is of a prior .391 shooter making 9 (or more) of his next 10 three-point shots. That probability is .001 or 1-in-1,000.

Clearly, two rare performances were on display Monday night!

No comments: