Sunday, December 27, 2009

And then there were... none. There are no longer any undefeated teams in the National Football League, as the Indianapolis Colts fell to the New York Jets this afternoon.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Last night saw the extension of one major winning streak and the ending of another.

The Penn State women's volleyball team won its 102nd straight match and third straight NCAA championship, defeating Texas in a dramatic comeback.

However, the NFL's New Orleans Saints suffered their first loss of the season, 24-17 to Dallas. The Saints are now 13-1. The Indianapolis Colts (14-0) are now the only team in contention for a perfect record, with two games to go in the regular season and the playoffs to follow.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Some brief items today:

The Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints each extended their records to 13-0 in NFL action. For Indy, it was also a record 22nd straight regular-season victory.

Golfer Ernie Els had his streak of winning at least one pro tournament a year snapped at 18. In other words, each year from 1991 to 2008, Els had captured at least one tournament, although sometimes on a tour other than the United States PGA (e.g., European Tour, Japan Tour). A comprehensive list of Els's wins is available on his Wikipedia page.

The University of Akron men's soccer team saw it hopes for an undefeated season fall just short, with an overtime (penalty kicks) loss to the University of Virginia in the NCAA College Cup final. The Zips entered the match 23-0-1 (apparently the semi-final match Akron won over North Carolina on penalty kicks is officially considered a tie; see game-by-game log).

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Joe Levy just sent me an e-mail with the subject heading "The cold leg in soccer," regarding what happened to Maccabi Haifa, Israel's top soccer squad, in the European Champions League. Playing in a four-team pool against other countries' national champions (with each team facing each opponent twice), Maccabi Haifa became, in the words of a Yahoo/Eurosport article, "the first team to lose all six group games without scoring a goal."

Making matters worse were the circumstances of the sixth shut-out defeat: "The Israeli league leaders lost 1-0 to Bordeaux, who recorded a fifth successive Champions League victory despite fielding a second-string side."

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Yesterday's New York Times had an article on Penn State women's volleyball coach Russ Rose and his program's current 98-match winning streak as it moves into this year's round of 16 in search of a third straight national championship. As the article notes of the 98 straight wins:

It is the longest winning streak in N.C.A.A. Division I women’s sports history, and the second longest over all, trailing only the Miami men’s tennis program, winner of 137 straight from 1957 to 1964.

In recent weeks, Penn State volleyball passed, among others, the 88-game winning streak of John Wooden’s U.C.L.A. men’s basketball teams from 1971 to ’74, and the North Carolina women’s soccer program, which won 92 in a row from 1990 to 1994.

As seen on this year's Nittany Lion volleyball schedule/results page, Penn State not only is a perfect 34-0 thus far in matches, but has won nearly every time by a score of three sets to none. Only once, in a mid-October match at Michigan, have the Lions been taken to the maximum five sets.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts each survived another weekend with perfect 12-0 records. Only four more games to go for 16-0 regular-season records! In fact, even the existence of two 11-0 teams (a week ago) was unprecedented in the NFL.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Nets win! Nets win!

The New Jersey Nets, who set a new NBA record for worst start to a season by losing their first 18 games, finally got their first win, with a 97-91 victory tonight over Charlotte.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

With their 98-91 loss this afternoon to the New York Knicks, the New Jersey Nets have now lost all 13 of their games thus far this season. The NBA record for worst start to a season is 0-17.

UPDATE: The Nets' losing streak has progressed to 0-16 and the coach has been fired.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

For the first time in Coach Pete Carroll's nine years on the job, his University of Southern California football team has lost a game played in November, with yesterday's 55-21 shellacking by Stanford. As noted in the linked L.A. Times article, "The November win streak, which reached 28-0 with last week's victory at Arizona State, began in 2001, when the Trojans finished fast and wound up in the Las Vegas Bowl."

November is arguably the toughest month for a team, as it plays some of its biggest traditional rivals with placement in as good a bowl game as possible often at stake. USC's 28 consecutive November victories are shown in the following list, by opponent (@ = road game). Indeed, one sees games against cross-town rival UCLA (although the Bruin-Trojan battle was later moved to early December) and national rival Notre Dame (only in the even-numbered years, as the teams play in South Bend, Indiana, in the middle of October in odd-numbered years, supposedly because USC does not want to play in the cold of November).

2001 Oregon State, @California, UCLA
2002 @Stanford, Arizona St., @UCLA, Notre Dame
2003 Washington St., @Arizona, UCLA
2004 @Oregon St., Arizona, Notre Dame
2005 Stanford, @California, Fresno St.
2006 @Stanford, Oregon, California, Notre Dame
2007 Oregon St., @California, @Arizona State
2008 Washington, California, @Stanford, Notre Dame
2009 @Arizona State

In one sense, the 28-game win streak survived on a bit of a technicality; in 2006, USC lost to UCLA, but game was played on December 2. USC's game-by-game logs from 2002-2009 can be found here, whereas the 2001 log can be found here.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Indianapolis Colts survived a scare today from Houston, to lift their record to 8-0 this season. As noted in this article, the Colts have now won 17 straight NFL regular-season games, which ties for the third-longest such streak in league history. A year ago, the Colts won their final nine regular-season games, before making a quick exit from the playoffs at the hands of San Diego.

The NFL also has one other 8-0 team, the New Orleans Saints, who beat Carolina today.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

For all of Alex Rodriguez's hitting slumps during previous years' MLB playoffs, the Yankee slugger really turned things around this year in helping his team to the World Series title. In this year's 15 Yankee postseason games, ARod hit 5 doubles and 6 homers, batted .365, sported a .500 on-base percentage, and slugged at a clip of .808. The latter statistic means that he nearly averaged a full base on all of his official at-bats (Rodriguez stat page on

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Los Angeles Times tribute to former UCLA men's basketball coach John Wooden on his 99th birthday contains the following item (apparently in reference to his time playing semi-professional basketball in Indiana):

During one 46-game stretch, he made 134 consecutive free throws.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Minnesota Twins, sporting a record of 70-72 with 20 games to play, finished the regular season playing .800 ball (16-4) to tie the Detroit Tigers atop the American League Central Division and force a one-game playoff on Tuesday for the division title (Twins game-by-game log).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Florida Marlins' pitcher Ricky Nolasco recorded nine straight strikeouts against the Atlanta Braves tonight, in a 5-4 Florida win. According to the linked game article:

Nolasco's nine consecutive strikeouts in one game were one short of the big league record set by Hall of Famer Tom Seaver for the New York Mets on April 22, 1970, against San Diego.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Minnesota Twins' recent hot play has gotten them back into contention for the American League Central Division title. In a crucial double-header today against the first-place Detroit Tigers, Minnesota got within one game of first by taking the opener, but then fell in the nightcap to restore the Tigers' two-game lead.

Floundering with a 70-72 record after a September 12 loss to Oakland, Minnesota put together a stretch of winning 11 out of 12 games (Twins game-by-game log). Detroit also helped make the race competitive by losing 9 of 12 in mid-September (Tigers' log).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

Veteran quarterback Kurt Warner set a new NFL record for completion percentage yesterday, hitting on 24 of 26 passes (92.3%). In doing so, he led the Arizona Cardinals to a 31-17 win over Jacksonville.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

I was watching some ESPN baseball highlights Tuesday night and saw a special focus on Rangers' phenom Neftali Feliz throwing 12 straight strikes in one inning. I have annotated the strikes in's pitch-by-pitch record below (on which you can click to enlarge). Such "micro-level" data can be obtained by going to the game article, selecting play-by-play, and then pitch-by-pitch.

A streak of consecutive strikes is an interesting one. Most major-league pitchers presumably could throw pitches in the strike-zone for an indefinitely long time. The problem, however, is that hitters would likely figure out what's going on and start driving the ball. Hence, pitchers often purposely throw pitches out of the zone (especially when the pitcher is ahead in the count) to get batters to "chase" a ball away from the prime hitting area. It says something about Feliz's ability (thus far at least) to vary the speed and trajectory of his pitches, all while keeping them in the strike zone, so that batters can't take advantage of the pitches' being in a relative consistent location.

Feliz's spectacular inning Tuesday night is part and parcel of his successful arrival in the big leagues. Quoting from the aforementioned game article:

Feliz has 26 strikeouts and one walk in 11 appearances spanning 19 2/3 innings since being promoted to the majors Aug. 2. The 21-year-old right-hander had a major league-best 0.51 ERA in August before lowering his career mark to 0.46 on the first day of September.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A former student of mine, Julie Salinas, just sent me a link to a New York Times piece on "Statistical Slumps."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

This posting is not about hot hands, but rather about hot feet. It's also not so much about streaks, but simply the magnitude of a performance. What I'm talking about is the world record 9.58 seconds run in the men's 100 meters yesterday by Jamaica's Usain Bolt at the World Championships in Berlin, Germany. As shown below, Bolt has been lowering the world record quite dramatically, in an event where the record used to come down incrementally, often one-hundredth of a second at a time (you can click on the chart to enlarge it).

As you'll recall, Bolt set the previous record at last year's Olympic Games despite slowing down at the end. Yesterday's performance gives us a better idea of what Bolt is capable of when he runs hard the whole way.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tiger Woods had one of his major streaks broken today at the PGA golf championship, at the hands of Y.E. Yang. As described in this article:

Woods was 14-0 when he went into the final round of a major atop the leaderboard. He had not lost any tournament around the world in nine years when leading by two shots.

None of that mattered to Yang, a 37-year-old South Korean who hit the shots everyone expected from Woods. Leading by one on the final hole, Yang slayed golf's giant with a hybrid 3-iron that cleared the bunker and settled 12 feet from the cup.

Yang made the birdie putt and shouted with joy as he pumped his fist. That gave him a 2-under 70, and a three-shot victory when Woods missed yet another short par putt and shot 75.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A week ago, I traveled to Washington, DC to attend the annual convention of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). A highlight was the local area former players' session, with Frank Howard (representing the old Washington Senators) and Rick Dempsey (representing the nearby Baltimore Orioles). With moderator George Michael of "Sports Machine" television fame leading the way, the players provided a lively and thoughtful discussion.

Howard is 6-foot-7, so I wanted to get a picture of him standing up, to dramatize his height. Also, my family is from Los Angeles and Howard played for the Dodgers from 1958-1964; with my 1962 birth year, I would have no recollection of that era, but my father would.

As a prototypical power-hitter for much of his career (until he learned to become more selective and raised his walk totals), Howard could experience both extreme hotness and coldness. On the positive side, between May 12-18, 1968, Howard hit 10 home runs in six games.

On the negative side, however, Howard once struck out seven times in a doubleheader, a record he shares with a few other players. (Howard told the story a little differently at the SABR session, saying that he struck out six straight times and then hit into a double play, thus producing eight outs in seven at-bats. Retrosheet's archived box scores of the games apparently in question -- Game 1 and Game 2 -- do not support this version, however.)

When I mentioned seeing Frank Howard speak at the SABR conference to my dad, he told me that he had seen Howard play basketball for Ohio State against UCLA in Los Angeles way back when. Since I was now in the habit of looking things up, I searched the library website at my home university for documentary evidence of Howard playing a college basketball game in L.A. Here are some brief excerpts of what I found...

When all was said and done, I learned a lot about Frank Howard, namely his highs and lows in the batter's box, and that he had played college basketball. It seems that he was capable of noteworthy performances in either sport, although whether they were beyond chance variation, I don't know.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fresh off of a perfect game in his last outing, Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle came out smoking tonight against the Minnesota Twins. As described in this game article, Buehrle "retired the first 17 batters on Tuesday night to set a record with 45 outs in a row" (the 17 batters from tonight were added to the 27 from the perfect game and the last batter from the start before that). Once Buehrle got the record, however, Minnesota batters started to get to him, leaving Buehrle as the losing pitcher in a 5-3 Twins win. As one of the commentators on ESPN's Baseball Tonight just noted, the previous record for consecutive batters retired was shared at 41 by Buehrle's White Sox teammate, Bobby Jenks.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Golfer Mark Calcavecchia earlier today birdied nine straight holes (the third through eleventh) to set a new PGA record. Such a record reflects not only great putting, but also great shooting at all stages to put oneself in position to have makeable birdie opportunities. Quoting from the above-linked New York Times article, "[Calcavecchia's] nine birdie putts were from 12 feet or closer." Even if all putts were from standard length, however, they'd still be more difficult than, say, free-throw shooting in basketball. Whereas a hoop is a hoop, golf greens have subtle curvatures, which require players and their caddies to develop an ability to "read the break."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox just minutes ago pitched a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. A perfect game is the ultimate in hot pitching, as it requires a pitcher to retire each and every opposing batter. Beyond pitching a no-hitter (which Buehrle had already done once in his career and which I analyzed here), the pitcher of a perfect game also allows no walks, hits no batters, has his fielders (and himself) commit no errors, etc. Buehrle's is just the 18th perfect game in major-league history.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Jamie McOwen, a Single-A minor-league baseball player, put together a 45-game hitting streak, which ended last night. For those not familiar with the levels of play in professional baseball, in order of increasing skill level, there's A, AA, AAA, and ultimately the major leagues.

Monday, July 06, 2009

As I watched yesterday's dramatic men's Wimbledon singles final -- won by Roger Federer over Andy Roddick 16-14 in the fifth set for Federer's record 15th Grand Slam singles title -- the key factor that stood out to me was Roddick's consistency in getting his first serves in. Roddick bested Federer in first-serve percentage, 70-64, which contributed to Federer's complete inability to break Roddick's serve -- until the very last game of the match. Some interesting serve-placement graphics are available here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Colorado Rockies won again today, 5-4 over Pittsburgh, giving the Denver-based franchise 16 wins in its last 17 games (game-by-game log). The spurt started about a week after Colorado fired manager Clint Hurdle and replaced him with Jim Tracy. As a managerial firing would suggest, the Rockies got off to a terrible start this season. From April 11-25, the team dropped 10 out of 12. As a further indication of how poorly the Rockies started the season, even with all their recent success they still trail the first-place L.A. Dodgers in the National League West by 9.5 games!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Kayla Braud of Eugene, Oregon finished her high-school softball career by getting a hit in 103 straight games. Even if, as is probably the case, her talent level is way above that of the pitchers she faced, you figure walks or a lucky catch by the opposition somewhere along the line would have ended her streak! (article, video).

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Ichiro Suzuki's 27-game hitting streak, which I blogged about yesterday, is gone, just like that!


Randy Smith, who once held the NBA record for consecutive games played at 906, has died at age 60.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Seattle Mariner outfielder Ichiro Suzuki has now gotten a hit in 27 straight games, heading into tonight's action (Twins at Mariners). Though far away, to be sure, from Joe DiMaggio's record 56-game hitting streak, Ichiro is considered by some writers to be among the major-leaguers most capable of going on a long streak. For one thing, he's gone on several streaks of 20-or-more games during his career. Further, he rarely walks, which maximizes the number of official at-bats (and thus chances to extend the streak) he gets in each game. With amazing regularity, Ichiro has been drawing almost exactly 50 walks per season in recent years. This article from a few days ago (when Ichiro's streak was at 25 games) provides additional background.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Today is the 20th anniversary of a 22-inning game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros (box score). Houston ultimately won, 5-4. From a streakiness perspective, the thing I've always remembered about this game is L.A.'s John Shelby going 0-for-10.

Looking at Shelby's career statistics, he clearly had a bad year with the bat in 1989, hitting only .183. (63-for-345). A .183 batting average translates into a .817 (i.e., 1 - . 183) failure rate on each at-bat. Raising .817 to the 10th power, for the probability of 10 successive failures (assuming independence of events), yields .133 as the likelihood of Shelby's going 0-for-10. We have not, of course, taken into account the quality of the opposing pitchers or any other factors, so this will have to be a rough estimate.

A 13% chance of Shelby going 0-for-10 is not astronomically small by any means. It's still fairly rare, however. The following figure shows Shelby's probabilities of getting 0, 1, 2, 3, etc., hits out of 10 at-bats. Not surprisingly, the likeliest scenarios were for him to get 1 or 2 hits. For the probability of 1 hit (and 9 failures), for example, we would take .817 to the 9th power, then multiply the result by .183, thus yielding .0297. There are 10 different ways to get exactly 1 hit out of 10 (i.e., in the first at-bat, or in the second, ... , or in the 10th), so we multiply .0297 X 10, yielding .297 (which is shown in the figure).

Shelby also had a higher probability of getting 3 hits in the game than 0 hits, but the chances start tailing off once we get to 4 hits. The above probabilities were obtained from the Vassar Binomial Calculator.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The first six games Roger Federer served Monday at the French Open, he won each at love. In other words, he won a perfect 24-of-24 points on his serve to open the match. Yet, Federer lost the first set. He could not break the serve of his opponent, Tommy Haas, and Haas prevailed in the first-set tie-breaker. Ultimately, Federer prevailed, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4, 6-0, 6-2.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tennis great Rafael Nadal had his 31-match winning streak at the French Open halted. As one of the Grand Slam tournaments (along with Wimbledon, and the U.S. and Australian Opens), the French Open has a 128-player draw for men's (and women's) singles. A player therefore must win seven straight matches to take the French championship in a given year. Nadal had won the last four men's singles championships, plus his first three matches this year.


In NCAA men's regional baseball action, the University of Texas beat Boston College, 3-2, in an amazing 25-inning game. Perhaps even more remarkable than the overall length of the game, Longhorn reliever Austin Wood pitched 12-plus innings of no-hit ball!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Detroit News has an article on the 25th anniversary of the 1984 Detroit Tigers' 35-5 start to the season (thanks to Mark Pattison for bringing the article to my attention).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Boston Red Sox slugger David "Big Papi" Ortiz finally ended his long homerless streak.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two long baseball streaks ended today:

Howard College, which came into today's round of the National Junior College Athletic Association baseball regionals with a 57-0 record, lost to Temple College, 8-2. Howard is still alive under the double-elimination format, but the chance at a virtually unheard-of undefeated baseball season is gone. [UPDATE: Howard indeed went on to win the national JC title.]

The Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman had his 30-game hitting streak ended today against San Francisco, going 0-for-3.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

I've just created a Facebook group in conjunction with this blog, and I invite everybody to join. The Facebook group will be a venue for getting previews of analyses I'm working on, batting around ideas, sharing instances of sports streakiness any of us have recently seen, etc. In short, it will be for exchanging brief bits of information that might not warrant full postings on the blog. Just search within Facebook under "Hot Hand in Sports."

Thursday, April 30, 2009

High school softball pitcher Rachele Fico recently threw her 22nd career perfect game. In one of her more recent perfect games, she struck out all 21 opposing hitters (softball games are seven innings long).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

NCAA Division II player Bo Darby of West Virginia State homered in five straight at-bats recently, part of a lengthier power-hitting exhibition that included a total of six home runs in a double-header and a single and double right before the homer barrage even started.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

ESPN "Rise," an outlet for coverage of up-and-coming high school athletes, reports on Florida prep Patrick Schuster's quest for a fifth straight no-hitter today. The high school record is six.

UPDATE: The streak is over.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I'm a few days late in reporting this, but Kansas City pitcher Zack Greinke had his scoreless innings streak come to an end.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kansas City Royals pitcher Zack Greinke has now thrown 34 consecutive scoreless innings, carrying over from the end of last season.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The blog True Hoop, by Henry Abbott, had a major write-up the other day about the study of streak shooting in basketball (including a cite of the Hot Hand blog). The accompanying hot-hand study from Sportsmetricians is also worth reading.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Angel Cabrera won the Masters golf tournament today, defeating Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry in a three-way playoff. The streakiest performances, however, were by two players who lifted themselves considerably in the standings, but not quite far enough to make the playoff. Phil Mickelson birdied six out of seven holes early in the fourth round, whereas first-time Masters contestant John Merrick birdied four straight late in the fourth round.


Earlier in the day, I randomly stumbled upon a televised women's bowling event, just as one of the competitors, Carolyn Dorin-Ballard, was in the midst of a streak that ultimately stretched to 20 consecutive strikes. The streak was said to be the longest in a televised Professional Bowlers Association event.

UPDATE: I have now found an online article documenting Dorin-Ballard's new record.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Oklahoma's pitchers shut out Texas Tech for 20 straight innings in Big 12 baseball action, before the Red Raiders scored in the third inning of Game 3 of the teams' series. The Sooners won the first two games, 6-0 and 4-0, but Texas Tech took the finale, 5-1.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

In the opening round of the Masters golf tournament earlier today, Chad Campbell set a tournament record by getting a birdie on the first five holes.

UPDATE: To probe a little more into Campbell's opening-round performance, I decided to estimate the probability of his five straight birdies (assuming that he's a typical golfer). A total of 96 golfers began play. For each of the holes in Round 1 -- including the first five, which were of primary interest -- the number of golfers who broke par (most frequently by birdie, but also occasionally by eagle) is available here. The numbers of par-busters for each hole, which when divided by 96 yields a probability of breaking par, are as follows:


1.............7 (all birdie)............07

2.............46 (incl. 2 eagles).......48

3.............30 (incl. 1 eagle)........31

4.............4 (all birdie)............04

5.............11 (all birdie)...........11

Multiplying these probabilities together yields roughly .00005, which is 5-in-100,000 or 1-in-20,000.

Some cautions must attach to this probability. First, it was a post-hoc decision to calculate it. To paraphrase a warning I once received from a prominent statistician, no one presumably was asking before the tournament, "What are the odds that Chad Campbell is going to birdie his first five holes?" The very unusualness of the accomplishment is what prompted me to analyze it.

Second, even if we accept the 1-in-20,000 probability, with large numbers of professional golfers playing large numbers of holes in large numbers of tournaments, the feat of five straight birdies is one that may be expected to occur every so often.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Welcome to visitors who followed the link from today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch article on the University of Connecticut's quest for an undefeated season in tonight's NCAA women's basketball championship game. The article's author, Tom Timmermann, and I were both sportswriters for the UCLA Daily Bruin in the early 1980s. He contacted me yesterday to discuss what the odds might be of a team completing an undefeated season, and I think he's done a nice job of distilling what we discussed.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Arizona State softball slugger Kaitlin Cochran had her streak of a home-run in seven straight games snapped Saturday at Washington (box score). The game only went five innings instead of the regulation seven, as the Huskies' 11-3 lead triggered the mercy rule to end the game; under ordinary circumstances, therefore, Cochran probably would have gotten an additional plate appearance. A tip of the batting helmet to the folks at Ultimate College Softball, who pointed out the streak.

Cross-posted at my College Softball Blog.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Oklahoma missed its first 15 three-point attempts, ultimately going 2-of-19 for the day, in a 72-60 loss to North Carolina in the NCAA's South men's basketball regional final.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Villanova's just-concluded win over Pitt in a thrilling East regional men's basketball final contained a couple of impressive streaky performances. Villanova made its first 21 free-throw attempts as a team and finished 22-of-23. For Pitt, forward DeJuan Blair was 9-of-9 from the field (article, box score).

Friday, March 27, 2009

The NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments always feature a number of team and individual stretches of hotness and coldness. Tonight's Oklahoma-Syracuse men's game featured what may have been the most pronounced stretch of dominance thus far.

With the Sooners leading by only a slight 28-24 margin with roughly two minutes to go in the first half, OU went on a 20-2 run (carrying over from the first to the second half) to increase its lead to 48-26. Eventually, it became a 28-5 run (OU's lead expanding to 56-29), before Syracuse even started to make a dent in the lead. A fairly large dent did the Orange manage, but it wasn't nearly enough as Syracuse fell 84-71 (play-by-play sheet).

During part of the time they were blowing the game open, the Sooners made 10 out of 11 field-goal attempts. OU's Tony Crocker, whose shooting played a major part in the Sooners' run, made six of his first eight three-point attempts of the game, as noted in the above-linked article.

Last night, another Big 12 team, Missouri, unleashed a 27-7 run on Memphis, en route to a 102-91 victory.

Seen any other big streaks? Share them in the Comments section!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Not since LeBron James in a 2007 NBA playoff game can I remember a single player taking over his team's scoring load to the degree that Texas Tech's Mike Singletary did in tonight's opening-round win by the Red Raiders over Texas A&M in the Big 12 tournament, 88-83.

In addition to Singletary's offensive prowess, the game was also noteworthy for Texas Tech's big comeback. A&M had led by 21 points early in the second half and by 18 with roughly 15 minutes left in the game. After a few different Red Raiders contributed points to cut the lead to 10 with roughly 10 minutes remaining, Singletary took over.

The graphic below documents what happened. I've copied and pasted part of's play-by-play sheet, editing out Texas A&M's side of the ledger and annotating all of Singletary's shots within the relevant time frame (green and red for field-goal attempts, blue for free-throw attempts; numbers equal point values and an "x" is for a miss). You can click on the chart to enlarge it.

From this chart, one can see several aspects of Singletary's amazing performance:

*He scored 29 straight Texas Tech points, part of his total of 43 points on the night.

*He made 9 out of 10 field-goal attempts, including a perfect 3-of-3 on threes. At a muscular 6-6, 230 pounds, Singletary arguably looks more like a linebacker than an outside-shooting specialist, and indeed he really hasn't jacked up many trey attempts during his time at Texas Tech (career statistics). As best I can tell, Singletary is not related to the legendary former NFL linebacker bearing the same name.

*He made 8 out of 10 free throws (not exactly amazing, but not bad, either).

Sunday, March 08, 2009

As described here and on my College Softball Blog, University of Washington softball pitcher Danielle Lawrie had her streak ended, of 90 consecutive innings without giving up an earned run. A member of Canada's 2008 Olympic team, Lawrie probably won't give up many more runs this season!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

I hope you'll excuse some Maize 'n Blue bias on my part, but the University of Michigan (my graduate school alma mater) picked up a huge men's basketball win at Minnesota, 67-64, which may propel the Wolverines into the NCAA tournament field. Michigan (14-of-15) and Minnesota (18-of-19) each shot superbly from the free-throw line (box score).

The outside shooting of the Wolverines' Laval Lucas-Perry was the real difference-maker, as he hit three straight from behind the arc, beginning with 11:13 remaining in the game and Michigan trailing, 53-43 (play-by-play sheet).

Going back to the free-throw statistics, the Gophers came into the game hitting from the stripe with a .715 percentage (see pregame notes), although they also had a 13-of-14 FT performance earlier this season at Penn State.

According to this binomial calculator, the probability of a team with a prior .715 success rate making 18 (or more) out of 19 free-throw attempts is around .02 (2-in-100).

Michigan came in with a .748 free-throw percentage. With this baserate, the Wolverines' probability of making 14 (or more) out of 15 is around .08. For the joint occurrence of Minnesota's and Michigan's hot free-throw shooting, we would then multiply .02 X .08, which yields .0016, which we'll round to .002 (2-in-1,000). This calculation assumes the two teams' free-throw shooting performances are independent of each other; this might not be true as, with each team seeing how well the other was shooting free-throws, the Gophers and Wolverines could have influenced each other to shoot better from the stripe. Still, the two teams' combined free-throw shooting seems pretty unique!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The New York Times has an article on how the overall success rate on free-throw attempts has remained remarkably consistent over the last 50 years or so, both in collegiate and professional basketball. What, if anything, aggregate, league-wide, statistics have to say about individual performers' tendencies to stay in a "zone" of consistent proficiency (as opposed to the potential volatility of "hot" and "cold" stretches) is something to contemplate.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Miami Heat lived up to its name last night, getting hot enough to go on a late 19-0 run to beat the New York Knicks.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oklahoma State's women went 0-for-18 on three-point attempts last night against Texas Tech. That wasn't quite as bad as the Dayton men's 0-for-24 night behind the arc earlier this season, but was still pretty weak.

The Cowgirls entered the game hitting only .321 on trey attempts, which converts to a .679 rate of missing. We then raise .679 to the 18th power (representing the 18 misses), yielding .0009. Rounding up to .001, Oklahoma State's futility behind the arc would have had a prior probability of 1-in-1,000.

This calculation assumes independence of observations, that the outcome of one shot has no bearing on the next, like coin-flipping. A great deal of past research suggests that an independence model generally fits athletic performances well.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday's men's college basketball action featured two players carrying their respective teams on their backs for large segments of their teams' games.

Maryland's Greivis Vasquez scored his team's first 16 points of the game against North Carolina (article, play-by-play sheet). One might expect Vasquez to have exhibited some amazingly hot shooting to accomplish this feat. However, before he made his seventh basket to reach 16 points (5 two-point hoops and 2 three-pointers), he had missed four shots. Vasquez then went through a 19-minute scoreless stretch (he scored his 16th point with 13:39 remaining in the first half and didn't score again until there was 14:39 left in the game), although he helped his team in other departments. He scored 11 points in the second half and eight in overtime, giving him 35 points. Combined with his 11 rebounds and 10 assists, Vasquez also recorded a triple-double in the Terps' win.

Halfway acress the country, as Texas handed Oklahoma its first Big 12 conference loss of the season, the Longhorns' A.J. Abrams became the go-to guy late. He scored 16 straight points, and 18 of his team's final 20, ending with 23 points in all (article, play-by-play).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Two college basketball games I saw on television today, the Texas Tech men's game at Oklahoma and the Texas Tech women's game at Nebraska, featured barrages of made three-point shots by individual players.

In the men's game, won by Oklahoma 95-74, the Sooners' Cade Davis made three treys in less than a minute late in the first half to get the OU blowout going (from 3:08 on the clock down to 2:18; play-by-play sheet). Tech's Nick Okorie made his first seven field-goal attempts of the game (six two-pointers and a three) to keep the Red Raiders in the game for a while.

On the women's side, Tech cut a 56-37 Cornhusker lead with 7:47 left in the game to just four points (60-56) with 50 seconds left, although Nebraska ultimately held on, 62-56. Giving the Lady Raiders hope was Jordan Murphree, who made three three-pointers in a little over a minute (2:05 to 0:50 left in the game; play-by-play).

Friday, February 13, 2009

This weekend we have two milestone anniversaries of amazing college basketball games. Today is the 10th anniversary of a hot-shooting Rayford Young leading Texas Tech to an upset comeback win over Kansas. Sunday is the 15th anniversary of Kentucky's comeback from a 31-point deficit against LSU with less than 16 minutes left in the game to defeat the stunned Tigers, 99-95.

Young's performance for Texas Tech, which I witnessed in person, was incredible in many ways...

*He scored 32 points in (roughly) the final nine minutes of the game (41 points in all).

*He went a perfect 18-of-18 from the free-throw line (including 12-of-12 in the closing minutes). The Red Raider squad as a whole went 30-of-32 from the stripe.

*For the game, Young hit on 5-of-7 three-point attempts.

In the Kentucky-LSU game, the Tigers at one point reeled off an 18-0 run, which the Wildcats answered with a 24-4 spurt.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The February 2, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated (with LeBron James on the cover) includes a sometimes humorous, sometimes serious article by Richard Hoffer on the elusiveness of sports momentum as a documentable phenomenon (at this point, I've not been able to find an online version of the article). As the article's subtitle puts it: "Broadcasters and coaches love to cite it, but what exactly is the Big Mo?"

After citing some academic concepts and articles, Hoffer draws some conclusions:

If [momentum] were going to be that easy to explain, we'd have found a way to duplicate it, coach it and write best-selling books about it... these upper levels of performance, the talent is so evenly distributed... that random events -- pieces of luck, an unlikely and inspired effort here or there, a boneheaded decision, a blown call -- are often the difference in a game, a season or even a career.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

By handing the Cleveland Cavaliers their first home loss of the season this afternoon, the Los Angeles Lakers have earned the designation "streak-breaking Los Angeles Lakers" in this AP article. As the article notes:

The Cavaliers came in 23-0 at Quicken Loans Arena, but were stopped by the Lakers, who ended Boston's 19-game winning streak on Christmas Day and halted a 12-game run by the Celtics earlier this week.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Monday night's women's basketball game between Tennessee and Oklahoma had the potential to give Lady Vols' coach Pat Summitt her 1,000th win, but it didn't happen. Instead, though, the game had some notable streak-related aspects.

The Sooners' Courtney Paris saw her NCAA record streak of 112 "double-doubles" (double figures in both points and rebounds) come to an end. Paris scored 9 points and had 12 boards against Tennessee. To put the 112-game length in perspective, the second-longest double-double streak in NCAA women's history is 19 (by Old Dominion's Anne Donovan in the early 1980s).

Further, the game had a number of team scoring runs. As shown on this play-by-play sheet...

*Tennessee scored 16 straight to take a 33-18 lead.

*Oklahoma responded with a 23-1 spurt to take a 41-34 advantage.

*The Sooners later put together an 11-2 run to open up a 57-46 lead and 9-0 burst to turn the game into a blowout, 72-54 with around 6:00 to play.

In what might qualify as the understatement of the year, Summitt was quoted in the above-linked article as saying, "We are a long way from being a 40-minute team."

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.