Thursday, March 31, 2011

ESPN.com reports on men's tennis player Novak Djokovic, who has begun the 2011 season with a perfect 24-0 record and seeks to extend his streak in this weekend's closing rounds of the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. The men's singles record for a winning streak to begin the season appears to be 39-0, by John McEnroe in 1984.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

30-Year Anniversary of "Fernandomania"

Today's Los Angeles Times has an article on the 30th anniversary of "Fernandomania," a phenomenon of the 1981 season in which Dodgers rookie pitcher Fernando Valenzuela combined a hot hand and an iconic cultural appeal to rock the baseball world. (Although Valenzuela pitched a little bit toward the end of the previous season, he technically was considered a first-year player in 1981.)

As the article reminds us, "Valenzuela started the season 8-0 with an earned-run average of 0.50..." Further, "No Latino athlete before Valenzuela had been embraced in such a way by the American mainstream."

Looking in detail at Fernando's start to the '81 season via Retrosheet, one can see that he pitched nine innings in each of his first eight starts (all complete games, except for one that went to extra innings). In these games, he gave up 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, and 2 runs. While not striking out batters in stunningly dominant fashion, he did achieve double-digit K's in four of the eight games (10 twice and 11 twice). He averaged just slightly above two walks allowed per game during the stretch.

As the Times article notes, Valenzuela won the 1981 Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards, plus helped the Dodgers win the World Series that year. However, in his 17 starts following the initial eight, he fell from super-human to merely very good. He pitched nine (or more) innings only five times, had only three double-digit strikeout games (and had three games with three or fewer), and gave up four or more runs in eight games. He remained effective over his final 17 starts at avoiding walks, however, averaging 2.6.

During the 1981 Fernandomania, I was in the spring of my freshman year at UCLA and I can remember people around Los Angeles --with the Internet, I-Phones, Blackberry devices and the like not yet around -- carrying little transistor radios and even mini-TV sets when Fernando was pitching, to see how he was doing. I don't recall anything quite like Fernandomania, before or since.

Valenzuela remained with the Dodgers through 1990, typically starting 30 or more games per year. From '91 through '97, he floated around among several other teams (career statistics). He never won another Cy Young Award after '81, but three times finished in the top five in the voting (1982, '85, and '86).

It is interesting to speculate on what Valenzuela's historical legacy would have been, if everything in his 17-year major-league career (he was not on an MLB roster in '92) had gone exactly as it did -- except for those first eight starts of 1981 when he had a hot hand. With his career longevity, plus his high finishes in Cy Young voting in selected seasons, Fernando certainly would have gone down as one of the better pitchers of his generation. But would his career still have reached the exalted status it did, which resulted in the term Fernandomania still resonating with millions of fans 30 years later?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Notre Dame's women's basketball program, 0-20 all-time against Tennessee heading into tonight's NCAA Elite Eight match-up, finally beat the Lady Vols, 73-59. It's not like Notre Dame is a lightweight, either, as the Fighting Irish won the national championship in 2001 and have made numerous trips to the Sweet Sixteen in Coach Muffet McGraw's 24-year tenure in South Bend.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Two-time defending women's national champion Connecticut defeated Big East rival Georgetown 68-63 this afternoon to advance to the round of eight, but the Huskies needed a major scoring run to do so. According to this game article, "Connecticut trailed 53-46 with 9:36 left, but responded with a 16-2 run..."

On the men's side, Virginia Commonwealth has just advanced to next week's Final Four, defeating No. 1 regional seed Kansas 71-61, in a game that had streakiness implications on so many levels:

*The No. 1 seeds of the four regions collectively had a losing streak in the sense that none of them will be playing in next week's Final Four.

*With this year's expansion of the tournament to 68 teams from 65, there were extra "play-in" games to enter the main bracket of 64 teams. In the past, only the two lowest-seeded teams (typically automatic-bid teams from the weakest conferences), but as a new twist this year, the lowest-seeded at-large teams also had to play in the extra round. VCU, a No. 11 seed, fell in the latter group, so it had an extra game. As a result, the Rams are now 5-0 in the tournament and could become the first team to win the national championship by going 7-0 instead of 6-0.

*VCU led 41-27 at the half, thanks to an 11-zip run that propelled the Rams from a 10-9 deficit to a 20-10 lead and 9-for-17 three-point shooting (.529). See the play-by-play sheet for further details.

*After a VCU layup to open the second half upped the Rams' lead to 16, the Jayhawks scored 12 straight to pull within four. At one point, KU pulled to within two, but VCU hit some threes and thereafter maintained relatively healthy leads.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Two teams were determined today for next week's NCAA Division I men's basketball Final Four, the University of Connecticut and Butler University. In UConn's 65-63 victory over Arizona, the teams traded big runs toward the end, as shown in the following diagram (which you can click on to enlarge):

Arizona trailed 50-41, before going on a 14-2 run, which advanced the Wildcats from 41 to 55 points and the Huskies only from 50 to 52 (play-by-play sheet). However, UConn immediately struck back with a 10-0 spurt, advancing themselves to 62 points while, of course, leaving U of A at 55. It was nip and tuck the rest of the way, with the Huskies pulling it out.

In today's other regional final to send a team to the Final Four, Butler topped Florida 74-71 in overtime. The Gators led 51-40 with 9:25 left in regulation, but the Bulldogs unleashed a quick 9-2 burst to pull within 53-49 at the 6:39 mark (play-by-play). From there, Butler continued to whittle away at Florida's lead, forcing overtime with regulation ending at 60-60.

Friday, March 25, 2011

In tonight's NCAA men's basketball action...

Kansas used an early 21-2 run to expand its lead over Richmond from 10-7 to 31-9 (play-by-play sheet). The Jayhawks were never challenged thereafter, winning 77-57.

Last night...

Trailing 53-47 to Duke with 16:35 remaining in the game, Arizona went on a 19-2 run to go ahead 66-55 (play-by-play sheet). The Wildcats, who shot 9-of-15 (.600) from three-point land, pulled away to win, 93-77. Big forward Derrick Williams excelled inside (13 rebounds) and outside (5-of-6 on three-pointers) for U of A, netting 32 points in all.

Butler used a 13-0 spurt to expand a 29-24 lead over Wisconsin to 42-24 (play-by-play). However, once the Bulldogs got their lead to 20 (47-27) at the 11:34 mark, the Badgers burrowed back with a 22-6 run to cut the deficit to 53-49 with 1:40 remaining. Wisconsin got no closer, however, with Butler prevailing 61-54. As this game article noted: "Jon Leuer, normally one of the Badgers' top offensive forces with 18.7 points per game coming in, was 1-of-12 shooting and finished with three points."

Talking about cold shooting, BYU star Jimmer Fredette had a rough night (3-of-15) from behind the three-point arc, although he scored 32 points in all, as the Cougars dropped an 83-74 overtime decision to Florida.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Two dramatic fourth-quarter team scoring runs have taken place this week in the NBA:

The Boston Celtics outscored the New York Knicks 23-4 over the final 7:26 of play Monday night, in winning 96-86 (play-by-play sheet).

Then, on Wednesday night, the Philadelphia 76ers went on a 25-6 spurt to open the fourth, in a 105-100 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

University of Colorado professor Peter McGraw, who maintains a video blog on various social and behavioral phenomena, filmed a brief interview with me during a recent visit he made to Texas Tech. The interview, which focused on why there seems to be much stronger evidence of streaky performance in bowling than in basketball, is posted here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

On Saturday, the Texas Tech baseball team staged an amazing comeback, scoring nine runs in the top of the ninth to tie Baylor, 13-13, only to have the Bears score a run in the bottom half to win. What I found particularly impressive was how Texas Tech got five straight hits to keep the rally alive after there were two outs, with three of the batters facing two strikes in the count. Talk about batting under pressure! Below, I have copied and annotated the official play-by-play sheet, which you can click to enlarge (red signifies outs, green signifies hits after two outs). You can also access the play-by-play sheet and an article on the game here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In today's men's and women's March Madness...

The University of Washington men had an early 12-0 run against North Carolina, but the Tar Heels rallied and ultimately won the game, 86-83.

Duke's Nolan Smith scored 10 straight points as the Blue Devils expanded a 39-37 edge over Michigan to 49-37 (play-by-play sheet). After Duke upped its lead to 15 points (58-43), the Wolverines roared back with nine straight points. When Duke later held a 68-56 advantage with 6:25 left in the game, Michigan unleashed a 13-2 spurt to close within 70-69 with 1:30 remaining. Michigan had the ball in the closing seconds trailing Duke 73-71 and went for a two-point shot to tie -- and missed.

Trailing 24-23 to Purdue, the Virginia Commonwealth men reeled off 13 straight points to go up 36-24 (play-by-play sheet). Purdue rarely even got within single digits the rest of the way, as VCU captured a 94-76 upset.
           
Normally, it's Jon Diebler who leads Ohio State's three-point shooting brigade, but today it was David Lighty, who went 7-of-7 from behind the arc, as the Buckeyes routed George Mason, 98-66. At one point, OSU went on a huge run, outscoring GMU 50-15.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Today we have the first day of the NCAA men's college basketball round of 32 and the first day of the women's round of 64.

MEN'S

Kentucky gave up a 22-7 spurt to West Virginia to close the first half, but rebounded with an 11-0 run to open the second half, en route to a 71-63 victory.

Temple outscored San Diego State 9-2 to close regulation play and force overtime, but the Aztecs won in double-OT, 71-64. Temple hit only 1-of-8 field-goal attempts in the second extra period, due in no small part to San Diego State's shot-blocking (play-by-play sheet).

Brigham Young's Jimmer Fredette hit on 7-of-13 three-point attempts and the Cougars put together runs of 11-2 and 12-0 to put away Gonzaga 89-67. (There seems to be a discrepancy between the game article and box score, as to whether Fredette had 12 or 13 attempts from behind the arc. The play-by-play sheet seems to confirm 13 as the correct number.)

WOMEN'S

Tennessee trounced Stetson 99-34. When a result is so one-sided, I'm hesitant to talk about streakiness, as any pronounced scoring runs likely reflect an overwhelming talent differential. For what it's worth, however, Stetson had kept the game close for a little while, before Tennessee's initial burst. According to this game article:

Stetson managed to hit a few early shots to keep up with Tennessee, which led 10-9 with 15:13 left in the first half. The Lady Vols' size and shooting became too much for the Hatters, though, and a 23-0 run put the game away early.

Gonzaga used an 18-5 spurt (from down 60-55 to up 73-65) to turn around its game with Iowa, before triumphing 92-86.

Texas Tech fell 55-50 as "St. John's had an 8-0 run and another 13-2 spurt late..." A late 10-2 run by the Lady Raiders cut their deficit from 50-38 to 52-48, but it wasn't enough.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 2 of the NCAA men's basketball round of 64...

After a close first-half, at the end of which Michigan led Tennessee 33-29, the bottom fell out for the Volunteers, as the Wolverines outscored them 42-16 in the second half, yielding a final score of 75-45. The key was a 16-0 Michigan run, increasing its lead from 36-31 to 52-31. Then, after Tennessee had chipped a little off the lead to trail 56-40, Michigan took off on another spurt, scoring 14 in a row to make it 70-40 (play-by-play sheet).

Texas withstood a late 12-2 run from Oakland University (Michigan), which cut a 78-63 Longhorn lead down to 80-75, to win 85-81. The Horns' J'Covan Brown went a perfect 12-of-12 from the free-throw line.

An 8-0 run vaulted George Mason to a 56-54 lead over Villanova with just under a minute to play, and the Patriots held on for a 61-57 win (play-by-play sheet).

Florida State unleashed a 13-0 run against Texas A&M, to convert an eight-point deficit (31-23) to a five-point lead. The Seminoles never looked back, winning 57-50.

An early 15-0 run by Illinois against UNLV set the tone for the game, as the Illini prevailed 73-62.

Virginia Commonwealth routed Georgetown tonight, 74-56. Three-point shooting proficiency differed markedly between the two teams (box score). VCU shot 12-of-25 (48%) from behind the arc. Georgetown's starters were absolutely awful from long distance, going 1-for-17. Only because of reserve forward Hollis Thompson's 4-of-5 shooting on treys was Georgetown able to bring its overall three-point shooting performance to the slightly less embarrassing rate of 5-for-26 or 19% (Hoya reserves other than Thompson went 0-for-4).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The first big day of March Madness (featuring 16 NCAA men's games) is nearly in the books, with a game that just ended -- UCLA vs. Michigan State -- providing a huge number of hot and cold stretches by both teams. The play-by-play sheet is now available, with which I can add detail [in brackets] to my previous general recollections.

UCLA used a 15-2 second-half run to go up by 23 [64-41 with 8:36 left in the game, after it had been 49-39]. Michigan State then had an 18-3 spurt in roughly a four-minute span, to close within 67-59 at the 4:21 point [I had erroneously said the lead was cut to 10]. The Bruins held a 10-point lead in the closing minutes [76-66 with 1:31 left], but a flurry of Spartan three-pointers [at 1:03, 0:59, and 0:08] combined with dreadful UCLA free-throwing [2-of-10 in the final 1:17] left the outcome in doubt until the final seconds. Ultimately, the Bruins held on, 78-76.

Earlier today...

Morehead State darted off to a 15-2 lead over intrastate rival Louisville, but saw the favored Cardinals gradually overcome their initial deficit and seemingly take control with a 48-41 lead. The Eagles then unleashed another run, 11-2, to lead 52-50, before prevailing 62-61 in a see-saw finish (play-by-play sheet).

San Diego State used a 13-0 spurt to pull away from Northern Colorado.

Florida stormed out to a 10-1 lead over the University of California, Santa Barbara, then went on a 12-0 run to increase a 23-13 Gator lead to 35-13, en route to a 79-51 win (play-by-play sheet).

At one point, UConn led Bucknell only by 27-20. The Huskies then outscored the Bison 30-5 to balloon the lead to 57-25, ultimately winning 81-52 (play-by-play sheet). During the time it gave up the 30-5 run, Bucknell made only 1 field goal in 16 attempts.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sports Illustrated recently ran an article on Real Madrid (Spain) soccer coach José Mourinho and a unique streak he has going: "He has gone nine years without losing a league game at home, 148 matches with four different teams."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kevin Love had his streak of 53 double-double games (double figures in both points and rebounds) snapped tonight at Golden State. The Minnesota forward's stats consisted of 12 rebounds but only 6 points.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

No. 1 Ohio State eliminated Michigan in the semifinals of the Big 10 men's basketball tournament this afternoon, 68-61, in a game featuring major runs by both teams. Quoting from this game article:

Michigan got as close as 47-45 with 9:51 left, but the Buckeyes answered with 16 straight points and held off a late charge that got the Wolverines within four in the final minute [my bold emphasis added].

Friday, March 11, 2011

Things weren't looking good for the Michigan men in the Big 10 tournament when they allowed Illinois a 17-4 run (in which the Illini went from down 19-17 to up 34-23) over the final 7:23 of the first half (play-by-play sheet). However, after Illinois had taken a 51-39 lead with 8:35 left in the game, the Wolverines unleased a run of their own, 12-0, to tie the game at 51-all at the 3:31 mark. Michigan gradually pulled away over the final minutes to win, 60-55.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Here's a wild outcome. Virginia went on a 20-2 run to take a 50-39 lead with 2:12 remaining in its Atlantic Coast Conference men's tournament game against Miami. The Cavaliers retained a 53-43 lead with 42.5 seconds left. I consider it a virtual certainty that a team leading by 10 or more points with less than a minute left will win and, in the over 25 years I've had this mental rule, it has only failed a few times (here, here, and here).

The rule failed again today, as Miami outscored UVa 10-0 in the remainder of regulation time (making a 3, a 3, a 2, and a 2, separated by a missed pair of free throws and two turnovers by the Cavaliers), and then pulled away in overtime. In the end, it was a 69-62 Hurricane victory.
The Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love recorded his 52nd straight double-double last night (in this case, 16 points and 21 rebounds), setting an NBA record for the post-1976-merger era. Certainly, any performance that is the best in the last 35 years is nothing to sneeze at. As this article explains, however, the longer-term historical significance of Love's mark is open to debate:

It's been difficult to get a handle on what exactly Love has accomplished. It's certainly nowhere near the magic of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak or the gravitas of Brett Favre's 297 straight games started.

Is it even a record at all? Not really, because the NBA doesn't keep double-doubles as an official record and several players had longer streaks before the [NBA-ABA] merger. Elvin Hayes had 55 in a row in 1973-74 and Wilt Chamberlain had at least 227 straight double-doubles at one point during his dominant career, though the exact number has been difficult for researchers to pin down.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

In last night's Oklahoma State-Texas Tech first-round game of the Big 12 women's basketball tournament, OSU struck first with a sizable run, taking an 8-0 lead. The Lady Raiders, however, came back with an even larger run of their own in the second half, 19-0, en route to a 75-52 win over the Cowgirls.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Ohio State senior guard Jon Diebler, whose hot three-point shooting has already landed him on this blog a couple of times this season, and his Buckeye basketballl teammates really outdid themselves this afternoon in routing Wisconsin, 93-65. OSU made 14-of-15 shots from three-point range (.933 percentage), including 14 in a row after Diebler missed the team's first try. Diebler finished 7-of-8 from behind the arc, after which he "apologized" for missing the Buckeyes' only trey. Having made 10-of-12 threes in Ohio State's previous game, at Penn State, Diebler is now 17-of-20 (.850) on three-pointers over his past two games. This ESPN.com article delves further into how remarkable the OSU and Diebler performances were.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Streak-related developments from today's college basketball action (all men's, as I didn't notice any from women's play):

Utah State darted out to a 25-2 lead over Louisiana Tech -- with the Bulldogs not recording their third point until only 7:24 remained in the first half  -- as the Aggies scored a 72-30 rout. LaTech made only 1 of its first 15 field-goal attempts.

Baylor put together a 15-2 spurt against Texas, outscoring the Longhorns 12-2 to end the first half and then hitting a three to open the second half, but UT still prevailed 60-54.

Michigan State missed its first 9 field-goal attempts against the University of Michigan, as the Wolverines led wire-to-wire and won 70-63.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Orlando Magic came from 24 points down to stun the Miami Heat tonight, 99-96, thanks to a stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters in which Orlando outscored Miami 40-9.
This is not a hot/cold hand posting per se, but rather one about the general field of sports statistics. As this article from the Boston Globe details, sports number-crunching has advanced as an academic field and venue for employment with sports teams.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Ohio State's Jon Diebler, whose three-point shooting exploits I wrote about after a December game, was at it again tonight. In the Buckeyes' 82-61 win at Penn State, Diebler hit 10-of-12 from behind the arc.