Measuring Student Section Effectiveness: Big Ten

Can we determine the effectiveness of a student section? In one situation, maybe.

If a university has a particularly strong base of student support, you will likely hear the coach proclaim that the presence of a large and loud student section is “worth a few wins” for his program every year. For those who have spent time jumping and chanting in college arenas around the country, that slice of appreciation goes a long way. It’s validation for all those games spent losing one’s voice while wildly cheering. It’s proof that a person can have an impact on the game even from the stands.

At some point it’s worth wondering just how much of an impact a rowdy student section does make on a game. Ultimately, even if the crowd was threatening to blow the roof off of an arena on a particularly important possession, the credit for a missed field goal will still go to the defenders on the court. I’ve never heard a coach or player give the crowd credit for making a last-second stop (even if a crowd could “pump up” a player to make said stop).

There is one situation, however, where no one on the court can affect a shot: free throws. Student sections around the country have recognized this fact because many of their most compelling antics come during an opponent’s free throw attempt. On a micro-level, anyone who has observed or participated in these strategies can likely recall a time when they appeared to work. From a broader perspective, however, I’ve always wondered if the actual numbers would reveal this to be more fact or fan-crazy fiction.


To attempt to answer this question, I’ve focused on individual conferences. Here, teams know the environs of the arenas they visit, which should remove some of the other impacting factors involved when shooting free throws such as being unfamiliar with the “feel” of the baskets and arena structure. There is also some semblance of continuity in the scheduling. My pet conference for this has been the Big Ten, where teams visit all but one conference foe each year. Additionally, altitude differences are not much of a factor in this Midwestern league. Finally, the Big Ten is known for its strong student sections.

From here, I first compared the aggregation of visiting team free throw percentage to those same squads’ home free throw percentage over the last four years. The assumption here was that the home environment represents the ideal situation to shoot free throws and could thus act as a fine baseline. But the initial results were rather inconsistent, and this process didn’t much care for the fluidity of a single game.

After some more tinkering, I ended up with the method used below. For this method, I compared aggregate visiting team free throw percentage from the first half to the second half. The reason for this comparison is because visiting teams shoot their free throws “toward” the student section in the Big Ten after halftime. And as is visualized a few paragraphs below, every school in the conference has at least a portion of its student section located behind this end of the court.


The graph below represents the results of this tracking. Unfortunately, I could not go back four years for this method, mostly because didn’t start separating its box scores into halves until 2009-10. As a result, the chart includes just the last two seasons of data.

The initial thing one might notice when looking at this is the fact that visiting teams actually shot better on average in the second half of games. Across the board, teams improved their free-throw percentage by 2.6% from first half to second half, despite now shooting toward a crowd of crazies trying to force a miss. There could be numerous reasons for this, but one factor that intrigued me was that there were over twice as many free throws attempted in the second half than the first half in each of the two years studied here. This disparity was startling to discover, and the difference was far too large to only be explained by fouling in the last few minutes to extend a game. Perhaps the increased incidence allowed teams to “rise up” to their typical averages in these instances. This notion is supported by a recent article from True Hoop that found players shoot a higher percentage on their second attempts.

A fan might also question these results, as I have, based on the fact that they suggest Purdue’s Paint Crew has limited impact on free throw shooting. I’ve been to Mackey Arena to see these students in action, and they are among the most unified and massive sections I’ve ever seen. However, it could also be that they simply haven’t mastered the art of effectively impacting a free throw shot. As Wild Bill at Utah State has shown, it sometimes only takes one person.

The rest of the results aren’t as much of a stretch. Illinois and Indiana are known for their large and imposing student sections, and schools hovering around the league-wide average have been able to secure large crowds for big games. Seeing Michigan State just above the average is a bit strange, though I think the Izzone might suffer from a simple lack of sample size (-4.0% in 2010-11, +9.0% in 2009-10). On the bottom end, support at Iowa has waned over the past few seasons, and Penn State has often been the brunt of jokes for its lack of fan support for basketball.

The placement of the student section could very well have an impact on these numbers, but a crystal clear picture hasn’t yet emerged, at least in this conference. The following image represents the general locations of the Big Ten student sections as could best be discerned from official seating charts, student section websites, video evidence, and personal experience.

If there are any patterns present here, I have yet to notice them. A future study with more resources available might also include the student section’s distance to the court; for example, the Orange Krush at Illinois is notorious for actually hovering directly over the sidelines, whereas the Paint Crew is a bit more distant in order to rise higher in the stands.

At this point, a definitive statement on the placement of a student section can not be made. However, the folks at Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana should keep doing what they are doing as they are the only schools to consistently force visiting conference teams to under-perform at the charity stripe in the second half relative to the first. This could very well be partially caused by the students, but other factors have not been ruled out.

If there are better methods to test this basic idea, I hope they are generated as a result of this study. In the meantime, I plan to do this for a few other conferences to see how the results vary. If anyone has any suggestions for conferences to test, please let me know in the comments or through e-mail (preferably one featuring strong student support as well as a majority of sections placed behind baskets). If any team or conference-specific bloggers are interested in compiling a study and would like to know more about the methods, feel free to get in touch.

Tennessee’s Supply Of Proven Production Running Low

When Cuonzo Martin left his post at Missouri State to take over for Bruce Pearl at Tennessee, there should be no doubt that he did his research on the situation. He knew there was a cloud hanging over the program waiting only for NCAA approval before unleashing a torrential downpour on the Knoxville campus. He also knew that Pearl’s on-court success had heightened the expectations for what the Volunteers are and can be in the realm of men’s hoops. He knew the combination of these factors would make it tough for any coach to succeed there in the short-term.

What Martin likely didn’t know, however, was just how dire his roster situation would become this off-season. In a best-case scenario, he would be entering his first campaign in Knoxville with at least one of Scotty Hopkins or Tobias Harris still around alongside incoming recruits Chris Jones and Kevin Ware. Instead, in a worst-case scenario, none of those four players will be with the Volunteers in 2011-12.

The rosters losses wouldn’t sting so much if Tennessee wasn’t so senior-heavy in 2010-11. In addition to losing Hopkins and Harris to the NBA, five other contributing players — Melvin Goins, Brian Williams, Josh Bone, John Fields, and Steven Pearl — have used up their college eligibility. As a result, Martin will welcome back just three regular rotation players from last season. And as the following chart displays, those three players weren’t exactly the production powerhouses of the team.

Cameron Tatum should certainly get his shot to be the lead guy next season as he’s the only returner who was among the team’s top-five scorers in 2010-11. He’ll also be counted on to provide some senior leadership for a squad that will be short on upperclassmen. Senior-to-be Renaldo Woolridge may also finally earn a shot to be more than a limited-minutes guy, though it’s no secret he’s had a far more effective rapping career over the last three years!

Coach Martin has signed four recruits thus far for 2011-12, bringing the total scholarship roster to 11 players. Though as points out, the team will be short on proven frontcourt players. Over the past few seasons, the Volunteers have been in the top quarter of Division I in effective height, which is at least partly a reason why they were a consistently solid defensive team under Bruce Pearl. Martin’s teams at Missouri State were never huge on effective height, and perhaps consequently, he never coached an elite defense while there (he did however have some very fine offensive units).

Martin will be tasked to “do more with less” in his first year at Tennessee both in terms of talent and size. Though he never got the Bears to the NCAA Tournament, his teams were contenders in a conference where maximizing the talent on the court was a must and where size differential certainly came into play against power-conference opponents. Now he’ll just have to face those circumstances against the likes of Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, and the rest of the SEC on a nightly basis.

Worst of all, pending the NCAA’s rulings this summer, Martin might have to do all of that without the prospect of making a post-season tournament. With the loss of so much production from the prior year, maybe that’s a pipe dream for 2011-12 anyway. Though that alone likely won’t abate a Volunteer fanbase that has come to expect its men’s team to win — and to win big.

Mapping The Coaching Carousel

The coaching carousel spins each and every offseason, for better or worse. Some coaches get fired, some retire, and even more move on for new challenges. A lucky segment even gets its first shot at a head gig. For the most part, the coaching carousel is nicely summed up in a series of tables and lists on prominent college websites. Then, as the college hoops news cycle slows down, several outlets ready their new coach profile pieces — a way to shine a light on the new faces at new places.

When folks prepare those pieces, I hope they read Matt Norlander’s two-part series on Sydney Johnson’s transition from the head coaching post at Princeton to Fairfield. It’s a thoughtful piece where the writer uses his access to give the reader an inside look at a process the average fan doesn’t know a whole lot about. To me, this kind of feature is far more interesting to read than someone grading various coaching hires, and I really wish more outlets would spend the time to provide such content.

Alas, the aspect of this piece that really hit home for me was the part on just how sudden lives can shift because of a coaching change. The coaching profession seems to be more volatile than most normal occupations, and that becomes apparent when Johnson details how he only spends one night out of the week with his family until they are able to join him in Connecticut.

In an attempt to see just how drastic these distances can really be, I put together a map of the coaching changes that occurred within the high-major conferences thus far this offseason. For the purposes of this website, high-majors include the six power-conferences as well as the Mountain West.

The first thing I noticed after completing this map was that a lot of coaches generally headed south. One can hardly blame them for seeking warmer climates. Clearly, though, Larry Shyatt (E) must have really wanted to coach Wyoming since he left sunny Gainesville to do so! Weather jokes aside, just about every new high-major coach has moved a considerable distance from his prior stop. The lone exception is Ed Cooley (A), who made the quick jaunt from Fairfield to Providence.

By The Numbers (High-Majors):
 Average Distance: 968.6 miles
 Shortest Distance: Ed Cooley (A) - 125 miles
 Longest Distance: Larry Krystkowiak (B) - 2,166 miles
 Oldest Mover: Jim Larranaga (C), 61-years-old - 1,053 miles
 Youngest Mover: Cuonzo Martin (G), 39-years-old - 612 miles

To think these men have had to juggle the pressure of taking over a high-stakes basketball program with the regular demands involved in moving is enough to make one’s head spin. And then there is also the consideration that their families are likely still in the previous town finishing up school, selling the house, and wrapping up all sorts of other loose ends. However, the great equalizer at this level is money. If you’ve ever moved, you know that having money can make things a lot simpler. And for the most part, individuals signing a contract a high-major do indeed have money.

Sadly, the same often can not be said of their coaching counterparts at the mid-major level. Here, contracts are more likely to be on the lower end of six figures rather than approaching seven. While that’s still a lot of money, moving around is no less easy here. One positive for the mid-major guys — at least during this run of the carousel — is that they aren’t moving quite as far as those heading to high-major gigs. Of the 31 coaching changes tracked as of this post, the average distance from prior job to new post is 630 miles. Excluding the guys who were promoted from within and thus did not move, the average is still just 751 miles.

By The Numbers (Mid-Majors):
 Average Distance: 630 miles
 Shortest Distance: Jim Hayford (Whitworth->Eastern Washington) - 24 miles
 Longest Distance: Clemon Johnson (Alaska Fairbanks->Florida A&M) - 4,367 miles
 Average Distance (First-Time Head Coaches): 614 miles
 Average Distance (Experienced Head Coaches): 670 miles

Another interesting fact revealed through these numbers is that coaches with past head coaching experience tended to move farther on average than first-time hires. Mid-majors tend to pull first-time hires from the staffs of larger nearby universities. For example, Florida Gulf Coast nabbed Andy Enfield from Florida State, and Northern Illinois hired Mark Montgomery away from Michigan State, one of the Midwest’s best staffs. The retreads and ladder-climbers of the bunch traveled longer distances by comparison.

As of this writing, there are still a couple of head coach openings out there, which ensures that the coaching carousel will continue to spin well into the offseason. Whatever becomes of those positions, there is sure to be a lot of moving involved, and not just of possessions, but of entire lives, for better or worse.

Logo Alterations: Morehead State

During last year’s off-season, I started a series on team logos over on my team-specific blog. Over the course of a few weeks, I analyzed the logos of every team in the conference and offered visual suggestions for improvement. Unlike the writers at the amazing identity analysis blog Brand New, I do not have a design background, so my interpretations focused more on the philosophy of logos rather than the proper employment of a serif. Initially, it served as a way to present some rather goofy ideas and to fill space before the season started, but it ended up being a reader favorite. As a result, I’m transitioning the heart and soul of that series to Halcyon Hoops, but this time it’s without the limited focus of a single conference.

The first candidate up for review is Morehead State. As will be the case with all of these pieces, please take whatever is written below with a large grain of salt. Read more of this post

Quantitative Analysis Of Early Entry Decisions: Part II

In part one of this series on the decisions of early entrants to the 2011 NBA Draft, the focus was on the goal of getting drafted. Using recent historical trends, we were able to see that this year’s group of early entrants stand a pretty good chance of being drafted despite a much-maligned status. But most hoop dreams don’t end on draft night. Borderline or questionable prospects have to hope that many factors fall in their favor in order to realize the goal of actually playing in the NBA.

Like in the first post, I’ll be working with the past three years of early entrant draft classes. To get a very basic feel for the post-draft fates of these early entrants, I gathered up the amount of minutes each player has logged over the course of his career. Because lottery picks are a different breed altogether, I once again focused on non-lottery first round picks and second round picks — or the guys who have the toughest decisions to make in terms of whether to stay in college or go pro. After establishing the total minutes played for each segment of players, a per game average was calculated for each eligible year. In graph form:

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Quantitative Analysis Of Early Entry Decisions: Part I

Early entrants by the numbers.

The deadline for early entrants to withdraw from the 2011 NBA Draft passed on Sunday night, ending two weeks of speculation on the futures of many of college basketball’s prized players. Around this time every year, it is common to read plenty of discussion on the merits of the decisions to stay or go. Without fail there are always a handful of players who decide to stay in the draft who get reamed because of their limited draft buzz. This season there appeared to be more of these fringe prospects declaring early because many of the projected lottery picks decided against testing the draft waters. The common consensus is that the influx of these borderline guys has made a weak drafter even weaker.

Despite the trend of top players staying in school, the overall number of early entrants for the 2011 NBA Draft is very similar to what we have seen in previous years. In total, 40 of the 61 current Division I players who declared opted to hire an agent and stay in the draft — a number that is actually smaller than last season’s figure of 48. However, there was a large decrease in the number of players who decided to test the waters, from 78 in 2010 to the 61 this year. Since the pool of those who stayed in has been relatively constant over the years, I decided to take a look at what has happened to those early entrants in an effort to quantitatively analyze whether or not the players hoping to be drafted this season made a quality decision or not.

To accomplish this task, I gathered lists of all the early entrants for the three drafts since 2008. For the purposes of this post, I’m assuming that the goal of each early entrant is to be drafted. The second part of this series will focus on the goal of actually playing in the NBA. For the first part, then, the results are pretty telling of why players decide to leave. On average, early entrants were drafted 75% of the time over the last three years. Essentially, players have a 3 in 4 chance of being drafted, or a 1 in 4 chance of going undrafted. Those are pretty nice odds for a borderline guy to consider, but they do not tell the whole story. Read more of this post

The Name On The Court

Was Jim Larranaga's tenure and success at George Mason enough for a court-naming honor? (AP Photo)

It wasn’t until I became a college hoops fanatic that I learned there was a post-career honor that rises above even the retiring of a number. In this sport, the truly transcendent figures are rewarded for their success with a court-naming ceremony. Though the biggest coaching legends — Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp and North Carolina’s Dean Smith — have entire arenas named after them, bestowing a coach with a court is still so rare that is represents the pinnacle of coaching honors. After all, unlike jersey numbers, there is only one court at a school; the honor can only be given to one person, and it is more or less irreversible.

Typically, a court is named for a coach who has spent most of his coaching career at the school while winning games (one might say tenure is only guaranteed through winning). That alone is not enough, however. In most cases, a coach must have elevated the program to heights unseen before his tenure. There are exceptions, of course, the most glaring of which might be the founder of the game himself, Dr. James A. Naismith. The inventor of basketball actually had a losing record before stepping down as the head coach at Kansas, but in this case, I think most would agree a pass is acceptable.

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Little Brother Leaving Liberty Not A New Phenomenon

Evan Gordon spent two years at Liberty before transferring to a bigger program, like Seth Curry before him. (AP Photo)

During the second and third weeks of the NCAA Tournament, much of the roster and coaching changes occurring at mid-major schools across the country tend to go unnoticed. After all, most folks covering the sport rightly have their attention tuned to the action that is still happening on the court. One of the more interesting player moves that was announced during this time was Evan Gordon’s decision to transfer out of Liberty. Though players transfer all of the time, Gordon’s was unique because of how eerily similar his situation was to that of another former Liberty baller, Seth Curry.

The most glaring connection between the two guards is that they both have older brothers collecting paychecks in the NBA. Stephen Curry, the former Davidson star, and Eric Gordon are rising young players in the League, enough so that they represented Team USA alongside some of the country’s best young professionals last summer. Seth Curry started his career at Liberty during the 2008-09 season after being overlooked by high-profile programs. He ended up earning the Big South’s Freshman of the Year award, but he wasn’t a Flame for much longer. After his freshman season ended, Curry announced he was transferring, and he parlayed his first-year success—and no doubt his last name—into an offer from Duke.

Evan Gordon stuck around Lynchburg, Va., longer than Curry. He just completed his sophomore year with the team, leading it in scoring and earning a spot on the All-Big South Second Team. Officially, his decision to transfer was influenced by his desire to play the point guard. At Liberty, that position is dutifully occupied by Jesse Sanders, a versatile guard who was the Big South’s Player of the Year as a junior in 2010-11. At 6-foot-2, perhaps Gordon could see that he’d need some experience running the point in order to have a shot at the next level like his older brother. But when we see that the younger Gordon has landed at Arizona State, it’s hard not to deduce that his successful lineage, much like Curry’s, had something to do with his decision to seek a more high-profile destination.

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Agenda Setting

“It’s easier to judge a voice than it is to use one.”

As an impressionable teenager in the early oughts, it was common for me to shape my entire world view on the lyrics of punk bands. Though these nascent views would prove malleable, no one line has had such a lasting impact on me as the one quoted here. It comes from a song entitled “Banished and Loving It” by The Ghost, a now defunct post-punk band that released a few records to mild acclaim in the early-to-mid-2000s. Back then, I was a self-proclaimed “music reviewer,” and I had the task of judging the art of The Ghost – and more specifically, the words written by frontman Brian Moss. When I heard him passionately belt this line for the first time, time stopped. He was speaking to me, even if he wasn’t. 

I learned then that it really is easier to be a critic than to make that which is being critiqued. It’s part of the reason I informally retired from judging music, but The Ghost’s wise words have impacted my life in a far more profound way. They pushed me to never complain, gripe, or dissent without offering a suggestion in return. Those words always remind me that every critique must come attached with a recommendation for improvement. Not just in work, but also in life.

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