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Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Bite-Sized UNI Thoughts, Vol. II
One lingering question I have about Iowa's overtime period against UNI - is Greg Brunner really our best option for the opening tip-off? The jump ball seems kind of trivial in normal games, but it's huge in overtime, where each team only gets the ball a handful of times. It was especially big in this game, since the pace was so slow, meaning each team got fewer chances to score. Allow me to explain - [Note -I extrapolated this idea from some work Ken Pomeroy did a while back.]

When you win the jump ball, you will either end the period with 1) the same number of possessions as your opponent, or 2) one more possession than your opponent (if you win the tip and have the ball at the end of the game). If we assume both teams average the same number of points per possession (which is reasonable, since they did tie through the first 40 minutes), we can use the Pythagorean formula to estimate their chances of winning.

If the teams average 1 point per possession, and they each have 10 possessions in the overtime period, they will average 10 points. In repeated simulation (or in the long run, so to speak), Team A's expected winning percentage is -

10 pts^10 / (10 pts^10 + 10 pts allowed^10) = .500

Simply put, if two equal teams are given an equal number of possesions, they should have an equal chance of winning. If we give one of the teams an extra possession, however, that team's odds are significantly improved, even though the teams are equally matched. Let's say Team A wins the tip and has the ball 8 times, while Team B only gets it 7 times.

8^10 / (8^10 + 7^10) = .792

So in repeated trials, Team A will win 79% of the time of whenever they have one extra possession.

The team that wins the tip won't always get the extra possession, but they'll never do worse than 50/50. If we assume that the average tip, then, is worth half a possession, the result is something like this (for an 8 possession period, i.e. - the same as the Iowa / UNI game) -

8.5^10 / (8.5^10 + 8^10) = .647

That means that UNI probably increased their chance of winning by 15% simply by winning the jump ball. All of which brings me back to my original question - can we do better than Brunner on the jump ball? I know he's a "savvy veteran" and all that, but jump balls basically come down to 1) height, 2) jumping ability, and 3) timing. I think Brunner is lacking in the first two, at least relative to a couple teammates. Can Brunner really outjump the 6-11, long-armed Erek Hansen, who also started overtime? Can he really outjump the taller, sky-walking Doug Thomas? I don't know the answer to the these questions, but leave a comment if you think you do (somebody with coaching experience want to chime in? BillH?).

Additional note - I'd be really interested to see someone to a study to test this theory against empirical data. It's pretty straightforward - just find the percentage of overtime games that are won by the team that won the overtime tip-off. I checked the play-by-play data for a few of this year's overtime games, and the tip-winner tends to be also be the winner at the end of the game.
I was asking the same thing last night. Why not Hansen, who is 6-11, with freakishly long arms, and an uncanny ability to swat shots (which is essentially the same thing... or at least close).

Maybe it's a mental thing. We know Hansen gets down on himself when he's not performing well... maybe there's a fear that if he lost the opening tip he'd get into a funk or try to do to much to make up for it. Still, it seems kinda silly.
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