By Austin Tymins
In Arizona State’s 78-72 win over Colorado, the Buffalo players lining up for free throws were treated to the sight of two students dressed up as unicorns aggressively kissing as a packed student section (the 942 crew) loudly cheered on. This unusual disruption is part of Coach Herb Sendek’s “Curtain of Distraction” in which a curtain is drawn to reveal a confusing, and often disturbing scene in the student section behind the backboard. My personal favorites are a Miley Cyrus wrecking ball, shirtless cowboys playing guitar, a bear and lumberjack having a deathmatch, and a choreographed dance with Santa and his elves. To better understand what is going on, watch this video (you won’t regret it).
Since visiting teams only directly face the student section in the 2nd half, we can easily see if the stunt has an effect. On the face of it, it seems so. Teams shoot 68.6% in the 1st half and 60.6% in the 2nd half on free throws, while there is not a detectable difference in FT% between the 1st and 2nd half nationally. In the table below, we can see how each opponent has performed at the line against the Sun Devils at home.
This difference doesn’t tell the whole picture, so I’m going to conduct a two sample proportion test to see if this effect is statistically significant. The Z-score on this test is only 1.118 yielding the p-value of .131 in a one-tail test and .263 in a two-tail test, meaning this effect is not significant using either test. However, if we assume the two proportions will remain constant for the rest of the season, the larger sample size may reveal a significant result. My best estimate produces a Z-score of 1.74 meaning the effect is significant at the 10% level in a two-tail test and is significant at the 5% level doing a one-tail test.
Assistant Athletic Director Bill Kennedy says the Curtain of Distraction helps win games and is “worth about two-and-a-half points a game for us”. Is this actually the case? The NCAA average number of free throws shot by a team per game is 20.8 though there are more free throws shot in the 2nd half than the 1st. For example, 35% of ASU opponent free throws are shot in the 1st half while 65% are shot in the 2nd half. Therefore, ASU opponents are expected to shoot 13.42 free throws per game while facing the Curtain of Distraction assuming an average foul rate. This allows us to conclude the Curtain of Distraction is worth approximately 1.41 points per game.