Sunday, December 19, 2010

Beavers Slug It Out, Post Another W; Elmquist Makes History

If you weren't in Braun Gym on Saturday evening for Caltech's rematch against UC Santa Cruz, you missed a dandy. The Beavers edged the Banana Slugs 63-62 thanks to 50 percent shooting from the field, 17 assists on 22 field goals, and six blocked shots. Todd Cramer paced Tech with 20 points while Mike Edwards had 11 points and 7 assists. Mike Paluchniak added seven points, three assists, two blocks, one steal and a team-leading eight rebounds.

Ryan Elmquist's first bucket put him in the 1,000 Point Club. His four blocked shots cemented his name in Caltech lore as he set the program mark for swats in a career, surpassing Ben Turk's record of 126.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Elmquist Named Athlete of Week

The SCIAC announced Caltech senior captain Ryan Elmquist earned Athlete of the Week honors for the week ending December 10.

Read the Caltech release here.

See the official news on the SCIAC site here.

Coasts Converge: Caltech in the New York Times

The Beavers are presented in today's New York Times. The story by John Branch was posted online Wednesday where it ran on the home page for much of the evening. The national edition in print featured the first part of the story on A1 just below the fold. The article made the top 20 most e-mailed during its first 24 hours. Here is the original story as it was when first released on December 15.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Another Game, Another Win

Caltech won its second game in a row in fine fashion. The Beavers led start to finish as the home crowd witnessed some spectacular plays and contributions from everyone.

Read about the game and check out some of the highlights at

D3hoops also featured the Beavers on the home page.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Caltech Wins on Third Day of Fulmer Tourney

Caltech was very competitive in the Fulmer Tournament at Redlands. On Thursday, the Beavers faced the Banana Slugs of UC Santa Cruz, a team that recently beat Pomona-Pitzer and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. After Caltech held a slight edge midway through the first half and action that featured nine ties and nine lead changes, UCSC pulled out the win, 79-64. Mike Edwards and Ryan Elmquist scored 18 points a piece while Mike Paluchniak totaled 13 points. Todd Cramer added six assists and nine rebounds as the Beavers recorded 20 assists on their 26 made field goals.

The next day, the Beavers took on Southwestern (AZ), but were unable to convert several open shots. Southwestern gradually pulled away and won 77-58 despite Caltech's courageous efforts to stay competitive. The Beavers' bench scored a season-high 17 points and won the points in the paint 22 to 10 while Caltech as a team boasted a 13 to 11 assist to turnover ratio. Cramer posted a double-double with 15 points and 14 boards and added four assists.

Finally, on the third day of the tournament, the Beavers broke through with a win over American Sports University, 74-67. After a hot start that saw Caltech jump out to a 10-0 lead, the Beavers held a 40-20 halftime advantage. Several runs by ASU made the game closer but Caltech was able to stave off the opponent with great execution and accurate free throw shooting. The Beavers shot 85 percent from the charity stripe (23 of 27) and hauled in 18 offensive rebounds en route to a 17 to 9 advantage on second chance points. For the second day in a row, they held a positive assist to turnover ratio at 14 to 11. Cramer duplicated his performance from the day prior with 15 points and 14 rebounds, plus five assists. Edwards added five assists to go along with a season-high 19 points, many of which came on explosive moves to the basket. Elmquist led all scorers with 25 points and he swatted three shots. Caltech won the battle of the benches, 15-10, paced by Mason Freedman's 9-point, 3-rebound outing.

For the 3-day, 8-team tournament, Cramer led all players with 37 rebounds (12.3 RPG). Elmquist received the All-Tournament Team Sportsmanship Award after averaging 17.3 points during the event.

From the Pasadena Star-News:

From the Redlands website:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Caltech's Trip to Wisconsin

The Beavers traveled to Milwaukee to play in the MSOE All-Engineers Classic this past weekend. It was the first time Caltech's seniors (Ryan Elmquist and Ziying Wang) have gone out of state to play since they have been at the Institute.

Caltech struggled to find an offensive rhythm on Saturday against the host school but was +7 in turnover margin and tied a school record with eight blocked shots. Three Caltech players hit double figures in their opening game of the 2010-11 season.

Game two against Merchant Marine Academy on Sunday proved to be an exiting affair as Caltech rallied not once, but twice, from a 19-point deficit. The Beavers cut the gap to 5 points in the closing minutes of each half. Again, they forced more turnovers and recorded more blocked shots than their opponents. The Beavers also hit 17 of 19 free throws. Final score: 67-59.

Four players hit for double figures while Wisconsin native Mike Paluchniak scored 15 points and grabbed 5 rebounds in front of his family and friends.

Elmquist was named to the all-tournament team.

Click here for an audio slideshow of the weekend.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

2010-11 Preview

Caltech's season preview is on the official website, as well as this year's roster and season prospectus.

From the preview:

Coach Oliver Eslinger and his staff are excited to work with an army of returners this year, and anticipate a much more competitive team, both in practices and in games.

"To have a core of veterans back, though mainly sophomores, is such a great feeling," said Eslinger. "These are guys dedicated to developing our program who have a much better sense of what it takes to compete at this level."

For the first time in the history of Caltech hoops, the lineup is loaded with true basketball experience. Two seasons ago, less than half the team's members could even claim being on their respective high school squads. This season, the roster includes an abundance of players who were named all-league in high school along with being legitimate starters. Witness the evolution.

Back are all five starters that not only helped the Beaver defense hold opponents to 32 percent shooting from the 3-point line and account for a school record 3.7 blocked shots per game, but set the mark for team field goal attempts in a season.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Madness Recap in Tech

The California Tech, Caltech's newspaper, recaps Midnight Madness (page 6):

Read the preview to the event here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

History Making at Midnight

The 2010-11 college basketball season began with a bang at Caltech as the university hosted its first Midnight Madness in history. As the clock struck 12:01 am this past Friday, more than 550 undergraduates and 100-plus other fans were there to take part in the festivities.

Prior to the varsity teams being introduced, SCIAC high jump champ Alex Lapides nailed the half court shot and won a basketball signed by the five Nobel Laureates on campus (in addition to a year's supply of sundaes). The band roared, the Beaver danced, and the varsity players' adrenaline pumped.

The event was covered by Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times and then appeared on ESPN's College Basketball Nation Blog.

Check out the highlight reel from the evening.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Caltech is No. 1

Times Higher Education World University Rankings acknowledges Caltech as the best on Earth in engineering:

The engineering and technology table is dominated not just by a single country, the US, but by a single state in that country — California.

Three of the top five in the table are from the Golden State, home to the global centre for high-technology business, Silicon Valley. The California Institute of Technology is in first place; Stanford University is third; and the University of California, Berkeley is fifth.

read full article...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Official Site Gets Upgrade

Caltech Athletics has a new look to its website ( ... sleeker, smoother, and stirring.

Check it out and read about the site's launch here.

Friday, September 10, 2010

2010-11 Schedule Announced

Classes at Caltech don't begin until the last week in September, but the community is already excited for basketball season to tip off. The team will be hitting the road much more this season and will welcome various opponents from all around the country.

Check out the complete schedule and release here.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Flashback: A Murphy Hit

Collin Murphy started 17 games for the Beavers as a freshman and finished among SCIAC leaders in a number of categories in conference games: 2.4 apg (8th), 1.1 spg (15th), and 4.5 rpg (18th).

As an all-state high school quarterback and defensive back from Wasilla, Alaska, Murphy was a two-way standout in football who was named Colony's valedictorian after a scholastic career that included a 5.0 GPA and key roles on the basketball and soccer teams. Here is a flashback of immense proportions that demonstrates Murphy's force and prowess as an athlete.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Beavers Bounce into Honors Court

Four Caltech players from the 2009-10 season were recently named to the NABC Honors Court for their achievements in the classroom. Honorees include ZeNan Chang, Christian Clanton, Ryan Elmquist, and Ruslan Kurdyumov.

Chang (biology), Clanton (applied physics), and Kurdyumov (mech E and business econ mgmt) graduated in June and are headed to graduate school while Elmquist is a rising senior and computer science major.

Both Clanton and Kurdyumov are 2-time honorees.

For the full list and official release from the NABC, click here. (Caltech student-athletes appear on page 3).

(From the release)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) today announced the NABC Honors Court, recognizing those collegiate basketball student-athletes who excelled in academics during the 2009-10 season. The NABC Honors Court recognizes the talents and gifts that these men possess off the court, and the hard work they exhibit in the classroom. In order to be named to the Honors Court, an athlete must meet a high standard of academic criteria. The qualifications are as follows:

1. Academically a junior or senior and a varsity player.

2. Cumulative G.P.A. of 3.2 or higher at the conclusion of the 2009-10 academic year.

3. Students must have matriculated at least one year at their current institution.

4. Member of an NCAA Division I, II, III, or NAIA Institution.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Movin' On: Leibowitz Lands Dream Job

Jeremy Leibowitz, a 2010 graduating senior, was hired as a quantitative analyst at Rimrock Captial Management based in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. A fixed income hedge fund, Rimrock Capital is 60 miles southeast of Pasadena.

His dual degree in applied computational mathematics and business, economics, management will surely be put to good use.

"This is my dream job," announced Leibowitz, just a few days prior to his graduation ceremony. "I am going to be learning all about the bond market ... I will be building mathematical models and analyzing individual bonds."

Leibowitz, who hails from Las Vegas, was a 4-year member of the basketball team and served as a captain this past season. In his last game as a senior, he hauled in 11 rebounds and recorded 3 steals. Though he battled health issues much of his career, Leibowitz -- the Caltech Outstanding Freshman Athlete in his first year -- maintained his commitment and devotion to the basketball program. He was instrumental in helping to develop younger players on and off the court, and was -- and will continue to be -- a main cog in the recruitment of future student-athletes.

After an arduous season of interviews, Leibowitz finally found what he wanted.

"I'll be living by the beach," said Leibowitz. "I'm pretty excited."

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Yang Way: Engineering a Jump Shot

by Yang Yang, Caltech class of 2009

Periodically, CxB3 presents posts by alumni and friends of Caltech Basketball. Mr. Yang graduated from Caltech in 2009 with a degree in Biology. While playing basketball for the Beavers, he also served as a contributing writer to The Tech, the campus newspaper.

"…basketball has become - at its best - the paramount synthesis in sport of intelligence, precision, courage, audacity, anticipation, artifice, teamwork, elegance, and grace."
- Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

Missing a shot during a basketball game is fairly common. With the exception of power forwards and centers who do their damage from within ten feet, most players shoot less than 50 percent from the field. Even great players struggle to make more shots than they miss. Michael Jordan only did that in six of the 15 seasons he played, finishing with a career average of 49.7 percent. To paraphrase Jeff Van Gundy, the NBA is a mostly miss league. If a circus knife thrower had that kind of accuracy… well, let's just say it wouldn't be a kid-friendly show. So why can circus performers fling knives 30 feet across the room to hit an apple above someone's head with high accuracy, but NBA players struggle to guide a basketball 30 feet across the court into a hoop?

Well, that's not a completely fair comparison. No circus knife thrower has to deal with a defender trying to intercept the knife or obstructing his vision. When dealing with pure shooting with no defense, basketball players are actually pretty amazing. Former Caltech guard Fred Newman holds the world record for 3-pointers made in a row with 209. Don't believe me? Check out the two-hour long video (cut version; uncut version, part 1). If that doesn't impress you, he also can make 88 free throws in a row while blindfolded. Still, whether it's Fred taking his 210th shot of that morning or Ray Allen taking a shot anytime during Game 3 of the 2010 NBA finals, players will miss.


Ask that question to an engineer, the answer will be mainly about suboptimal trajectories; ask a neuroscientist, it will be all about stability and precision of neural networks; and when you ask a psychologist, the reply will focus on mindset.

There are biological limits to accuracy - even when muscles are stimulated with the same voltage shock, there will be some variability in the output of force. When gauging distance, we will always make estimation errors.

To an engineer, shooting a basketball is just about solving equations. The mathematical laws which guide the trajectory of a basketball are well known. Lobbing an object into the air to hit a distant target has interested the military for millennia. Whether it's catapults, trebuchets, cannons or howitzers, armies for the past thousand years have used machines to bombard enemies from afar. It's a problem siege engineers have solved countless times in the past. In a simplified model, there are only two variables to consider - horizontal and vertical speed of the ball. Because we are constantly subject to the downward pull of gravity, we need an initial upward velocity to ensure the ball stays airborne. Once we know how long something can stay airborne from the initial vertical velocity, it's easy enough to calculate how fast its horizontal speed must be in order to reach the target. Introductory physics classes have tortured students with these problems for decades.

Unfortunately, accurately describing a basketball's motion requires much more detail than just the simple setup above. The collision of the ball with the rim will transfer some kinetic energy, depending on velocity and angle. This will affect the direction, speed and spin of the ball. With each collision, the spin of the ball will also influence all ball-to-surface contact, since it modulates the amount of friction between the two objects. In order to really describe real motion, we need a set of equations which considers all these factors and their simultaneous effects on each other. (A good mathematical summary can be found here). In fact, it is much easier to write a computer simulation which follow these rules and just run millions of iterations.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Big Math in Finals

Want some intriguing discussion on the cataclysmic chance that a Phil Jackson team will lose a playoff series after winning the first contest? Turn to the brilliant math folks at Caltech:

Are you telling me that if the Lakers win in the opener Thursday night at Staples Center, the Celtics aren't going to be peppered with that number [47-0] for the next two weeks? And that at least some of it isn't going to stick?

"I know when I go to the free-throw line, the odds of me missing one grow if I haven't missed one in a while,'' Boston's Ray Allen said with a grin. ''So I'll think of it like that.''

The Celtics act like the number is a coincidence. Smarter people than both of us say it is not ... I decided that, yes, I should consult with someone from the brainiest university in the country.

So I called the folks from Caltech.

A couple of grad students in applied and computational mathematics —Stephen Becker and Mike McCoy — figured that the odds of going 47-0 by coincidence were less than three in a billion.

''I would be demoralized if I were the other team,'' Becker said.

Gary Lorden, a Caltech professor emeritus in mathematics, added, ''If I were a huge basketball fan and ran into this stat, I would say, wow.''

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tech Trails: Beavers Ride Wave to More SURFs

Tech Trails tracks summer plans of Caltech basketball players -- from SURFs (summer undergraduate research fellowships) to related work in the fields of math, science, and engineering.

Two more players will be SURFing this summer on campus. (artwork by Caltech tennis player Michelle Jiang '11)

Arjun Chandar, a freshman guard from Miami, Florida, will be researching Modern American politics and Christianity under Erik Snowberg. The project aims to investigate the factors that lead Christian preachers to deliver political sermons in modern times (since 1995).

Chandar, who is often referred to as "Mr. President" by the the team because of his leadership and communication skills, will be collecting sermons from church websites and classifying them as political or nonpolitical based upon the results of a computer program as well as manual inspection -- of course, he will write the program.

"I expect to learn more about programming and important political drivers in modern American culture," said Chandar. "Hopefully, my research can shed some light on how politics influences Christianity and, possibly, how Christianity can influence politics."

Chandar, along with fellow classmate Ethan Boroson, was voted Citizen of the Year this past season by teammates.

Ziying Wang, a junior guard from SoCal's Rowland Heights, is set to research Nano-scale chemistry application in atrophic age-related macular degeneration with Robert Grubbs, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2005. End-stage atrophic age-related macular degeneration is a disease that causes middle-aged and elderly patients to go blind.

"The goal of my research," said Wang, "is to come up with nano-particle systems that can potentially replace some of the dead ganglion cells' photoreceptors to return vision to the patient."

Wang is a 3-year player and a double major in chemistry and BEM (business economics management).

Monday, May 24, 2010

Edwards and Elmquist Honored by Caltech

Congratulations to Mike Edwards and Ryan Elmquist. Mike was named Freshman Male Athlete of the Year and Ryan was recognized as Outstanding Male Athlete of the Year at Caltech's Annual All-Sports Awards Show on Saturday.

Both Edwards and Elmquist ranked among the best in the SCIAC and set myriad records this season.

Click here for the official release.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tech Trails: Freshmen Propelled to JPL

Tech Trails tracks summer plans of Caltech basketball players -- from SURFs (summer undergraduate research fellowships) to related work in the fields of math, science, and engineering.

Three more first-year basketball players will be working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory this summer.

Mike Edwards (18.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.8 spg) will have a role in developing new platinum-based alloys for use in hydrogen-air fuel cells. He will also have his own sub-project while collaborating with a group of students on the main assignment.

"I expect to learn how to perform a modified sputtering system for preparing thin films," said Edwards, a mechanical engineering major. "I'm very excited to get a chance to work at JPL."

Collin Murphy (3.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.4 spg) has an internship working with instruments for Mars missions.

"This is my first glimpse into practical applications for my major," said Murphy, who is studying bioengineering. "Working at JPL will also give me a chance to continue working with really smart and experienced people throughout the summer."

Pan Wang (3.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg), an electrical engineering major, will be involved in a highly structured SURF under Steve Chien of JPL, entitled Onboard automated processing of SAR data for autonomous unpiloted vehicles and autonomous spacecraft.

Wang will investigate and implement approaches for transforming SAR data into readable images and study their accuracy in comparison to other satellite imaging. These algorithmic procedures will take SAR data and create classification maps or statistical summaries like soil-moisture estimations, glacial surges, fire-scars, and forest biomass.

"Essentially, I'll gain experience turning raw data into programmable data," explained Wang.

The concentration will be on approaches that can be efficiently implemented onboard autonomous aircraft or spacecraft so that vehicles operated by UAVSAR and DESDynI can engage in onboard automated processing of data.

"It will be great to work with a new group of scientists," said Wang.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Caltech in Hollywood ... and Vice Versa

It isn't rare for movie and television producers to collaborate with the minds at Caltech. Or even ask for help in filming shows (see Numb3rs by the Numbers) to substantiate scientific claims. Even in a blockbuster film like Iron Man 2, much goes into the science of movie making. And Caltech physicist Mark Wise had a hand -- really a head -- in guiding the all important particle accelerator production that Iron Man needs.
"They wanted to use the science to show what it (a particle accelerator) would really look like and they also wanted to do it in a way that was entertaining," said Wise. "They even wanted to know the behind-the-scenes stuff -- stuff that you wouldn’t see."
Fascinating ideas from Pasadena to Hollywood. And the other way around, too. James Cameron, director of Avatar, was recently on campus discussing possibilities of a real Pandora.

And if all the talk of avatars and accelerators isn't enough, how about the logistics of time travel? It's not as far fetched as one may originally think. In fact, another Caltech physicist, Kip Thorne, built upon the Einstein-Rosen bridge theory:
If you can build a wormhole, you can also turn it into a time machine. By dragging one of the mouths of the wormhole around space at nearly the speed of light, we can create a two-way tunnel connecting two points in time. Even better, you don't need to worry about mucking up history. A time machine built from the laws of general relativity is necessarily self-consistent, and thus your history will remain safely as you left it.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tech Trails: Elmquist Gets a Bite of Apple

Tech Trails tracks summer plans of Caltech basketball players -- from SURFs (summer undergraduate research fellowships) to related work in the fields of math, science, and engineering.

Junior captain Ryan Elmquist, a computer science major, will be SURFing in Cupertino, CA this summer, at Apple. Elmquist secured an internship with Apple's graphics team and is looking forward to a new learning experience.

"In addition to the specific knowledge I'll gain (about graphics), I want to understand the similarities and differences in working in industry and academia," Elmquist said. "This will be a great opportunity to see what working in a competitive industry environment is like."

Elmquist, a member of the 2010 SCIAC all-academic squad, spent his previous two summers working with Nobel Laureate Robert Grubbs in chemistry (2008) and at the University of Minnesota where he was involved with autonomous navigation of mobile robot teams (2009).

At Apple, he'll have the opportunity to live in the Bay Area and work in a non-lab setting, a change of pace he anticipates will be exciting and open even more doors.

"Apple is a company involved in constant innovation," he added. "The (future) job interviewers always love hearing about past experiences, so this will hopefully be great for that."

Elmquist, who owns the Caltech record for blocked shots in one season and led the conference in the category, averaged 13 points and six rebounds a game for the 2009-10 Beavers.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Video Tour: Walking with a Beaver

Freshman Collin Murphy, a bioengineering major, talks about life, basketball, and opportunity as a Caltech student-athlete in "Walking with a Beaver"... a Go Beavers production filmed in March 2010.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Movin' On: Senior Headed to Stanford

Senior Ruslan Kurdyumov, a double major in mechanical engineering and business economics management and two-year member of the basketball team, is headed to the Stanford Mechanical Engineering graduate program. He will continue his work with robotics and controls as part of the masters curriculum that eventually leads to the Ph.D program.

Kurdyumov, who was recently recognized as Academic All-Conference and who was named to the NABC Honors Court in 2009, spent last summer designing a sampling system for the AXEL rover at JPL. Axel is a minimalist tethered rover designed for accessing extreme planetary terrain. This is useful because current rovers can't sample from scientifically interesting locations, such as the sides of crater walls.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Yang Way: High Fives and More

by Yang Yang, Caltech class of 2009

Periodically, CxB3 presents posts by alumni and friends of Caltech Basketball. Mr. Yang graduated from Caltech in 2009 with a degree in Biology. While playing basketball for the Beavers, he also served as a contributing writer to The Tech, the campus newspaper.

Despite however much we worship the stars of the game, such as Kobe or Lebron, and laud their individual heroics, basketball is a team game. During game four of the NBA Finals last year, Phil Jackson used Bryant as a decoy on the last out-of-bounds play in regulation. Bryant dove towards the ball in order to draw the double team, caught it, then ping-ponged the ball right back to inbounder, Trevor Ariza, who had zipped down the sideline. Ariza then whipped a pass to Derek Fisher on the other side of the floor. As we all know, Fisher hit the wide open 3-pointer to send the game into overtime and the Lakers would go on to win the game and the championship.

Three Lakers. Three passes. Six seconds.

Two players voluntarily passed to teammates in a better position to score. In basketball, plays like that are fairly common, especially on winning teams. Each coach has his own word for it: teamwork, unity, ubuntu. Whatever one calls it, cooperation is key to winning basketball games. In a recent UC Berkeley manuscript, the authors found that the best NBA teams touch each other more. Why? According to the researchers, in other primates like chimps, adults spend up to 20 percent of their day grooming each other. The constant touching is a sign of mutual cooperation. In humans, touching (a handshake, a high five, a friendly punch) may build the same bonds. When I fist-bump a teammate as we're walking onto the court, it may send the message "Hey, bud, next time you're open in the corner, be ready for the kick-out and drain the three. Also, you have the ball and I'm open in the post, dump the ball down low." And it’s all communicated without speaking a single word.

Anecdotes from successful point guards do seem to support the hypothesis. Just look at two-time MVP Steve Nash. The Suns had an intern record how many times Nash high-fived teammates in a game. Take a guess before looking at this video:

The answer is 239. In this case, Nash does seem to build trust and cooperation through his numerous high-fives. Is there any wonder why the Suns went 60-15 with him (and were only 2-5 without) during his first MVP season?

A lot of blogs have featured the Berkeley study and just presented the conclusions at face value. "Touch each other more during games and you'll play better!" But is that really what was concluded in the study?

The paper mentions many ideas, but the main claim is that better bonding between teammates produces better team results. Touch is a proxy for bonding because it’s important in building trust and cooperative bonds. Right off the bat, I have to say that one concern I always had with social science papers is the lack of experimentation. It's not because social science people don't understand how to conduct experiments. Often, experiments are just impossible, and they require the ability to manipulate variables -- while holding all other possible interfering factors constant. In this case, no NBA team in their right mind (well, maybe the Clippers) would allow some experimenter to mess around with team chemistry even if the authors knew exactly how to strengthen or weaken team bonds. In other cases, its often unethical. For example, one can't take twins and coddle one while mistreating the other to see how nurture affects success – that is child abuse.

But, back to our original point: without experimentation, the best the authors can show in a paper is that two variables -- when observed in the real world -- are often found with each other and tightly correlated. The tighter the correlation, the more likely there is a real relationship between these two variables rather than just random chance. Even before all of that, they had to find a way to measure touching and team performance.

For touches, it was as simple as sitting someone down and having him note whenever two players of the same team touched. This included "fist bumps, high fives, chest bumps, leaping shoulder bumps, chest punches, head slaps, head grabs, low fives, high tens, full hugs, half hugs, and team huddles." Notice these touches come outside of normal basketball plays, so screens and fighting for rebounds don't count. As we all know, a good screen sets players free for open shots. In order to pick off the defender, a good screener usually rubs shoulders with his teammate, while bad screens don't result in any contact ("screening the air"). If screens are counted as touches, the conclusion might as well be winning teams set good screens, while losing teams set bad ones.

As for team performance, it might surprise people that the authors didn't use total number of wins for each team. Instead, they used some statistics not found in a normal box score: offensive and defensive rebounding efficiency, assist ratio, rebound ratio, win score and NBA efficiency. This may surprise some people since, in practical terms, winning more is more often associated with performing better in basketball, but these statistics seem to predict future performance more effectively than total wins. That is because a lot of basketball analysis is done with knowledge of probability theory in mind. To statisticians, two teams playing a game is nothing more than a coin flip. Good teams maximize their probability to win, like weighing a coin to come up heads 90 percent of the time instead of 50 percent. Why look at teams this way? As one knows, with a normal coin, once in a while, the toss will get nine out of ten heads in a row (much like a .500 team goes on a long winning streak). Does that mean the coin will start flipping heads more? Now that would be a neat trick.

Instead of looking at how many heads versus tails came up in the past, a more accurate way to predict future coin flips is to measure where the center of gravity is in the coin. Rebounding efficiency, assist ratio, win score and NBA efficiency are supposed to be a basketball team's equivalent of the coin's center of gravity. But is playing a basketball game really as random as flipping a coin? It's too deep of an argument for this blog post, but I will say these statistics predict more winners in playoff series than just picking the team with a better record.

Once they've determined how they were going to measure touches and team performance, it's on to the analysis where they used hierarchical regression and came up with significance β = .34, t(25) = 2.55, p < .05 for these correlations. In layman's speak, the authors compared number of touches to team performance to see if a team with more touches also had higher performance; if the two values weren't related, the dataset being examined could be generated randomly less than five percent of the time. (p-values are a really tricky and non-intuitive subject. For a better explanation, see this article from

However, even with the low p value, it’s still difficult to conclude that closer bonding leads to better performance. For one, number of touches measured may not be a good indicator of team bonding. One point the authors missed is that regardless of bonding, better teams produce more high-five worthy plays – that is how they win. More touches equals more good plays, so good teams -- regardless of how well they bond -- will have more opportunities for touches. I would love to see something more nuanced. I think better bonded teams will congratulate each other more for each good play. I would like to see measurements such as "high-fives per dunk" or "chest bumps per clutch defensive stop" and how they correlate with team performance.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Beavers Show Skills in the Classroom

The SCIAC announced the 2010 Men's Basketball All-Academic Team today. Five Caltech players were recognized for their academic achievements (3.5+ G.P.A. in second year varsity status). A number of the players on the team were not eligible for the honor because so many of them are still freshmen.

Check out the release on the Caltech site here and the news on the SCIAC site here.

Congratulations to the student-athletes who excel on the court and in the classroom.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Beaver Clips

Video highlights from the 2009-10 season ... featuring dynamic play by several young Beavers ... Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ballers Aid Caltech at Rose Bowl

This past Saturday, Caltech won the inaugural Pasadena Collegiate Field Tournament. Billed as a friendly competitive event at the Rose Bowl, students from higher institutions in Pasadena took part in various competitive activities, from cheeseburger creations to athletic skills to puzzles.

The Beavers were well supported with dozens of students and several faculty members making the short trek to the famous football field. The mayor presented the trophy to the Caltech team before the various groups gathered in the lot for an old fashioned tailgate feast.

The men's basketball team was represented on the playing surface by freshmen ballers Alex Runkel and Pan Wang, both key competitors in the tournament. In an earlier event, Runkel used his athleticism to defend the frisbee toss. Wang (pictured left) is shown celebrating the Caltech victory.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Caltech Celebrates Season

At the end of each season, various team members are recognized who shined on and off the court at the program's annual awards dinner. All awards are voted on by the players. The Vesper Trophy and Freshman of the Year honors are longstanding departmental awards -- recipients' names are imprinted in the Braun lobby trophy cases.

2010 Men's Basketball Team Awards

Vesper Trophy - Ryan Elmquist '11

Freshman of the Year - Mike Edwards '13

Leader of the Year - Collin Murphy '13

Mr. Glue - Ethan Boroson '13

Most Improved - Marcus Lucas '12

Lockdown Award - Collin Murphy '13

Citizen(s) of the Year - Ethan Boroson '13 and Arjun Chandar '13

Mr. Hustle - Collin Murphy '13

Construction Point Club - Alex Runkel '13, Collin Murphy '13, Ryan Elmquist '11, and Marcus Lucas '12 (pictured left to right with Coach Eslinger)

2010-11 Captains - Ryan Elmquist '11, Collin Murphy '13, and Ethan Boroson '13

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Beaver Ranks

How did the young Beavers stack up against the competition this past season? Check out various team and individual ranks, within the conference and on the national stage. (For the majority of team stats, the NCAA ranks 404 schools; for most individual stats, the NCAA ranks 500 players).

Team Statistics

CategoryStatisticSCIACNCAA DIII
Blocked Shots3.7172
3FG% Defense32.04

Mike Edwards - Freshman

CategoryStatisticSCIACNCAA DIII
Scoring Avg.18.8265
Free Throw Pct..7778216
Steals per game1.82196
3-Pointers per game2.5278
Blocked Shots1411--

Ryan Elmquist - Junior

CategoryStatisticSCIACNCAA DIII
Scoring Avg.12.813--
Blocked Shots50138
Rebounds per game5.910397
Defensive Rebounds per game4.97--

Collin Murphy - Freshman

CategoryStatisticSCIACNCAA DIII
Assists per game2.013--
Assists per game (conf. only)
Steals per game1.49432
Rebounds per game (conf. only)4.518--

Alex Runkel - Freshman

CategoryStatisticSCIACNCAA DIII
Rebounds per game4.517--
Offensive Rebounds per game1.615--

Jesse Shevin - Freshman

CategoryStatisticSCIACNCAA DIII
Blocked Shots1510--

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Development Shows in Record Numbers

Success on the court cannot necessarily be measured by society's traditional sources, those being win-loss columns. At least not yet. Overall development has to be taken into account, and this year, there was certainly improvement.

With such a young and inexperienced team, it's impressive that a dozen program records fell this season. Witness the evolution of Caltech Basketball.

The shot blocking has been talked about and was certainly a positive. The Beavers recorded 92 rejections in their 25 games, smashing the 2008-09 squad's accomplishment of 76. Ryan Elmquist had much to do with the stat as he accounted for more than half of the blocks (an individual season record 50 that bested the talented Ben Turk '98), which was just seven fewer than he and Travis Haussler '09 turned in last season. The eight swats against Chapman was also a team first for getting-that-stuff-out-of-here in one game.

The other team record? Field goal attempts in a season. Certainly worthwhile considering the lack of scoring opportunities due to turnovers and limited offensive rebounding.

Freshman Mike Edwards turned out to be as good as advertised as he broke six individual records (most noteworthy his 62 3-point makes that overtook the trifectas of Josh Moats '97), and entered the Top 10 in four other categories, including points in a season (470), scoring average (18.8 ppg), free throw percentage (.777), and steals in a season (44).

Besides the Elmquist shot blocking party, the junior forward became the No. 1 player in season free throw attempts (208), as he surpassed the foul line feats of Bryan Hires '08. Elmquist already holds the mark for freebies made and attempted in one game (17 of 19).

First-year cagers Collin Murphy and Ethan Boroson also entered the Top 10 in steals for a season (35) and assists per game (3.3), respectively.

Here is the complete list of records in the new era. For everything else, check here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Passing Stats

It appears Chris Erksine of the LA Times doesn't think Caltech can pass:

By the way, since when does Pasadena get to claim so many important bowls? It doesn't really have a college team of its own, aside from those warrior-nerds of Caltech. Ever seen the Caltech basketball team? They're the topic of my latest screenplay, "White Guys Can't Pass Either."

We at CxB3 appreciate the "warrior-nerds" title -- that is pretty cool -- but we're not sure about the proposed screenplay. Seems a bit artificial, forced, and even off color.

First, there are 16 players on the active Caltech roster and just half of them are white. Second, in his attempt to creatively mock a sequel to the film about white men not jumping, he failed to note -- probably because he did no research -- that the Beavers are a good shot blocking team. Third, the team in Pasadena actually boasts a decent assist per field goal ratio. We explored this statistic in comparison to the rest of the SCIAC and a handful of the top teams in the nation, with the assumption that a good pass often leads to a made bucket.

Caltech falls in with a decent rate -- a respectable 54.8 percent of its field goals have an assist factored into the play. How do other teams rank?

Well, Maryville leads the nation in assists per game (20 per contest) and 58.1 percent of its FGs are linked to an assist. Williams, ranked second in the poll, is at 53.9 percent. No. 1 Wash U, the defending national champion, is at a blistering 66.7 percent. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, the regular season SCIAC champ, stands at just 43 percent.

Check out the full SCIAC standings in relation to assists/field goals.

Redlands = 55.4
Occidental = 55.4
Caltech = 54.8
La Verne = 54.0
Whittier = 51.1
Pomona-Pitzer = 50.5
Cal Lutheran = 47.9
Claremont-M-S = 43.1

Not that Asst/FG is a significant predictor of success, but interesting to say the least.

Maybe Erksine, at the very least, can come see for himself next season.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Caltech Closes Campaign

The Beavers' season has ended. Lots of records set this year with the young team.

Check out the official release of the last game.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Who Says Beavers Can't Block Shots?

Facing Cal Lutheran on February 3, 2010, the Beavers' five blocked shots propelled them into the team record books as they set the mark for most rejections in one season. The previous number was 76, a total that was accumulated during the 2008-09 campaign. Caltech's current team now has 88 with three games to play.

With Ben Turk '98 in the crowd this past Saturday night, junior Ryan Elmquist tied a 12-year old record for blocked shots in a season with 47. Elmquist, who totaled four blocks against Occidental, now has 103 blocks in his career. Turk owns the career record with 126 and maintains the mark for most rejections in one game with six. (Official release from Saturday night).

Elmquist, who through this past weekend was ranked among the nation's elite in blocked shots (2.1 bpg), has blocked three or more shots in seven games this season.

Caltech set a program record against Chapman University on January 6 for most swats in one contest with eight. Elmquist was responsible for five of those on that historic evening. (Official release from Chapman game).

Other Beavers who have aided the blocked shot effort?

All freshman.

6'7" Mike Edwards, 6'9" Jesse Shevin, and 6'2" Ethan Boroson.

6'0" point guard Collin Murphy is even in the mix.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Alumni Event Coverage

Here is the official release on the 2010 Men's Basketball Alumni Event.

Turk looks like he can still play -- a scoring and rebounding machine. Great overall support from alumni and friends. And congratulations to the 1,000 Point Club members. Click on their names in the left column for their details.

Monday, February 15, 2010

2010 Alumni Game Highlights

Check out highlights from this year's alumni game ... 30 past Beavers were back to showcase their knowledge, and -- yes -- skills.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Unveiling of the 1,000 Point Club

On Saturday night, the members of Caltech Basketball's 1,000 Point Club were honored.

Honorees in attendance included Ben Turk '98, George Papa '94, Jon Bird '03, Lindsay King '08, Bryan Hires '08, Travis Haussler '09, and Fred Anson '54 (they are pictured, in order, to the right of Coach Eslinger).

The ceremony capped a fabulous reunion for Men's Basketball as more than 40 alumni and friends returned for the alumni game and luncheon. More to come on the event...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Upcoming Alumni Event

This weekend marks the second annual Men's Basketball Alumni Event. Former players and their families are invited back to campus to play in the alumni vs. alumni game and support the varsity squad as it takes on Occidental. Last year, in the first installment of the event, 20 alumni were here. The goal is to double that number this time.

More information on the Caltech Men's Basketball home page.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Records and More

The men's basketball staff has been busy digging up files and statistics in order to compile an updated and truly unprecedented record book. Some fascinating numbers have been uncovered. 1,000 point scorers. Team highs and lows. Individual milestones. Top 20 lists. Even a year-by-year account of game results.

Check out the rich history on the men's basketball records page.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Edwards Named Athlete of Week

Freshman Mike Edwards was named SCIAC Athlete of the Week for his performances in back-to-back games at the Caltech Holiday Classic.

Caltech Athletics release
Caltech Today release

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Caltech Hits 10 3s

Caltech makes 10 3-pointers, including a program record - seven - courtesy of freshman Mike Edwards.