Statistics support impact of ASU’s Curtain of Distraction

By now, you’ve probably heard about ASU’s most eye-opening aspect of its homecourt experience at basketball games. The Curtain of Distraction, which reveals off-the-wall antics when the Sun Devils’ opponents shoot free throws toward the ASU student section, is odd if not hilarious.

But does it actually work?

Most recently, the New York Times’ The Upshot blog stepped in to take a look. 

The most revealing statistic that would indicate the Curtain of Distraction is affecting free throw shooting comes in the straight percentages before and after the 942 Crew student section added it. In the prior three seasons to the Curtain’s inception, Sun Devil opponents missed no worse than 31.6 percent of their foul shots in Tempe. The last two years since it appeared, opponents have missed 39.8 and 36.2 percent of their foul shots in Wells Fargo Arena.

Of course, this doesn’t tell the full story. 

Opponents only see the Curtain during the second halves because the teams switch which basket they’re shooting on. In an earlier analysis by the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, it’s clear teams indeed shoot worse in the second half than in the first, even though the difference on a national scale isn’t significant.

This year, through Saturday’s 81-78 win over then-No. 6 Arizona, opponents were 48 of 72 (66.7 percent) in first half and 88 of 144 (61.1 percent) in the second half at Wells Fargo Arena. As is the case across college hoops, teams shoot more free throws after halftime.

ASU's Savon Goodman settles into his role

According to the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, the Curtain could be worth 1.4 points in favor of ASU — the current statistics must continue to the end of the year for the sample size to be big enough to call it certain.

Twenty-one of 26 opponents over the past two seasons that have played in Wells Fargo Arena have shot worse at ASU than they have at their other road games. To that fact, Nick Wan at the True Brain blog is a bit skeptical. He notes that the variance in the data comparing opponents’ free throw percentages at ASU and at other road venues is too high. In other words, sometimes the difference was by 1 percent and other times it was much greater.

Wan’s analysis does, however, show that ASU has benefitted greatly when opponents struggle at the line. There’s positive correlation (to nobody’s surprise) between opponents missing foul shots and the Sun Devils’ chance of winning.

How much can we make of the stats in relation to the Curtain of Distraction?

There’s no statistic to show, directly, that the Curtain has everything to do with opponent free throw percentages.

Coach Herb Sendek’s comments about the student section in general have been revealing. He’s happy to see the student section attendance grow over the last few years. Perhaps that, more than the Curtain, has helped the Sun Devils distract opponents. You could even argue the Curtain has helped recruit students to the stands.

What is clear is this: The Curtain of Distraction isn’t hurting anything. Most likely, it’s helping.

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