RC Home for Sports Analytics

by Roland Minton on September 21, 2017

Roanoke College hosted the Virginia Sports Analytics Meeting (VSAM) on Saturday 9/16 in the Cregger Center. VSAM is a direct offspring of Furman University’s Carolina Sports Analytics Meeting, which was the first regional sports analytics meeting in the country. Two important goals of the conferences are student involvement and the promotion of sports analytics.

Five student posters, including two from Roanoke College, and three student speakers brought a variety of research ideas to the meeting. In all, twelve students participated in the conference, networking with each other, the faculty in attendance, and representatives from professional lacrosse and hockey.

The meeting featured ten diverse talks of high quality, including keynote addresses by Drew Pasteur (Fantastic 50 ratings) and Kenneth Massey (shown above, of Massey Ratings and BCS fame). Sports covered included major sports like football, basketball and baseball, but also bowling, hockey, lacrosse, and tennis (given by Roanoke College’s Adam Childers). A variety of mathematical and statistical models were presented. A new way of modeling sports is pure gold for researchers, as techniques can often be applied to multiple sports.

Here are some of my takeaways from the conference. Standard football punting statistics are worse than useless. Markov models can be very sophisticated and measure “hot hands” and other phenomena. Graph theory provides a nice way of measuring the importance of an upset, and this improves March Madness predictions. There is good evidence that increased 3-point shooting improves NBA offenses. The unusual scoring system in tennis (love it or not) increases both the likelihood that the better player wins and the excitement level of matches. Multiple divisions in the NFL and massive conferences in college drastically reduce the chance that the best teams make the playoffs. And many more …

How can the success of a conference be measured? For VSAM, the groups of participants excitedly sharing ideas thirty minutes after the conference officially ended is a strong indicator of success. Participants from South Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia left impressed with Roanoke College, the Cregger Center, and the quality of sports analytics work done in this region.


RC Students Present Statistics Work

by Roland Minton on September 21, 2017

David Moreau and Lexi Denning had a busy week. David is a junior Physics major from Connecticut and Lexi is a junior Mathematics major from Connecticut. Tuesday evening (9/12) David and Lexi were co-presenters at the MCSP Conversation Series. Then on Saturday they ran the registration table and presented posters at the Virginia Sports Analytics Meeting held at the Cregger Center.

The Conversation Series talk “Moneyball for Maroon Athletics” showed some of the work that the Stat Crew has done with Roanoke sports teams. Lexi discussed the data collection procedures and analytics for the soccer teams, and David presented the graphs and charts produced for basketball and lacrosse.

At VSAM, conversations at lunch followed a morning session of talks and preceded the student poster session. David and Lexi had a good conversation with Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs hockey coach Sam Ftorek, possibly laying the groundwork for future internships for Maroon student hockey fans. David’s poster outlined the work that Stat Crew does, which generated interest from participants at schools thinking of similar programs. Lexi presented 2017 graduate Linnea Kremer’s work analyzing soccer shot efficiency, which showed bad trends in shot selection.

David and Lexi made important contributions to the growing Roanoke College presence in the field of sports analytics. Well done!


An adventurous group of Roanoke students and guests, as well as two Roanoke physics professors (Matt Fleenor and Dan Robb) took a trip to western North Carolina for the weekend of Aug. 19-21, culminating in an observation of the eclipse within the path of totality.  The end goal was to serve as the science ambassadors for the public viewing of the eclipse at the primary southern entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Roanoke’s website has a preview of the trip here: https://www.roanoke.edu/about/news/solar_eclipse_ambassadors
The Roanoke students making the trip were David Matheny, Andre Schneider, Eve Allen, Khenan Terry, Claire Drummond, and recent physics graduate Jacob Barfield. The pictures below show the entire Roanoke group including a number of friends and guests; Khenan, Eve’s fiance, Eve, and Jacob with the observing equipment in the background; and Dr. Robb’s beagle Ronnie before the eclipse trying on his eclipse glasses.
After rafting and tubing and enjoying the outdoors for the first two days of the trip, on the big day Aug. 21, the RC students led by David Matheny and Dr. Fleenor set up a bank of six Celestron telescopes with solar filters at the Oconaluftee visitor center to the National Park. The students observed the total eclipse through the telescopes, assisted many members of the public in using the telescopes to appreciate the experience more fully, and informed the public about different phenomena related to the eclipse.
Several students (David Matheny and Jacob Barfield) captured vivid images of the eclipse at totality, which are shown above. The first picture is David Matheny’s picture of the Sun and its corona taken through one of the telescopes; the second is David’s picture of the Sun with a filter on the telescope (blocking the corona, but showing interesting surface features of the sun, such as solar flares); the third picture is Jacob’s picture of the Sun with corona taken with his cell phone camera. Two other interesting phenomena captured by the students were the mysterious “shadow bands” which appear just before and after totality (visible if you really really squint at the white sheet in the first picture below, but clearly visible in person), and the temperature drop as the amount of sunlight decreased as the moon gradually covered the Sun, recorded in the chart in the second picture.
All in all, a great time was had by all, and the students were able to gain valuable experience in communicating exciting science and astronomy to the public.


Breaking the Stereotype: A spotlight on 2017 RC female physics graduates

June 14, 2017

The 2017 graduation year is special one for a variety of reasons. It is the 175th year of Roanoke College. The Physics Group at Roanoke College saw one of its largest group of graduating students ever, and more importantly, nearly 30% of those graduating physics students were from underrepresented groups: females and minorities. According to […]

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RC Physics students visit Green Bank Observatory

May 12, 2017

A group of RC physics students (left to right above, Jacob Barfield, Eve Allen, Duncan Maclean, Gretchen Michaels and Lydia Tung) visited the site of the largest, steerable radio telescope in the world, which is only three hours drive from Roanoke.  In Green Bank, WV, there are over 10 different radio telescopes in operation, including the […]

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RC Sophomore Liam Lambert receives Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention

May 3, 2017

Roanoke College sophomore and physics and mathematics double major, Liam Lambert, has received an Honorable mention in the prestigious Goldwater scholarship competition. He has worked on research on iron oxide nanoparticles with Dr. Rama Bala for the past year and a half. He has shown important results on the transformation and growth of these nanoparticles, […]

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MCSP Physics majors attend SPS PhysCon meeting in San Francisco

April 4, 2017

This happened back in November 2016, but is so neat that it needs to be written about on the blog! MCSP Physics Majors Josh Carr, April Raab, Jacob Barfield, Taylor Ferebee, Hanna Lyle and Connor Sampson (left to right in the picture above) attended PhysCon 2016, a quadrennial meeting sponsored by the National Society for Physics […]

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MCSP Students = Bakers?

March 15, 2017

How are Math and Baking related? Well, Tuesday, March 14, 2017 was Pi Day, a day entirely devoted to Pi = π ≈ 3.14. And, as mathematicians can also be quite “punny”, we relate “pi” to “pie”. I mean, typically they are both related to circles. Anyway, to celebrate Pi Day, the Roanoke College Math Club has […]

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Cregger > Cameron

March 6, 2017

Roanoke’s Cregger Center has a big “wow” factor. If you ask Mathematica, a software package used extensively at Roanoke, it will verify that the title “Cregger > Cameron” is true.* It may be that Mathematica is making a statement about alphabetical order, but it might be making a value judgment about the spacious new Cregger […]

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Women physics majors attend CUWiP conference at Virginia Tech

March 2, 2017

Two Roanoke College physics majors,  Morgan Heckman and Rae Galatas, along with physics faculty member Dr. Rama Bala, attended the 2017 Annual Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWip) held at Virginia Tech from Jan 13-Jan 15, 2017.   “The primary goal of the CUWiP conference is to help undergraduate women continue in physics by […]

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