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Professor and Two Students Crunch Data for Men's Basketball Program

The Numbers Game

Kristina Olenick ’20 and Nicole Schaefer ’20 played high school basketball—on opposing small-town Connecticut teams—but never thought that their basketball knowledge would intertwine with their academic life at the University of Hartford.

That is until they teamed with David Miller, assistant professor of mathematics in the College of Arts and Sciences, to provide detailed in-game analytics to the Hartford Hawks Men’s Basketball team this season. Intently following the action high above courtside at each home game, the trio records important metrics such as shot selection, the effectiveness of different defensive strategies, and how the team performs with each individual player on or off the court. Reports are given to the men’s basketball staff at select timeouts so necessary in-game adjustments can be made.

“Invaluable” is how Men’s Basketball Head Coach John Gallagher describes the role that Miller and the students have played this year. The analytics "verify a lot of things we see and points out some things we don’t," Gallagher says. “Any time you’re in a position of leadership and you can get more information to help your program run more effectively, you’re grateful. It’s a terrific way for students to learn about statistics.”

Kristina, from Lebanon, Conn., wants a career in insurance, so going to college in the world’s insurance capital was a natural. The added experience of working with sports analytics, she says, will make her more prepared to enter an industry also ripe in numbers and analysis.

“I have played sports my whole life; sports are a major part of who I am,” Kristina says, “so this experience kind of ties everything together for me.”

Nicole is less certain of her ultimate career path but analyzing sports statistics is giving her a good idea of some of the different things she can do with math. “I wasn’t coming here expecting something like this,” Nicole says, “but I picked the school because it was small. I come from a really small town of 8,000 people (Thomaston, Conn.)—I graduated with only about 50 classmates—and I loved that experience so I knew that in my college search, a smaller university was something I really wanted to look for. … I didn’t expect something like this opportunity but I picked this school with the hope that something hands-on might happen unlike at a bigger school.”

In the meantime, one doesn’t need to dig too deep into the numbers to conclude that the Hawks are enjoying one of their best seasons ever. UHart recorded 18 regular-season wins, most in the school’s 34-year Division I era; knocked off a Big-10 opponent (Rutgers) for the first time in program history; and defeated Vermont to end the Catamounts’ record 34-game conference winning streak.