Kenpom Addresses Foul/No-Foul Late Game Situation

Submitted by Trebor on February 12th, 2013 at 7:46 AM

Kenpom's latest blog entry covers the late game 3-point situation and what's a smarter option: fouling or not fouling. For those of you still arguing one way or the other, it's a really interesting read. If you don't want to take the time to read it all, the basic conclusion is that losses are so rare that neither option is more of a guarantee than the other.

He does note that it's possible that Michigan, by virtue of having fouls to give, might be in a slightly different position than most of the games in his analysis (in fact, the Michigan game doesn't fit his sample set, as he chose games where the team that's losing gets their possession with 5-12 seconds remaining, presuming those situations lead to a better quality shot than what Brust had).

Personally, I'm in the "shit happens" camp where you play defense and make them hit an extremely low percentage circus shot.




February 12th, 2013 at 8:08 AM ^

Personally, I'm in the use your available fouls with under 5 seconds to go.  Make your opponent inbound the ball and reset their play.  You can reset/adjust your defense and substitute players needed as well.  


February 12th, 2013 at 8:17 AM ^

To me you foul if you have fouls to give and it gives you an advantage- I think you "earned" the right to foul.  If you foul up by three so the other team gets free-throws instead of a shot attempt I dislike it.  To me having so few fould gets the reward of denying a possession if need be whereas fouling to get free-throws instead of a three seems cheap...

Overall I think it is a situation people get worked up on a little that is unlikely to make a huge difference in many cases- but after losing such a game fans become enraged and say the opposite clearly should have been done- had Wisconsin missed the half court I don't think too many Michigan fans would be feeling the same way about this situation as they do now.

El Jeffe

February 12th, 2013 at 8:38 AM ^

To me the unanswered question in all of this is just how liberally refs interpret "a shooting motion" when calling a foul. It seems like in the NBA, where for some reason this kind of intentional foul happens more often (though not always at the end of a game), refs are unwilling to give the "shooter" three shots.

Like in Sunday's Heat/Lakers game, LeBron was fouled by Steve Blake, I think, and he basically shot the ball from half court immediately after contact. The ball hit the backboard and the rim, and in any other shot context it would have been a shooting foul. But because Blake was trying to foul LeBron to prevent a breakaway dunk (it was not a clear path foul), they gave Blake the benefit of the doubt.

So what I wonder is, if Caris had fouled Brust very quickly but Brust had heaved the ball to the rim, would the refs have called a 3-shot foul? Do any college ref afficianados know what the "point of emphasis" on that is?


February 12th, 2013 at 9:13 AM ^

Up by three, 3 seconds left, with fouls to give? Kids were probably told to foul, but make sure they aren't shooting, and don't foul too hard (such that there's no flagrant), and play good defense so that if they get a shot, it's just a prayer. But I doubt they'd ever practiced it, because it's such a low-prob scenario, and just playing good fundamental defense limits the odds to a sport center play of the week. Which is what happened, and that's life.

Space Coyote

February 12th, 2013 at 9:21 AM ^

But when a guy is catching the ball with 2 seconds to go it's a bit of a risk to go for the foul. There is a good chance he's pulling up for the shot immediately and you just increased their chances dramatically by sending them to the free throw line rather than having to hit a half court shot. Like I said, between 2-5 you make them reset out of bounds and start over, but under 2 in my opinion is too risky. The more important thing is to not let them catch the ball going to the basket.

I'd rather put the game on the line with the other team trying to hit a half court shot than a ref determine a player was in a shooting motion when you're just trying to foul to reset the play.


February 12th, 2013 at 10:15 AM ^

So let's say Levert fouled Brost as he was making the turn.  There's still over a second to go, but now the inbounds pass is coming on the Wisconsin side of half court.  I wouldn't be surprised under that scenario that Wisconsin gets off a higher percentage shot.  As Brian noted yesterday, Brost's shot was something like a 1-75 proposition.   I'll take that any time.


February 12th, 2013 at 10:25 AM ^

I'd rather Kenpom took at look at guarding the inbounder versus having an extra guy to wander around the floor.  I'm sure there's plenty of empirical evidence to suggest which one (if either) gives you a better chance of winning.

My memory sucks but man does it seem to me like most of the miracle shots are made with nobody on the inbounder.  The clear, unobsructed view seems key to completing the pass in a way that the player can catch-shoot in one motion and not have to stop and gather themselves.


February 12th, 2013 at 10:46 AM ^

The inbounder may have an obstructed view, but you have fewer guys defending downcourt preventing the other players from getting open. It does not in any way gurantee teams won't get a better shot than Ben Brust or Evan Turner did.

I've posted this example before:

That case might have been helped out by a Mitch McGary type hanging out on the far side of the court in case anyone broke open.

And @umhoops posted this very relevant instance yesterday, but apparently this is good defense because the guy missed the shot, even if it was better than the ones people are harping on Beilein for:

There is no guranteed way to prevent teams from making prayers at the end. Beilein's coaching has made sure those prayers are no better than half court shots, but sometimes shit happens.


February 12th, 2013 at 11:57 AM ^

It would be ideal to know the "defend the inbounder or not" percentages, but there's absolutely no way to do such a study. You'd only be able to cherry pick scenarios for which there is video evidence of what happened. No box scores states whether the inbounds is defended or not.


February 12th, 2013 at 10:44 AM ^

Even if it happened to be in the 'act of shooting', Wisconsin is statistically the worst FT shooting team in the Big Ten. I would have taken my chances with them at the line rather than giving them time to set up a shot at half court.


February 12th, 2013 at 1:00 PM ^

That's not what i said. I'm saying that they should have fouled Ben regardless of the refs leniacy with calling that foul in 'the act of shooting'. By the time Ben shot that ball he was well within the half court range and into the 'deep three' range. And as other people have mentioned, somebody needed to gaurd the inbounder. If someone had been there, that pass does not happen.


February 12th, 2013 at 10:46 AM ^

Kenpom cites a fascinating work here regarding fouling, defending and the outcomes here - (LINK) - even though it uses data from the 2009-2010 season.

In essnce, he sifted through over 400 instances of teams holding the ball down 3 in their last possession of either the second half or overtime. Here's the interesting part:

"Of the 52 teams that committed a foul, six lost the game for a winning percentage of 88.46%. Of the 391 teams that did not foul, 33 lost the game for a winning percentage of 91.56%. Both a two sample t-test of proportion and a Chi-squared test fail to reject the null hypothesis that there is a difference in winning percentage between the two strategies."

In other words, there doesn't seem to be a significant impact on the outcome of the game when choosing one strategy or the other in this study. The sample size is somewhat small and it would probably be worthwhile to do this with several years of data to see if it actually holds. Still, I found this intriguing.


February 12th, 2013 at 11:02 AM ^

My thoughts is that if you have fouls to give, without putting the other team on the line, then you do it at the end of a game.  Making them take the ball out again lets you reset the defense and takes away the last second shot with momentum we have seen.  It doesn't seem like that hard of a concept, but maybe I'm wrong because elite level coaches miss this a lot.

steve sharik

February 12th, 2013 at 12:24 PM ^

...I would've played full-court press, 1-2-1-1 formation where you allow the pass into the near corners and then trap the ball.  Foul any pass by the player being trapped.  You give up the long ball b/c a layup can't beat you.

Either that or you put McGary on the ball and play 2 deep, 2 under, football-type zone pass D.  Break on the underneath throw and foul before he can get into a shooting position.  Never trail a player.  Anticipate where he's going to be so he has to radically change direction to get into a shooting (throwing) position.

Sardo Numspa'

February 12th, 2013 at 2:59 PM ^

With 2.6 seconds left and no timeouts for the opoosition you simply put a defender on the man inbounding the ball.  This enables you to control the inbound pass (if the opponent can get it in) and use one of the fouls you have to give.  I'm sure they would not have tried a shot from that far away.  This was a coaching error on our part and resulted in a loss.


February 12th, 2013 at 7:58 PM ^

levert was told to foul and was unable to do it.  any strategy you employ is only as good as the players ability to execute.  

"foul intentionally"," don't foul while shooting", "leave the inbounder uncovered with 5 on 4"- -all go to hell when your inexperienced players show they have limited basketball IQ