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Thoughts on fouling up 3

Mizzou captured a H-U-G-E win against Tennessee, and we’re talking a lot about strategy.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a bit of a weird year in college basketball overall. In the SEC, it feels like every game has been a virtual toss up. So when you burst out on a 15-4 run, which includes three of the four 3-pointers you will make all game, you’d be good to take advantage of it. Especially against a ranked team at home.

Missouri did just that, winning 59-55.

I’d be kidding you if I said Missouri played its best game last night. In a lot of ways, you have to give Tennessee a lot of credit. The Vols made it a big point to run Kassius Robertson off the 3-point line and did what they could to limit Jordan Barnett’s looks.

Overall, it was a fantastic defensive performance from both teams. Both Mizzou and Tennessee shoot the three-ball well, and both defenses took that option off the table for the other team. The Tennessee guards are terrific at penetrating and kicking for open 3s, and the Mizzou bigs have been great for ball movement, which has typically generated a lot of open looks. But last night it wasn’t to be for either team. There were just tons of well-defended 3-point looks.


Mizzou Tennessee Box Score

This is a typical Cuonzo team right now

For all the talk pre-season about Cuonzo Martin evolving offensively and “getting with the times,” the most fast-paced game Missouri has played in the SEC was against Coach Murderball himself, Frank Martin and South Carolina. The tempo has been:

  • South Carolina: 66 possessions
  • Florida: 64 possessions
  • Georgia: 61 possessions
  • Arkansas: 63 possessions
  • Tennessee 59 possessions

While the Tigers have adopted more modern offense, they’ve almost been forced by personnel to play the way Cuonzo Martin teams have traditionally played. The unsettled point guard position has meant Mizzou does what it can to play to strength.

Their strength lies in the interior, with solid bigs and some talented wings who can shoot. Playing to that strength sometimes means a slower-paced game, but the reality is that, without experienced ball handlers, you want to limit possessions. That just so happens to fit into what Cuonzo Martin has done throughout most of his career.

I’d rather win games, 86-76, but I’d also rather win. And winning 59-55 is a lot more fun than losing, no matter the score.

Welcome back, Kevin Puryear

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Puryear did a little bit of everything against Tennessee. He hit double figures for the first time in nine games (12 points), he had a season-high ten rebounds, and he made two huge free throws to seal the game with four seconds on the clock. Puryear deserved every bit of that game MVP award.

Friend of the site Carrington Harrison is right. Puryear really is an X-factor for this team going forward. He’s never been my favorite defender, and you’ll want to make sure you can pit him against the other team’s worst offensive player as much as possible, but if he’s playing efficiently on offense, the ceiling for this team goes a lot higher.

On most nights, Mizzou will have factors at the 3-point line, they’ll have factors on the block, and they’ll have Jontay Porter. Where Puryear gives them danger is in the mid-post and with the ability to face up and attack from 12-15 feet.

We know this team is never going to have a traditional point guard to run pick’n’rolls late in the shot clock for easy points. But they’ve got virtually every other option you want in an offense if KP is supplying his side of it.

Fouling up three

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re a proponent of fouling up three late in the game, I’m not gonna talk you out of it. I get all the arguments for it and I’m not totally against it. I’m just pro-defense, and I’m for shortening the game when you have the lead.

As someone who has coached and played and now watches games to analyze them, I see it on both sides. I love advanced data, as it makes analysis better and more concise.

But there’s no data (that I’ve seen) which proves fouling up three is any better than defending.

We remember it so much more when we see someone make the game-tying three on SportsCenter, and we don’t remember as much the nine other times the shot misses. We remember the multiple discussions by people online and elsewhere about fouling up three, and we don't have much as far as actual studies to determine whether it works or not.

KenPom, of course, did a study a few years ago, and the date proved to be a wash.

If you’re up three points with not a lot of time on the clock, you should win, and you do win most of the time. Do exceptions happen? Yes. Should that change your strategy at the end of games? I mean ... I don’t know.

Personally, I’ll always want to stick with my defense because it means shortening the game. The time it takes for a long jump shot to travel in the air (at least a second and a half?), plus the time it takes to gather the rebound (another second-ish?), mean you’re doing that part. There’s a ~30-35 percent chance the ball goes in, and there’s a 70 percent chance you gather the defensive rebound if it doesn’t, and on the 30 percent chance you don’t, you’re running off three seconds or more from shot to rebound.

But more than that, it depends on context. Against Tennessee, Mizzou did a phenomenal job defensively against the James Daniel as he brought the ball up. They ran about 10 seconds off the clock with defense alone. They probably run another second off the clock if they don't foul. In that case, I don’t think you need to foul.

I think there is room in the repertoire for fouling in late game situations when you have the lead. I just don’t think it should be the default mode. Tennessee was 2-for-9 on 3-pointers in the second half, and one of the guys who made one had the ball and was face up with a defender. The odds of him burying a three in Jordan Geist’s face are pretty low. But so are the odds of fouling him and having him make his first free throw, miss the second, and have the Vols score on a putback. Maybe there isn’t a right answer and I’m okay with that.

I’m just happy they won.