If you’re a Purdue fan, and I’m sure Cuonzo Martin still is, last night was tough to swallow. The Boilermakers, on the verge of a Final Four, and ahead by two after a Carsen Edwards three -pointer, had the ball with less than a minute to go. Edwards missed another three attempt, and Grady Eifert slashed through the lane to secure the rebound. He kicked the ball out to Ryan Cline who was fouled. Cline made one of two free throws with 17 seconds left on the clock. Virginia, as they do, took their time getting in position to run a play to get a look for a three pointer.
With 5.7 seconds left Nojel Eastern fouled Ty Jerome, up three. Jerome went to the line and made the first free throw. He intentionally missed the second free throw and a weird thing happened. Virginia was able to knock the ball loose out beyond half court, and in the scramble Kihei Clark passed ahead to Mamadi Diakite who released the shot before the buzzer and tied the game.
I’m a “DON’T FOUL UP THREE (with exceptions)” guy. For one, I want to be very clear... the data DOES NOT support fouling up three. There are plenty of people who say that its an analytical decision, but the analytics don’t support that.
If you know me, you know I’m not an absolutist. I don’t believe there is ever a situation where something is 100%. Especially with sports. Fouling up three can work, so does defending. So why I think I’d usually rather defend?
- When you know the other team needs a three point shot, you can put your best three point defenders on the floor to defend for that shot.
- Having a defense geared to defend a shot you know needs to happen leads to a success rate much lower than a standard 3-point defense.
- There is an amount of time a defended play to get a defended three point shot will run off the clock, the more time you run off the clock the better.
- You know your team and your players tendencies and how those situations can play out, so if you’re a good defensive team and a good rebounding team then you should let it ride.
But as I said in parenthesis above — not all cases. Against Virginia you have to know everything about your opponent to decide if you SHOULD foul. Virginia has an efficient offense but plays at a slow pace. This tells me they aren’t accustomed to being forced into a situation where they have to have a shot. Virginia is used to dictating pace and time and space. In this situation they are out of custom. Point: not fouling.
Virginia rebounds 30.7% of offensive possessions, Purdue defensive rebounds at 27%, so there’s probably a 28.5% chance at best UVA gets the offensive rebound on a missed free throw. But offensive rebounding has decreased, and free throw offensive rebounds are down even more. So maybe even less so? Point: fouling.
I guess I tend to think a defended 20 foot jump shot and your defenses ability to get the ball on a rebound while time ticks off is better than stopping clock and conceding points when you’re winning. If you’re intentionally stopping the clock with a lead it should be with a purpose and the timing of it is important. If you foul, you are likely conceding your lead from 3 to 2 with a stopped clock.
Again, I’m not here advocating for some hard and fast rule. But I think the ‘Foul up 3’ crown is generally wildly out of sync with what the data actually presents. There are cases where fouling makes sense. But I’m generally in favor of it when there’s less time than more, and 6 seconds is a fair amount. Especially when it didn’t seem like Jerome was setting up to take a three, but look to pass for a three.
The micro decisions of an Elite eight game underscored something of a pretty incredible trend.
Matt Painter took over Purdue and has steadily built things up over the last 14 seasons to turn the Boilermakers into a team which has had three protected seeds in a row, and have made three straight Sweet 16s including this years Elite Eight run.
There weren’t many people who expected much from Purdue after losing four of their five starters. Purdue built this team around Carsen Edwards and went from the 2nd best offense to the fifth while maintaining their defensive efficiency.
That’s a program.
Painter spurned Mizzou after apparently taking the job in in 2011. Mike Anderson had just left and Mike Alden set his sights on the Purdue coach who had made five straight NCAA appearances. We know what followed. Purdue gave Painter a raise, Mizzou hired Frank Haith, then Kim Anderson, then the dark times, then Cuonzo Martin.
With Martin in place they’ve hired another piece of the Gene Keady coaching tree. Painter is atop the tree since he’s at the home school but the respect around the sport certainly lies with Martin as well.
The hope for Mizzou is Martin has something very similar up his sleeve and can build the kind of program Purdue has with Painter. The Boilermakers now have an expectation of the NCAA tournament but they started the season with very few people thinking they were a top 25 team and ended it with a different decision on fouling up three away from possibly walking into the Final Four.
For Missouri, Jim Sterk hopes Martin can build at Mizzou what Painter has built at Purdue. A consistent winner capable of winning at the highest level. The Elite eight is the last barrier for both Painter and for Mizzou.