Foul Poll: Coaches, Experts On Both Sides Of Issue After UConn Loss

The officials blew it at the start of overtime. They met and discussed it. They still got it wrong. Afterward, they admitted it. No argument.

The real argument after Kevin Ollie's Big East coaching opener is whether UConn had blown the game at the end of regulation by not fouling Junior Cadougan before he hit a three-pointer from 30 feet.

Tuesday night at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, UConn and Marquette were allowed to line up the wrong way for the overtime tip. Shades of the most famous wrong-way play ever on Jan. 1 — 74 years earlier by Roy Riegels in the 1929 Rose Bowl — Shabazz Napier's layup at his own basket was goaltended by Jamil Wilson.

My Twitter snark had me suggesting that going the wrong way in overtime was a pretty good metaphor for the state of the Big East Conference. The bottom line is the basket should have counted. UConn should have had a 71-69 lead. The officials waved off the basket and gave the ball to Marquette. Wrong.

"Based on Rule 5, Section 1, Article 3, when the official permits a team to go in the wrong direction and then the error is discovered, all activity and time consumed shall count as though each team had gone in the proper direction," game official Karl Hess said in a statement. "Play is then resumed with each team going in the proper direction. … We should have scored the goaltend and given Connecticut two points."

We can presuppose a bunch of things from there and argue whether or not the blown call was the reason UConn lost 82-76. There is no denying Hess & Co. blew the call. And at the risk of Hess ejecting me from this discussion the way he ejected former N.C. State stars Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani from their seats for heckling last year during a game, I'd argue an experienced crew absolutely should have known the rule.

Anyway, Ollie told reporters, "That play did not cost us the game."

Yet, did the Huskies cost themselves the game by not fouling Cadougan after Ryan Boatright's fall-away jumper with 5.9 seconds left in regulation? It's easy now to say they absolutely should have.

I watched the YouTube video of the play 10 times. First off, an incredible shot by Boatright with Cadougan all over him. From there, Cadougan quickly took the inbound pass from Wilson. Niels Giffey potentially could have fouled Cadougan in the backcourt, but Junior did a nice job using his arm to fend off Giffey and race away. Boatright was awaiting Junior just outside the three-point arc, but Cadougan cruised in, went between his legs and drained it — bam! — from 30 at the buzzer.

"I would say the chance of him hitting that shot was less than 10 percent," Hartford coach John Gallagher said.

Considering Cadougan was shooting 16 percent for the season on threes and Marquette had been 0-for-14 to that moment in the game, it couldn't have been any better, right?

"I'd say 8 percent," Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore said.

Anyway, I wanted to do a little research on probabilities and found three studies, one with the NBA. They don't all reach the same conclusions.

In 2010, John Ezekowitz of the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective found 443 instances during the 2009-2010 college season when a team had the ball down three points during its last possession of the second half or overtime. In 391 cases, Ezekowitz found that the team leading did not foul and only lost 33 times (91.56 winning percentage). In the 52 cases when the team fouled, six lost (88.46 percent winning percentage). In other words, it was a statistical wash. Granted he didn't have it broken down to exactly how many seconds were left when the team got the ball. That's important, too.

So should you foul or not?

"I think it varies," UConn women's coach Geno Auriemma said. "Some coaches swear fouling is better. Some say no way. There are studies that show you have the same chance of winning if you foul or if you don't foul. A team that's 0-for-14 on threes, maybe you don't foul."

Gallagher's theory?

"If you're a great rebounding team, I think [fouling] is a good option," he said. "The worst place to expose rebounding is from the foul line. So if you're not a great rebounding team [UConn obviously isn't], it's not something that's in your cards. And, two, you've got to practice it. If you don't, don't do it. I see intentional fouls happen [two fouls shots and retain possession of ball]. You've got to be smart."

The Ezekowitz study stands in stark contrast to DePauw coach Bill Fenlon, who wrote a 2,728-word paper on the subject. Fenlon concluded coaches should always foul. He enlisted the help of DePauw mathematics Professor Mark Kannowski, who created a series of decision trees using probability data Fenlon provided on three-pointers, free-throw percentages, rebounding, turnovers and accidental-foul rates. Fenlon concluded there's only a 4.9 percent chance of a team ahead by three losing in overtime if it fouls, yet a 19 percent chance if it doesn't foul. Furthermore, he asserted the odds of hitting a three, getting fouled and winning the game with a free throw is 1 in 750, while hitting one free throw, missing the second, getting the rebound and hitting a three to win is 1 in 1,200.

"I get the whole basketball theory on it," Gallagher said. "But when you're coaching your team, you're coaching against your weaknesses. And when it comes down to a bang-bang play, the worst thing to do is foul by being overly aggressive."





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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