Big Ten Geeks: Foul!

Wisconsin picked up an overtime win over Michigan in a contest with plenty of late-game drama. Wisconsin and Michigan both found themselves with plenty of fouls to give at the end of regulation on Saturday, but neither team opted to hack to deprive the opponent of a desperation heave.

While I believe Wisconsin committed error when it opted not to foul Michigan before Tim Hardaway Jr. knocked down a three-pointer to break a tie with just a few ticks left, I don’ think Michigan did anything wrong by forcing Ben Brust to make a contested 40-foot runner at the buzzer. While Hardaway’s shot wasn’t easy, it probably doesn’t rank among the top 10 most difficult shots in Hardaway’s career. If you foul Michigan before he takes that shot, then the Wolverines are forced to restart the offense all over again and get a good look within a few seconds. That’s more difficult than Hardaway’s three from the top of the circle.

Brust’s shot, on the other hand, was next to impossible. Making 40-footers is tough enough, and Brust had a hand in his face. Is there really a substantially more difficult shot that one can envision, that justifies the risk of inadvertently sending the opponent to the line for three free throws? I submit that there is not. So in this particular pint-sized strategy battle, I come up with Beilein 1, Ryan 0.

(Of course, having written all of that, I come to find out that Beilein in fact wanted his team to foul, it just didn’t happen. In that case, I think both coaches got it wrong, but Beilein was lucky that his team didn’t listen, but even more unlucky that Brust hit a near-impossible shot).

Of course, Bo Ryan won the game, proving that the outcome does not always reward the coach that made the right calls within the last 10 seconds. No, Wisconsin won because it took Michigan out of its offense. You see, Bo Ryan has become a bit obsessed with the three-pointer, as mentioned in College Basketball Prospectus:

This year is no different, as no one in the Big Ten prevents more three-point attempts than the Badgers, and only Northwestern shoots more of them on offense. It’s no secret that Beilein’s offense revolves around the three-pointer, but on Saturday the Wolverines devoted just a hair over a quarter of their shots to threes, well below their season average. What’s more is that UM was inaccurate from distance, converting on just 28 percent of their attempts. Wisconsin, meanwhile, was undeterred behind the arc, as over 40 percent of its shots were threes, which also happened to find the net over 40 percent of the time.

It comes as no surprise to me that Beilein has beaten the Badgers just once in his years at Michigan, because Ryan’s defensive philosophy of closing out hard on the three-point line, while leaving the help defense to sag in the paint, seems laser-focused on stopping spaced-out offenses. Some coaches just have a kryptonite, and much in the same way as Bo Ryan would prefer to avoid Iowa, I’m sure John Beilein does not want any more of the Badgers this season.

Meanwhile, Indiana righted the ship with an impressive road victory in Columbus. As Boromir would say, one does not simply put up 81 points on the Buckeyes. Up until Sunday, Ohio State had only given up more than one point per possession to one Big Ten team—Michigan. But the Hoosiers didn’t care about any of that, blasting Ohio State’s defense to the tune of 1.25 points per possession—the most OSU has given up to anyone in a little over a year. What might be even more impressive is that almost all of the scoring came from just three players. Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, and Christian Watford combined for 70 points on a mere 32 shots. Indiana may have lost its #1 ranking this week, but it remains atop the Big Ten (which in my view, is the more important metric).

The Big Ten race thus continues to be wide open, with any of Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and even Ohio State having a reasonable shot at taking home the crown. Hopefully the bruises those teams inflict on one another over the final few weeks of the season will not hurt their seeding in the NCAA Tournament, because frankly, there ought to be at least two #1 seeds (and probably a couple more top-3 seeds) hailing from the Big Ten this year.

Illinois finished off the best week of its season when it picked up a road win at Minnesota. The Illini looked terrible out of the game, turning the ball over 4 times in the first 7 minutes. They also missed their first 8 field goal attempts. But the next 45 possessions was a different team entirely.

Points per possession

1st 9 possessions

0.22

Next 45 possessions

1.22

Minnesota, on the other hand, struggled with turnovers all game long, effectively negating its huge inside advantage. Rebounding nearly half your misses and holding the other team to 27 percent shooting on two-pointers is normally an automatic win, but turning the ball over on a quarter of your possessions complicates things. I’m not quite ready to hit the panic button on the Gophers—but I’m close. They have just three home games remaining, and one of those is against Indiana. That said, there are still a couple of entirely winnable road games left on the schedule, so I still expect Minnesota in the field as of now.

Iowa took care of business against Northwestern. This was a close game until the Wildcats lost both Alex Olah and Jared Swopshire to injury, at which point the defense completely fell apart. Iowa ended up shooting 53 percent on their frequent two-pointers, which fueled an offense that scored well above 1.1 points per possession. This was a game that Iowa had to win to stay on track for an NCAA Tournament bid, though the biggest game of the year (for Tournament purposes, at least) looms large next Sunday when the Hawkeyes host Minnesota.

Michigan State bulldozed Purdue in a basketball game that occasionally interrupted a free throw contest in West Lafayette. Whenever the combined 58 free throws failed to keep the crowd rocking, you were sure to see just about every kind of shot one could expect to see in basketball game, provided one is a recent time traveler from the year 1985 (the year before the three-point line was installed). There were just 17 three-point attempts in this game, and just 5 of those were converted, so if you blinked you might have missed them. Despite trailing by double digits throughout the second half, Purdue took the unorthodox strategy of hoisting just 5 three-pointers over the entire game. Needless to say, it didn’t work. To be fair, a big part of that was due to D.J. Byrd’s disappearing act (22 minutes, 1 field goal attempt, 4 turnovers, 5 fouls). Were it not for the turnovers and fouls, one would be sure Byrd was interviewing for a spot at the Milford School.

The win helps Michigan State keep pace with the rest of the conference leaders, with a showdown against its in-state rival scheduled for Tuesday.

Finally, Penn State likely sealed its winless fate when it failed to pick up a road victory at Nebraska. To get an idea of how bad Penn State’s offense is this season, the Nittany Lions scored 53 points on 63 possessions, and that was right at its average in conference play. Jermaine Marshall was the lone bright spot, scoring 16 points on 10 shots, while committing just one turnover. Dylan Talley led the way for the Cornhuskers with 16 points (12 shots) to go with 7 rebounds. The best remaining hope for a win for PSU comes on Thursday when it hosts Iowa. Beyond that, Pat Chambers’ team only has two more home games—against Indiana and Wisconsin. So yeah, I don’t foresee much joy in Mudville.

A lot of good ones this week as we enter the stretch run of the regular season. First up is the in-state battle between Michigan and Michigan State. If the Wolverines lose, they’ll suddenly be two games back in the standings. The highlight on Super Wednesday is Illinois’ attempt to follow through on its big week by getting back at Purdue, and Thursday will feature Minnesota trying to right the ship at home against Wisconsin.

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9 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (9 Comments)
leonbon1@comcast.net on 2/11/2013 @ 11:17am EDT Said:

Brusewitz did foul Hardaway across his arm before his shot, but the refs refused to call it.

Luke Anderson on 2/11/2013 @ 11:42am EDT Said:

Wisconsin tried to foul. Watch the tape. Bruesewitz slaps at Hardaway. If UM had been in bonus, and Hardaway’s shot hadn’t gone, Michigan fans would have been outraged that the refs didn’t call that.

Locke on 2/11/2013 @ 11:57am EDT Said:

“If you foul Michigan before he takes that shot, then the Wolverines are forced to restart the offense all over again and get a good look within a few seconds. That’s more difficult than Hardaway’s three from the top of the circle.”

That’s where I disagree. I don’t know how you can conclude Hardaway wouldn’t be able to get at least as good of a shot in 2 or 3 seconds as the one he took there. I do think that’ll easily be one of the most difficult shots he’ll take in his college career. But perhaps more importantly, with less time on the clock and a tie game, Michigan can still go for a lob & catch & shoot. As a Badger fan, I’d much rather take my chances with the shot he took than a lob in to him much closer to the hoop. And sure, refs are mostly going to eat their whistles at that point – but a lob in is more difficult to defend without fouling.

Bart Torvik on 2/11/2013 @ 12:16pm EDT Said:

The argument that the Badgers should have fouled at the end of regulation is very speculative. Where is the data that shows that Michigan was not likely to get as good a shot as they got (a very difficult, well-guarded, off-the-dribble three) with just a few seconds off an inbounds play? Cripes, we just saw Illinois get a wide-open layup with less than a second to go. And since overtime was the most likely outcome after that possessions, having fouls in the bank was still valuable for the Badgers. Dakich, for instance, thinks the Badgers should have fouled three times in an attempt to prevent any shot at all. I think it’s madness to believe they could have prevented a shot altogether. And then if all goes well they’re playing OT in the bonus, which is less than ideal. One more point: as the final play in regulation showed, it’s not easy to foul a team that’s actually running offense. It’s completely different than trying to foul when your behind, and the offensive player just waits for the foul. Indeed, Brueswitz really did foul Hardaway, and it just wasn’t called. If Bruesewitz lunges there, there’s a decent chance that Hardaway, an incredible athlete, simply blows by him and gets a wide open shot or forces help and feeds it to someone else who is wide open (possibly even for a layup). Or if Bruesewitz really goes in hard, your opening yourself up to an intentional or flagrant foul call. In sum, this is not an easy scenario, and without real hard stats I think I’m going to side with the basketball genius (Bo Ryan) over the peanut gallery.

John on 2/11/2013 @ 4:22pm EDT Said:

Given the injury roster at NU, PSU might pull out an away win in March. Who knows which Wildcat will go down next?

Also, why not foul Wiscy on their inbound passes until they are forced to shot 1 and 1? Being up by three seems like a decent chance to pick the rebound up even if the shooter makes the first basket.

Mike (@mjmajewski) on 2/11/2013 @ 7:09pm EDT Said:

Think the better argument for fouling is when the Badgers were up 3. No way they should have let Michigan get off a tying shot.

Doug on 2/11/2013 @ 11:13pm EDT Said:

The brusier did foul Hardaway, it wasn’t called, totally agree with Luke, if Hardaway missed that shot, the Wolvie fans would have been crying about no foul being called….

    Locke on 2/12/2013 @ 9:01am EDT Said:

    Though that’s true – at that point, it’s probably a question of fate. Or maybe chicken or the egg. Had the foul been called, there would not have been a shot there. So then the question is, if he missed the shot he took when he had 20 seconds to shoot, can you really argue he would have made the shot he’d take with 2 or 3 seconds to shoot? As they say, ball don’t lie.

Dan G. on 2/13/2013 @ 6:32pm EDT Said:

Michigan’s Last Possession in Regulation:

Intentionally using your fouls to give is not necessarily the best move here. It makes more sense when you’re up 1 to 3 points. When the game is tied and you’re on defense, the most likely and best-case scenario is overtime. In overtime, you’re at a huge advantage if you still have fouls to give and can play very aggressively on defense without having to worry about sending your opponent to the line.

What Bo Ryan said about telling the players to foul only if beaten off the dribble was exactly the right move. If you’re in a precarious situation, it’s worth burning the foul, but if not, better to save the foul to give for a potential overtime. Bruesewitz executed it perfectly, but the foul went uncalled.

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Wisconsin’s Last Possession in Regulation:

Intentionally fouling is not necessarily the best move here either. Wisconsin only had two seconds and had to inbound at the opposite end of the court. If you foul right away after the inbound pass, almost no time comes off the clock and now instead of under the opposite basket, the Badgers get to inbound from half court with a much better chance of a decent look at three-pointer.

And of course, if you’re looking to foul with so little time left, you have to do it right away; otherwise, you risk fouling the player in the act of shooting.

The fairer criticism would be whether Beilein should’ve defended the inbounder. I’d answer yes, and he’s now been burned by it twice (admittedly on two ridiculous shots by Turner and Brust).

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Wisconsin’s Last Possession in Overtime:

Yes, clearly, Ryan Evans should not have been shooting those free throws. As has been discussed, there appeared to have been a miscommunication on the previous foul, with both coaches thinking Berggren was going to the line. Bo put Evans in to rebound a potential missed free throw, which would’ve been the right move had Wisconsin already been in the bonus. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be subbed back out without time running off the clock.

Also, you can’t tell the player inbounding the ball in that situation not to pass to him, as that basically gives you three guys to pass to with five defenders on them. Putting a 40% free throw shooter at the line is still better than risking a turnover.

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Michigan’s Last Possession in Overtime:

This is where I would’ve liked to see Wisconsin use up their fouls to give. With a three-point lead, the one thing you need to avoid at all costs is fouling someone attempting a three.

Give a foul with 5 or 6 seconds left, and another with 3 or 4 seconds left, and you make it much tougher on Michigan to get off a game-tying shot.