Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Free Throw Defense

In looking at the Hoyas' profile on KenPom for the 2008-2009 season, and particularly at the shooting defense, the Hoyas weren't a respectable defensive team in terms of FG% and 3FG%-not up to the standards of the defensively quite good 2007 and 2008 teams, but better than the 2006 squad that reached the Sweet 16. But, Hoya opponents shot 70.8% from the line last year, a well above-average mark and much better than the 68.0% they shot in 2008. The question I wanted to know the answer to is why.

One potential answer is bad luck. The Hoyas had some clear examples of this, particularly losing to Cincinnati in overtime when the Bearcats shot 6-for-6 as opposed to the Hoyas' 4-for-6 in the extra session and Jonny Flynn's 15-16 in the OT loss in the Carrier Dome.

Another potential answer is fouling good free throw shooters. Against Syracuse, fouling Flynn as opposed to Onuaku gives Syracuse an extra almost half an expected point from the line.

To answer these questions, I examined Hoya opponents' free throw shooting beginning with the Big East conference opener, both in terms of how well the team shot compared to how well the team shot over the course of the entire season and how well the individual players shot that game compared to their season statistics. The answer is that the Hoyas were indeed screwed by the luck fairy in terms of opponent free throw shooting, which cost them several comes. Unusually, the luck fairy had an actual name: the St. John's Red Storm. Over the course of those 21 games, Hoya opponents made 10.6 more free throws than you would expect from their season stats, and 10.0 more free throws than you would expect from their players' season stats. The Red Storm were responsible for 9.2 and 9.3 of those, respectively. That means, in those other 19 games, Hoya opponents made 1.4 and 0.7 more free throws than you would have expected based on the team and player stats, respectively.

Here are the numbers for each game, with + numbers meaning the team made more free throws than you would have expected and - numbers meaning fewer made free throws than expected:

Opponent Team Players UConn +1.1 +1.1 Pitt -1.4 -1.0 Notre Dame +3.6 +2.8 Providence -1.2 0.0 Syracuse -4.9 -4.1 Duke +2.5 +2.1 West Va. 0.0 +0.1 Seton Hall -0.3 -0.5 Cincinnati +1.2 +0.2 Marquette +2.3 +2.6 Rutgers +1.3 +1.1 Cincinnati +0.5 +0.1 Syracuse +4.0 +3.8 South Fl. -4.8 -5.3 Marquette -1.1 -0.3 Louisville -0.5 +0.6 Villanova +0.7 +0.2 St. John's +4.0 +4.6 DePaul -1.7 -2.0 SJU (BET) +5.2 +4.7 Baylor +0.1 -0.4 TOTALS +10.6 +10.0
Aside from the aforementioned St. John's games, a couple other games worth noting.
  • Syracuse did indeed shoot better than expected in their overtime win at the Carrier Dome. They were, in fact, about as hot from the charity stripe that night as they were cold in the Hoyas' 88-74 win at home.
  • Cincinnati's perfect-6 in the extra session was not particularly lucky. The Bearcats were only 7 of 13 in regulation- if they shot at their season average, that game doesn't make it to overtime.
  • The only other game where the FT luck advantage is close to the margin of victory is the Notre Dame game - 3 "luck" points in a game that ended with a 6 point margin.
  • The difference over these 21 games between the overall team stats and the per-player stats was 0.6 expected made free throws. I think we can lay to rest the idea that the Hoyas had a problem this past season with fouling their opponents' best free throw shooters.

Bottom line: On the whole, Hoya opponents made a lot of their free throws this season because the teams the Hoyas played were good at making free throws.

Areas for expansion:
1. Figuring out the numbers for the pre-BE season games. I'll add these to this post in a day or three.
2. Figuring out the same numbers for the Hoyas. This will be a separate post, and will include what the result would have been if both teams had shot free throws at their season averages.
3. Figuring out why Hoya opponents made only 68.0% of the free throws last year, when they made 70.8% this year and 71.0% in 2007.

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