Study: Trailing team should begin to foul at 25 secs+ (25 secs x the deficit); cc Coach Turgeon

In the past two games, the Terps have found themselves down 1 point, with about 45 seconds to play. Each time the opponent has been in the single bonus situation as well. In each instance, Mark Turgeon has opted to play regular man to man defense and has declined to foul.

This is simply the wrong move. Researchers at the University of Houston analyzed 2006-2007 data from the NBA and NCAA, and specifically undertook to answer when a trailing team should begin to foul. They found:

A simple rule of thumb as to when the trailing team should begin to foul is 25 seconds+ 25 seconds timesthe defecit.

(Note: I encourage you all to look at the figures on page 8-9 for a more extensive look at their findings). Thus, if you are trailing by 1 point, you should begin to foul at the 50 second mark. As such, Turgeon has essentially gotten this wrong each time he's had a chance.

Moreover, even if you aren't a stat person, it's easy to see why you do not simply play straight up defense in this situation. The benefit of not fouling is that, on average you give up less points in a typical possession. If you assume an average free throw percentage of 67 percent, the offensive efficiency of going to the line in the single bonus situation is 1.189 as opposed to about .95-.97 on the average possession. Thus your defense is slightly more efficient in the half court than in allowing a 1:1. (although Maryland's defensive efficiency is .993 and so it's even less of a gap for MD this year).

However, by fouling, you limit the possession to two points (ensuring the game remains a 1 possession game), and you save 30 seconds of clock. Thus the question becomes what is more important in that situation--ensuring that the game remains a 1 possession game and saving 30 seconds of clock, or employing a defense that on average, will surrender 0.2-0.22 less points per possession?

Some of you might agree with this analysis but look back and argue that it didn't cost us against Cuse or Clemson, simply because in both instances we ended up with a chance to tie the game. However, we simply cant know what might have happened had we opted to extend the game and maximize our chances of prevailing. Moreover, against Clemson, we were a toe on the line away from the doomsday scenario of them hitting a 3 pointer to end the game occurring, so it's not easy to see how disastrous this strategy is going to be moving forward if Turgeon stubbornly clings to it. We are going to find ourselves in this situation again, and in other similar end game situations.

Simply put, which strategy is optimal in a given end-game situation is a question that mathematics can answer about basketball; it's important that we have a coach who maximizes our odds of winning either by intuition or by the embrace of analytics.

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