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Should Syracuse have fouled in final minute against Georgetown?

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Boeheim made a gutsy call. Is it always the right one?

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

There were 36.3 seconds remaining and the Syracuse Orange trailed the Georgetown Hoyas 71-70 in its matchup in the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon.

Georgetown’s Jagan Mosely collected a Tyus Battle miss to give the Hoyas possession of the ball — a 6.3-second difference between shot clock and game clock. Jim Boeheim had a decision to make: foul and send Mosely to the free throw line for two shots or defend without fouling and try to get a stop.

Boeheim threw his hands into the air, telling his team not to foul. Mosely walked the ball up the floor and, as he crossed half court, Boeheim called on his team to extend its zone to the half court line to pressure Georgetown. After avoiding the pressure and winding the clock down to 13 seconds in regulation, Mosely drove to the basket. Marek Dolezaj drew a charge. You know the rest.

Here it is, in all its glory:

Syracuse fans got the result they wanted, but should they be happy about the decision not to foul? I took a deep dive to find out.

Not Fouling

Each of the following scenarios assumes Georgetown would make rational decisions and wind down the game clock. Syracuse would have had one chance with less than ten seconds to score and win.

Note: I calculated adjusted outcome percentages of the Syracuse defense vs Georgetown offense and vice versa. The numbers indicate the likelihood of each outcome on a given possession. They can be found at the bottom of the page.

Syracuse gets a stop

Syracuse had a 50-percent chance of getting the ball back down by one via a turnover or a missed shot and defensive rebound.

The Orange would then have a 36-percent chance of scoring on the following possession to gain the lead via a made two-point or three-point field goal.

18 percent of scenarios end in a win

32 percent of scenarios end in a loss

Syracuse allows a two-point basket

The odds that Syracuse would give up a two-point basket is 27 percent. In this scenario, Syracuse would gain possession of the ball down by three.

The statistical standard that I had created for this simulation would not apply to this scenario as Syracuse would need to attempt a three pointer to tie the game and send it to overtime. The five Orange players on the floor combine to average 33 percent from three this season.

9 percent of scenarios end in a tie

18 percent of scenarios end in a loss

Syracuse allows a three-point basket

There was a 21 percent chance Georgetown made a three-point field goal to extend its lead to four points. In this scenario, Syracuse would gain possession of the ball down by four.

The amount of potential outcomes and caveats here aren’t worth quantifying. Syracuse’s chances of winning in this scenario are about zero.

21 percent of scenarios end in a loss

Not Fouling Totals

  • Syracuse loses 71 percent of the time
  • Syracuse wins 18 percent of the time
  • Syracuse ties 9 percent of the time
Note: Totals do not equal 100 percent due to rounding.
NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Syracuse Getty/USA Today

Fouling

Mosely grabbed the rebound and walked the ball up the floor — he would have been the player Syracuse fouled. Over the last two years, Mosely is a 67 percent free throw shooter.

Georgetown was in the double-bonus.

Time

The rationale for fouling is to increase the length of the game. As the game continues to extend with more possessions, Syracuse would increase its chances to win the game. In each of the following scenarios, it should be understood that each calculation of a result is not necessarily the end of the game. For example, Syracuse could foul, Mosely could make both free throws, Syracuse could go the length of the floor for a quick two-pointer and foul again. The situation would then reset itself which would give the Orange another opportunity to tie or take the lead.

Mosely makes both free throws

There was a 45-percent chance Mosely would make both free throws had he been fouled. This would put Syracuse down by three.

Again, I use the 33-percent combined three-point percentage of Syracuse’s five players on the floor. If Syracuse made a three pointer, the Orange would have forced overtime.

15 percent of scenarios end in a tie

30 percent of scenarios end in a loss

Mosely makes one free throw

There was a 44-percent chance that Mosely would make one free throw and miss the other. Syracuse would have been down by two as it gained possession of the ball.

According to the adjusted outcome percentages of Syracuse’s offense against Georgetown’s defense, 11 percent of possessions end with a made Syracuse three pointer. This would result in a win assuming Syracuse took the last shot.

Lastly, 25 percent of Syracuse’s possessions against Georgetown’s defense result in two-point field goals. This would result in a tie.

5 percent of scenarios end in a win

11 percent of scenarios end in a tie

28 percent of scenarios end in a loss

Mosely misses both free throws

There was an 11 percent chance that Mosely missed both free throws. Syracuse would have been down by one as it had gained possession of the ball.

There would have been a 36 percent chance that Syracuse converted a field goal on the possession to give Syracuse the lead.

4 percent of scenarios end in a win

7 percent of scenarios end in a loss

Fouling Totals

  • Syracuse loses 65 percent of the time.
  • Syracuse wins 9 percent of the time.
  • Syracuse ties 26 percent of the time.

Results:

A quick look at the table above makes clear what is fairly obvious: not fouling is a higher risk-higher reward decision. This is due to the higher probability that Georgetown scores at least one point if Mosely is fouled. If Syracuse does not foul, it has a 50 percent chance of not allowing a point; if Syracuse does foul, there is just an 11 percent chance Mosely misses both free throws.

It is important to note that the 65 percent loss percentage when fouling does not always result in a loss. If the team decided to foul, it likely would have acknowledged that it must extend the game as much as possible. Had Syracuse shot quickly and left time on the clock, Syracuse could foul once again which would give it another opportunity to make up ground on the Hoyas. Here’s the simulation ran an additional time for this scenario:

There are upgrades to both the win and tie percentages when the simulation is run again. The win percentage is still not at the level that it is at when not fouling, but it maintains a much higher chance of sending the game to overtime.

Overtime is an important aspect of these numbers as the game will not end in a tie. Syracuse would have had better than a 50 percent chance to win had the game gone to overtime as the Orange are the better team. Even if odds were assigned at 50-50 for the outcome of overtime, Syracuse would gain an additional 17.5 percent toward its percent chance of winning when fouling — increasing the total percentage of winning when fouling to 30.5. This is compared to just a 4.5 percent increase when not fouling — a total of 22.5 percent of winning when not fouling.

Verdict:

Had Syracuse fouled immediately, its odds of winning were no worse than 30.5 percent versus 22.5 percent had it not fouled.

Syracuse would have increased its odds of winning by at least eight percent had Jim Boeheim chosen to foul in the final 36 seconds.

***

Data:

Adjusted outcome percentages (Syracuse defense vs Georgetown offense)

  • 19 percent chance Syracuse turns Georgetown over
  • 31 percent chance that Syracuse forces a miss and gets the rebound
  • 27 percent chance Syracuse is down three after made field goal
  • 21 percent chance Syracuse is down four after made 3-point field goal

Adjusted outcome percentages (Syracuse offense vs Georgetown defense)

  • 16 percent chance Syracuse turns the ball over
  • 46 percent chance Syracuse misses a field goal attempt
  • 25 percent chance Syracuse makes a two-point field goal
  • 11 percent chance Syracuse makes a three-point field goal
Limitations:
There are limitations to my data including the sample size that the teams have played. The majority of Georgetown’s offensive numbers come against man-to-man defense and not a 2-3 zone. Also, the sample size of numbers includes a number of weak opponents that aren’t reflective of the level of competition in this game.
The data I collected doesn’t acknowledge fouls as an outcome of a given possession.
Running the simulation twice through assumes that there was enough time for Syracuse to foul, shoot and miss, foul again and have another opportunity to shoot.