On Fow(u)ls for Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving so let’s talk about fowls. Oops, wrong homonym, but you get the point. All anyone wants to talk about this season are fouls. There are oodles and oodles more of them this season. (Yup, that’s actually true.)

Free throw rate is up almost 6.5 percentage points this season. But that certainly isn’t distributed equally. Some teams are feeling the brunt of the new rules. In fact, a few local teams have had to answer a number of questions about why they keep fouling people.

Is it really their fault? And are the new rules to blame?

Let’s start with the first question, since the second stems from it. Personally, I believe this is the hand that all college basketball teams have been dealt this season. Officials were told to call contact and they’re calling it.

I know this may be shocking, but some teams have actually seen their defensive free throw rate go down! Yes, down. There are going to be natural fluctuations every season. If college basketball teams didn’t change from season to season that’d be boring as all get out. Actually, of the four defensive factors (turnover rate, effective field goal percentage, offensive rebounding percentage and free throw rate) it’s free throw rate that’s been the most consistent from last season. Betcha didn’t see that coming.

Through Tuesday’s games here are the teams that had improved their free throw rate the most this season:

  1. Miami (OH)
  2. Virginia
  3. LSU
  4. Campbell
  5. St. Francis (PA)
  6. Iowa
  7. Fresno St.
  8. UNC Greensboro
  9. Villanova
  10. Troy

A weird group if I do say so myself. It includes a couple high-majors, a few interesting mid-majors and tells us almost nothing. These teams must be doing something right. Virginia and Iowa in particular were No. 1 and No. 3 in the nation in free throw rate through Tuesday’s games. That’s a great way to improve your defense. This isn’t just the teams with the best athletes improving their performance either. Any team can move its feet, or just make the conscious decision not to foul. (Hi LIU Brooklyn!)

What about the teams that have gotten worse? Whose free throw rate has risen the most this season?

  1. Nicholls St.
  2. UTEP
  3. Southern
  4. Siena
  5. Jackson St.
  6. Georgetown
  7. Alabama A&M
  8. UMBC
  9. North Carolina A&T
  10. Stony Brook

In case you’re wondering, and I know you are, Manhattan is 27th and Wagner is 34th on this list. Most of this list is unfortunately populated by SWAC and MEAC teams. Why are they on there? I had a theory it was because I’m using full-season data for 2013 and only early non-conference data for 2014. Anecdotally though that might not be the case. For instance, Nicholls St. has a defensive free throw rate of 87.1% this season (yikes!), but only cracked 70% once last season – at Utah St. But Southern’s FTR is definitely inflated due to two opening games at Marquette and Middle Tennessee. Also, what the heck is Georgetown doing on this list? The Hoyas have played foul fests against both Oregon and VCU already this season and seven G’town players are averaging at five fouls per 40 minutes. That’s not going to cut it.

All of the New York teams on the list know they have to adjust. Their coaches have said as much. The rules are different. At the moment it appears to be unfairly impacting some schools that were already struggling. Still, don’t worry about the turkey this Thanksgiving, because you’re certainly going to get your fill of fow(u)ls this season.

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