Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

March 20, 2010

Why You Lost

Filed under: Uncategorized — jsheehan @ 1:10 am

I just watched Houston lose 89-77, capping the 32 games in the first round of the NCAA tournament. They shot 20-32 from the free-throw line, which doesn’t look out of line, but at one point in the second half they were 8-20 in the half. Even making 13-20 at that point would have made a huge difference in the game. Houston was never able to close the gap in way that threatened Maryland, and while free-throw shooting was just one reason–they missed a lot of bunnies and rebounded poorly–missing 12 of 20 FTs in a stretch of the game when they were getting to the line like a Scottie Reynolds tribute band was crippling.

Maybe this is bugging me because Houston has so much company. Too many teams lost games in the first round simply by not meeting a minimum standard of competence from the line:

Vanderbilt lost 66-65, going 17-29 from the line
Texas lost 81-80, going 20-33
Wofford lost 53-49, going 6-13
New Mexico State lost 70-67, going 13-22

You also have UNLV, Montana and Florida State, for whom the line from…well, the line…to the airport isn’t quite as direct, but who went home in some partbecause they failed to make enough unguarded 15-footers for which you can go through a set routine before taking.

Think I’m overreacting? I bet Paul Hewitt doesn’t. I bet Travis Ford doesn’t. Georgia Tech scored 64 points tonight, 24 of them from the line in 25 attempts by a team that was hitting less than two out of three coming into tonight, ranking in the bottom 50 of NCAA teams. Not teams in the field, not teams in major conferences–all teams.

This isn’t some jeremiad about fundamentals. This is about one task, the first basketball skill we learn when we discover our big brother’s basketball sitting unguarded under the slanted hoop on the cracked driveway. One task, the easiest in the game short of the routine, undefended inbounds pass–the easist way to get points, easier than a layup or a dunk or an open jumper in game flow.

Four teams went home because they failed at that task, and at least four others have failing at it on their short list of reasons. I think New Mexico State got screwed, too, but if they go 16-for-22 at the line–which I’m pretty sure my mom could do–we’re not talking about a lane violation, but about overtime.

Miss foul shots. Lose games. Few things in basketball are so simple.

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