Killing Time

Mar 9, 2023

I'm killing time before the Illinois-Penn State game in the BTT. I sat in the arena for Rutgers-Michigan but don't feel like doing the same for Iowa-Ohio State. So I'm down in the media room thinking about the coaching decisions at the end of the Nebraska-Minnesota game last night. I have three hours to kill before our game so I might as well write about it.

I tweeted about it after the game. I'll do the thing where I link my tweet plus one of the responses and we'll start from there:

Here's why I am so very aggressively "you MUST miss the free throw" in a situation like this. There are two scenarios:

  1. Make the free throw and Nebraska will be inbouding from the baseline, down three.
  2. Miss the free throw and Nebraska will be rebounding the ball, with 1.3 seconds on the clock, clock immediately starting, down two.

I understand Jim's statement. If you make the free throw you have guaranteed you will not lose in regulation. The worst outcome is overtime. If you miss the free throw, a full-court shot would beat you. His question (more or less): "why do something that leaves open the possibility of losing in regulation?"

My answer: overtime is just overtime. Just because you've guaranteed that you won't lose in regulation doesn't mean you won't lose in overtime. Why not do the thing that moves you towards 99%+ win probability?

At issue here is the ability to advance the ball without the clock moving. If you rebound the ball (and you have no timeouts, which Nebraska didn't because Fred Hoiberg inexplicably used his final timeout before the free throw), then the only thing a Nebraska player could do is grab the missed free throw, turn, and throw a baseball pass (as a shot) the length of the court.

And, honestly, I'm not even sure Nebraska would be able to get a "shot" off. There's 1.3 seconds on the clock, and it takes some time to prepare to throw a baseball pass. You have to grab the rebound, leave the ball in one hand, cock it back, and release a long throw. In 1.3 seconds, especially if it's a messy rebound, it's possible a Nebraska player wouldn't even get the ball in the air before the clock expired.

If he did, there's what, a 1 in 300 chance it goes in after a full-court heave? This is not a half-court shot where a player can use both hands to guide it towards the basket. This is a ball coming off the rim, and immediate spin and reach back followed by an un-guided baseball pass. 1 in 300 is probably being generous. Someone could make that, what, one out of every 500 times? Dude Perfect deletes the 499 attempts where it didn't go in, you know.

Now let's discuss what Nebraska was able to do because Minnesota chose to make the free throw to go up three. They were able to get a shot off that hit the back rim:

Keisei Tominaga makes that shot, what, 20% of the time? Give him 10 turnaround threes from the front edge of the logo and I'm guessing he makes 2 of the 10. There's the possibility that Nebraska cannot connect on that pass, but there's also the possibility that Minnesota fouls Tominaga. So if they ran that play 100 times, I'm comfortable saying that Nebraska ties the game 15 times (either on a made three or free throws) and Minnesota wins the game 85 times.

So that's where this whole thing lives. You can question my odds if you want, but here's where I put it:

  • Chances that Nebraska wins the game in regulation on a full-court shot after a missed free throw: 0.3%
  • Chances that Nebraska ties the game and sends it to overtime after a made free throw: 15%

Yes, Minnesota hasn't lost (yet) in that scenario. But if you assume that overtime is a 50/50 proposition, then the real odds for Minnesota's coach during that timeout are "miss the free throw and there's a 0.3% chance we lose, make the free throw and there's a 7.5% chance we lose.

I mean, even if I get extremely generous with the percentages, it still makes more sense to miss the free throw. If I say there's only an 8% chance that Nebraska gets three points after a half-court pass (they got back iron on this one but I'll be generous and say they connect only 8 out of 100 times), and if I say that Nebraska would make the full-court baseball shot one out of every 50 times (no way in hell, but again, I'm being generous), then it's a 2% chance Minnesota loses after a full-court heave and a 4% chance Minnesota loses in overtime. Even with no-way-in-hell percentages, it's still the smarter play to miss the free throw.

It's not true in all scenarios. If Nebraska had a timeout, you don't miss the free throw because they'd be able to grab the rebound and call an immediate timeout (with maybe 0.8 remaining for the full-court pass and shot). But in this very specific scenario - 2 seconds or less, 1-point or 2-point game, second free throw, no Nebraska timeouts - miss it, miss it, miss it.

Iowa lost to Ohio State here a few minutes ago. Which means that after their huge win at Indiana they close out their tournament resume with a home loss to Nebraska and a neutral loss to Ohio State. Killed all the momentum from that Indiana win.

OK, I've killed enough time. Our game starts in about 90 minutes. Time to pace.

Go Illini.


Tolkien73 on March 9, 2023 @ 07:37 PM

Also taking into account the fact that after rebounding a missed free throw (and there's no guarantee you actually GET the defensive rebound), you've got dudes waving their arms in your face, whereas if you are inbounding after a make, you actually have a chance to run a designed OOB play that will leave you open and with a clear shot at the basket.

1978fan on March 9, 2023 @ 08:08 PM


ktcesw on March 9, 2023 @ 09:20 PM

I have always hated coaches playing "not to lose". Miss the free throw.

IlliniJoe81 on March 9, 2023 @ 10:15 PM

You are correct in your analysis here. Well done.

Shemp89 on March 10, 2023 @ 10:17 AM

I agree with Robert also, purely mathematically I'd miss the free throw. But playing devil's advocate, there are dead ball scenarios to also be included in the calculation.

I believe that for the FT attempt to be valid, it must hit the rim (please correct me if wrong). There are also misses that hit front rim and bounce over the backboard, and misses that hit side rim and go out of bounds. Any of these scenarios would result in a two-point lead and resulting inbounds play, rather than a three-point lead and inbounding.

Again, I think the overall math still makes missing the right answer. But maybe not so cut-and-dried. Its not easy to 'perfectly' miss a FT.

on July 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM


on July 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM


on July 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM

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