Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Another Basketball Game Lost to a Coach's Lack of Mathematical Understanding

Forgive my foray into sports, but what we saw Monday night was yet another indication of how even the highest level coaches cannot seem to grasp simple mathematics.

We have all seen basketball games like this one. Memphis leads 60-53 over Kansas with 1:54 remaining in the game, and has the ball. And what always, ALWAYS happens in such games where the team that trails comes back to win? The team that is ahead misses free throws, and the team that is behind hits three point shots. Always.

The solution to this is simple, but it has far more to do with mathematics than basketball. Ahead that far with so little time remaining, all that matters are: make your free throws, handle the ball, don't, repeat, DON'T allow the other team to shoot free three point shots. Rebounding and defense don't mean diddly. There simply is not enough time for the other team to score the necessary points.

But of course, Memphis did none of these things. They mishandled the ball, missed their free throws, and then inexplicably, with 9 seconds left, and Kansas' only chance to win being hitting a three-point shot, Memphis allowed them to do exactly that. I like John Calapari, and Memphis simply doesn't shoot free throws well, but allowing that last shot at the buzzer was simply inexcusable.

Work out the math, and the formula is simple. Once you get ahead by 4 points per minute, and you have possession of the ball, put in your best 5 ballhandlers and freethrow shooters, run down the clock when you have the ball, foul them, repeat, foul them, immediately, when they have it. Turn it into a free throw shooting contest. With such a huge lead, they cannot catch up. Even if Kansas managed to eek out 4 possessions apiece in that 1:54 (that's an absurd 15 seconds apiece), and even if Kansas hit all 8 of their free throws, Memphis would only have to make 2 of 8 to win. It's practically a guaranteed win.

I know, I know, this is all pointless. We're talking basketball coaches here after all, the people who pull their players out of the game when they get fouls, causing them to miss playing time, so that they won't get too many fouls and miss playing time.

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