Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up
View All Scores

RE: Foul when leading by three? Do it.

A crunch time debate just got stickier.

When John Ezekowitz’s posted a statistical analysis of whether teams should foul opponents late in games when leading by three in September, it reinforced conventional wisdom among coaches. Namely, don’t foul.

But Ezekowitz isn’t the only one who’s crunched these numbers. And those guys came to different conclusions: FOUL!

A detailed article by’s Luke Winn covers how Bill Fenlon and David Annis - one a coach at D-III school DePauw (Ind.), the latter an assistant professor at the Naval Postgraduate School - watched enough games to wonder if coaches left too much to chance by not taking opponents out of the game. Why give a team a chance to hit a 3-pointer and send it to overtime?

From Winn’s article:

[Mark] Few -- who’s hardly alone among D-I coaches in his beliefs -- is the anti-Fenlon. Annis, in his equation-heavy analysis, wryly labels the hunkering strategies “Few” and the fouling strategies “Non-Few.” He concludes that while the “Few” approach gives a team an 86.6 percent chance of winning, the “Non-Few” approach has win odds of 95.9 percent, with the chance of losing on a tip-out and a 3-pointer just 0.6 percent -- so remote as to be a non-factor. Annis’ study, therefore, thinks fouling offers even more of an advantage than Fenlon’s; assuming that each team enters overtime with an equal chance of winning, Fenlon’s decision trees would yield win odds of 97.6 percent for the “Non-Few” approach and 90.5 percent for “Few.” That’s a 7.1 percent split compared to 9.3 in Annis.

The major caveat? There better not be much time left. More than 10 seconds, have your guys play defense. Less than that, maybe roll with the odds.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.