NCAA Tournament Teams That Get All The Calls – Carolina, Connecticut and Chattanooga?

During our ACC Tournament viewing party, the subject came up of how much more North Carolina goes to the free throw line than their opponents. One of the excuses we had always heard was that their talent level discrepancy leads to the free throw discrepancy (and absolutely nothing to do with biased officiating…) This led us to wonder about a team like Memphis that utterly dominates Conference USA and is head and shoulders above the rest of the league, what sort of free throw advantage do they have?

And that led fellow stat major and resident of Section 326 in the RBC Center who posts here as ruffles31 and myself to look at the free throw statistics for all 65 NCAA tournament teams and their opponents in conference play. Here are some observations we had from those free throw statistics.

There are 8 teams in the NCAA tournament that shot more than 6 free throws per game than their conference opponents.
1. Connecticut, +12.1
2. Siena, +10.8
3. Chattanooga, +10.5
4. North Carolina, +9.4
5. Texas A&M, +8.6
6. Marquette, +8.5
7. Washington, +8.4
8. Gonzaga, +6.9

There are 22 of the 65 teams that shot less free throws per game than their opponents in conference play. There doesn’t appear to be a significant difference between teams that won their conference title and teams that didn’t.

We noticed that 2 of the top 4 teams in this list are #1 seeds. That isn’t entirely surprising since those teams typically have won more games, therefore would be more likely to shoot more free throws, especially in the last couple minutes of games as losing opponents try to extend the game. However, the other two #1 seeds, Louisville and Pitt, shot less free throws than their opponents in Big East play. Could it be that Louisville and Pitt aren’t as much of a known quantity as Connecticut and North Carolina? You can make the case that in the past 3 years, two of the best 3 programs in the country are Connecticut and North Carolina, with Memphis being the other. Pitt is a relative newcomer to the top of the rankings while Louisville is a relative newcomer to the Big East. However, Marquette is new to the Big East as well with a new head coach and they were +8.5 in Big East play, go figure.

North Carolina has taken 9.4 more attempts per game than their opponents. To their credit, they average 8.6 more makes per game as well. That is more than 1 more made free throw per conference game than any other team in the tournament.

But when we look at the rest of the seeds, does anything jump out at us? Here are a couple of trends we noticed:

• 4 of the bottom 9 schools in this list are ACC teams (Florida St, Boston College, Clemson and Maryland). Does that surprise any ABC or ABD fan?

• Maryland and West Virginia had the largest disadvantage in free throw attempts at -3.6 per game. Both teams play in major conferences and are smaller up front and perimeter oriented. Not too surprising.

• All 12 teams seeded 2-4 shot more free throws than their opponents.

• For seeds 5-7, only 3 of the 12 teams shot more free throws than their opponents.

• The teams in the middle, seeds 8-10, are what you would think. 7 of 12 teams shot more free throws than their opponents.

• Interestingly, all 9 of the 15 and 16 seeds (including the two teams for the opening round game) have a positive free throw attempts difference. This could be due to them being the best team in their conference.

• Chattanooga, who won the Southern Conference, has a monstrous + 10.5 difference, which is very impressive in that they were only the 3rd best team in their league behind the Davidson Currys and Bobby Cremins’ College of Charleston.

• Memphis was the team that sparked the idea for this analysis and they were +4.8 which puts them 14th overall in free throw attempts difference.

What about the Hansbrough factor? We all know that Tyler Hansbrough flails about in the lane all bug-eyed and mouth hanging open and the ACC refs we all know and love send him to the line. Do the other schools with the big free throw advantages have a similar meal ticket player? Here are the players with the highest average free throw attempts in conference play for those teams (Note, Siena and Washington don’t have individual conference stats available)

7.9 – Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina, 6-9 F
7.2 – Nicchaeus Doaks, Chattanooga, 6-7 F
6.2 – Jerel McNeal & Wesley Matthews, Marquette, 6-3 & 6-5 G
5.4 – Matt Bouldin, Gonzaga, 6-5 G
5.2 – Bryan Davis, Texas A&M, 6-9 F
5.1 – Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut, 7-3 C

In conclusion, for the most part the top overall teams and the small conference winners tend to have a positive free throw difference. However, the largest differences show that some teams definitely get to the line more than others. North Carolina is a great example of this. They make 8 more free throws per game than their opponents, which is more than all but 3 other tournament teams have in a free throw attempts difference. Most of the differences aren’t something you would complain about after a game. If Duke shoots 5 more free throws or if West Virginia and Maryland shoot 4 less you wouldn’t think a whole lot about it. But when the differences get into the 8 to 12 range you begin to wonder if there are other factors involved.

The New York Times has an excellent similar article focusing on Connecticut that you can read here.

Here are the conference free throw attempt differences by seed:

#1 Seeds
Uconn, +12.1
North Carolina, +9.4
Louisville, -0.2
Pitt, -0.8

#2 Seeds
Oklahoma, +5.9
Duke, +5.0
Memphis, +4.8
Michigan St, +4.3

#3 Seeds
Villanova, +2.9
Kansas, +2.3
Syracuse, +2.3
Missouri, +1.8

#4 Seeds
Washington, +8.4
Gonzaga, +6.9
Wake Forest, +2.9
Xavier, +2.4

#5 Seeds
Purdue, +2.4
Utah, -0.8
Florida St, -2.4
Illinois, -3.2

#6 Seeds
Marquette, +8.5
Arizona St, +2.4
UCLA, -1.6
West Virginia, -3.6

#7 Seeds
Texas, +1.3
Boston College, -2.8
California, -3.1
Clemson, -3.1

#8 Seeds
Ohio St, +3.1
LSU, +1.9
Oklahoma St, -0.5
BYU, -2.9

#9 Seeds
Siena, +10.8
Texas A&M, +8.6
Butler, +2.9
Tennessee, +0.4

#10 Seeds
Southern Cal, +1.1
Michigan, -0.6
Minnesota, -1.1
Maryland, -3.6

#11 Seeds
Utah St, +3.4
Dayton, +3.3
Temple, +0.1
VCU, -0.8

#12 Seeds
Northern Iowa, +5.9
Arizona, +5.4
Western Kentucky, +0.2
Wisconsin, -1.1

#13 Seeds
Cleveland St, +3.7
Mississippi St, +1.4
Portland St, -0.1
Akron, -1.8

#14 Seeds
North Dakota St, +3.9
American, +3.1
Cornell, -0.9
Stephen F Austin, -2.4

#15 Seeds
Cal St Northridge, +1.6
Robert Morris, +1.1
Morgan St, +0.4
Binghamton, -0.3

#16 Seeds
Chattanooga, +10.5
ETSU, +5.4
Morehead St, +2.6
Alabama St, +1.1
Radford, +0.9

Just as an aside, when you look at ACC teams, 6 teams have a positive difference:

North Carolina, +9.4
Duke, +5.0
Wake Forest, +2.9
Virginia Tech, +2.6
Miami, +1.0
NC State, + 0.5

The other teams have a negative difference:

Florida State, -2.4
Boston College, -2.8
Clemson, -3.1
Maryland, -3.6
Virginia, -3.8
Georgia Tech, -5.9

You would expect the 1st tier teams to be positive (North Carolina, Duke, Wake) and the 4th tier teams to be negavtive (Virginia, Georgia Tech) but we found it interesting that the 3rd tier teams (Virginia Tech, Miami and NC State) were positive while the 2nd tier teams (Florida St, Boston College, Clemson, Maryland) were negative.

Feel free to share any observations or conclusions you may have, we’d love to hear them.

About WV Wolf

Graduated from NCSU in 1996 with a degree in statistics. Born and inbred in West "By God" Virginia and now live in Raleigh where I spend my time watching the Wolfpack, the Mountaineers and the Carolina Hurricanes as well as making bar graphs for SFN. I'm @wvncsu on the Twitter machine.

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21 Responses to NCAA Tournament Teams That Get All The Calls – Carolina, Connecticut and Chattanooga?

  1. Sweet jumper 03/19/2009 at 11:28 AM #

    My experience is that UNX and Duke consistently receieve favorable calls in conference games(regular season and tournament) by the ACC referees. At some point in the NCAA tourney, these 2 teams run into a well-matched opponent in a fairly-called game by non-ACC officials and they either lose “unexpectedly” or are taken to the final buzzer “unexpectedly.” Do you have any stats on regular season vs. post season FT differential?

  2. ruffles31 03/19/2009 at 11:42 AM #

    Sweet Jumper, I understand what you are saying and I agree with you. We share the same opinion. However of course, obviously we don’t have numbers on this year’s NCAA post season FT differential as it hasn’t been played yet.

    And far as the conference tournaments, we didn’t do that because even though same officials would be used, the sample size would be too small for each team that no real conclusions could be made.

  3. VaWolf82 03/19/2009 at 12:13 PM #

    Other the last several years, I have especially enjoyed the look of disbelief on the Duke players’ faces when they suddenly don’t get the same calls that the ACC refs give them.

    File this observation under finding enjoyment in the small things.

  4. Alpha Wolf 03/19/2009 at 12:15 PM #

    WV, that’s some solid analysis there. Just wanted to say I enjoyed reading it.

    And SweetJumper and VaWolf, I couldn’t agree more.

  5. Sweet jumper 03/19/2009 at 12:28 PM #

    Ruffles 31-Thanks, I was just asking if there was any data from prior years. The analysis is great. I count the ACC tourney the same as the regular season. I bet the FT differential drops significantly for UNC and Duke when Swofford’s, I mean the ACC’s, refs are not calling the game.

  6. WV Wolf 03/19/2009 at 12:32 PM #

    Thanks Alpha, appreciate that.

    It would be interesting to look at NCAA tourney free throws vs regular season for past years but would be a research nightmare. Might be able to do something after this year’s tourney, we’ll see.

    It was hard enough finding conference stats for the current season, poor ruffles31 had to manually add up numbers for schools like Cleveland St and Morgan St. I don’t even know what conference they’re in much less the other teams in their conference.

  7. packgirl1 03/19/2009 at 12:40 PM #

    Moral of story: Free Throws Matter!!. I was surprised that Duke only had a .577 Free throw team average. That is Terrible! NCSU had .717.

    WV Wolf: Duke shot .723 at the line for the season and .707 in ACC play, Duke’s website can’t add correctly.

  8. StateFans 03/19/2009 at 1:22 PM #

    Incredible analysis! Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. jonn 03/19/2009 at 1:23 PM #

    It seems rather skewed to me not that nobody is mentioning the fact that teams have completely different styles of offense and defense. We all recognize that Tyler certainly gets ridiculous calls and UNC might seem to get more than their fair share of calls, but a large part of why these stats are the way they are is because certain teams dump the ball inside, certain teams jack threes, certain teams play agressive man-to-man, etc.

  10. Sweet jumper 03/19/2009 at 1:34 PM #

    John, I agree. Carolina is an inside-out team, and they shoot a lot of 2 shot fouls before they ever get to the bonus, while Duke and State may shoot no foul shots before the bonus because they rely on the perimeter first(especially 3’s) and the inside game as an afterthought.

  11. wolfmans brother. 03/19/2009 at 1:35 PM #

    Excellent stuff. Once again SFN scratching the itch that other sites cannot/will not.

  12. packgirl1 03/19/2009 at 1:38 PM #

    WV Wolf: I got the .577 from the Duke 08-09 season totals on their web site. Did I look at the wrong thing? I thought it seemed low.

    WV Wolf: You looked in exactly the right place but the Dookies can’t add, they were only off by about 200 FT attempts.

  13. Rick 03/19/2009 at 1:59 PM #

    I got into a similar conversation with a friend.
    His argument was “UNC has always had this advantage” so it must be right (circular reasoning at best). He said it was because of the “offense they run”.

    So over 40 or so years UNC has always run the same offense with the same players resulting in a plus FT difference.

    Preposterous at best.

  14. ruffles31 03/19/2009 at 2:07 PM #

    And shockingly, Hansbrough just broke the all-time ACC scoring record by shooting what….that’s right, a Free Throw.

  15. highstick 03/19/2009 at 3:14 PM #

    “So over 40 or so years UNC has always run the same offense with the same players resulting in a plus FT difference.

    Preposterous at best.’

    No, just shows the lack of knowledge and history of most Carolina fans! Plus that inherent sense of entitlement!

  16. Greywolf 03/19/2009 at 7:59 PM #

    WV and Ruffles31, Thanks for the hard work and thought provoking analysis.
    I clicked on the link to the NYTimes and on the second page way down at the bottom, Calhoun says that UConn coaches taught their players to initiate contact in the paint, saying the statistics indicated that in the case of contact the offensive player almost always drew the favorable call. He said that if one of his players going for the rim tried a scoop shot, they would “get all over him” for not taking the shot that most likely would draw the foul.

    I found his comments to be remarkabley frank and and honest. There were other informative statements telling how his players were taught to play. When your man drives toward the basket, slide with him, not extending the arms blocking the way and let their center Thabeet. Much was made of the 7-3 center who was a — guess what — shot-blocker!! As Vinnie of My Cousin Vinnie would say, “What a fucking surprise.”
    The bottom line is UConn probably goes to the line more because they are better coached on how to get there and how to stay away. It has always ticked me that the offensive players are the darlings of the game and get preferential treatment over hard-working defenders. The most helpless feeling in the world is to hear the whistle and know you just fouled out while standing nearly motionless as somebody jumped into you drawing a “foul.”

  17. BSIE80 03/19/2009 at 8:34 PM #

    Guys who get the foul calls”
    Athletic guys who can take their guy off the dribble and can usually finish at the basket with contact.
    Big guys who have the offense moves and strength to get to the basket.

    Most of these guys are scorers and have learned this from middle school.
    Typically, the best programs (UNC/Conn/Duke) get these guys without having to recruit much.
    The refs typically like the best players game and give them the benefit of the doubt (Hansbro/etc.).
    This has been going on for ever and will continue.

    The only recourse is for the coaches to teach, but it only works if you have some talent that is coachable or they have it to begin with.

  18. BSIE80 03/19/2009 at 8:36 PM #

    Almost forgot:
    Jump shooter don’t get fouled much. So if the team is perimeter oriented with a lot of jump shooters, they will not go to the foul line much….

  19. Greywolf 03/19/2009 at 8:54 PM #

    Just saw Duke’s Williams draw a foul by kicking his leg under a player who bit on his pump fake as the player came down. Binghamton has 6 fouls to Dukes 0. The Binghamton players have a dazed look about them — sort of a WTF look.

  20. wufpup76 03/20/2009 at 6:55 AM #

    “Other the last several years, I have especially enjoyed the look of disbelief on the Duke players’ faces when they suddenly don’t get the same calls that the ACC refs give them.

    File this observation under finding enjoyment in the small things.”

    ^Couldn’t agree more. Also, very nice entry, WV Wolf

  21. Rick 03/20/2009 at 7:26 AM #

    “Jump shooter don’t get fouled much. So if the team is perimeter oriented with a lot of jump shooters, they will not go to the foul line much….”

    Unless you are Duke.

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