So this whole thing about Duke getting all the calls has been beat to death repeatedly over the past week. But I’m still going to chime in with a few tidbits on how the Devils stack up statistically in the fouling department.
Let’s start by looking at where Duke ranks nationally in a couple of categories. First up is what I’ll call “foul surplus”, or the difference in the fouls called on a team’s opponents as a percentage of the team’s fouls.
1. UConn .389 2. Alabama .362 12. Duke .232
There’s nothing too unusual here. Duke is one of the best teams, and great teams typically draw more fouls from their opponents for a variety of reasons. The Blue Devils’ numbers are not off the charts and pale somewhat to UConn having 38.9% more fouls called on its opponents.
The thing that stands out more is how often Duke gets to the line compared to its opponents. Again, this is in terms of a percentage surplus compared to a team’s opponents’ FTAs.
1. UConn .676 2. Alabama .642 4. Duke .541
The reason Duke gets to the line more often than their foul surplus would indicate has to do with the fact that their games are faster paced than most, and therefore more fouls are called compared to other teams. Their foul surplus results in a bigger total foul difference than other teams with a comparable percentage surplus, thus more trips to the line when in the bonus.
If I was going to argue for Duke getting more than its fair share of the calls, I would look at their style of play. UConn and Alabama have obvious elements in their style that could explain part of their advantage. UConn doesn’t force turnovers – their defensive philosophy encourages the opponent to get in confrontations with the UConn shot blockers. A confrontation which the opponents will frequently lose. UConn also shoots very few threes and thus you would expect their constant attacking of the hoop to generate more fouls on the opposition.
In the case of Alabama, much of their foul advantage could be explained on the defensive end. Their opponents shoot a ton of threes, and like UConn, the Tide rarely force turnovers.
But for Duke, just about every aspect you look at would encourage fouls. They shoot more threes than the average team, opponents hardly shoot any threes, and Duke forces a lot of turnovers. Without knowing anything about college hoops, they aren’t a team I’d expect to have a big foul advantage. But there are always exceptions. A bigger exception than Duke is revealed if we break things down by offense and defense:
Fouls committed per possession
1. West Virginia .198 2. Alabama .206 3. UConn .209 28. Duke .237
While most teams that commit few fouls also force few turnovers, WVU is a major exception, ranking 13th in turnovers forced. It makes Duke’s ranking of 65th in that category look less suspicious. Here’s how it stacks up on the other side of the ball…
Opponents’ fouls per possession
1. Texas A&M .322 52. Duke .291 57. UConn .290 104. Alabama .281
As you can see, UConn and Alabama derive most of their fouling advantage from not fouling rather than drawing fouls. This is consistent with what I would have thought about Alabama.
Well, I am sort at a loss for how to wrap this up. I looked at a few other things not shown here, but I didn’t find the smoking gun. The bottom line is the perception is there, and possibly being sensitive to this, the ACC took action either formally or informally against the officials in the Boston College and Florida State games.
Perhaps it’s a coincidence that in the two games since then, Duke has had a free throw deficit. What happens to Duke’s free throw advantage from now on might be something more worth tracking.