BALL DON’T COMPLY: HOW A HYBRID DURATION FORMAT WOULD PROVIDE AN ENDLESS SUPPLY OF SHINING MOMENTS

April 20, 2016
Nicholas Patrick

We can all agree – the 2016 NCAA Championship Game was awesome. It reminded us how amazing basketball can be when a game ends with a meaningful made basket. It was the first National Championship game OR Final Four game OR Regional Final game to end with a meaningful made basket since 1992, when Christian Laettner’s turnaround jumper lifted Duke over Kentucky in the East Regional Final. As much as I enjoyed the 1992 game and 2016 game, I hope we don’t have to wait another 24 years to see a big game end with a meaningful made basket.

To be fair, a number of early-round games provided exciting finishes during this year’s NCAA Tournament, treating us to buzzer beaters and/or late comebacks (another all-too-rare phenomenon), including:

  • March 17 (First Round): Arkansas-Little Rock 85, Purdue 83 (2OT)
  • March 18 (First Round): Iowa 72, Temple 70 (OT)
  • March 18 (First Round): Northern Iowa 75, Texas 72
  • March 20 (Second Round): Wisconsin 66, Xavier 63
  • March 20 (Second Round): Texas A&M 92, Northern Iowa 88 (2OT)

But just think – the hybrid duration format described here could have treated us to so many more nailbiting and memorable endings. To name a few (the scenarios listed below are based on a timed-portion-to-untimed-portion transition rule that has been modified slightly since this article was originally posted; in any case, the updated transition rule would be just as likely – possibly even more likely – to provide a thrilling final stretch to games):

  • March 16 (First Four): Holy Cross and Southern tied at 52, playing to 53
  • March 16 (First Four): Tulsa leading Michigan 60-59, playing to 62
  • March 17 (First Round): Providence and USC tied at 68, playing to 71
  • March 17 (First Round): Purdue leading Arkansas-Little Rock 68-67, playing to 70
  • March 17 (First Round): Connecticut leading Colorado 66-63, playing to 68
  • March 17 (First Round): Yale leading Baylor 74-72, playing to 75
  • March 18 (First Round): Notre Dame leading Michigan 64-61, playing to 66
  • March 18 (First Round): Wisconsin leading Pittsburgh 44-43, playing to 46
  • March 18 (First Round): Middle Tennessee leading Michigan State 83-78, playing to 84
  • March 18 (First Round): Maryland leading South Dakota State 76-74, playing to 77
  • March 18 (First Round): Iowa leading Temple 66-65, playing to 68
  • March 18 (First Round): Northern Iowa and Texas tied at 72, playing to 73
  • March 18 (First Round): Saint Joseph’s leading Cincinnati 78-76, playing to 79
  • March 19 (Second Round): Indiana leading Kentucky 68-65, playing to 69
  • March 19 (Second Round): Virginia leading Butler 72-69, playing to 73
  • March 19 (Second Round): Duke leading Yale 67-64, playing to 69
  • March 20 (Second Round): Wisconsin leading Xavier 66-63, playing to 68
  • March 20 (Second Round): Notre Dame leading Stephen F. Austin 76-75, playing to 77
  • March 20 (Second Round): Oregon leading St. Joseph’s 64-62, playing to 65
  • March 20 (Second Round): Oklahoma leading VCU 82-79, playing to 84
  • March 25 (Regional Semifinal): Wisconsin leading Notre Dame 49-46, playing to 51
  • March 25 (Regional Semifinal): Syracuse leading Gonzaga 63-60, playing to 64
  • March 26 (Regional Final): Villanova leading Kansas 62-59, playing to 63
  • April 4 (National Championship): Villanova leading North Carolina 72-71, playing to 74

All of these games would be free of deliberate fouling by trailing teams, stalling by leading teams, rushed/sloppy possessions by trailing teams, slim leads that are disproportionately safe, and a number of other unfortunate phenomena directly attributable to the game clock. And none of these games would end with the blare of a horn – they would all end with the swish of a net.

A hybrid format would enhance the ending of all games – those that aren’t competitive at all, those that are moderately competitive, and those that are highly competitive. Yes, a hybrid format could have even enhanced the ending to all four of the NCAA Tournament games that ended with a meaningful made basket. Consider that each of those buzzer beaters was released with the game tied – if any of those shots had been missed, the game would have proceeded to overtime, which is often anticlimactic. Under a hybrid format, many games would reach a sudden-death scenario where a miss doesn’t result in overtime – it results in an ensuing possession that might immediately win the game for one’s opponent.

A hybrid format would also provide fitting endings to milestone games. For example, Kobe Bryant’s final game was fun, but under a hybrid format, he could have finished his career with a walk-off shot. And the Warriors’ historic 73rd win could have been sealed in a manner much cooler than, well, Leandro Barbosa dribbling by himself while everyone else walks off the court.

This particular sample includes each of the 50 nationally-televised NBA games played from March 14, 2016 – April 13, 2016 (four of these games proceeded to overtime, so 54 total 4th quarter/overtime periods are considered), and each of the 67 NCAA Men’s Tournament games (three of these games proceeded to overtime – including two which proceeded to double overtime – so 72 total 2nd half/overtime periods are considered)

DELIBERATE FOULING
Trailing NBA teams committed at least one deliberate foul in 27 of the 54 sampled 4th quarter/overtime periods. The effectiveness of this strategy can be categorized in the following ways:

  • šCounterproductive: fouling team ends same period with a deficit equal to or greater than its deficit at the time of the first deliberate foul; 23/27 (85.2%)
  • šFutile: fouling team ends same period with a deficit narrower than its original deficit, but still trailing (and losing, necessarily); 4/27 (14.8%)
  • šPartially Successful: fouling team ends same period in a tie with its opponent, forcing overtime (or an additional overtime); 0/27 (0.0%)
  • šCompletely Successful: fouling team ends same period with the lead (and the win, necessarily); 0/27 (0.0%)

Trailing NCAA teams committed at least one deliberate foul in 42 of the 72 sampled 2nd half/overtime periods.

  • Counterproductive: 36/42 (85.7%)
  • Futile: 0/42 (0.0%)
  • Partially Successful: 5/42 (11.9%) (specific games/periods shown below)
  • Completely Successful: 1/42 (2.4%) (specific game/period shown below)
  • March 17 (2H) (First Round): Arkansas-Little Rock, vs. Purdue
  • March 17 (OT) (First Round): Arkansas-Little Rock, vs. Purdue
  • March 18 (2H) (First Round): Temple, vs. Iowa
  • March 20 (2H) (Second Round): Texas A&M, vs. Northern Iowa
  • March 20 (OT) (Second Round): Texas A&M, vs. Northern Iowa
  • March 17 (First Round): Providence, vs. USC

This does not include one instance when Notre Dame tried desperately to foul Wisconsin deliberately during a March 25 Regional Semifinal, but when referees did not call a foul. Maybe we shouldn’t ask referees to officiate such an unnatural style of play!

STALLING
Leading NBA teams stalled in the overwhelming majority of the 54 sampled 4th quarter/overtime periods. In many other games, the leading team was deliberately fouled before it had the chance to stall. And in all of the remaining instances, the trailing team overtly conceded the game before the leading team would have normally considered stalling. None of the sampled 4th quarter/overtime periods was truly stalling-free.

Similarly, none of the 72 sampled NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods was truly stalling-free.

RUSHED/SLOPPY/INCOMPLETE POSSESSIONS
The game clock further contributes to an ugly brand of basketball by forcing the trailing (and in some cases, tied) team to attempt ugly shots. This effect is strongest during the final possession of a 4th quarter/2nd half/overtime period.

Consider that nine of the sampled NBA 4th quarter/overtime periods ended with a possession that could have tied or won the game. None of those possessions (0.0%) was converted (on zero points per possession):

  • March 30 (4Q): Time expires before Lakers’ Julius Randle can attempt full-court heave vs. Heat
  • March 30 (OT): Heat’s Joe Johnson misses catch-and-shoot three-pointer off opposite side of backboard at Lakers
  • March 31: Rockets’ Trevor Ariza misses three-pointer vs. Bulls
  • April 1 (4Q): Hawks’ Jeff Teague fumbles ball away while starting drive to basket vs. Cavaliers
  • April 1 (OT): Hawks’ Al Horford misses catch-and-shoot three-pointer off back of rim vs. Cavaliers
  • April 1: Warriors’ Harrison Barnes airballs retreating, turnaround three-pointer vs. Celtics
  • April 5 (4Q): Time expires before Warriors’ Andre Iguodala can attempt three-pointer vs. Timberwolves
  • April 9: Cavaliers’ JR Smith’s catch-and-shoot turnaround deep three-pointer blocked at Bulls
  • April 12 (4Q): Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard misses fallaway baseline jumper off side of rim vs. Thunder

14 of the sampled NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods ended with a possession that could have tied or won the game. Only four of those possessions (28.6%) was converted (on 0.79 points per possession):

  • March 17 (First Round): USC’s Julian Jacobs misses shot from beyond halfcourt off edge of backboard vs. Providence
  • March 17 (2H) (First Round): Purdue’s Dakota Mathias’s halfcourt shot sails over backboard vs. Arkansas-Little Rock
  • March 17 (OT) (First Round): Arkansas-Little Rock’s Marcus Johnson misses three-quarter-court heave wide of basket vs. Purdue
  • March 17 (2OT) (First Round): Purdue’s Vince Edwards misses full-court heave well wide of basket vs. Arkansas-Little Rock
  • March 18 (2H) (First Round): Time expires before Temple’s Devin Coleman can attempt shot from beyond halfcourt vs. Iowa
  • March 18 (OT) (First Round): Iowa’s Adam Woodbury makes tip-in vs. Temple
  • March 18 (First Round): Northern Iowa’s Paul Jesperson makes halfcourt shot vs. Texas
  • March 18 (First Round): Time expires before Cincinnati’s Octavius Ellis makes dunk vs. St. Joseph’s
  • March 20 (Second Round): Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig makes three-pointer vs. Xavier
  • March 20 (Second Round): Stephen F. Austin’s Clide Geffrard misses shot from beyond halfcourt wide of backboard vs. Notre Dame
  • March 20 (2H) (Second Round): Northern Iowa’s Wes Washpun misses three-quarter-court heave high off backboard vs. Texas A&M
  • March 20 (OT) (Second Round): Texas A&M’s Alex Caruso misses three-quarter-court heave short of basket vs. Northern Iowa
  • March 25 (Regional Semifinal): Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis’ three-quarter-court heave falls short and wide of basket vs. Syracuse
  • April 4 (National Championship): Villanova’s Kris Jenkins makes three-pointer vs. North Carolina

Even if we broaden the definition from actual buzzer beater possessions to potential buzzer beater possessions (any possession where the offense is tied or trailing by 1-3 points, with the shot clock turned off), NBA teams still converted only one of 21 (4.8%) such possessions (on 0.33 points per possession), and NCAA teams converted only 17 of 50 (34.0%) such possessions (on 1.02 points per possession).

CONCEDING
Trailing NBA teams conceded 34 of 50 sampled games (68.0%) by choosing not to foul deliberately (on at least one late possession when the strategy would have been advisable) while on defense and/or by choosing not to play at a frantic pace (on at least one late possession when the strategy would have been advisable) while on offense and/or by taking its best players out of the game. This does not include a number of instances when teams conceded by choosing not to use all of its available timeouts (to automatically advance the ball into the frontcourt). This includes at least four instances when a team conceded while trailing by six points or fewer.

Trailing NCAA teams conceded 44 of 67 sampled games (65.7%) by choosing not to foul deliberately while on defense and/or by choosing not to play at a frantic pace while on offense. This includes at least three instances when a team conceded while trailing by six points or fewer.

Of course, maybe trailing teams concede just to be polite. After all, teams that actually try to win (through the only means possible under basketball’s current format – the unsightly, boring, interminable, and ultimately futile exercise of repeated deliberate fouling) might be subjected to loud boos, as the Grizzlies experienced at the Mavericks on April 8. Basketball etiquette calls for the leading team to be just as passive, explaining the three NBA instances and four NCAA instances when a team willingly accepted a shot clock violation during the closing seconds.

And if a leading player doesn’t accept a shot clock violation in such a situation, he might find himself in the middle of a highly-scrutinized controversy, as Oregon’s Dillon Brooks learned after he beat the shot clock with a deep three-pointer vs. Duke in a March 24 Regional Semifinal.

Under a hybrid format, all scoring would be guilt-free.

CLOCK CONTROVERSIES
The final three minutes of all 54 sampled NBA 4th quarter/overtime periods included two clock reviews/errors/malfunctions.

The final four minutes of all 72 sampled NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods included 11 clock reviews/errors/malfunctions, including the obligatory buzzkilling clock review after each of the four made buzzer beaters, and the ultimate buzzkilling clock review in the First Round on March 18, when Cincinnati’s Octavius Ellis’s would-be game-tying dunk vs. St. Joseph’s was ruled to have been released after time expired.

INTERMINABLE FINAL STAGES
The final minute of 11 NBA 4th quarter/overtime periods lasted ten actual minutes or longer, including the following noteworthy instances:

  • March 29*: Rockets at Cavaliers: 12 minutes (1 made field goal)
  • March 31: Bulls at Rockets: 13 minutes (2)
  • April 1 (OT): Cavaliers at Hawks: 15 minutes (2)
  • April 2: Pistons at Bulls: 16 (3, including one uncontested field goal)

*was further prolonged by a two-minute review necessitated by another unfortunate phenomenon attributable to the game clock – piggyback fouling

The final minute of eight NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods lasted ten actual minutes or longer, including the following noteworthy instances:

  • March 17: Yale vs. Baylor: 13 (2, including one uncontested field goal)
  • March 18 (2H): Iowa vs. Temple: 16 (1)
  • March 19: Indiana vs. Kentucky: 14 (1)

UNCEREMONIOUS ENDINGS
The final moment of a given basketball game usually falls into one of five categories:

  • Meaningful made basket (also known as a buzzer beater!)
  • Unsuccessful meaningful possession (when offense trails by 1-3 points)
  • Meaningless (made or missed) shot attempt (when offense already leads, or trails by four points or more; this category also includes additional instances when a player clearly intended to take a meaningless shot, but when time expired before shot could be released)
  • Leading player stalls (in most cases, casually dribbling or holding the ball; in especially close games, this might include a player/team actively evading its opponent’s attempt to commit a deliberate foul)
  • Trailing player stalls (the most striking form of conceding)

The 50 sampled NBA games and 67 sampled NCAA games ended in the following ways…

NBA
Meaningful Made Basket: 0 (0.0%)
Unsuccessful Meaningful Possession: 5 (10.0%)
Meaningless Shot Attempt: 7 (14.0%)
Leading Player Stalls: 31* (62.0%)
Trailing Player Stalls: 7 (14.0%)
*includes March 31, when Thunder’s Russell Westbrook exhausted final seconds in a two-point victory vs. Clippers by throwing ball directly into the air

NCAA
Meaningful Made Basket: 4** (6.0%)
Unsuccessful Meaningful Possession: 5 (7.5%)
Meaningless Shot Attempt: 14 (20.9%)
Leading Player Stalls: 41 (61.2%)
Trailing Player Stalls: 3 (4.5%)
**none of which were do-or-die buzzer beaters

ANTICLIMACTIC OVERTIMES
Let’s now consider all 4th quarter/2nd half/overtime periods (not just those at the true end of a game), and categorize possible period endings a little differently than in a previous section (listed in decreasing order of excitement):

  • Made basket to win
  • Made basket to tie
  • Unsuccessful meaningful possession (by tied team or team trailing by 1-3 points)
  • Meaningless possession (when offense already has lead, or trails by four points or more)

Four overtime periods were played in sampled NBA games, and can be categorized as follows:

  • Ending of overtime period failed to match the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 2
  • Ending of overtime period managed to match the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 2
  • Ending of overtime period exceeded the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 0

Five overtime periods were played in sampled NCAA games, and can be categorized as follows:

  • Ending of overtime period failed to match the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 1
  • Ending of overtime period managed to match the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 3
  • Ending of overtime period exceeded the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 1

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Any overtime period, necessarily, follows a nearly-impossible-to-follow act – a 4th quarter/2nd half/earlier overtime period that was, by definition, as competitive as can be.

UNCONTESTED SHOTS
Leading NBA teams allowed at least six uncontested field goals during sampled games. Leading NCAA teams allowed at least 12 uncontested field goals during sampled games.

FOULS-TO-GIVE DISADVANTAGE
During the final three minutes of sampled NBA 4th quarter/overtime periods, a trailing team committed a deliberate foul when its opponent was not yet in the bonus (and, consequently, did not serve deliberate fouling’s primary purpose of sending the leading team to the free throw line) in five periods, essentially punishing the trailing team for having committed too few fouls earlier in the period!

During the final four minutes of sampled NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods, a trailing team committed a deliberate foul when its opponent was not yet in the bonus in three periods.

FOULOUTS
During sampled games, three NBA players committed a sixth foul deliberately and/or in overtime, and 13 NCAA players committed a fifth foul deliberately and/or in overtime, including the following five seniors who ended their collegiate career in such fashion:

  • March 17 (First Round): North Carolina-Wilmington’s Craig Ponder, vs. Duke
  • March 18 (OT) (First Round): Temple’s Devin Coleman, vs. Iowa
  • March 19 (Second Round): Butler’s Austin Etherington, vs. Virginia
  • March 20 (OT) (Second Round): Northern Iowa’s Wes Washpun, vs. Texas A&M
  • March 20 (2OT) (Second Round): Northern Iowa’s Paul Jesperson, vs. Texas A&M

UNSIGHTLY STRATEGIES, ETC.
During sampled games, trailing NCAA offenses rolled at least 29 inbounds passes, including in a few especially bleak situations:

  • March 17 (First Round): Seton Hall, trailing by 15 points with 37.8 seconds remaining, vs. Gonzaga
  • March 25 (Regional Semifinal): Iowa State, trailing by 15 points with 38.7 seconds remaining, vs. Virginia

During sampled games, leading NCAA offenses vacated the foul lane in 51 instances during the last free throw attempt of a trip.

During sampled games, two trailing NBA teams intentionally missed a free throw during the late stages of a game:

  • April 6: Rockets, trailing by two points with 2.6 seconds remaining, at Mavericks; immediately unsuccessful (no offensive rebound), ultimately unsuccessful (did not overcome deficit)
  • April 9: Cavaliers, trailing by two points with 8.7 seconds remaining, at Bulls; immediately successful (offensive rebound), ultimately unsuccessful (did not overcome deficit)
Advertisements