Monday, December 12, 2011

For Drexel, Getting To The Free Throw Line Helps

Mike Litos, the Dean of CAA Basketball wrote a good article, as usual, last Friday about Drexel, entitled "There is Nothing Wrong About Drexel".  If you couldn't guess from the title, Litos breaks down some Ken Pomeroy statistics and correctly surmises the following;
"Take a look at how good Drexel’s defense has been, and how bad it’s offense has been. In the past seven seasons, only once has the offense finished better than 208th nationally, and only once has the defense finished worse than 92nd. All you need to see is the Christmastime look of the chart."
And he's exactly right, when you look at the aforementioned statistics, this is how Drexel plays.  Really tough defense and ugly offense.  Bruiser Flint's teams specialize in physical play both on the offensive and defensive ends.

But when I looked at the "Christmastime" statistics for Drexel, I noticed one area of concern.  If you look at that linked chart graphic and take a look at Pomeroy's FTR ratio for the Dragons, which stands for Free throw Attempts to Field Goal Attempts Ratio.  Drexel's is 26.0, which is 319th in the country.  When Drexel had been successful, like last season when they won 21 games or in the 2006-07 season, when they won 23 games (and had a legitimate beef for being snubbed from the NCAA Tournament) or 2004-05, when they were 17-12, their FTR ratios were much better.

In fact, here are Drexel's FTRs for the past several seasons, where they ranked in the country in that category and their overall record.

2010-11 - 40.3 - 105  21-10
2009-10 - 36.1 - 215 16-16
2008-09 - 39.9 - 99   15-14
2007-08 - 37.5 - 140 12-20
2006-07 - 44.9 - 21    23-9
2005-06 - 33.8 - 228 15-16
2004-05 - 41.9 - 47    17-12

Notice that when their FTR was above 40, those were also Drexel's three best seasons under Bruiser since the 2004-05 season.  Yes, everyone knows that Bruiser's teams are excellent defensively and are also offensively challenged.  But the FTRs clearly show that Bruiser's teams are most successful when they get to the line.  Also since 2005-06, with the exception of the 2008-09 season, the Dragons have always finished in the top half in the CAA in free throw attempts (in 2006-07, Drexel was second to VCU in free throw attempts with 724).

Now I noted this to Litos in the comments field of his Friday article, also noting that Drexel was dead last in the CAA going into Saturday's action in free throw attempts per game, with fourteen per game.  He responded that he agreed with me about the FT rate. However, he noted  that " But Drexel has also been a terrible FT percentage team (which I certainly agree with).   It isn’t like they get a disparate number of points via the free throw."

But I responded by saying that when you get to the line a significant amount of times, even if you are not the best free throw shooting team, you will still get your share of free throws.  For example, let's say you shoot 61.6% from the line, which Drexel did last season.  If you get to the line ten more times than your opponent in a game, you will get six more points as a result.  When you play close games like the Dragons seemingly do, every little bit counts.

So that gave me an idea.  I reviewed Drexel's wins from last season where the margin of victory was seven points or less.  Thirteen of the Dragons' twenty one wins fit that category.   In eight of those thirteen wins, Drexel had more free throw attempts and free throws made than their opponents.  And in each case, it was significantly more free throw attempts than the opposing team.

Opponent Date # of FTA More than Opponent # of FTM More than Opponent Margin of Victory
Loyola Md 11/12/10 15 6 3
Rider 12/11/10 9 10 4
St Francis PA 12/18/10 22 12 4
Old Dominion 1/13/11 13 7 5
Hofstra 1/29/11 8 5 5
William and Mary 2/12/11 8 2 2
VCU 2/23/11 13 9 4
Towson 3/4/11 15 6 6

In all eight of those games, Drexel had at least more than eight free throw attempts than their opponent. And in each of those games, the margin of victory was due to the free throws made margin Drexel had over their opponent.  Simply put, Drexel won all eight of those games due to the charity stripe.

This past Saturday, Drexel won at home, 54-50 over Princeton.  In Saturday's game,  the Tigers had more field goals than the Dragons, 22-20.  The Tigers and Dragons each had the same number of three pointers, four.  What was the difference?  The foul line.  Princeton was 12 of 15 from the line, while Drexel was 20 of 24 from the line.  The Dragons had eight more free throws than the Tigers and they won only by four points.  Again, the charity stripe won the game for the Drexel.  Mike Litos even acknowledged this in his article from today (and yes Mike, Massenat, Fouch and Lee were huge).

Now I agree with Mike that Drexel needs to shoot better from the perimeter and Chris Fouch and Damion Lee combined to shoot 11 of 23 from the field against Princeton, so that's a good start.  But for a team that for the most part doesn't shoot well from the field, getting to the line much more often than their opponent can be a definite factor.  It certainly was last season for Drexel in about forty percent of their wins on the season.  Unless they start shooting the ball better from the field, it may need to be as well this season for the Dragons.


  1. Ahh yes, but can you show me that all of these examples were NOT a game like the Princeton game last weekend, where the Dragons led almost the whole way with no free throw edge until Princeton had to foul in the last minute?

    I believe that you are correct, in close games that DU wins, they shoot more FT's. I also believe that in close games that ALL teams win, they shoot more ft's. In general, teams that lose close games intentionally foul late.

  2. Dan, it's a good point you make. However, I will counter with these two points;

    1) Drexel had half of their twenty four free throws in the first half, where they were 8 of 12 from the line. Princeton wasn't intentionally fouling in the first half.

    That means that Drexel had only two less free throws in the first half than they were averaging the entire season up to the Princeton game.

    2) When I looked at the recap on Drexel's site, Princeton was actually ahead 55-54 with 33 seconds left before Massenat "drew a foul" and hit two free throws to go ahead.

    Yes, Drexel hit ten free throws down the stretch, but the key two free throws allowed them to take the lead.

    The statistics over the past several seasons show that when Drexel has a high FTR (above 40), they coincide with their best seasons.

    I would have to check those eight games in particular last season, but my hypothesis was based on the high FTR.

  3. Dan, I also checked on those eight games. Here are the free throws made/attempts in each half.

    Loyola - 7 of 13, 17 of 27
    Rider - 7 of 9, 9 of 14
    St Francis - 10 of 17, 10 of 17
    ODU - 4 of 6, 12 of 22
    W&M - 3 of 5, 6 of 12
    Hofstra - 10 of 14, 7 of 8
    VCU - 7 of 10, 12 of 18
    Towson 8 of 13, 11 of 20

    In six of the eight games, there were more free throws attempted in the second half than the first half.

    However, in five of the eight games, Drexel had double digit free throw attempts in the first half and had nine free throw attempts against Rider in the first half.

    Yes most teams that are ahead should have more free throws in the second half due to being up late in the game and this backs that up.

    But this also shows that Drexel had a significant number of free throw attempts in the first half of most of these eight games.

  4. This isn't a stat I'm familiar with but it does point out something you sense when watching the mid majors play and that's the importance of shot selection and free throw percentage. I'm willing to bet the Butler's and George Mason's have FTA's in the neighborhood of 40 in the past few years.

  5. Walter

    Thanks for the comment and for the insightful thought. You were right about one of the two teams. I did some research and sure enough, Butler has been right up there a couple of years in FTR.


    2011 - 37 (164)*
    2010 - 46.9 (16)*
    2009 - 43.5 (24)*
    2008 - 36.7 (164)*
    2007 - 39.8 (93)*
    2006 - 31.8 (282)

    George Mason

    2011 - 38.6 (140)*
    2010 - 41.6 (81)
    2009 - 33.0 (262)
    2008 - 39.8 (81)*
    2007 - 29 (317)
    2006 - 34.7 (203)*
    * - Made NCAA Tournament

    Surprisingly, the 2010-11 national finalist Butler team did not have a good FTR. But the first national finalist Butler team from 2009-10 and the 2008-09 team that lost to Tennessee in the the second round were in the top 25 in FTR in their respective seasons.

    George Mason on the other hand did not do well in the offensive FTR rate. But here's the kicker Walter, guess what they were really good in? The defensive FTR. Take a look at the previous six seasons with George Mason.

    George Mason Defensive FTR

    2010-11 32.0 (59)*
    2009-10 34.0 (96)
    2008-09 29.8 (34)
    2007-08 27.0 (17)*
    2006-07 28.0 (20)
    2005-06 27.0 (17)*

    I am going to do a following up article about FTR both on the offensive and defensive sides. I have already done some research on the offensive FTR and I am seeing similar results on the defensive FTR.

    Again, thanks for the insightful comment!

  6. I made one mistake. The 2008-09 team lost to LSU in the first round. It was the 2007-08 team that lost to Tennessee in the second round.

    I should have known that properly because I was in Raleigh for that regional in 2008. I remember that I was very disheartened in the RBC Center when I found out that Butler lost in OT in that game.

  7. Gary,

    Its a very intriguing stat and shines a light on the recent successes of mid majors in March. Everybody talks about chemistry but the only stat they use to illustrate that is turnovers.

    You may have hit on another way it manifests itself. I know I'll watch the games with a new perspective now.