Intentional Fouls & Greatest Hits (HV Weekly: 7/26/2020)

A new Solving Basketball episode and ranking the "best" of Hoop Vision.

Welcome back to the Hoop Vision Weekly!

The response to last week’s newsletter — a detailed inside look at the business side of Hoop Vision — was incredibly gratifying. A huge thank you to everyone who reached out with kind words, support, and even suggestions.

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Enough housekeeping.

In today’s edition of the HV Weekly:

  • A brand new Solving Basketball episode with Ken Pomeroy and Jonathan Safir

  • Additional thoughts on intentional fouling tied or with a lead in late game situations

  • The most popular Hoop Vision tweets, videos, podcasts, and newsletters from our first two years of work

New Solving Basketball

On Tuesday, Ken Pomeroy and Jonathan Safir published a new study “The guide to fouling when leading (or tied)”. The research was inspired by San Francisco’s late-game strategy against BYU last season, where the Dons fouled intentionally up two with 17 seconds left.

Later in the week, Pomeroy and Safir hopped on Solving Basketball to discuss the implications of the study and whether or not other coaches will actually consider implementing the strategy.

At the end of the episode, we shifted gears to talk about what Ken's rankings (and the NCAA selection process) would look if there are no non-conference games this season.

Listen: Apple or Spotify

A couple notes on late-game intentional fouling…

1) Process vs results

The great part about foul-up-three situations is that you are playing with a stacked deck. Regardless of strategy, the defensive team wins about 93% of the time. That creates a situation where coaches are receiving positive reinforcement on whichever decision they choose.

Fouling when tied is quite different. In those situations, the defensive team is an underdog, making it especially important for a coach to have a process-focused attitude. The strategy, even if it improves win probability, is going to lead to a loss much more often than foul-up-three.

More on this in the Hoop Vision PLUS article from January: The Psychology of a Coach.

2) Defensive possessions are not all created equal

We spend a lot of time dissecting the details of the foul strategy. What time to foul, where on the court to foul, who to foul, and so on. But there is a similar level of nuance to the “defend” strategy. While some coaches vow to never defend up three, it’s actually one of the few circumstances where the defense has an inherent advantage.

In the past, we’ve written about the misunderstanding that three-point defense is somehow independent from two-point defense; in this space, we prefer to think about things in terms of the on-ball/off-ball spectrum. But end-of-game context can completely change that dynamic.

The knowledge that a team needs a three is a massive advantage for the defense. Without having to worry about protecting the rim, coaches generally instruct their players to deviate from their normal defensive principles and positioning. As a result, the offense shot just 16% from three in Ken’s 2013 study.

Defending up two creates an extremely different set of circumstances. The three-point line still must be taken away by the defense, as a three gives the offense the lead. But a two-pointer is also still an option. The on-ball/off-ball spectrum is still very much in play.

To make matters even tougher for the defense in this situation, a hard contest on a drive to the basket risks the possibility of fouling a driver and a potential “and-one” opportunity. The differences in context between up-three and up-two possessions is one reason why “fouling up 2 is much more useful than fouling up 3 in some cases”.

The “Best” of Hoop Vision

Hoop Vision is meant for a niche group of basketball professionals, junkies and nerds, but some pieces of content have a broader appeal than others.

In the section below, we went through all of our tweets, videos, podcasts, and newsletters over the last two years. The five most popular — defined by likes, retweets, views, and listens — were identified for each of our four coverage platforms.

Top Tweets

[1] 12 passes, 0 dribbles, and a dunk for South Dakota State

Many HV tweets take hours of work to produce. Our most viral tweet of all-time was not one of them.

While watching South Dakota State, I unintentionally stumbled on a clip with extreme ball movement. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

[2] Wichita State overload slip set

This one was from a series of Wichita State tweets in June.

Not only do quick-hitting sets that result in dunks and layups tend to be popular on Twitter, but so does Wichita State. The Shockers’ UCLA series was another tweet that just missed the top five — finishing eighth.

[3] It turns out running a program is actually very simple

My personal favorite tweet (regardless of likes/retweets) of all-time. A bunch of coaches repeating the word — culture — in their introductory press conferences. A similar video, with coaches insisting on playing fast, finished ninth.

Unfortunately, the lack of introductory press conferences this off-season prevented a 2020 follow-up. But rest assured, we’re not done.

[4] Michigan State horns rub, an Izzo staple

Like the Wichita State tweet, this one was from a series of Michigan State tweets in June. Basketball Twitter loves them some horns.

[5] Buzz Williams zone set to occupy the bottom three defenders

At number five, we have a tweet showcasing a somewhat simple zone set used by Buzz Williams for three baskets against Duke.

It’s the type of play that, in my opinion, really benefits from having the moving text animation.

[Bonus] Ja Morant

The Ja Morant quote tweet of Murray State’s exit series would rank number two on the list. He has just a few more followers than Hoop Vision.

Top Videos

[1] How Baylor’s “No-Middle” Defense Has Them Ranked #1 in the Country

The 2020 Baylor Bears were a perfect fit for Hoop Vision content. Not only were they one of the best teams in the country, but Scott Drew also overhauled his defensive scheme from previous seasons.

The video — which has over twice as many views as any of our other YouTube videos — covers the defensive scheme and principles.

[2] Up 3, 6 Seconds Left... Foul or Defend? (Ft. Duke-UNC)

After one of the Duke-UNC games ended with a foul or defend opportunity, my plan was to make a short video covering Roy Williams’ decision to foul.

Instead, I got carried away and made a video that is really only partially about UNC-Duke and more about foul-up-three in general.

[3] Why Dayton is the Hardest Team to Guard in the Country

During the 2019 season, we did a video declaring Gonzaga the hardest team to guard in the country. Off the success of that one, Dayton was chosen for the 2020 season.

It’s one of the more click-baity titles you’ll get from us, but it was really just a means to breakdown the X’s and O’s of Anthony Grant’s offense. Expect to see a part three next year.

[4] Why Texas Tech and Michigan are the Best Defenses in College Basketball

This one, which was published right in the middle of the NCAA Tournament, was our most popular video from the 2019 season. It highlights the similarities and differences between Texas Tech’s no-middle defense and Michigan’s help-only-when-necessary defense.

Our YouTube channel has grown quite a bit over the last year, so it’s hard for the older videos to compete. But this one was helped out by a Ringer recommendation.

[5] How Virginia Won A National Championship

We covered Virginia’s unique style of play extensively during the 2019 season, and this video — which included analysis from the entire season, not just the national championship game — was a culmination of all that work.

[Bonus] Can You Become a Good Rebounding Team Overnight?

This video from October 2018 is under five minutes long with just over 1,000 views, but it’s a fun one that you probably haven’t seen. Complete with Barry Hinson’s infamous post-game rant.

Top Podcasts

[1] Luke Yaklich (Ep #27)

Interviews with coaches have generally been the most popular Solving Basketball episodes. This one was recorded with Luke Yaklich — now the head coach at Illinois Chicago — last summer.

Topics: The similarities and differences between college and the NBA, guarding the three-point line vs Villanova, ball screen coverage, Texas Tech's no middle, measuring your defense, and communicating with players.

[2] Ken Pomeroy (Ep #1)

Solving Basketball has grown considerably since the early days, but the pilot episode is still number two on the list thanks to new listeners going backwards after discovering the podcast.

In the episode, Ken comes on as "Coach Pomeroy" to build out his coaching philosophy as if he was running a Division 1 program. Some topics discussed include: Recruiting, style of play, scheduling, scouting, in-game strategy, and post-game stats.

[3] Todd Golden (Ep #32)

Golden discussed the decision making process for San Francisco’s intentional foul strategy: The math behind the specific strategy, communicating it to players, and committing to the strategy over the long haul.

[4] Fran Fraschilla (Ep #31)

Fraschilla discussed his teams at Manhattan, St. John's, and New Mexico and how the game has trended X's and O's wise since then — including the origins of Continuity Ball Screen and the Princeton. We also talked about the emergence of analytics and how he prepares for his TV games.

[5] Stephen Gentry (Ep #33)

Gentry — assistant coach at Illinois — discussed Illinois’ decision to change from the Spread offense to ball screens and from pressure/deny defense to pack line this past season. Including how data played a role in the decision making process.

[Bonus] The Transfer "Epidemic" — Ft. Leland King (Ep #13)

It’s not in the top five in terms of listens, but this is one of my personal favorite episodes of the podcast. It includes data on transfers, some background on what really goes on behind the scenes, and perspective from former college basketball player (and two-time transfer) Leland King.

Top Newsletters

[1] Should offenses play faster?

Unsurprisingly, our most-viewed newsletter was about “every” coach’s favorite talking about: Playing fast. The article provides some data for the debate, while also adding some much needed nuance.

In order to answer that question, the first step is to more accurately define how teams play fast. Playing fast is not a binary decision made by a coach simply with the snap of a finger.

[2] 5-Out Offensive Concepts

Number two on the list was a recent newsletter on 5-out offenses like Alabama, Creighton, and Nebraska.

[3] Deconstructing Virginia's Offense

This was one of the first Hoop Vision PLUS newsletters we ever did, but was briefly unlocked for all to read thanks to a Twitter poll. It covers Virginia’s Blocker-Mover and Continuity Ball Screen offenses, with specific offensive charting on Jay Huff and Mamadi Diakite.

[4] Solving Basketball LIVE, BLOBs, & Dick Bennett

This newsletter was essentially a review of Dick Bennett’s April NABC clinic. Surprisingly, Bennett was not nearly as committed to his Pack Line scheme as I would have expected.

[5] The Nation's Deepest Playbooks

With a major assist from Gibson Pyper, we wrote about the teams with three of the deepest playbooks in the country: BYU, Utah State, and Louisville. There’s also a section with a small statistical study on three-point defense.

[Bonus] Why the best teams don’t take the best shots (HV+)

This is one of the most popular Hoop Vision PLUS articles and one of my favorites. It was the culmination of nearly a year’s worth of thoughts and research on shot selection — a topic that, I believe, is at times misunderstood by both analysts and coaches.

Coming Soon for HV+ Subscribers

We currently have a couple longer-term projects in the works occupying some time, but another HV+ tutorial-style video is coming soon.

Most of the previous tutorials have been made directly with coaches in mind. In the next one, we are making it with a different segment of our subscribers in mind. The tutorial will include tips and techniques to watch the game of basketball more like a coach.

As always, feel free to let us know if you have any requests or suggestions for future content.

HV+ Summer Tutorials

  1. Defensive accounting — measuring individual defense

  2. Charting offense — measuring offensive sets and schemes

  3. Play animation tutorial — how to create the moving text and screens in videos

  4. Basketball analytics for basketball coaches presentation

  5. How to watch film like a coach (coming soon)

For full access to the tutorial and the deep archive of HV+ research, join Hoop Vision PLUS today for $10/month or $100/year.