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CBB Layups: Optimal Fouling Strategy in NCAA Basketball

Posted by Neil Paine on November 23, 2010

This layup comes courtesy of Josh Levin and the live edition of the Hang Up & Listen Podcast...

While he was at MIT in 2005, Dr. Walter Sun (who -- random fact -- did his undergrad at my alma mater) published a paper about optimal fouling strategy in college basketball. He found that intentionally fouling the opponent's worst foul shooter for the 7th, 8th, and 9th fouls of a half (when the other team is in the 1-and-1 bonus) could increase your PPG margin by as much as 2 points. And this isn't just when fouling in desperation situations, either; the paper calls for you to intentionally hack the worst FT shooter no matter when you get to six fouls.

Although, as Josh points out, Dr. Sun wasn't the first person to think of this strategy. In the early 1980s, NC State coach Jim Valvano also used the intentional foul to his advantage. In fact, the NCAA instituted the 2-shot rule specifically because Jimmy V. was essentially using Dr. Sun's strategy on every foul he could (since there wasn't a double bonus in those days).

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