Career Changers

UH Sports = Bad @ Math?

March 3rd, 2014

OC12 SCHEDULE CHANGES: The new March episode of Career Changers TV was preempted by high school wrestling this weekend, but now that we have new time slots on OC12  (er, OC16 which is shown on channel 12/high def 1012) you have additional viewing options each day. Click here for the new times under "When to Watch." On this month's show, we have segments on the Job Quest job fair and Farmlovers Farmers' Markets -- btw, despite the rain there was a great turnout for their Cacao Fest in Kailua on Sunday!


Diehard sports fans love to play armchair quarterback (which really should be "armchair coach" or "backseat coach" since QBs rarely call their own plays anymore, unless it's an audible at the line). That includes me and my wife, who had an interesting suggestion when the UH men's basketball team was leading Long Beach State by one point with about 18 seconds remaining in the game last Thursday. LBSU had the ball and called a timeout. It was obvious The Beach could hold out for the last shot to win or lose the game.  She said, "They (UH) should foul!"  I agreed.

Here's why: UH had committed seven team fouls, putting them in a 1-and-1 penalty situation; odds favored LB getting off a decent shot and even if it missed, there's a good chance the player could be fouled while taking that shot. Give average players two foul throws, most will make at least one. If the game is tied at the end of regulation, the home team -- Long Beach State -- usually has the edge in overtime. If UH had fouled right away before LB got off a shot -- possibly a 3-point attempt -- the player would shoot a 1-and-1. Make the first, you get a second foul throw. Miss, and the edge goes to UH players who have inside position for a rebound. Worst case scenario, foul and LB makes both foul shots; UH down by 1 with around 12-15 seconds left. Best case scenario, LB player misses first foul throw, UH rebounds, gets fouled and the advantage shifts to UH...

But apparently UH head coach Gib Arnold decided to let LB take the final shot without fouling. Time ticked off, and the LB player was left wide open to hit a 3-pointer. UH goes down by two points and had to rush a shot to tie or win with around 8 seconds left. Gib still had a timeout in his pocket, but they had already decided not to use it since that could have given LB time to set up a defensive play. The UH guard made a desperate attempt at putting up a prayer of a shot... it missed. Worse, it looked ugly because the ball wasn't in the hands of their best shooters at the end. With that loss came a lot more second-guessing about coaching decisions, particularly in close games decided in the final minute or two. Some of it just comes down to luck. In at least two or three UH losses this season, had the ball bounced differently on the last shot of the game, they would have won.

What's frustrating for fans is we've seen bad clock management and examples of bad math not just in basketball, but in football and also questionable baseball odds strategy as well (eg., when to sacrifice and bunt runners over in low-scoring games). In b-ball, there have been opportunities for the Bows to play 2-for-1 shots in the final minute before halftime. You hear ESPN announcers say it all the time -- since there's a 35-second clock in college, if the team with the ball gets off a shot and leaves at least 40-secs, odds are they will wind up taking the last shot. Do the math. Put up two shots in less than a minute compared to the opponents one shot, and you're more likely to come out  ahead. But if you use up the 35-seconds to get off just one shot and leave your opponent time to score, you go from a chance of a 6-0 scoring run to being down 0-3 in that final minute.

UH football clock management was downright awful at times this past year. I think part of the problem is the head coach is expected to make the calls on timeouts, but with so much going on, you really need another brain calculating the numbers stuff. For instance, I have seen very good coaches and players fail to realize that the opponents were going to let them score so they could get the ball back and have a chance to tie or win the game. In those games, the running back or quarterback should have just taken a knee at the goal line so they maintained control of the ball and could run the clock out. But the players got so excited, they high-stepped into the end zone, not realizing they were giving their opponent a chance to snatch victory from defeat. However, it falls on the coaching staff to alert their players about those possibilities in the waning moments of a game.

Anyhow, maybe what the UH sports teams needs is an assistant coach to be the Designated Screamer -- someone like us fans who yell at the TV screen or shout from the stands advice on when to call timeout or purposely foul an opponent. In the end though, I keep reminding myself it's only a game... and no one feels worse about losing the close ones than the coaches and players themselves.


22 Responses to “UH Sports = Bad @ Math?”

  1. connor:

    You and wife are obviously big gamblers and not basketball coaches. you do not foul a player up one point to allow him to take a lead in the game. The Long Beach player was able to hit the 3 point shot, but fouling him early was not the proper play.

  2. Rich Figel:

    Fouling with a one-point lead may not be the conventional play, but statistically based on odds and game theory, it does make sense. I don't have the time or patience to explain 'game theory' to you, but you should know that there is a reason bookies and sports books win more than they lose. Sports fans usually bet based on emotions/superstitions instead of the odds and math.

    Let me ask you this: would UH have had a better chance of getting off a good shot -- i.e., put it in the hands of Fotu or Standhardinger, with more time on the clock (say 15 seconds) -- or less time, which is what they wound up with? Given how many times Standhardinger has gone to the foul line this season, don't you think our odds of winning or tying and playing OT would be better if we were down by just one point as opposed to two points, which is what happened when they gave up a three? If he or Fotu got the ball closer to the basket because they had MORE time to run a play, don't you think there would have been a better chance they might have been fouled even if they missed the shot?

    Just saying, in the end, preserving time to take the final shot might be better strategy than hoping the other team simply blows it.

  3. connor:

    let's take a poll and see how many people agree with you or agree with me. should be an interesting exercise.

    I do find it interesting that your position is based on a theory that is too complicated for a poor person like me to understand.

  4. Rich Figel:

    Sorry, Connor, if you took it that way. Game theory IS complicated. I just ran through a couple of scenarios and asked you which odds are better, and you didn't respond. Again, are the odds better if you have more time or less time to get off one final shot when your team is trailing by one or two points? I think you'd agree, more time = better shot probability.

    In actuality, your strategy of betting the entire game on the outcome of allowing LBSU to take as long as they want to get the shot they want, and leaving UH with little or no time if they made the shot, seems to be the riskier gamble.

    As for polls, I think Vegas regularly proves more people will pick a losing proposition than the winning one. Otherwise, all the casinos would go bust. There is a good book out called "Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing" which uses facts -- and lots of sports stats -- to show how conventional wisdom can be wrong. "Moneyball" proved that too. That's why major professional sports teams employ statisticians who study the numbers, instead of making decisions based solely on old coaching philosophies.

  5. connor:

    Basketball is a game played by athletes and not statisticians. You depend on the defense to prevent the team from scoring at the end of the game. you do not depend on trailing and then scoring again simply because there is more time left. I think that your odds have nothing to do with the fact that the UH believed that it could prevent Long Beach from scoring at the end. If your theory is so correct, please show me examples of college or pro teams that will allow a team to score to take a lead at the end of a game. never happens.

  6. Rich Figel:

    You think coaches don't consult statistics? Any college or pro coach, including Gib Arnold, would tell you that's absolutely not true. Gib can recite player and game stats backwards and forwards after each game. Did you not see the movie or read the book, Moneyball? That is how major league baseball teams are run now. Every NFL team employs scouts and assistants who study statistics and are hired to analyze talent by NUMBERS... size, speed, jumping ability, how many power reps they can do, what their past teams win/loss records were.

    The fact that UH lost that game indicates they picked a LOSING strategy. Again, try reading Top Dog or Moneyball, and you'll see many teams that have a lead wind up losing precisely because they play "not to lose" instead of playing to win. Playing to win means taking calculated risks -- the same risks that got the team the lead. Playing "not to lose" is allowing the other team to dictate the action at the end, which is what UH has been doing when they have a small lead in tight games.

    So, college or pro teams that "allow" opponents to take the lead by playing conservatively actually happens all the time. And there have been plenty of instances where basketball teams with leads purposely fouled certain players on the other team because they knew the odds of that player making foul shots wasn't good. Actually, UH did that themselves when they beat Irvine at Irvine! They hacked the giant center, even though it might have backfired since we had the lead. And that center bricked his foul shots.

    Again, intentionally fouling the LB player with 18 seconds left is NOT the same as allowing them a dunk or uncontested 3-point shot (which is what UH gave them). As I wrote in my original post, it would have put the LB player on the foul line to shoot 1-and-1. You do understand that, right? The player would not only have to sink the front end to tie it, he would then have to hit the back end to take the lead. That's hardly a gimme... and more to the point, UH would have had MORE TIME left on the clock for the final shot.

    I can also tell you there have been recent football games -- NFL and college -- where the coach told his players to allow the other team to score because their only chance was to get the ball back, score, then recover an onsides kick and score again to win. And they won.

  7. Danzdaman:

    I beg to differ on the so called statistics and game probability. What it really boils down to is player execution. You can have the greatest team of statisticians that can give you all the "what if" scenarios but, if your players can NOT execute on defense and the other team runs a play to the “T” on offense. Obviously they played to win the game not go into OT, it’s a situation that the Men’s BB team experienced last Thursday. Let’s just hope that the Mens BB team goes on a hot streak in the next couple of weeks. Win the BW tournament or bust, our RPI is way too low for an at-large or NIT invite.

  8. hapaguy:

    Couldn't agree with you LESS Rich. I have never coached but I played organized ball and I would never foul the other team in the final seconds with a lead. I would rather depend (have faith) on the defense to make a big stop in the final seconds. What kind of message is that sending your players when you tell them to foul because you don't believe enough in them to make one stop?

  9. Rich Figel:

    Sure, of course it comes down to player execution. But the coach's job is to put the team in the best position to win. And like it or not, statistics determine the difference between players who execute or do not, whether it's basketball shooting percentage or hitting average. It's not a fluke that Fotu has a much higher shooting percentage than say, Shamburger. So who do you want to take the last win-or-lose shot in a tight game? Your best shooter or the other team's best shooter?

    Anyhow, my point about playing "not to lose" pertains to more than just the final minute. What bothered me in the LBSU game was that once Fotu got called with his fourth foul, Gib left him in to play defense when it was clear he was frustrated and didn't want to risk fouling out by going for a block or trying to grab a rebound in the final two-three minutes. Why not put Davis back in on defense and sub out when we had the ball or after a UH foul? Fotu was forced to play with his hands tied on defense. If not Davis, Valdes might have made a difference in the final minutes on D because that guy can jump and grab rebounds... there have a couple of close games we lost because our guys just couldn't seem to grab that rebound at the end.

    And sometimes it was just bad luck on those rebounds.

  10. Rich Figel:

    Hapaguy - What message it sends is the same message they sent Irvine when they hacked their center and put him on the line: you will have to beat us because we feel we can score the last bucket -- either by getting the ball to Fotu or Standhardinger, and forcing them to either block our shot or foul one of our guys.

    However, if that game was at home, I might be inclined to play the home court advantage odds and let the opposing team have to make the last shot. I've been there in the arena when the crowd makes it loud and inspires the team to play good D... only to see the other team hit the last shot and beat us then too. And how many times have we seen UH play good defense for 34 seconds, only to give up a 3-pointer just before the buzzer goes off?

    You guys are all sticking with conventional wisdom because on the surface, it seems to go against human nature to concede a single point... yet no one seems to question leaving Fotu in to play defense with four fouls, which to me seemed like conceding points to LBSU since he wasn't going to challenge any inside shots and risk fouling out. What kind of message did that send to Davis or Valdes or any of the other subs on the bench?

  11. hapaguy:

    Rich I agree with you that you want your "best player" to have the final shot in a game when you are behind. But I don't agree that you PURPOSELY put yourself behind to accomplish that. Maybe if we had a 3 point lead and the opposing team has the ball with a few seconds left...MAYBE...... I also agree with you that sometimes I question Gib's strategy during a game. For instance, didn't we have the ball last (5-6 seconds remaining) with one timeout left...

  12. Rich Figel:

    Hey, guys - I never said the idea was to purposely put UH behind! Fouling in a 1-and-1 situation with 18 seconds left is the only way to guarantee UH would have had a final shot at winning if LBSU decides to take the clock down to the last second. So, like I said earlier, it's risking everything on what LB does or doesn't do... it takes control out of UH's hands to determine their own fate. I have faith in Fotu and Standhardinger to score or get fouled in the final seconds. I don't have faith in our "ole'" matador style defense (except for when Davis is in playing at the top of the zone).

    It's funny, but on one of the sports message boards I was reading how some posters were saying Davis wasn't a good player. Then someone cites the stats that shows he has the most rebounds per minute played, and it seems more often than not, when he comes in, they play better defense. But then he'll blow a lay-up and everyone groans and says take him out, even if he has been playing good D and grabbing rebounds or loose balls. I just wish he would use his 7-feet frame to dunk the damn ball when he's two feet from the rim!

  13. Rich Figel:

    Hapaguy - I think we had 8 seconds, and I understand the theory behind not calling time-out -- some coaches don't want to give the other team a chance to regroup and set up their defense. Personally, I wished Gib called the time-out to set up a called play to Fotu or Stanhardinger. In hindsight, UH was lucky to have that much time to get off a final shot. As I keep repeating, LB could have taken it down even farther before putting up the three (or a two from closer in).

    Anyway, doesn't matter. We lost. On to the next game...

  14. hapaguy:

    OK. So LBSU inbounds the ball with 16.8 secs left do we foul right away? What if we are not able to foul right away and 3, 4, or even 5 seconds runs off the clock? What if he makes both free throws and we get the ball back behind one and THEY foul us right away. What if we foul right away and LBSU misses the front end of the one and one and what if they rebound and they get the ball? What if he makes the first one and misses the second one and they get the rebound? What if LBSU makes both to take the lead and there is 12 seconds left and they foul US right away so they get the ball with 8 or so seconds left? What on and so on....Could you lay out a logical strategy for me so that I understand how the final 16.8 seconds would play out? Better to have faith in your team to play good defense for the final 16.8 seconds......

  15. Rich Figel:

    Hapaguy - Yep, there are multiple outcomes possible if UH fouled right away -- all of which favor UH because of the one-point lead! The worst possible outcome is allowing LB to hold for the last shot and hitting either a 2-point or 3-point shot, or getting fouled in the process and leaving no time left on the clock, right? Frankly, I thought LB would go inside right at Fotu and try to either get him to foul or figure he won't challenge the shot.

    Yes, it's true, if we foul and the front end of the 1-and-1 is missed, LB could grab the rebound (or on the second shot too). But read my original post -- I said the odds and edge go to UH because we have the inside position. Then it comes down to blocking out. Sure, a bad bounce could give the ball back to LB. I'm talking about probability though and what scenario gives us the best odds. You'd really need a computer programmer to run the entire simulation to show what I'm trying to explain.

    What's interesting is how people perceive a one-point lead. There have been studies done that show people will pass up a better opportunity to hold onto something depending on how the situation is phrased. If they think they're "giving" away something, even if the promised return would be more, they will pass up the better deal. Also, women perceive competition differently than men do... so my wife just viewed it objectively, while most guys would abhor the idea of possibly "giving up" a shaky one-point lead even if the odds were improved by fouling.

    To put it another way, let's say this was Irvine we were playing. Would you foul their 7'6" center who shoots about 30 percent on foul throws if they had the ball with 18 seconds left and we had a one-point lead? Or would you let them throw it in to that same center standing next to the basket, where he shoots almost 100 percent because he can dunk without jumping!

    Of course, you'd foul him wouldn't you? So to Connor who says no coach would ever purposely foul when they had a lead, I wonder what Gib would do in the above situation.

  16. connor:

    I still would not have fouled him. Let the other team beat our defense on an offensive play, not on free throws, no matter how bad you think that he is. I would put my faith in our defense.

  17. Rich Figel:

    Connor - Really? You do know Gib actually did employ that strategy in the win against Irvine, and the Bows won in OT!

  18. hapaguy:

    Rich I guess we have to agree to disagree. There are to many variables to say that ALL the possible outcomes favor UH if we foul right away. I can right off the top of my head come up with one scenario that refutes that: we foul right away, and they make both fouls. We inbounds and they foul right away. Wouldn't at that point all possible outcomes favor LBSU according to your theory?

  19. Rich Figel:

    FYI, here's a bit from a Stanford Business School publication about the "loss aversion" experiment I alluded to:

    "... The study, which aimed to see the effect of emotions on making simple investment decisions, examined how well healthy adults performed compared to patients with damage to the emotion-processing regions of the brain. The rules were simple: Participants each got $20 they could use to place $1 bets on 20 tosses of an ordinary coin. Each losing bet would cost $1, while each winning bet would earn $2.50. From a cool-headed distance, the right decision is a no-brainer: Given the payout and the odds of winning, of course you should bet every time. But anyone at all familiar with prospect theory in behavioral economics, developed by legendary psychologists Daniel Kahneman of Princeton and the late Amos Tversky of Stanford as an alternative to theory on expected utility, knows that’s not what most people actually do. Irrationally, we’re risk averse, finding the pain of loss much greater than the pleasure of equivalent gain. And, sure enough, in Shiv’s experiment the healthy participants passed up several chances to place a bet — and, as fear mounted with each subsequent coin toss, were less and less likely to take the gamble. As a result, they earned an average of only $22.80. A typical demonstration of loss aversion? Perhaps, but here’s the frinky part: The Mr. Spock-like (“Vulcan”) patients earned $25.70, on average, because they remained unswayed by the fear of loss throughout the game..."

  20. Rich Figel:

    No, because if they make both foul shots, they're up only one point. They foul us, and now we have two free throws (if they're over the penalty) and only need to make one to at least stay even. If we make both, we're still up one and they have to advance the ball from the other end. Again, we're talking about probabilities and odds. If they foul us and we only have a 1-and-1 situation, you could say that might favor them... but then all your arguments AGAINST us fouling them would come into play in favor of UH, no? Eg., UH could miss the front end, but the ball might be rebounded by Hawaii and/or put back in for two points.

    But it's okay to disagree! See my repost of the Stanford risk aversion experiment. That's what I'm really talking about! We perceive something as risky even if the odds are better when you sit down and figure it out. It's fear of losing or playing not to lose that gets you in situations where you have to pray the other guy misses the final shot. Or you need to depend on someone to step up and make a play at the end -- either the defensive end or offensive end. I think UH's strength is on the offensive end.

  21. EMS:

    Disagree hands down. I guess that's why you're a writer and not a coach.

  22. Rich Figel:

    And you are... what, a coach? You're certainly not a writer, judging by your comment and inability to string together more than one sentence to explain your rationale.

    In any event, I'm tired of arguing with people who have closed minds. It's like when old football fans say you have to run the ball to win, and can't grasp offenses that pass first. There are football and basketball coaches who have challenged conventional wisdom and gone on to have great winning records. There's even a coach who has his team do onside kicks after EVERY score... and they recover more kicks than they lose. There's a coach who NEVER punts if his team is past their own 20-yard-line or something like that, because he did the stats and it showed the payoff justified that approach... and his team wins too. There's a basketball coach who has his team press EVERY time they score, and his team wins.

    But since you don't really bother to read about coaches who think outside the box, I guess that's why you're not a very knowledgeable sports fan.

    And since I get the last word, note that the LBSU coach had the winning strategy: the reason they took a 3-pointer with that much time remaining on the clock is he knew if the shot was missed, and UH got the rebound, LBSU still had time to foul. Even if UH made two foul shots, LBSU would still have about 5-6 seconds to put up one more 3-point shot to tie the game in regulation. LBSU did the math and basically had a 2-for-1 shot at tying or winning the game in the last 18 seconds.

    Then again, I guess math wasn't your best school subject, was it, EMS?

    End of discussion.