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To Foul or Not to Foul up Three Points?

One of the new emerging controversies in basketball coaching strategy is the decision to foul leading by three with less than ten seconds to go in the game.  There are several schools of thought on this and there are many different decisions as to whether or not coaches should consider fouling at the end of the game.  Not being one to shy away from controversy, I am going to put my two cents in on this topic.

The school of thought saying that you should foul takes into consideration the possibility of losing the game in overtime if your opponent does hit a three-point shot.  The game that comes to mind the most is the 2008 NCAA Championship Game between Memphis and Kansas.  Memphis allowed Mario Chalmers of Kansas to shoot a three-point shot for the tie and it was good.  Because of how depleted the Memphis bench was, Kansas dominated overtime and defeated Memphis for the national championship. 

However, the biggest problems that result from fouling up three points are the ballhandler attempting a shot just as he's being fouled and the challenge of getting the rebound after the second foul shot is missed.  The former happened in an NCAA Regional Semifinal game in 2010 between Xavier and Kansas State.  Kansas State led by three points late in regulation and looked to be well on their way to playing for a trip to the Final Four.  Kansas State decided to foul once the ball crossed half court.  The problem was that Terrell Holloway attempted a shot as he was being fouled which resulted in him getting to shoot three free throws, all of which were successfully converted.

Gambling that an offensive rebound of a missed second free throw is unlikely has its advantages and its disadvantages.  One of the most memorable examples of fouling backfiring happened in the 2010 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament Championship Game between Kentucky and Mississippi State.  Mississippi State led by three and decided to foul Eric Bledsoe.  Bledsoe made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second.  The rebound was controlled by John Wall of Kentucky who missed a two-point shot that was rebounded by DeMarcus Cousins who made his two-pointer to send the game into overtime.  In overtime, Kentucky prevailed and Mississippi State missed out on an NCAA Tournament berth.

These explanations are not meant to criticize the idea of fouling with a three-point lead, but it is to merely show that there are times where fouling with a three-point lead does not always work out for the best.  However, there are moments where it does succeed by getting the rebound of the second missed foul shot and closing out the game.  Also, the method could succeed when the free throw shooter misses the first shot forcing your opponent to rebound and score immediately.

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