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Did Iowa Women Suffer from Lack of Fouls in Loss to Creighton?

Did Iowa Women Suffer from Lack of Fouls in Loss to Creighton?


4/1/2022 - After the #2 seeded Iowa women's basketball team was upset by #10 seeded Creighton to end their 2022 season, head coach Lisa Bluder spoke at the press conference.

“I'll say I do believe that game was called differently than what we've seen all year, and I really think that's unfortunate,” Bluder said. “We average going to the free-throw line 18 times; we go eight tonight. We averaged 34 fouls being called in a game, 22 were called tonight. It's pretty frustrating when an NCAA game is called completely different than the 30 games that prepared you for this point, and that is very frustrating.”

When I hear about unusual situations with data, I like to investigate these claims to see whether they are statistically sound or not.

Let's start with the first comment she made, the number of times they went to the free-throw line (8 vs average of 18).

Here is the raw data from this season with the relevant data for Personal Fouls (PF) and Free Throws (FT) for both Iowa and their opponent, along with the Average and Median calculations.

I created a simple Line Chart using Excel, to visually look at the data for each game, to see if these results were outside of the typical range (or variation spread) of previous game this season. I highlighted the Creighton game with a red dot, to make it stand out.

There were a low number of total fouls in the game, however, against Wisconsin there were even less (18 fouls called), and Evansville had 21, so 22 called against Creighton is low, but not unusually low.

If we break this data down into Iowa and their opponents, we see a similar outcome. There were a low number of personal fouls called against Iowa (10) in the Creighton game. However, there were other games with less (Nebraska = 7, Evansville = 8 and Wisconsin = 8). Again, this is not the lowest number of fouls called on Iowa this season.

For opponents, 12 fouls were called on Creighton. Earlier this season, there were lower games than that (Wisconsin = 10, Duke = 11, Iowa State = 12). I would not consider this unusually low.

Now, let's look at her other comment, the number of fouls being called in a game (22 vs average of 34).

Iowa shot 8 free throws against Creighton. They only shot 6 against Iowa State, 7 against Wisconsin, and 8 against Illinois. Not as unusual as it seems.

Creighton shot 10 free throws. There were 5 opponents earlier this year that shot less than 10 (Wisconsin = 4, Nebraska = 8, Minnesota = 8, Samford = 9). Again, we see that the data does not appear to be unusually low.

It's important when looking at data to not just look at the average results, but instead you must understand the variation (highs and lows) of the data, to understand whether results are significantly higher or lower than the average. Unusual results are typically measured in terms of variation (standard deviations), and deemed an "outlier" or "special situation" when the results are 3 or more standard deviations from the average.

The other issue with looking at just fouls and free throws is that during some games, more fouls might actually be committed by a team. In some cases, these fouls are made intentionally (if the other team is better and forcing them to foul), or unintentionally by being sloppy or not playing sound defense (maybe fatigue being a factor).

A better metric might be having an external review of each game, determining how many actual calls should or should not have been made, compared to the actual. That would be a better measure of referee performance, instead of purely looking at called and uncalled fouls per game.

 

 


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