College Basketball Betting: AAC Play Has Been a Free Throw Shooting Contest
Last night I spotted an interesting statistic regarding the American Athletic Conference on KenPom.com. Of the 32 college basketball conferences, the AAC currently ranks first in free throw rate. Someone obviously has to rank first but the fact that it is the AAC makes it odd. Check out the league’s FT rate the last six seasons…
2019 – 1st
2018 – 23rd
2017 – 29th
2016 – 32nd
2015 – 32nd
2014 – 28th
Last season, from a raw number standpoint, conference games featured an average of 36.1 free throw attempts per game. This season, the number has ballooned to 45.7! That has had a significant impact on totals with 19 of the AAC’s 28 conference games going over.
My initial theory regarding why the sudden spike in free throw attempts was the referees. Noted for being a low scoring, grind-it-out conference, perhaps the league office told the refs to clean up some of the bullying on the defensive end. Unfortunately, there’s really no way of confirming that. The next step was to see what has changed team-by-team compared to last season. Here is where we start to get some answers. USF (4-0 O/U vs. AAC) is one of the main culprits. The Bulls went from fairly passive in 2017-18 to one of the most aggressive teams in the country as they rank 2nd nationally in FT rate while their FT rate “defense” ranks 325th. Four of the Bulls’ five league games featured 50+ FT attempts — the one that didn’t, to no surprise, went under the total. Under Penny Hardaway, Memphis has a similar profile of looking to drive to the basket a ton while playing high pressure defense. UCF doesn’t foul at a high rate but the Knights rank 1st nationally in free throw rate; another ditch the three, drive first team. Under Dan Hurley, UConn has been fouling like madmen — note that four of the Huskies’ five AAC games featured late game “foul fests.” Teams are scoring 31% of their points against the Huskies on free throws. Tulsa doesn’t foul much in large part because it plays primarily zone but the Golden Hurricane are another team the would rather drive to the basket than jack up a three. Temple is the one example that strengthens the “ref” argument. Under Fran Dunphy, the Owls typically rank among the nation’s least frequent free throw takers (338th, 344th, 348th FT rate the last three years). In fact, only 13.8% of Temple’s points in conference play last season came from the charity stripe. This season, 23.9%.
It’ll be interesting to see what sort of adjustments are made the remainder of the year. Do the refs back off? Do teams start to play more zone in attempt to stay out of foul trouble? Like our Big XII under the total trend from earlier in the week, this is one worth keeping an eye on moving forward.
AAC Over/Under vs. League
Wichita State 4-0
East Carolina 3-2