"Although the world is messy and chaotic, if you translate it into the world of numbers and shapes, patterns emerge and you start to understand why things are the way they are." -- Marcus du Sautoy
The Valparaiso men's basketball team traveled to Carbondale last weekend to take on Missouri Valley Conference foe Southern Illinois. Both teams shot 24-49 from the floor and the Crusaders had six 3-pointers to just three for the Salukis.
Valparaiso went back on the road on Wednesday night against Evansville and had a 23-22 field goal advantage over the Purple Aces, including an 8-3 advantage in 3-pointers.
The Crusaders lost both games.
Valparaiso attempted 11 free throws against Southern Illinois, compared to 24 for the host Salukis. Against Evansville, the Crusaders were perfect on all five of their free throw attempts, but that paled in comparison to Evansville's 23 free throw attempts.
Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that the reason for these free throw discrepancies could be any number of things. The Crusaders were trailing late in both games and at least some of those free throws came as a result of Valparaiso trying to extend the game at the line. Secondly, there's every bit of possibility that the Crusaders are just a bad team this season that are a step slow on the court, resulting in a higher number of fouls being committed. Valparaiso is averaging 21.69 fouls per game this season as compared to just 18.81 fouls per game last year and 19.78 in 2015-16. The Crusaders are on pace for their most fouls since the 2003-04 season when they averaged 21.71 fouls per game.
Could it be something else? The Crusaders are the new kids on the block in the Missouri Valley Conference and are seeing a new group of officials for the first time. When Valparaiso was in the Horizon League last season, the games were governed by the Men’s Basketball Collegiate Officiating Consortium, LLC. Now in the Valley, the games are governed by the Men's Basketball Officiating Consortium.
Confused? Yeah, me too. There were seven Division I officiating consortiums as of the 2016-17 season. The Horizon League were part of a group that included the Big Ten, MAC, MAAC, Summit League and America East. The Valley is part of a group that has included the Big 12, Conference USA, Ohio Valley and Southland.
Former Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew was often paranoid about officiating before the Horizon League joined the consortium, particularly in non-conference games. Drew was worried that officials would favor the teams that they saw on a more consistent basis.
I include this piece of information if only to illustrate that coaches worry about a bias in officiating when it comes to familiarity. With Valparaiso joining a new league, and new consortium of officials this season, there is a considerable lack of familiarity for the Crusaders while it's business as usual for their opposition.
It's probably a little conspiracy theorist of me to ask if Valparaiso is getting hazed by Valley officials, but it's 2018 and that seems like a clickbait headline if I ever saw one. The fact is, it's difficult to ascertain if the Crusaders aren't getting calls because they're a new team, a bad team, or just a team that is constantly playing catchup at the end of games.
This is where i turn to the numbers. After Wednesday night's game against Evansville where the Crusaders took just five free throws to the 23 for the Purple Aces, I decided to chart the free throw attempts in every game between Missouri Valley Conference teams this season. I wanted to look at a handful of home/road splits to see if any patterns emerged.
Difference between Home/Road Attempted Free Throws (Average per game)
1. Illinois State, 12.33 (25.16 attempts at home, 12.83 attempts on road)
2. Missouri State, 11.02 (22.3, 11.28)
3. Northern Iowa, 9.59 (22.42, 12.83)
4. Bradley, 5.12 (22.28, 17.16)
5. Evansville, 4.21 (21.71, 17.5)
6. Drake, 3.83 (19.83, 16)
7. Valparaiso, 3.59 (20.16, 16.57)
8. Loyola, 1.78 (16.28, 14.5)
9. Southern Illinois, 1.64 (18.8, 17.16)
10. Indiana State, 0.16 (19.18, 19)
* Every team in the Valley averages more free throw attempts at home than they do on the road. Indiana State leads the league with an average of 19 attempted free throws on the road per game. That mark would be ninth among averages for home teams in the league.
* Illinois State (25.16), Northern Iowa (22.42) and Missouri State (22.3) average the most free throw attempts at home, while also averaging the least amount in the Valley on the road, with Northern Iowa and Illinois State averaging 12.83 attempts per game while Missouri State averages 11.28.
Difference between Road/Home Allowed Free Throws (average per game)
1. Indiana State, 12.64 (28.14 allowed on road, 15.5 allowed at home)
2. Valparaiso, 8.75 (27.42, 18.67)
3. Southern Illinois, 8.33 (19.5, 11.17)
4. Evansville, 6.26 (22.83, 16.57)
5. Illinois State, 5.33 (23.16, 17.83)
6. Bradley, 3.5 (22.5, 19)
7. Drake, 2.48 (15.28, 12.8)
8. Loyola, 1.72 (14, 12.28)
9. Missouri State, 1.7 (19, 17.3)
10. Northern Iowa, 1.3 (15.16, 13.86)
* Valparaiso ranks second in the league in Home Free Throws Allowed at 18.67 per game and second in the league in Road Free Throws Allowed at 27.42 per game.
* Loyola (12.28) and Southern Illinois (11.17), the two teams at the top of the Valley standings, allow the least amount of opponent free throws at home in league play. Loyola (14) also allows the least amount of free throws on the road.
Home Free Throw Advantage (average per game)
1. Northern Iowa, 8.57
2. Southern Illinois, 7.66
3. Illinois State, 7.33
4. Drake, 7
5. Evansville, 5.24
6. Missouri State, 5
7. Loyola, 4
8. Indiana State, 3.66
9. Bradley, 3.28
10. Valparaiso, 1.49
* As mentioned above, every Valley team attempts more free throws at home than they do on the road. Every Valley team also shoots more free throws at home than their road opponents do.
* Valparaiso has the slimmest "home court advantage" when it comes to free throws, shooting just 1.49 more free throws per game than their opponents at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Road Free Throw Disadvantage (average per game)
1. Valparaiso, 10.86
2. Illinois State, 10.33
3. Indiana State, 9.14
4. Missouri State, 7.72
5. Evansville, 5.33
6. Bradley, 5.33
7. Northern Iowa, 2.337
8. Southern Illinois, 2.33
9. Loyola, -0.5
10. Drake, -0.71
* There it is: Valparaiso has the biggest discrepancy in the league when it comes to free throws on the road. Valparaiso's opponents are shooting an average of 10.86 more free throws per game whenever the Crusaders step into another Valley arena.
* The argument that the officials aren't giving Matt Lottich respect because he's new to the conference doesn't necessarily hold water once you consider that Niko Medved is new to the league as well and Drake actually attempts 0.71 more free throws on the road than their home opponents.
There's a lot of data here and it's difficult to determine causation and correlation. What is clear is that through seven Valley road games, the Crusaders are giving up nearly 11 more free throw attempts to their opponents. Is it the product of being a young team? A bad team? The product of having two 7-footers on the roster?
Or does it come down to the simple fact that the officials are making the Crusaders pay their dues this season?