February 1, 2013

Borton's Blog: Suspecting foul play

Michigan remains one of the stingiest teams in the nation, as far as allowing opponents to fire up free throws. Indiana shoots them on its home court like Swamp People shoot gators. Something has to give.

That's always the big, black-and-white-striped elephant in the room, of course, any time a team ventures into Assembly Hall. Some 18,000 officiating assistants, looking down from stands so steep they appear ready to collapse onto the court, will shriek like vampires exposed to daylight with every perceived slight.

They'll see every nudge on someone in Crimson and Cream as an assault, punishable by jail time, or at least mandatory season tickets for Indiana football. They'll decry the rare whistle against the home team as if someone remade "Hoosiers," casting Gene Keady as Norman Dale.

It's not as bad as it used to be, of course. When Bob Knight prowled the sidelines, ready to launch a La-Z-Boy or reduce a ref to rubble with an obscene tirade at a moment's notice, Assembly Hall proved the Big Ten's toughest venue.

That has changed, of course. IU fell to No. 2, when The General moved on and passed the torch to Napoleon. (Any questions, scan an Illinois-Michigan State box score from Thursday. The Spartans shot two free throws in the first half before Tom Izzo instructed an Ed Hightower-led crew to Mapquest its location at the intermission. MSU shot 32 in the second half, in a not-so-stunning turnaround).

But we digress.

Out of 347 college basketball programs, the Wolverines are No. 344 as far as the number of fouls they've racked up. John Beilein teaches defense without fouling, and it shows up in the numbers.

The Wolverines have committed 247 of them in 21 games, averaging 11.8 per contest. Tom Crean's crew, by contrast, is No. 206 in the country, with 352 fouls in 21 games, an average of 16.8 per outing.

Safe to say, the Crimson and Crean expect to see more charity than a dozen Michigan fouls, when No. 1 meets No. 3. They're probably anticipating an Assembly Hall-style stimulus package, and they have no reason not to think that way.

Visitors to Assembly Hall this season have gone 137-for-208 at the free throw line, averaging 9.8 makes and 14.9 attempts. The home team, meanwhile, has shot 278-for-377, a healthy 70 more makes than opponents have even attempted.

That averages out to 19.9 points per game at the line at home, on 26.9 attempts. It's a far cry from what the Wolverines have allowed in all games this season: an average 7.2 points on 11.3 free throw attempts.

Now, will Indiana get to the line through its considerable skill, quickness, and offensive ability? Of course. Will it get there at times through different means? Do IU football fans need maps to Pasadena?

It's the game within the game. You go to Indiana (or other tough venues) and you have to win by 12 to win by two. That's just how it is, and no matter what numbers the visitors bring with them (including No. 1), they'd better adjust.

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