UConn heads to Tulsa, Oklahoma for an American Athletic Conference showdown, and I believe Tulsa is being a little bit undervalued here.
Tulsa is 9-1 SU at home this season, with that one loss coming in overtime against Cincinnati last week. We had a winning play on Tulsa +6.5 in that game (posted play on 1/10). They really could have won that game straight up. With that loss to Cincinnati, Tulsa has now won 15 out of its last 16 home games and 24 of its last 27.
Frank Haith has been the coach at Tulsa since the 2014-2015 season. Under Haith, Tulsa has lost back to back home games only three times. It has not happened since the 2016-2017 season when they lost to Cincinnati and SMU back to back. Cincinnati was the 23rd ranked team and SMU was the 11th ranked team (Ken Pom rankings) at the time. They lost the Cincinnati game on a Bearcat game-winning shot with 4.4 seconds remaining. That game was on a Wednesday night and I believe that game winner created a hangover effect for Tulsa in the SMU game. Since then, Tulsa has rebounded from home losses nicely, even if there was a loss on the road in between.
I want to spare you the boring statistical regurgitation because honestly, you can find out how many points per game these teams score and allow on your own pretty easily. So let’s fast forward to the information that ultimately led to me making this play.
I found one interesting commonality in all of UConn’s losses this year. They really struggle with teams who succeed at getting to the free throw line at a high rate.
UConn ranks 342nd (out of 353) in fouls per game overall (22.0), and on the road they average 25.8 fouls per game. They play overly aggressive on defense and are not disciplined enough to defend within their space.
Each and every one of UConn’s losses have come to teams in the top half of the country in free throw rate (FTA/FGA). Free throw rate is all about earning more trips to the foul line. The reality is that a team’s free throw shot volume is more important than a team’s free throw percentage (within reason). On average, NCAA teams have a free throw rate of roughly 34%.
Iowa by 19 – #1 in Free Throw Rate (51.5)
Arizona by 4- #174 in Free Throw Rate (34.2)
Florida State by 8 – #72 in Free Throw Rate (38.3)
Villanova by 23- #124 in Free Throw Rate (36.1)
South Florida by 8 – #3 in Free Throw Rate (50.4)
Central Florida by 12 – #2 in Free Throw Rate (51.4)
Cincinnati by 2 – #87 in Free Throw Rate FTR (37.7)
Only five of UConn’s ten wins have come against teams that rank in the top half of the country in free throw rate. But, three of those teams are ranked between 159 and 173 in that category (Morehead State, Cornell, Manhattan). The other two, UMass Lowell and Syracuse, both rank in the top 80, but neither are in the top 35 in free throw rate. To be honest, it still shocks me that UConn beat Syracuse at the Garden. They just couldn’t miss from three.
So where does Tulsa rank in free throw rate? Ninth (45.8%).
I was so interested in this statistic, that I dove a little bit deeper and found something very interesting.
Under Frank Haith, Tulsa has never ranked outside of the top 100 in free throw rate. In the five seasons with Haith, the Golden Hurricane have only been outside of the top 65 once. Further, they’ve been in the top 20 each of the last three seasons. Haith developed a more physical strategy with his teams towards the end of his tenure at Missouri, encouraging them to get to the free throw line more, and it seems to have carried over into his coaching strategy at Tulsa.
On the other end of the sideline, Dan Hurley leads the Huskies as head coach in his first season at Connecticut. It is sometimes hard to correlate team tendencies to its coach during the coach’s first season and really be able to count on those tendencies to continue over the course of a full season. However, I do not think that is the case when it comes to Dan Hurley. In every single season that Dan Hurley has been a D1 NCAA basketball coach, his teams have ranked in the bottom 125 in the country in defensive free throw rate. In six of his nine seasons, his teams have ranked in the bottom 50 in free throw rate, and four in the bottom 25. This is a team tendency that I believe we can rely on for any Dan Hurley coached team. His teams do not like to play disciplined on the defensive end. They foul a lot, and give opponents ample opportunities to beat them with free, uncontested shots fifteen feet away from the rim.
Tulsa is not the greatest free throw shooting team in terms of percentage (69.7%), but like I have mentioned already, they get to the line at a high rate. In games where they attempt 30 or more free throws, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane are 6-0 straight up.
I am careful to back teams that shoot under 70% from the free throw line, but in their last three games, Tulsa averaged 75.3% from the stripe. Riding a two game loss coming into this home game, I think Frank Haith would have spent the last few days in practice preaching fundamentals. I think you will see his team ready to go tonight with a physical game plan that involves getting to the free throw line a lot and converting easy shots into easy points against an otherwise good team in UConn.
In a game with such a small spread, you have to look for an angle that provides you with a distinct edge on one of the teams. I believe I have found that edge in this game. Free throws will be the deciding factor tonight in Tulsa in what will be an otherwise competitive contest. Connecticut will continue to foul at a high rate, putting the Golden Hurricanes on the line without any pressure from an away crowd. I do not see Tulsa losing back to back home games for the first time tonight since 2017. For these reasons, in addition to the stats and trends below, I am locking in Tulsa in this matchup in the American Athletic Conference. I think we see a 5-8 point victory for the Golden Hurricane.
The Pick: Tulsa PK (-110)
16.5 fouls per game overall (#43)
40.3% opponent shooting percentage (#36)
39.5% opponent shooting percentage at home
12.8 turnovers per game (#117)
22.0 fouls per game overall (#342)
25.8 fouls per game on the road (#351)
46.2% opponent shooting percentage on the road
14.1 turnovers per game (230th)
16.5 turnovers per game on the road
7-3 ATS L10 following SU L
4-1 ATS L5 following ATS L
4-1 ATS L5 at home vs teams with road win percentage under 40%
5-2 ATS L7 Home Games
2-9 ATS L11 Road Games
2-6 ATS L8 vs team with win percentage over 60%
2-8 ATS L10 Road Games vs team with home win percentage over 60%
16-38-1 ATS L55 following a SU L
0-4 SU at Tulsa since Tulsa entered the AAC in 2014-2015