Were Iowa State to have fouled on the ball exchange in the corner—a no-risk situation that couldn’t possibly have resulted in a foul in the act of shooting—the Cyclones would have sent the Jayhawks to the line needing a modern miracle. Put Kansas at the line and Bill Self’s team would have needed the following to happen concomitantly:
1) A made pressure free throw on the front end of a one-and-one; that’s not a given.
2) A missed free throw that grazes the rim (a made free throw or a missed attempt that doesn’t touch the rim gives the ball back to Iowa State in the lead)
3) An offensive rebound without fouling
4) A made put-back in a scrambled situation with the clock winding down
The likelihood of those four criteria happening in succession is almost negligible. Need proof? Add up the number of teams over the last decade that were fouled down three with less than ten seconds to play yet still managed to force overtime. You can count them on one hand. The number of teams who have tied up the game on a 3-point shot in the waning seconds? An average college basketball month alone is usually good for five or six.
Fred Hoiberg dared Ben McLemore to do what he had done all night, sink a marginally contested trey. His mistake. Now that Hoiberg has been burned by his adherence to the law of averages—figuring McLemore was due for a miss—perhaps the upstart head coach will become the newest subscriber to the foolproof law of “fouling unconditionally.” It’s to his benefit to join the club.
Hoiberg has made hundreds of tactical coaching masterstrokes this season that have Iowa State back in a crowded bubble conversation. But come March, the one obvious decision he failed to make could ultimately cause the Cyclones to spiral off the bubble instead.