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Thoughts From a Saturday Night in Foster Pavilion & Iowa State’s Free Throw Nightmare

Waco, Free Throws, and the Fan Experience

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Baylor Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Foster Pavilion

Baylor’s new arena was just recently opened for use in January of this year. The old Ferrell Center was ready to be put out to pasture, and Baylor forked up the cash to create a new facility. I was excited to see the new place, especially considering I wouldn’t have to watch the horrendous TV angle that made it feel like an amateur rock climber had made his way to the top of the place to setup a camera.

The actual arena is still not totally finished, which is noticeable when you first enter the main entrance. A large lobby greets you as you make your way in, though there isn’t anything actually there to fill the space. It’s a large, empty room with two staircases that point upwards towards the primary concourse. The concourse itself feels appropriately wide enough for the 7,500-person capacity, unlike Hilton’s log-jam feel trying to get in or out of a game.

Contributing to the head scratching TV camera angle is the fact that Foster is STEEP. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, mainly because you’re so close to the floor. From where I sat in the 6th row of the upper deck, it was easy to feel connected to the game due to the close proximity.

Sightlines aside, the game experience itself is solid. The arena was engineered to push sound downwards (so I was told) towards the court, and really does amplify fan noise. The only real complaint I could have is that the sound system and PA is so ungodly loud that you cannot hear yourself think. For the record, I have no issue with music blasting as loud as humanly possible during these games, but when the PA is doing ad reads about the official cupcakes of Baylor athletics, I could’ve done without feeling like my ear was pressed into an amp. It almost felt like an overcorrection for the decision to downsize arena capacity. “Oh we have fewer people so let’s crank up the sound system.”

I’ve been to a few ISU-Baylor football games in Waco and have never had issues with their fans. One guy saw me decked out in cardinal and gold and thanked me for coming. Another was convinced Iowa State had paid off the officials and was almost certainly cheating (though he didn’t mention anything about spying on their huddle).

All-in-all, Foster was a good place to watch what ended up being an extremely strange basketball game, and I’d recommend checking it out next time the Clones are in Waco.

Free Throws

Iowa State was the beneficiary of a few strange calls on Saturday, including three technical fouls by the Baylor bench, two of which contributed to Scott Drew’s ejection in the second half. The Cyclones used 8 made free throws off two of those technical fouls to help solidify a 20-0 run that propelled them to a 61-54 lead with just under 8 minutes to play.

But Iowa State only shot 59% from the line, part of a growing pattern of inefficiencies at the charity stripe. The Cyclones have now gone 5 straight games without shooting over 70% from the line as team, and while it’s easy to point fingers at Bob Jones, who shot 4-10, Tamin Lipsey only made 2-4, and Keshon Gilbert was 5-8. Iowa State shot 32 free throws and only made 19, and for those of you doing the math at home, left 13 points off the board in what ended up being a 2-point loss.

The Cyclones are now averaging an abysmal 65% from the line in losses this year, and have left the following point totals off the board in each:

  • Baylor - 2 point loss: 13
  • BYU - 15 point loss: 9
  • OU - 8 point loss: 3
  • Texas A&M - 4 point loss: 9
  • Virginia Tech - 9 point loss: 11

I would attribute at least the A&M & Baylor losses directly to missed chances from the free throw line, and you could argue that the BYU game looks differently if Iowa State makes even half of those 9 missed shots.

In last year’s Sweet Sixteen, only two teams shot worse than 70% from the free throw line (Gonzaga and Arkansas), and both were full % points higher than Iowa State’s current 68.5% season mark. Free throw shooting has already cost this team multiple games so far and there is a very real possibility that it continues to do so as the season progresses. The good news is that this is a fixable issue. Time, effort, and repetition can still prevent what is already a problem from becoming something even more alarming.

Misc. Game Thoughts

  • I thought Iowa State actually played well on offense during the first half. Despite the halftime deficit, the Cyclones did a good job of finding soft spots in the Baylor zone but couldn’t convert. Most possessions ended with decent looks around the rim that Iowa State just couldn’t capitalize on. The game numbers support that: The Cyclones were only 3 points worse than Baylor from an offensive efficiency-standpoint, but were horrendous on actually making shots. Iowa State’s 43.8% effective FG%* was 15% points worse than Baylor’s and well below the Cyclones’ 53.6% average. Sometimes it’s just not the night.
  • Iowa State’s defense struggles to defend against teams that can make 3’s consistently. The Cyclones allow the 5th most points from behind the arc in terms of points distribution and also give up the 7th worst 3PA/FGA in the entire country. Iowa State’s ability to create chaos and turnovers for opponents also allows for teams with efficient shooters to effectively space the floor and create open looks. Both Baylor (best in the country) and BYU (53rd) are elite 3-point shooting teams who can splash from deep and have handed Iowa State their last two losses. Keep an eye on Texas (25th) and Texas Tech (27th) as difficult matchups for Iowa State, as well as the rematch with BYU later on. Further down the road in the NCAA Tournament, this will also serve as a basis for determining who a good/bad matchup could be for the Clones.
  • There was plenty of confusion within the arena during each of the three technical fouls that were called Saturday night. No explanation was given and the crowd (myself included) was rightfully confused as to what was going on. This led to me to think about the in-game experience as a whole. I believe referees should have to answer and provide explanations for any technical/intentional fouls committed during each game. Usually this is done for the TV audience, but less so for fans within the arena. The better a crowd is educated on what is going on, the better and easier it can be to manage a game as an official. Offering a quick explanation would serve to increase the fan experience and keep people engaged. Same thing with replays. I don’t understand why reviews and replays are so limited in-arena. Any controversial call or replay was shown exactly once and then promptly removed for an ad placement. This isn’t specific to Baylor, either, and has been a trend as of late.

*This statistic adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal. For example, suppose Player A goes 4 for 10 with 2 threes, while Player B goes 5 for 10 with 0 threes. Each player would have 10 points from field goals, and thus would have the same effective field goal percentage (50%)