Do you sometimes hear the sound of whistles in your sleep after watching SEC basketball games? Does it, at times, feel games have become glorified free throw contests in recent years?
That’s because in the SEC, it just means more (fouls).
According to ESPN’s John Gasaway, the SEC has been the most foul-prone major conference in all of college basketball each of the past five seasons.
“Last season, while the other five major conferences collectively posted a lower foul rate than they had the previous season, the Southeastern Conference went in a different direction,” Gasaway reported. “The SEC’s free throw rate (FTA/FGA in league games) increased by a notably robust 14%. The only league in the nation that posted a higher free throw rate in 2019-20 was the SWAC. Barely.”
Leading up to the 2013-14 season, the NCAA men’s basketball committee voted to put more of an emphasis on defensive violations, leading to a spike in foul calls for one year. That season finished with a 0.403 free throw rate, compared to roughly one free throw for every three shot attempts from the field we see in today’s game.
As for the SEC, they finished the 2019-20 season with a 0.395 foul rate, on-par with the 2013-14 season. More specifically, South Carolina finished as the worst fouling team in the conference with an opponent free throw rate of 0.571, followed by Missouri at 0.559.
The SEC’s sky-high foul rate made the variance across all of college basketball “easily” the highest in almost two decades.
“Last season, the variance in free throw rates across the six major conferences clocked in at easily its highest point in the past 19 years,” Gasaway said. “This was driven not only by the SEC but also by the low level of foul calls in Big Ten games. Yet even the Big Ten was much closer to the Division I average than was the SEC.
“In a sport where free throws are becoming less frequent, the SEC is forging its own path and still recording roughly two shots at the line for every five from the field. This state of affairs appears to be more of a coaching choice than a byproduct of overzealous referees. The SEC is quite simply playing its own brand of basketball — and could well do so again in 2020-21.”