Guest Post #1: The Ryan Spencer Rule — Free Throw Bricks Beware

*Editor’s note: This post was written by Ryan Spencer, author of the Ryan Spencer Rule (Trademark Ryan Spencer 2011). The views expressed in this post are solely that of Ryan Spencer and are not necessarily endorsed by, although I may be considering declaring the RSR my own personal religion.

Basketball is a game full of rules.

There are the written rules, such as the number of timeouts each team is allotted or how many fouls each player can commit.

There are also unwritten rules, not found in any rulebook but sure to be heard if you spend any time around coaches, players or color commentators. “Don’t foul a jump shooter.” “Don’t try to break a press with the dribble.” “Never put your hands down on defense.”

And then there is the Ryan Spencer Rule.

Sometimes refs may miss a call. And occasionally, you might be able to get away with breaking one of the unwritten rules of basketball.

Glasses? Nope. It’s only 15 feet away.

But no team can escape the Ryan Spencer Rule. No matter how much more talented a team may be than their opponent, or how successful their head coach is, or how well a team may have played up to that point, if a team breaks the Ryan Spencer Rule (RSR), they will lose. Period.

Adam’s post last week did a good job of laying out the specifics of the RSR. Basically, it boils down to this: late in a close game, if the team misses a free throw that could have put the game out of reach, that team is cooked. The team that is trailing will inevitably rebound the miss, take it to the other end and hit a dagger of a shot.

Why? What makes it so consistent and so lethal? On this, the eve before the Madness resumes, let’s dig deep into the ugly soul of the RSR.


We all want something to be named after us, whether it’s as simple as a sweet dance move or as huge as a sports stadium. I’m not sure if I can say I’m proud to have my name associated with a rule that breaks the hearts of so many players, coaches and fans, but that’s just the card I was dealt.

Honestly, this rule could be named the Bill Raftery Rule, or the Hillary Clinton Rule, or the Justin Bieber rule. Anyone and everyone understands that when your team is ahead in a close game and starts missing free throws, it’s not a good thing. There’s a reason a miss at the free throw line usually ends in you and your friends cursing out loud, not high-fiving each other in encouragement.

You’re not just missing your shot, you’re making your opponent’s shot.

This isn’t exactly rocket science. I know I’m not the first person to recognize this powerful phenomenon. But I do remember the game that served as somewhat of an epiphany for me.


The game was over. The Memphis Tigers led the kansas Jayhawks 60-51 with under two minutes left in the National Championship game in 2008. The Memphis fans began to roar in delight in anticipation of their victory, while the normally boisterous Jayhawk fans began to fall silent.

kansas, in desperation mode, cut the lead to just four points with the help of a bucket from Darrell Arthur, a trey from Sherron Collins, and two free throws from Mario Chalmers. Still, with 1:15 left and one of the best guards in the nation, junior Chris Douglas-Roberts at the line, Memphis had the game well in control.

Until CDR missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Uh-oh. A Mizzou undergrad at the time, I was pulling for Memphis to beat our rival with all of my might, but the pit in my stomach after that missed free throw subconsciously signaled to me exactly what was about to go down.

Arthur calmly snagged the defensive rebound, went to the other end and scored on a nice jumper. The lead was two. The momentum had completely shifted, the attitude of Memphis went from cool confidence to gripping fear.

The Tigers clung to their two point lead with 16 seconds left, and again CDR was at the line, this time for two shots. A chance for redemption. A chance to step up and lead his team to what all basketball players dream about: a national championship.

Clang. Clang. Un-be-lievable. Two more misses.

But somehow, Robert Dozier collected an offensive rebound and got the ball to Derrick Rose, one of the most dynamic freshman players the college game had ever seen. And with just ten seconds left, making both free throws would likely ice the game. Memphis has got this, right?


This moment is the core of what makes the Ryan Spencer Rule tick. The realization that the trailing team, for all of their struggles, for how far behind they were just moments ago, now has a chance to pull a victory out of the jaws of defeat.

That realization, that opportunity, is extremely powerful.

And it proved to be just that for kansas. After Derrick Rose made it a three-point game by sinking the second free throw, Mario Chalmers hit that unforgettable three pointer to send the game to overtime, and the rest is history.

This was the official birth of the RSR. Since then, it has claimed countless victims, and bestowed countless victories to teams that seemingly had no hope, no shot, no chance.

RSR So Far: March Madness 2011

The first weekend of March Madness this year gave us another mountain of evidence backing the RSR. Let’s take a quick look back.

Morehead State 62, Louisville 61

It sure seemed like this was one of those games where the unheralded underdog was staying in the game for a long time, only to unravel at the end. And that’s exactly what happened: the Eagles led Louisville 57-52 before going on a nearly five-minute scoring drought, allowing the Cardinals to take a 61-57 lead into the final minute.

But the RSR intervened, as Louisville’s Elisha Justice missed the front end of a one-and-one, and after calling a timeout, Morehead State’s Demonte Harper calmly ran down the clock and popped a three pointer that gave the Eagles the one point victory. Rick Pitino silently walked off the court and into the darkness of the tunnel, knowing the RSR had cut his team’s season short.

George Mason 61, Villanova 57

George Mason’s bid to be this year’s George Mason was kept alive by the RSR. Villanova led by as much as six with two minutes to go, but Isiah Tate’s three-pointer cut the lead in half. It was then the RSR’s turn to shine.

Nova’s Antonio Pena missed both of his free throws. Mason promptly goes down the court and cuts the lead to one on a layup. Later, with the game tied, Mouphatou Yarou misses the front end of a one-and-one (to be fair, his mind was likely distracted trying to remember how to spell his own name) and the Patriots went on to take the lead and hold on for the win.

Butler 71, Pittsburgh 70

Lost in all of the WTF? moments at the end was the fact that this was indeed a classic case of the RSR.

Shelvin Mack’s incomprehensible foul with one second to go gave Pitt a chance to win the game. But Gilbert Brown missed his second free throw.

The RSR gods knew that there wasn’t much time to punish Brown for this offense, so they took unprecedented action by forcing Pitt’s Nasir Robinson to commit what is likely the dumbest foul in NCAA tournament history, narrowly beating out Mack’s foul just seconds earlier.


So as you watch sixteen get whittled down to four this week, be on the lookout for opportunities to identify and proclaim the Ryan Spencer Rule. Your friends will be impressed with your foresight when the inevitable occurs.