Two fouls and you’re out: it sounds like a rule you made up with your friends for whiffle and stickball games when you were younger. Unfortunately it is also a strategy that college basketball coaches have increasingly used to manage their team’s foul situation. The rule is pretty hard fast: a player with two fouls sits out the rest of the first half.
Coaches spend so much time trying to prevent their players from fouling out. Why is this? It is pretty simple, if a player fouls out they are not able to impact the game. However, if you sit a player for long stretches in the first half and then shuffle him in and out during the second half this also greatly diminishes the impact a player can have on a game. We have all seen and heard this before- a player picks up two fouls early in the first half, sits on the bench for the next 10 to 15 minutes and one of the key post game stories is about that player’s foul trouble. Not the rules of the game, but two fouls and a coach’s decision are what most often write these headlines.
We see it every weekend, probably the best example this last Saturday had to be Virginia’s Mike Scott (an under the radar All-American candidate player on an under the radar ranked team). Scott was off to a hot start in Saturday’s critical game against UNC, scoring 10 points in the first 10 minutes and helping Virginia take the early lead. Scott then picked up his second foul, went to the bench, didn’t score again until the second half and saw Virginia’s early momentum fade into a blowout loss. Benching Scott with after his second foul had a bigger impact on that game then his fouling out with 10 minutes left in the second half ever could. If anyone was watching the Syracuse-UConn game instead, it was UConn’s Alex Oriakhi who got two fouls in the first five minutes of the game and then disappeared.
I understand the protective tendencies of coaches. They want their best players available to play at crunch time at the end of the game. That makes total sense. But your team has to be in a close game at the end for any of that to matter. Coaches should not allow two fouls to a top player drastically change standard rotation and impact their game plan. Momentum is important in college basketball and so often our outside definition of “foul trouble” kills it.
It may sound stupid, but I would love to see the game where a coach doesn’t worry about the foul situation and lets a player foul out with 10 minutes to go. It would show a realization of two truths. First, the beginning 30 minutes of the game are more important than the last 10. Second, you don’t get any extra points for fouls that you don’t use at the end of a game.