Historic debate continues: To foul or not to foul

Photo via Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review

For any basketball fan, it’s the type of nail-biting, game-deciding situation that leaves you screaming at your TV. Your favorite team just scored a big basket to put them up by three, 10 seconds left. What should the defense do? Defend the play, and run the risk of a game-tying three? Or should they foul, forcing free throws and a maximum of two points?

These are the age-old questions that have polarized some of basketball’s greatest minds. There’s Team Rihanna and Team Beyonce, Team Edward and Team Jacob and now, there’s Team Defend and Team Foul.

The most prominent display of a defend or foul dilemma (maybe of the last decade) occurred on the basketball’s biggest stage in the Final Four matchup between powerhouse Gonzaga Bulldogs and cinderella South Carolina Gamecocks with the Zags up 75-72.

After the Gamecocks managed to cross the mid-court line, Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins gave the strategic foul with 3.5 seconds left, sending Thornwell to the line for two shots.

Thornwell stepped up and nailed the first free throw. With very little time left on the clock, Thornwell had no choice but to intentionally miss the second, in hopes for a fellow Gamecock to grab the rebound and put it back in for two points to send the game to overtime. However, Gonzaga freshmen center Killian Tillie grabbed the board and was fouled. Tillie would go on to hit two throws, giving Gonzaga a four-point lead, effectively ending the game.

Gonzaga’s defensive sequence was a defend or foul situation executed to perfection.

Perkins picked the right moment to give the foul. There was not enough time left (3.5 seconds) for South Carolina to have a chance to gain another possession and Thornwell was handling the ball about two feet outside the three point line, which made him unlikely to begin a shooting motion and draw a three-shot foul.

However, in the heat of the moment, there was a divide in the Zags huddle about the play call, as many players were uneasy about Gonzaga coach Mark Few’s call to foul. “I was screaming at my teammates to foul because I saw they weren’t fouling,” said Gonzaga starting point guard Nigel Williams-Goss in an interview.

Although Few has been one of very few coaches to be a proponent of fouling, he too was torn by the decision at hand.

Few pointed out, choosing to foul leads a team to run the risk of not obtaining the rebound off the intentionally missed second free throw, giving the opposing team another possession to either tie the game or win the game with a three. This is the nightmare scenario that often scares coaches away from fouling and instead electing to play out the final defensive possession.

However, a player knocking down a clutch three-pointer is much more likely than the team grabbing an offensive board off an intentional miss after a foul.

So is fouling the right move?

“I would pressure the ball and slow them [the offensive team down by three] down and foul after they get over half court,” said Vassar basketball player Steve Palecki. “Limits them from tying the game with a three but necessary to rebound on the free throws for this plan to work.”

One does not have to look at the numbers to recognize that defending often turns sour for the defensive team more often than fouling.

Recall the 2008 NCAA national championship game, where Memphis choose to defend, resulting in Kansas knocking down a clutch three-pointer to tie and send the game to overtime.

Kansas would eventually go on to win. But can anyone recall any game in which fouling under six seconds actually resulted in an overtime?

Evidence goes to show, when in doubt, just foul.


The article can also be found on the Miscellany News!

2017 National Championship Preview: Tarheels to avenge last year’s heart-wrenching loss

Photo via ASSOCIATED PRESS/DAVID J. PHILLIP

NCAA Tournament – National Championship

Monday, 9:20 (ET) on CBS

University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

No. 1 North Carolina Tarheels vs. No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs

After an unpredictable tournament sprinkled with cinderella stories, two number one seeds are playing for the National Championship.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs beat the South Carolina Gamecocks last night 77-73. Gonzaga held a solid lead for most of the game, but allowed South Carolina to go on a late 16-0 run. The Bulldogs then regained control and played solid basketball down the stretch to win.

The North Carolina Tar Heels barely hung on last night against the Oregon Ducks in a 77-76 win. UNC got down early, but came back before halftime and controlled the game for the majority of the second half. They let the Ducks creep back into it late, though. With possession and just over five seconds on the clock, UNC missed four consecutive free throws. Luckily, the best rebounding team in the country corralled two offensive boards on those misses to seal the win.

After two hard fought wins, Gonzaga and UNC will compete Monday night for the National Championship.

What to watch for

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Zach Collins celebrates after his huge night against South Carolina (Mark Humphrey/AP Photo)

Big men (Karnowski vs. Meeks)

Both teams are dominant inside.

When forwards Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley were limited by the Ducks last night, Kennedy Meeks exploded for 25 points and 14 rebounds. North Carolina has arguably the most dominant inside presence; they have the best rebounding margin in the country.

Gonzaga is a great rebounding team, too, ranked 11th in the country. Against South Carolina, Gonzaga’s big men took over. Center Przemek Karnowski scored 13 points and had five rebounds, while forward Zach Collins, had 14 points and 13 rebounds off the bench.

Karnowski has the ability to exploit small teams because of his height. He’s not as dominant on the boards as he should be, though, averaging just under six rebounds per game. It wouldn’t surprise me if he struggles against North Carolina’s elite big men.

It’s hard to bet against either teams big men, but I think as long as North Carolina’s can avoid foul trouble, they’ve got the upper-hand.

Slight Advantage: North Carolina

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Joel Berry II walks off after suffering another ankle injury against Kentucky in the Elite Eight (Getty Images)

Guards

When everyone is healthy, North Carolina has the advantage at the guard spot. Joel Berry II’s playing ability has been hindered, though, due to his recent ankle injuries. He shot 2-14 against Oregon, and after playing 35 minutes on Saturday, his ankle’s not going to be any better.

Gonzaga has a group of solid guards led by Nigel Williams-Goss, who scored 23 points against the Gamecocks, many of which game at crucial points in the game. Their guards are tough and play with sound fundamentals.

Williams-Goss is arguably better than Berry and is playing without any injury concerns. He has also shown the ability to do everything: score, assist without turning the ball over, exude toughness, and perform in clutch moments.

Advantage: Gonzaga

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UNC’s Justin Jackon (left) and Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss (Getty Images)

Star Power

Stars win games late and win championships.

Williams-Goss has shown himself to be a star, but I expect Berry to play solid defense against him, limiting his scoring.

I don’t see anyone being able to control forward Justin Jackson. He’s been the best player for the Tar Heels this season and down the stretch. His clutch shooting will keep UNC in the game early and help them pull away late.

Prediction

UNC has more star power and size than Gonzaga. Not to mention, UNC has the experience of playing in a National Championship game. Even though they lost on one of the most memorable shots in March Madness history, the experience will help them on Monday.

Championship games are won with experience, so last years game might be the difference for the Heels; their guys have been here before.

North Carolina will win a nail-biter late thanks to a few timely rebounds from Meeks and a few clutch shots from Jackson.

Final Four Preview: UNC’s size and depth too much for Oregon

Photo via Getty Images

No. 1 North Carolina Tarheels vs. No. 3 Oregon Ducks

NCAA Tournament – Final Four

April 1, 8:49 pm (ET) on CBS

University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

Last week’s UNC-Kentucky game was the unofficial National Championship. I decided that whichever team came out on top in that nail-biter, I’d pick to win it all.

Predictions in the month of March are erratic, anyone can figure that out by looking at their bracket. Take my prediction with a grain of salt. Here are the keys to victory for both teams.

Oregon’s keys to victory

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Kansas vs Oregon
No. 5 Tyler Dorsey shushes the crowd (Photo via Denny Medley – USA Today Sports)

Ride the experience of Dorsey and Brooks

Guard Tyler Dorsey and forward Dillon Brooks are averaging more than 14 points per game this season. Dorsey, the point guard and leader, is a gritty player who embraces big moments. He’s been Oregon’s best weapon in the tournament, averaging 24.5 points per game.

Brooks, the 6 foot 7 forward, is clear-cut NBA talent. He hasn’t had a 20 point game in the tournament yet, but has been a solid force for the Ducks, scoring in the mid-teens and rebounding well.

Brooks will have to pick up the slack on offense for the Ducks to win this game.

Take advantage of the ankle

North Carolina’s Joel Berry II won’t be 100 percent on Saturday after rolling his ankle several times over the past few weeks; Dorsey should look to take advantage of his immobility.

For Oregon to have a chance tomorrow, Dorsey will need to score close to 30 points.

Rebound

The emergence of forward Jordan Bell gives Oregon a dynamic new weapon.

The one advantage that UNC has over everyone in the country is size. Bell will have to continue his dominance on the glass if Oregon wants to keep the game close. Bell has averaged almost four more rebounds per game in the tournament (12.5) than his season average (8.6).

Cause foul trouble

With Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley in the UNC front-court, Bell is going to have a tough day. In an effort to mitigate North Carolina’s size, Bell will need to go after Hicks to induce foul trouble.

If Oregon can reduce Hick’s minutes, Meeks and Bradley might struggle to stay in front of Brooks and Bell.

Small ball

To combat UNC’s size, Oregon will have to play small-ball. Oregon only has one quality big man, Bell, while the Tarheels have three. The Ducks need to quicken the pace of play, forcing UNC’s bigs to struggle going up and down the court. Dorsey and Brooks will flourish in an open-court environment.

UNC’s keys to victory

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No. 44 Justin Jackson is introduced at Chapel Hill (Photo via Inside Carolina)

Justin Jackson

Justin Jackson needs to continue his clutch play. UNC goes through stretches where they struggle to score because they lack shooters. Jackson’s their only star shooter, so he’ll need to hit threes and clutch shots to prevent the Tar Heels from just relying on short range baskets.

Size

UNC has the means to dominate the glass. Oregon only plays one person above six-nine, Bell, while the Tarheels play three. It’s a glaring mismatch, and the number one rebounding team in the country, UNC, needs to take advantage.

Despite UNC’s love for running and gunning, it makes sense for them to slow it down sometimes and throw it into the post. Oregon won’t be able to stop Meeks, Bradley and Hicks down low. Any foul trouble on Bell created by action down low would kill Oregon’s chances, too.

Depth

This is the main reason why I don’t see Oregon winning this game. If Oregon slows the game down, UNC’s size will take over. If Oregon speeds the game up to combat the Tarheel’s size, UNC’s depth will take over.

UNC consistently goes ten guys deep in a game, and those five bench players aren’t inept.

Campus legend, Luke Maye, has been rebounding and hitting shots left and right, including the game-winner against Kentucky.

https://twitter.com/DylansFreshTake/status/846143469307473920

Tony Bradley provides an inside presence that will be hard to stop, and senior guard Nate Britt can provide rest for Berry.

North Carolina’s bench also features guard Stillman White, who played well for Berry in his absence, and guard Seventh Woods, a star in the making.

In their 74-60 win over Kansas, Oregon used just three players off the bench. Two of those three, Keith Smith and Kavell Bigby-Williams, combined for only nine minutes, one point, one assist and one rebound. The other sub, Casey Benson, played 21 minutes, scoring only four points and grabbing two rebounds.

Prediction

 

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No. 3 Kennedy Meeks will present a lot of trouble for Oregon’s (Chuck Liddy/ Raleigh News and Observer)

 

Oregon’s starting five might be great, but they lack size and depth. They’ve gotten away with it up to this point, but UNC boasts the best big men and the deepest team in the country.

Berry also said that his ankle is expected to be close to 100 percent. I doubt it is, but it shouldn’t have a huge impact on his play.

North Carolina may be the best team in the country and they match up well against Oregon. The Ducks could make it close, but the Tar Heels’ depth will ultimately overwhelm the Ducks.