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!

AL Central: Every Team’s Most “Under the Radar” Player

Cleveland Indians

Brandon Guyer

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(David Maxwell/Getty Images)

When you’re on a team with guys like Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis, it’s easy to go unnoticed. Since joining the Indians, Brandon Guyer has been one of the best fourth outfielder’s in baseball. Between the Rays and Indians last season, he put up a .795 OPS (.372 OBP) and played every outfield position. He also hit nine home runs in 293 at-bats. On almost any other team in Major League Baseball, Guyer would start every day.

The Indians are lucky to have such a dynamic presence in a platoon role and off the bench.

 

Detroit Tigers

Alex Wilson

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Oakland Athletics

(Kelley L. Cox/USA Today Photo)

While the majority of the Tigers relief corps hasn’t been great the last two years, Alex Wilson has been a constant out of the bullpen. He’s been so reliable, in fact, that a lot of people are perplexed as to why he hasn’t been given a more important role; at the moment, he pitches mostly in middle relief. In 2015, Wilson pitched to a 3.53 FIP (2.19 ERA), and in 2016 he compiled a 3.60 FIP (2.96 ERA). He’s also thrown the most innings out of the Tigers ‘pen, totalling 143 between 2015 and 2016.

Hopefully the Tigers give Wilson a chance to thrive in high leverage situations this season.

 

Kansas City Royals

Matt Strahm

Matt Strahm

(Kim Klement/USA Today Photo)

Normally, I like to stay away from players who haven’t proven themselves over multiple seasons, but Matt Strahm was outstanding last year and is virtually unknown outside of the AL Central. In 2016, Strahm compiled a 2.06 FIP and 12.3 K/9. He was good throughout his time in the Minor Leagues, too.

He’s off to a rough start this season, but like last year, it’s a small sample size.

 

Chicago White Sox

Nate Jones

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals

(Denny Medley/USA Today Photo)

In March, I watched Nate Jones pitch for team USA in the World Baseball Classic and took notice of his success. I was amazed I hadn’t heard more about him, especially after I looked up his stats. I mostly recognized him because of his funky motion. Last season, Jones was arguably the White Sox most reliable reliever. He led the team in innings pitched (70 ⅔) and sported an excellent 2.93 FIP.

The White Sox have a great combo at the back-end with Jones handing the ball to Robertson.

 

Minnesota Twins

Robbie Grossman

Robbie Grossman

(Jim Mone/AP Photo)

After a few unexciting years in Houston, Robbie Grossman got released and picked up by the Minnesota Twins. A bargain for the them, Grossman has thrived since arriving in Minnesota. Last year, in 389 plate appearances, he put up an .828 OPS (.386 OBP) and hit 11 home runs.  He’s off to a solid start this year, too.

Grossman was bad in the outfield in 2016, compiling a pretty awful -2.6 dWAR. I think it’s a blip, though, as his previous seasons were nowhere close to that (-0.7 career dWAR excluding 2016).

 

All data courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

MLB Power Rankings (20-11)

20. Kansas City Royals

Fangraphs projected 2017 record: 75-87

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(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

After the hapless death of Yordano Ventura, the Royals went out and improved their starting rotation during the offseason, adding Jason Hammel and Travis Wood. The staff will be led by Danny Duffy, who demonstrated his dominance in the World Baseball Classic against Team Canada. Ian Kennedy and Jason Vargas round out the rotation. The bullpen, which was the Royals strength for many seasons, has lost a few of its big names. Of the “three-headed monster”, Kelvin Herrera, Greg Holland and Wade Davis, only Herrera is left. With that being said, Joakim Soria is a solid reliever, albeit a little overpaid, and Matt Strahm (2.06 FIP) was excellent in 2016. Travis Wood was a solid acquisition, too. This bullpen might not have the same glamour as the 2015 team’s bullpen just yet, but it certainly has potential. 

The lineup has some solid new additions in Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss. The rest of the lineup contains the Royals core of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and young stud Raul Mondesi Jr. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Royals are in contention at the all-star break, because it will significantly impact GM Dayton Moore’s trade deadline moves.

If the Royals aren’t in contention in July, look for Dayton Moore to deal some key players; center fielder Lorenzo Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and shortstop Alcides Escobar are all free agents after the 2017 season. 

19. Los Angeles Angels

Fangraphs projected 2017 record: 83-79

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(Getty Images/Layne Murdoch)

The Angels lineup is vastly improved going into 2017. Headlined by MVP Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, Kole Calhoun, Yunel Escobar, Danny Espinosa and C.J. Cron provide a solid supporting cast. Cameron Maybin, who broke out last year with a .383 OBP, is an excellent addition to the team. Jefry Marte will provide some solid pop as a utility player.

The Angels pitching staff is the big question mark going into this season. Garrett Richards will look to return to 2015 form, and Matt Shoemaker hopes build on his 3.51 FIP in 2016. The rest of the rotation consists of Tyler Skaggs, who hasn’t pitched a full big league season yet, Jesse Chavez, who pitched out of the bullpen exclusively last season, and Ricky Nolasco, who had a decent second half with the Angels last year, but hasn’t had a good season since 2013. The bullpen looks decent, with Jose Alvarez (3.11 FIP) and Cam Bedrosian (2.13 FIP) coming off great years.

The Angels starters will hold them back in 2017.

18. Miami Marlins

Fangraphs projected 2017 record: 78-84

MLB: Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves

(USA Today Photo/Steve Mitchell)

The Marlins have one of my favorite lineups in baseball. Giancarlo Stanton’s a prolific power hitter, Marcell Ozuna’s an all-star, Christian Yelich should be an all-star (he got snubbed), JT Realmuto’s the most underrated catcher in baseball and Martin Prado had a .359 OBP in 2016. Add Justin Bour, who’s a sneaky good hitter, and you’ve got an excellent lineup. If Dee Gordon has a bounce back year, the Marlins could be dangerous.

The Marlins rotation looks alright heading into 2017. After the unfortunate death of Jose Fernandez, Miami doesn’t have a true ace. Wei-Yin Chen and Edinson Volquez will lead the rotation. Adam Conley’s coming off a solid season, as is Dan Straily, although they both outperformed their FIP. Tom Koehler rounds out the rotation. The bullpen, on the other hand, looks great. The Marlins have five solid arms in Junichi Tazawa, Brad Ziegler, Kyle Barraclough, David Phelps and A.J. Ramos.

The Marlins rotation probably won’t allow them to compete for a playoff spot in 2017, but their lineup should provide some excitement.

17. Pittsburgh Pirates

Fangraphs projected 2017 record: 82-80
MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates

(USA Today Photo/Charles LeClaire)

Andrew McCutchen is coming off the worst season of his career, and people are questioning whether he can return to his former MVP self. I don’t think he’ll be the same player he was from 2012-14, but he should be more productive than he was in 2016. Surrounding him, the Pirates have a pretty solid lineup that includes Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Jung Ho Kang. There are some questions surrounding Kang, though, after his DUI incident in South Korea during the offseason. He’ll likely be suspended to begin the season, and he’s currently not even in Spring Training due to issues with his visa (DUI related). He’s one of the Pirates most consistent hitters, so him missing a chunk of the season will definitely impact the team.

The Buccos pitching staff has some uncertainty surrounding it, too. Gerrit Cole needs to return to his 2015 self, giving the Pirates a true ace. Ivan Nova had a good second half with Pittsburgh last year, but he needs to prove that he can maintain that success over a full season. Jameson Taillon, who pitched well in his first big league stint (3.71 FIP), is yet to throw a full season in the big leagues. The rest of the rotation will probably feature some combination of Tyler Glasnow, Drew Hutchison and Chad Kuhl. The bullpen took a big hit with Mark Melancon’s departure. Tony Watson and Felipe Rivero will probably be the team’s best relievers.  

I expect the Pirates to finish right around the .500 mark.

16. New York Yankees

Fangraphs projected 2017 record: 81-81

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(Getty Images/Tom Szczerbowski)

The Yankees starting rotation has been unpredictable the last couple years, and that won’t change in 2017. They’ve got a solid number one in Masahiro Tanaka, the but the rest of the rotation is a big question mark. CC Sabathia had his best season since 2013, but he’s going into his age 36 season. Michael Pineda is known for being remarkably inconsistent, although he did post a 3.34 FIP in 2015 and a 3.79 FIP in 2016. Luis Severino is yet to prove to he can stick in the big leagues, and the rotation’s fifth slot is uncertain. The bullpen looks good, though, after reacquiring Aroldis Chapman and Tyler Clippard. They’ll have lots of late inning success with those two at the back-end along with Dellin Betances.

The lineup looks pretty solid, but it did take a hit after the unfortunate shoulder injury Didi Gregorius sustained in the World Baseball Classic. Hopefully for Yankees fans, it’ll only keep him out through April. He’s already going to miss 30 games or so. There are big expectations for Gary Sanchez after his absurd 2016, and Greg Bird will look to build on his success from 2015. Free agent signee Matt Holliday will provide a solid bat in the middle of the lineup.

The Yankees will probably stick around into September, but ultimately miss the playoffs.

15. Baltimore Orioles

Fangraphs projected 2017 record: 81-81

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(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

With the exception of Matt Wieters, who was only okay in 2016, the Orioles powerful lineup is still intact. Baltimore has five players in the lineup who hit 25+ homers last year (Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo, Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Jonathan Schoop) and left fielder Hyun Soo Kim who got on at a .382 clip in 2016. Pedro Alvarez (.826 OPS) also hit 22 home runs in limited, platoon plate appearances.

In terms of pitching, the situation isn’t as stable. Chris Tillman will probably put up another solid year with a FIP right around 4.00, but the rest of rotation is shaky. Breakout years from Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy would definitely give the O’s a much-needed boost, but Gausman’s performance has been pretty uniform the last couple years, and Bundy is yet to complete a full season in the big leagues. Ubaldo Jimenez underperformed his FIP by more than a run, so there might be some hope there. The Orioles bullpen looks good, though, with three excellent late inning options in Mychal Givens, Brad Brach and lights out closer Zach Britton.

If the Orioles can outperform their Pythagorean Win-Loss record yet again, they’ll likely end up in a wild card slot.

14. Colorado Rockies

Fangraphs projected 2017 record: 78-84

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(Getty Images/Matt Hazlett)

This lineup has to be right up there with the Chicago Cubs for best in baseball. The top SIX hitters in the lineup going into the 2017 season combined for an .891 OPS (!) last season, and that’s without newly acquired CF/1B Ian Desmond. Granted, the Rockies play their home games at Coors Field, but that’s still a ridiculous combined offensive output.

The Rockies pitching, however, is another story. Jon Gray showed a lot of promise in 2016, posting a 3.60 FIP. The starting rotation improved overall, as well; starter ERA fell almost half a run. With that being said, the Rockies starter ERA was still 26th in the Major Leagues, and the Rockies bullpen was the worst in the Major Leagues blowing 28 saves with a 5.13 ERA. Take that with a grain of salt, though, as their ERA is inflated due to the conditions in Colorado (The Rockies road ERA was 4.37). The Rockies bullpen should be rejuvenated in 2017, after adding Mike Dunn and Greg Holland. A full season from Adam Ottavino will help, too.

The Rockies could be 2017’s surprise team, as long as their pitching can keep them within striking distance.

13. Detroit Tigers

Fangraphs projected 2017 record: 81-81

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(USA Today Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

After missing the playoffs by two games in 2016, the Tigers had an unusually quiet offseason. Their only two somewhat notable moves were bringing back catcher Alex Avila and utility infielder Omar Infante, both of whom will probably play supporting roles in 2017. The one big loss from the lineup is Cameron Maybin, who broke out in 2016 (.801 OPS in 394 plate appearances). Other than that, the team is essentially the same.

The bullpen, which was not great in 2016 (4.22 ERA and 19 blown saves), didn’t make any notable additions, either. Their starting rotation will also be pretty similar. The Tigers have more than five starters, so there may be some shuffling over the course of the season. The Opening Day rotation will likely consist of Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmerman, Anibal Sanchez and Daniel Norris, which I think is solid. They could even be sneakily good if Jordan Zimmerman returns to form, and Daniel Norris lives up to his potential.

The lineup will be solid, anchored by Miguel Cabrera who somehow flies under the radar every year; seems like everyone forgets how good he is. He’ll be supported by all-stars Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez and Justin Upton. Cameron Maybin left a gaping hole in center field, though, where the Tigers don’t have a true replacement. They’ll likely have to settle for a below average, in-house replacement.

Detroit’s good lineup and rotation will allow them to compete for a playoff spot, as long as their bullpen doesn’t blow it.

12. St. Louis Cardinals

Fangraphs projected 2017 record: 83-79

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(USA Today Photo/Jasen Vinlove)

After going 24-23 in one-run games in 2016, the Cardinals signed Brett Cecil to strengthen their bullpen, who’ll hand the ball off to Seung Hwan Oh at the back-end. Trevor Rosenthal lost the closer’s job after imploding last season, and the Cardinals are hoping to turn him into a starter in 2017; last time out, he threw three innings against the Astros. It’ll be interesting to see if Rosenthal can make solid contributions to the team as a starter. The rest of the rotation looks solid, led by Carlos Martinez, who pitched to a 3.61 FIP in 2016. Adam Wainwright will throw 200 innings, Mike Leake should return to form after underperforming his 3.83 FIP in 2016, and Lance Lynn will look to bounce back from Tommy John surgery. Top prospect Alex Reyes is lost for the season to a UCL tear.   

The Cardinals 2017 lineup looks strong, especially with the addition of Dexter Fowler. It remains to be seen whether Fowler can continue his success from his breakout 2016 (.393 OBP) with the Cubs. Stephen Piscotty, Aledmys Diaz and Yadier Molina provide three solid bats in the middle of the order. Jhonny Peralta will look to bounce back after a mediocre 2016 in which he played just 82 games.

After missing the playoffs for the first time in six years, the Cardinals are poised to make a run again. They always seem to find a way. 

11. Toronto Blue Jays

Fangraphs projected 2017 record: 86-76

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(Getty Images/Hannah Foslien)

The Blue Jays have made the playoffs two years in a row, but it looks as though they’ll be fielding a weaker team in 2017. With Edwin Encarnacion gone to the Indians, and Jose Bautista aging quickly, their usual high-powered lineup will probably score fewer runs this season; Josh Donaldson will carry the offense and Kendrys Morales will look to fill Encarnacion’s shoes. Excluding Jose Bautista’s spot in right, the other two outfield positions look as though they’ll be pretty weak. Kevin Pillar is an excellent defender in center field, but has a below league average bat, and Michael Saunders is gone to the Phillies after a breakout year.

The Jays pitching looks solid, as they brought in two new bullpen arms in J.P. Howell and Joe Smith. The rotation will be one of the best in the American League, featuring 24-year-old stud Aaron Sanchez (definite 2017 Cy Young contender), Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano.

The Blue Jays are coming for another playoff spot.

 

All data courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

College Football Week 12 Run Down

Photo via Getty Images

This week is definitely an off week for most of the top 10. With the exception of my predicted upset from Houston and the showdown between #8 Oklahoma and #10 West Virginia, all of the teams expect to hold their rankings and get ready for competitions down the road. The * denotes “good games to watch.”

#1 Alabama vs. Chattanooga — Winner: Alabama 

If the Crimson Tide doesn’t roll over Chattanooga, there’s a problem. While Bennifield is a strong QB, the Mocs can’t even begin to compete on the level of Saban’s franchise.

#2 Ohio State vs. Michigan State — Winner: Ohio State

In any other year, I wouldn’t be so quick to choose OSU as the winner of this matchup; after a surprisingly disastrous season, however, I don’t think the Spartans have nearly enough talent or momentum to come out on top.

* #3 Louisville vs. Houston — Winner: Houston 

On paper, this seems like a huge upset, but Houston has proven time and time again that they are more than a match for high ranking programs. After some good upsets earlier in the season, Houston lost a lot of the momentum they’d gained in a shocker vs. Navy. If their defense has a strong showing, I think the Cougars can be a hard team to beat.

#4 Michigan vs. Indiana — Winner: Michigan 

Michigan comes into the game with a strong defense that the Hoosiers will be unable to overcome. Indiana is still reeling after a loss to Penn State, and their hopes of bowl eligibility will only come to fruition with a win over Purdue, not Michigan.

#5 Clemson vs. Wake Forest — Winner: Clemson

The strong Tigers team will be more than a match for the Demon Deacons, and while Clemson will win I feel like Wake will put up more of a fight than anyone thinks. They held their own in the first half against Louisville, and Clemson undoubtedly has their loss to Pitt fresh in their minds.

#6 Wisconsin vs. Purdue — Winner: Wisconsin  

This’ll be a no-contest, bread and butter win for Wisconsin. The Badgers have proven their worth as a powerhouse football program this year and will have no problem taking care of Purdue’s mistake-prone offense.

* #7 Washington vs. Arizona State — Winner: Washington

I was almost tempted to predict an upset here. Washington fell to USC last week in an embarrassing loss, and now nurses a 9-1 record—amazing to be sure, but not where they would like to be right now. On the other hand, Arizona State is not nearly as powerful as a team as I expected they would be. At 5-5 with four straight losses, they simply do not have the momentum to punch through the hole opened up by Washington’s recent loss. ASU has won the last 10 matches against the Huskies, but this will break their streak.

#8 Oklahoma vs. #10 West Virginia — Winner: Oklahoma 

This is really the game to watch out for. Both teams are hoping for a Big 12 championship spot, and both have the right type of momentum coming into today’s game. WVU’s pass defense will prove to be a thorn in the Sooners’ side, and the Mountaineers will ride their home field advantage as far as they can. It’s gonna be a tough win for Oklahoma but I think they’ll pull it off. They have a strong offense and a 7-game winning streak to show for their effort this season. It’s going to be a very close game, and I expect it’ll be within 6 points by the time it’s over.

#9 Penn State vs. Rutgers — Winner: Penn State

Penn State will make short work of the 2-8 Rutgers squad. It never helped Rutgers that they had an extremely hard schedule this year, but there isn’t much of an excuse for a 2-8 team.

Non-Top 10 Games to Watch Out For

#11 Utah vs. Oregon — Winner: Utah

Remembering how good Oregon looked the last couple of years, it’s strange to reconcile that with their record. Plain and simple, the Ducks aren’t performing well at all. While this is the perfect spoiler game—the perfect game to call an upset for—I just don’t think the Ducks will be able to prevail. The Utes will have a hard time with this win because Oregon doesn’t seem very formidable at 3-7, but in the end, they’ll come out on top. Barely.