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Potential Stumbling Block: Foul Trouble

As I was browsing online, I came across an interesting post concerning basketball and how coaches deal with foul trouble in games.  This caught my eye for a few reasons, but the main reason is that Kansas will rely heavily on Marcus and Markieff Morris next year.  Those two and foul trouble are like peanut butter and jelly.  Marcus Morris led the Jayhawks in fouls per game this year at 2.6 and Markieff was right behind him with 2.556 fouls per game.  That doesn't sound awful but next year they will be expected to play more minutes, so a quick look shows McMorris averaged a foul about every 9 minutes while MkMorris averaged a foul about every 7 minutes.  

If the Morri continue to foul at that rate next year, it could seriously hamper the team's effectiveness.  In the standard basketball culture, two fouls in the first half and three in the second half is considered "foul trouble".  This is when the majority of coaches will remove the player from the game to play it safe.  As a few commenters here have pointed out multiple times, it is not necessarily a smart thing to sit a player because of a couple of fouls.  Below, I'll try summarize a few things from the post linked above and tie it to Jayhawk basketball.

Key points:


  • By sitting a player after a set number of fouls, the only thing being changed is that when the player enters the game again there is less time left.  Same foul trouble, just less minutes for the player.  
  • The risk of a player being fouled out is ignoring the risk of the team falling behind while the player is on the bench and over-emphasizing the importance of late minutes.  Do you want to lose the game in the first 10 minutes of the second half while he's on the bench or in the last four because your player fouled out?  

Using statsheet's play by play information, we can look at the games from this last season when Marcus Morris was in foul trouble and how Bill Self handled the playing time while they were in foul trouble.  I'm going to skip Markieff's right now for two reasons.  First, him being in foul trouble wasn't a huge problem because he wasn't relied on for heavy minutes.  Second, he should project to play similar minutes next year to what Marcus Morris played this year.  I think it's safe to assume that if Markieff struggles with foul trouble next year, Bill Self will play him the same way he played Marcus this year. 

Conference/Tournament games with 4 or more fouls:

  1. January 20 vs Baylor- Marcus Morris picks up two fouls within a minute of each other (7:25 and 7:04) in the first half.  Self sits him until the start of the second half.  Marcus recovers and doesn't pick up his 3rd foul until the 4 minute mark of the 2nd half, at this point he is left in the game.  Fouls out by committing two fouls in the last minute.  Approximate loss of playing time: 4 minutes from first half.  One of his best games this year, finished +16 on my plus/minus.
  2. January 30 vs K-State- Only picks up one foul in the first half.  Picks up foul #3 at the 11:38 mark in 2nd half.  Gets pulled for 28 seconds and returns to the game.  Called for foul #4 at the 6:50 mark and is pulled for one minute.  Enters game at 5:51 mark.  Fouls out with 4:11 left in the game.  Pretty aggressive approach by the coach in this one.
  3. February 15 vs Texas A&M- Picks up his second foul with 4:58 to go in the first half, sits the remainder of the half.  Starts the second half and commits foul #3 around the 16 minute mark, heads to the bench.  Subs in at 13:52 and is called for #4 at 13:36, sits until 5:52.  McMorris sat for almost 10 minutes of the 2nd half in this one due to foul trouble.
  4. February 27 vs Oklahoma State- Picks up his second foul with 6:09 left in the first half, sits for the remainder of the half.  Gets his 3rd and 4th fouls with 5 minutes left, sits for a minute and then subs back in at 4:01, fouls out at 3:46.  
  5. March 3 vs K-State- Plays the first half with one foul, picks up two fouls in the first 5 minutes of the second half.  Sits for three minutes, picks up foul #4 at the 12:48 mark.  Sits until 5:17 and plays until the end of the game cleanly.
  6. March 11 vs Texas Tech- Called for his second foul with 3:40 left in the first half, sits for remainder of the half.  Gets fouls #3 and #4 from 12:37 to 11:55, sits until 5:55.  
  7. March 12 vs Texas A&M- Picks up his second foul with 10:56 left in the first half, sits for remainder of the half.  Called for his third foul with one minute into the second half, sits until 12:28.  Called for his fourth at 11:56 and sits until 5:56.  His play by play reads: personal foul, sub. out, sub in, personal foul, sub out.  Ugly.
  8. March 20 vs Northern Iowa- Called for his second foul with 3 minutes left in the first half, sits for the rest of the half.  Foul #3 at the 17:43 and sits until 12:31.  Called for his fourth foul with two minutes left.

Eight games through conference play and tournament play where Marcus Morris had his playing time heavily influenced by foul trouble.  Two trends stand out to me when looking at this.  First, picking up two fouls in the first half meant he was done for the rest of the half.  Second, he entered the game around the 12 minute mark with 3 fouls and just under the 6 minute mark with 4 fouls.  The team could handle that rotation this year with Markieff and Cole, though heading into next year it does worry me a little bit.

As for next year, it's doubtful that Bill Self is going to allow either player to foul out early.  That means if the Morri do not cut down on fouls, they will see significant chunks of time on the bench while Thomas Robinson, Jeff Withey, and maybe even Mario Little spend time in the post.