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College hoops coaches and risk aversion: The troubling trouble of foul trouble

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Western Carolina v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Ken Pomeroy is going in-depth on how college basketball coaches handle foul trouble—namely, how much they let kids in foul trouble play. Pomeroy looked at first-half playing time data for players with two fouls, or rather, guys who reached the “point of severe foulocity.” (I made that last bit up.)

This data is more fun facty than instructive, but I found it interesting to see which coaches were stingy and which were, shall we say, giving few cares.

Tops on the give-few-cares list from Pomeroy’s seven-year dataset: our old pal Larry Hunter. (He was on Herb’s staff at State.) Here’s Pomeroy on Hunter’s track record:

There are also coaches who don’t go nuts if a starter has two fouls, but one rises above them all. Western Carolina’s Larry Hunter is the only person to coach in each of the past seven seasons that has his two-foul starters on the floor more often than on the bench. Of 2,135 minutes where a Catamount starter had two first-half fouls since 2010, they were on the floor for 1,189 of them, or 55.7%.

Very very few coaches allow players in foul trouble to log 10+ minutes in the first half, which is about what I would’ve guessed. The number of coaches is significantly smaller than I would have thought, though: a grand total of two, including Hunter.

Seems like it would make more sense to roll the dice if you have a bad team than it would if you have a good team. But you’d probably have to drill down into individual seasons to get any sense of a pattern there.

In the ACC, Jim Boeheim is No. 1 over the last half decade when it comes to letting kids in first-half foul trouble stay on the floor. Maybe that’s a hidden luxury of playing 2-3 zone exclusively. With fewer one-on-one situations defensively, there is probably a little less risk of a careless foul. Especially for the guards.

Mark Gottfried checks in at No. 88 among the 321 coaches included in this study.

Tony Bennett, Brad Brownell, and Rick Pitino are at the other end of the spectrum: you get two fouls in the first half, then that’s it for you, pal.