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BSD Roundtable: Foul or Don’t Foul

BSD takes a look at an interesting end-of-game situation

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

We all know at this point that Wake Forest held on for its first ACC road win in three years yesterday. At the end of the day, the team and coaching staff did pretty much everything in their power to get the job done, and it was enough. The conversation that we are about to have doesn’t have a ton to do with yesterday specifically, but more about a situation that arose towards the end of the game that brought up a spirited conversation during and after the game.

This roundtable features two different points of view, Bart and Rob share one, while Jake and Riley share the other.

Situation: Wake Forest leads N.C. State 91-87 with 15 seconds left. Dennis Smith, Jr. takes the ball from the opposing baseline and drives it past the initial Wake Forest defense. John Collins is the help defense and has four fouls. If you are John Collins do you foul Smith, Jr. hard, or let him go for the easy two points?

No Way You Foul

Bart: Let me preface this by saying that this isn't intended to be a criticism of anything that happened or especially of Collins, but rather that I find this to be an interesting basketball discussion that happened in real time at the end of our game. I'm personally of the mindset that if you're a big in that situation, where the point guard has already begun his penetration inside - feeling he has enough time to take it to the basket down by four and still get another possession with a chance to win - you lightly contest (if at all) and make sure that under no circumstances do you commit a foul setting up a chance for the three point play. Here's why:

At this point, State has essentially conceded that it is trying for the two points to cut the lead in half. Worst case here, Smith, Jr. penetrates and kicks out for a three which just runs an extra second or two off the clock for a lower percentage shot. Best case, Smith,Jr. misses a layup. By bringing a fouling situation into the equation(especially if it's a soft foul) you bring in the "worse" part of each scenario from Wake's vantage point. That is, you concede a relatively easy layup with a chance for an extra point, without an extra second or two running off the clock.

Wake was fortunate that Smith, Jr. missed the layup after the contact,as the layup was still relatively uncontested and it was a shot thatSmith, Jr. would usually make. If he makes the layup and then hits the free throw, Wake's up one point and regardless of what they do at the free throw line, State has a chance to tie the game on the next possession. If you merely let Smith, Jr. drive the lane, hit the layup once he's inside, then you lead by two with a chance to extend the score back out to two possessions if you make your own free throws but you can at least come close to icing it simply by getting the ball in and making free throws. In the former situation, regardless of what you as a team do (even if you execute it perfectly) you're in a situation where State gets the ball down three with a chance to tie it at home. Avoiding this final possession scenario has to be the number one goal as a team up four with 15 seconds left and that's why I think under almost no circumstances should a defensive team even come close to committing a foul at this late stage of the game.

Rob: I am pretty firmly in the camp that John Collins should have let Dennis Smith, Jr. go. I admit that it's relatively easy for me to be a keyboard warrior here, and I also have the advantage of not having to react in real time, but I thought this was a poor decision from John Collins.

Keep in mind that Danny Manning took a timeout after Mitchell Wilbekin made two free throws to put Wake up 4 with just 15 seconds remaining. That means that Collins clearly knew the time, score, and his personal foul situation. DSJ, who is an athletic freak, quickly got to the lane with about 10 seconds to go and this is when Collins' decision comes into play. The biggest mistake that Collins made is that he was indecisive. He jumped to contest the shot, realized he made a mistake, and tried to pull back, but it was too late. Very fortunately for Wake, DSJ missed the layup (and the first free throw).

Clearly best case scenario with Collins contesting the shot is a clean block that Wake Forest recovers. Even though Collins is a good shot blocker, I would put the odds of this happening as pretty low. Another good scenario here is that Collins can cleanly alter DSJ's attempt, which reduces State's chances of scoring, and increases Wake's chances of grabbing a board.

However, with some potential reward comes a lot of risk. Collins dramatically increases his chances of drawing a fifth and final foul. Given that it was a very close game that could have gone to overtime, this would have been incredibly costly had the game gone that far. But if you are going to foul, then FOUL and make damn sure that the layup doesn't go in.

If Collins lets DSJ go, then worst case is Wake is still up by 2 with 8 or 9 seconds remaining. That means they essentially just have to run an inbounds play to a solid free throw shooter (plenty available), knock down two and all but seal the game. If Collins contests, then he brings in the possibility of DSJ converting a three point play, and that means that Wake could have done no better than going up three after knocking down a pair of free throws.

Of Course You Foul

Jake: From my perspective, the most important aspect is obviously lowering the point expectancy for the possession. Ideally, the on-ball defender does a little better job of keeping DSJ out of the lane, but that's easier said than done with one of the best guards in the country. Only being up 4 with plenty of time for another State possession, I don't like just giving up an easy layup. One missed FT and you are a shot away from going to OT on the road. Collins is one of the most athletic bigs in the conference and is in ideal help position already. This is where I think you defend the rim at all costs and do whatever it takes to make Smith earn it at the line. In reality, the foul wasn't quite hard enough and almost allowed the worst case scenario, a 3 point play. However, he didn't get the roll and ended up missing one of the FTs - so it worked out perfectly for Wake.

In short, with this time and score I like what the Deacs did, though making the shot even more difficult would've been preferred.

Riley: I think in this situation you have to defend the basket at all costs if you are Wake Forest. The initial defense wasn’t great, but the last few seconds you definitely don’t want to send Smith, Jr. to the line with a foul beyond the perimeter. He got by the first line of defense, and it was up to Collins to defend the rim. He was on the bench from about the 5 minute mark to the 2 minute mark, so I am pretty sure he carried the mindset of the coaching staff on the court, and that translated into defending the rim and contesting the shot. I like trying to block the shot with some force because there is a chance that there is no foul called (and with Jamie Luckie yesterday that could have been a pretty reasonable gamble on that alone). If you get in the air and realize that DSJ can get to the rim around you, then you just hammer him and don’t let him get the shot off. Obviously neither of those occurred, and DSJ nearly made the shot that could have drawn the Pack within one. The end result worked out in this case with the foul because DSJ missed one of the two free throws, and in the future I like the decision to foul/protect the rim, but you have to guarantee that the shot does not come anywhere close to going in.

Now that we have discussed this there is plenty of room for comments and other thoughts below. There was a lot of last minute situational basketball yesterday and overall Wake handled it all pretty well, and that showed in the results column as well.