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Olivier Sarr’s Impact on the Wake Forest Offense

Examining what happens when Sarr leaves the game with a third foul

Wake Forest v Notre Dame Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Note: Thanks to Adam Bridgers for keeping track of the lineups played, allowing me to examine the times at which Sarr leaves and re-enters the game.

I’m not here to write about Wake Forest basketball needing a new coach at the end of the season. That serves no purpose at the moment, as Danny Manning is going to coach Wake Forest for at least the rest of this season regardless of how many games the team wins or loses.

But I have noticed what is seemingly a pattern that is eerily similar to something that happened in the 2016-17 season with John Collins.

Olivier Sarr is the focal point of Wake Forest’s offense, and allows the Deacs to get those “paint touches” that Danny is always talking about in his press conferences. John Collins served this role in the 2016-17 season.

Yet just as he did with Collins, every time that Sarr picks up a third foul with a significant portion of the game remaining it seems that Manning immediately sits him on the bench, no matter the situation in the game. And it seems that the gameplan changes completely while Sarr sits on the bench.

The first game where this really stood out to me was at Clemson.

The Deacs had a six point halftime lead, and stretched the lead to as much as eight in the second half. Sarr was getting touches, and the offense was running through him.

But with 14:51 remaining in the second half, he picked up his third foul and was sent to the bench. The offense seemed to stall at that point, and Clemson got right back in the game.

Sarr returned later in the game at the 8:17 mark, but the gameplan appeared to shift to entirely shooting three pointers and long two pointers (the worst shot in basketball). Nine of the Deacs’ last ten field goal attempts were threes, and the one that wasn't was a 20-foot jumper. Olivier’s last shot attempt was at the 7:06 mark, and I'm not sure he even had a paint touch in the last 7 minutes of the game. The flow that had been working in the offense earlier in the game completely disappeared.

Sarr finished the first Clemson game with 16 points and 12 rebounds on 7-11 shooting, but that proved not to be enough as the Deacs forgot about him in the last 7 minutes of the second half and ended up losing 71-68.

In looking back at the Florida State game, Sarr picked up his third foul and left the game with 16:22 remaining in the second half. At the time the Deacs were ahead 45-41 against a Top 10 team in the country. By the time Olivier came back in with 9:10 remaining, the Deacs were trailing 54-49. The rest of the game he attempted two free throws and had no other field goal attempts.

The Seminoles are one of the tallest teams in the country, and can be hard to score on inside. But it seems that again the team failed to get Sarr paint touches after picking up his third foul and sitting on the bench for a significant portion of the second half. Olivier was held to just ten points, making both of his two field goal attempts in the game.

Against Notre Dame, Sarr sat out the final 12:03 of the first half, as he picked up his second foul at the 12:03 mark. Wake Forest actually did well without him, leading at the half 41-36. Olivier scored the first bucket of the second half, but then the Deacs went on a cold streak.

At the 12:17 mark Sarr picked up his third foul with Wake Forest trailing 58-51. But this time Danny elected to keep him in the game. At the 8:33 mark when Sarr left the game, the Deacs trailed 68-58. When he came back in at the 6:39 mark Wake trailed 73-64.

Wake Forest went on a run to get back into the game, with Sarr scoring 6 points in the span of just under 2 minutes. Wake Forest trailed 77-74 at the 3:07 mark, which was when Olivier attempted his last field goal of the game. The Deacs would go on to lose 90-80. Sarr would finish the game with 18 points in just 24 minutes of action.

Louisville is a top five team in the nation, and likely would have won the game regardless of whether or not Sarr had played more. But the Deacs led 46-34 at the half, and Sarr played most of the first half as he stayed out of foul trouble, with no fouls at halftime. With 19:25 remaining, the Deacs took a 14 point lead at 49-35, and the offense was still flowing.

The Cardinals started to make a run, and Sarr picked up three quick fouls. With 16:25 on the clock, he picked up his third and Danny Manning sent him to the bench. Louisville was already making a run at this point, but Wake Forest still led 51-45. Without Sarr’s presence on the interior the Cardinals just completely overwhelmed the Deacs.

By the time he returned at the 12:44 mark, the Deacs were trailing 60-53. Olivier then scored the Deacs’ next 7 points to get them back within a possession at 60-58 and 63-60. That last made bucket came at the 11:16 mark, meaning he scored 7 points in a minute and a half. He then did not attempt another field goal before leaving the game with his fourth foul at the 9:29 mark. He came back in at the 5:46 mark with the Deacs down 73-66, and made two free throws before fouling out at the 4:40 mark.

Some of the lack of scoring was due to Louisville’s suffocating defense not allowing the Deacs to get the ball inside. But good teams find ways to make adjustments and get the paint touches they should when having a big man of Sarr’s caliber. In 24 minutes, he finished the game with 16 points on 4-6 from the field and 8-10 from the line.

In 21 games this season, Sarr has 8 starts and is averaging 26.5 minutes per game. He is averaging 13 points and 9.4 rebounds on 8.1 field goal attempts and 6.3 free throw attempts per game. He shoots 50% from the field and 77.3% from the line.

Again, I’m not a coach, and I’m not intentionally criticizing Danny Manning’s decision making. But it seems to me that a guy with these types of numbers should see the maximum amount of time on the court, which sometimes means allowing him to play through a third foul. And it seems that a guy with those numbers should be getting as many of the paint touches that Coach Manning always talks about as possible, and the game plan should be centered around getting him the ball.

Here’s hoping the Deacs find a way to get Sarr even more involved going forward and maximize his talent on the low block. As always, Go Deacs!