Senseless Sports Strategy: Subbing Out Players with Foul Trouble

In the process of getting geeked up for Cornell’s game against the much more talented and athletic Kentucky Wildcats, I started thinking of probable game situations and what Steve Donahue has to do to give his team a chance. After praying for the rain gods to bless Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale, and Jon Jaques as honorary angels for the two hours tomorrow evening, praying that Kentucky bricks enough jumpers to build a small retirement community, blackmailing Demarcus Cousins’s therapist to miss their pre-game session that brings the Kentucky center back to almost sane status, and putting pins in my John Wall and Eric Bledsoe voodoo dolls, I started to think about things actually within the realm of human control.

The last time Jeff Foote played against a team with as many talented bigs as Kentucky was two years ago against Stanford in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Cardinals frontline contained the Lopez twins, Brook and Sideshow Bob. Foote, then a scarecrow looking 212 pounds at seven feet tall, fouled out in 24 minutes. Without Foote’s inside presence on defense, ability to draw a double-team on offense, and the rebounding ability that comes with being 84 inches tall, Cornell has little chance against more talented teams. Therefore, I propose when Foote inevitably commits two early fouls, Cornell coach Steve Donahue leaves him in the game.

My logic goes beyond the simple hypothesis that the Big Red needs seven feet of doofy white guy to win. I think subbing out any player in foul trouble is a flawed strategy. In doing so, a coach is artificially limiting the number of minutes (and amount of influence) a player can have on a game. In theory, a coach is limiting the maximum amount of minutes a player can affect a game from 40 minutes (in a regulation college bout) to some number that is less than forty. Why does a coach do this? To ensure that the player in question can play the final minutes. But if at all times a free throw in worth one point, a shot from really far away counts for three, and all other baskets gets you two; why does it matter when the points are scored? Baskets scored or prevented by Foote at the end of the first half will count the same as those at the second half; therefore they are no more important. So when the referee blows the whistle with 15:34 left on the clock to give big number one his second foul, I am keeping him in the game to maximize his chance to make a difference.

In the words of Ivan Drago, “If he dies, he dies.” Or more appropriate in this context, “If he fouls out, he fouls out.” Better to give him every opportunity to get rebounds, block shots, set screens, and attempt to make a post move without traveling.

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