Providence took a punch to the gut twice yesterday in the 2 OT loss at Georgetown. They were up 3 in the final seconds twice, and they gave up a game-tying 3 both times.
I am a firm believer in fouling up 3, as it gives my team the best chance to win. Most statistical data that says fouling might not be the best strategy – based on win % – includes what happens in overtime in those statistics. But my goal is to avoid overtime, and fouling gives me the best chance to do that. A team that chooses to defend, gives up a game-tying 3, but goes on to win in overtime doesn’t represent a team that chose the right strategy in my opinion.
Obviously the choice is a matter of coaching philosophy, and you have to do what you think gives you the best chance to win. But whatever you choose, you have to practice it. Fouling on purpose is hard. It really is. So you can’t just call time out and tell your team to foul and expect them to execute it properly.
Both possessions at the end of Providence-Georgetown offer interesting scenarios that can help you shape your philosophy. Georgetown needed to go the length of the floor and get a 3 in 3.9 seconds. So you could make the case that if you just contain the ball and defend, they’ll have a hard time getting any sort of look at the basket. Our cutoff line with my teams was 3 seconds. If it was under 3 seconds we were going to play it straight and defend for two reasons – 1) I didn’t think there was a enough time to get a decent look at a 3 if we defended and 2) With so little time you risked fouling a shooter who catches and looks to shoot right away. So 3 seconds was always our cutoff point. But play the scenario out in practice a few times playing it both ways, and see how it plays out to come up with the philosophy that best works for you.
Ed Cooley chose to foul with 3.9 seconds, a strategy I agree with. He said after the game that he instructed his team to foul and they just didn’t execute. No matter how much you practice it (and Providence does practice it), it is still very hard to execute in the pressure of a late-game situation.
Keep The Ball In Front
So why didn’t they foul. The first thing you HAVE to do when you are going to foul is to keep the ball in front of you. If you watch that first clip, Mac McClung catches the ball with a defender in front of him, but quickly shakes him and gets to the middle of the floor. It’s very hard to foul on purpose from behind, because you risk an intentional foul as well as the ball-handler going into his shot once he feels the foul. Makai Ashton-Langford got caught moving towards the sideline on the catch, and at that point McClung had created too much space for a foul to be committed.
Get A Stop
After McClung gets past Ashton-Langford and starts to look at the basket, watch #44 on Providence, Isaiah Jackson. He puts two hands up in front of him as he pulls up but then slides out of the way. The shot is not contested. I’m sure Jackson just didn’t want to foul, which makes sense.
We call our defense in that situation “Red,” meaning we are going to foul. But we always tell our team “We are in Red, we need a stop.” Meaning, if we don’t get the opportunity to foul, we need to play our regular defense. We need a stop. We aren’t in a “no fouls” situation at this point. We need to contest, and we need to rebound.
This is another reason why it’s so important to practice these situations as much as possible. It’s so common for players to just sort of wave at the shooter, get out of their way, and hope they miss. You see it all the time. Whether you are fouling or defending in the situation, no matter what your philosophy is, you need a stop.
Red Under :10
On the second possession, Georgetown has a side out after a time out with :10 to play. For coaches who like to foul in this situation, the next question is when? How much time has to be left on the clock for you to foul?
We always fouled under :10 on the clock. For a lot of coaches that is too much time. But for me, I’d rather foul with :08 on the clock than give up the 3. And the second 3 that Georgetown hit yesterday is the reason why.
A lot of coaches tell you they want to foul under :08 or even under :06. The problem I have with that is once you get to about :03, you really can’t foul because the offense is going to get a shot up, and you risk fouling a shooter. So now you are talking about a 3-5 second window where you are comfortable committing a foul.
I’m fouling at any point under :10 to make sure they don’t get an open 3. Obviously a sideline out of bounds situation is different than a full court situation. If they are going full court, you can turn the ball in the back court and try and foul before they get to a scoring area. In the half court you have to be aware of a catch and shoot situation, and the offense is immediately in a scoring area so it’s a little harder to run some time off the clock.
I don’t know for sure, but based on the press conference it sounds like Providence’s plan was to foul on the first possession at the end of regulation, but they were unable to execute it. On the second possession, it seems like they felt there was too much time to foul, and they thought Georgetown might go to score right away.
The reason I foul right away under :10 is because of exactly what happened in the second video. In live play in the half court once the clock starts running down, it’s really hard to execute an intentional foul in a small window. Even when the offense is dribbling the ball, if they are facing the basket they can easily step into a shooting situation. It’s too risky. Waiting a few seconds and then fouling can lead to disaster.
The second 3 Georgetown hit also brings up an interesting late game coaching decision. If you watch that video closely, it looks like Makai Ashton-Langford, who is guarding the ball, expected a switch on the ball screen. It seems Providence was trying to switch everything, which is a common strategy late in games. I used to do it too, until we got burned on a play very similar to this one. We didn’t communicate on what looked to be a switching situation, we left the shooter wide open and it cost us the game.
After that game we stopped switching everything late in games. Even though we did practice it and have a call for it, it wasn’t something we did regularly. Defensively we never switched. So why was I asking my players to do something we rarely did on the most important possession of the game? That doesn’t make sense to me.
If you watch that last possession again, you can see that Georgetown was in a double high ball screen set and the second screener rubs Ashton-Langford but then quickly rolls of the screen to pop. So his defender thought he should stay with his man. Once Ashton-Langford felt contact, he thought someone would switch out. The two defenders were not on the same page, and they gave up a wide open 3.
I feel like that strategy creates more of a possibility for confusion and indecision, which is exactly what I don’t want late in games. I understand the philosophy behind switching everything late but if it is not a part of your regular defensive package, it’s a risky play. I’d rather play our regular defense to get a stop, knowing we are comfortable with it, than do something we rarely do.
There are plenty of different ways to play the final minutes of close games, and you have to figure out what works for you and your team. But whatever your philosophy is you need to practice it, and practice it a lot.