One of the biggest questions surrounding Louisville this season was how they would navigate new rules surrounding hand check fouls. Many were concerned that Louisville’s staunch defense would suffer against the increased emphasis on hand checks. Although Rick Pitino came out as one of the biggest supporters of the rule changes, the concern remained that Louisville could face regular foul trouble.
So with nearly two-thirds of the regular season gone, how has Louisville faired with the new procedure? It looks like not too badly.
After the win over South Florida the Cardinals are committing an average of 20.1 per game. This is just a small increase from last season’s average of 18.2. Meanwhile, Louisville’s opponents are averaging a slightly higher 20.5 fouls per game. Compared to last season’s average of 17.4 it looks like there is a fairly similar increase for both Louisville and its opponents.
When looking at fouls over the course of the season, the majority of games have stayed near the average of 40.6 fouls per game. There have been a few outliers, with the games against Fairfield (53), North Carolina (50), and Rutgers (62) having an above average amount of fouls. Conversely, the games against Missouri Kansas City (32), Western Kentucky (31), and Memphis (32) had the smallest amounts of fouls.
It is interesting to note that two of Louisville’s two losses can be considered outliers for having a largely above or below average amount of fouls. However in the loss to North Carolina. the Tarheels committed 29 fouls to the Cardinals 21. So fouls probably shouldn’t be considered in regards to that loss.
However against Memphis, the Tigers were only called for 15 fouls. That total is tied for the second lowest all season. The physicality of that game was called into question, and suspicions of referees swallowing whistles can be entertained.
So who’s committing the fouls? It’s a little arbitrary to measure “fouls per game” for a player, so there’s a better way to measure who is doing fouling. College basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy tabulates “Fouls Committed Per 40 Minutes.” How its derived is self-explanatory, and gives a better understanding of how often players are fouling.
Despite the rule changes, Louisville has weathered the storm well. Russ Smith has only barely increased his fouls since last year, from 3.4 to 3.5. Louisville has also been able to limit fouls from Chris Jones (3.7) and Terry Rozier (2.8.) Rozier especially has shown poise in his ability to keep from fouling, he is leading the team in the lowest FC/40.
However, it’s disappointing to see Luke Hancock’s FC/40 at 5.3, the second highest team wide. Hancock stood at 3.8 last season, and maybe struggling to adapt to the new regulations. There have been more than a few times where Hancock is dinged with unnecessary fouls. Keep in mind that he is normally playing at the three where he is normally facing quicker and taller players. While Hancock’s crafty “slow mobster” mentality makes up for any loss in athleticism on offense, he’s clearly struggling to keep up on defense.
Another interesting player to note is Anton Gill, who is leading the team with 5.8 FC/40. This is pretty representative of why Pitino is hesitant to play him. His inability to rotate defensively results in unnecessary fouls that hurt the team. Hopefully, he can improve that with more game experience.
When it comes to referee activity, there are a few zebras that have already shown they are more likely to enforce the new rules more than others. Wally Rutecki (57.5 fouls per game) and Jose Carrion (52) have shown that they are more likely to call fouls than their colleagues. Rutecki presided over Louisville’s highest fouling games, against Fairfield and Rutgers. Carrion was also present at Rutgers but also officiated at the FIU matchup. Of the two, Rutecki is more likely to call more Cardinal games. He has been assigned a few other American Conference games this season.
Conversely, Tom O’Neill (33.0), Rick Hartzell (33.0), Tony Chiazza (34.0), and Jeff Clark (35.0) are calling far fewer fouls than their colleagues. O’Neill and Hartzell maintain the same average due to both calling the WKU and Southern Miss games. Chiazza officiated the Charleston and UMKC matchups, while Clark refereed for Cornell and UMKC. Chiazza is most likely to be seen more by the Cardinals in the future as he has been seen calling several AAC matchups.
Note: Only referees who have served on at least two Louisville games are included.
Of the referees highlighted, only Rutecki was consistently present for either the highest or lowest fouling games Louisville has been involved in. However, it should be noted that Brian O’Connell served on both the Fairfield and UNC games; two of Louisville’s games with the most fouls. However, he has since served at the Connecticut game and the fouls were limited in that matchup. (It doesn’t appear that O’Connell was the ref who ejected UConn coach Kevin Ollie.)
Finally, Cardinal fans will be happy to know that fan favorite Karl Hess has only refereed one UofL game. He was there for the tamely officiated beatdown of Houston. Rest easy, Hess is very likely to have his hand in more Louisville games.
So far the impacts of the new hand-check rule haven’t appeared to be incredibly harmful to the Cardinals. They have continued to maintain a strong defense, despite rule changes. As of Thursday, Ken Pomeroy had Louisville as the ninth ranked defense in the country. UofL’s biggest issue going forward will be deviations from the norm; referees who over-enforce or don’t enforce at all. As long as the foul average stays near 40, Louisville shouldn’t be too worried.
However, if Wally Rutecki is calling a Louisville game expect more than a few whistles.
If you would like to see a spreadsheet of all the data you can find it right here: http://goo.gl/R64cHb
Foul totals courtesy of ESPN.com
Referee information courtesy of StatSheet.com
Fouls committed per 40 minutes stats courtesy of KenPom.com