By the Numbers: Minimizing fouls are key to improving season

Fresno State's Tyler Johnson battles three New Mexico defenders to the basket in the Bulldogs' 89-78 loss last Saturday. (Photo by Matthew Vieira/The Collegian)

Fresno State’s Tyler Johnson battles three New Mexico defenders to the basket in the Bulldogs’ 89-78 loss last Saturday. (Photo by Matthew Vieira/The Collegian)

The Fresno State men’s basketball team is off to a 1-5 start in the Mountain West. And lately, the culprit of that start has been the foul trouble the Bulldogs get into.

In last Saturday’s loss to the New Mexico Lobos, the Bulldogs stayed close to their opponent – only losing by 11 points – but the many trips to the line for the Lobos were the kicker.

New Mexico had 41 free-throw attempts (making 29). Nineteen of those times went to forward Cameron Bairstow. The 6-foot-9-inch, 250-pound Australia native finished the contest with a game-high 22 points and led the Lobos with eight rebounds.

Clearly, the Bulldogs knew whom to target.

But the heavy defense became excessive. Two Bulldogs fouled out, and all but two players were in trouble with at least three fouls.

And sending their opponents to the line has been a consistent problem for the ‘Dogs this season.

Take last week’s matchup at San Diego State for example. Fresno State threatened an upset over the No. 10-ranked team, but halfway through the second half, the Aztecs took the lead (48-46) on a Matt Shrigley jumper.

For the next two minutes, the Aztecs scored seven points. From the eight-minute mark until the end of the game, San Diego State had 12.

And none of those points was from the field. Every single one was a free-throw shot.

In the Mountain West, the Bulldogs are second in fouls this season with 371. In the first half of interconference contests, Fresno State has a total of 38 fouls; in the second half, it rises to 95.

That means that in conference games this season, the Bulldogs are averaging about 16 fouls in the second half.

With an average of 1.14 points scored with each penalty, if the fouls were trimmed down to, let’s say seven, then that means Fresno State would allow nine fewer points.

And the average deficit in Fresno State losses is 11.6 points. While that means that cleaning up the foul trouble would not guarantee a victory 100 percent, it does imply that close contests like at San Diego State (68-60) or Boise State (86-79) could go in the Bulldogs’ favor.

What this means is, despite what the record shows, the Bulldogs are capable of being a top team in the Mountain West this season. They have the most players listed in the top-20 of the conference in scoring (Marvelle Harris, Tyler Johnson and Cezar Guerrero), which shows that the team has the power to rack up the points.

There is no shadow of doubt that being able to smoothly transition from offense to defense wins games. And Fresno State has shown capability to provide pressure at the basket.

But being able to execute discipline in transition can be the difference between a trip to the NCAA Tournament or a long offseason.

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