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Yes, Fran Really Does Sit Guys With Two Fouls More Than Most Coaches

Sit, young man, sit.

Thomas Joseph-USA TODAY Sports

It's a routine so regular that you could set your watch to it: an Iowa player picks up his second foul and sits.  And sits.  And sits some more -- all the way until the end of the first half.  We've seen it happen again and again and again and again and again with Iowa players under Fran -- it's just one of his tics he has as a coach.  But how does his approach compare to other coaches in college basketball?  Well, now we know -- Ken Pomeroy crunched the data for every active coach in D1. Fran ranks on the extreme conservative side when it comes to sitting guys with two fouls -- although he has some very familiar company on that side of things.  Specifically, Fran ranked 314th out of the 321 coaches studied.  His players with two fouls in the first half played just 84 minutes out of a possible 1458 minutes, or just 5.8% of the time.

How does Fran compare to his peers in the Big Ten on that point?

81 Tom Crean (Indiana) 2153 564 26.2%
85 Tim Miles (Nebraska) 2315 596 25.7%
93 Chris Collins (Northwestern) 775 193 24.9%
134 John Groce (Illinois) 1942 400 20.6%
139 Pat Chambers (Penn State) 2734 557 20.4%
196 Matt Painter (Purdue) 1925 301 15.6%
198 Mark Turgeon (Maryland) 1631 252 15.5%
224 Richard Pitino (Minnesota) 1241 164 13.2%
234 Thad Matta (Ohio State) 1605 200 12.5%
281 Steve Pikiell (Rutgers) 1455 143 9.8%
290 Greg Gard (Wisconsin) 312 28 9.0%
294 Tom Izzo (Michigan State) 1781 155 8.7%
308 John Beilein (Michigan) 1277 88 6.9%
314 Fran McCaffery (Iowa) 1458 84 5.8%

Fran is the most conservative of the lot when it comes to sitting guys with two fouls in the first half, but he's far from the only Big Ten coach who bolts his guys to the bench when they pick up two fouls in the first half.  Tom Crean, Tim Miles, and Chris Collins are most apt to let a guy play with two fouls (and risk picking up a third in the first half) -- they let their guys in that situation play around one quarter of the time.  Most Big Ten coaches let guys play considerably less than that, including three of the Big Ten's best and most successful coaches in Matta, Izzo, and Beilein.

And that's the thing: there isn't much in the way of correlation (let alone causation) between playing guys with two fouls a lot and winning (or vice versa).  Coach K (32.9% of the time, 43rd nationally), Roy Williams (33.6% of the time, 39th nationally), and Sean Miller (35.4% of the time, 32nd nationally) are more aggressive about playing guys with two fouls and win a lot of game, but John Calipari (12.1% of the time, 243rd nationally), Bill Self (15% of the time, 206th nationally), and Rick Pitino (11% of the time, 261st nationally) are much more conservative about playing guys with two fouls -- and also win a lot of games.  (See also: the aforementioned Matta, Izzo, Beilein, etc.)  You can throw caution to the wind and play guys with two fouls and come out on top a lot... and you can park guys on the bench when the pick up their second foul in the first half and still come out on top a lot.

Fran's practice of refusing to play a player with two fouls for the remainder of the first half might be frustrating to watch at times, but he's far from alone in doing so (even if he does so even a bit more than his also-conservative B1G peers).  And, again, there certainly doesn't seem to be much of a significant relationship suggesting that you win more games by being aggressive, so it's hard to criticize McCaffery too much for his practice.  (In the aggregate at least; there may be some individual situations we could point to where it would have been nice to play a guy with two fouls in the hopes that his presence on the court instead of on the bench could have swung enough possessions in Iowa's favor to change the outcome of the game.) But at least now we can quantify just how much he sits guys when they get whistled for their second foul in the first half; it turns out the answer to that question is "a whole heck of a lot."