Albany County

Siena men’s basketball avoiding fouling

Saints averaging the fewest fouls per game in the country
Siena's Manny Camper defends during a recent game.
Siena's Manny Camper defends during a recent game.

LOUDONVILLE — The Siena College men’s basketball program went 8-24 last season . . . and then lost several key players during the offseason transition from former head coach Jimmy Patsos and his staff to current head coach Jamion Christian and his assistants.

Without a full offseason to replenish the roster, Siena’s new leadership team knew it needed to be creative to find ways to improve the Saints’ on-court product for the start of this season. Luckily, one avenue of improvement looked the new coaching staff right in the face.

“We felt like one of the areas we could really improve most at was not fouling,” Christian said before Monday’s practice.

The Saints, long a foul-prone team under Patsos’ direction, have done that during their 2-4 start. Through this past weekend’s action, Siena has averaged the fewest fouls per game in the country.

After committing an average of 20.0 fouls per game last season, Siena has averaged 12.7 fouls per game this season. No Siena player is averaging more than 1.8 fouls per game heading into Wednesday’s game at Hofstra.

“We really just emphasize trying to play the right way,” Christian said. “Trying to play with our feet. With our hands back. Trying to play with our hips when a shot goes up. Trying to get position with our feet. That’s just something we’ve been emphasizing since Day 1.”

There are a variety of benefits to fouling less often. Foul trouble is avoided, so playing time isn’t taken away from top players. Opponents shoot fewer free throws than normal. The absence of whistles leaves game flow uninterrupted, which means the pace Siena is trying to set with its full-court pressure can theoretically become more effective against a team unaccustomed to playing in a game with fewer stoppages.

“They don’t get that time to rest,” Siena sophomore Manny Camper said.

When the Saints take on Hofstra, Siena’s ability not to foul will face a significant challenge. Hofstra senior Justin Wright-Foreman is one of the nation’s top scorers, averaging 27.9 points per game. The 6-foot-2 Wright-Foreman does a fair share of his scoring work from the foul line, where he has attempted an average of 8.3 foul shots per game through Hofstra’s 3-3 start.

Meanwhile, Siena’s opponents are averaging a total of 11.2 foul shots per game, and data shows the Saints’ opponents are only scoring 11.5 percent of their points from the foul line, which is the fifth-least in the country.

“It’s hard to win if you can’t win that free-throw battle,” said Christian, whose team is attempting 12.7 free throws per game.

From preseason’s start, Siena’s coaching staff has worked to train the Saints not to foul. Siena’s team defensive strategy emphasizes sending opponents to the middle of its matchup zone where there is plenty of help available. For individuals, another point of emphasis is to use their feet — and not their hands — to get back in front of an opposing offensive player that has used the dribble to get past a Siena player.

“They always want us playing with our hands up and to try to level off against [an offensive player],” Siena redshirt freshman Jimmy Ratliff said. “If you’re fouling, you’re just giving them extra chances at the foul line.”

When a ball-handling opponent gets past a Siena defender, to “level off” means for a Saint to run to get back in front of an opposing player. In that situation, a Siena player’s focus becomes as quickly as possible to get his chest in front of the opposition’s chest.

“Because most people, when they get beat, they just put their arms on them and foul them,” Ratliff said. “[Christian] teaches us that once you get beat, you need to run as hard as you can to get back in front of them and level off with your chest so that refs can’t call anything.”

Siena’s defense hasn’t been perfect. The Saints have struggled — a lot — to defend the 3-point line out of their matchup zone, often leaving shooters open in the corner. That issue represents one of the “glaring weaknesses” Christian said his team has shown in its first six games, but one he views as correctable once the Saints gain more seasoning in their new system.

“We’ll get better at it as the year goes on and we gain more experience,” Christian said. “We’ll do a better job with it.”

Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.

Categories: College Sports, Sports

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