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In Your Face!

Flops and Fouls

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Much has been said about flopping and freethrows and fouls. Working definitions are definitely in order.

In basketball, a foul is an infraction of the rules more serious than a violation. Most fouls occur as a result of illegal personal contact with an opponent and/or unsportsmanlike behavior. (Wikipedia)

A flop is an intentional fall by a player after little or no physical contact by an opposing player in order to draw a personal foul call by an official against the opponent. (Ibid)

If a player is in the act of shooting when fouled, or when the fouling player's team is in penalty, freethrows are awarded to the fouled player.

If we were playing in an ordinary pickup game, you call fouls on the opposing players as you see it and normally the other guys, while resentful, will just let it slide and get back to you by calling their own fouls as they see it.

In an organized game with game officials drawing fouls is sometimes employed as a tactic especially when a team is down. When you draw a foul you stop the clock, and if the other team is in penalty, you get a chance to score on freethrows without the clock moving.

This is where it gets contentious.

Some players argue over "superstar" calls, or calls supposedly made to favor the superstars in a given league / tournament. One sportswriter once famously said that when Michael Jordan was playing for Chicago, and the game is on the line, and of course the Bulls go to Jordan, do not even exhale in his direction. Gary Payton of Seattle and Bryon Russel of Utah can both attest to this personally.

In the UAAP the Ateneo, especially during its 5-Peat title reign, was often seen as benefiting a lot from superstar calls, with some quarters going to the extent of claiming the entire Ateneo squad must have been made up of superstars at the rate they often got the benefit of fouls called on opponents.

Ask an Ateneo fan though and they will likely tell you that the entire UAAP had it in for them during their dynasty years and had so many non-calls against Ateneo opponents it is a wonder they won five straight championships.

In the ongoing Season 77 wars this came into focus in the aftermath of the Ateneo-UE game in Round 1. Kiefer Ravena, the current Ateneo superstar, was given 25 freethrows out of 45 total given to the Ateneo as a team. UE in that game was given 30 freethrows. "That is just too many for both sides," rued current league commissioner Andy Jao, a long-time fixture of Philippine basketball. 64 fouls total were called in that game. Ravena would score 19 of his career-high 38 points from the stripe.

Roi Sumang, the UE superstar, joined the ruing. "Ganun talaga, parang sobrang respect ng refs kapag Ateneo at Lasalle," he said after that game. Sumang scored 30 points in this game, in a shootout with Ravena.

Let's focus on Ravena, since apparently this all came to a head with what he did in the UE game. Throughout Round 1, Ravena had 77 freethrow attempts, and so far after 10 games he's been given 91 freethrows.

Using simple arithmetic that means Ravena averaged 11 freethrow attempts per game in Round 1. Since then he's only been given 14 freethrows over three games so far in Round 2. That means he's getting less than five freethrow attempts per game so far in Round 2. That's quite a drastic cut, from 11 to five, a greater than 50% drop.

There are a few explanations for this:

1) I'll start with the conspiracy theory first since that seems to be the most popular. Ravena was flopping like a fool throughout Round 1. The referees were all buying it, so they kept giving him freethrows. No less than the Commissioner, after the UE game, decided that was the last straw, and he's cracked down on the flops, hence the drastic drop in freethrows for Ravena so far in Round 2.

2) Ravena himself has changed his style of play in Round 2. He's driving less and settling for jumpers more. Maybe there is some truth to this. Ravena after 10 games is shooting under 36% from the field and under 30% from three-point range, and far and away leads the leagues in shots attempted. There's less chances of getting fouled if you settle for jumpshots instead of attacking the basket.

3) Defenses have finally adjusted to Ravena. Paolo Javelona perhaps best personifies this. His NU Bulldogs swept Ravena and the Ateneo for a second straight season, with a 60-64 victory in Round 1, and a dominating 66-76 walloping just over this weekend. In both games Javelona and the rest of the NU defense found ways to take away Ravena's first step, clog the driving lanes, jam the passing lanes, and generally just plain make life miserable for him. Ravena has shot a combined 10-41 from the field in two Season 77 games versus NU.

Have other players gotten as many freethrows as Ravena has so far? Not even close. Lasalle's Jeron Tang, another player who drives aggressively to the basket, is second in FTA with 70 after 10 games, followed by UE's Charles Mammie's 68; Mammie spends all of his time battling under the basket and is susceptible to all manner of holding, grabbing and whacking. Ravena's teammate Chris Newsome has gotten 61 FTA. Teng had 20 attempts against Ateneo in their Round 2 game. Newsome had 21 attempts versus UE in Round 2. The rest of the field is practically in a different neighborhood.

Personally if a foul is a foul then just whistle it as a foul, period. If a guy draws 100 fouls in a given game, so be it, that's just how it is. It does not make sense to me to say too many fouls were drawn by a guy, or that too many freethrows were given to him in a given game. If there were fouls on him just whistle them. If he was fouled and freethrows are coming just let him take them. This is regardless of who this guy might be. It might be Ravena, who got 25 freethrows attempts against UE. It could be Teng, who drew 20 freethrows against the Ateneo. It could be Newsome, who drew 21 freethrows against UE (again). This could be an indictment against UE and the way their coaches want them to play more than it is the league favoring the Ateneo. Teng got 20 freethrow attempts against the Ateneo, so does that mean the league actually favors Lasalle after all?

And how about making whatever freethrows come your way instead of whining about the injustice of it all? Lasalle beat the Ateneo by only two points in Round 2. Ravena himself missed at least four freethrows in that game. The Ateneo beat UE in Round 1 also by only twp points. UE as a team made only 15 of their 30 freethrow attempts. 15. Out of 30.

Now you see why the conspiracy theory line of thinking is ridiculed more often than not. In the highly partisan, emotionally charged flashpoint that is the UAAP, no one can blame the fans and the teams from thinking what they want to think. In the end though it still comes down to how you play on the court. When coaches tell their guys to play through it that is the best damn advice anybody could ever give and get.
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  1. Savant's Avatar
    I completely agree Joe... A foul is a foul is a foul. Call it the way you see it and not be influenced by the perceived no. of superstar calls you make or the amount of fouls called in a game or whatnot.

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