I HAVE advocated for years that basketball at all levels should get rid of the foul-out rule, as it is the only sport with such a penalty. If stars sometimes have to watch games from the bench, something is inherently wrong.
Apparently, I am a party of one on this, as I have never heard of any support for it. So, being pragmatic, I would at least ask all those college coaches who automatically take players out with two first-half fouls no matter the situation to reconsider.
We've all seen it. A starter gets two fouls in the first five minutes and then does not reappear until the second half. I have watched it dozens of time this season.
I do not mean to pick on La Salle's John Giannini here, because so many of his brethren also do it, but B.J. Johnson got two fouls in the first six minutes against Penn on Jan. 25. He sat the rest of the half, as the favored Explorers fell far behind. Johnson scored all 15 of his points in the second half and played the entire 20 minutes, but La Salle fell just short in its comeback bid. Johnson ended the game with the same two fouls he got in the first six minutes.
Coaches, as a group, are among the most paranoid people I know, many convinced the officials are out to get them. They also tend to think in worst-case scenarios, convinced in their minds that a player who got two quick fouls is bound to get a third soon after.
No statistical research backs that up, but that is how they think. Some coaches do a great job of putting players with two early fouls into positive situations, such as when the other team is shooting free throws and your team is about to go on offense. They do the same thing later in games with players who have three or four fouls. Most just go to the default position: foul trouble, take a seat.
So many players lose their rhythm in that situation. I like the coaches who give the players in foul trouble a few minutes on the bench to get composed and then trust their players to be smart.
It would be best if we could just get rid of the foul-out rule, which is antiquated. If some clown is out there trying to hurt people and starts fouling indiscriminately, just toss him. But if a player is just trying hard and happens to get called for five fouls, what purpose does putting him on the bench for good really serve?
Most improved in city
Villanova's Josh Hart is a lock for Big 5 Player of the Year. He will also get my vote for National Player of the Year in a race that will require a photo.
La Salle junior point guard Amar Stukes is my most improved player in the city. His is an understated but very effective game. Last season, he shot 30.7 percent from the field and 66.1 percent from the foul line. This season, those numbers are 53.2 percent and 82.4 percent. That does not happen without dedication. Dr. G told me before the season Stukes was his most consistent player in practice. He's been that way in the games, too.
Team to watch
When Rick Pitino's teams are about to make a long NCAA run, they typically tout themselves in mid-February. Louisville is touting itself hard.
With all their players available, the Cardinals have won seven of eight, the only loss last Wednesday at North Carolina, 74-63. And that was a game where the 'Ville shot just 4-for-13 from the foul line and 5-for-20 from the arc. Those teams are much closer than that score.
The eight-man rotation, with more waiting to play if necessary, is big, skilled and experienced enough. And Pitino has an emerging star in sophomore shooting guard Donovan Mitchell. In his last three games, he has scored 25, 21, 26, with 14 threes and one of the most spectacular lob-dunk finishes you will ever see Sunday afternoon near the end of the rout against Syracuse.
Louisville's defense is always in the top five nationally. This offense is the most diverse since the great teams from 2012-13 (national champs) and 2013-14 (Sweet 16).
My affection for this group of Villanova players is boundless, but Louisville is not a team I would want to see in a regional final.
Live NCAA longshot
SMU started last season 18-0, but was kept out of the tournament because of NCAA violations. Not only will the 25-4 Mustangs be in this year's tournament, they are a threat to go a long way.
When Larry Brown sat out the early part of last season because of those violations, Tim Jankovich took over. Now that Brown has retired (maybe), Jankovich is the full-time coach and the Mustangs are beautifully coached in the L.B. mode: great fundamentals, don't beat themselves.
SMU has won 21 of 22. The Mustangs are second nationally in rebound margin (plus-10.5 per game), third in points allowed (59) and ninth in field goal defense (38.8 percent). They are hovering around the top 20 in offensive and defensive efficiency. Don't say you weren't warned if you see them in the Sweet 16.
Love these numbers
Iowa State point guard Monte Morris is quietly finishing off one of the great careers in school history. He has scored 1,589 points, to go along with 720 assists against just 151 turnovers, an incredible ratio. He actually has more steals (211) than turnovers and also has 470 rebounds. In his last seven games, he has 52 assists against just four turnovers. And his Cyclones are another very dangerous NCAA team.
This and that
That was great news for Villanova on Monday when North Carolina lost at Virginia and looked bad doing it, scoring just 43 points. Got to think the Wildcats are well ahead of the Tar Heels in the selection committee's mind, so that No. 1 seed in the East and a potential regional at Madison Square Garden is looking very good.
Not sure how Penn will do this weekend as it tries to get into the Ivy League Tournament, but you rarely see a late-season turnaround so dramatic. That is a tribute to the coaching staff and a tipoff as to what is about to happen, with three freshmen playing major minutes and a highly touted recruiting class on its way.
UCLA leads the nation in scoring (91.6 points per game), field goal accuracy (52.9 percent) and assist/turnover ratio (1.86/1). If Steve Alford has called a play when I've been watching, I have not noticed. The Bruins play fast, loose and wide-open.
Oklahoma State's Phil Forte has attempted 81 free throws this season and made 77.