NCAA: Should you bench your superstar so he doesn't foul out?
In his column today in Salon, King Kaufman suggests a new strategy for NCAA teams. They should run at the opposing team's best player until he commits a couple of fouls. At that point, his coach will take him out of the game for awhile, to keep him from fouling out early. When he comes back in, they should run at him again, until he does foul out.
I don't know enough about basketball to be able to guess if this would actually work (although the idea seems interesting). But it does seem to me that the strategy of benching the fouling player until later doesn't make much sense.
Suppose, as in Kaufman's example, a player commits two quick fouls in the first three minutes. What's the point of benching him? Suppose if you didn't bench him, he would foul out after an average of, say, 25 minutes. By benching him for awhile, you might get his 25 minutes later in the game, instead of earlier. But so what? Points scored early in the first half count exactly as much toward the final score as points scored late in the second half. Unless you think that this particular player plays better in the clutch than at other times, and that there's a good chance of the situation becoming clutch without him, the benching does absolutely no good.
As Kaufman puts it,
"It's kind of like never driving your car so you don't get a flat tire, because if you get a flat tire, you can't drive your car."
The strategy obviously has a negative expectation. There's a reasonable possibility that even if you let the guy play, he won't actually foul out. In that case, you get 35 minutes out of him instead of 25. Benching him takes that possibility out of the equation. Why would you waste ten minutes of the best player on your team?
The best reason I see for taking the guy out after two fouls is if he's committing those fouls carelessly, and you want him to take a time out and relax so he'll stop doing whatever dumb thing it is he's doing. But that's not what Kaufman implies is happening. He describes coaches reflexively pulling their star in the first half after two fouls, and then in the third quarter after his third foul – the only purpose of which is to make sure he's available later in the game.
That doesn't seem to have a positive expectation. In the best case, it's neutral, and in the worst case, it's negative. Am I missing something?