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Published: March 2, 2017

Carolina’s Frequent Fouler

Isaiah Hicks is one of the most puzzling UNC basketball players of all-time.

Because he can do things most collegiate players dream about, like putting opponents on a poster as seen here:

But Hicks struggles to stay on the floor because he does a lot of this:

Isaiah Hicks has committed four or more fouls in 31 of his last 70 career games. That’s 44 percent.

While UNC was en route to their run to the NCAA Championship game a year ago, Hicks registered four or more fouls in every NCAA Tournament game except one.

The 6’9 senior forward commits 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes for his career. It’s impressive and confusing all at the same time.

Using box score data, including play-by-play and referee assignments, we’ll attempt to answer three questions.

1) How does Isaiah Hicks commit all these fouls?

2) When and where does he commit these fouls?

3) And does Isaiah Hicks have a reputation that contributes to more fouls being called against him?


How does Hicks commit fouls?

Hicks has played in 30 of 31 games during the 2016–17 season, and been whistled for 94 personal fouls.

We reviewed all 94 fouls and put them into five different categories:

  1. Shooting
  2. Off ball or away from basket
  3. Over the back (fighting for rebound)
  4. Reach-in, hand check, or block (when player is driving to basket)
  5. Offensive foul, includes illegal screens
 

This isn’t perfect by any means, and categorizing these fouls is a subjective exercise. The video above gives an example of each type of foul.

Here is a summary of how often Hicks is called for each type of foul:

    |         Foul Type         | Number of fouls |
    |:-------------------------:|:---------------:|
    |          shooting         |        43       |    
    | reach-in/hand check/block |        17       |    
    | off ball/away from basket |        16       |   
    |       over the back       |        12       |    
    |         offensive         |        6        |  

Shooting type foul

The majority (46 percent) of Hicks’ fouls are of the shooting variety. Hicks contests a shot, and the opponent is awarded one or two free throws. This percentage should maybe even be higher because Hicks is a 6’9 forward that plays in the paint.

Opponents have attempted 110 free throws as a result of Isaiah Hicks committing a foul. This includes free throws awarded because an opponent is in the bonus, so not all of these free throws are from a Hicks’ shooting type foul.

The opponents are shooting 62 percent from the charity stripe (68–for-110) as a result of these fouls. So maybe ball don’t lie is true sometimes?

Reach in/hand check/block

Head coach Roy Williams has said, “A big guy should never make a foul below his waist and he [Hicks] does that.”

17 of Hicks’ 94 personal fouls (18 percent) have come at or below his waist from a reach in, hand check, or block. The majority of these fouls are committed when an opponent is driving to the basket, like seen here when Hicks reaches in while Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox sprints towards the basket.

Off the ball/away from basket

Hicks finds himself in some hairy situations at times. Whether it’s fighting for a loose ball or on his back or positioning for a rebound, the whistle finds Hicks. The senior forward has committed 16 of his 94 personal fouls away from the basket or off the ball, that’s good for 17 percent.

Note: Hicks committed one foul in the Georgia Tech game, where it was late-game situation with a foul to give.

Over the back

As a forward, Hicks finds himself in the paint jostling for defensive and offensive rebounds. The senior can often grab rebounds over opponents because of his size.

However, when an opponent does a good job boxing him out, referees are quick to whistle Hicks for an over the back foul. 13 percent of Hicks’ personal fouls are of this over the back type when fighting for a rebound, like shown in the Wisconsin game and Davidson game.

Offensive

Hicks’ has been whistled for six offensive fouls, including a pair of illegal screens, and charges like this one from the Miami game . These types of fouls account for six percent of Hicks’ 94 total personal fouls this season, and 12 percent of his 50 turnovers (6 of 50 total turnovers) this year.


When and where does Hicks commit fouls?

Isaiah Hicks has committed four or more fouls in 13 of his 30 games this season. This chart shows the amount of fouls committed over the course of these 30 games.

Hicks-chart

In his last six games played, Hicks has committed at least three or more fouls in each game (23 total fouls). In January, Hicks had a six-game stretch where he only committed 14 fouls.

Five of the last six games have come after Hicks missed his first career game due to a hamstring injury. It’s possible the injury correlates to the uptick in fouls as of late.

Location

In the 2016–17 season, Hicks has committed …

The senior’s fouls per 40 minutes is much higher (7.3) in away games.

Note: The Notre Dame played in Greensboro is being used as a home game in this exercise, similar to how the NCAA is categorizing it.

    |   Location  | Fouls per 40 min |
    |:-----------:|:----------------:|
    |     Away    |        7.3       |
    |     Home    |        4.7       |
    |   Neutral   |        4.3       |

These rates are a little closer for Hicks’ entire career (141 games). It’s 5.2 fouls per 40 minutes at home, 6.8 fouls per 40 minutes at neutral sites, and 7.1 fouls per 40 minutes on the road for his career.

Time in the game

We also reviewed the time on the clock when Hicks is whistled for his fouls. This breaks each half into five segments, similar to when TV timeouts are called after a deadball during collegiate games.

    | 1st Half Time of Clock | Fouls | 2nd Half Time on clock | Fouls | 
    |------------------------|-------|------------------------|-------|
    | 20:00 - 16:00          |  9    | 20:00 - 16:00          | 12    | 
    | 15:59 - 12:00          |  7    | 15:59 - 12:00          |  6    |      
    | 11:59 - 8:00           | 14    | 11:59 - 8:00           | 10    |    
    | 7:59 - 4:00            | 12    | 7:59 - 4:00            | 11    |      
    | 3:59 - 0:00            |  5    | 3:59 - 0:00            |  7    |  
    | Total fouls            | 47    | Total fouls            | 46    |

A summary shows 47 fouls called in the first half, and 46 in the second half. Not showing in the summary is one foul committed in overtime (Clemson).

Hicks frequently commits fouls during the middle of the first half or from the 11:59 minute mark to the 4:00 minute mark. The start of the second half is also a popular time for Hicks to pick up fouls.

Other notes:


Does Isaiah Hicks have a reputation that contributes to more fouls being called against him?

In order to answer this question, we reviewed the officials assigned to every game Isaiah Hicks has played in his career where he has committed at least three or more fouls.

It’s a strong sample size of 72 games out of a possible 142 career games, or 51 percent of Hicks’ career contests. If you want to see a list of all officials for every game in the 2016–17 season, go to: dadgumboxscores.com/officials

Here is a list of the most frequent officials on the court when Isaiah Hicks has committed three fouls or more in his career to date (March 2, 2017):

    |     Ref Name    | Number of games |
    |:---------------:|:---------------:|
    |    Mike Eades   |        9        |
    |   Roger Ayers   |        6        |
    |    Tim Nestor   |        6        |
    |   Bryan Kersey  |        5        |
    |    Jeff Clark   |        5        |
    | Michael Roberts |        5        |

Mike Eades and Roger Ayers, a couple of the most popular officials in collegiate basketball, top the list. Both Eades and Ayers work a lot of top-tier games and they’re located on the east coast, meaning it’s likely these two will work a lot of UNC games. For example …

While Eades and Ayers are some of the most respected officials in all of collegiate basketball, they’re also the most frequent officials on the court when Isaiah Hicks is whistled with fouls. This duo has been on the court together three times over these 72 games, most amongst any officials during that span.

Does this mean Hicks has a reputation that leads to more fouls?

I do believe he has a reputation and I think some officials get carried away with the things that they hear, but I don’t think an official goes into the game thinking, ‘I’m going to call a foul on Isaiah.’ He puts himself in bad spots sometimes and needs to just stay away from that junk. A big guy should never make a foul below his waist and he does that and shouldn’t get caught and tangled up with people and he does that sometimes. I think sometimes the calls are very unfortunate for him, too.

— Roy Williams, THSN Radio Show

Head coach Roy Williams says yes, Hicks does have a reputation. If you review previous foul calls, it’s possible officials have a cognitive bias towards Hicks. Why?

Because some of the foul calls against him have been as curious as the Oxford, NC native’s mid-season hairdo.

Here are a few examples:

On his back against Kentucky

Hicks picked up his third foul against Kentucky about 25 seconds after his second foul call while laying on his back. This prompted Roy Williams to throw his jacket and receive a technical foul.

The official who called this foul and the technical? Roger Ayers.

Block against Syracuse in Final Four last season

Mike Eades whistled this blocking foul on Hicks with 11 seconds to go in the first half against Syracuse in the 2016 Final Four. It was a play where Hicks was clearly outside the cylinder, and still charged with his third personal foul.

Reach in against Virginia Tech

With only two seconds left in the half, Hicks is called with a reach in on a play where two other players ended up on the ground. Assistant coach Steve Robinson’s reaction says it all.

Ayers and Eades both on the court for this one, Eades is the one who blew the whistle with a questionable view of the play.

Yes, Hicks puts himself in tough situations that make it easier for fouls to go against him. Let’s acknowledge officials are human, and they do expect him to commit fouls in certain situations.


Isaiah Hicks will play his last game in the Dean E. Smith Center Saturday night against Duke. Here’s hoping the senior avoids fouls and helps UNC make another NCAA title run to close his career.

This article was originally published March 2, 2017 on Adrian Atkinson’s The Secondary Break, the best to find UNC basketball analytics. If you enjoyed this article, you might find dadgumboxscores.com collection of every UNC box score since 2003–04.