Here’s the thing about the Fresno State men’s basketball team. It fouls – a lot. The Bulldogs play an aggressive style of defense and get steals, force turnovers. In doing that, the opponent is going to end up at the foul line a bit and no team in the Mountain West Conference and few teams in the nation allowed a higher percentage of points on free throws.
But that isn’t much of a concern for coach Rodney Terry headed into a game Wednesday at Texas Christian in the first round of the NIT, even with some experimental rule changes in place that could play against the Bulldogs.
The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved rules for the NIT that will reset the number of team fouls to zero at the end of 10-minute segments in both halves.
Texas Christian is 19-15 and went 6-12 in the Big 12 Conference. It lost seven games in a row to end the regular season before beating Oklahoma and No. 1 Kansas in the conference tournament. The 19 wins are its most since 2005 when it won 21 games and played in the NIT.
In addition, after a team has reached a four-foul limit, the penalty for all subsequent personal and technical fouls (excluding administrative technical fouls) will be two foul shots, not the current college standard of a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity that starts now on the seventh foul and continues until the 10th foul of each half.
Terry chuckled as he delved deep for one of the most famous NFL coaching tirades, quoting former Arizona Cardinals’ coach Dennis Green after his team blew a fourth-quarter lead by giving up two touchdowns on fumble returns and a third on a punt return.
“We are who we are right now … who is that, Dennis Green? ‘They are who we thought they were,’ ” Terry said. “You’re going to be who you are at this time of year. You’ve already established an identity on who you are and what you do. It’s who’s going to execute it and the most determined and focused teams advance.”
For the Bulldogs, that means getting after the Horned Frogs as best they can and if they foul, they foul.
Fresno State is 20-12 despite getting called for an average of 22.1 fouls in its Division I games, last in the Mountain West and 336th (out of 347) in the nation. It is in a postseason tournament for the second year in a row – and that hasn’t happened since 2001 – even though 25.2 percent of the points it has allowed to Division I opponents this season have come from the foul line, again last in the conference and 341st in the nation.
You’re going to be who you are at this time of year.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
The NIT rules for fouls committed in the act of shooting, flagrant fouls or technical fouls remain the same, resulting in two free throws.
How might the rule changes impact the Bulldogs?
In their past five games, victories at San Diego State, at Boise State and against UNLV to end the regular season and a victory over New Mexico and a loss to Nevada in the conference tournament, those teams would have been shooting two free throws for more than four minutes in eight of those 10-minute segments and more than five minutes in five of them.
Fresno State has allowed an average of only 29.9 points in the first half of its games against Division I opponents, tied for 12th best in the nation.
In the semifinals of the MW Tournament, Fresno State was called for fouls in the second half at 9:16, 9:03, 8:03 and 7:31. If that were the NIT, the Wolf Pack would have been shooting two free throws with the next foul, which came at the 6:15 mark.
“We’re going to be who we are in terms of the way we play,” Terry said. “This time of year, that’s the thing about it, nobody is going to come up with a magic formula all of a sudden in terms of what they do. You’re going to do what you’ve done all year long and what you’ve gotten better at and what you practice doing.”
The kicker for the Bulldogs is even if they put the Horned Frogs on the line, it might not hurt much. TCU ranked seventh of 10 in the Big 12 in free throw shooting percentage, knocking down only 68.7 percent of its foul shots, though the Horned Frogs did improve that to 72.1 percent in their 18 conference games.
“The interesting fact in that is that we also create a lot of fouls ourselves,” Terry said. “People foul us a lot, as well. We may foul a lot, but they foul us too.
Click to read coverage from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: TCU readies for guard-oriented Fresno State team on hot streak
“We led the league in free throws attempts and were third in the league in free throw makes. We know how to get fouled, too.”
’Dogs regaining health
Sophomore forward Sam Bittner, who has not played in a game since a Feb. 22 win at San Diego State due to an illness, was back in practice on Monday and went without limitation when the Bulldogs started their prep for TCU.
“This time of year, you need all of your guys. You really do,” Terry said. “We felt him not being with us, especially when we got into foul trouble. You have to have those fouls. You need those bodies and you need a body that’s going to execute what you’re trying to get done and we know that he’ll do that.”
Senior Karachi Edo also is healthier, coming back from an ankle injury suffered in the third of four overtimes in a Feb. 8 loss at Wyoming.
Edo played limited minutes in both of the Bulldogs’ games at the MW Tournament, playing eight in a victory over New Mexico in the quarterfinals and one in a loss to Nevada in the semifinals.
▪ TCU guard Alex Robinson, who is second on the team in scoring at 11.1 points per game and leading in assists with 5.6 per game, is a transfer from Texas A&M.
He ended up with the Horned Frogs, but Fresno State also recruited the 6-foot-1 sophomore after he left Texas A&M. As a freshman in 2015 he played an average of 18.8 minutes in 32 games.
▪ The Bulldogs will be making their 10th appearance in the NIT and their first since 2007. They are 14-9 all-time in the tournament, have made two NIT Final Fours and won the championship in 1983.
▪ Fresno State is the No. 5 seed in the Iowa quadrant, one of four tournament brackets. TCU is the No. 4 seed.
The last time a team seeded No. 5 or lower advanced to the NIT Final Four was 2012 when No. 5 Massachusetts and No. 6 Minnesota both made it to New York.
Minnesota beat Washington in the semifinals and lost to Stanford in the title game.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. TEXAS CHRISTIAN
- Wednesday: 5 p.m. at Schollmaier Arena (8,500) in Fort Worth, Texas
- Records: Bulldogs 20-12; Horned Frogs 19-15
- TV/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940)
- Notable: The Horned Frogs, in the first season under coach Jamie Dixon, are in the NIT for the first time since 2007. TCU averaged 65.9 points during a seven-game losing streak to end the regular season, but put up 82 points in beating Oklahoma and 85 in beating No. 1 Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament. The Horned Frogs are led by 6-foot-11 forward Vladimir Brodziansky, who is averaging 13.8 points per game. In conference play, he averaged 15.7 points per game.