Over a recent stretch of games, the ASU men's basketball team has racked up plenty of fouls, highlighted by a total of 26 versus Utah this past Saturday.
While this is the extreme of ASU's foul issues, this is a trend that has occurred throughout the season.
ASU currently ranks 38th in the NCAA Division I for most fouls per game. The Sun Devils commit an average of 20.1 fouls per game. Additionally, the Sun Devils rank 43rd in most free throw attempts allowed in the NCAA Division I.
This has led to teams getting to the line early and often.
So the real question here is: Why do the Sun Devils foul so much?
The problem stems from a combination of undisciplined defense, miscommunication and smart offensive play by opposing coaches.
For example, redshirt senior Zylan Cheatham is in position to contest a shot from Utah senior guard Parker Van Dyke, a 42 percent three-point shooter this season.
However, when Cheatham goes up to contest the shot, he jumps toward the defender, not up. This gives Van Dyke no room to land, and Cheatham is promptly called for a foul for three free throws.
As good of a defender as Cheatham is, the risk of drawing a foul like this outweighs the reward of blocking a three pointer. The chances of blocking a three pointer are slim, making this an undisciplined play.
Undisciplined plays lead to breakdowns, forcing players to make quick decisions that may lead to fouls. When a pass is made into the post, redshirt sophomore forward Romello White reaches around his man to try to poke the ball away.
He doesn’t get the steal, leading to Cheatham having to step in and foul to avoid giving up an easy layup.
Fouls will start to pile up for any team if the defense breaks down in this fashion.
Breakdowns on defense can also be caused by miscommunication. Two players not being on the same page for even a second can prove costly.
Dort looks to be the closest man to Battey and should pick him up. But, Dort doesn’t. Instead, he walks away to pick up freshman guard Daylen Kountz, who sophomore guard Remy Martin was then guarding.
Neither player communicates, leaving Battey to run to the rim uncontested until freshman forward Taeshon Cherry comes from the other side of the court to foul.
Sometimes, the opposing coach can set up the defense to be left in a lose-lose scenario. Here, after Colorado sophomore forward Donnie Tillman catches the ball in the post, he drives baseline looking to score.
Martin should be helping from the weak side, but the problem is he's guarding senior guard Parker Van Dyke in the corner.
If he moves in to help then he potentially gives up a three-pointer to a 42-percent shooter in the corner. If he doesn't help then he potentially gives up a layup. Martin chooses the latter.
The two other weak-side defenders aren’t in position to help, leaving Cherry to try and contest from behind, fouling on the shot.
Committing fouls not only leads to free throws for the opponent, but it also forces coach Bobby Hurley to use different rotations.
“We were a bit overaggressive I thought at times with some of the other guys who fouled out,” Hurley said after the Sun Devils' win against Utah. “We just had to weather the storm with it and juggle different lineups.”
Hurley specifically noted how he swapped White and Cheatham in and out of the game in order to keep a big man on the floor, while keeping both from picking up another foul.
White finished the game with three fouls, while Cheatham finished with four.
“We got Romello, who had three fouls really early out and then back in," Hurley said. "We managed Zylan with three fouls."
Moving forward, the Sun Devils can't afford to keep making these mistakes. In order to win crucial elimination games, ASU can not give opponents free points and force Hurley to use unfavorable lineups for prolonged stretches.