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Penn State Basketball: Breaking Down Fouls Called On Lamar Stevens

on January 21, 2020 2:50 PM

Through seven Big Ten game Penn State forward Lamar Stevens has been credited with at least four fouls on five different occasions.

For comparison, by the end of the 2018-19 season, Stevens hit that mark during Big Ten play just two times, both games on the road. Once at Nebraska and once at Purdue. The year prior to that it happened just three times, and during Stevens' freshman campaign it was predictably at its highest point with seven occasions of four or more fouls.

Now in his fourth season, Stevens is an interesting case study in how players ought to be officiated and how they are actually officiated. Conventional wisdom has long suggested veteran players who have built up a career of relationships with referees and a cache of good will within the conference are given a certain benefit of longevity with the whistle.

Of course it is a vague parameter to judge what sorts of calls this applies to. Nobody is suggesting that Stevens is incapable of being credited with fouls. In a perfect world Stevens ought to be officiated just like any other player, being old shouldn't allow you to effectively break the rules and get away with it at a higher rate than anyone else.

I should also note from the very outset my general belief that referees are 99% of the time trying their hardest to do a hard job well. I am also very much not a referee conspiracy theorist, nor trying to prove any kind Big Ten master plan to punish Stevens for some untold reason. This has a lot more to do with my own curiosity.

The question at hand is two fold: There is a perception Stevens has been getting the raw end of the whistle this season. Is that true, and how many of his fouls are justified? In essence, are any bad calls against him simply an ongoing confirmation bias of a trend that doesn't exist.

As a point of transparency, I am not a rules expert nor am I pretending to play one on TV. In turn the rating system to grade out Stevens' fouls has been broken into a five-level process to try and give some gradients to the calls.

  • Fair (Obvious foul)
  • Fair/Toss Up (Not a good angle, probably a good call but hard to really say. Aspects of judgement call)
  • Toss Up (Maybe a foul, maybe not)
  • Questionable (Appears to be the wrong call, either on its own, or within a greater context of how the game has been officated)
  • Objection: (Seemingly incorrect by a noticeable margin)


Ohio State:

Foul 1: Questionable

Block/Charge calls are the worst ones to try and judge. In my eyes, Stevens' defender isn't even remotely close to being set when Stevens begins to make contact. It is forceful contact, initiated entirely by the offensive player but the defender wasn't doing much more than getting in his way. This is a block.

Foul 2: Questionable (Context)

This call might be the right one in everyone's eyes if the first foul was called a block. The issue here is that it's almost the exact same play as Stevens' first foul, except this time he's the defender and this time he's probably in a bit better position than the defender in the previous play. Don't really have an issue with this being called a block, but within the context of how the game had been called, it gets leveled up to questionable.

Foul 3: Toss Up

You stick both hands in to try and create a jump-ball, you're either going to get lucky or hit with a foul. Stevens opens up the second half with a foul he didn't need on a risky play. We'll call this a toss-up because reach-in jump ball plays tend to be.

Foul 4: Fair

Slaps his guy on the arm, it's a foul.



Foul 1: Fair/Toss Up

Stevens thinks he is held on the rebound, looks like he might have been. Blocking call on the ensuing layup is a bit of bad luck relative to how everyone was positioned. Thought Stevens was vertical, but a defender doesn't have many rights in that situation and Steven's objection has less to do with the foul called on him as much as the foul he thought should have been called earlier. There's no major issue here.

Foul 2: Toss Up

The whistle is late, but Stevens does take a swipe at the shooter early in his process of shooting. It's hard to tell from the available angle if he made contact or not. Basketball gives the shooter a lot of different ways to draw a foul and that would be one of them. A late whistle hurts the perception here and neither Stevens or Chambers appear to like the call. They don't always react, but Stevens' frustration with the whistle leans this a bit towards no contact, but we just don't know.

Foul 3: Fair/Toss Up

The issue here really is that the screen Stevens sets isn't all that forceful so it didn't really impact the play all that much. The rules say an offensive screener has to be totally set before the ball handler can use him to initiate contact. Penn State runs a million screens a game and that one didn't look all that different than the others. Stevens is maybe a beat late to setting it. Not a horrible call, maybe not a necessary one either. All told Sevens played a physical game on the road and only got called for three fouls. Not much to take issue with there.



Foul 1: Fair

After watching this in slow motion a million times, Stevens *probably* gets the shooter on the arm. He was late to the play, late to the shot, it's preventable. The shooter does flop a bit considering there is no lower body contact, and Stevens probably isn't a fan of that considering there are new flop rules this season. 



Foul 1: Fair

Stevens wanted a foul earlier in the possession but the foul he's actually called for is just a bit of bad luck. It's a foul, albeit it not all that intentional.

Foul 2: Toss Up

I think these are the kind of calls Stevens wants, but has never really gotten. The call here is essentially a push-off, and Stevens initiates contact with his right forearm in front of the referee. I'm not entirely sure he ever really extends his arm or that the Rutgers' defender was off balance because of the arm and not the step-back. The issue for Stevens is that the ref is looking right at the play from about six feet away. James Harden might not get that call either. Stevens has a history of push-off plays too and his entire career he has gotten called for it.

Foul 3: Objection

This isn't a grand conspiracy but Stevens didn't touch the player who fell over. Calls like this get to the heart of my issues with officiating in basketball, which is the situations when refs call a foul for the play they think they see coming, not the play that actually happened. It's also somewhat annoying in a larger sense, that the official who calls this foul can't see the contact he assumes has just happened from the angle he is at.

Foul 4: Fair/Toss Up

Stevens gets up into the back of the defender for a rebound but for my money there isn't a lot of contact that changed the play. This just looks like two guys positioning for a rebound. The Rutgers' play does bend over a bit as Stevens prepares to jump though, so possible Stevens pushes off more than we can see here and the ref is right in front of it.



Foul 1: Fair

in fairness, fouling Garza is about the only way to slow him down. Stevens tries to get the ball, gets a bit of everything.

Foul 2: Fair

See note above, this time it's an arm hold.

Foul 3: Fair

Stevens is fighting for the ball, and the offensive player swipes through and initiates a tangling of arms. Stevens isn't happy about it but this is sort of the byproduct of getting in the weeds on defense and trying to force a turnover or body-on-body defense. Again, right in front of the ref.

Foul 4: Fair

Garza goes straight up, Stevens doesn't slow down enough during/after the pass to prevent the contact. Penn State has gotten called for a lot of these types of offensive fouls over the years. Even if you think these sorts of things are borderline, they're also preventable.



Foul 1: Fair

He hits the offensive player in the head, which is generally not allowed.

Foul 2: Fair/Toss Up

I hate these plays. Stevens is pretty much straight up in the air but there is so much contact and so many elbows and chests that it's hard not to call a foul here. Offensive players get a lot of rights in these situations.

Foul 3: Toss Up

Honestly this is probably more a foul on Myles Dread than Stevens. Also think it's a jump ball but these kinds of "four guys trying to get the same ball under the basket" plays are full of fouls.  

Foul 4: Objection

I've watched this play so many times. I actually went back into the play-by-play to make sure this foul was actually called on Stevens. This entire sequence perplexes me even more because Stevens doesn't even react to the foul being called. I'm objecting to this foul on the grounds of having no good explanation for it.


Ohio State:

Foul 1: Fair

You could argue Stevens is just fighting for positioning on a bigger player, which is true, but he's all over Wesson. You aren't getting away with physical play like that on the road, especially when Stevens was going to get beat anyway. He's walled up but it wasn't enough.

Foul 2: Fair/Toss Up

Stevens tries to go for a strip/block and he gets the ball and probably a bit more than that. There isn't a good angle of this, but judging by Stevens' reaction, he doesn't seem overly upset by the call. Maybe this is a clean block, can't tell from here.

Foul 3: Questionable 

I can see why this is called a foul, but I don't think it's as bad as the ref thinks. Basically, Stevens is getting called for holding the Ohio State player's arm as the pass is on the way in. The issue here really is that Stevens never really gets a hold of the arm and probably gets pushed more than anything else. Problem is, ref who calls the foul can't see most of this from his angle and doesn't get the benefit of slow motion.

Foul 4: Toss Up

This looks like good defense and a clean block, there's body contact but not a lot. Steven's reaction tells the story, more on that.

Foul 5: Objection

This is the technical foul, which was called immediately after Foul 4. Stevens is walking away from the play, back towards the bench and gets hit with a tech. This is really where the entire idea was born that Stevens hasn't gotten the benefit of his age this season. He has four fouls, on the road in an early season game that is still within reach. A tech in that situation alters the game. Do you call that? I don't think so.

It should also be noted that Stevens talks to the officials a lot, both conversationally and in anger. The thing that doesn't equate into our knowledge of the tech is what was previously said and what warnings he was informally given. Without that knowledge the tech seems wrong, but that could change.


It's probably fair to say Stevens has gotten a few bad whistles, but he also plays a physical game at a physical position. Equally true, we can only judge the fouls he is called for and have no real ability to know the kinds of benefits he has gotten when the whistle wasn't blown but it could have been. 

Beyond that, Stevens has picked up a handful of fouls he could really avoid. That's true of any player, but given how his season has gone, Stevens could probably do a better job walking the line between good defense and that extra foul. Stevens on the floor is more important then the two points he might give up avoiding a foul.

In conclusion is Stevens getting the short end of the stick?

Probably not much more than anyone else.

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