No one really knows how much the new NCAA defensive rules will affect the way men’s college basketball is coached and played, but if history is an indicator get ready for whining. Lots of whining.
There’s going to be plenty of frustration from players, coaches, officials and fans as everyone adjusts to the NCAA’s multi-faceted attempt to increase scoring in a game that’s gotten stale. So when you’re watching Washington and Oregon slog through a game that devolves into a free-throw shooting contest in which both teams take more FT attempts than field-goal attempts [Don’t laugh. Their first matchup last season included 61 combined FT attempts), just remember the NCAA execs are doing this for your enjoyment.
According to NCAA statistics, scoring in Div. I men’s basketball last season dipped to 67.5 points, the lowest mark since the 1951-52 season. And here you thought Washington’s switch to the high-post offense was the reason the Huskies averaged 67.9 points last season, their fewest since coach Lorenzo Romar took over in 2002.
After 11 straight years of steady scoring decline, the NCAA – which moves at glacier pace – finally recognized it has a problem entertaining fans.
This year the NCAA outlawed hand-checking and using the forearm to impede an offensive player, two rules the NBA adopted in 1994 and ’97 respectively. In addition, the officials will call a foul when a defensive player puts two hands on an opponent and when a defensive player continually jabs at an opponent.
The NCAA also changed the ruling on the block-charge call, prohibiting a defensive player from moving into the path of an offensive player once he starts an upward motion.
Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said the rule changes could have a revolutionary affect on college basketball.
Romar echoed those sentiments. The Huskies apply constant on-ball pressure. They extend their defense to the wings, denying passes and contesting shots. Players frequently switch defensive assignments. Washington wants to create defensive havoc and offensive confusion. At their best the Huskies force a lot of turnovers, but Romar loves deflections and charges maybe more than he likes blocked shots and steals.
It remains to be seen how the NCAA’s new hands-off policy will affect UW’s harassing defense.
“It could be problematic for us in what we do,” Romar said. “We’re not going to change what we do. We have to adjust and make sure we’re fundamentally sound in defending that ball so that we’re not reaching. … Because of our pressure, we place a premium in taking charges. If we can’t take charges and we can’t keep people in front of us, it makes it difficult.”
If you’re still wondering, Romar isn’t a fan of the new rules.
“Touching a player is not foul,” he said. “It’s not. You mean to tell me that if you brush a guy with your hands, then it’s a foul? That’s not a foul.”
Coaches and players at Thursday’s Pac-12 media day were split about rule changes.
“I love it,” said Arizona State sophomore Jahii Carson. The 5-10 point guard, who averaged 18.5 points per game last season, is among the fastest players in the country and thrives on dribble penetration.
“It’s an equalizer for small guys like myself,” Carson said. “I can use my speed and quickness to get around guys and they can’t grab or hold anymore.”
Still other players said the rule changes will be a difficult adjustment.
“I know for a fact several guys on our team are going to have a hard time with it,” said a Pac-12 player at Thursday’s media day. “Especially the younger guys. You see older guys and even for them it’s a natural reflex to put your hand out or your arm out if a guy is going by you. For the freshman that’s even more so.”
California coach Mike Montgomery agreed.
“Most freshmen, especially the ones who were stars in high school, didn’t play much defense in high school for various reasons,” he said. “Now you’re asking them to learn your defense in a few weeks. And you’re asking them to change in essence their understanding of what is good and proper defense. … It’s our job as coaches to get them ready, but I can see how playing freshmen especially in light of the emphasis on hand-checking and things like that is now a riskier proposition than it was before.”
The NCAA implemented 28 rules changes, but for some reason the NCAA didn’t make a point of stressing the changes to coaches until recently. Teams began preseason practice two weeks ago, but many Pac-12 coaches said they were told Thursday just how much officials will emphasize the new defensive rules.
Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said: “There was an article I read recently about it – maybe a week ago – but hearing it explained is always a little different. I got an idea of what’s being emphasized.”
Arizona coach Sean Miller said: “We probably need to renew our focus here over the next couple of weeks knowing there’s going to be such an emphasis here early in the season.”
Romar said he’ll make things more difficult for defensive players at practice to help them adjust to how the game will be officiated.
“There’s going to be some changes when we get back,” he said. “We have to call it to where you want your players screaming ‘I didn’t touch him!’ You want your players saying that at practice so they can get used to not touching and make sure that’s true.”
If the NBA is an indicator, then it’s going to take everyone – players, coaches and fans – awhile to get adjusted to the defensive rule changes.
Los Angeles Clipers coach Doc Rivers told the NBA.com in a 2009 interview: “The first year, they took my hand check away. The next year, they took our forearm away. And then, I retired. I was done. I was like, ‘I’ve got to move my feet? I quit. This is no fun anymore.'”
In the 1990s, the NBA implemented several rule changes to increase scoring and increase the offensive flow. The changes worked. Scoring in the NBA increased from 91.6 during the 1998-99 season to 100.2 in the 2009-10 season. NBA teams averaged 98.1 points last season.
Still you have to wonder that if the NCAA really wanted to spruce up scoring, then why hasn’t there been a bigger push to shorten the 35-second clock to 24? And why hasn’t there been a discussion about outlawing zone defense?
“There’s a certain coach at Syracuse that would never let that happen,” a Pac-12 coach joked.