CHICAGO — It’s going to be slow, and it’s going to be painful.
Basketball is taking its medicine this season for scoring drop-off in recent years. Division I men’s squads averaged 67.5 points per game last year, the lowest since 1952. Only 17.68 fouls were called per game last year, the fewest since the NCAA startling compiling statistics in 1948.
The ambiguity of block-charge calls near the basket coupled with a more physical brand of defensive basketball forced NCAA executives to make changes. While on-court officials won’t call everything, they’re blowing their whistles way more often in closed scrimmages. To say coaches are concerned is an understatement.
“If you break the speed limit, it’s the law. It’s a rule. You’re going to get penalized,” Missouri State Coach Paul Lusk said Wednesday at Missouri Valley Conference media day. “We’ve played two exhibition games, and we’ve had 100 fouls. Two exhibition games, 100 fouls. There were 60 free throws shot (in each one). I don’t like it, the players may not like it, but if they don’t follow the rules, they’re going to be over there sitting by me in foul trouble. They’ll have to adjust.”
What once were guidelines for officials now have become rules. No longer can defenders put two hands or maintain one hand on an opponent. Defenders can’t jab at an opponent’s forearm or use an arm bar to impede a dribbler’s progress. The intended outcomes are simple: force defenders to use their feet more than their arms, limit physical play and allow freedom of movement.
Northern Iowa typically doesn’t defend full court, but Coach Ben Jacobson wanted to try with new quick point guard Wes Washpun. But in a scrimmage with officials on the court, Washpun was dinged between 12 and 15 times for fouls, Jacobson said. Officials would not have called at least five of Washpun’s fouls last year, Jacobson estimates.
So Jacobson has reverted back to his traditional style of half-court defense to keep his point guard on the floor. He accepts the NCAA’s rules on hand checking and physical defense to allow for more offense. But he’s got a problem with interpreting the block-charge call.
For years Jacobson has taught players to take charges, in part to wear down opponents. This year he’s taken the charge out of his defensive arsenal.
“In practice where guys are rotating over and they’re not taking charges, I sit there and I shake my head,” Jacobson said. “In years past there would be a lengthy discussion or a short discussion. ‘You’re going to stand in there and I don’t care if it’s a freight train: You’re going to take a charge.’ In some ways it takes away some of the high-energy, competitive, physical part of the game. You’ve just got to do it differently.”
“We tried not to have a built-in excuse that you can’t guard anymore,” Lusk said.
Last year near the end of an NCAA tournament third-round game, Ohio State guard Aaron Craft slid in front of Iowa State’s Will Clyburn and drew a controversial charge in the game’s final minutes. Clyburn’s basket was nullified, and Craft hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer. In today’s world, officials would ding Craft for a charge.
The rules will impact the nation’s top players at both ends. Northern Iowa’s Seth Tuttle said he’s coached now to block shots on defensive rotations rather than take charges. Offensively, however, some players will be more aggressive toward the basket knowing a charge call is unlikely.
“I’m looking forward to it because I might get to the free-throw line a few more times,” said Indiana State’s Jake Odum, ironically one of the league’s best defenders.
It’s likely the first few weeks of games will add minutes to games and fouls to the box score. But it’s necessary to improve the record-low statistics and allow athletes to showcase their skills. Adjustments are crucial, Indiana State Coach Greg Lansing said.
“This is a physical, defending conference where people beat each other up pretty good,” Lansing said. “Our league is going to have to change.
“I hope it’s not a free-throw contest.”