Now that the Gophers have begun the regular season in full force, it’s high time we take a look at the NCAA’s new fouling rules and look at what everyone thinks of them so far, and how they are affecting Minnesota.
There are two major changes in officiating (and thus, in the way teams play) that you can expect to see this year.
The first regards blocks and charges; the second deals with defending the player with the ball.
Many of you may be familiar with these already – and may have noticed a change in what is being called through the first two games. But let’s review.
First, the block/charge rule: Now, the defender must be in legal guarding position as soon as the offensive player begins his upward motion to pass or shoot – rather than at the moment of contact. The idea here to improve the accuracy of block/charging calls, some of the more controversial in the sport.
The second change ultimately creates more touch fouls. New fouls that will be called include:
- Placing and keeping a hand/forearm on an opponent.
- Placing two hands on an opponent.
- Continually jabbing by placing a hand or forearm on an opponent.
- Using an arm bar to impede the progress of the dribbler.
The new rules come on the heels of a season of college basketball that churned out an all-time low in fouls called and – probably not coincidentally – historic scoring lows as well (lowest since 1951-52). The ultimate goal of the NCAA with these new rules, then, is to increase scoring and create a less physical and more exciting game.
And so far, it's working. Fouls, you probably could guess just from watching the games are up. Last year, Division I teams' free-throw attempts to field-goal attempts (FTA/FGA) averaged out to 35.9 percent according to Kenpom.com. This year, teams are averaging a whopping 43.1 percent FTA/FGA through the first few days (through Wednesday's games), a substantial increase.
That would indicate that scoring is going up as well.
But not everyone is ecstatic about the immediate impact the changes will have.
The Big Ten, long maintaining a reputation as a very physical league, could see a big difference in the way games are played. Many, already, have notice lots of stoppages, calls that never existed in the past and an overall slower game.
On another spectrum, Gophers coach Richard Pitino has expressed concerns that the number of fouls being called will dilute what Minnesota is trying to do – keep the pace fast and the opponent uncomfortable.
Ultimately, though, he thinks the rules will be beneficial for the game.
He came home from the office around 9:20 on the night of Louisville’s first exhibition, which began at 6 p.m. CT, to see that there was still about ten minutes left in the game.
“I was like ‘This is weird, did it start late?’ And then I processed it – they’re calling a lot of fouls,” he said. “I think the fans are going to be extremely frustrated at first, but I think it’s good for basketball, because [the games] were turning into slug fests … They’re just trying to clean up a mess that was kind of let go. It’s going to be much, much better for college basketball, everybody just needs to be patient with it.”
It hasn't been too tough for the Gophers to do that, because it hasn't caused much of a ruckus so far. Minnesota’s opener was just over two hours on Friday, and the players seemed pretty vigilant of the rules -- no doubt helped by Pitino calling fouls in practice for a couple of weeks – fouling just 15 times.
Tuesday's game against Montana had quite a few more calls, with the team combining for 50 trips to the line.
The Gophers are much better than the national average through two games, allowing .324 free-throw attempts for every field goal attempt (the national average, again, is .411 FTA per every FGA). Currently, Minnesota is actually fouling less than their percentage from last year (for the full year), which was 36.7 FTA/FGA. But when you take into account that they're also getting fouled slightly less than the national average (.40 FTA/FGA), it might simply be a case of more lenient refs thus far -- or at least in that first game.
Considering how much the Gophers like to press, the new rules could be an easy trap. But players said it’s forced them to be better defenders, to move their feet in order to get into position, which ultimately proves more effective than simply relying on hands.
“We can’t let it affect our aggressiveness,” Andre Hollins said. Offensively, they see some benefits.
“We attack,” Hollins said. “We’re going for body contact and once we get there, that’s going to be to our advantage if the refs call it.”
What do other coaches around the league think? Here are some thoughts from Big Ten media day:
Fran McCaffery, Iowa: “It appears to me it’s going to have a tremendous affect on the game. It only stands to reason there will be a lot more fouls called out and away from the basket. What I don't want to see is touch fouls away from the basket and guys getting mugged off the ball, because that won't work. I've been saying for years we need to clean up those collisions at the rim. So I think that is brilliant what they're doing there, to protect the driver. Too many guys that were talented enough to go by their man and three guys falling down before the guy even got to the rim ... It will be interesting to see if the moves out front and the touch fouls will be sustainable. I think in theory it will work. In practicality it may make the games long and grueling, and it may have an adverse effect with regard to we're trying to open up the game. Teams may have to play more zone because you have to protect your guys who are in foul trouble. So I think when it's all said and done, we really don't know what's going to happen. But I like the thought process. I'm an offensive guy. We're going to drive the ball to the basket. So those rules would in theory help us. We'll see how it ends up.”
John Beilein, Michigan: “The people that have changed the rules over time have really had a good record at doing this. There's some experimentation probably we would have preferred at times. But we led the country in not fouling last year. I think we were number one or number two in not fouling. So I don't think there's going to be a big change in how we coach. And the block charge, I hope it simplifies things. I do not know that it does. We have to wait. And this is where I defer to the experts and say, okay, if they think it will work, they've done enough research on it, we just go and we adjust from there. But we've had a scrimmage and inner squad scrimmage. I haven't seen the difference, in particular, in how the game was called against us. And I think other teams have a drastic difference. But who knows.”
Thad Matta, Ohio State (on point guard Aaron Craft): “From what I've seen thus far, I don't think it's going to affect him. I think if they stay with what they're saying, it's going to affect the bad defenders, because they can't move their feet as well. And I say that in the most complimentary way to Aaron because I think the thing he does better than anybody in the country is moves his feet. He's got the ability late rally to really move. He's got great lower body strength. So I don't really see that being an issue for him in terms of he's not a guy that grabs and holds, because he's always there with his feet. So I think he should be in pretty good shape.”
Matt Painter, Purdue: “I think in theory, in talking with [the NCAA], it's something they feel they're going to stay with. If you're telling me the way the games are going to be called and exhibition games are the way they're going to call them in the Big Ten, we're going to have a lot of good players watching basketball. I don't think that will sit with people in this room, with players and coaches across the country. It's definitely not going to sit with the fans. I think there's a different way to increase scoring, if that's what they're trying to do. The only thing I do as a coach is take what our officials coordinator tells us and adjust, and then within the course of a game try to get your players to adjust. So we're trying to be better in terms of position defense and keeping the ball in front of us without using our hands. But it will be interesting to see what happens here. If the way the games are getting called in exhibition games are the way they're going to be called in nonconference, then the reaction from everybody.”
Bo Ryan, Wisconsin: “Well, I think you gotta give some credit to my colleagues and our profession; that most of us were teachers, which is how we got into coaching. So if a rule is made, you teach to the rule ... We can't go by maybe one exhibition or maybe you have a crew in from somewhere and they decide this is how I'm going to call the game. I think we need more samples and just teach to the rule. So if you're not allowed to put your hands on a player, then don't put your hands on a player. If you're not allowed to, as a guy, gather for the shot -- the one thing in the rule says an airborne player who has picked up the ball. Well, the airborne player, if you look at the examples that they showed us, he wasn't airborne yet. There was still a foot or two on the floor, but as you gather the ball and then go up into your shot, if the defensive player cannot move to get into a line of defense as a help player, then you're going to have to either get quicker players or teach them through repetition how to anticipate a little bit better and also work on your own ball defense so that the initial defender doesn't get beaten. It's easier said than done. But I really can't respond to how it's going to play out as I'm talking to a former player of ours who plays in the NBA who said, Coach, I hear you have new rules, but did you ever see the NBA playoffs? Like, do they call the rules the same way in the NBA playoffs that they did during the regular season? I don't know. Because I don't coach in that league. But the key will be: Are we going to be consistent all the way through the year on how, because we're going to teach to the rule. So if you're teaching to it and practicing it, you just hope that it's the same all the way throughout the season.”