LAWRENCE — There is a dark cloud hanging over college basketball and nobody seems to know what kind of storm it carries.
The rules have changed. It is no longer safe to think a bad thing about an opposing player for fear of a foul call. There were 58 whistles in Friday night’s Kansas win over Louisiana-Monroe and everybody who loves the sport is worried that this looming threat of more fouls and more free throws — which obviously would result in less action and fewer thrills — will stick a fork into the game.
“I’m telling my players not to freak out,’’ Louisiana-Monroe coach Keith Richard said after watching KU shoot 43 free throws. “This is going on all over the country. It’s not just a Monroe thing, it’s not just a Kansas thing. The players have to adjust and not lose their minds because of the rule. It is not going away.”
Richard’s words could not sound more ominous.
Referees have been instructed by the NCAA to crack down on handchecks and to take a harder, more rigid look at block-charge calls.
So if a defensive player sticks out a hand as a player works to get past him, there’s a whistle. And good luck drawing a charge, although there was one called among the game’s bevy of stoppages.
I don’t know exactly where this is going, but I’m scared.
KU coach Bill Self said he expects players to adjust to the rules — either more or less restrictive, depending on whether you’re playing offense or defense — by the start of conference play in January.
But he didn’t sound too convinced. Several times he said the game was going to be less fun for fans to watch. And Self is one of the most optimistic coaches I know.
These are uncharted waters and I see sharks. But I’m going to try and have faith that the powers that be in college basketball aren’t going to let the game’s popularity slip away because of too many hand checks and charging calls.
Despite what everyone says — that these rules are here to stay and that they’re to be strictly enforced — I feel some wiggle room. Which is more than a defensive player feels.
More than a few times Friday night, players reacted in disbelief after being called for fouls. Self went after one of the officials in the first half after point guard Frank Mason was called for the kind of foul that we just to refer to as ticky-tack.
Remove that term from your vocabulary, college hoops fans. Ticky-tack could become the norm.
“What I’d like to know is how many of the 58 fouls called tonight would have been called last season,’’ Self said. “That would be interesting. I would guess it would be around 40, tops.”
As far as the game that was played in between all the stoppages, No. 5 Kansas was sluggish. Self is trying to mix and match 10 players — 11 when point guard Naadir Tharpe returns from a one-game suspension for Tuesday night’s game against No. 4 Duke in Chicago.
It’s a steep learning curve, especially because all 11 players in the Jayhawks’ rotation can play.
• Andrew Wiggins played a team-high 34 minutes and scored a team-high 16 points. The sellout crowd at Allen Fieldhouse was waiting for a highlight-reel moment from the freshman, but it never came. A couple of alley-oop passes thrown his way were errant. But Wiggins was solid, making a couple of three-pointers and driving the ball to the basket the way only he can.
• Former Heights start Perry Ellis scored six of his 12 points in the first few minutes. He also led Kansas with eight rebounds and looks like an anchor down low. Ellis blocked a couple of shots and got to the free-throw line eight times. The passiveness and confusion that afflicted him for the first two-thirds of the 2012-13 season is gone. Completely. Ellis has arrived.
• Because of Tharpe’s suspension, freshman Frank Mason started at point guard. But Mason got into early foul trouble and was limited to 18 minutes. That allowed North freshman Conner Frankamp to play some at the point, not the position he’ll normally play for the Jayhawks. He had five points and three assists in 17 minutes and made a late three-pointer after missing his first three from long range. Frankamp is such a great shooter that missing a shot causes him to be mystified.
• Senior Tarik Black, a transfer from Memphis, is the biggest man in the world. Not really, but it must seem so to anyone trying to out-muscle him near the basket. He’s not the most skilled player, but he had eight points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes.
His backup, freshman Joel Embiid, is going to take some time to develop. But he’s the second-biggest man in the world and did shoot more free throws (10) in fewer minutes (11) than anyone could have imagined.
Kansas has so many weapons, but Self is still learning where to aim. It won’t take him long. He’s good at this stuff. Kansas is going to be great, new rules or not.