Scorers, the NCAA is on your side.
Men’s basketball officials are starting the season in the spotlight. They are charged, by the NCAA, to take physical defense out of the game and let offenses flow freely after teams averaged 67.5 points last season, lowest since the 1951-52 season (63.3).
In the NCAA’s view, something needs to change.
“We felt like defense was way ahead of offense,” said Eddie Jackson, Missouri Valley Conference supervisor of men’s officials. “The game had become a game of physicality and not finesse.”
The changes are causing, if not panic, an uproar through the first weeks of scrimmages and exhibitions. Coaches are predicting long games caused by fouls and free throws. WSU coach Gregg Marshall said Baylor shot 23 free throws in a 20-minute scrimmage against WSU a week ago.
“The game is going to be a little different,” Marshall said. “You better have some depth. You’re going to see a lot more foul shots, you’re going to see a lot more foul trouble. You’re going to see people driving it to the basket.”
The rule is now hands (and body) off for defenders. The block-charge rule also changed, requiring defenders to be in position earlier and encouraging blocked shots.
“Defense should be played with feet as opposed to using hands and arms to negate an opportunity,” Jackson said. “We want freedom of movement.”
While Jackson knows the game will change, he wants people to wait until passing judgment. He isn’t ready to predict three-hour games.
“We need to let this play out and see exactly how this is going to affect the game of men’s college basketball,” he said. “Are there going to be more fouls called? I don’t know. Once players adjust, and coaches adjust, then we’re hoping the outcome of this is that we’re going to have less fouls.”
Shooting percentages are down. Foul calls are down. Assists are down. The NCAA wants to reverse that trend, much like the NBA did in 2004 when it eliminated hand-checking.
“No hands, and, really, no body when the ball is being driven,” Marshall said. “There is certainly an advantage to the guy with the basketball if he wants to put it on the floor and drive to the basket.”
The scrimmage against Baylor gave the Shockers their first experience with the new rules.
“It was a pretty big eye-opener,” WSU guard Ron Baker said. “We saw a lot of calls we’re not used to seeing. I feel like, this year, we’re going to have to rely on each other. More team D. More team help.”
The edge, the players said, swung to the man with the ball.
“If I have the ball, you can’t ride me if I go to the basket,” WSU senior Cleanthony Early said. “If I make my move and I’ve got you beat, you can’t try to catch up by hipping me or checking me or getting into my body. You pretty much have to let me go and try to contest my shot.”
The rules will be the same for both teams, the Shockers point out. The ultimate advantage, it appears, goes to the players with the best combination of scoring ability and athletic talent.
“It’s just skill,” Early said. “If a player has skill, he’s going to be fine. I’m cool with it.”
Other rule changes include:
• Officials will no longer use their count for 10-second violations. They will use the shot clock.
• Elbow contact above the shoulders can be ruled a common foul. Previously, the rules required it be called a flagrant 1 or flagrant 2 only, a penalty deemed too severe in some cases.
• Officials can use a monitor in the final two minutes of the second half and the final two minutes of overtime to rule on shot-clock violations and out-of-bounds calls involving two or more players.
• To limit delays, officials will wait to review questionable three-point shots until the next media timeout (at 16, 12, 8 and 4 minutes). Inside the final four minutes of the second half and in overtime, officials will stop play.
The Bison, 25-8 last season, opened the season with a 97-52 win over Manhattan Christian College on Thursday in Shawnee, Okla. Aaron Abram, a junior forward from Pratt Community College, made 14 of 19 shots to score 34 points.