After the national scoring average dropped to 67.5 points last season, the lowest it had been in since the 1981-82 season, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules committee stepped in an attempt to reverse this trend.
Their plan: crack down on hand-checking fouls and also clearly define how a player can defend in the post.
The results of this have been up-and-down. On one hand, the national scoring average does appear to have elevated this year, with 64 teams currently averaging more points per game thus far on the season than the nation’s leading team scorer, Iona, did at the end of last year (80.4).
However, these type of offensive “explosions” may not be exactly what the NCAA had in mind, with whistles being blown on a lot of ticky-tacky fouls, bringing games to frequent halts, all-the-while messing with the flow of the game.
“I was under the impression that we wanted to clean up the roughness of the game,” Michigan State head basketball coach Tom Izzo said, who has always been known to coach one of the more physical basketball teams in the nation, bringing up the point that he once embodied the phrase “it’s a football team on hardwood,” but also acknowledging the fact that those times have changed.
To get an idea on just how much the rule changes have been affecting the game, take the Seton Hall vs. Niagra game on November 9 for example, where 72 fouls led to 102 free throw attempts between the two teams.
Or the 84-79 Dayton upset over Gonzaga on November 25, where 53 fouls between the two teams led to 60 free throw attempts and three of Gonzaga’s starters fouling out of the game.
“These touch things that they’re supposed to call, if you watch closely I think they’re calling it ten times more on the ball than off the ball,” Izzo said. “It’s a fist fight off the ball on cut outs on rebounds and different things like that…even though they want to clean up the physicalness, I think in some ways it can get worst.”
However, as frustrating as Izzo makes the rule changes sound, imagine being a player trying to play and adjust to the rules, especially for players trying to defend out on the perimeter, where now all it seems to take to draw a foul is lower your head and drive into the defender.
“I feel like it’s tougher on the ball than off the ball because I feel like they’re paying a lot more attention to the small things,” MSU senior point guard Keith Appling said, who found himself in a little bit of foul trouble early on in a win against Oklahoma.
Other players on the MSU basketball team also agree that the rule changes have made things difficult, but also that they just have to take it all in stride.
“It’s a little tough because you want to get out there and get at the guy and try to defend,” MSU sophomore guard Denzel Valentine said. “With them calling fouls its a little tough, but it is what it is and you have to adjust.”
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, rules are rules and there is no way around that right now. As teams get deeper into the season, it will be interesting to see how teams adjust to the hand-checking rule, especially when the physicality of the Big Ten teams start to match up against each other in conference play.
“I’m all for rules,” Izzo said. “I just think we’ve taken it too far…Do you really want to have a free throw contest or do you want to have a basketball game?”