Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas-Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
New rule a game changer
Arkansas assistant likens new guidelines to NBA
Arkansas guard Rickey Scott is defended by LSU guard Anthony Hickey during a 2012 game at Bud Walton Arena. The play would be a foul on the defender under new NCAA rules.
FAYETTEVILLE College basketball fans should ready themselves for a season full of whistle blasts, free throws and marathon games.
A new rule targeting defense in the sport will be implemented this year. The result will be more fouls than ever, which the NCAA hopes will lead to more points in a sport whose popularity is down because of a decline in scoring.
The new rules limit hand-checking by defenders. Fouls will be called for keeping a hand or forearm on an opponent, putting two hands on an opponent, continually jabbing an opponent by extending an arm, placing a hand on the forearm of the opponent, and using arm bars to slow the progress of an offensive player.
Defenders will still be allowed to measure up the opposition, but not continually.
"What the NCAA rules committee has essentially decided is on freedom of movement like the NBA has," Arkansas assistant coach Matt Zimmerman said. "In that freedom of movement, it essentially allows the offensive player easier pass, easier gaps to the basket, easier driving ability. So there's very little contact at all, whether it's 80 feet from the basket or 20 feet from the basket, it's a foul. If you hit them with your forearm, it's a foul. It used to be you could arm bar a little bit on the floor. You couldn't hand check because that's been gone for a little while, but you could hit them with your hand - what some people call measuring - and immediately remove it. It used to be if a guy was driving at you, you could put your hand out and kind of slow them down, you could remove it real quick and kind of get your chest involved. Now all that's a foul.
"If you are arm bar them it's a foul. If you hit them with the palm of your hand it's a foul. So players are going to have an open attack lane more so to the basket than they've ever had."
One easy adjustment teams could make to combat the changes, Zimmerman said, is to draw more charges, but a tweak in the block-charge rule will make that more difficult.
"That's a big change, too, that no one has been talking about," Zimmerman said. "They've kind of adapted another NBA rule called gather. When a player starts to the basket he starts gathering up - bringing the ball in an upward motion - to go toward the rim and if you slide over there as he's gather it's going to be a block. It used to be if you were set, it didn't matter if the offensive player was in the air as long as you were outside that charge arc."
College basketball teams averaged 67.5 points per game last season - the sport's lowest output in more than 30 years. The main reason for the lack of scoring was an increase in physicality, especially near the basket.
Officials in several conferences have been criticized the last couple of years for no calls on physical plays, but those will be few and far between this season. Some conference officiating supervisors estimate games in November and December could have 80 to 90 free throws.
"There are going to be people in the stands saying, 'What is this? This isn't what we're used to seeing,'" Zimmerman said.
"Last year the average for teams was 17 fouls per game, which was the lowest in the history of basketball. They're saying people can't score because it's gotten too physical. Because of that there were a lot of people who slowed the ball up. That's why you saw so many games in the teens at halftime the last couple of years. That's why the rules committee said we have to increase scoring and let this freedom of movement allow teams to score more."
For a team whose style is predicated on pressure defense like Arkansas, the rule could certainly take a toll early on this season. The Razorbacks were well above the national average in fouls called last year in large part because of their aggressive style, meaning the new rule could test the team's depth.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said he believes several teams will switch to zone defenses as a result of the new rule changes, but said he is sticking to what he knows.
"It's going to be a major concern, not only for our basketball team, but a lot of teams," Anderson said. "They're going to call all the hand here and hand there, you're going to be shooting a lot of free throws and it will be a disruption to the game.
"We've worked on moving our feet instead of our hands. It's not going to change how we play, and that is we're going to play uptempo basketball….I think you can't get so concerned about that that you don't play basketball."
Arkansas coaches invited Southeastern Conference officials to their practice Oct. 20 to get a feel for the new rules. Anderson said the result was a combined 66 fouls called during the scrimmage.
"It's just one of those things we're going to have to adjust to," said senior guard Kikko Haydar. "I like to get up in people, so it's something I'll have to adjust to, but I see no reason why we can't play the same brand of basketball we always have. As much as it might hurt us on defense, it's going to help us on offense with how much we attack, so it's all going to even itself out."
Zimmerman said last Sunday's practice was an eye-opener for coaches and players.
"No one knew how drastic it was going to be and hard it was going to be to follow," Zimmerman said. "We've just got to clean it up. We're not going to hit them. If he gets by you, it's going to be harder to slow him down. Used to you could kind of get an arm into him and slow him down, but you can't do that anymore.
"Obviously we have to adjust in a slight way because you don't want them calling a foul every defensive possession. You can't win that way."