NCAA's new hand-check rule isn't having quite the effect that its creators had in mind
NOV 06, 2013 6:22p ET
Ahem. Now, where were we? Ah, yes. So the early returns are in on the new hand-checking rule in college basketball and ...
And we can't say they didn't ...
... warn us.
Oh, come on. Seriously?
"A coach said the other night, 'I'm down to my last five players,'" Curtis Shaw, coordinator of men's basketball officials with the Big 12 Conference, told FOXSportsKansasCity.com. "And I said, 'You better tell them to stop doing what the first five are doing.'"
Welcome to NCAA Basketball 2013-14, or, as it's going to be known, "The War Of Attrition." Because, thanks to rules proposed in May and adopted in June, college hoops in November is going to look ... different.
Two hands? Foul.
Arm bar? Foul.
Forearm on the back? Foul.
Oh, the idea was sound enough: Crack down on physicality and brutality in the sport, promote movement and athleticism, and we'll have a prettier, more aesthetically pleasing product. Division I schools averaged 67.5 points per game a year ago -- the lowest clip since the 1951-52 season.
So Bluto Ball is out; Butterfly Ball is in. Even the block-charge rule has been tweaked so that defenders need to be in position earlier or risk the wrath of the zebras.
"The games will be ugly early," Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger predicted last month during Big 12 Media Day. "Everyone will be unhappy about it. But hopefully they can sustain it and call it the way they're projecting. It will be a huge adjustment."
Yes, yes, yes ... and hell, yes.
What began as an act of noble intent on the part of the rules committee -- of which nine of the 12 members are coaches -- has turned college basketball contests into fan-unfriendly whistle-fests, stop-start affairs in which free throws are up, and continuous game flow is alarmingly down.
The early returns, at least in the preseason, have proven historic, and not in a good way. What was once a two-hour game is now two-and-a-half, or closer to three. In Kansas' exhibition opener against Pittsburg State last week, for example, a combined 60 fouls were called: The Jayhawks went to the stripe 31 times, the Gorillas 30.
"When you're playing that many guys and there's that many stoppages," coach Bill Self noted after the contest, "it is hard to get rhythm."
Or, for that matter, stay awake.
And it got loopier Tuesday night: In KU's second exhibition, against Fort Wayne State, the Jayhawks took 39 free throws, the most attempts the program had seen in a preseason game since 2010, and one more trip than they would've made in any regular-season contest last season.
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, whose Shockers have prided themselves on toughness and physicality, a squad that rode the "Play Angry" mantra all the way to the Final Four, told the Wichita Eagle that during a recent scrimmage against Baylor, the Bears shot 23 free throws over a 20-minute span.
"One coach told me, 'You're making me change the way I coached for 20 years,'" said Shaw, who's called seven Final Fours and more than 1,500 tilts over his career. "Defense was supposed to be moving your feet, keeping your body in front, box out, et cetera.
"The defense was never intended to be the one to initiate contact in basketball. That's tackling in football, it's not defense in basketball."
But sometimes, change is hard. And painful. And slow. And painful. Officials in the Big 12 and elsewhere have been encouraged to enforce the new standard at every possible turn, so that the style of play, eventually, will start to correct itself.
In theory, proponents say, the winners are the athletes, the quicker one-on-one players, first-step guys who can create their own space, their own shot. The losers: Teams that can't guard those first-step guys, one-on-one.
"(Critics say), 'Well, the little guy isn't going to win; the guy with the talent is going to win,'" Shaw said. "Well, talent is going to win."
But talent is also going to ...
... ahem, bump, at times. Even inadvertently.
"I think the fallacy is we're not going to have contact," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "You can't put ten people that big, that strong, that fast in such a confined area. They're going to run into each other. I mean, it just happens, and it's always been a contact sport. I think what they're trying to do is free up the guy with the ball more. I don't know."
Nobody does. Will scoring go up, as intended? Will games simmer down to their normal length? Will a big-name player -- or big-name team -- get hurt by the new rules in March? Or, because of a call, miss playing in March altogether?
"No, because the teams playing in March will have changed," Shaw said, "or else they won't be playing in March."
In the meantime, enjoy the free throws. Because a game that might end up flying as gracefully as a butterfly is going to spend an awful lot of time crawling like a caterpillar first.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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