Foul-outs weren’t allowed when the Arizona Wildcats faced Saint Mary’s in a closed exhibition last weekend, and maybe that was a good thing.
Otherwise, there may not have been enough players left on the floor.
“We didn’t really keep stats or anything,” said forward Brandon Ashley, chuckling. “But I’m sure some people got in some really bad foul trouble.”
That’s because the Wildcats, Gaels and just about everybody else in college basketball is scrambling to adjust to new rules intended to allow greater freedom of offensive movement by making it tougher for defenses to contain dribblers and take charges.
No longer can players try to obstruct a ball handler with two hands, or jab at him with a forearm, and a defender now must be in legal guarding position once a shooter begins an upward movement. Under the old rules, defenders only had to be set by the time a shooter’s last toe left the floor.
UA coach Sean Miller has responded by having officials work eight preseason Wildcats events, including the Red-Blue Game, the Augustana exhibition, the Saint Mary’s scrimmage and other intrasquad workouts.
“That’s the most a team I’ve coached has brought officials in for,” Miller said. “We did that to get a better feel for the handchecking. It’s something we’re coaching and working on, and I hope that it translates here into our early games.”
According to Yahoo Sports, a West Virginia exhibition on Monday had 63 fouls and 82 free throws, while Rhode Island played one with 56 fouls and 71 free throws. Then there was the one former UA associate head coach Archie Miller was subjected to as Dayton’s head coach last Saturday: 70 fouls and 96 free throws.
Arizona’s 84-52 exhibition win over Augustana on Oct. 28, however, had relatively normal totals of 34 fouls and 40 free throws
“I’ve heard stories of other exhibition games having a crazy amount of fouls,” guard Nick Johnson said. “That’s one thing Coach has taken upon himself to get us used to.”
Both Johnson and Ashley said the hand-checking issue was the biggest change they are facing. Doing it correctly, Miller said, now means “showing your hands to the officials and making sure when they have a live dribble that you’re working your lower body, your chest. You’re not using an arm or a hand to slow them down in any way.”
The rules against defenses have always been tough on paper, but officials are being asked to more closely call it this season. NCAA officials coordinator John Adams even showed up at a clinic for Western conference officials to help hammer the point home.
David Hall, a veteran official with the Pac-12 and other conferences, said during the clinic that with “hand-checking, cutting and all that kind of stuff — we really need to call those fouls.”
Pac-12 officials coordinator Bobby Dibler said the changes are all about “taking the physicality out of the game,” which ESPN analyst Jay Bilas says is a must.
After all, the average Division I score was just 67.5 points a game last season, the lowest since 1981-82. Bilas said it’s getting to the point where coaches even admit they are instructing players to foul, knowing they won’t be whistled for it.
“If you look back, and I have, at tapes of games from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, up into today, it is stunning how our game has become an organized fouling, wrestling match, football game, hockey game,” Bilas said this week on an ESPN conference call. “It’s ridiculous how bad it’s gotten. And I think what this will do is it will bring back freedom of movement into the game. But it’s something we have to stick with. And if coaches and players are going to be stubborn about it, they’re going to get whistled for fouls.
“And if the commissioners and supervisors aren’t strong about it, then the referees are going to be allowed to slip back into the old way of just letting things go.”
Miller said it isn’t good for the game when a defender puts his hands on a live dribbler and tries to impede his progress, but he had a different idea about what would really help offenses move better.
“If you ask me how to promote scoring — shrink the (35-second) shot clock,” Miller said. “I think more than anything what it would do is create a faster flow, and styles would change. I think you’d see a lot more scoring if that were the case.”