Even after college basketball teams averaged more than five extra points a game last season, the NCAA appears serious about pushing for more.
If so, this is one way you’ll know: A ballhandler will rise to shoot or pass, his elbow will clip an aggressive defensive player, sending the defender to the floor or even drawing blood … and the call will go against the defense.
It’s all about continuing to allow offensive players more space and freedom of movement, the way NCAA officials coordinator J.D. Collins and Western Officiating Consortium coordinator Bobby Dibler put it last month during an officiating clinic in Phoenix.
The NCAA’s basketball rules committee only forwards major rule changes every other year, having already launched the freedom-of-movement changes and reducing the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds last year. But this season will feature a handful of rule interpretations and emphases that aim to further increase offensive freedom, and by extension, scoring.
The rule changes installed last season were cited for raising teams’ average scoring from 67.6 in 2014-15 to 73.0 per game in 2015-16 and average possessions from 65.8 to 69.9. Only 17 percent of that extra scoring came from made free-throws, too.
In addition, according to NCAA figures, overall two-point field goal percentage rose from 43.5 to 44.0 and three-point percentage went up from 34.5 to 34.7.
“This is a pretty significant increase in scoring,” Collins said. “The reality was what we did collectively as coaches and officials was really good for the game. So the rules committee wants us to continue that effort.”
UA coach Sean Miller indicated that the shot-clock reduction had the biggest impact last season — “it’s made it faster, higher-scoring and changed the offensive dynamics,” he said — but this season’s focus could make things trickier for aggressive defenses such as Arizona’s, which ranked among the three most efficient defenses in the nation in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
Collins says the NCAA has been telling coaches about the changes since July, while officials are expected to talk with players during preseason scrimmages, and the NCAA also released an explanatory video for fans and media on YouTube last week.
Here’s a summary of what everyone is being warned about:
Space invaders beware
One of the NCAA’s buzzwords this season is “the cylinder,” which basically refers to the immediate space in front of a player, from his shoulders to feet. If an offensive or defensive player invades his opponent’s cylinder, he’s at a risk for fouls.
That’s why defenders who “get into” a ballhandler can be called for a foul, even if the offensive player contacts them — or inadvertently hurts them — during a normal basketball move (as defined by having arms that are generally in a vertical motion; having them laid out horizontally is considered “clearing space” and thus a potential call against the offense.)
Previously, a ballhandler might have been called for a player control foul if he contacted the defense while trying to shoot or pass in a tightly guarded situation.
“That’s gonna be an adjustment,” Dibler said. “There’s no question that’s going to be a focus and players and coaches are going to have to understand what the new interpretation is.”
The new interpretation could also change the way coaches deploy traps, particularly at midcourt. Defenders can’t just “walk up and body them and now there’s contact,” Collins says. “That’s a defensive foul.”
The change is so potentially drastic that a group of coaches asked Collins on a conference call if he was intending to take away traps all together.
“We said, ‘We’re not taking away your ability to trap. We’re taking away your ability to trap illegally,’” Collins said. “We’ve allowed too much physical contact and the whole (idea) with the rules is to create freedom of movement for a guy who is entitled to his space on the floor.”
Use the “RA” carefully
Secondary defenders — those coming in to help guard an offensive player — have always had to be careful when entering the restricted-area arc. If they contact a driver in the “RA,” they used to be automatically subject to a blocking foul.
However, secondary defenders get a break now: They won’t be called for a blocking foul within the restricted area if they elevate vertically in an attempt to block a shot.
“As long as he jumps in the air and maintains his principle of verticality, that is not going to be a restricted-area call,” Collins said. “If he remains on the ground as a secondary defender, it will be a blocking foul.”
Watch your feet
Collins said players who reset their feet illegally will be more closely monitored for traveling, both on the post and in the perimeter. Collins said the two outside officials will change their positions slightly so they can eyeball movement in the post.
“When a guy catches a ball, jumps in air, resets both feet and shoots because he squares up, we’re gonna call that traveling this year,” Collins said. “We have collectively done a horrible job of that in the past.”
Sportsmanship matters, too
Collins said officials will be more likely to issue warnings and technical fouls if coaches do not stay in the coaches’ box and behave in a sportsmanlike manner.
“Bench decorum needs to be brought back within reason,” Collins said. “A coach is allowed to spontaneously react but the rulebook has a litany of items they can’t do.
“When a coach charges an official or his hands are in motion and he’s swearing (it’s a technical), and sometimes it’s a combination of what they’re saying, how they’re saying it and where they’re saying it. If they’re out on the floor 6 feet and waving and screaming at us, that’s a technical foul. It’s not that hard.”
While Collins said he wants officials to be approachable and warn coaches about any issues, they can call a one-shot technical for straying outside the box and a two-shot technical for bad behavior.
“I will tell you most of the time coaches know — they want a technical foul,” Collins said. “They know what they’re doing. So we’re trying to do our part to be more approachable and after we’ve told them ‘That’s enough’ or give them the stop sign, they make the choice to cross that line.”
While one of the rule changes last season disallowed coaches from calling timeouts in live-ball situations, the rule has been modified to allow coaches to call a timeout on an inbounds play if the ball has not yet left the inbounding player’s hands.
Collins said the rule was put into place originally to keep coaches from being able to call a timeout when standing next to an official as the action played out on the other side of the court.
“That rule worked,” Collins said. “But this year we’re going to allow that coach to call a timeout as long as the ball is still out of bounds, and that’s a good thing.”
Dibler said the modification will reward coaches who keep a timeout or two for emergency situations, allowing them to avoid a potential turnover by calling timeout in a tight inbounds situation.
Miller said different sources have told him that not being able to call timeouts in live-ball situations was “really like an inconvenience” anyway.
“The official sees you and looks at the player like, ‘OK, are you gonna do it or not?’” Miller said.
Keep it in check
The NCAA also intends to continue cracking down on physical post play, such as when players hook one another under the basket, and when defenders bump cutters who are racing around off the ball.
“We’ve done a good job on (rules aiding) the dribbler, but the opportunity we have now is off the ball,” Dibler said. “That will be an emphasis. Because the ultimate emphasis is to take the physicality out of our game.”