New NCAA officiating standards already have referees calling fouls for just about any contact by a defensive player. The games will be choppy, maybe even interminable tests of discipline and attrition. “This,” Lorenzo Romar has already told his frustrated Huskies, “is how it’s going to be.”
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
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SEATTLE – “Shwreeet!!!”
Hear that whistle? That’s the sound of the college basketball season starting.
And stopping. And starting and stopping again.
When the Huskies had their first, full, purple-versus-gold scrimmage of the preseason two weeks ago Pac-12 officials were at Alaska Airlines Arena to call it. Washington played two, 16-minute halves – 4 minutes shorter than a regulation-game period -- with clock stoppages just as they are in a game.
It took 2 hours and 15 minutes to finish that scrimmage.
One Huskies player accumulated 10 fouls. By himself. In the first 4 minutes of the first half, the “gold” had accumulated nine team fouls.
At one point freshman Nigel Williams-Goss, a noted defender, was called twice in 15 seconds for hand-check fouls while 35-plus feet from the basket. After the second such foul Williams-Goss, known to be courteous and kind almost to a fault, extended his arms with his palms to the arena’s ceiling. The point guard pleaded to the official with exasperation, “Please explain why that is a foul.”
“This,” coach Lorenzo Romar told his players amid shaking, disbelieving heads afterward, “is how it’s going to be.”
Romar requested the three Pac-12 officials hold a question-and-answer session on the floor with the players immediately after the scrimmage.
“Do know,” one of the officials told the Huskies, “we feel your frustration. But this is what they want us to call.
“We are learning, too.”
Expect this early season, starting tonight in the exhibition opener at Alaska Airlines Arena against Central Washington (7 p.m., with the exclusive game chat here on GoHuskies.com) and Sunday’s opener against Seattle University, to be dominated by fouls, free throws and frustration.
The NCAA Basketball Rules Committee recommended last spring and the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel adopted in June a mandate for officials to call a foul any hand check, jab or forearm contact by a defensive player on an offensive player. The idea is to increase scoring, which last season in Division I sunk to 67.5 points a game. That was the lowest mark since the 1981-82 season, four years before college basketball made a 3-point line and shot clock universal.
“This maybe the biggest change in the game since the insertion of the 3-point line and the shot clock,” Romar says.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, MAINE TO MAUI
Last week defending national-champion Louisville hosted an exhibition against Kentucky Wesleyan. There were 64 fouls. Five Kentucky Wesleyan players fouled out. The game took about 2½ hours, 30 minutes longer than games usually last.
After it Louisville coach Rick Pitino sounded like Romar.
“That is the way it’s going to be called now,” Pitino told reporters.
“I’ve been getting text messages from other coaches …,” Romar said, interrupting himself with a hearty chuckle, “on how things have been going. I’ll say across the board everyone is trying to adjust.”
Washington played two, 16-minute halves – 4 minutes shorter than a regulation-game period -- with clock stoppages just as they are in a game. It took 2 hours and 15 minutes to finish that scrimmage.
The block-charge call has also changed – in the offense’s favor, too. Before, if a defender was set before an opponent with the ball left the floor on a drive a charging foul was generally the call. Now if a defender isn’t set before the offensive player’s first upward movement – be it a raised shoulder or seemingly a raised eyebrow -- it’s a blocking foul on the defense.
“We’ve got to figure that one out,” Romar said. “Officials admit 70 to 80 percent of the time early in the year on those plays they are going to be block calls.”
Romar, by the way, isn’t a huge fan of these changes.
He’s got company in, oh, seemingly about 340 of the 351 Division-I coaches across the country.
“I would prefer you would just be able to play basketball,” he said. “There are basketball plays where there is not a whole lot of contact and fouls probably shouldn’t be called.
“But again, the rule is the rule now. You must move your feet. You must be able to anticipate drives. You have to be able to do that.
“But the rules weren’t made just for Washington. It’s across the board. The rules are going to be called, hopefully, the same way for every game that’s played this year.”
As Romar says of the officials and these new calls – and he could be talking about you and me, too: “We are the ones who have to adjust. They don’t.
“It definitely plays into our thinking on how we are going to (play).”
Andrew Andrews became known as a freshman last season as a defensive agitator outside. He constantly hawked dribblers and grabbed at them or the ball.
He’s going to have to become known as something else this season if he wants to remain in games for longer than the opening minutes.
“We are still getting adjusted to it a little bit, especially with our past and how we play,” he said Tuesday of the new way of officiating, a day before he, Williams-Goss, C.J. Wilcox, Perris Blackwell and Jernard Jarreau start the exhibition game. “We like to be physical. But with these rule changes we have to kind of take a step back. Still be physical, in a sense, but not pick up any dumb fouls (by) being overly aggressive. We are still on that learning curve right now.
“I’m kind of reverting now to how I played defense in high school.”
Which is to say, not as aggressively.
“Now I’m just being around my guy but not really pressuring a lot,” Andrews said. “In high school I backed off because I never wanted to foul out, but last year (for UW) I felt like I was the guy that was supposed to come in and try to mess with the offense and maybe I’d pick up an early foul or two.
Andrews said he’s going to try to apply pressure through the officials, by staying close enough – with six fee -- of a dribbler outside to prompt a five-second closely guarded count against the offense.
“This year I’m going to try to not get too much into them so I don’t pick up early fouls,” he said.
Music to the rules committee’s scoring-minded ears.
Blackwell is making his UW debut tonight. The new power forward sat out last season after transferring from San Francisco, so this exhibition is his first game in 20 months.
He hardly recognizes the game to which he’s returned.
“Oh, man, it’s definitely less physical,” Blackwell said. “You really have to guard guys with your chest and not using as much arm bar and extensions. So it’s going to be different.
“It will be harder for the guards.”
THE FLIP SIDE
There is, of course, a flip side to this increase in defensive fouls called.
Washington’s opponents have to play defense, too.
“A lot has been made about this on the defensive end,” Romar said, “but on offense you have to be aggressive. You have to attack it.”
Wilcox has become an NBA prospect and all-conference scorer for the Huskies by lighting it up from way outside. His 14 games of 20 or more points last season were the seventh most in a single season in Huskies history.
Yet this season the fifth-year senior may be driving to the basket as much as he is spot-up shooting.
The word is out among offensive minds across college basketball this season: If you drive – from anywhere on the floor -- you are much more likely than ever to get a foul call, free throws and thus more easy points.
Blackwell is a career 55-percent free throw shooter through three seasons for San Francisco. He knows his way to possibly becoming a 15- or 20-points-per-game scorer this season will be through foul shots.
“Oh, yeah, I’m going to shoot more free throws,” he said. “And I’ve been working on those percentages so I can get more points. I like that.”
Then he smiled.
For fans that haven’t seen these scrimmages and felt the changes yet, it’s going to be jolting. It’s going to be choppy. It’s going to be arduous and frustrating.
And you are a fan that knows all too well how games grind to a halt with stoppages inside the already-whistle-happy Pac-12.
The players are already getting adjusted after weeks of practices called by game officials. We’ll find out starting tonight how well that adjustment is going.
“I think our guys have adjusted in terms of hands off, moving their feet more, anticipating there could be a potential foul and catching themselves, not fouling as much,” Romar said.
“I thought it was interesting: We’ve been having officials at practices quite a bit, coming in these last couple weeks. (Monday) we didn’t have officials, and there were fouls all over the place. All of a sudden we were grabbing again – because officials weren’t there.
“So it definitely makes a difference.”
Hopefully, all these early season whistles will be merely a corrective period of adjustment – for officials and players – before the fouls level off and the game returns to a more-recognizable version by midseason.
By the way, the vast majority coaches didn’t have a whole lot of say in these changes.
Oh, the NCAA points out the rules committee includes nine head coaches, including chair and St. Peter’s coach John Dunne, and that the meetings when these ideas for tighter foul calling were formed in May included representatives of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
Those meetings apparently didn’t represent the broad constituency their results are affecting.
“It was brought to our attention,” Romar said wryly, “but I don’t think they really listened to what the coaches had to say on this one.”
Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director or Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for the Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.
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