Some rule changes on horizon

COLLEGE BASKETBALL STATE OF THE GAME

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Many top college basketball coaches gathered this weekend to get a peek at some of the top high school prospects in the country at the Pittsburgh Jam Fest AAU tournament at North Hills High School. While the coaches were evaluating future college stars, some of the top collegiate referees, including Teddy Valentine and Karl Hess, were there to help mentor and train young officials.

Coaches and referees agree on little during the season, but they were in accordance that rule changes are in order after a season in which the national scoring average dipped to its lowest level in more than 60 years and the game received harsh critiques from its most fervent supporters.

"Throughout the history of college basketball, there has been constant tweaking of the rules and emphasis to keep the game in balance," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. "When the defense starts to dominate, you have to do some things to help the offense. When the offense is scoring at will, you have to tweak the rules so the defense has a chance to guard."

Some tweaking appears to be in order to help offenses.

The national scoring average this season was 67.6 points per game, the lowest since 1952. Field-goal percentages, from inside and outside the 3-point arc, also dipped to historic lows.

Many games illuminated the scoring woes. In February, Pitt lost to Notre Dame, 51-42, in a nationally televised contest that brought the problem into the spotlight, but the Panthers and Irish were hardly alone in their struggles.

Georgetown beat Tennessee, 37-36, which would have been a common halftime score 15 to 20 years ago. And there was the infamous Mid-American Conference game in which Northern Illinois scored four points in the first half of a 42-25 loss against Eastern Michigan.

Larranaga is one of a growing number of coaches who favor reducing the shot clock to create more possessions and encourage different offensive approaches.

"There is an awful lot of interest by a lot of coaches to reduce it from 35 seconds to 30," Larranaga said. "Games like the national championship game between Louisville and Michigan are very entertaining because both teams played up-tempo and were very aggressive at both ends of the court."

Change might not come without a debate, and Larranaga cautioned that a faction of coaches who prefer to control tempo and play at a slower pace will fight shot-clock legislation.

Another factor is the physical style of play permeating the game. Some former players and members of the media, including Jay Bilas and Bill Walton of ESPN, have been vocal critics of bump-and-grind basketball, and the way the game is being officiated.

Hess, who officiated in the Final Four this year, acknowledged there are issues to work through. He is in favor of simplifying the rule book to make the game easier to manage. He also said changes in the way the game is taught and coached in the past decade have made it tougher to call.

"Coaches are running a whole lot of motion offenses, flex offenses, a lot more screening and cutting than we've seen in a long time," Hess said. "A lot of coaches are teaching if you don't have the world's greatest scorers get in the weight room, pump them up and grind away.

"Then, we have to make decisions about how do you manage that. I'm sure we can do a better job. But I think everyone has a part. Players have a part. Coaches have a part. Officials have a part.

"The bottom line is if the ball goes in the basket the game looks cleaner, and it's easier to referee. If it doesn't go in the basket, it's not going to look as good."

Hess is encouraged by what he is hearing from coaches about possible rule changes that will help officials. He said coaches are trying to get a series of changes passed, which would allow more freedom of movement for offensive players.

"What they're coming up with is called post-play absolutes, which means certain things will happen in the post and they'll be an automatic foul," Hess said. "You're not going to have to guess or think about it. They'll have hand-checking rules that will be absolutes. And I think they're going to do some things with the rule book on block-charge plays."

Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory is in favor of tweaking on-court rules, but he believes the answer to better offense lies in rule changes that would allow coaches to work with players more in the off-season.

The NCAA last year gave coaches more time over the summer, but Gregory does not believe it is enough to develop players.

"They're focusing on the rules and physical play. That's a point of contention, and you have to look at that," Gregory said. "But, as coaches, out of season we get to work with our guys two hours a week. How are they supposed to be offensively-skilled if that's how much time you have?"

Coaches are allowed to work with players two hours a week for four weeks in the spring, eight weeks in the summer and six weeks in the fall before team practices begin. Gregory would like to see the amount of time doubled to four hours per week.

"You improve by working hard, competition and direction," Gregory said. "Everyone talks about the rules and some adjustments that need to be made. But the bigger thing is we're not doing right by our guys by helping them get better in those areas.

"When you talk about international players, do you ever hear talk about them not being good offensively? You're not. Why is that? It's because year-round they're working with coaches and continually improving their games.

"At one time, there was a concern that coaches would spend 40 hours a week with guys. I think those days are over. I think coaches understand you can't do that year-round with guys. But coaches also understand skill development is so important. You can sell it in recruiting. If we just came up with a quality amount of time that we can agree on and the NCAA rules committee can agree on, I think you'd see improvement in the game."

"Games like the national championship game between Louisville and Michigan are very entertaining because both teams played up-tempo and were very aggressive at both ends of the court."

-- Jim Larranaga

sports - neigh_north - hsbasketball

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.


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