In college b-ball, emphasis on new rules nets mixed results for 2013-14

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

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Though it ended with an entertaining championship, the conclusion of the 2012-13 college basketball season brought about a widely held and grim assessment -- scoring was down and because of that, the sport was in danger.

To some, the game had become stale. Once defined by fluidity and rhythm, it was now home to bad offensive play, overly aggressive defenses and contests in which neither team cracked 60 points.

Division I teams averaged 67.5 points per game in 2012-13, the lowest mark since 1981-82. That was four years before the shot clock and five years before the 3-point line was introduced.

Whether that trend was perception or reality, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel took action in June, approving a change to the block/charge call and the rules governing handchecks, measures meant to increase scoring.

Did those tweaks produce the desired result this season? In some ways the answer is yes, but it isn't that simple.

Scoring went up, but that jump was partially because of an increase in the number of fouls called. Many telling offensive statistics did not improve, even with the new legislation.

"I think there was improvement in freedom of movement," said ACC coordinator of officials John Clougherty. "Could we do better in areas? Absolutely. But we didn't expect this to be 100 percent change across the board. We expected it to be a work in progress. I think we did see some improvement."

The block/charge call was amended so that a charge could only be called if a defender was set when the offensive player started an upward motion, not when he left the floor, as the rule had previously stated. Additionally, measures were enacted that prohibited defenders from keeping hands or arms on an opponent who is trying to move.

The Division I team scoring average went up to 71 points per game this season and teams combined to score 811,699 points, 51,000 more than last season.

Certain advanced statistics back up that trend. The Division I average for adjusted offensive efficiency -- which measures how many points a team scores per 100 possessions, adjusted for factors such as the quality of opposing defenses -- was 104.3, nearly three points higher than it has been in a season since statistician Ken Pomeroy began keeping track of it in 2003.

But how that scoring increase came wasn't entirely organic.

Compared to last season, there were 34,000 more free throws attempted, and the 218,987 fouls were the most whistled in more than a decade. Because of that, 22.2 percent of points came from made free throws, 1.2 percent more than the highest such mark in a season since 2003.

"I don't know if that's what they wanted, but that's what they got," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.

While final scores were higher, many offensive measurements did not improve. Two-point, 3-point and free-throw shooting percentages were not significantly different than the past 20 years and were worse in some cases. Only 52 percent of made field goals were set up by an assist, down from 53.8 percent last year. That isn't indicative of free-flowing offenses framers of the new rules hoped to create.

For many coaches, the lack of scoring comes from a more fundamental problem.

"That's the thing we should be worrying about -- how we get more guys who can do things like shoot the ball off the bounce or read a screen properly," said Robert Morris coach Andy Toole. "That's how you're going to increase scoring, not by saying you're going to call more fouls. Yes, you do need to allow there to be movement and allow there to be cutting and things like that -- there's no doubt that helps -- but individual skills are really one of the ways to help."

In the months leading up to the season, some coaches were apprehensive of how the rules would be enforced, a feeling exacerbated by stories of junior college games and exhibitions when both teams had collected 10 fouls each in the first eight minutes of play.

But once the season began, coaches saw what they considered to be officiating inconsistencies, with more fouls being called at the beginning of the season before gradually tailing off month by month.

It's a claim that Clougherty and Atlantic 10 officials coordinator Reggie Greenwood said has some merit, but they pointed out that teams adjusted to stop committing the new fouls.

Even with new rules, change doesn't come immediately and, in many respects, it doesn't come perfectly, either.

"At the beginning of the year, [officials] came out with guns blazing and those whistles all over the place," Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said. "You're supposed to stay true to the rule, but it kind of changed as the year went on. They kind of backed off of it a little bit. That was hard for the kids to adapt to at certain times."

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.


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