Rule changes spark debate among ACC men's basketball coaches

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There are a lot of questions about how rule changes and rule enforcement designed to increase scoring in college basketball will alter how teams will play defense. Perhaps, defensive-minded teams such as Pitt might have to change strategy.

But Pitt coach Jamie Dixon isn't buying it or the idea that his team will be completely out of its element in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which is perceived to be more of a finesse league than the Big East, the Panthers' previous league.

Dixon contended his team still will be able to play great defense within the rules, and, while Pitt might have to alter its approach in some areas, the changes won't be noticeable.

"I think people saying that [rules changes will hurt Pitt] are just putting that out there and working the officials already," Dixon said Wednesday at ACC Media Day. "They say they are going to do this every year, they talk about cleaning up in the post, cleaning up the drives, getting better on block/charge calls. When have we not heard about this?

"We will see if they are going to call it. We'll see. You can't tell me they are all of the sudden going to start calling it differently. If they call fouls on defense, then, yeah, it will increase scoring, but they will need to stick with it."

The rule changes or points of emphasis, which were one of many topics addressed by the ACC coaches and players Wednesday, will affect three key areas:

1. Hand checking by defenders is going to be called a foul more often on defenders who either keep their hands on an offensive player or put two hands on an offensive player.

2.Using an "arm bar' to slow the movement of a dribbler or cutter will be legislated more closely.

3. Block/charge calls under the basket are going to be called blocks more often, especially for a help-side defender who steps into the lane. In essence, if there is any question in a referee's mind, it is going to be a block.

The idea is to allow offensive players to move more freely, give the advantage back to more athletic and skilled offensive players and, in the end, create more offense and a more exciting game for fans.

All 15 teams have had ACC officials visit campus, make a video presentation of what is going to be called differently and referee some scrimmages. Most coaches and players said the biggest difference will be the block/charge call.

"If the goal of taking charges away is to get a lot more dunks make it on the top 10 plays on 'SportsCenter' every night, then they will achieve it 'cause guys are going to be going down the lane and dunking all night," Florida State forward Okaro White said.

"If you don't have to worry about someone stepping in to take a charge, the more athletic wing players are going to have an advantage most definitely. It is very hard to take a charge now, it just is when you look at the rules."

Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant said, "We come from the Big East where, if there isn't someone bleeding, they don't call fouls. They rarely called any kind of fouls, and we had some games in the 40s and 50s so, if they call it right, it could really change the game for some teams. And I think it is good for the game if it is called right and guys can't just body up and be physical all the time."

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he worries that taking the charge call away from off-the-ball defenders under the basket will make it far more difficult for smaller teams that don't have big post players to block shots and to defend the basket, but he likes the rules changes overall because he thinks the game has gotten too physical.

"I hope it will be a more free-flowing game," Williams said. "Some of these rules I really love, I don't think you should be able to go in there and chuck a guy who cuts across the lane. To me, basketball is supposed to be a game of movement so I've always steered away from the more physical play."

Most coaches shared the sentiment that the block/charge call is going to be the biggest change and most believe it will increase scoring, if enforced.

That was at the heart of the rules committee's decisions when these changes were announced after scoring reached historic lows last season.

In the 2012-13 season, teams averaged 67.5 points per game, the lowest since the 1951-52 season, and the 3-point field goal percentage (34.05 percent) was at a low, too.

Meanwhile, teams averaged 17.7 fouls per game, the lowest in that category.

In other words, teams were not able to score and defenders could get away with more physical play -- or so the theory goes.

Dixon, however, isn't so sure these changes will lead to increased scoring because he said there are more factors in why teams and players aren't scoring as much as before. The biggest, he said, is that defenses are better than ever.

"Teams would have to adjust, no question, but it is not going to change things a lot," Dixon said. "The defenses are better, the players are quicker and stronger. When you are quicker and stronger and more versed in scouting and more aware of what the other team does, it is going to help the defense.

"And more teams are zoning and, if you move back the 3-point line, more teams will zone and, if you zone, there will be less possessions not more -- all those things factor in. The charge is a significant change, but the rule really hasn't changed. It is matter of getting the call right."

The NBA made a similar point of emphasis with hand-checking after the 1998-99 season when scoring reached a low of 91.6 ppg. The result was a spike of six points per game and a jump from two teams averaging more than 98 ppg to 12.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said a lot of coaches he talked to that had coached in the NBA were astonished at how physical the college game had become. He thinks better enforcement of the rules might make it a little easier for offenses, but the big thing is the game will become less physical.

"Guards in the NBA are able to move and get to the basket easier than college guards sometimes," Brey said. "The NBA is less rough than our game right now. Guys who coached in the NBA look at what goes on in our league and say, 'you can't do that in our league.'

"I think we will adjust fine because we've probably been the most-skilled team in the Big East the last four or five years, and my guys are refreshed that they can bring the ball up and not get forearmed or clothes-lined. Cleaning up rough play and making a more free-flowing game is a good thing."

Although rules changes may help offenses, Clemson coach Brad Brownell said there is a bigger factor in why scoring is down, and it has nothing to do with the rules.

"The big thing is this -- guys play a lot of games [in AAU], a ton more than they ever did," Brownell said.

"But they don't necessarily work on their game. That's a problem. Guys need to understand that maybe instead of playing so many games, they need to get in a gym by themselves and work on their game, work on their shot, their ball-handling -- that will help far more than rules changes.

"I mean, ultimately, we had a lot of open shots last year that we missed, and it had nothing to do with hand-checking. When you have open shots, you have to make them, and that only comes when you work on your shot when nobody is watching."

pittsports

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 or Twitter @paulzeise. First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM


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