Duquesne coach Ferry calls foul on new rules

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When Jim Ferry walked to midcourt after the final buzzer on Nov. 17 to shake hands with Bob Huggins, the head coaches stopped for a moment to compare notes.

West Virginia had just beaten Duquesne, 96-83, yet the conversation centered not on players or pleasantries but on the 46 personal fouls and 59 free-throw attempts that had slowed the game to a crawl.

The NCAA implemented stricter rules this summer regarding hand checking and the block/charge call. The intent was to increase offense, but the most obvious result has been a constant parade to the free-throw line.

"What do you think of the rule changes?" Ferry asked West Virginia's coach.

"I don't like them at all," Huggins responded. "I think we're turning into AAU basketball."

It's no secret that foul calls are up across the country this fall, and Ferry contends that it's not just fans who are frustrated with the whistles and stoppages.

"I've got to believe this isn't the game they want to watch," Ferry said. "It's frustrating for the coaches, the players, and I think it's frustrating for even the officials.

"It's all something everybody's got to adapt to. It's going to take a good year to figure it out."

The Dukes (2-2) and their opponents, following a national trend, have combined for 40 personal fouls per game, six more than a year ago.

The Dukes, a team with the stated goal of making more free throws than the opponent attempts, swung to the extremes in their first few games. They committed 22 fouls in the opener, just 11 against New Hampshire and then 26 against the Mountaineers.

"We were actually playing soft against New Hampshire because we didn't want to foul," Ferry said. "And then we came out and played really hard [against WVU] and fouled the heck out of them. You can't win either way."

The Duquesne coaching staff was prepared for this emphasis on touch fouls. Ferry brought in more officials this offseason than he ever has in his coaching career, and he instructed his staff to blow whistles for every possible minor violation in practice.

Some adjustments can be made, such as switching to a zone defense, which lessens pressure on a single player to stop his man on the perimeter and in penetration, but Ferry thinks a happy medium will eventually be reached to bring the game back to a familiar tempo.

The most important thing, Ferry said, is that officiating crews stay consistent game to game on how tightly they're calling the games.

"It takes time for the officials, too," Ferry said. "I felt there could have been a foul called on almost every play [against West Virginia] if you stayed true to it."

He paused and shrugged.

"There were a ton of them called, but if you're really going to call it like that then there could have been even more. And that's not what I want, either."

When the rule changes were first announced, Ferry said, the first concern was the limiting of the block/charge call. But emphasis flipped once the season opened and coaches and players started hearing whistles every time someone drove to the basket.

"I don't think they intended for it to be a free-throw shooting contest, but I think for now that's what it's become," Ferry said. "I think it's hurting our game a bit. The games have been a lot longer, way too much stoppage.

"Until everybody makes the proper adjustments, it's just going to be brutal. It's made the games choppy. Everybody's shooting free throws instead of playing basketball."

Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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