The New Hand-Check Rule and Its Probable Effect on SEC TeamsPosted by Greg Mitchell on November 7th, 2013
Larry Brown calls it “scary.” Herb Sendek thinks it’ll be “revolutionary.” These longtime and venerable coaches are talking about the NCAA’s new hand-check rule, which will no doubt be a nagging storyline throughout the upcoming season. Many believe that an increased emphasis on hand checks will lead to more fouls. “Tons of fouls, a lot of free throws, long, ugly games. Hopefully fans can prepare for that. It is going to be frustrating.” That’s Lon Kruger’s take on the effect of the new rules. Given the concern that many coaches have about the change, it’s worth looking at which SEC teams and players could be affected most by the difference.
Fouls: The following players led the league in fouls last year, and could be in for even more foul trouble and time off the court if they don’t show more discipline to adapt to the new rules:
- Dont’e Williams, Georgia, 98 total fouls
- Alex Caruso, Texas A&M, 93 total fouls
- Craig Sword, Mississippi State, 92 total fouls
- Rodney Cooper, Alabama, 91 total fouls
- Allen Payne, Auburn, 89 total fouls
- Johnny O’Bryant, LSU, 89 total fouls
- Alex Poythress, Kentucky, 88 total fouls
- Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss, 87 total fouls
- Michael Carrera, South Carolina, 85 total fouls
- Patric Young, Florida, 85 total fouls
Some of these names are understandable. Williams and Payne are undersized players (in terms of weight) who are forced to guard bigger post players and therefore need to make constant contact. Increased frontcourt depth at Georgia and Auburn will help them remain on the court. Sword is an interesting player — he showed big scoring potential last year as a freshman, but also led the SEC in turnovers (127) and fouled way too much. Both of these issues should get better with experience, but Rick Ray needs him to adjust quickly because Sword’s offensive upside can’t be sitting next to him on the bench. Caruso and Summers are offensive catalysts for their respective teams, and their foul trouble-induced absences from games could be costly. Poythress can’t afford any forced time off-the-court given how deep Kentucky is. Big men in general will likely find it difficult to guard players primarily with their feet and avoid foul trouble. This is especially the case when guarding players who excel at using power post moves, like Jarnell Stokes or Julius Randle. One might think that the more athletic a big man is, the better at avoiding fouls he will be. The new rule could also especially frustrate guards whose calling card is pressure on-ball defense, such as Anthony Hickey and Scottie Wilbekin.
Free Throw Shooting: The new rule will also seem to help teams that can cash in on an increased number of foul shot attempts. Missouri led the league in free-throw shooting last year at 73 percent but much of this was due to three players who are now gone: Keion Bell (86 percent), Alex Oriakhi (74 percent) and Phil Pressey (73 percent). Tennessee was third in the league in free throw attempts per game (22.3) and sixth in conversion rate (69.1 percent), but the new rule may not benefit the Volunteers all that much. Trae Golden and Skylar McBee were their best individual free throw shooters and are both gone. Jordan McRae shot a solid 77 percent, but Stokes hit only 59 percent and Jeronne Maymon is a 61 percent shooter for his career. Stokes has said he’s worked on his mid-range jump shot to appease NBA scouts, so maybe this will translate into more makes from the charity stripe this season.
LSU has a lot to prove with an increase in fouls, as the Tigers were the worst free-throw shooting team in the conference last year (62.5 percent). Johnny O’Bryant (59.6 percent) and Hickey (44.4 percent) struggled mightily there and both figure to get a ton of touches this season. Texas A&M had the second-fewest attempts per game in the conference, but shot the second-highest percentage. Their “bombs away from deep” offense might not generate free throw attempts but the new rule should help them capitalize more on their good shooting. Vanderbilt got to the line at a similarly low rate but didn’t shoot nearly as well (13th in the conference at 63 percent). Kevin Stallings’ influx of newcomers could mean improvement in both these numbers.
It’s quite likely there will be incessant grumbling about the new rule, but at the end day it will affect both teams on the floor. There will be guys stuck to both benches because of foul trouble. Better shooting free-throw teams should have a short-term advantage, but the real effects of the rule won’t be known until the games actually start. Thank goodness it’s almost Friday.