Seton Hall Games are Exhibit A on New Hand-Checking Rules

Posted by Joe Dzuback on November 14th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Seton Hall and Kent State. On paper the proposed revision to the blocking rule, along with a handful of tweaks to the rules governing legal hand checks and use of the arms by defenders, seemed the best way to reverse the ongoing problem of declining points per game. The Rules Committee reasoned that tolerating more physical contact had given the defender a subtle but impactful bias that contributed to the recent trend of fewer points scored by both teams. By mandating the defender had to be in the defensive position before the ball-handler began his upward motion (as opposed to leaving the ground, as previously enforced), the Rules Committee hoped to give the referees a longer time frame — and therefore a better chance — to make the correct block/charge call. By mandating officials more consistently call hand-check violations, the Rules Committee hoped scorers would have more freedom to create shots and force defenders to work harder to maintain position by moving their feet in front of the ball-handler, rather than using their hands and arms to slow him down.

Seton Hall and coach Kevin Willard, like the rest of college hoops, have had to adjust to the new rules. (Getty)

Seton Hall and coach Kevin Willard, like the rest of college hoops, have had to adjust to the new rules. (Getty)

Depending on the coach, the changes would enhance scoring opportunities and open up the game (e.g., John Calipari — “But we’re all wondering whether they will make the same calls in January, February and March that they make in November and December,” per Jeff Goodman’s October 14 article at ESPN) or throw sand into the overall flow (e.g., Larry Brown — “I think it will be terrible… There’s no doubt in my mind that they’re trying to do the right thing and their intentions are good, but I don’t think this is the solution. This is going to ruin the flow of the game,” per an early November ESPN article by Dana O’Neil) and turn the game into a Parade to the Free Throw Line. More scoring? Sure, but those extra points come at a price – longer games with more interruptions. Data compiled from the first weekend (by #KPIBasketball) reveals a modest increase in points scored per game (up 4.5 points per game over 2012-13) at a cost of increases in the number of fouls called (2.55 more fouls per game) and free throws attempted (3.82 more free throws per game). As Iowa State coach and former NBA player and staffer Fred Hoiberg related to Dana O’Neil last month, the rules change can affect the college game much as it did for the pro game — but getting there will be ugly at times. Consider Seton Hall’s 82-73 win over Niagara in the first weekend as Exhibit A. The Pirates and Purple Eagles combined for 73 personal fouls (37 for Niagara, 36 for Seton Hall — no home court bias at work in the Rock on Saturday) and a total of 102 free throw attempts in an afternoon that started out as a basketball game that metastasized into a 2.5-hour free throw shooting contest. Intrepid fans returned to the Rock Wednesday night when Seton Hall hosted the Golden Flashes of Kent State, finding that the teams (and referees?) had made progress as only 49 combined fouls were called. Seton Hall benefited with the lion’s share (43) of the 61 free throw attempts. It turned out to be a crucial benefit, as the Pirates edged the Golden Flashes by two, 78-76, in a game that ran closer to the expected two-hour time frame. Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard, whose Pirates have taken an unexpected 95 free throw attempts in their first two games, shared an unexpected side effect of the increased foul calls, selecting a rotation with an eye to maximizing the additional free throw scoring opportunities. According to Willard:

“We didn’t play that many guys, eight, almost nine guys got double digit minutes… you know it’s great being in the bonus with 15 minutes (in the half)… it’s a huge plus [since] it’s tough on the defense. [But] you really have to make sure you keep your good free throw shooters in the game when you are in the bonus, especially on fouls 7, 8 and 9, because… you can’t get empty trips, especially in the bonus… it changes the way you sub… I’ve been trying to keep our best free throw shooters out there especially for the bonus, but… it handcuffs you a little bit on substitutions. We shot them (the free throws) much better today than we did the last game… when you get to the bonus with 15 minutes you have to make sure you make your free throws.”

The additional fouling puts pressure on the opposing defense, but it also puts pressure on the offense to produce points at the free throw line, perhasps even more consistently than getting the points away from the line.

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