November 1, 2013

Big Ten coaches sweating new rules

Big Ten basketball coaches generally sounded like tooth-sensitive patients headed for a three-hour stop at the dentist's office, regarding new NCAA rules enforcement on defense. One of them, though, had to be doing a little internal fist pump.

Fans and columnists around the country generally hailed Michigan's NCAA title-game showdown with Louisville last spring. While the game featured some striking defensive plays - including a high-rising Trey Burke block that got whistled as a foul - it wasn't your typical Big Ten wrestling match.

The grabbing, clutching, clothesline in the key style wasn't there to impede the free flow of the game. Tom Izzo and Bo Ryan probably hated it, for more than one reason.

But the man representing the conference on college basketball's biggest stage has been wondering for a while when the tide would turn on tackle basketball.

First, the new rules. The biggest change involves the block-charge calls, which could affect a team like Michigan that effectively uses taking charges as a defensive strategy. The defensive performer is now no longer allowed to jump into the path of an offensive player once the latter has started his upward motion with the ball to pass or shoot.

If you think there's a little room for interpretation there, you're onto something.

"I hope it simplifies things," Michigan head coach John Beilein said, at the Big Ten Media Day in Chicago. "I do not know that it does. We have to wait. And this is where I defer to the experts and say, okay, if they think it will work, they've done enough research on it, we just go and we adjust from there."

The other rules tweaks will be much more to Beilein's liking, if called as advertised. Such involves the following prohibitions:

  • Defensive players maintaining a hand or forearm on an opponent

  • Defensive players putting two hands on a foe

  • Defensive players throwing repeated jabs with an extended arm to check shooters or dribblers

  • Defensive players using an arm bar to impede progress

    That withering sound you hear is Big Ten defenses drying up, if those sorts of officiating procedures actually play out in a noticeable fashion.

    Beilein, a quiet critic of first-degree assault defense anyway, sounds unconcerned, if not heartened.

    "The people that have changed the rules over time have really had a good record at doing this," he said. "There's some experimentation probably we would have preferred at times. But we led the country in not fouling last year. I think we were number one or number two in not fouling. So I don't think there's going to be a big change in how we coach."

    Such was not the tenor of comments across the league.

    "If I talk to my buddies, I'm concerned," Izzo said. "If I go off our exhibition game, it's hard to tell. When you play a team and you beat them handily, it's hard to tell. But we did bring in officials for four or five different practices. And it's a little concerning.

    "I think sometimes we have knee-jerk reactions and it will take the veteran guys to make sure they understand. I'm really in favor of the block-charge because I felt people were just running under guys and falling down like bowling pins. And I didn't like that.

    "But if we want to make this into a complete non-physical game, you know I worry that is that going to be longer games, boringer games, is it going to up scoring, are people going to play more zone? There's always different things that go with each rule change. But we'll adjust and players will adjust and officials will adjust."

    Some would say 45-43 games are "boringer" in themselves. The author of many such vows his team will adjust, but wants to know how consistent the new world of calls will be.

    "I think we need more samples and just teach to the rule," Ryan said. "So if you're not allowed to put your hands on a player, then don't put your hands on a player."

    However, he added: "I'm talking to a former player of ours who plays in the NBA who said, 'Coach, I hear you have new rules, but did you ever see the NBA playoffs? Like, do they call the rules the same way in the NBA playoffs that they did during the regular season?'

    "I don't know, because I don't coach in that league. But the key will be: Are we going to be consistent all the way through the year on how, because we're going to teach to the rule. So if you're teaching to it and practicing it, you just hope that it's the same all the way throughout the season. That's all I'm hoping for."

    Others gave pointed opinions, such as …

  • Purdue's Matt Painter: "If you're telling me [this is] the way the games are going to be called and exhibition games are the way they're going to call them in the Big Ten, we're going to have a lot of good players watching basketball. I don't think that will sit with people in this room, with players and coaches across the country. It's definitely not going to sit with the fans. I think there's a different way to increase scoring, if that's what they're trying to do."

  • Ohio State's Thad Matta: "I've got to see it - I've got to see it for a couple of weeks. And I want to see it across the board, if that makes sense. The coaches that I've spoken with … some guys are saying our exhibition game wasn't that way, it was just like it always is. Others are saying, 'Oh my.'"

  • Iowa's Fran McCaffery: "It appears to me it's going to have a tremendous effect on the game. It only stands to reason there will be a lot more fouls called out and away from the basket. What I don't want to see is touch fouls away from the basket and guys getting mugged off the ball, because that won't work.

    "I've been saying for years we need to clean up those collisions at the rim. So I think that is brilliant what they're doing there, to protect the driver. Too many guys were talented enough to go by their man and had three guys falling down before the guy even got to the rim. So I think to clean up those collisions at the rim is a great thing."

    Meanwhile, Beilein is sitting back and sizing it all up. Like the rest, there has been a small sample size upon which to comment. He's obviously less nervous than some of his sideline general counterparts, though.

    And for good reason.

    "We've had a scrimmage and inner-squad scrimmage," Beilein pointed out. "I haven't seen the difference, in particular, in how the game was called against us. And I think other teams have a drastic difference."

    ...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!