Keeler: NCAA rule changes are frustrating

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

If you’re a college basketball fan like I am, these are frustrating times. I love the game, and I love watching it played at a high level and a quick pace.

Tuesday was supposed to be one of the best days and nights of the college basketball season. It was ESPN’s college basketball marathon — over 24 hours of basketball games. And don’t get me wrong, it was a great day of basketball. However, there was one thing that made it a little less enjoyable — all the fouls.

Many of the games lasted well over two hours, and it was simply foul, after foul, after foul. They were more like free-throw shooting contests rather than a quality basketball game.
Of course, the fouls were called in part because of the new NCAA rule changes. I love college sports even more than pro sports, but the NCAA may be ruining the college basketball game for me with the new rules.

The new rules have put an emphasis on hand-checking. The defender is no longer allowed to put two hands on the ball and no arm bars or jabbing is allowed.

Scoring went down to an average of 67.5 points per game last season, which was its lowest since 1951-52. The NCAA Basketball Rules Committee in May proposed the rule changes to increase scoring and diminish physicality, and the changes were adopted by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel in June.

I like offense as much as anybody, but I also appreciate a well-played defensive game. I’m now wondering if those games will exist anymore in men’s and women’s college basketball.

There are some that say the game has become too physical, and this is a way to make it more about athleticism. But to me, shouldn’t every sport be about both athleticism and physicality? Sure you want to be fast, but shouldn’t you also want to be strong and tough, too?

There’s no question it will take some time to adjust to the new rules, and that’s why there have been so many games lasting well over two hours long.

According to a story on this week, scoring is up by more than four points per game, but the number of possessions are only up by one per game. The number of free throws per game is up by nine per game.

One of the things that I’m worried about is that the college game will become more like an NBA game, where they play almost no defense. If I want to watch an NBA game, I’ll just watch an NBA game — the players there are obviously more talented, anyway. Part of the beauty of college basketball is watching the coaches work with the players, and teaching them how to play defense at a high level without having to just rely on dunks and fast breaks all the time.

As great as high-scoring games are, it’s nice to have some hard-nosed defense mixed in as well.

One of my favorite defenses to watch is the full-court press. I think most people like that brand of defense, but with the new rules it will be harder and harder to use it. VCU uses it, and does it quite well. In the Rams’ victory over U.Va. this week, they were in all kinds of foul trouble and their high-scoring team finished with 59 points. They still found a way to win the game, but let’s face it — it wasn’t a pretty game.

Will these rules lead to the end of the full-court press? I certainly hope not. One of the ideas that college coaches are bringing up with the new rules is that eventually more teams may play more zone. It appears the NCAA wants the game to be more like the pro game with no defense played, but most great coaches will not let that happen. That’s why it’s possible teams will go to use mostly the zone defenses, to make it tougher for guards to drive to the basket.

I don’t hate zone defenses, but I certainly don’t love them either. I think they can be effective when used at the right times, but I don’t think anyone wants to see them used all the time.

Like most anything, I’m willing to be patient and see how things play out. Hopefully, things will somehow get better without turning the college game into the no-defense NBA or a zone-fest (which might as well be a snooze-fest). I’m counting on it, and I think many college basketball fans around the country are, too.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd