Brian Murphy: How will new foul rule affect college basketball?

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comNovember 10, 2013 

One game into the 2013-14 college basketball season, one game under the NCAA's stricter hand-checking rules, and Gordy Presnell is wondering exactly how his Boise State women's team is going to play its full-court press defense this year.

"At some point as a coach, do you just have your point guard dribble 94 feet? Sooner or later, they're going to blow on them or touch them twice, and it's an automatic foul," Presnell said Friday night after his team was whistled for 30 fouls in a 90-86 loss to Southern Utah.

Presnell's fears are the same throughout college basketball - men's and women's - as coaches worry about the impact of the drastic rule adopted over the summer.

The change was made to help free the game's scorers after scoring in men's Division I hoops fell to 67.5 points per game, the lowest since 1981-82.

There was plenty of scoring in the Broncos' opener, but - from Presnell's vantage point - too much of it came at the free-throw line. Boise State made 31-of-35 free throws. Southern Utah was 35-of-44.

"The powers that be or the voices of wisdom up above, I just don't get it, because how are we going to get anyone to come to our games when we're shooting 79 free throws? If you get an official that's slow with administering a free throw, we're going to be here all night," Presnell said.

"It's going to make (the game) so long and so slow. Now we've got to adjust, but I don't know how much you can adjust unless you just sit in a zone."

That's not what Presnell wants to do. He wants to trap and press and force the offense into mistakes. But he's not sure that's going to be possible if the whistle blows every few seconds. There were 55 fouls called in 40 minutes in the Boise State opener.

While the new rules are designed to increase freedom of movement and get away from some of the clutching and grabbing that has become a large part of college basketball in recent years, Presnell is concerned that the game is being officiated one way between the free-throw lines and quite another way below the free-throw line, where physical activity hasn't been impacted in the same way.

"Is below the free-throw line being adjusted or just between the free throw lines?" he said.

His Boise State counterpart, men's coach Leon Rice, has a team well equipped to take advantage of the rule change. With four guards on the floor most of the time, all capable of driving to the basket, and a team that shot 76 percent from the line last year, the Broncos seem like the rule was designed for them.

"Some of the bigger, faster, stronger teams, it got into too much of a wrestling match. Guys are impeding progress and freedom of movement. I hope that it has the outcome they want," Rice said.

The Broncos scored 116 points, the second most in program history, in a lopsided victory against UT Arlington on Friday night. The game was hardly impacted by the new rules. Arlington was called for 15 fouls. Then again, neither team pressed or trapped or created the kind of contact that the rules are designed to clean up. The reaching or arm bar are going to get whistles all night.

Instead, Boise State men's forward Anthony Drmic said, the emphasis is on using your feet to stay in front of the opponent and using your chest. Refs won't call that.

Presnell, on the other hand, is going to have to reconsider his defensive plans. Two of his players fouled out and two more had four personal fouls in the loss to Southern Utah.

"We've got to make serious adjustments," he said. "You're not going to win anything when the other team shoots 44 free throws."

It's a problem that could plague all of college basketball this season as players, coaches and teams adjust to the officials' emphasis. Such change is going to be harder on some (Presnell) than others (Rice).

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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