No debate about new rules, interview with Mike Brey and more
If you've followed the first two weeks of the college basketball season, you've no doubt heard the debate about the huge impact of the new rules on physical defense. It is understandable, then, why you might not be aware of the following:
Confused? Allow me to clarify.
First, the "new rules" against physical play (hand checking, arm bars, bumping cutters, etc.) have long been a part of the NCAA's rulebook. It's just that they were stuck in the back of the book under Appendix III: Officiating Guidelines. However, since those were going unenforced, leading to an unsightly decline in scoring and shooting percentages, the men's basketball rules committee voted in May to make that an official part of Rule 10, which addresses "Fouls and Penalties."
So nobody wrote any new rules on this front. They just decided to give a new emphasis to what was already there.
(To be sure, there were some new rules written in other areas, most significantly the block-charge call, but most of the dialogue has been focused on the so-called increase in touch fouls on the dribbler.)
Second, while there has been a change in the data when compared to last season, that change is not nearly as dramatic as most people think. According to #KPI Analytics, there are only 2.71 more fouls being called per game this season than at the same time last year. That's right -- fewer than three extra whistles per game! That has resulted in 4.1 more free throws per game. Overall, scoring is up 5.86 points per game -- a welcome increase -- and slightly more than half of those points have come from field goals as opposed to free throws.
Tempo-free maven Kem Pomeroy has also crunched the numbers. While he discovered there was an 18.3 percent increase in free throw rate (FTA/FGA), he only found a 1.8 percent increase in the number of possessions per game. That's disappointing. The most positive effect Pomeroy found was a reduction in turnover and steal percentages, which makes sense. If you can't push the dribbler, it's harder to steal the ball.
Yes, there have been some outliers. Niagara and Seton Hall combined for 73 fouls and 102 free throws, but that is not the new normal. And to the extent that we see some ugly games, we also saw lots of ugly games last season, and the season before that, and the season before that. It takes time to go from a duckling to a swan.
Finally, if there really were a raging debate within the sport, then the one guy who would know it is Belmont coach Rick Byrd, the current chairman of the NCAA men's basketball rules committee. Even though Byrd was not chairman when the changes were made to the rulebook, he is in that hot seat now. I reached out to Byrd to see if his cell phone was blowing up with calls from angry coaches.
Well guess what: It hasn't. "I haven't gotten any calls from anyone saying, 'This stuff is crazy. What were you guys thinking about?'" Byrd told me. "All the shareholders in the game felt like it had gone too far to become a physical, brawl-type game that wasn't as fun to watch. I think we understand that something that's different is going to result in some more fouls until players and coaches understand that's the way it's going to be called. I don't know how you could have avoided that."
If anything, Byrd believes that the referees could be even stricter in enforcing the new-old rules. Watching the Michigan State-Kentucky game at the Champions Classic last week, Byrd thought that "except for some hand-checking stuff, the game looked a whole lot like last year's games did, frankly. There was a lot of contact." To the degree that it is still too difficult to guard the dribbler, Byrd believes it's because referees are also not doing as good a job as they should calling palming and traveling -- which are also currently part of the rules.
Though nobody is rushing to make even bigger, more genuine changes to the way the game is played, all ideas are on the table. The two most likely right now would be widening the lane (though not in the trapezoid design used in international play) and shortening the shot clock to 30 seconds. In the most recent annual survey conducted by the rules committee, 56.1 percent of respondents said they agreed or strongly agreed with the idea of going to a 30-second clock. (Though just 46.3 percent of coaches agreed with that idea.) And while just 30.8 percent of coaches want a wider lane, that number goes up to 41.7 percent when it includes referee coordinators, conference commissioners and officials. The idea of implementing a deeper three-point line (for the purpose of creating space) is not part of the survey, but it should be explored.
There is plenty of time to explore those and other ideas down the road. As for the season, the game is clearly in a period of adjustment, but I expect that adjustment will be made rather quickly. If players want to stay in the game, they will have to learn to stop fouling. Period. So don't let people fool you into believing there's some great debate going on. The question of whether college basketball needs more offense has already been answered. The only remaining question is how to do it.
Memphis at Oklahoma State, Tuesday, 8 p.m.
Here's a delightful early-season nonconference tilt between two of the best perimeter teams in the country. I'm going with the Cowboys because a) they're at home and b) they have Marcus Smart. Come to think of it, b) is enough.
Oklahoma State 80, Memphis 74
Dayton at Georgia Tech, Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory is taking on his former school, but this is not a sentimental reunion. It's an important nonconference game between two undefeated potential bubble teams. The Yellow Jackets are getting good early production from Tennessee transfer Trae Golden. Plus, they're at home.
Georgia Tech 66, Dayton 60
Wichita State at Tulsa, Wednesday, 8 p.m.
Danny Manning's Golden Hurricanes are off to an 0-2 start, but it's always interesting when a ranked team plays a true road game in November. I'm guessing the Shockers will hold up just fine.
Wichita State 78, Tulsa 63
Iowa State at BYU, Wednesday, 9:30 p.m.
How about the Iowa State Hoibergs playing a true road game in Provo? Gotta love it. They're due for a comedown after the big win over Michigan.
BYU 75, Iowa State 69
Florida State vs. VCU in Puerto Rico, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
This is a great way to begin the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Former Florida State forward Terrance Shannon has transferred to VCU and given the Rams a stellar rebounding and passing presence. It's going to be a while before I pick against VCU.
VCU 81, Florida State 71
SI.com: You guys lost at home to Indiana State. Were they that good, or were you that bad?
Brey: They're really good. They imposed their will on us. It was a tough matchup because they have big guys who can stretch you, so we were in scramble mode the whole time. The thing that I was disappointed in was that our veteran poise was not as good as theirs. I thought we would be more poised than that because we've played together a lot, especially our perimeter guys. But we were rattled.
SI.com: You grew up in the D.C. area and served as an assistant coach at Duke for eight years. Is it a full-circle experience for you to be heading back into the ACC?
Brey: Yeah it is. It's almost like taking a new job after 13 years in one place. It's exciting because you're heading into familiar territory; you're heading back to Tobacco Road. But I'm anxious, too, because we created such a consistent identity in the Big East. Can we do that now in the ACC, and can we do that in year one?
SI.com: Is it important for the ACC tournament to be held in Madison Square Garden?
Brey: We have to get to the Garden. In my first league meetings at the ACC, people said to me, "You guys overwhelmed what we were doing in Greensboro." I just think it's so sexy to play in that building. We've got two years in Greensboro right now, and that's all that's spoken for. The Garden is committed to the Big East for 10 but from what I understand, there may be some outs in there.
SI.com: You've had your share of interest from other schools during your time at Notre Dame. What's the closest you've come to leaving?
Brey: Maryland was really intriguing, but it never got serious. If I was 44 it might be different, but it takes a lot of energy to go somewhere and reinvent at age 52. I've got a 10-year deal here; I have security. And I love having my name next to the Notre Dame brand. That has opened a lot of doors for me. I think now, people don't even call anymore.
SI.com: You played and coached at DeMatha High School under one of the legendary coaches of all time, Morgan Wooten. How often do you speak with him, and how is he doing?
Brey: I talk to Morgan about once every two weeks. He's a text guy, too. He's doing great. He runs his camps. His health is good. He's sharp as a tack. He watches all our games. I love talking to him because he's just a great voice of reason.
SI.com: The phone rings one day and it's Mike Krzyzewski. He's calling to tell you that he's stepping down as the coach at Duke, and the jobs is yours if you want it. What do you say?
Brey: No interest. I mean, it would be really flattering if that's how the thinking went. It's mostly because of the strength of what we have here, but about 15 percent of it would be, why would you want to try and follow that? I don't think that would be a smart.
*(Last week's rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Michigan State (1)
2. Kentucky (2)
3. Kansas (3)
4. Louisville (4)
5. Duke (5)
6. Arizona (6)
7. Syracuse (7)
8. Ohio State (9)
9. Oklahoma State (11)
10. VCU (13)
11. Memphis (14)
12. Wichita State (15)
13. Florida (12)
14. Michigan (8)
15. Baylor (17)
16. Harvard (18)
17. Creighton (19)
18. Iowa (22)
19. Gonzaga (23)
20. Wisconsin (NR)
21. UConn (24)
22. New Mexico (25)
23. Oregon (NR)
24. Iowa State (NR)
25. Marquette (16)
Dropped off: North Carolina (10), Tennessee (20), Notre Dame (21)
You'll notice that despite all the activity from last week, my top seven has gone unchanged. That's because I was one of the few voters -- or was I the only voter? -- who had Michigan State ahead of Kentucky as well as Kansas ahead of Duke. Allow me a brief pause to savor my correctitude. It happens so infrequently ...
That was nice.
(I'm assuming none of you noticed that I ranked Kansas ahead of Duke but picked Duke to win the game in last week's Hoop Thoughts. Isn't it wonderful being me?)
Anyway, there weren't many major changes on my ballot. The biggest was dropping North Carolina all the way from 10th to unranked. It is very unusual for me to do that, but I do think if you're going to do it, it should be early in the year. Not only did North Carolina lose at home to a pretty good Belmont team on Sunday, but the Tar Heels looked mediocre while beating Holy Cross Friday night at home. As I mentioned above, this team is still not at full strength as the cases of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald remain in limbo. So all those factors went into my decision.
On the other hand -- and isn't there always another hand? -- I gave Florida some benefit of the doubt after its loss at Wisconsin. The Gators are also without suspended players, but those are in-house decisions, not NCAA ones, and I presume those guys will be back soon. It is also very difficult to win in Madison, yet despite missing several key players, the Gators still pushed the Badgers to the wire. So instead of laying the hammer down on Florida, I decided to reward Wisconsin by inserting them at No. 20, which was still not good enough for many of the Wisconsin fans who wrote to me on Twitter when I released my rankings Sunday night.
(And yes, I was kidding when I said I voted this way because "I hate Wisconsin." I guess sarcasm doesn't translate well to Twitter trolls.)
I tend to under-punish for true road losses, which is why I only dropped Michigan six spots for losing at Iowa State. I did the same to Tennessee for its loss at Xavier. Notre Dame also fell off because of its home loss to Indiana State, but I've got a feeling that those two teams will be in my Top 25 again at some point.
Marquette took a nasty tumble after scoring just 35 points in a home loss to Ohio State. I left the Golden Eagles at No. 25 because the Buckeyes are a top 10 team, but I'm officially putting the Eagles on notice. One more stinker, and you lose that number next to your name.
Since there were so few losses from my Top 25, I didn't have room for other worthy candidates. Among the schools tied for 26th are Indiana State, Colorado, UCLA, Boise State, UMass, Indiana and Villanova. We are about to hit our annual Thanksgiving Week binge, so you can expect there will be much to shake up over the next two weeks.
We wouldn't want it any other way.