TERRE HAUTE —
Fear-and-loathing. Weeping and knashing of teeth. Nervous trepidation.
All of the above emotions, and many more, were associated with the emphasis the NCAA rules committee put on officials to call hand-checking and contact fouls entering the season. Coaches and observers alike feared it could change the college game out of all recognition to the way that preceeded it.
In the first month of the season, many of those fears were realized. Teams entered the bonus and double-bonus periods much quicker than before. Free throw attempts sky-rocketed, along with the blood pressure of coaches, players, officials and others who didn’t know where they stood in basketball’s brave new foul-prone world.
Two months later, deep into the heart of conference play for most leagues, are games still being called the same as they were during the cacophony of whistles heard in November?
Missouri Valley Conference coaches didn’t come to a consensus on that topic or whether the still hotly-debated edict was a good idea or not.
Not surprisingly, Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson was most passionate about the issue.
“I’m extremely upset about it. We got a memo this week that it’s changing the game for the better and I absolutely think that’s a complete political spin and a scam,” Hinson said Tuesday during the MVC coaches teleconference.
“I’m not upset at the officials, I’m upset at the inconsistency we have in college officiating. We have officials that tell me night in and night out that they’re confused and don’t know how to call the game. It blows my mind. The consistency we’ve had this year has been awful,” he added.
Hinson didn’t address the frequency of calls, per se, but other coaches did.
“To be honest, they’re not calling it like they were at the beginning of the year. It would be nice if they want back. Foul trouble hasn’t been an issue like it was at the beginning of the season,” said Illinois State coach Dan Muller said.
Bradley coach Geno Ford thinks players have adjusted to the new way fouls are called, and thus, the calls themselves are down.
“The rules committee gave those guys an impossible job. For years, a good official’s goal was to blend in and not be a factor. Now it’s being emphasized to call everything. They were put in a tough spot. I think they’ve really been consistent with hand-checking and I think players have adjusted. I think that’s why you’re seeing less hand-check calls,” Ford said.
But that doesn’t mean everything’s hunky-dory. One call that has caused considerable consternation is when an offensive player dribbles into a defender, and regardless of whether the defender had legal position or not, the call goes against the defender.
“Anytime you give a guy a basketball and he wants to dribble straight into a crowd and throw his arms up in the air, knowing he’s going to get a foul called, I think that’s why the majority of people have gone to zone [defense] because of that,” Hinson said.
Consistency is the hobgoblin that most coaches think has been missing this season. Some games are called loose, others tight. It’s always been that way, but with the emphasis on making more calls, it’s harder than ever to know exactly where you stand, even in the scope of a single game.
“We’ve had games where one half you have seven fouls and another you have 20. I feel for the officials. They’re trying to do what they’re told to do. I don’t know that I’ve noticed a ton of difference [in the frequency of calls],” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said.
Lansing said he believes the increase in scoring has less to do with freedom of movement and more to do with increased free throw attempts. Hinson agreed.
“It’s supposed to be free-flowing and it's not free-throwing. It’s just a free-throw-a-thon right now. It drives me nuts,” Hinson said.
Ford struck a middle ground. He acknowledged that contact fouls early in the season were generally called against defenders, but he thinks the situation has improved.
“You’re seeing some physicality allowed on the ball. In my opinion? Thank goodness. Whatever we were doing the first month of the season, I can’t imagine that’s what the rules committee hoped they would get. You couldn’t guard anyone. You almost had to sit down Indian-style and let a guy go. Now there’s some ability to defend,” Ford said.
• MVC notes — Drake is 11-0 when it wins the team rebounding battle. … Evansville’s starting five of D.J. Balentine, Egidijus Mockevicius, Blake Simmons, Adam Wing and Duane Gibson have played 73.4 percent of the Aces’ minutes this season. … Loyola’s Jeff White is the only MVC to rank in the MVC top 10 in field goal percentage and free throw percentage. … Northern Iowa’s Matt Bohannon is averaging 12 ppg in MVC play thanks to his 48.2 percent 3-point percentage in league games. … Missouri State’s Dorrian Williams is ranked in the top 10 nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.24. … Wichita State is ranked sixth in the nation in rebound differential (6.7) since Gregg Marshall became coach in 2007.