Fouls and scoring up in college basketball
Tune into any college basketball game over the opening weekend and one thing was clear: there were plenty of whistles.
The NCAA made a major push in the offseason to have officials enforce rules more tightly this year. The goal is to improve scoring by increasing the freedom of movement and reducing physical play. It’s working so far as points are up — and so are fouls.
“I think the officials are doing what they’re supposed to do,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after his fourth-ranked Blue Devils lost to No. 5 Kansas 94-83 Tuesday night. “Everyone just has to keep adjusting. Too much is being said about it. Start playing the way we’re supposed to play. We had three great guys, guys who are big-time officials. I thought they reffed a terrific game and we have to adjust. That’s the way it is.”
Both men’s and women’s games averaged nearly an identical 42 fouls a game in the first few days according to STATS. That’s seven more than last season for the men and 10 for the women.
“When they’re going to call fouls, you’ve got to be able to play without fouling,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “They’re going to call fouls. It’s going to be that way. Every game I watched today and last night they’re calling these fouls. We have to adjust to it.”
The ninth-ranked Orange and Fordham combined for 55 fouls and 72 free throws on Tuesday night.
“The way they’re calling the game, if you get to the basket with the ball there’s a 90 percent chance there’s going to be a foul called,” Boeheim said. “I think they’re overreacting a little bit. Now, almost virtually any contact is a foul. I think it’ll take awhile for everybody to get used to the rules and the calls — the referees as well as the players.”
Even LeBron James took notice of the constant stoppages. He tweeted Tuesday night during the Kansas-Duke game: “They call so many fouls in college ball. Let ‘em hoop. Should go to 6 fouls as well.”
Kansas coach Bill Self agreed with James.
“Obviously there’s a lot of fouls and no rhythm,” he said after his team beat Duke. “I believe the first game was a lot like that, too, at least in the second half. To be honest, I don’t like it, but hopefully players will learn to adjust and coaches will do a better job. It just takes away all aggressiveness defensively. At least it does with us. We haven’t had a team shoot 50 percent against us, maybe five times in the last seven years.
“Basically everybody’s shooting close to 50 percent against us. We’ve got to adjust because that was a pretty fragmented game. Weren’t many up and downs that teams could get a rhythm.”
There were 53 fouls and 63 free throws taken in the game.
Women’s games are similar. In top-ranked Connecticut’s 19-point win over No. 3 Stanford on Monday night 40 fouls were called.
“It’s going to take a little bit of time,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I think the officials are going to be in a tough spot for a little while because not every touch is the same as the next one. Some are fouls and some are not. But in the beginning every one is. It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this, but it’s our culture in America. I would like to think that by January people will adjust to it. If players are smart, they’ll adjust to it. I tell our guys, ‘Either stay in your stance and stay in the game, or come out of your stance and come out of the game. Those are your choices, dude. That’s it.”
The worst offenders — or in this case defenders — came at the Niagara-Seton Hall men’s game on Saturday. The two teams combined for 73 fouls and 102 free throws. At the Morehead State-Libscomb women’s game Sunday, the two teams combined for 64 fouls and the game took nearly 2½ hours. There were 90 free throws taken in the game, which Morehead State won 82-77.
On the other end of the spectrum, Villanova and Mississippi Valley State combined for just 18 fouls on Saturday. The game wrapped up in a quick 1:28.
“We had a conference call with all the coordinators and everyone was on board that we were getting the results we wanted and what coaches wanted,” said Debbie Williamson, secretary-rules editor for NCAA women’s basketball. “Everyone was saying that we liked the way it looked. I was getting text messages saying this looks so much better. This was an old school game and this was great.”
Scoring peaked at 70.7 points for the women in 1982-83 and has steadily been on a decline since. The points of emphasis seem to be working early as points are up. Teams are averaging just over 70 points, which is eight more than last season’s record low and the highest since the 1990-91 season.
Men’s teams are averaging 76.0 points through the first few days, an increase from last season’s 67.5 — which was the lowest in men’s basketball since 1952.
Even with increase in fouls, not everything has been caught. In the Georgetown-Richmond women’s game Friday, freshman Shayla Cooper lost her shoe early in the second half and tried to block a Spiders’ 3-pointer by throwing her sneaker at the ball. She missed and so did the officials, who didn’t call a foul on the play. Or even a “soletending” violation.
“Picking up a shoe and throwing it is not a rule in the rule book,” Williamson said laughing. “It’s an unsporting act as there’s no rule for throwing equipment. It should have been an unsportsmanlike foul.”