Men's Basketball

Rule changes add punch to men’s college basketball

UC Davis Aggies forward Josh Fox (21) dunks during the second half against host Sacramento State on Nov. 24.
UC Davis Aggies forward Josh Fox (21) dunks during the second half against host Sacramento State on Nov. 24.

The Sacramento State and UC Davis men’s basketball teams are scoring more points than they have in years.

The Hornets (6-2), who play at Portland on Saturday, are averaging 78.3 points, more than seven points more than last season’s 71.0. The Aggies (4-3), who play Tuesday at San Diego, are averaging 74.3, nearly four points more than last year’s 70.7.

If the season ended today, Sac State would have to go back to 1990-91, its last season in Division II, for a higher scoring average (79.9). UCD hasn’t averaged better than 74.3 in 14 seasons (76.2 in 2001-02).

The increase isn’t unexpected. Scoring is up markedly throughout Division I men’s basketball because of a number of rule changes intended to speed up the game, make it more fluid and rein in some of the physical play that has reduced scoring in recent years.

Only once in the past 12 seasons have Division I men’s teams collectively averaged at least 70 points, and as of Wednesday, the average for the 345 schools in Division I is 74.09, a 9 percent increase over last year’s 67.7 average. If that pace continues, it will be the highest scoring average since 1995 (74.2).

Among the most noteworthy of the more than 30 changes and directives the NCAA basketball rules committee instituted this season:

▪ Shortened the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds.

▪ Emphasized trying to reduce hand checking and body bumping and physical post play to allow more freedom of movement for offensive players with or without the ball.

▪ Expanded the restricted arc under the basket from 3 to 4 feet, pushing defenders father from the rim.

▪ Rescinded the five-second rule, in which man-to-man defense could force a turnover by maintaining close contact with the player holding the ball.

▪ Reduced the number of 30-second timeouts from four to three per team per game and eliminated live-ball timeouts called by coaches.

Sac State and UCD players and coaches said the biggest impact has been on defense, where officials are supposed to follow the NCAA edict to be “diligent with the whistle” when trying to reduce physical play.

“The freedom-of-movement rules are favoring the offense,” UCD coach Jim Les said. “So putting your hands on a guy when he drives and (using your) hands in the post are resulting in foul calls. We’re working really hard in practice to discipline our guys to play without their hands and to move their feet.”

UCD senior forward and scoring leader Josh Fox said the new rules have been a boost offensively but can be a pain defensively.

“(The NCAA) wants scores to be higher because it’s fun for people to watch,” Fox said. “But when you are trying to play defense, it sometimes makes it less fun. There are certain instances where you feel that the officials are taking over the game. But at the same time, they are trying to get used to the new rules, just like we are.”

One new rule Fox likes is allowing a defensive player in the post area to use an arm bar on an offensive player. That plays into the 6-foot-6 Fox’s physical strength against taller opponents.

“That’s more fun for me because I can hold my ground and not get backed down,” he said. “But once you get on the perimeter, it’s a lot harder to play defense. Once (the offensive player) gets into your body, even a little touch can get a foul call.”

Sac State coach Brian Katz thinks the tighter calls, combined with fewer seconds on the clock, have made offensive players bolder, sometimes even reckless, about penetrating the interior.

“Under the rules now, you are almost forcing players to drive hard into close quarters and jump into a guy because even if a defender only brushes a guy, a foul is supposed to be called,” Katz said. “I’m not sure if that’s really encouraging good basketball.”

Katz said scoring may have increased because teams are shooting more free throws and that defeats the idea of creating better tempo and speeding up the game.

“If free throws are the reason there is more scoring this season, then I don’t think that’s so great,” Katz said. “Now if there is more scoring because there (are) more (baskets), then that’s great.”

Through Wednesday, D-I teams averaged 25.95 field goals and 15.01 free throws, up from 23.64 and 13.95, respectively, last season.

The most publicized change, reducing the shot clock by five seconds, hasn’t been as big of an issue. Sac State and UCD played using an experimental 30-second shot clock in their postseason tournaments last season. Sac State won at Portland and lost at home to Northern Arizona in the CollegeInsider Tournament. UCD lost at Stanford in the National Invitation Tournament.

“It hasn’t been as big a deal as people might think,” Sac State senior guard Cody Demps said. “It’s only a handful of possessions where things come up quicker than you expect. And we had the whole preseason to practice it. We’re pretty comfortable with it.”

Les said the shorter clock hasn’t been much of a factor for his players, either.

“Going back to when we played with it in the NIT, I really didn’t make a big deal out of it, and our guys didn’t really notice it,” Les said. “The same thing has occurred with us so far this season. We haven’t noticed the clock.”

Katz liked the 35-second clock, saying it helped differentiate the college game from the NBA, which uses a 24-second clock.

“You hear some people say they want us to play faster and more like the NBA, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing at our level,” he said. “In the NBA, you have lots of guys who can create their own shots. ... I don’t think most college basketball players are good at creating their own shots, so with more short-clock situations, you’re going to see more tough shots than good shots.”

But Katz said he is keeping an open mind on most of the new rules, and he expects scoring will continue to rise as offenses hone their timing and pace through the season.

“I don’t think you can judge this whole thing until the season is over, see how teams, and the officials, have adjusted,” Katz said. “We have to see how we adjust. We coach playing good, hard defense every day. If we wind up fouling a little more, then that’s not so bad. But if we’re fouling a lot more, then that is not good.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP