Georgia looks to rebound in season of adjustments

Georgia’s season-opening game against Wofford on Friday night likely will look nothing like any it played last season. And that’s not a statement about the Bulldogs having to play without Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

No, the NCAA’s “freedom of movement” rules — designed to reduce the physicality in the game and spur scoring — will change not only the way the game is officiated, but ultimately, the way it is played. But as officials and players make the adjustment, the rules likely will result in more whistles, more free throws and a greater need for patience for everyone involved, fans included.

“We needed to clean up our game because no one could score, ourselves included,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “Basketball had become simply ‘overpower somebody at the rim or sit out there and make 3-point shots.’ There was nothing else. So everyone recognized that the game had deteriorated because of how much physical contact we were letting go on. So there’s going to be change.

“But it’s one heck of an adjustment, I’ve got to be honest with you.”

Scoring in Division I basketball dipped to 67.5 points per game last season. That was the lowest mark since the 1981-82 season. The Bulldogs averaged 60.8, which ranked 12th in the 14-team SEC.

In an effort to increase scoring and ultimately improve the entertainment value of college basketball, the NCAA asked officials to call tighter games when it comes to defense. They want fewer hand checks and “forearm bars” and reduced “flopping” when it comes to block/charge calls.

Early returns are predictably mixed. Louisville’s exhibition game against Kentucky Wesleyan on Tuesday lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours, included 64 fouls and saw five players foul out.

“Ultimately I think it will make our game better,” Fox said. “But I think I understand it less today than I did two weeks ago. I think there’s going to be some real adjustment for all of us as we get into this thing because it’s very different.”

Georgia, like most teams, has done everything in its power to prepare its coaches and players. The Bulldogs brought in SEC officials to call scrimmages and had them conduct question-and-answer sessions with players afterward.

“Since they put it in we’ve had to keep our hands off in practice and just play (defense) with our feet,” point guard Charles Mann said. “It’s been hard, but I feel like we’re adapting to it pretty well.”

Said guard Kenny Gaines: “I think it’s a good thing. I’m looking forward to maybe trying to get to the foul line more, maybe driving a little bit more. Got to add some things to the arsenal.”

Of course, the Bulldogs are interested in winning more than anything else. And they haven’t done enough of it the past two seasons to reach the postseason. They can start by playing better in nonconference games such as the one they’ll play Friday.

Wofford has a reputation as a “giant killer” and knocked off Georgia 60-57 in Fox’s first season. The Terriers return five starters from a team that won only 13 games last season.

The Bulldogs were 15-17 last season, 9-9 in league play. They lost the SEC’s player of the year in Caldwell-Pope, who was an NBA lottery pick after two college seasons, but feel like they’re an overall deeper team.

“We just want to win,” Mann said.

That may be the biggest adjustment of all.