Hand-checking calls making impact in college basketball

Proponents of college basketball’s new rules interpretation say it’s working. By emphasizing that officials call more hand-checking fouls, and fewer charges, scoring is on the rise.

Offensive output is up by 5.6 points per game, based on recently-released numbers by #KPI Analytics. And that was the goal set by the NCAA after the average output by Division I teams dropped to 67.5 points per game last season, its lowest in 31 years.

But like officiating itself, the impact of the changes is up for interpretation.

Teams are fouling an average of 2.2 times more often per game this season, according to #KPI, so about four or five more fouls are being called total per game this season. Doesn’t seem like much, does it?

“There’s a reality of what the numbers say and then there’s (Dec. 18) where 90 free throws are taken in the North Carolina-Texas game,” said Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory, who was exaggerating by 10. “Or I watched the Vanderbilt-Butler game and it seemed like it was just a free throw contest.”

Vanderbilt and Butler were whistled for 54 fouls in Butler’s 85-77 overtime win on Nov. 19. Combined they shot 61 free throws.

Yes, the numbers do bear out that a higher percentage of the points scored this season are coming from the free throw line, but only by about 1.7 percent. But it’s hard to take averages from games all over the country and make grand sweeping assumptions about the improvement or impact on the game.

Scoring is up? Tell that to fans who watched Cincinnati beat Pittsburgh last week 44-43.

Virginia and Wisconsin still managed to play the defensive slogfest that reflect their coaches’ style, in a 48-38 win by the Badgers on Dec. 4, but not before ESPN analyst Doris Burke and partner Mike Patrick took shots at the new rules interpretation.

Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon, a graduate of Greater Atlanta Christian, was whistled for a touch foul on Traevon Jackson, with Virginia trying to rally from six points down with 1:10 to play.

“These are the new rules,” Burke said. “…And that’s a killer because you have guarded, you have just about closed them out at the shot clock…A year ago that’s not even a decision for the official.”

“That’s a tough call,” Patrick said. “If anything, Jackson is the one who put his hand out.”

The Duke Blue Devils had hardly exhaled after surviving Vermont on Nov. 24, and barely preserving their non-conference home winning streak at 106 games, when former Duke point guard and ESPN analyst Jay Williams started questioning the game-deciding foul. A touch foul by Clancy Rugg put Duke’s Rodney Hood on the line with five seconds left and he made one of two free throws for the 91-90 win.

Granted that game was a month ago, and if you ask Gregory, the officiating has adapted to the changes since early in the season.

“I think referees have adjusted a little bit,” Gregory said. “And I think the players have adjusted. I do think that it’s not as extreme as it was maybe those first couple games.”

Gregory, like coaches around the country, has been emphasizing adjusting to the rule in practice. His new “show your hands” catch phrase is getting more air time than “high hands.”

“We always talk about high hands and active hands when you’re guarding,” Gregory said. “’Close out with a high hand to take away the 3. Keep active hands to pressure the pass.’ Now as soon as the ball is on the floor, we tell them to ‘Show your hands.’ So now every time a guy is dribbling you got to have your hands outside your shoulders.

“It’s been a change for our guys because we always kind of played within our shoulders when it came to defense and now we’re trying to show our hands more.”

Sophomore Marcus Georges-Hunt, Tech’s best perimeter defender, said “show your hands” is becoming second nature to him. And whether it’s the players adjusting to the calls, or the officials, he doesn’t need numbers to tell him what’s happening out there now. He has his own interpretation.

“They haven’t really been calling it, to me,” Georges-Hunt said. “The first couple of games they did, but now they’re letting us play a little bit more.”