The University of Washington men’s basketball team is undergoing a bit of an identity dilemma. Revered during coach Lorenzo Romar’s three Sweet 16 appearances for the ability to generate defensive pressure, the 2013-2014 Huskies are going to have to scale it back.
As will the rest of the country after the NCAA implemented off-season rule changes aimed at increasing scoring. Last year, teams averaged 67.5 points per game, lowest total since the 1981-1982 season.
The NCAA’s solution to the problem?
Assuming Pac-12 officials can grasp the concept, defenders will for the first time be forbidden from:
- Touching an opponent with either a hand or an arm bar for more than a moment.
- Placing both hands on a player.
- Continuously jabbing at an offensive player so as to make contact with a straight arm.
- Using an arm bar.
Lost are the days of chesting up a player mano-a-mano beyond the arc, relinquished is the ability of a less-talented team to muck up a game without fouling out multiple starters. Romar and others think it will lead to more zone defense. Kentucky coach John Calipari, who would no doubt be selling used Porsches if he wasn’t a college basketball coach, went on record saying he loved the new rules.
This is a big freakin’ change, and it had Romar so irked Tuesday he started demonstrating on reporters how his latest UW team will have to adjust.
“Well, thank goodness we’ve been able to have officials come in because it was a shock to our team,” Romar said. “Shockwaves went through all the practice, like ‘Wow, we can’t do anything.’ If I look at them too long, is that a foul, too?”
To help cushion the change, Pac-12 referees flew in for UW’s early practices, pulling players aside to show them how they can defend and set legal screens. Romar said the guidance helped.
“I think our guys have done a pretty good job of adjusting to it, of not putting your hands on an offensive player when they have the basketball,” he said. “But it was a shock at first.”
Senior guard C.J. Wilcox, UW’s returning leading scorer (16.8 points) and second-team all Pac-12 selection, provided his own progress report.
“I’m doing fine, but our team is struggling a little bit right now,” he said. “The way we want to play, it’s tough to keep our hands off guys when you want to get up in them and pick up full court. It’s something we’ll definitely have to work on.”
They also may as well abandon trying to draw an offensive foul. Romar said officials told him that early in the season, 70 to 80 percent of the block/charge calls will go in favor of the offensive players. Somewhere in South Beach, a former Duke player just cringed.
The indictment on slow help-side defenders is the result of the NCAA redefining what constitutes a charge. In the past, a defender was allowed to step in front before the offensive player went airborne to potentially receive the charge call.
The new rule states that a defender can no longer step in front of his opponent and draw contact once the offensive player begins an upward motion. If the offensive player starts the upward motion, then it’s a block. No questions asked.
The new interpretation left Romar confounded.
“Do any of you understand the rule?” he quipped. “Because if you do, you’re ahead of everybody . . .”
The NCAA’s goal is to replicate the NBA’s decision in 1994 to ban hand-checking. Three seasons after the that, the pros tossed the defender’s ability to use an arm-bar. Since, scoring has risen roughly five points per game, a reality to which Romar wasn’t oblivious.
“A friend of mine told me this isn’t football. You don’t play offense and leave the field,” he said. “Basketball means we get to drive, too. We have to be aggressive when we’re attacking because the same rule to them applies on defense.”
UW freshman guard Nigel Williams-Goss, a McDonald’s All-America pick likely to start, said the new rules emphasize revisiting the basic principles followed by most good defenders.
“Sliding your feet, keeping your hands out and beating the guy to the spot using your feet — (that’s) how defense is supposed to be played anyways,” he said.
The sooner the Huskies adopt that as their identity, the better they will adjust to what will be a dramatically different 2013-2014 season.