Coaches come to grips with new NCAA hand-check rule

Bob Cohn
| Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 10:30 p.m.

The new college basketball rules cracking down on grabby defenders are expected to cause more fouling, at least early. But in the first half of its exhibition game against California (Pa.), officials whistled Robert Morris just three times.

“There were a couple of times I thought we were going to get a foul because of what we had heard when some refs came to practice and things,” Colonials coach Andy Toole said. “That didn't occur. I spoke with the refs after the game and they said it's going to be an adjustment for everybody.”

After a third straight scoring decline resulted in the fewest Division I points since 1952, the NCAA has enforced a longstanding recommendation against using hands and arms while playing defense. Officially outlawed are hand and forearm-checking, placing two hands on an opponent, arm-bars and jabbing.

“They're not judgment calls anymore,” Toole said. “They're absolutes.”

Reaction has been mixed. Louisville coach Rick Pitino enthusiastically told reporters that the new rules are “the biggest change in our game,” adding that “last season was terrible.” Kentucky coach John Calipari in a news conference said the changes “will be good for the game” but wondered about the consistency of the calls month to month.

Others, like Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, surmise that a desired scoring increase might result from more free throws. That would not be fun to watch.

“I don't know if they want 2 12 hour games,” he said. “So something's gotta give.”

But Dixon is willing to give it time.

“I think there's a different mentality,” he said. “There seems to be a more consistent thought process of calling it tighter. So we'll see. But as of now, it's evident. We've seen it in films and we've seen it in our (exhibition) games. We're playing toward that right now, so we'll adjust accordingly.”

Despite videos, clinics and visits by game officials to explain and demonstrate, a general uncertainty prevails. Speaking at the Big 12 media day, Curtis Shaw, the conference men's basketball officials coordinator, described the overall mood as “a lot of angst.”

Toole, however, said the changes reflect what he has been trying to instill in his teams all along.

“I think what people are going to have to do, and what we've been trying to do forever when we teach defense, is be really proactive,” he said. “They're going to have to be well-positioned and they're going to have to have great technique.”

Said Toole: “Because most fouls occur when someone's late, and then someone reaches out and puts a hand there, or they get off-balance because they're not urgent enough and they reach out and grab. Those things are going to be fouls all the time.”

Dixon noted there are so many fouls to give.

“If they call more (fouls) on the outside, they might not call as many inside,” he said. “In our first exhibition game, I thought it was significantly more physical inside, but not on the perimeter. ... There's give and take in everything.”

Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said his players “have to adapt a lot quicker than even us because the game is changing a little bit.”

He added, however, that the changes might help.

“We have the ability to drive the basketball,” Ferry said. “But we've got to play without our hands. ... That's a big philosophy of ours anyway, not fouling. We're going to see if we can do that within these new rules.”

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