By David Teel
5:10 AM EDT, May 17, 2013
Given their teams’ contrasting styles, it’s no surprise that William and Mary’s Tony Shaver and Virginia Tech’s James Johnson differ on the duration of college basketball’s ideal shot clock. But on this they concur: Referees need to rid the game of MMA-style defense.
Fortunately, the NCAA rules committee agrees, last week calling for more “freedom of movement” and a change in how the block/charge is officiated.
An oversight panel that convenes June 18 must approve the proposals, effective for the upcoming season, but that’s a rubber stamp.
If officials and their conference supervisors heed the changes, college offenses should emerge from the Dark Ages.
Impeded by increasingly physical defenses, Division I teams last season averaged 67.5 points, the lowest total since the arrival of the shot clock in 1985-86. Moreover, scoring has declined nationally each of the last four seasons.
“For the last three, four, five years, (freedom of movement has supposedly) been a point of emphasis … and it’s not called,” said Shaver entering his 11th season with the Tribe. “It’s crucial. I think it helps our program if it’s called. Our offense is predicated on cuts, freedom of motion and timing, and when you allow teams to chuck you when you go across the lane and grab your arm when you’re trying to post up, it takes that opportunity away from us.”
ESPN’s Jay Bilas made this a crusade throughout last season, saying repeatedly that “organized fouling is masquerading as good defense.”
Clearly the 13-member rules committee, chaired by St. Peter’s coach John Dunne and including ACC associate commissioner Karl Hicks, heard the concerns of Bilas and others.
Per the NCAA press release, the committee wants the following to be called fouls “consistently throughout the game:
“When a defensive player keeps a hand or forearm on an opponent; when a defensive player puts two hands on an opponent; when a defensive player continually jabs by extending his arm(s) and placing a hand or forearm on the opponent; when a player uses an arm bar to impede the progress of an opponent.”
For Johnson, the key word there is “consistently.” He wants the same calls for defenses that press and trap, and those that pack the paint. He wants the same calls home and away, regardless of the officiating crew’s conference affiliation.
“Whether it’s in the post or on the perimeter,” he said of preferring less contact. “To me, it’s an easier call on the perimeter. You can see it more.”
On the block/charge, the rules committee suggests “that a defensive player is not permitted to move into the path of an offensive player once (the offensive player) has started his upward motion with the ball to attempt a field goal or pass.”
The current rule says a defender must be set before an opponent lifts off the floor.
I’ve long considered charges the bane of college basketball. They deter offenses, encourage flopping, and about 75 percent should favor the offense or be no-calls.
The college game added an NBA-like arc under the basket in 2011-12 to prohibit charges at point-blank range, but while well-intended, the line does add to what a referee must process.
“I’m in favor of whatever makes it easier for them,” Shaver said. “The arc made the charge call more difficult. I don’t have proof of this, I haven’t studied it (nationally), but in our games, almost every block-charge call was a charge because of the arc. (Officials) stopped looking at whether a (defender was) moving” because their eyes were on the arc.
Despite media buzz to the contrary, the rules committee declined to shorten the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds.
“The way we’re going to play, I’m hoping the shot clock doesn’t come into effect,” said Johnson, entering his second year as the Hokies’ head coach. “As fast as we want to play, 30 seconds would help our team.”
The average Tech game last season averaged 66.6 possessions per team, according to Ken Pomeroy’s website, which ranked 138th nationally. Johnson wanted to play faster, but injuries and transfers left the roster too depleted.
Though a North Carolina graduate, disciple of Dean Smith and advocate of up-tempo offense, Shaver needs to play slower at William and Mary, which doesn’t have the resources or tradition to attract the best athletes.
“I do like to play fast,” said Shaver, who coached high-scoring teams at Division III Hampden-Sydney. “But the style we’re playing right now, the more possessions you create, the tougher it makes it. I think the (shorter) the shot clock, the less chance the underdog has to win.
“We were second in the (Colonial Athletic Association) in scoring last year, so we don’t walk it up. But I do think when you are playing against a supremely talented team and can lower the number of possessions, you give a team that’s not as talented a better chance to win.”
The average Tribe game had 63.4 possessions per team last season, 276th among 347 Division I teams. William and Mary has been 269th or lower seven consecutive seasons.
Shaver’s best squad, the 2009-10 bunch that defeated Richmond, VCU, Maryland and Wake Forest, reached the CAA final and made the NIT, was 333rd in tempo, but a stout 79th in offensive efficiency. Goes to show that many approaches can succeed in college, one of the game’s charms.
“We’ve got rules to score more,” Shaver said. “We’ve just got to enforce them. … If the rule is enforced, coaches will adapt. If it’s not, we’re going to teach guys (accordingly). You get away with what you can.”
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