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COLUMN

For Crean and Painter, worry and exploit

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For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Should basketball beware the rules changes

Sunday, November 10, 2013 - 9:29 am

Purdue's Matt Painter worries. Of course, he does. That's what coaches do.

Indiana's Tom Crean exploits. Why wouldn't he? That, too, is what coaches do.

They get paid millions to anticipate trouble before it happens, and then try to make it happen to others.

Welcome to a college basketball world rocked by new defensive rules. Check that. It's rocked by the perception of the new rules.

"The game needs to be more open than it's been," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany says. "We want to be part of the solution."

The question is, at what price? Have we reached an era of unintended consequences? Will the game become, instead of a more free-flowing, higher-scoring version, one with never-ending free throws while foul-burdened players sit instead of star?

Crean says college basketball is in for a Mr. Toad's wild ride as coaches, players and referees settle in to a new reality.

Is that true?

Let's take a look.

First, college basketball's rules committee, concerned about an ever more rugged game and the resulting plunge in offense that last year produced the lowest scoring season since 1952, changed the hand-check rule on the perimeter. Now you can only touch a player once -- with one hand, and lightly. You can't put two hands on a player. You can't push with one hand. You can't use your forearm as an arm bar to prevent him from driving or going where he wants to go.

“Even more, you have to play defense with your feet,” Purdue guard Terone Johnson says. “Use your feet and keep your hands off guys.”

Adds Crean: “Your hands have to be free. You move your feet and create angles defensively. You can't reach. You can't put a hand on the back. And you can't play frustrated.”

College basketball season opened Friday night and the frustration level was mixed.

In Purdue's 77-76 win over Northern Kentucky, 32 fouls were called that resulted in 31 free throws. In Indiana's 100-72 win over Chicago State, 56 fouls were called that produced 82 free throws.

The Hoosiers, who have played basketball for well over 100 years, set a school record with 45 made free throws.

For perspective, Chicago State played a pressing style well suited to fouling, and never changed. IU's attack-the-basket strategy took advantage.

For more perspective from Friday night, Kansas and Louisiana Monroe combined for 58 fouls and 72 free throws. Kentucky and UNC-Asheville had 52 fouls and 69 free throws. Duke and Davidson combined for 44 fouls and 57 free throws.

In a surprise that showed the more things change, the more they stay the same, Michigan State and McNeese State combined for just 21 fouls and 16 free throws.

What does it mean? It's too early to tell.

“They want a freer flowing game,” Delany says about the rules committee. “They don't necessarily want a longer game. I hope players will defend with their feet more. I hope coaches coach to it. I hope officials have the good sense to know when to call it.

“I don't expect it to be a smooth transition. It will be worked out over time.”

To help prepare his players, Crean brought referees to practice about a dozen times, telling them to call it tight. Painter also used referees in practice. Most coaches did.

“It's a new game,” Crean says. “Two things have to happen -- how quick can you adjust and can you not allow frustration to enter into it? You can't get sad. You have to get determined. You have to move on and adjust at the drop of a hat. If you wait for halftime, it will be too late.”

For Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, all the fuss comes down to this -- “teach to the rule.”

“If you're not allowed to put your hands on a player,” he says, “then don't put your hands on a player.”

Painter hopes a balance is found.

“They're trying their best to send a message. In theory, I understand what they're trying to do. We already have rules in place in terms of guarding the ball. Putting two hands on somebody is an absolute foul. Putting your hand on somebody, keeping it there and guiding somebody is an absolute foul. If you're out in space and put a hand on somebody, it's an absolute foul. These things were getting called before.

“The incidental contact, where you're barely touching a guy and the dribbler initiates contact and calling that a foul, those aren't fouls. I don't know why (officials) think that's a foul.

“Basketball is a physical game. There is incidental contact. Those aren't all fouls. Sometimes incidental contact, even if it's physical, isn't a foul.”

Officiating isn't science. Referees use their best judgment based on instructions from rules makers.

“I think they're being told to call it all,” Painter says. “If you do that, you won't have the best players in the game. You'll have longer games. Then we're not getting where we want to get, which is freedom of movement for the ballhandlers.

“(Officials) don't want the game rugged. They don't want it tough. They didn't want it that way before. Now they want to make it more of an emphasis, but there has to be a little give and take.”

Purdue has thrived with physical defense. Players such as Chris Kramer and Lewis Jackson wore down opposing guards with it. The new rules could limit what the Boilers have done best.

“Hopefully this is an extreme measure, and then it lessens,” Painter says. “We want to play against the best players. We want to play our best players. We want to play games that last two hours, not two and a half. We don't want to beat up somebody, but we don't want it to be a free throw contest, either.

“I know that if it doesn't change, then we have to change with it. There's not a coach alive who doesn't talk about playing defense with your feet and being in good position. We emphasize every day.”

Against Chicago State's pressing style Crean ramped up his usual attack-the-basket approach even more, and it paid off, as it will for any guard who thrives with dribble penetration.

“Anybody who can get by his man and get to the rim, he has the advantage,” Painter says.

In the end, coaches and players will adjust.

“The key will be, are we going to be consistent all the way through the year on how we call it,” Ryan says. “We're going to teach to the rule, so if you're teaching to it and practicing it, you just hope that it's the same all the way throughout the season. That's all I'm hoping for.”

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.