Murry Bartow says he heard it over and over while he was a graduate assistant under Bobby Knight: You have to move your feet to play proper defense.
That has never been more important than this season.
In an effort to increase scoring, the NCAA has changed the way officials will call games. More fouls — likely many more fouls — will be called when the season gets underway this week.
“As I talked to college coaches all over the country, that’s maybe the biggest concern we’ve all got now,” said Bartow, East Tennessee State’s head coach.
The first time a defender touches a ball handler in the open court with one hand will be OK. Continued touching will lead to a foul, even if it’s just a tap.
In the past, the hand-checking provision had been a guideline. It’s now a rule. And it’s being called the biggest rule change in the college game in years.
In addition, a defender can not put a forearm or two hands on a dribbler. Any body contact will be called, and defenders will no longer be allowed to slide into position to take a charge after a driving offensive player has begun his upward motion toward the basket.
“The hardest part about adjusting is you have to guard the dribble better,” Bartow said. “Our guys have to adjust and move their feet a little better.”
The main reason behind the changes is to create more offense by giving dribblers more room to operate. Coaches are concerned their game could turn into a whistlefest and free-throw shooting contest.
“You could lose the game just by fouling too much,” Bartow said. “If you get in a fouling game — and a lot of these games are gonna become that — who gets to the bonus quickest will be huge. This whole fouling or not fouling is a huge thing.”
ETSU was whistled for 51 fouls in its two exhibition games.
As difficult as it might be, Bartow said the blame when the whistles begin to blow shouldn’t be placed on the officials. They’ll just be going by the new book.
“When you foul, that’s just bad defense,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t blame that on officials. You have to adjust how a game’s being called. You have to move your feet.”
The Bucs had an official attend practice to help with the interpretation of the new rules.
“We asked him questions on how they’re gonna call guarding on the ball, how they’re gonna call charges,” sophomore guard Lester Wilson said. “Overall, they said they want to generate more points, so there’s gonna be a lot more calls. A lot more points and a lot more people at the free throw line.”
The women’s game will feel the effects as well, with an extra twist. The ladies will have a 10-second backcourt rule for the first time.
“It will change the way we pursue our press,” first-year ETSU women’s coach Brittney Ezell said. “It’s going to make our point guards be a little more aware of what they’re doing in the backcourt. They can’t be lackadaisical.”
Ezell also had officials come to practice to talk to the players about how the game will be called. They had officials work a scrimmage and there were 86 fouls.
“We’ll keep harping on it all year,” Ezell said.
Ezell is reserving judgment on the whole concept.
“Ask me again after we do it a couple times and how our kids adjust,” she said. “Let me see if they’re gonna be consistent in how they call it. The big thing will be when one of the big teams play, UConn, Tennessee or Stanford. If there are a lot of whistles and the game isn’t as pretty, there’ll be some changes.”
So when the season begins Friday night with the ETSU men at Charlotte and the women at Memphis, there will be plenty of questions every time a whistle blows, just not for the coaches. They know what’s coming.
“It’s not really a question mark, because they’re gonna call it,” Bartow said. “So you have to adjust. The team that adjusts the best and keeps the other team off the free throw line is gonna have a better chance to win.”
Joe Avento is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.