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WVU basketball: Rule changes could extend games

KANSAS CITY -- Everything about college basketball's new rules to penalize and ideally eliminate contact on the perimeter suggests it's going to be hard to take to start the 2013-14 season.

"I went through it in the NBA as a player where you can hand check guys, and then it went to an arm-bar rule and then you couldn't touch anybody," said Iowa State Coach Fred Hoiberg, who played for three teams in a 10-year career. "It was pretty ugly at first. I remember some of the games would take over three hours just because of all the fouls that were called."

There's a little part that might be good news to West Virginia, though.

"We're hard to guard," Coach Bob Huggins said, "if they're going to call it."

The NCAA is basically doing just what the NBA did before, which is calling fouls any time a defender jabs at a ball handler or plants a hand or a forearm or puts two hands on one.

It's supposed to stop defenses from jumping and mugging point guards in the backcourt and should let teams set up and then operate their offenses. It's supposed to compel defenders to use their feet instead of their arms to play defense. It's supposed to give dribblers clearer paths to the basket.

It's supposed to elevate scoring, whether by ease of access to the basket or free throws from an avalanche of fouls.

"We want you to be able to play defense, but it's always been you play defense by keeping your hands up, sliding your feet and keeping your body in front," said Curtis Shaw, the Big 12's coordinator of officials. "The fact of the matter is defenders getting into the offensive players was never one of the 10 rules of basketball.  

"If you go back to look at those 10 rules, it clearly says you can't hold, push, trip. It's always an issue. So I think we're just really going back to the rules of basketball, saying, 'Let's go back to playing an athletic game, not a physical game.'"

The premise might be difficult to accept when the season begins and offenses learn to trust the new rules while defenses learn to obey them.

Oklahoma Coach Lon Kruger will just about guarantee it after witnessing the NBA's change when he was the Atlanta Hawks coach from 2000-03.

"Tons of fouls, a lot of free throws, long, ugly games," he said. "I think hopefully fans can prepare for that. Coaches are going to have to. It's going to be frustrating. Players are going to be in a lot of foul trouble early on. It's just going to happen. There's no way around it."

Huggins isn't convinced, which is why he isn't worried about his defenders, who try to guard the ball very closely and keep the opposition from running their plays. It's not that he doesn't believe in the consequences of the rules. He's suspicious about the application of the rules.

"I know what they've told me for years and years and years, and it doesn't change," Huggins said. "It doesn't. For all the, 'We want scoring, we want scoring, we want scoring,' do they call fouls in the NCAA Tournament? Why don't they? Because people don't want to watch a free-throw shooting contest."

Shaw said the NCAA and the conferences know this, but that they're willing to push through it until it begins to make a difference.

"One of the unintended consequences early may be more fouls," Shaw said. "But we have the greatest athletes we've ever had in college basketball. We've got the smartest coaches we've ever had in college basketball, and they'll adjust."   

While Huggins wonders whether officials will consistently call the fouls, his team would surely benefit if they do. Huggins admits that right now his seventh WVU team doesn't have a player who can score in the low post.

He's always been in favor of driving to the basket and getting easy scores, even if he's lacked players at WVU who could do that consistently. After leading them through preseason workouts and then practice, Huggins is at least hopeful point guards Juwan Staten and Gary Brown can do that more this season than last season.

WVU also plays a motion offense, which moves players all over the floor on cuts and screens. Opponents like to bump and hold WVU to stop the motion, but that would be punished if conventional defenses can't stay out of the way.

"Is this is going to force people to play zone all the time?" Huggins said. "Is everyone going to play Pack-Line?"

Zone defenses guard against drives and force teams to make jump shots. The Pack-Line, popularized by former Wisconsin Coach Dick Bennett when he was at Wisconsin-Green Bay, sees one defender pressure the ball while the others form an arch around the paint. When the ball is passed, a new defender jumps out to pressure the ball while the other defender drops back into the pack.

Both defenses protect players against fouls and invite jump shots.

"If this is what we're going to do with officiating, then this is what's going to happen," Huggins said.

Huggins thinks WVU has shooters, though. He returns Eron Harris and Terry Henderson and welcomes freshman Nathan Adrian and junior college transfer Remi Dibo, forwards who can step outside to make jump shots, but also draw defenders away from the basket and create room for teammates to drive with the ball or cut or a pass.

"It's not about creating more offense, it's not about keeping teams from playing defense," Shaw said. "It's about allowing basketball to be the free-flowing athletic game it was always intended to be.

"I think these are for the betterment of the game.  Like I said, maybe an unintended consequence early will be more fouls, but the players are really good.  Our coaches are really smart, and they're going to adjust and change rapidly, and it's going to help the game."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.

 


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