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Chuck McGill: Players, refs need time to adjust to new college hoops rules

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There was more whistling than a Kate Upton photo shoot.

The only gawking during Tuesday afternoon's West Virginia-Virginia Tech men's basketball game, however, was during the frequent stoppages in play and 71 free-throw attempts.

It certainly wasn't an eye-pleaser, but the Hokies' 87-82 win over the Mountaineers might be a more frequent sight as coaches, players and officials adjust to the freedom-of-movement movement.

The offseason rule changes - aimed at creating a free-flowing game and, subsequently, more scoring - were on display during WVU's second game of the 2013-14 season. There were 53 fouls called, more than any West Virginia men's hoops game last season.

The Hokies and Mountaineers combined to make 51 free throws on a combined 71 attempts, both more than any game involving WVU last season.

Virginia Tech's 87 points in regulation is also a rarity for Coach Bob Huggins' eyes. Only twice in the past 254 games had a Huggins opponent scored as many points without the benefit of overtime, and both games involved Kansas (once at Kansas State during the 2006-07 season and WVU's 91-65 loss last season at KU).

In fact, in 1,012 career games, a Huggins-coached team has allowed as many or more than the Hokies' 87-point outburst 22 times (overtime games excluded).

That might be a tough new reality for the 60-year-old who received his first head coaching gig in 1980. This is a different game.

"It's the way it's going to get called, I guess," Huggins said after WVU squandered a 17-point lead to lose to a Virginia Tech team picked to finish last in the 15-team Atlantic Coast Conference.

"I understand what they're trying to do. Consistency would help, you know? So everything is called the same."

The adjustment period continues Sunday when West Virginia (1-1) hosts Duquesne (1-1) at 4 p.m. The Dukes average 87.5 points per game.

The spiked scoring numbers will likely decrease as players and referees alike re-train what they've spent a lifetime learning.

"I guess we are still trying to figure out this new rule," said point guard Juwan Staten, one of six WVU players with three or more personal fouls against the Hokies. "It's just something we're going to have to adjust to.

"It was real difficult because you're taught to chest up. That's something you're taught when you're young. To have to change everything you're taught ... is hard."

The rule changes, however, should benefit a player like Staten. Fouls are being called on defenders who keep a hand or forearm on an offensive player. Defenders cannot use two hands, continually jab at the ball and place a hand on the offensive player, or use an arm bar to impede the progress of an offensive player.

The changes were proposed and approved after college basketball teams combined to average 67.5 points per game last season - the lowest figure since 1981-82, years before the debut of the 3-point line.

Last season, 174 teams averaged 67.5 points per game or more. Through the first week of the 2013-14 season, 261 of 340 Division I teams are at or above that mark.

Regression to the mean should be anticipated. Defenders will get a better feel for what will be called a foul and what will be permitted. Offensive players will know precisely how aggressive they can be. Defenses may flash more zone and force more jump shots, leading to fewer fouls and fewer free throws.

Huggins, long at odds with the men in stripes, can even acquiesce to the fact that the officiating crews need time to adapt.

"They're trying to feel their way through it just like we are," he said. "They've never called a game that way before, either."

In the mean time, the players' learning curve needs to be accelerated, or short benches will get shorter and fans will see their favorite players doing more standing than starring. It'll be all about free throws and not free flow.

"We're going to have to (adjust)," Staten said. "It's not about if we think we can or feel we can, we're just going to have to. If we want to win ballgames ... we're just going to have to."  

Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at chuck.mcgill@dailymail.com or 304-348-7949. Follow him on Twitter @chuckmcgill.

 


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