College basketball is bracing for the aftershocks from some more tectonic shifting of contact rules, and Kansas coach Bill Self is concerned.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because we’ve been here before. Two years ago, college basketball tried to clean up the sport — and increase offense — by cracking down on contact and fouling. The emphasis, though, was short-lived, and by last season the game — and officials — had reverted to form.
The result was a glacial pace in 2014-15, and much hand-wringing from college hoops coaches and analysts. So now the emphasis is back. The goal, officials say, is more freedom of movement for offensive players.
And once again, Self is worried about how his team will adjust.
There is a logical reason for this. If you have ever seen a Kansas basketball practice, it can feel kind of like a Battle Royale with a few moments of basketball mixed in. It’s the kind of style that Self prefers — tough, unyielding and relentless — and when it comes to scrimmages, the out-of-bounds line is more like a suggestion and fouls are rarely called.
For cultivating a disciplined team, it’s an effectiveness method. For preparing a team for stricter contact rules, it can feel a little counterintuitive. So in recent weeks Self has invited outside officials in for practice, giving his team a close-up feel of the new rules.
“I got on the officials the first time,” Self said this week. “Because they called four fouls in the first two possessions. And I said, ‘Guys, I mean, gee, I’m all for this, but we at least want to scrimmage today.’ ”
At 7 p.m. Wednesday, as No. 4 Kansas opens its exhibition schedule against Pittsburg State at Allen Fieldhouse, the adjustment process will continue. Nine days before its regular-season opener against Northern Colorado on Nov. 13, the Jayhawks will take the floor for the first of two exhibition matchups against in-state opponents. The KU freshmen will get their first dose of Allen Fieldhouse — though big man Cheick Diallo is not expected to play while he waits for an NCAA ruling on his academic eligibility — and the Jayhawks’ veteran nucleus will receive its first test-run of the 2015-16 season. Among the top priorities for Self: Getting his guys acquainted with a new style.
Let’s start here. Officials have been directed to crack down on hand-checking on the perimeter and excessive contact in the paint. In specific terms, defenders will not be allowed to use an “arm bar” to impede the progress of a dribbler. Putting two hands on an offensive player on the perimeter will also result in an automatic foul.
“It’s definitely tough,” Kansas senior forward Perry Ellis told reporters this week in Lawrence. “It’s different. It’s a lot different than what it has been. It’s going to take some in-game experience to really figure it out.”
One could make a reasonable argument that Kansas — a program that thrives on defense and toughness — could be affected more than most.
Two years ago, in the aftermath of the first crackdown on contact, Kansas had its worst defensive team under Self, according to advanced metrics. There were many reasons for the defensive slide, of course — the team was young and lacked a strong on-ball defender at the point-guard spot.
But when college basketball essentially scrapped the focus on excessive contact last season, the Jayhawks’ defensive numbers corrected back to their usual spot. Which is to stay among the top 10 nationally in defensive efficiency.
This time, as another season approaches, Self is trying to make sure his team is better prepared for the changes.
“It has been emphasized a lot, and I do think they’re handling it better now,” Self said Monday. “But they will be shocked when you have Big 12 officials calling our scrimmage today, and they will be shocked today that they will all foul out. I think it’s going to be that big of an adjustment for everybody.”
Pittsburg State at Kansas
7 p.m. Wednesday on Time Warner Cable Sports Channel