Loren Tate: New rules might bring foul mood
NOTE: Walt Lemon, quick Bradley senior, shot 26 free throws in an exhibition against Upper Iowa last week.
NOTE: Two exhibitions involving Missouri State saw 127 free throws.
Ugh! Is basketball joining baseball in producing three-hour yawners? Maybe not, but a trend toward 21/2 hours is certainly in the works.
A new season opens Friday with the requirement — not points of emphasis but, instead, new rules — eliminating hand-checking and arm bars, and changing the block-charge call to dramatically favor the offensive player.
The 12-person NCAA committee made these rules for Division I teams to reduce physical play and increase scoring, the latter having dropped to the lowest point (67.5) in three decades.
Former Illini coach Lon Kruger was quoted by USA Today telling Oklahoma fans to get ready for “tons of fouls and a lot of long, ugly games.”
Another former Illini coach, Bill Self of Kansas, said: “We may have some games where you can’t go up and down twice without a stoppage. It’s going to be a broken game in large part.”
Adjustments on tap
Before packing a sandwich and a canteen for Friday’s Illini opener against Alabama State, UI fans are advised: The refs will adjust and the players will adjust, and the game will go on. But for now, teams like Purdue, where hand-checking is a way of life, are sweating.
Boilermakers coach Matt Painter spoke to it at last week’s Big Ten meeting:
“If you’re telling me they’re going to call Big Ten games the way the exhibition games are called, we’re going to have a lot of good players watching basketball. I don’t think that will sit well with people in this room, with players and coaches across the country, and definitely not with the fans. I think there’s a different way to increase scoring, if that’s what they’re trying to do.”
John Groce has responded with major changes in UI practices.
“We’ve had more officials for practice than maybe the last two, three years combined,” Groce said. “We are emphasizing the concept of moving your feet and showing your hands entirely. When our managers officiated, I told them to call fouls if a defender breathed on the dribbler.
“In the past, I have always emphasized taking charges. That has changed. I think you’ll see a lot more block calls than before. I don’t know how wise it is to encourage guys to continually take charges. That play will be called mostly in favor of the offense.”
In a zone
Groce anticipates more zones to keep players from fouling out, and he’s working on schemes to defend the pick and roll.
“I understand conceptually what they’re trying to do,” Groce said. “I think freedom of movement is good.
“But I’d hate to see where an offensive player drives the ball and invades the defender’s space, and draws a foul. If I came up and tried to shove you, you might (instinctively) put your hands up, and there might be contact between your hands and my body. It’s self-defense. You didn’t initiate it.”
Groce is particularly watchful of Nnanna Egwu, the junior center whose time on the court is crucial to UI success. Groce removed Egwu immediately after his first foul in Sunday’s exhibition against Northwood. The 6-foot-10 junior had three personals in 25 minutes.
“Nnanna did a good job. But I don’t want it (the new rule) to take away from the aggressiveness and athleticism that he brings as a defender. I don’t want him to be passive. Nnanna has to figure out how to balance it.
“We’ll see how it works out as we move on. Will it look different Jan. 1? We’ll see. We are accustomed to adapting and adjusting, both during games and throughout the season. You can’t be stubborn.”
The reverse aspect that plays in Illinois’ favor is the driving ability of veterans like Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams.
Groce said the rule change won’t affect how he encourages Rice, who shot 357 free throws in two seasons at Drake (5.7 per game). He’s likely to shoot more this season.
“As for Ray, we’d encourage him to drive anyway,” the coach said. “He has a heck of a drive game, and this could be beneficial to him and for anyone who is a driver.”
Rice flashed a wide grin when the rule was mentioned.
“I like it a lot,” he said Wednesday. “It’s good for guys that attack the basket. If I can get a foot in front, it’s an easy call.”
Said Abrams: “Defensively you just have to adjust and be disciplined ... keep your hands up. It’ll be difficult for those (Aaron Craft, are you listening?) who are used to hand-checking.
“Offensively I’ll keep attacking and playing my game, and hopefully I’ll get some calls. We have guys who can penetrate and draw fouls.
“It’s all about being open and accepting a rule. The more you fight it, the more difficult it will be.”
— There have been 111 passes intercepted by Big Ten football teams this season, and Illinois has one. Northwestern leads the nation with 18, and Illinois is tied with Kentucky for the fewest. How do you win without turnovers?
— In what would seem like an impossible accomplishment, Wisconsin has the Nos. 2-3 rushers in the conference: Melvin Gordon (134.2 yards per game) and James White (100.5) ... this after losing Montee Ball, who finished No. 2 and No. 1 in Big Ten rushing the last two years.
— Tre Roberson, sophomore from Indianapolis, sparked an Indiana rally that pulled within 49-47 of Michigan before losing 63-47 Oct. 19. Then Californian Nate Sudfeld lifted the Hoosiers from a 35-13 deficit to within 42-39 Saturday against Minnesota. So it’ll probably be the passer, Sudfeld, against Illinois on Saturday, although Roberson adds more to an improving Indiana running game. You know a high-scoring game is expected when the over-under point total projection is 76.5.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Illinois isn’t the only Big Ten team opening this weekend. A look at the other 11:
Chicago State at Indiana
FYI: Big-time freshman Noah Vonleh averaged 8.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in two exhibition wins
McNeese State at Michigan State
FYI: Adreian Payne and Gary Harris are two of 15 players on the Oscar Robertson Trophy Preseason watch list
Northern Kentucky at Purdue
FYI: Champaign Central’s Jay Simpson, now a healthy 250 pounds, led Boilermakers with seven rebounds in last exhibition
UMass Lowell at Michigan
FYI: A bad back hasn’t kept Mitch McGary from making five preseason All-America teams: AP, USA Today, Sporting News, Athlon Sports, Blue Ribbon
Lehigh at Minnesota
FYI: It was an exhibition. But Gophers’ 101-67 rout of Concordia-St. Paul marked the first time they reached 100 points since 2003.
St. John’s vs. Wisconsin
FYI: Keep an eye on touted freshman Nigel Hayes, who had five offensive rebounds in his exhibition debut
Florida Gulf Coast at Nebraska
FYI: Keep an eye on Texas Tech transfer Terran Petteway, who had 10 points in 17 minutes in an exhibition runaway against Nebraska-Kearney
UNC Wilmington at Iowa
FYI: Fans have taken notice of Fran McCaffery’s rebuilding job. More than 10,000 season tickets have been sold for the first time since 2002-03 season.
Morgan State at Ohio State
FYI: Aaron Craft needs 50 assists to pass Jamar Butler for the top spot on the Buckeyes’ career list
Eastern Illinois at Northwestern
FYI: Chris Collins will rely heavily on fifth-year senior Drew Crawford, the Wildcats’ 10th all-time leading scorer (1,418 points)
Wagner College at Penn State
FYI: Every Penn State fan — and there are dozens — can’t wait for Tim Frazier’s return