Yes, folks. Even though the new hand-check rules the NCAA put in place seem like a problem, what with exhibitions finishing with 70 free throws off a billion fouls, everyone needs to chill.
As with all new rules: 1.) Referees have a hard time calling them the right way at first and 2.) Teams have a hard time adjusting their style of play to it. However, once teams adjust, it will improve a major problems that arose last season.
The first was, believe or not, all the fouls. Last year, refs were just calling one-on-one fouls with no basis other than the one that has stood for years. That is, you can’t physically impede the process of the ball-handler and going for steals is now an even bigger gamble. This led to maximum drives to the basket and a subsequent spike in free throw attempts. Well, think about this: There’s now a set rule. Meaning it’s now in the books that hand-checking is to be at a minimum.
After teams adjust, the good ones at least, we’ll start to see smarter defense by the teams that know how to play smart defenses. Meaning the Louisville’s, Kansas’ and VCUs of the world. You’ll definitely see more blowouts as a result, but that’s the nature of the game. Adapt or die.
So once teams realize that calling hand-check fouls is no longer subjective according to which referees have their game, they’ll start to figure out how to beat ball-handlers to spots for charges (which is also slightly altered this season) and to cut off lanes. They’ll learn to keep active arms and slide consistently, switch on screens and communicate. They’ll slap the floor, hike the shorts and focus in on staying in front of their man, rather than just trying to get the bump to keep them back.
That, in turn, will improve scoring. With less contact means more space, and the faster, guard-oriented teams will take advantage of the extra area to slash. Physical teams such as West Virginia and South Carolina (the product of physically-dominant coaches in Bob Huggins and Frank Martin) will suffer, but that may also force them to play zone, another adjustment.
Keep in mind this (obviously) won’t be immediate. But when looking at what this rule could mean, come February, this might be the one recent change the NCAA got right.