NCAA Basketball Rule Changes, ACC Officiating: Too Much 'New' For SU?

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The 2013-14 Syracuse Men's Basketball team will have to deal with new NCAA rules and new conference officials. These changes will impact the Orange, but probably not how you think they will.

Of all the new things about the 2013-14 men's basketball season, there's something we haven't really talked about: the NCAA's new rules.

FYI, the rules didn't change to "allow more offensive freedom," or "provide clarity for officials." That's all Illuminati nonsense. They were changed because the TNIAAM contingent made so much damn noise about that charge called on Brandon Triche. Think I'm kidding? Check out the headline photo from the NCAA's article announcing the amendments. (h/t Jeremy Ryan)

So, I found a video the NCAA put out about the major rule changes. It's long (30 minutes), but it's chock-full of highlights from last year's games, including four (!) ‘Cuse cameos, explaining how calls should be made under the new rules. You'll see the block/charge (16:42), flagrant fouls (21:04), and hand-checking (25:50), among tons of others. Go nuts.

Block/Charge Rule

If you skipped the video, here's the new block/charge rule:

[W]hen a player begins his upward motion to pass or shoot, the defender must be in legal guarding position.

The call is determined earlier now. The "upward motion" can start as far back as the foul line for players with longer strides. FWIW, if this had been in place earlier, C.J. Fair's dunk against St. John's would never have been an offensive foul. Just sayin'. Aaaand that about sums up how this new rule will affect Syracuse's offense.

On defense, the zone will come in handy. It is anchored somewhere between the restricted circle and the foul line, depending on a whole mess of things, which I'm not getting into right now. Ain't nobody got time for that. The center is basically holding legal guarding position already, so as long as he stays put when someone drives the basket, he'll make a nice wall.

In theory.

Every bit of contact is drawing a whistle right now. Jim Boeheim said as much after the Fordham game. Some of the fouls are for hand-checking (we'll get there in a second), but as for the block/charge call, Syracuse just needs to get used to planting their feet earlier to adjust to the earlier timing.

I get that guards or wings who get set too early/too far out in the zone risk someone easily driving by them. However, even if that happens, the structure of the 2-3 means that the center, or whoever slid into that spot for him, is (presumably) in position to keep defending. It's like a second bite at the apple. This won't happen perfectly all the time, but it is a part of Syracuse's defense that should be used more to make this adjustment easier.

Hand-Checking

Well that was nice and uncomplicated. Now, onto the fun stuff.

The following types of personal fouls should be called consistently:

• When a defensive player keeps a hand or forearm on an opponent
• When a defensive player puts two hands on an opponent
• When a defensive player continually jabs by extending his arm(s) and placing a hand or forearm on the opponent
• When a player uses an arm bar to impede the progress of an opponent

The hand-checking rules apply to players both on and off the ball, but there are a lot of places where the NCAA only talks about the on-ball defender. In addition to their video (at 6:50 and 24:59), they have this nice little caveat (bold emphasis added):

Note that simply touching the player with the ball is not an automatic foul.

Ok, this is where I start to get sassy. They didn't say "simply touching a player is not an automatic foul." See that? So, while there should still be hand-check calls away from the ball, the emphasis is clearly on the ball handler's freedom of movement.

Not surprisingly, people don't get this. They're freaking out about allll the limitations on everyyy defender, and how it's this huuuge offensive advantage. It's true that defenders can't be as handsy now, but it's not like an offensive player who's particularly grabby when screening a cutter won't get a foul. It's not going to be a free-for-all at the hoop, so slow your roll.

All things considered, I see it like this: if officials call the same amount of fouls away from the ball, whether offensive or defensive, as they call against on-ball defenders, they're missing the point. If the goal is to "create offensive flow" by protecting the ball handler, more calls should be against on-ball defenders.

This will impact Syracuse's frontcourt on defense the most, especially on drives. When our defenders collapse and rotate, they tend to put a hand on the driving player and keep it there until he shoots or a passes. Well, when does "simply touching" a player, which isn't a foul, become "keeping a hand" on him? The rules tell us nothing.

On a quick drive against the zone, I doubt we'll see calls against Syracuse defenders because their hands aren't on a player that long, but there will be problems when players stop in the lane. They get swarmed by two or three defenders, and it will be hard for an official not to blow the whistle with that many hands flailing about.

As for the impact on offense, there isn't as much to say. Syracuse sets a lot of high ball screens, but they're not plowing people over.

Referee Bias

That being said, the officials have discretion, and the hand-checking rules are vague. If you're one of the people who thinks that ACC officials will call more fouls against Syracuse because the ACC is less physical, these calls will be the best place for you, my lovely conspiracy theorists, to find inconsistency.

I don't think it will be an issue, though, and here's why: on an ESPNU College Basketball Podcast over the summer, West Virginia's Bob Huggins talked about how the officiating is really different in the Big 12 because the league is less physical than the Big East. Well, WVU went to a new conference alone, so anything even remotely aggressive stood out that much more.

Syracuse joined the ACC with Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, and Louisville arrives next year. That's a pretty tough group. We call that "strength in numbers" and any physical play will probably seem less egregious if officials are seeing it from more than one team. Besides, I think the officials will be so focused on applying the new rules that any "extra" fouls will be from that.

So, thank the NCAA for creating this little distraction. If we butter them up enough, maybe they'll leave us alone come Tournament time.

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