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Kentucky Basketball: Examining the Proposed NCAA Basketball Rule Changes

The NCAA has proposed a number of rule changes for next year, but will they help or hurt?

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Comes now news about some changes in college basketball. We all knew some of these were coming primarily due to all the sturm und drang we saw this season about the state of college basketball. Many in the commentariat complained that the sport was "unwatchable" due to the emphasis on defense, the physicality of the game and the relatively low number of possessions.

Earlier this week, the NCAA Men’s Basketball rules committee put forth a number of proposed changes. Most of these are summarized in this article on the NCAA website, as well as the rationale for making the changes. Let’s take a few minutes and analyze the proposals.

Most obvious changes

Shot clock reduction from 35 seconds to 30 seconds

This is no doubt the most talked-about change. In isolation, we have seen what shot clock reductions have done to college basketball in the past, and when combined with the physicality of the game, reducing the shot clock favors the defense. It ensures more possessions, for sure, and you would think that would favor more scoring. With all things being equal, of course it does. But it doesn’t take a genius to know that if your efficiency is 1 point per possession and you increase possessions by 14%, you’re just going to make the score higher, not necessarily produce a more exciting game. Let’s do the math:

Parameter 35 sec. 30 sec.
D-I avg point/pos 1.02 1.02
D-I avg poss/game 65 75
D-I avg points/game 66 77

Disclaimer: I held the efficiency constant, but I’m skeptical that it will be. More on that to follow.

So on its face, it looks like it will accomplish the goal of increasing scores. But will it make for better basketball? Honestly, for the critics of the game who’s main complaint was scores like 57-49, maybe it will. Making that score 66-57 might just address that superficial complaint to a significant degree.

But will it mean better basketball? In isolation, I doubt it. Last time college basketball reduced the shot clock, it also reduced offensive efficiency. It’s likely that this one will do so as well — how is it possible that a team defending well for 35 seconds will not defend even better for only 30? Also, and this has been mentioned elsewhere, coaches will have an incentive to add soft presses to force the offense to take as many as ten seconds off the clock just to get the ball into the front court, giving the offense only 20 seconds to find a shot. with five seconds less, that makes a soft press much more attractive as a defensive strategy.

The test for me will be efficiency. If it dips below 1 point per possession, we know that the change is at least a short-term failure. Less efficient basketball will be "uglier" than it is right now, which by the lights of many is pretty darn ugly.

Expanded restricted arc from three to four feet

This change is intended to reduce the amount of contact around the basket area. In isolation, it will probably do that, at least to some degree. But Mike DeCourcy points out that coaches are likely to adapt very quickly to this change:

Perhaps [it will work], but coaches will teach secondary defenders to take a different path to cut off drives, a path that leads them away from the arc that now extends to four feet from the basket. With the charge call still incentivized, the occasions may decrease a bit, but what some of us call "charbage" will continue to reign.

I’m not quite as negative about that, but I do think his point is a fair one. I suspect we will still see "charbage," but any reduction would be most welcome.

Other changes

Changes to timeout rules

The committee voted to:

  • Remove one team timeout from the second half, and allow only three timeouts to be carried over to the second half;

  • Changing the media timeout procedures to make any timeout called within 30 seconds before and anytime after a scheduled media break a media timeout rather than charging it to the team;

  • Removing the ability of a coach to call a live ball timeout.

I see all of these as unalloyed positives, but they may not go far enough. I’d also change a first and 2nd half timeout from a full to a 30-second timeout. But we’ll see.

Other rule changes
  • Allowing only ten seconds to get the ball across half court, except under "certain circumstances," which I assume to include backcourt non-shooting fouls and possibly timeouts. This would also incentivize teams to include presses in their defense.

  • Changing Class B technical fouls (hanging on the rim, delay of game) to one shot vs. two. I think this is a good minor change. It used to be this way, but somewhere along the line, they changed all technical fouls to two shots.

  • Eliminating the 5-second closely-guarded rule. I think that’s a good change in concert with the reduced shot clock and expanded restricted area. It takes away a defensive advantage to make up for the inherent advantage of a shorter shot clock and expanded restricted area.

  • Allow the officials to review shot clock violations anytime. Too late for Nigel Hayes’ shot against us, sadly.

  • Removing the prohibition on pre-game dunking. I don’t give a whit about this, but it does reduce the propensity for games started with technical foul shots.

  • Reducing the time to replace a disqualified player (this was being used as a de-facto timeout) and strictly enforcing return-to-play orders by officials.

  • Penalizing faking fouls (i.e. the Chris Jones rule) — We still don’t have a definitive idea of what the penalty will be, but I assume foul faking will be at minimum a Class B technical.

    I think it should be called the exact foul the player was trying to draw. For example, if it would’ve been a common foul had it actually been committed rather than faked, the faker should be called with a common foul. In the case of Chris Jones, since he was trying to draw at least a Flagrant One foul, I think he should’ve been assessed a Flagrant One.

Experimental rule — six fouls

This is proposed to be offered in the 2016 post-season NIT. I think it’s worth a look.

Interpretation changes

To me, this is the most important part of the discussion. The rules committee proposed essentially returning to 2013-14 with the rules interpretations in respect of:

  • Freedom of movement by players without the ball;

  • Perimeter defense and strictly enforcing the 2013-14 interpretations (2 hands on the ballhandler, arm bars, constant forearms or hands, jabbing at the ball).

  • Physicality in the post;

  • Moving screens;

  • Block/charge plays (note that they are not returning to the proposed NCAA rule changes 2013-14 interpretation of the charge and remaining with the current interpretation);

One thing they propose this time is making these items explicit personal fouls instead of just providing "guidelines." I actually think this is a helpful change and a very good idea to codify the changes in the rules rather than just tell the officials to look out for them.

Without a good implementation of these changes, the 30-second clock will not make for better games and we will simply be stuck with lower overall offensive efficiency and more possessions. That will produce an even worse product than the current one (based on the sensibilities of the offended, not necessarily including your humble correspondent) with the exception of marginally higher scores. I don’t think increasing scores but making defenses even tougher will achieve anything meaningful.

But if the officials implement the changes stringently, there are going to be growing pains — lots of 60-foul games, a parade to the line, and some general ugliness until the coaches finally figure out the NCAA is serious. If we make these changes, then abandon the officiating like we did back two seasons ago, this will be a catastrophe for all concerned.

So while there is reason for optimism, these changes are by no means a panacea. Execution is everything, and the recent record of the officiating crews does not leave a lot of room for optimism in that regard. However, the NCAA does have a new supervisor of officials, and perhaps he will be able to do a better job herding cats than John Adams, the former supervisor, did.

Let’s hope.