Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust

After winning a tournament championship, a coach is normally in a good mood, discussing the aspects of the game.  However after defeating Oklahoma to win the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic Championship at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Michigan State's Tom Izzo decided to vent about the new NCAA rules in regards to defense.
"Everybody is going to think points are up. They’re up because free shots are free shots!” Izzo said. “What I’m worried about is are we going to teach [players to] just dribble in and get fouled? Is that good basketball? We had a two hour and 32 minute game tonight. Is that going to be good for basketball?”
Izzo went even further about what his new offense will be after his win over the Sooners.
“What are we going to teach? Are we going to teach the kids to just drive in there? I’m going to coach it this week. Just drive in. I’m going to put on football pads again this week. Not to rebound, but offensively. Just go in there, full back dive, three yards and a cloud of dust.” 
It's never good when a basketball coach decides that his offensive philosophy should be something out of a Woody Hayes' playbook (Google "Woody Hayes").  But is Izzo overreacting or is he on point about what the state of college basketball is with the new rules on defense, specifically the end of the hand check and more difficult to pick up a charge?

To further Izzo's point, my friend Dan Crain, author of the terrific new blog "Dragons Speak", went a little further by breaking down the NCAA rules and how it has affected teams' offenses.  In his post "The New NCAA Rules: Why Dribble Drive is Your Friend", Dan specifically points that scoring inside the arc is up ten percent from last season.  As an example, he points out William and Mary as a team that has changed it's offense from a three point driven squad to one of the better two point field goal teams in the country.   I can verify Dan's point, having watched William and Mary use the two point field goal to their advantage on Thanksgiving Eve.

However, I am going to come at this at a different angle than Dan.  I want to come at it from the angle of how it has affected teams' defensively.   Below is a list of fourteen teams with their fouls per game currently from this season and last season, along with their ranks currently from this season and last season (stats are as of 12/2 and are courtesy of Basketball State). Most of the teams listed I know for the most part play pressure or physical defense.

Team 2013-14 FPG 2012-13 FPG FPG Diff 2013-14 FPG Rank 2012-13 FPG Rank
Niagara 27.9 19.7 +8.1 350 304
Georgetown 24.5 17.3 +7.2 332 151
North Carolina 21.2 14.6 +6.6 248 11
Stony Brook 22.1 15.6 +6.5 282 33
Wagner 25.8 20.5 +5.3 344 331
Marshall 24.6 19.3 +5.3 334 282
Manhattan 26.3 21.1 +5.2 347 340
Drexel 23.7 18.6 +5.1 321 241
Seton Hall 23.8 18.8 +5.0 322 253
Cleveland State 24.6 19.6 +5.0 334 301
Richmond 22.5 19.4 +3.1 295 287
VCU 22.7 19.7 +3.0 302 304
Ohio 22.7 19.7 +3.0 302 304
Michigan State 16.6 16.1 +0.5 28 60

Based on the above, several teams - Georgetown, North Carolina and Stony Brook have been significantly affected by the new rules based on their rankings in fouls per game from this season as compared to last season.  Others have been moderately affected, such as Seton Hall, Drexel and Niagara (who had the biggest jump in fouls on this with +8.1).  Others, such as VCU, Ohio, Richmond and Cleveland State already had a high rate of fouls per game have seen a slight uptick in fouls, though their rankings have remained relatively the same.

Even if you have a slight uptick in the number of fouls, it increases the number of foul shot opportunities. If a team such as Niagara averages 28 fouls per game now as opposed to nearly 20 last season, that averages to 14 per half.  Double bonus starts with the 10th foul, so teams could now be getting possibly at least five double bonus opportunities per half on the Purple Eagles.

Ironically, Michigan State, whose coach has most notably complained the most about the rules, has barely had any change in foul calls.  Perhaps Izzo has already adjusted his team's style of play as opposed to other teams.

But Izzo hasn't been the only head coach to comment about the rules' enforcement.  Manhattan's Steve Masiello commented on enforcement of the new rules after his team lost at Fordham in their annual Battle of the Bronx.
"Tom Izzo said it best. I believe his quote, I don't want to misquote him, but he said after the Barclays Center games that he's going to just tell his players to drive in, create contact, throw the basketball up and worry about foul shooting, because it's taking away defensive advantages for schemes and scouting purposes. I have to learn the rules better and try to do a better job, and I'll do that. If you ask me how I feel, just take Tom Izzo's article, whatever he said, I agree. Steve Masiello agrees with Coach Izzo."
Bashir Mason, "the closest thing you'll find to a wallflower" head coach of Wagner, was so frustrated by the number of fouls called in the Seahawks' loss to UIC (a combined 44 fouls were called in the game, including 5 technical fouls on Wagner), he was ejected during the game after receiving two technical fouls.  Mason commented the following after the game;
"I’ve never been thrown out of a game in my life. Not in high school, not college, not as an assistant and not as head coach...I’d never even had a technical called on me.”
Hmmm. And I saw many of Mason's games vs. Hofstra when he was at Drexel, so I can vouch for him not being the type to get a technical foul.  So if you have several coaches commenting about the enforcement of the rules and one coach so frustrated that he gets the first two technical fouls of his life, there's something wrong.  During last night's Indiana-Syracuse game, commentator and former coach Dan Dakich even noted about how taking away the charge is taking away a defensive style of play.  Dakich finished with "What, you can't even touch someone now?"

Here are some more statistics for you.  Last season, 317 out of 347 Division I NCAA teams averaged less than 20 fouls per game.  This season, only 177 out of 351 Division I NCAA teams are averaging less than 20 fouls per game.  That's a difference of ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY teams.

Think about that for a second.  More fouls means there's more stoppage of play, which means longer games.  I would love to know the average length in time for a basketball game this season as opposed to last.  You would think it has to be longer this season.  Izzo noted that his game vs. Oklahoma took two hours and thirty two minutes.

Three yards and a cloud of dust might be the new offense for college basketball.  A lot of people found that football offense pretty boring during Woody Hayes' time. One has to worry if it will make college basketball pretty boring too.

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