In an effort to ratchet up scoring and swing the offense-defense paradigm back toward the middle, the NCAA instructed its officials to begin emphasizing hand checks and other calls on defense. Saturday night's Coaches vs. Cancer Classic contest between Seton Hall and Niagara is what happens when an NCAA mandate goes too far.
Seton Hall scored a 83-72 win, but the story coming out of the season opener is undoubtedly the 73 personal fouls called between the teams. Brendan Prunty of The Star-Ledger tweeted out the official box score, which highlighted the whopping 102 free-throw attempts from the two sides:
The all-time record for combined free throws in a game is 130, set on Jan. 26, 1953, in a game between Northern Arizona and Arizona. Neither team had an overwhelming advantage at the line—Seton Hall shot 52 times compared to Niagara's 50—so Northern Arizona's single-game record of 79 was never in jeopardy.
What was in jeopardy, however, was the integrity of the game. The officiating crew on hand set the tone early with whistles, calling fouls on the most basic bumps and disrupting the flow for both sides. As noted by college basketball writer Jerry Carino, there was a stretch of nearly six minutes in the first half where neither team scored a field goal but took a combined 20 free-throw attempts.
In total, there were 40 first-half fouls called, and things didn't get better in the second half. Despite both sides backing off on defense, an additional 33 fouls were tacked on in the second half as the game stretched on well beyond the two-hour mark.
The Pirates kept a steady lead throughout the contest, in large part thanks to Sterling Gibbs. The sophomore guard scored a team-high 23 points on just 3-of-5 shooting, as his 17-of-23 performance from the free-throw line led the way. Antoine Mason of Niagara also had a night to remember, attempting 20 free throws en route to a game-high 34 points.
Ball-handling guards received an overwhelming number of the calls, with hand-checking and reaches representing a majority of the whistles.
Banished from the NBA before the 2004-05 season, hand-checking became a point of emphasis for NCAA officials this summer. In June, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel met and outlined their points of emphasis, which included a new interpretation on block/charge calls.
As teams and officials adjust to the new rules, it seems high foul totals are going to be more common. Eric Prisbell of USA Today highlighted an exhibition between Louisville and Kentucky Wesleyan last Tuesday where 64 fouls were called.
SMU coach and Hall of Famer Larry Brown called the rule changes "scary," according to Prisbell, and indicated that this may fundamentally alter how college basketball is played.
If games like Seton Hall-Niagara are any indication, one has to wonder if these changes are for the better.
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