If you haven't watched a college game on TV yet, let me introduce you to the reference announcers are making over and over -- the NCAA rule change.
It was less of a rule change, and more just a focus on enforcing the rules already in existence. The NCAA clamped down on handchecks over the offseason in an effort to open up the driving lanes and increase scoring. The average amount of points scored in Division I games last season bottomed out at 67.5, the lowest it has been since 1982.
So the NCAA made it easier to score, theoretically. Here is what they want the referees to call 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
There have been horror stories to open the season as coaches and players have to adjust the defensive game that they once thought was legal. The Louisville Cardinals first exhibition game lasted two and a half hours and featured 64 fouls. Seton Hall and Niagara combined for more fouls than field-goals in their first game. Over the first few games of the college season, the average mens game had 42 fouls called -- about seven more than at the same time last season.
For the Zags, the rule change has been seamless. Through two games this season, Gonzaga has been called for 37 fouls. Through the first two games of last season, the Zags were called for 37 fouls. Over the course of last season, Gonzaga averaged 15.7 personal fouls a game.
One of the big reasons you might hear the national announcers mention the changes less when Gonzaga is televised, or at least stretching a lot more to make it relevant goes with the type of defense Gonzaga plays, or the failings of the defense they sometimes don't play.
Teams that are top notch perimeter defenders and clog the passing and driving lanes will have to adapt. Teams like Louisville and Syracuse who rely on suffocating defense will have to adapt. Gonzaga has never had the athletes to pull off a zone as fearsome as Syracuse, nor has the speed to cover the floor like Louisville. They rarely engage in a full court press like John Calipari constantly calls for. Gonzaga's style of defense, trying to force tough shots and then collapsing on players when they make it inside has the team a leg up on evolving to the game.
The teams' backcourt depth also negates what a lot of programs are having to deal with. The Florida Gators lost to the Wisconsin Badgers on Tuesday to the score of 59-53. Billy Donavan is already dealing with an incredibly short-handed team operating with a couple of seats pushed together in a vain attempt to constitute a bench. In the game, Kasey Hill fouled out with quite a good chunk of time remaining and the Gators trying to make a push for the lead. Hill is the only true point guard on the Gators squad, and without him, their offense sputtered.
Gonzaga has the luxury of a very deep backcourt, and the best part of that backcourt is David Stockton. Between him and Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga has 10 fouls to give. Although there is a definite downgrade in terms of points from Pangos to Stockton, you can't deny Stockton's vision and passing abilities are more than enough to keep him running point if Pangos were to find himself in unnecessary foul trouble.
The person(s) we might find with more fouls as they adapt would be our two primary, aggressive, on-ball defenders, Gary Bell and (I assume) Gerard Coleman. Although it isn't like the two are interchangeable at will, a focused and confident Kyle Dranginis and Drew Barham are more than enough to keep the team limping along while one of the two sits on the bench with foul trouble.
As the season progresses, coaches and players will adapt to the way the referees are calling the game. Other teams will have to make a bit more of a concerted effort to focus on keeping their hands in check, but Gonzaga shouldn't really have that problem.