The rules have changed: What to expect this season in college basketball

The George Washington men’s basketball team averaged 67 points per game last year. The women’s team averaged about 72 per game.

It’s likely those numbers will rise this year based on some new rules put in place by the NCAA.

The winning team in more than a few Division I men’s games last year scored in the 50-60 point range. So the NCAA decided to reduce the shot clock to 30 seconds from 35 in the men’s game and make it easier for teams to earn free throws in the women’s game. The last time the shot clock changed was in 1993-94 when it moved to 35 seconds from 45. Those are just a few changes that were announced in June and start when the college basketball season tips off Friday.

It’s possible the blame for the changes in the men’s game rests squarely on the shoulders of the University of Virginia, which had 10 wins last year while scoring under 60 points, including a 45-26 win over Rutgers last November. There were more than a few social media jabs thrown when Rutgers led 18-17 at the half. Virginia is ranked sixth in the country according to the Associated Press preseason poll which came out Nov. 2.

Overall, scoring in Division I men’s games dipped to an average of 67.6 points per game last season, nearing historic lows.

On the surface, it looks like the shot clock adjustment will have the biggest impact on scores, but George Washington coach Mike Lonergan (above) isn’t so sure.

“Lowering the shot clock could create more bad shots. Most bad shot are taken in the last seven seconds of the shot clock, and now that’s going to come quicker,” he said at the Atlantic 10 Conference media day earlier this fall. “Thirty seconds is going to come quick.”

It will be interesting to see if reducing the shot clock encourages defenses to move further away from the basket in an effort to disrupt opposing offenses sooner. Lonergan said his team might employ its 1-3-1 zone defense a little more often and pick up the other team’s point closer to half court.

“I think it'll help us,” said Tyler Cavanaugh, a transfer to GW from Wake Forest who had to sit out last season. “It should favor defensive teams who like to do three-quarter court presses. ... Then they only have 20 seconds instead of 25 when they cross half court."

When players and coaches talk about speeding up the game, they’re not just talking about more possessions, but they’re talking about reducing banging on the court and encouraging more free-flowing possessions.

“We need to clean the game up,” said Belmont head coach Rick Byrd, who served as chair of the rules committee. “It's too physical. We need to call fouls that are fouls.”

The NCAA will ask its officials to more strictly enforce directives related to perimeter defense — put on the books for the 2013-14 season. Also, if a defensive player wants to establish position near the basket and take a charge, he’ll have to do it closer to the foul line. The “restricted area arc” will be moved one foot further from the basket.

"Basketball was never intended to be a contact sport. That's what football is," said Curtis Shaw, Conference USA's coordinator of officials. "Basketball was supposed to be a game where athletes could play, could move freely, could execute their offense and could have a free-flowing basketball game.”

In the women’s game, the major change is moving to four 10-minute quarters from two 20-minute halves and adjusting the “bonus” foul shot accordingly. Now teams will shoot twice after the fifth team foul of each quarter. In the past, a “one-and-one” free throw came on the seventh foul of the half, while the double bonus free throw came with the 10th foul.

The assumption is that there will be more free throws, which should boost points for teams that that shoot well from the line. George Washington’s women’s team only made 68-percent of their free throws last season, and they’re been putting extra emphasis on practicing those shots during the preseason, said Lauren Chase, a shooting guard. Dayton led the conference at 74.4 percent last season.

“It puts a greater emphasis on making sure you have the ball in the right people’s hands to shoot those free throws,” said Jonathan Tsipis, GW’s women’s coach (above).

But Chase suggested the threat of players getting a pair of free throws early in each quarter could cause defenses to back off, boosting scoring.

“We have to be more mindful, because we are an aggressive defensive team. Making sure we don’t put other teams in that situation where they’re already shooting two shots, basically five minutes into the game. We don’t want to give away points,” she said.

Other new rules include how timeouts can be called throughout the game, whether coaches can call those timeouts, and when timeouts trigger a commercial break for television games. Tsipis said his team’s preseason conditioning intervals are now based on five minutes of action before a timeout instead of four.

The last significant change in the women’s game is that with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter or overtime, a team will be able to call timeout after a made basket, rebound or change of possession and re-start the game with the ball on the offensive side of the court. This should increase the chance for dramatic, game-winning shots that get replayed on highlight shows.

Overall, Tsipis thinks the rule adjustments will have a positive effect on the sport.

“People want to be able to see the ball go through the basket,” Tsipis said. “Even when you see a score and you haven’t seen the game, you’ll say ‘wow, there are a lot more women’s games being played in the ’70s and ’80s.’”

Above: Belmont coach Rick Byrd, chair of the NCAA rules committee courtesy of WZTV Fox 17 in Nashville. Houston's Kelvin Sampson and ECU's Jeff Lebo from AAC media day. Bakersfield's Rod Barnes and Grand Canyon's Dan Majerle from WAC media day.
Middle: George Washington men's basketball coach Mike Lonergan. (Courtesy of GWU Athletics)
Below: George Washington women's basketball coach Jonathan Tsipis. (Courtesy of GWU Athletics)

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