October 27, 2013 1:46:06 AM
STARKVILLE -- Count Mississippi State men's basketball coach Rick Ray in the group of coaches that is concerned about the rule changes coming to the game.
Last week, a video with the rule changes was sent to all Division I coaches. Art Hyland, the secretary rules editor of the NCAA men's basketball rules committee, highlighted the proper enforcement of hand-checking, which has been moved from a guideline into the official rule book.
This point of emphasis could change the opinion of ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, who for years has been criticizing officials for disregard freedom of movement in favor of physical play.
"These are hockey games and we're pretending this is basketball," Bilas said in February after the ESPN broadcast of a Kansas-Texas game. "These players aren't as bad as they're made to look. They look inept because they're getting fouled, and coaches are teaching it because they know referees won't call it. It's embarrassing, and it's hurting the game."
Coaches may not be teaching that kind of play any longer. Ray said he and his staff are teaching players to play a bit differently because officials won't call games this season like they have in the past.
"I'm concerned about it because we pick up the point guard 94 feet and they've told us any kind of hand check is a foul," Ray said. "It's going to be similar to the transition the NBA went through when they were calling all those fouls and there were 50 to 60 free throws in a game."
In the public scrimmage Wednesday at Humphrey Coliseum, MSU sophomore guard Fred Thomas was called for a hand check in the 20-minute session. Thomas was visibly frustrated by the call, but Ray walked his sophomore wing player to the official for a explanation before play resumed.
"It think it's really hard to get down guarding without using your hands," Thomas said. "You have to keep your distance and the refs need to see space between the players. What it also does is make it hard to close out on shooters off screens."
In addition to how hand-checking will be called, other rule changes will force players to keep hands or forearms off opposing players, to prevent them from putting two hands on an opposing player or from jamming an opponent by extending an arm or placing a hand or forearm on them, and not to allow a player to use an arm bar to impede the progress of a dribbler.
"The key issue is accountability," Bilas said. "College basketball is too physical and that needs to be addressed."
Ray recognizes coaches will need to adjust so their players don't pick up fouls early in games.
"They're going to be unrelenting on this," Ray said Oct. 17 at Southeastern Conference Media Days in Birmingham, Ala. "This is not a point of emphasis any longer. This is a foul. I get concerned because I have to ask myself, 'Am I exposing my good point guard to fouls because they're out there on a island guarding a really good player?' You have to think about what you want to do and what you want to teach going forward."
The phrase 'freedom of movement' is one that will be heard a lot during broadcasts of college basketball games this season.
"It's going to be real tough because in the past you could establish your position defensively by bumping a guy initially," MSU sophomore guard Craig Sword said. "Now if you even bump a guy off his path in a cut, that's a foul and it's going to be called. We've practiced a lot with every form of contact is a foul."
With only nine scholarship players (three forwards) to start the season, Ray his team will get into foul trouble as it adapts to the rules.
"Is this going to help a team like Syracuse stay out of foul trouble because they play so much zone?" Ray said. "Will this help a team like VCU that traps in the backcourt and they're not on that island?"
Officials also will have a new take on block-charge calls. The rule now states a defensive player isn't permitted to move into the path of an offensive player once he has begun his upward motion with the ball to attempt a shot or a pass. Previously, the player had to be in legal guarding position when the offensive player lifted off the floor.
"We teach jump stops at Mississippi State and now you have to wonder will everybody stop teaching the skill of jump stops because it's now almost impossible to take a charge," Ray said. "Do you teach bad habits now and just tell players to go barrel in there because it's probably not going to be a charge?"
Ray said Thursday the block-charge call could change the way his post players are taught to work near the low block because a charging foul could become extinct.
"Are you teaching your guys the old Shaquille O'Neal move to get the ball in the post and just drop your shoulder as hard as you can into somebody's chest?" Ray said. "They would never call that a foul. On the perimeter, because of the hand-checking and the refs watching the physicality of the game, are you better served with a guy like Craig Sword, who is a really good penetrator, to just having him drop your shoulder without a recourse because you know that's no longer a foul?"
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
2. Walters column: Prep football season coming closer LOCAL COLUMNS