To help acclimate his players to the changes in officiating this coming season, Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland brought in three Southeastern Conference referees to work a scrimmage.
The result: 56 fouls. Fallou Ndoye, a sophomore from Senegal, "fouled out twice," Howland said. "He had 10. It's worrisome."
After digesting the more than 25 rules changes, Kentucky Coach John Calipari has concerns. He downplayed the significance of the change that created the most media buzz: shortening the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds. But he questioned why a player will be able to monopolize the ball by dribbling even though he was closely guarded. Why is this now possible? Because the five-second violation is no longer in effect if the offensive player keeps dribbling.
"Now, you can dribble 20 seconds, then you square up and start to play," he said. "Is that what we want? I don't know why they did that."
Jake Bell, the coordinator for SEC officials and newly elected president of coordinators for the country's 32 Division I conferences, said the changes were made for three main reasons:
■ Speed up the pace of play. The shot clock reduced to 30 seconds. Generally calling more fouls when there is contact in the hopes of players and coaches adjusting, thus creating a more artistic and free-flowing style of basketball.
■ Reduce the number of times play stops. A reduction of 30-second timeouts from four to three, with only two permitted in the second half. A 30-second timeout called within 30 seconds of a scheduled television timeout will be extended and counted as a television timeout. Therefore, no more stoppages of play twice within, say, a minute: Once for the team's timeout, then again for TV commercials.
■ Maintain a competitive balance between offense and defense. Hand-checking and bumping of cutters is supposed to result in fouls. Giving players freedom of movement is the guiding philosophy. But the offensive player cannot "seek out" the defender by leaning into the defender's space. Pressing defenses get rewarded by not re-starting the 10-second limit on offenses getting the ball across half-court, with some exceptions.
Howland, whose teams are known for tough, physical defense, suspected another reason. "More scoring," he said. "More flow. Better for TV."
Kentucky's opening game Friday against Albany gives fans a chance to judge. But, of course, they've had three chances already: the Blue-White Game, then exhibitions against Ottawa and Kentucky State. Except for the clock operator and referees botching the change involving television timeouts in the first half of the Blue-White Game, the action looked the same.
"You're not seeing a great deal of difference," ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg said.
Still, SEC coaches are leery.
Of the shorter shot clock, Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said, "We're going to see a lot more bad shots."
Georgia Coach Mark Fox said the shorter shot clock was the result of media "really beating the drum." He said he did not expect scoring to increase. "Great defensive teams have to guard five fewer seconds," he said.
Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl questioned the need to speed up games or increase scoring.
"I'm not a big fan," he said. "I like our game. I don't think we have to apologize for offense being down. Defense is up."
South Carolina Coach Frank Martin suggested a shorter shot clock would lead to teams playing similar styles.
"The more you shorten the shot clock, the more you eliminate styles of play," he said.
Howland agreed with the contention that playing styles may homogenize. "I think that's terrible," he said. "I think that's sad."
More than one SEC coach linked the changes to the NBA, which underwent a similar metamorphosis from defensive struggle to offensive competition about 20 years ago. More fouls were called. Defenses adjusted. Cash registered rung.
"What they're trying to do is make it like the NBA game," Howland said.
While dismissing the shot clock going from 35 to 30 seconds, Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said, "The guys who would go to 24 seconds are the guys that had pros. Because they have five guys who can go manufacture a basket. I had five (such players) in my 10 years. I need time to get it to the right guy."
Many coaches, including Calipari, predicted more zone defenses. A zone may reduce fouling, thus keeping a team's better offensive players on the court. Howland suggested a zone also is an unintended consequence of the rule changes.
"You're going to have more zone, which I think slows the game down," he said. "In order to attack a zone, you've got to get it stretched side to side to get it to open up."
Howland said coaches need more time to work with players on the offensive basics of passing, shooting and screening.
"That's the answer to becoming better offensively," he said. "And no one's getting that."
Of course, college basketball tried to reduce physical play and increase scoring two seasons ago. The resulting abundance of fouls and free throws (UK and North Carolina fouled 57 times and shot 88 free throws) led to such an outcry, the referees abandoned the effort.
No one expects that to happen again. J.D. Collins, the new NCAA National Coordinator of Men's Basketball Officiating, is committed to the changes through the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Referees who do not follow the new rules will lessen their chances of working NCAA Tournament games. "A lot," Bell said.
"It's different this time," Stallings said. "Officials will stick with it. The coaches must adjust."