Kentucky's game against Cleveland State on Monday night brings together two distinct reactions to referees calling more fouls this season.
UK Coach John Calipari applauds the effort to increase scoring and appeal for fans by reducing physical play. In theory, greater offensive flow produces more crowd-pleasing action.
"I think the direction we're going in officiating (is) long overdue," he said Friday. "I'm just hoping the coaches that are coaching their teams to play this way don't get punished as the year goes on because they start calling it rough again. ... You want to reward the coaches who did what you asked them to do."
If anything, Calipari called for even more whistles. He complained about how opponents can "whack down" on a player holding the ball in the low post (read: Julius Randle). "And say the hand is part of the ball," he said. "Really?"
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
By contrast, Cleveland State Coach Gary Waters views the new officiating as an affront to the game of basketball. Defenders are neutered. The essence of competition gets shunted aside. Games dissolve into a free-throw shooting contest.
"It's not the way basketball was meant to be played," he said. "... I think we're overreacting to something."
You can guess which coach is synonymous with a Dribble-Drive offense and shot-blocking (Calipari), and which coach stresses tough, body-on-body defense (Waters).
The Cleveland State coach acknowledged his preference.
"I'm from Detroit," he said. "Back in Detroit, we played a physical kind of game. My philosophy has always been pressure. I've been an advocate of defense. That's been me."
The tough guy from Detroit had his perception of basketball sharpened a decade ago during six seasons in the Big East Conference as coach of Rutgers.
"That is as physical defense as you're going to get," he said. "You learn. Now you have evolved, if you want to call it that, and all of a sudden, over night, they're saying throw all that stuff away."
Statistics cited in The Wall Street Journal Thursday suggested the new officiating is doing what was intended. According to KPI Competition Analytics, points per game have increased 9.2 percent, the newspaper reported. As a bonus, the average length of games involving top 25 teams so far this season had decreased by four minutes. However, the newspaper suggested such games could get longer when conference play begins because there will likely be fewer blowouts.
Yet Waters isn't the only coach to question the new style of officiating.
After an 82-74 loss at UTEP Wednesday, Colorado State Coach Larry Eustachy questioned the rationale behind calling more fouls.
"It's about money," he said on his post-game radio show. "Let's face it, they want scoring up, which means they want more fans, so it's really not about the student-athlete and that's why I got into this profession — the student-athlete."
Waters' bona fides as a coach who stresses defense and physical play are well established. UK fans may remember when Cleveland State played the Cats in Cancun, Mexico early in the 2009-10 season. The two teams combined for 24 fouls in the first half. UK's DeMarcus Cousins received a technical foul for throwing an intentional elbow at Cleveland State's Jared Cunnington. Cleveland State's D'Aundray Brown was called for an intentional foul after pulling John Wall to the court to prevent a breakaway score.
Going into its game Saturday against Robert Morris, Cleveland State averaged 25 fouls per game. The Vikings were whistled for 34 fouls at Eastern Michigan. Two opponents — Eastern Michigan and UT Arlington — combined to made 49 of 73 free throws against Cleveland State.
"I bet you free throws have gone up two-thirds," Waters said. "That's why you've got more scoring. If you want to watch a game and see who is the best free-throw shooter, that's the kind of game you watch."
Statistics can be cited that suggest Waters was conservative in his estimate, as least as it pertains to Kentucky.
Through five games, Kentucky's opponents are averaging 27.8 fouls. Last season, opponents averaged 19.8 fouls. The Cats are shooting an average of 39 free throws this season. That compares to 22.9 last season.
Waters questioned whether the new style of officiating lessens the importance of judgment. Referees become "robots" reacting to, say, a defender's hand on an offensive player. "You're telling the official, 'You can't think the game,'" he said.
Not just complaining, Waters volunteered alternative ideas to boost scoring and/or please fans.
■ A shorter shot clock will increase the number of possessions and the potential for scoring.
■ Allow players six fouls rather than five in order to keep stars on the court.
Meanwhile, Waters, who chuckled about "venting" to a reporter, admitted he and other like-minded coaches must adapt to a new reality.
"We have to do something," he said. "But I don't like it. I really don't like it."
Cleveland State at No. 4 Kentucky
When: 7 p.m. Monday | TV: FS South
Records: Cleveland State 3-2, Kentucky 4-1
Series: Kentucky leads 1-0
Last meeting: UK won 73-49 on Nov. 24, 2009
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
John Clay's live blog: Follow at johnclay.bloginky.com
Twitter updates: @JerryTipton and @johnclayiv