UK Men's Basketball

NCAA proclaims progress in reducing physical play

Mississippi State Bulldogs forward Johnny Zuppardo (4) lost the ball under the basket as he tried to pass over Kentucky Wildcats forward Derek Willis (35).
Mississippi State Bulldogs forward Johnny Zuppardo (4) lost the ball under the basket as he tried to pass over Kentucky Wildcats forward Derek Willis (35). mcornelison@herald-leader.com

After the loss at Auburn on Saturday, Kentucky Coach John Calipari said that referees “didn’t have the stomach” to continue to call fouls. On Tuesday, the NCAA proclaimed progress being made in reducing physical play through the calling of fouls.

An NCAA release said that scoring has increased 5.42 points per game this season compared to last season, and 5.26 points at a similar juncture in conference play.

In addition, foul calls in January have increased by about a half-foul per game compared to December. “Which may be considered a positive sign that officials are staying committed to the officiating directives with the start of conference play.”

Calipari charged the referees with backing away from the so-called new rules, which were designed to reduce physical play, enable freer player movement and increase scoring and the sport’s appeal.

“We’ve got to go back to football practice,” Calipari said. “The stuff about the rules ... they didn’t have the stomach to continue it.”

Coincidentally, Kentucky relies on its guards driving to the basket. The new rules were promoted as a way to prevent defenders from impeding drives through physical contact.

Calipari suggested that defenders have been putting hands on the offensive player and using hip checks to blunt drives. “That’s automatic fouls” that go uncalled, he said.

“So we’re just going to go back like I did in 2013. Put on the football helmets and let’s go.”

Mississippi State Ben Howland also suggested that the referees are not calling as tightly as they did earlier in the season. In saying his team would abandon the zone defense and return to his signature strategy of man-to-man, Howland said, “I think there’s been a happy medium reached again where they’ve allowed kids to play hard.”

Joseph R. Catiglione, the athletic director at Oklahoma and the chair of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, proclaimed just the opposite.

“The statistical trends show progress has been made,” he said in a news release. “There is a long way to go, but we knew from the beginning this was going to be a process that would take many years to develop the desired consistency we need to achieve.

“We are more than half way through the regular season, and we are encouraged with where we are. Now, we need to stay the course through the rest of the season, including the (NCAA) tournament.”

In the 2014-15 season, scoring decreased for the 14th time in 21 years, the NCAA release said. This led to the so-called new rules. The shot clock going from 35 to 30 seconds drew the most attention.

But Castiglione said an effort to reduce physical play was the more pressing problem.

“So while we are encouraged, we can’t be satisfied,” Castiglione said of the increase in scoring and fouls called.

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