Rule change already a concern


FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas got a feel for the added emphasis placed on hand-check fouls when Southeastern Conference officials worked a scrimmage last month.

Guard Fred Gulley said the experience produced predictable results for a team that has thrived on its physical, full-court defense. Fouls galore.

“Every possession,” Gulley said. “We’ve got to change some things.”

Arkansas isn’t alone. The sentiment is running rampant around college basketball as the start of the regular season nears because of rules intended to increase scoring and “open the game.” The implementation of the hand check guidelines is expected to produce more whistles, fouls and free throws in the 2013-14 season.

The Razorbacks will get another taste of what they’re dealing with when they open the exhibition season against Missouri Southern in Bud Walton Arena at 7 p.m. tonight. It’s the first of two exhibition games before next Friday’s season opener against SIU-Edwardsville.

Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said the exhibitions give him a chance to evaluate his team against an opponent for the first time. He also believes they’ll show how much of an uphill challenge teams could face because of the hand check changes.

“Well, it’s going to be a major concern with not only our basketball team but a lot of teams,” Anderson said. “Obviously, if they’re going to call all the different hand here, hand there we’re going to be shooting a lot of free throws. We’re going to have a lot of disruption to the game. But we’ve got to be able to make the adjustment.”

The emphasis is a direct result of college basketball’s dwindling production. Scoring dropped to an average of 67.5 points last season, which was the lowest mark since the 1981-82 (67.6 points). Scoring averages have dropped in each of the past four seasons at the Division I level as well, according to the NCAA.

So college basketball made some changes in hopes of reversing the trend.

Simply touching a player with the ball is not an automatic foul, according to the NCAA. Instead, officials will look for four things: Placing and keeping a hand or forearm on an opponent, putting two hands on an opponent, continually jabbing with a hand or forearm, and using an arm bar to impede the process of the dribbler.

The new rules could hurt teams that want to hound opponents from baseline to baseline. Arkansas fits the description with its defense under Anderson, who believes packing it in will become more commonplace around the country

“You’re going to see a lot of teams play zones,” Anderson said. “People will start packing in so they don’t put it on the officials to call some of the touch fouls they’re calling. But you can’t be so concerned about that that you don’t play basketball.”

Anderson said Arkansas won’t stray from plans to play up-tempo this season.

They key for the Hogs is to play smarter defensively to avoid heavy foul trouble.

“We’ll still apply pressure on the ball, but it’s going to make us rely on our help side a little bit more,” Gulley said. “Players will probably get beat off the dribble a little bit more because they’re not being able to use the arm bar and get back in front of them. Some subtle adjustments that make other teams more cautious.”

But Haydar said there would be plenty of trial and error to get used to the new rules.

The senior, who is one of Arkansas’ peskiest defenders, knows he’s on alert.

“I like to get up in people, so it’s something I’m going to have to adjust to,” Haydar said. “But I see no reason why we can’t play the same brand of basketball.”

Arkansas’ risk-reward was apparent last season. The Razorbacks were 13th in the SEC and 320th in the NCAA in personal fouls committed per game (20.3). But they led the SEC in both turnovers forced (17.5) and steals per game (9.2).

Anderson said during his media day press conference that his team shot 66 free throws called during the preseason scrimmage attended by SEC officials last month.

So the Razorbacks are bracing themselves for plenty of whistles early in the season, hoping players and officials will find a happy medium in regard to the new hand check rules as the season wears on.

“Coach said early on in the season they’re going to call tacky-tack fouls,” Arkansas guard Mardracus Wade said. “But after awhile, he thinks it’s going to die down because it’s going to stop the games too much. Games are going to be longer. …

“So hopefully they adjust and we’re for sure going to adjust.”