We have seen the effects of the officiating in college basketball. Whether you’re a coach, a player, a parent, or a fan, the stricter enforcement of rules has had significant impacts on the games. Players have the biggest adjustments to make. They have to learn to play the game differently. Referees are having to adjust to what has been comfortable for them. Coaching is about adjustments, and we need to make them as well. Fans may never adjust, but that’s ok. That’s why we love them.
If nothing else, games take longer to play. Calling more fouls means the clock stops more. Calling more fouls means more free throws. Calling more fouls means more disqualifications. Instead of finishing a game in less than 90 minutes, games are taking two hours to complete. Players who have grown accustomed to playing defense with their hands are having trouble staying in games.
Games are not the same in other ways too, but this post isn’t about that. This post is not an endorsement of the new officiating standards. It is also not a criticism of them. I am hopeful that this will help make the game better. However, I can’t control the officials. I never have and I never will. This isn’t about any of that stuff. I’m just interested in what I can control.
What can coaches do to help their teams adjust and/or take advantage of the current situation? What can coaches do to adjust to the new environment in college basketball?
1. Emphasize Attacking the Basket
The hardest players to guard are the ones that attack the rim. While everyone loves a shooter, they are much easier to guard than someone who can get to the basket. If you can take away a shooter’s space, you can take away a shooter. It’s hard to take away a player’s ability to attack the rim. You can give them space, but that just means you’re giving them more time and space to evaluate defense.
Players who can attack off the dribble have the opportunity to cause significant problems for opposing defenders. This doesn’t mean that they will score 25 points per game. It only means that they can put added pressure on defenders who are already worried that they are going to get called for a foul. Teaching players how to attack off the dribble as well as what to do when their teammate attacks provides offenses the ability to capitalize on defensive shortcomings. It also changes a player’s mentality on how they play the game.
2. Emphasize Help Side Defense and Rotations
It was hard to guard ball handlers before these new enforcements came into effect. Now it’s gotten even more difficult. While some players may adjust quickly to the new rules and while some players may still be stellar on ball defenders, many players will struggle guarding the ball. This means that having a solid help side defensive philosophy combined with disciplined rotations is critical. There’s no way that most players will be able to guard the ball well all the time. Help defenses and rotations following help are even more important to good team defense.
3. Emphasize Rebounding
As much as defensive players have to adjust, offensive players will have to adjust to. Offensive players are used to playing through contact more than they are now. As defensive players try to avoid fouls, offensive players are still expecting more contact than they are getting. While this may help the game in the long run, I would expect shooting percentages to drop at least initially until players get used to it. In any case, I would expect teams to shoot more shots since there will be less turnovers. Since I doubt the skill level has adapted to these changes, I would expect more missed shots. More missed shots obviously means more rebounds. Controlling the glass is even more important.
4. Simplify Offense
I’ve seen more illegal screens called in the past two weeks than I’ve seen in two years. Screening seems like a risky business these days. This seems especially true with ball screens. With so much attention on the ball handler and the on ball defender, an illegal ball screen is going to get called pretty quickly. Since it’s more difficult to guard the ball, ball handlers will have an easier time getting into the lane without a ball screen. This means they will draw help defense more easily and create openings for their teammates without the risk of getting called for an illegal screen.
5. Special Situations (Dead Balls and Free Throws)
I would love some stats on the numbers of dead ball situations that occur compared to earlier seasons. It has become more important to execute on out-of-bounds situations, whether it’s on offense or defense. Do we have ways to score in these situations? Do we have the right players designated to throw the ball in bounds? Do we have players who can get open under pressure? Do we practice taking advantage of these situations defensively and use 5 players to guard 4?
Making free throws is obviously more important, but it’s also become important to make sure that missed free throws are rebounded consistently. There are going to be a lot more free throws which means there will be a lot more missed free throws. Do we have offensive plays to help us rebound a missed free throw? Do we practice securing that defensive rebound on a missed shot from the charity stripe?