Scoring up, offensive flow better in college basketball with rule changes

College basketball had become a wrestling match, bogged down by grabbing, pushing and the occasional takedown.

Scoring was down, shooting percentages, too, and the games often had the flow of rush-hour traffic.

Hoping to open the game back up, the NCAA tweaked its rules this season, the emphasis on preventing defenders from impeding offensive players' progress with hand checking and arm barring.

After an initial adjustment period filled with hard-to-watch games, the new rules seem to be having the desired effect, increasing scoring while giving the games better offensive continuity.

"We're very encouraged," NCAA Division I basketball committee chairman Ron Wellman said. "If you look at every offensive statistic, they have improved this year and that's a result of the new interpretation of the rules or the enforcement of the freedom of movement principles."

The changes were put in place after scoring in Division I basketball dropped to 67.5 points per game in 2012-13, the lowest since 1951-52 — long before the shot clock and 3-point shot were added. It was the fourth straight season it had decreased.

Shooting percentages and assists were down, and 3-point shooting was the lowest since the arc was added in 1986.

With the number of foul calls also in decline, the NCAA looked at altering its rules in an attempt to decrease physical play.

No more hand-checking, two hands on an opponent, arm bars or jabbing.

There also was a big change in the block-charge call, requiring the defender to be in place before the offensive player has started his upward motion to attempt a shot or pass. Previously, the defender had to be in defensive position before the offensive player was lifting off the floor.

The new rules weren't exactly new; most had already been in place, but weren't carried out to the letter of the law.

What the NCAA did was ask officials to pay more attention to those calls to free up the game.

The new emphasis had the potential to be the biggest change in college basketball since the addition of the 3-point shot.

Well, the shift hasn't been quite that dramatic.

After an initial feeling-out period, coaches and players adjusted to the way games were being called and the game has become more free-flowing.

Scoring so far this season is up nearly four points per game from 2012-13 to 71.4, according to the basketball analytics website KPI Sports. Shooting percentages in Division I also are up slightly, from 43.3 to 43.9 percent this season.

Of course, fouls are up, too, from 17.7 per game to 19.4, but the consensus seems to be that the new rules have, for the most part, cleaned up the game.

"In the end, open movement offensively is better for our game," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. "That's what people want to see. They don't want to see guys getting chucked and bumped all the time. They want to see offensive players showcasing their talent and this is what the rules are designed to do."

With drastic changes like this, there certainly was an adjustment period.

Players today had been taught pretty much their entire lives that hand checking, arm barring and putting two hands on an opposing player were the ways to play defense.

The new rules took all of that away, requiring players to move their feet to get in front of their man, which proved to be a difficult challenge early in the season.

Despite spending the summer and preseason working on playing the new style of defense, some teams struggled with the new concept and the whistles blew over and over again for the first month or so.

After that initial feeling-out — fouling-out? — period teams adapted to the way the games were being called and the flow came back.

Last season, two teams averaged 80 or more points and 25 averaged 75 or more. This season, there are 25 teams at 80 or better and 99 scoring 75 points or more.

"I think it's cleaned up the game," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "We're going back to what the game should be."

One concern is that officials have been inconsistent with the calls, varying from conference to conference, particularly on the block/charge. There are still games that have been inundated with fouls, too, like the Jan. 14 overtime game between Arkansas and Kentucky that included 60 fouls and 81 free throws.

There's also been some concern among coaches that since the start of conference play, officials have become a little more lax with the new rules, allowing teams to get back to their physical ways.

The early returns are good, but it's undoubtedly a work in progress as everyone tries to adjust to what has been a drastic shift in the way the game had been played.

"Players have been playing the old type of defense ever since they started playing basketball, so they are learning a new way to play defense and that's going to take some time," said Wellman, Wake Forest's athletic director. "It's not going to happen overnight. As they become more accustomed to it, we believe that the game is going to have the beauty it was intended to have and that's to show the athleticism of our student-athletes."


AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell in Minneapolis contributed to this story.