There are entire studies on the physiological responses to perceived risk and the threat of danger.
This early college basketball season could be a study in itself.
Some coaches and fans are already tired of the increased number of foul calls this season and lack of aggressive defense. But the reality is, at least in games featuring ACC teams, that number hasn’t gone up much since last season. In fact, of the five power conferences, ACC teams have seen the lowest increase in foul calls.
Through Wednesday’s games, ACC teams have seen an increase of 3.8 fouls per game called in their games early this season. That’s 1,160 fouls in 29 games, or 40 fouls per game. Last season through six days and 21 games, there were 760 fouls called for 36.2 a game.
Yes, there has been an increase in whistles blown, but it’s really only one more call every 101/2 minutes.
The question: Are ACC players making good adjustments to the rules, or are they playing more carefully on defense because of them? It’s probably more the latter for now, no matter what the perception is.
This season, the NCAA implemented a series of officiating changes for college basketball that have changed the way a team can play the defense. Gone is the charge (read: flop). Gone is hands-on-defense. The result is a major advantage for the aggressive offensive player.
The biggest ACC game of the week was No. 4 Duke’s 94-83 loss to No. 5 Kansas – a game on a national stage that featured 53 foul calls. That’s a lot, but only two of the other 28 games through Wednesday featured more.
“The officials are doing what they’re supposed to do. Everyone just has to keep adjusting,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after that game. “Too much is being said about it. Let’s just start playing the way we’re supposed to play.”
The picture is slightly different around the country. The SEC and Pac-12 have seen a slightly larger increase in the number of fouls. Through Wednesday’s games, SEC teams saw an average of 4.1 more fouls called per game compared with the first six days last season. For Pac-12 schools, that number is 4.5. Even then, that’s an extra foul every eight minutes and 48 seconds.
Where the increase starts to get significant is in the Big Ten and Big 12. Big Ten schools have seen an increase of 7.5 fouls per game and that number goes up to 7.6 for Big 12 schools.
“To be honest, I don’t like it,” Kansas coach Bill Self said after the Jayhawks beat Duke. “It just takes away all aggressiveness defensively. ... We’ve got to adjust because that was a pretty fragmented game.”
On average, Big 12 schools have been called for or drawn an additional foul call every five minutes and 14 seconds.
Foul numbers may continue to go up. It’s still early to draw any real conclusions. The fouls could also drop as players and coaches continue to adjust. The only near certainty up to this point is the clear benefactor of it all is aggressive offensive players.
Aggressive players can get to the rim with ease because defenses can’t use their hands as much and aren’t trying to take as many charges.
Tevon Saddler, a freshman at UNCG, dropped 34 points against East Carolina on Tuesday night at Greensboro Coliseum. He didn’t shoot a 3-pointer, and why should he? Saddler got to the rim with so much ease it wouldn’t make sense to pull it from long range.
“You can’t guard him one-on-one,” ECU head coach Jeff Lebo said. “He just dribbles right at you and spins. It’s hard when they go right at you. If there’s any kind of contact, they’re going to blow the whistle.”
Lebo said he thought coaches and players may need one or two seasons to adjust to the new rules changes.
UNC’s J.P. Tokoto, a slasher to the letter, is another player who advantage of the new rules. In UNC’s 84-61 season-opening win against Oakland. Tokoto scored a career-high 13 points.
“It’s like I can go right through him if I really wanted to, so it’s nice to have (the rule change),” Tokoto said. “I don’t have to worry so much about charging anymore. I still have to be conscious of it, but not as much.”
Tokoto has never been a great shooter, but he doesn’t need to be now. The reality is that, while the foul calls aren’t astronomically different, defenses are.
Contact Mark Thompson at 373-7008, and follow @mthompsonNR on Twitter.