LOVERRO: Here’s hoping rule changes can get college basketball in check

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The last time we saw college basketball, it stunk.

You can drone on about the glory of March Madness all you want, but it was brutal to watch — games like Syracuse’s 61-50 tournament win over Indiana, when the Hoosiers shot 33 percent from the field, were becoming the rule, not the exception.

In case you forgot how bad it was last season, here’s what ESPN Jay Bilas, one of the game’s most astute analysts, said about the state of college basketball last season.

“Our game is brutal to watch right now,” Bilas said. “It’s organized fouling. … The referees feel like they can’t call it all, and they don’t call it all. The result is we’re having wrestling matches instead of basketball games. It doesn’t take long, if you’re really watching, to see what’s happening and say, ‘Oh my god, this is awful.’

“These games are ridiculous … the amount of contact that’s allowed — the hand-checking, the arm bars the dead-on pushing, the body checks on the shooter, the contact after the shot is released. Guys are getting knocked down and it’s not called.”

As the new season of college basketball tips off, are we in for more brutality, more wrestling matches, more lousy basketball?

Former Maryland coach Gary Williams hopes two rule changes will help bring basketball back to college basketball.

One change should result in stricter hand-checking calls, and another will make it tougher for a player to draw a charge.

“The hand-checking rule around the perimeter should allow players to penetrate more, which they hope will lead to more scoring,” said Williams, who led the Terps to their only NCAA championship in 2002 and retired in 2011 with 668 NCAA wins. “The new charge rule is also to encourage people to take the ball to the basket.”

Something will now be called when you have contact like that, when it passed for basketball last season.

“Referees are supposed to call something, whether it’s a block or a charge, contact has to mean something is called,” Williams said. “That is what you saw in the tournament. It looked sometimes like no one was going to score. Every coach wants good defense, but the game is about putting the ball in the basket.”

Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown of SMU is not a big fan of the rule changes. He told reporters Friday night after his team’s win over TCU that teams will simply use more zone defenses with the new rules.

“I couldn’t agree more with freedom of movement and trying to open up the game, but I’ve said this my entire career — until you figure out how to have more shots, you’re not going to get more scoring by putting people on the free-throw line,” Brown said. “That’s going to be the end result.”

Brown’s solution is this — change the player, not the game.

“Make kids more fundamentally sound, teach them how to pass and catch and cut and shoot and then you’d have a better game,” he told reporters. “We’re playing them too young, we’re not working enough on fundamentals. We’re putting them into systems rather than teaching them how to play.”

Which goes to the heart of what is really bothering Gary Williams about college basketball — the glorification of the unaccomplished. Or in other words, Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins.

“He’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated, “Williams said. “And he’s already named an All-American. How can you be an All-American when you haven’t played a college game? I’d rather see guys who have proven themselves at the college level. I just think it’s not a good direction [for college basketball].”

Yes, this sounds like a “get off my lawn” complaint. But it’s not. The lawn that is college basketball today is not the lawn that Gary Williams helped grow. This lawn is full of weeds and burnt grass, and would require pesticides banned 50 years ago to change the direction of the game that celebrates Andrew Wiggins already.

You can have that lawn. It stinks.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com

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