COLUMBIA — Welcome to the year of the whistle in college basketball.
In an attempt to reverse college basketball’s downturn in scoring – Division I teams averaged 67.5 points per game last season, the lowest average in 31 years – new rules instituted by the NCAA aim to encourage teams to play defense with their feet and not their hands.
Southern Illinois Salukis vs. Missouri Tigers
Watch: 8 p.m. on Fox Sports Midwest
Listen: Tiger Radio Network
SIU record: 0-0 (14-17 last season, last in The Missouri Valley Conference)
SIU famous alum: Actor Jim Belushi, Class of 1978
SIU's last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2007 Sweet 16 loss to Kansas
Goodbye, hand-checking. Goodbye, having two hands on an opponent. Goodbye, arm bars and jabbing.
Hello, free throws.
According to research by Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports, referees have called an average of 42.29 personal fouls per game this season through Sunday night, about seven more per game than last season. About 19.5 percent of games have featured 50 or more personal fouls and seven have produced 60 or more. Seton Hall's 83-72 victory against Niagara on Saturday lasted about 2 1/2 hours. Seventy-three personal fouls were called and 102 free throws were attempted. Each total surpassed the totals for any game played last season in either regulation or overtime.
“It’s definitely a lot touchier,” Missouri forward Ryan Rosburg said. “Our second (preseason) game, I remember getting in foul trouble and some of the fouls I was shocked at. Last year, you could get away with murder around the basket, and nothing would be called. Now, you just have to be more careful, and there are definitely going to be a lot more free throws shot.
“It definitely slows down the game. It’s kind of harder to get a rhythm, and the games are much longer.”
There were 36 personal fouls called in Missouri’s season opener against Southeastern Louisiana, but the Tigers became acquainted with the new rules’ impact during their exhibition game against Central Missouri. Fifty fouls were called, and the Tigers attempted 45 free throws.
“It makes you want to be more physical and aggressive, because every time you drive, there’s a very good chance if you don’t score that you’re going to get fouled,” Rosburg said. “So I guess it does kind of hurt outside shooting since if everyone knows you’re going to drive, there’s a very high chance you’re going to go to the line and get free throws.”
Free throw shooting was Missouri’s weakness in its 89-53 season-opening victory against Southeastern Louisiana. The Tigers made just 15-of-27 attempts.
Guard Jabari Brown said the new rules make the onus even greater to quickly improve their free throw shooting.
“We kind of saw that in our last exhibition game. You’re not going to be able to put your hands on anybody,” Brown said. “I heard they’re going to stay consistent with those calls all year. They’re not going to let up, so teams will have to adjust and play differently.”
To combat the more aggressive offenses, Missouri assistant coach Mark Phelps has installed a gap-control defense, trying to force opponents to shoot from outside and not drive and get to the free throw line.
Phelps’ strategy will be put to the test at Mizzou Arena on Tuesday night against Southern Illinois, a team that features two guards with a penchant for cutting to the basket, Anthony Beane and Desmar Jackson.
How long can basketball fans expect to watch choppy, foul-ridden games?
“It’s going to depend on the coaches, who either reel their teams in or continue to allow them to foul,” interim coach Tim Fuller said. “Players are going to do what we allow them to do.”
Rosburg is hopeful teams will be reeled in sooner, rather than later.
“Everyone just kind of needs to adjust to it, and then, you’ll probably start seeing games feel more normal with the flow of the game,” Rosburg said. “I don’t think it’s a positive or a negative. I think you’ll just see higher scoring games.”
Freshman point guard Wes Clark was named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week by the conference Monday for his performance in last Friday's season opening game against Southeastern Louisiana. Clark posted a final stat line of 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers.
Criswell still out
Fuller said at a press conference Monday that senior forward Tony Criswell is still suspended for a violation of team rules. Criswell missed Friday's season opener. Fuller said the staff is assessing Criswell's status on a day-to-day basis.
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.