Georgetown basketball adjusting to NCAA’s whistle-heavy rule changes


Georgetown Coach John Thompson III is worried that the NCAA’s emphasis on hand-checking will “penalize guys for touching on defense.” (Toni L. Sandys/THE WASHINGTON POST)
November 12, 2013

Forty minutes of basketball is hardly grounds for drawing conclusions about the new rules aimed at boosting scoring in the college game. But based on the foul-fest that was Georgetown’s season-opening loss to Oregon on Friday in South Korea, the clampdown on hand-checking and emphasis on correctly calling blocking fouls and charges portend a mixed bag for the Hoyas.

On offense, it ought to help Georgetown’s massive center, 6-foot-10, 350-pound Joshua Smith, a Goliath-size handful to stop once he gets the ball in the post. So it’s no wonder that Smith, who scored a career-high 25 points in his first game in nearly a year after transferring from UCLA, loves the rule.

“You can check a guy once, then you have to back off,” Smith said Tuesday as the Hoyas prepared for Wednesday’s home opener against Wright State. “I love it because the rule is, in the post they can’t arm-bar anymore. They can’t put two hands on you. As a post player, I have no problem with it.”

But on defense, the foundation of Coach John Thompson III’s teams, the constraints will take some adjustment, the coach conceded, echoing comments around the country in the early days of the 2013-14 season.

The Hoyas were called for 31 fouls in the 82-75 loss to Oregon. That’s a 78 percent increase over their average number of fouls per game last season (17.4). The Ducks shot 44 free throw attempts, connecting on 36 (81.8 percent). Georgetown, by contrast, took 30 free throws and made just 20 (66.7 percent).

On one hand, the game proved relatively high-scoring, as college basketball’s rules-makers want. On the other hand, it did so largely by halting the proceedings for incessant trips to the free throw line, undercutting the very goal of jazzing up the entertainment value.

Asked if he felt the changes were needed, Thompson didn’t equivocate.

“Not really,” he said. “They want to get scoring up, which is fine, so you penalize guys for touching on defense. If you look at college basketball the last couple of years, I don’t think the games have been less exciting. If you want to say scoring is down, that may be true. But some people get excitement off of defensive stops, as much as scoring.”

Georgetown surrendered at least 82 points only once last season — and that was in an overtime loss to Indiana (82-72) in early November. Nearly two weeks later, the Hoyas staged a withering defensive stand against Tennessee, but few would argue that the 37-36 victory was entertaining.

“It is what it is,” Thompson said of the new rules. “We can sit and debate them all we want. They’re here, and we have to adjust.”

Smith’s debut for the Hoyas was the bright spot in the loss to Oregon. Competing in his first college game since Nov. 25, 2012, the junior transfer played far more minutes than had been anticipated (27). But he came away with an acute sense of what he can do better.

“Rebounding and defense, I’ll be the first one to tell you,” Smith said. “I only had four rebounds — all offensive. I had not one defensive rebound. And me being the center, I’ve got to rebound more to help us out and play better defense.”

The loss to then 19th-ranked Oregon exposed other things the Hoyas as a group need to work on: shot selection, particularly from three-point range, where Georgetown hit just 1 of 15 attempts; transition defense; and rebounding, with Oregon dominating the boards 40-32.

“Not to discredit Oregon,” said senior guard Markel Starks, “but I felt we were a better team than we showed.”

Wednesday’s home opener is one of just two games the Hoyas will play at Verizon Center in November. They’ll follow the game against 1-0 Wright State, a veteran-heavy Horizon League team, with a trip to San Juan for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, where they’ll play three games in four days.

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