by Stephen Thompson, GoHeels.com
CHAPEL HILL -- The new rules instituted by the NCAA this year for college basketball are described in an article released by the NCAA in November. The new rules changed how players can defend and take charges. The NCAA wants to create a less physical game, force players to defend using their feet—not the hands, to have a smoother game flow, and to have more consistency in charge/block plays.
The new rules have affected the Tar Heels in a major way. Through the first 10 games, North Carolina has attempted 317 free throws. Compare that to last year, when Carolina only attempted 165 free throws in 10 games.
Of course, some of the free throw differential is because of the number of close games UNC has had this year, which has resulted in the opposing teams fouling to try and come back. Or point to the lack of three-point shooting that has forced Carolina to get the ball inside the paint into a more physical area. But neither of those could have this large of an effect. The new rules have caused teams to get to the bonus more easily.
It's evident in the stats. UNC is averaging five more fouls per game than it did last year. By averaging 20 fouls, UNC is putting teams in the bonus. However, it's working both ways. UNC's opponents are averaging 22 fouls per game. The new rules have caused more fouls, more stoppages, and more points.
Like most teams, the Tar Heels are still adjusting to the new rules.
"It's a little difficult at times," Brice Johnson said. "Sometimes in the post I get a couple of them (the new fouls). I put my hand on them, and I'm so used to putting my hand there. I get called for a foul as soon as they move. It's not really an adjustment. I mean you aren't supposed to do that anyways. It's just a habit I have. (It's) something I have to work on."
The new rules have been a challenge for many of UNC's players. "You can't pressure up on too many people," Marcus Paige said.
"It's tough. You have to work on guarding the ball every day in practice. Guys are so quick and athletic these days that staying in front of the ball without using your hands is difficult. We can definitely get better."
Sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto talked about the new rules and how they had affected the Kentucky game that featured 57 fouls.
"I feel like we have adjusted pretty well," Tokoto said. "Except for tonight. There were a lot of touch fouls called, which I feel like a lot of players in the NCAA do not like, just because it stops play. It's what some guys would call 'soft,' the hand checks. When one guy is pushing you out—then yeah - that's a foul, but these little bumps and everything...I mean, you've got to let us play and let that go."
But the rule changes also allow players to be more aggressive on offense said Tokoto. "It gives me more confidence. I don't have to worry about a guy sliding under me and them calling a charge. Right now, they have to be there on the gather and I feel like being a player with good instincts, you can kind of tell when someone is going to set up for a charge or block your shot. That helps a lot now."
Johnson also sees the other side of the new rules. "I'm definitely using it to my advantage. I'm going to give you a little bump and shoot it over you. Either you are going to foul me or I'm going to make it or miss it. One of the three. Most of the time I'm not going to miss it. Just something I have to work on."
Tokoto said that the team has been practicing all year with the new rules in mind. "Coach C.B. [McGrath] screams, 'Hands off!' That's one of his main points of emphasis in practice or scrimmages. Play defense with your feet and not your hands."
With non-conference play out of the way, the Tar Heels have had plenty of games to get used to the rules. The referees have showed that they are calling the new rules. It's up to Carolina to use that to its advantage.