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October 25, 2013

New rules should favor Tulsa basketball

In many ways, college basketball was brutal to watch in 2012-13. Division I teams averaged 68 points per game, the lowest since 1982 (Tulsa was right there at 67.9 ppg). Thrilling games such as Georgetown's 37-36 victory over Tennessee, were all too frequent.

Some point to the exodus of college stars to the NBA as a reason. More likely, it's a combination of coaches who promise up-tempo offenses then renege in an effort to keep every game within reach through tough, physical defense as well as players who have abandoned the full development of their offensive arsenal in favor of launching 3-pointers or driving into a crowd at the basket.

In an effort to help rectify the situation, the NCAA has adopted strong new measures against hand checking and fortified its block-charge rules to give more of an advantage to the player driving the ball to the basket.

Tulsa has spent a good deal of its preseason adjusting to the changes. Once comfortable, and if NCAA officials follow through consistently throughout the season, TU coach Danny Manning believes the changes will be great for the Hurricane.

"College basketball is a lot more physical than the NBA because you can't touch (hand check) in the NBA," Manning said. "In college, we're trying to reward skill. If you were strong and athletic, you could be a great defender in college because you could body up, use your forearms and your shoulders and keep people in front of you and knock them off balance."

Interestingly, Manning believes that the elimination of hand checking may lead to less penetration instead of more. That may seem counterintuitive, but as players are unable to use hands and forearms to prevent driving, they will back off and give players more room, daring them to convert mid-range jumpers.

"Anytime someone is facing the goal, you can't put your hands on them," Manning said. "For us, that is going to create a game of skill. You've got to be able to hit a pull up jump shot over your defender off one or two bounces. The defender is going to be playing back off of you because he can't touch you.

"Everybody on our team -- everybody in college basketball -- is going to have to take a jump shot on a regular basis to be successful."

That seems ideal to a team with quick athletic players who can penetrate or pull up for a jump shot. James Woodard, Rashad Ray, an improved Shaquille Harrison, Marquel Curtis and Pat Swilling Jr. would all seem likely beneficiaries of the new rule. And bigger players who can put the ball on the floor and drive such as Rashad Smith and D'Andre Wright as well.

Manning said it's been a tough transition for his players defensively. He's had C-USA Director of Officials Curtis Shaw in for a presentation, and it's been a point of emphasis in scrimmages.

"It's been a big adjustment," Manning said. "Closing out to a guy at full speed, breaking down, getting comfortable with keeping your hands high and taking away the initial shot or entry pass, getting wide but not touching the ball handler."

With Tulsa's lineup fortified by improved depth and athleticism and the new rule, it will be interesting to watch what pace the Hurricane achieves and see if scoring improves significantly.

"It's going to be great for us," said forward Rashad Smith. "James (Woodard), Shaq, those guys are going to be impossible to guard."

"We want to play fast," Manning said. "This should be good for us."

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