ARLINGTON, Texas — The same officiating vision that started the college basketball season will be the standard for the men’s Final Four at AT&T Stadium, NCAA officials reiterated Wednesday.
The result could be more scoring and — depending on how teams adjust — more fouls throughout the NCAA Tournament that will conclude in Arlington on April 5 and 7.
After meeting last week in San Diego, the men’s basketball committee remains committed to the reforms that began at the start of the season. The common theme was “freedom of movement” designed to free up offensive players from hand-checking and arm bars by defenders.
“We’ve made it very clear that come Tournament time, there will be freedom of movement and our officials will be evaluated upon that principal, and they will advance upon that principal,” selection committee chairman Ron Wellman said. “That has been made very clear to everyone.”
NCAA representatives and local Final Four organizers met the media Wednesday, with the Final Four just 73 days away. While promoting the long list of charitable and public events that will accompany the Final Four in North Texas, the actual basketball product remains the key part of the equation.
With scoring in a long-term decline, officials took steps in the off-season to clean up the game — even if that meant more whistles and longer games.
So far, the changes have worked … somewhat.
Basketball analytics website KPI notes that scoring is up 6.4 percent from last season, rising from 67.3 points per game to 71.6. Possessions per game have increased. And to no one’s surprise, so have fouls.
Wellman praised the way coaches have adjusted while acknowledging some glitches.
“This is the first year that we’ve attempted to do this to have this freedom of movement,” said Wellman, whose day job is athletic director at Wake Forest.
“I never dreamed we would be this far along in making the improvements we have made in such a short period of time. We view it as a multiple-year process to get everything done. It is quite an adjustment to playing defense the way they’re playing today compared to the way they’ve played in the past.”
The question now for the committee is will the changes weather conference play, where the stakes rise and teams may be more likely to revert to old habits.
From a trend standpoint, KPI notes that teams averaged 73.2 points in November. That fell to 70.7 in December and 70.1 in January.
To keep the standard, there may be more games like Arkansas’ overtime win over Kentucky earlier this month. While the teams combined for 172 points, they also accounted for 60 fouls and 81 free throw attempts.
Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s vice president of the men’s basketball championships, hopes those foul fests are an aberration.
He remembered getting advice from longtime basketball executive Jerry Colangelo about when the NBA made a similar decision years ago. The bottom line: Don’t put too much shock into the game.
The scoring trend right now is in the right direction as is field goal percentage, Gavitt acknowledged.
“We’re encouraged by the process. It’s important for the good of the game,” Gavitt said. “It’s probably going to take a couple of seasons to get fully integrated to the good of the game.
“You’re talking about habits that have been formed over a long period of time by players, coaches and officials.”