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College Basketball commentary with Seth Davis

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  • 04:36 PM ET  10.30
Leonard Washington
Leonard Washington punched Blake Griffin in the groin last season/Icon SMI

On this day before Halloween, allow me to remind you of a few frightening images from last season:

• Michigan guard Manny Harris clutching the ball and swinging his elbow, which connects with Purdue guard Chris Kramer's nose. Harris was ejected.

•  Wisconsin's bruising forward Joe Krabbenhoft leaning into a pick that flattens Purdue guard Lewis Jackson. Not only was Krabbenhoft not ejected, he wasn't even whistled for an illegal screen.

• USC forward Leonard Washington punching Oklahoma's Blake Griffin in the groin. After the refs reviewed a replay, Washington was ejected, but he was not sent to the locker room as required by the rules.

Given how much conversation -- and consternation -- plays like those generated last season, it's no surprise the NCAA is going to greater lengths to stamp them out. That's why the NCAA's men's basketball rules committee made excessive swinging of the elbows one of its three points of emphasis for referees heading into this season. "This has become a major concern of the rules committee because of the uneven application of this rule and the potential for serious injury that this type of play can cause," the NCAA's coordinator of officials, John Adams, says on a video the NCAA distributed this fall to its referees. Adams made those comments as he introduced a sequence of the plays I listed above.
 
The second point of emphasis for this season is the block/charge call under the basket that I wrote about yesterday. The third is "player and team interaction." In other words, no woofing. Said Adams, "Lack of mutual respect is a growing concern of both the rules committee and the men's basketball committee. Taunting, baiting, ridiculing, finger pointing, trash talking or inappropriate gestures must be called."
 
 Here are some other noteworthy nuggets from the refereeing video:

•  Adams, who is in his second year as the NCAA's coordinator after taking over for Hank Nichols, said he is trying to make refereeing  "more of a science than an art" by laying out specific guidelines. His guiding principle is "freedom of movement." If a player's "rhythm, speed, balance or quickness" is affected, Adams wants a foul to be called.

•  Illegal screens were a point of emphasis last year, but the refs made enough progress on that front that it was not made a point of emphasis again this season.

•  Adams reminded the refs of the two "absolutes" he instituted last year. The first is when a defender puts two hands on the dribbler. The second is when a defender trips the dribbler, causing him to fall and lose the ball.  In both cases, the ref is automatically supposed to blow the whistle.

•  In addition to the points of emphasis, the rules committee has listed two areas of concern: excessive distractions of the free throw shooter (such as when a player claps his hands loudly or shouts something to a teammate) and the three-second rule.

•  Adams also expounded on how officials should interpret intentional and flagrant fouls. This is one of the most confusing areas of the game, especially in the closing minutes when the team that's behind usually fouls on purpose. Adams wants his refs to ask three questions: Did the defender line up the other player, did he impact the player, and did he follow through with contact? If the answer to all three is yes, the refs are supposed to call an intentional foul, which means the other team gets two free throws and the ball. If the contact is excessive, then they're supposed to call a flagrant foul, which also includes ejection.

•  Traveling is again a focus point, but you should know that, contrary to what Bob Knight says, the majority of blown traveling calls are calls that should not have been made, rather than traveling violations that are not called.

The upshot of all of this is that the NCAA wants to make college basketball a cleaner, less physical game. They have been fighting this battle for years, and frankly they're losing. Every season, officials start out strictly enforcing all these points of emphasis, but as the season wears on and everyone gets into league play, the zebras go back to allowing too much contact. The NCAA does not have any control over league assignments for officials, but it does decide which officials work in the late rounds of the NCAA tournament.

Adams seems intent on restoring more freedom of movement in college basketball. He has a long way to go, but for the good of the game, I'm hoping he gets there.

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