They will confound and frustrate at times, but the young Washington Huskies have already proven through six games that they do not lack talent.
Keeping that talent on the floor, though, has been more of a challenge than some might have anticipated.
The NCAA is emphasizing contact this season — as in, they want far less of it in order to have a more free-flowing game — so officials have been instructed to call games considerably tighter than in years past.
No hand-checking. No more physical post play, offensively or defensively. No shoving or grabbing or hip-checking offensive players on the ball or off. No more moving screens, period.
The Huskies (4-2), so far, have not adapted to the new rules particularly well: through six games, they lead the nation in fouls per game with 27.9, and opponents have attempted 192 free throws, or 32 per game. Last season, UW opponents attempted only 18.5 free throws per game, and the Huskies were called for an average of just 17.3 fouls per game.
“In practice this week, we’ve just been pointing those out, some of those fouls,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We’re trying to eliminate the fouls that have nothing to do with the freedom of movement — the ones where we’re slapping down, we think we have a steal and we slap down. A guy gets a rebound, and because we missed a layup and we’re upset, we crash the guy. Those type of things are fouls we’re trying to eliminate.”
The whistles have taken a particular toll on UW’s frontcourt. Freshman forward Marquese Chriss leads the team with 26 fouls, freshman Noah Dickerson has 24, junior Malik Dime has 23, and freshman Devenir Duruisseau has 18 in just 59 minutes.
Chriss has already fouled out of four games, including all three the Huskies played last week at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. Duruisseau has fouled out three times, and Dime and freshman guard Matisse Thybulle have each fouled out twice.
“This is just how they’re going to call the game now,” Dickerson said.
The emphasis for UW’s young players will be moving their feet instead of reaching out with their hands, an action officials might have overlooked in the past, but have been instructed to consistently penalize this season.
“It’s just something really the whole team has to work on, because right now we’re leading the nation in fouls,” Dickerson said. “We’re an aggressive team, but still, some of the fouls we can really avoid. We just have to work on that.”
Romar seemed somewhat flummoxed by the application of the new rules, saying that it seems like any contact between a ball-handler and a defender will result in a foul called against the defense.
That, he said, could eventually lead to teams playing a “packed in” style of defense, which would lead to a slower, more methodical game — seemingly the opposite of what the NCAA has in mind.
“Before this rule came in, we would get a lot of fouls called on us,” Romar said. “So this isn’t the first time. But you kind of knew those were fouls. Now you’re thinking: ‘Well, the guy must have pushed off — oh, that’s on us? Really?’ You don’t know what to tell your guys. Sometimes I don’t know what to tell them, how to play, because they were like this the whole time. But if I’m moving here and you make contact with me a little bit, and you’re bumped off, that seems to be a foul right now.”
Of course, the Huskies also take advantage of the new emphases on the offensive end. Or at least senior guard Andrew Andrews does. He has attempted 65 free throws — more than any other collegiate player who has only played six games — and has made 53 of them, a big reason why he’s averaging a team-high 21.7 points per game.
“It’s hard to guard now with the new rules and everything,” Andrews said, “so I’m just trying to take advantage of it.
“I don’t really have any moves. (UW assistant) Will (Conroy) says it’s an art, but I don’t see how people don’t get fouled. I don’t know how I do it, but I don’t see why it’s that hard to draw fouls.”
UW FINALLY HOME
Romar said the team “had a blast” on trips to China and the Bahamas, but that he probably won’t schedule such a hectic travel schedule again. “I think we’re recovering pretty well. It got rough. Thought it got rough out there in the Bahamas with us, but I think we’re holding up pretty good right now.” Romar said. UW returns home for eight consecutive games at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, beginning Sunday against Cal State-Fullerton (5-1).