A hand-check Tech can cash?/Michael Bleach

It’s time for everybody’s favorite parlor game: Guess the unintended consequences from a well-intended rule change!

With college basketball finally under way, two storylines have dominated the national scene thus far.

One, can you believe how ridiculous* Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle are?

*With the contrarian-columnist immediately following with “Hey, Don’t Forget About Marcus Smart!”

And two, there are so many free throws. Oh, so many free throws.

Since the Michigan Tech basketball teams do not enjoy a Canadian sensation capable of jumping out of the gym onto the top of a NBA draft board (sorry Jason Hawke), it is the second observation that concerns us today.

For those who haven’t fully turned their attention to college basketball yet, the NCAA mandated this offseason that hand-checking rules – formerly a guideline – will now be strictly enforced in an attempt to increase freedom of movement and, ultimately, scoring.

This means that placing a hand (or forearm) on an opponent, regardless of whether it impedes progress or not, will be followed with an automatic whistle.

“This has been the biggest emphasis one since I have been doing this in 27 years,” Tech men’s basketball coach Kevin Luke said after Saturday’s win over Minnesota-Duluth. “They are calling it tight. There were a couple today that made me say ‘wow.'”

The results so far have been comedic, if not particularly fruitful.

Seton Hall and Niagara combined for 102 free throws and 73 fouls in a game that saw more free throws than field goal attempts. Small sample size and everything, but six teams are averaging more than 40 attempts from the stripe per game so far. Last season, only two teams averaged more than 26 FTA’s per game.

The NCAA grand poobahs expect that after an adjustment period (six weeks is the commonly used timeline), the fouls will go down, the watchability of the games will trend permanently upward and the new freedom of movement will inspire hardcourt poets to touch our subconscious like they did in the glory days.

Sure, sure.

Per usual, discussions surrounding a rule-change many coaches see as paradigm shifting are a wee-bit shortsighted.

Because as Adam Smith has been trying to tell us for over 200 years, these things never quite go according to plan.

Assuming* the officials stay firm on the rule change and teams eventually adjust and keep their hands off, there are certain to be consequences no one saw coming. That is just how these things work.

*A BIG assumption, as the hand-check rules have already reached the status of a holding penalty in the NFL, where you can see one on every play.

The coaches and players I’ve spoken with at Tech are cautiously optimistic the rule will play in their benefit.

But they aren’t certain.

One often-expressed opinion nationally has been that defensively disciplined teams will benefit most, having to go through the smallest adjustment period.

That is certainly what the Huskies are counting on, with a defensive system (for both men and women) that emphasizes help concepts over perimeter pressure.

“You think it would help us,” Luke said. “But I don’t know for sure how it will pan out with everybody.”

But it is just as possible that these things go the other way, that the rules are so tight now that it becomes impossible for players to protect the rim from dribble-penetration and keep themselves out of foul trouble, no matter how well-coached.

In that case, team depth would increase in importance, with starters sure to get in foul trouble they otherwise may have avoided.

This already reared for the Tech men in their first game of the season, with starting center Luke Heller playing just 15 minutes Saturday as he picked up four fouls in quick succession – three of which left him staring bemusedly at the ref. Sophomore Connor McLeod was unexpectedly called on for 18 minutes in his college debut.

There is another assumption that comes with this rule change, that college basketball has gotten too slow and the new “freedom of movement” will help speed the game up.

And that’s certainly possible.

But it is also just as possible that long offensive possessions will become an advantage now, with 25 seconds of offensive pressure placed on an opponent in an attempt to draw a more-quick-to-come whistle. Tech benefitted from this Saturday, shooting 14 free throws in the second half as they tried to grind the game out.

Or none of this could happen, and the new inefficiency could be something I haven’t remotely considered yet.

(Yup, that’s probably the most likely.)

History, both sports and otherwise, is rife with well-intended changes producing unforeseen consequences.

Why would this one be any different?