The sample size is small, but based on what he's seen, Greg McDermott believes the NCAA's crackdown on rough play could be a positive for his Creighton basketball team.
“It helps us a little,” McDermott said. “I think the better way to put it is that it hurts some other teams a lot more than it hurts us.”
The NCAA has ordered conferences to emphasize to their referees that they enforce existing rules in an attempt to make play less physical, especially along the perimeter.
The intent is to get more scoring back in the game. Creighton has ranked among the national scoring leaders the past two seasons, so that could benefit the Bluejays' already high-powered offense.
McDermott said his team doesn't rely on the “wrestling-match” tactics that some teams like to employ.
“The pushing, the shoving, they're going to clean that up,” he said.
John Cahill, the Big East's supervisor of officials, visited Omaha last month and conducted a mini-seminar for Creighton's coaches and players.
Cahill emphasized that any intent to disrupt an offensive player's progress with the hands or forearms will put a player at risk to be called for a foul. “You have to throw your hands and take contact with your torso,” Cahill told the players. “They want you to play defense with your feet.”
Creighton hardly has a reputation for playing a brutish style of defense.
“We're not a team that gets up into peoples' shorts,” guard Grant Gibbs said. “We're not hand-checking. That's not our thing. I hope that it benefits us.”
McDermott is optimistic based on Creighton's performance in a closed scrimmage against Iowa State and last Friday's exhibition game against Northern State.
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Creighton was called for 21 fouls in Friday's exhibition game against Northern State. The Wolves were whistled for 25. There were 57 free throws shot, 33 by the Bluejays.
“As I told the team, I think we're going to look down at the stat sheet a lot, especially in November and December, and both teams will have shot 30-some free throws,” McDermott said. “Whoever makes the free throws will win the game.”
Creighton set a school record last season by shooting 75.9 percent from the line. In the exhibition game, the Bluejays made 20 of their 33 attempts (60.6 percent).
“We got to get that cleaned up,” McDermott said.
McDermott also wants to see his team do a better job of playing defense without fouling in the second half. Fifteen of Creighton's fouls against Northern State came in the second half. He said that mirrored what happened in the Iowa State scrimmage.
“We're going to have to come out of the chute a little bit better defensively in the second half,” he said. “We need to be juiced up and ready to play without fouling.”
Creighton's best offensive player — two-time All-American Doug McDermott — said the crackdown on rough play couldn't come at a better time for the Bluejays with their entry into the new conference.
“It's going to be more physical,” he said. “I think this is going to help guys like me and Will (Artino) who might not be as physically gifted as some of the guys we're going up against.
“It's still physical inside, but it looks like they're trying to avoid having guys get beat up.”
Creighton coaches have emphasized the difference in officiating since the start of practice. Greg McDermott said his players have done a good job of adjusting. His son agrees.
“This is going to be a lot different,” Doug McDermott said. “You can't use your hands at all. It's a tough adjustment, but we've practiced on it a lot.”
Another point of emphasis this season will be a tighter enforcement of the block-charge call around the basket. When he was in Omaha last month, Cahill told the players that defenders must clearly establish guarding positions before the offensive player begins his upward motion to shoot or pass.
In most cases, Cahill said, the benefit of the doubt will now go to the offensive player. Greg McDermott pointed out that in the exhibition game, there were maybe four or five blocking calls whistled on plays that, in his opinion, would have been offensive fouls last season.
“That's something we're really going to have to work on,” Gibbs said. “We've emphasized that a lot with our defensive rotations. It's one way to neutralize athleticism, but we can't do that anymore.”