Big Sky men still adjusting to off-season rule changes


During the off-season, the NCAA implemented more than 30 new rules to college basketball on both the men’s and women’s sides. The changes include moving the women’s game to four quarters instead of the two-half format and reducing the men’s shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds.

The most significant changes to the rules, however, came in how officials are instructed to call games. The majority of the rules and points of emphasis are geared toward reducing physical play and creating more freedom of movement. The hope was to increase the pace of play and have fewer stoppages.

“The 30-second shot clock, I think that’s great for the game,” Eastern Washington senior power forward Venky Jois said earlier this season. “It gives a little more fast pace, not that we have any trouble with that whatsoever. But in terms of moving to really what basketball is in general, what the 24-second shot clock is like, it’s pretty cool, a good change.”

The most relevant changes to the men’s game included:

— Shot clock reduced from 35 seconds to 30 seconds.

—  Three 30-second timeouts instead of four, two carry over to second half.

—  The offense can’t score on a charging call, even if the ball is released before contact.

— Elimination of the “closely-guarded” count on a player dribbling the ball.

— Officials can go to monitor to review baskets made at the end of the shot-clock during the entire game, not just the final two minutes of a half.

— If a shooter intentionally sticks his leg out to draw a foul, a foul will not be called on the defender. In fact, if it is severe enough it could be called an offensive foul.

— If officials go to the monitor to review a possible flagrant foul, if they find a player faked a foul they can be assessed a two-shot technical foul.

— Defenders are allowed to use an arm bar in the post, but can’t move the offensive player with it.

— Make sure all screens are stationary.

basketball with refs in backgroundThe timeouts, that’s the change you feel that as a coach the most down the stretch,” Northern Colorado head coach B.J. Hill said last week. “I think you are aware of calling them close to the scheduled media timeouts so you don’t lose one. That’s been the biggest deal.

“Teams, coaches and referees are all adjusting with the emphasis to make the game less physical. It seems like we want the freedom out front but it’s really, really physical down low. I’m not the guy who’s paid to figure stuff out but it seems like there are two different games out on the perimeter and down by the bucket.’

With the men’s Big Sky regular-season complete, the reaction from fans to the new rules has been mixed and the overall intention of the changes muddled. Scoring is up to be sure — Eastern Washington leads the league with 85.4 points per game and half of the Big Sky’s 12 teams average 76 points or more two seasons after just two averaged more than 75 per outing — but most of the extra points have come from extra time caused by extra free throws.

During one league weekend this season, an officiating crew with two of three common members called 112 fouls and awarded 144 free throws between stops in Cedar City to monitor Weber State at Southern Utah and in Missoula to regulate Montana State at Montana. Weber shot a Big Sky season-high 54 free throws in an 87-83 win over SUU. Two nights later, Montana shot 42 free throws in an 87-78 win over the rival Bobcats.

Montana State head coach Brian Fish delineates with a ref during Big Sky play

Montana State head coach Brian Fish delineates with a ref during Big Sky play

Northern Colorado and Southern Utah each were called for 35 fouls in a game earlier this season, tied for the league high. Weber State was called for a season-low 10 fouls in a 76-66 win over Northern Arizona.

All told, there were 4,302 fouls called in 110 Big Sky Conference games this winter as all 12 teams played 18 league contests each, or an average of 39.2 total fouls per game.

“I don’t think we’ve reacted overly well,” Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz, who’s team is last in the league in fouls drawn with 334 total, said earlier this season. “We foul too much. We’ve had to work on that. I think it’s different all the way around. They are even calling block outs pretty tight. You can’t use your hands at all. If you use your hands with anything in the post, blocking out, you are going to get called for a foul.”

The new rules have been an adjustment for all 12 teams. Every team with the exception of Idaho State is averaging between 17.8 (EWU) and 24.16 (Southern Utah) fouls per contest. Northern Colorado (407 total, 22.61 per game) and Montana (410 total, 22.77 per game) are the only teams with more than 400 other than SUU (435 total).

Idaho State has been the anomaly of the group in terms of committing fouls. The Bengals consistently employ a matchup zone defense predicated on flying into passing lanes and devoid from much physical play. As a result, ISU has been called for 89 less fouls than anyone in the league. ISU has been called for at least 20 fouls in a single game four times and average just 12.94 fouls per contest.

“I think the biggest thing is probably the charge circle,” Montana State senior guard Marcus Colbert, one of the league’s best penetrators, said earlier this season. “(MSU senior power forward) Danny (Robison) has a couple of real close ones that probably would’ve been a charge last year but this year is a block and it resulted in him coming out the game in foul trouble. That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed.”

Montana head coach (Lady Griz) Robin Selvig delineates with a ref during Big Sky play

Montana head coach (Lady Griz) Robin Selvig delineates with a ref during Big Sky play

While Southern Utah has committed the most fouls, the youthful Thunderbirds have also drawn the most (400) of any team in the league. Northern Colorado is next, with 391 drawn fouls or 21.72 per game and EWU is third with 379 total, 21.05 per game. All the other teams have drawn between 363 and 334 fouls, averaging between 18.5 and 20 drawn fouls per contest.

“It’s really hard with the way the game is being called and getting into foul trouble,” SUU head coach Nick Robison said. “Our defense needs to improve. I think we are getting there and doing a better job of it. We need to continue to be help side on defense and making adjustments.”

ISU’s ability to avoid foul trouble this season coupled with Ethan Telfair’s ability to get to the charity stripe has give the Bengals an astounding +122 in fouls drawn to fouls committed. Telfair leads the league with 232 free throw attempts.

EWU is next in foul differential at +57, followed by Portland State (+27), Weber State (+12), Northern Arizona (+11) and Montana State (+5). The other half is in the negative with Montana having the worst differential at -56, two fouls better than Idaho.

“We are used to it by now at this point in the season with the rule changes, emphasizing a lot of things,” UM freshman Michael Oguine, one of the league’s premier defenders, said earlier this season. “It’s an adjustment every game and it’s frustrating with some of the fouls you get but that’s the way college basketball is going so you have to adjust and get used to it.”

Montana State (women's) head coach Tricia Binford delineates with a ref during Big Sky play

Montana State (women’s) head coach Tricia Binford delineates with a ref during Big Sky play

Free throw shooting has varied across the board on the men’s side of the Big Sky. Eastern Washington has shot a league-best 492 free throws, 38 more than second-place Weber State. UNC (446), Idaho (429) and Idaho State (417) have all shot more than 400. All but UNC has a top six seed in this week’s Big Sky Tournament in Reno.

Sacramento State (362) and Montana State (326) have shot the least free throws in the league. UNC has made just three less freebies than MSU has shot all season. Part of that has to do with the fact that Montana State has shot 769 3-pointers this season, including 476 in Big Sky play, 16 more than run and gun EWU.

Scoring is up and the whistles have been more prevalent. As teams continue to adjust, the prevalence of fouls is sure to dissipate. It’s not something the players across the league concern themselves with.

“I try not to get caught up with the refs or react to how the games are called,” Jois said. “I think everyone is always against the refs no matter what because you only really notice them when they make the wrong decision. I haven’t noticed the reffing too much so that must be a good thing.”



Idaho State 233 12.94

Eastern Washington 322 17.88

Portland State 332 18.44

Northern Arizona 338 18.77

Sacramento State 341 18.94

Montana State 347 19.27

Weber State 355 19.72

North Dakota 387 21.5

Idaho 395 21.9

Northern Colorado 407 22.61

Montana 410 22.77

Southern Utah 435 24.16


FOULS DRAWN Total Per Game

Southern Utah 400 22.22

Northern Colorado 391 21.72

Eastern Washington 379 21.05

Weber State 36320.16

Portland State 359 19.94

Idaho State 355 19.72

Montana 354 19.66

Montana State 352 19.55

North Dakota 352 19.55

Northern Arizona 349 19.38

Idaho 341 18.94

Sacramento State 334 18.55


Differential Drawn to committed

Idaho State +122

Eastern Washington +57

Portland State +27

Weber State +12

Northern Arizona +11

Montana State +5

Sacramento State -7

Northern Colorado -16

North Dakota -35

Southern Utah -35

Idaho -54

Montana -56


Free throws in league play Made Attempted

Eastern Washington 295 492

Weber State 301 454

Northern Colorado 323 446

Idaho 306 429

Idaho State 311 417

North Dakota 275 390

Portland State 255 382

Northern Arizona 263 381

Southern Utah 257 373

Montana 270 371

Sacramento State 236 362

Montana State 229 326

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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