Through two games last season, the Longhorns averaged 62 points a game. Two games into the 2013-14 campaign that average has ballooned to 80.
This is a staggering shift from one season to another, especially after Texas lost its top four scorers from last year. With so little experience returning and a historically stagnant Rick Barnes offense, what explains the jump?
A significant alteration to the rules, designed to stir a game previously grounded in school-yard basketball principals of contact without repercussion. In May, the NCAA rules committee enacted rules designed to increase scoring and quicken the static pace of college basketball games. The new rules — a crackdown on hand checking, placing more definition on the block-charge call and further dictating how a player can defend in the post — eliminate constant bumping on the perimeter, giving offenses more freedom to drive to the basket.
“With these new rules in place, just about every coach in the country is telling their guys to drive the ball whenever they can,” Barnes said. “If the officials call the game the way they are expected to, the rule will benefit guys who are aggressive on the offensive end.”
Barnes adjusted his offensive principals in the offseason, altering his philosophy to best suit the rule changes. Instead of an offense based in working the ball around the perimeter while two shooters work off screens to find an opening, Barnes shifted his offense to up-tempo. He wants to see a shot go up six seconds into the possession.
This shift has effectively jump-started the Longhorn offense, allowing the team’s quicker guards to penetrate in the lane, either drawing contact or kicking the ball out to a shooter on the outside. Texas lacks a traditional scorer, so this spread-the-ball-around mentality aides in the team’s youth transition.
But paralleling the increased scoring output, the Longhorns’ defensive numbers have slipped. Through two games last season, Texas surrendered 50 points per game; through two games this year 75.
The increased emphasis on stopping hand checks and contact around the perimeter places a strain on Barnes’ pressure-heavy, man-to-man system. In the past, Texas’ guards were
encouraged to body up to their man, leaving little space and using a series of subtle hand checks to restrict movement.
“We taught defense the way we’ve always taught them,” Barnes said. “[The new rules] have taken aggression away.”
The augment of offense and restriction of defense can be accredited to the rules. Now, Barnes must continue to modify his strategies, helping his young team adjust to a giant shift in college basketball.