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Gazzolo Column: Things looking much better for college basketball

Last Modified: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 6:06 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

College basketball is back.

It’s early, but the sport seems to have regained its swagger.

Maybe it is the bevy of young, highly-hyped newcomers that have fans excited.

The latest group of one-and-dones have at least caught our attention, not only playing on the big stage but taking it over.

They give the game hope for a bright season even if they don’t stick around long enough to even apply for their first summer school.

Then there are the changes that have been made. They were needed and seem to be working.

Over the past few years college basketball has morphed into a grind-it-out game, where going into the paint was like flopping into a giant mosh pit.

The games slowed to a crawl as defenders grabbed, flopped and did everything they could to stop offensive players.

Scoring went way down, shooting was awful and fans lost interest.

But change seems to have arrived just when the game needed it the most.

Led by those youngsters, college basketball has tried to fix its problems. For now it is working, too.

Of course, major showcase games like Tuesday when four of the top five teams in the land played each other and eight of the top freshmen performced, doesn’t hurt. But it is more about the games themselves.

This may not please McNeese State head hoops coach Dave Simmons, who has seen his team give up an average of 95 points in its fist two games, but scoring is back.

The new rules, mostly on defense when it comes to hand checking, have stymied defenders and opened the game back up.

The greatest fear was that quicker whistles would turn games into free-throw shooting contests. So far that has not been the case.

Early results show that the pace of games is faster and the players are able to use their athletic abilities more than just their muscles.

All this is good for the game, with the exception of the foul trouble some players are getting into.

Tuesday night, in McNeese’s loss at Louisiana-Lafayette, freshman point guard Jamaya Burr, who was making his first start for the Cowboys, was hit with two fouls in the first three minutes.

That limited his time on the court, especially in the first half, and seemed to make him a bit tentative the rest of the night.

“He has to learn what he can and can’t do on defense,” Simmons said.

The McNeese coach pointed out that about all of his players, saying the new early part of this season will be one of a learning process for everybody when it comes to foul calling.

Officials are also adjusting.

None of this matters as much as getting points back into the game. That is what the fans want and that is what the game’s officials want to give them.

Putting offense back into college is key to the game’s future. No longer can schools count on players to promote their programs for three or four years.

Kids want to make their money as fast as they can, so it is up to the games themselves to do their own promoting. Fast action, high scoring, close contests will do that best.

It is good to see that officials are not always stuck in their ways, that they are willing to listen to their fans and learn.

College basketball will continue to evolve all winter, but in the early days of this season things are looking much better.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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