Mar 12, 2022; Kansas City, MO, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Bill Fennelly looks on in the first half against the Texas Longhorns at Municipal Auditorium. Mandatory Credit: Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Freedom of movement in college basketball is dead — and has been for a while.
That fact was hammered home again on Saturday during Iowa State’s 82-73 loss to Texas in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals. The officiating wasn’t the reason Iowa State lost the game, but the way the Longhorns were allowed to defend the entire game certainly played a role.
“There’s no such thing as freedom of movement. No such thing,” Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said postgame. “It’s going to get worse (in the NCAA Tournament).”
This most certainly is not only a problem for women’s college basketball but for the men’s side, as well.
The NCAA rules committee placed an emphasis on freedom of movement seven years ago by directing officials to clean up actions that impeded ball-handlers and cutters. These moves were made as an effort to clean up some of the things that were causing scoring to decrease at a rapid rate.
Again, they were supposed to clean up the impeding of ball-handlers and cutters that prevented them from moving freely around the court offensively.
Have you watched a college basketball game — men’s or women’s — lately?
Impeding ball-handlers and cutters has never been more prevalent, and yet the men’s side is on pace to set an all-time low for the average number of fouls per game.
That is inexplicable.
The Texas Tech men have built their entire program off of these things. Texas’ women just rode those things into the Big 12 Tournament final.
Every basketball game turning into a back alley brawl is not good for the game of basketball. It makes games harder to watch and less exciting.
Offenses can’t operate properly without trying to match that physicality then if they match that physicality, they’ll watch as the official exuberantly calls an offensive foul.
Just ask Emily Ryan, who was the victim of this fact multiple times on Saturday despite Texas’ Rori Harmon (who is a great college defender) riding Ryan’s hip for 90 feet nearly every time the ball was inbounded.
I don’t necessarily blame officials for these things because they are calling games the way their supervisors direct them to, but something has to be done to get officials to call blatant fouls in front of them rather than looking for ridiculous points of emphasis that are wildly inconsistent.
Something must be done to open the floor back up for offenses in college basketball. The product will suffer if this doesn’t occur because these games get more and more physical every year.
“Anyone who says there is (freedom of movement) doesn’t understand the game,” Fennelly said. “That’s not my decision. There is no freedom of movement in the game of basketball on the women’s side. Zero. It is what it is.”
The genie is only going to get harder to put back in the bottle — and Big 12 men’s and women’s basketball is the perfect proof of this.
Yes, Big 12 men’s and women’s basketball is still awesome. The men’s side was the best conference in America this year by a landslide, but that doesn’t mean it is without flaws.
The biggest flaw is the thing that is portrayed by some as its biggest strength — and it wouldn’t shock me at all to see that strength come back to bite multiple Big 12 teams in the butt once the NCAA Tournament starts next week.
Fennelly isn’t alone in saying this. Other Big 12 coaches are taking notice and are rightfully starting to call it out.
“I happen to think that there are some fouls the other way that if they called the game would be cleaner because this damn thing is a wrestling match and it’s been that way all year,” Kansas State women’s coach Jeff Mittie said after his team’s loss to Texas on Friday. “Our league is criticized across the country for it, too. You read articles all the time about there is no freedom of movement in the Big 12, and they’re talking about men’s basketball… That’s a concern for our game.”
How this has happened is probably a question for someone a lot smarter about officiating college basketball games than me, but something needs to be done sooner rather than later.
Freedom of movement faced a swift death at the hands of teams allowed to hand-check ball handlers for 40 minutes, ride cutters off their path on every possession and play physically in the post past the point of standard ruggedness.
Teams like the Iowa State women — which I would describe as a finesse team — are the ones that suffer the consequences, and that is incredibly unfortunate because of how fun they are to watch.
Somehow, this finesse team is the one that was called for 17 fouls after halftime despite being the less physical squad — by a considerable margin.
Texas was only whistled for seven fouls in the second half. That’s not because the Longhorns played good clean defensive basketball, but instead were allowed to foul all over the place for the entirety of the game and you can’t blow your whistle at everything, right?
Wrong — or at least it should be.
The NBA figured these things out years ago when games were becoming less exciting and teams like the 2004 Detroit Pistons were riding the ability to muck up games to championships.
As a result, we got the joy of watching guys like Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant become superstars because they’re allowed to move around the court without the fear of being mugged every time they take a step.
It is time for college basketball to do the same thing — again.