If the new rules were designed to improve the pace of play in college basketball, someone didn't give the memo to Wichita State and Charleston Southern. The two teams combined for 66 fouls in the season opener, a game that never really found its rhythm.
The Shockers were able to prevail in the foul fest, mainly because the bench availed themselves well, as they were forced into action early and often with the quick whistles. The final score: 88-63.
No, that wasn't it. The real score was 39-27, the foul marks between the two teams. These new rules were supposed to decrease the number of whistles during games. Instead, all it has done for the first 24 hours has been to give coaches a Pavlovian response that will have them jumping awake in the middle of the night, sweat pouring from their temples as they contemplate the depth of their benches.
Maybe there was a better way to ease into the new rules for this season. Possibly teams could have been allowed to play more exhibition matches with the stricter enforcement. Maybe then they wouldn't have been forced to stop their play every 30 seconds as if they were in a practice and failing at whatever the coach was trying to get across to them. Teams were forced to put transfers and freshman into action early, and the only increase in action we saw were teams walking from one end of the floor to the other to shoot free throws.
The side effect of all the whistles and fouls was that Wichita State was able to get a long look at its depth on the floor, although the longest look was at Landry Shamet, whose appearance had nothing to do with the referees.
According to head coach Gregg Marshall, Fred VanVleet tweaked his ankle early in the first half, adding to a nagging hamstring injury that had threatened to keep him out of the game. VanVleet never returned after the first several minutes, and Shamet got his taste of Division 1 basketball early.
The freshman went 3-for-8 from the floor, including two 3-pointers, and added two assists for the Shockers. If he can be that good and dependable off the bench for Wichita State, it will be a big boost for them in the backcourt, especially with these new foul rules.
Wichita State gets its identity from playing hard, face-up defense and they are going to be challenged in this new environment. It didn't matter against Charleston Southern, who struggled to find its rhythm, as they were constantly in foul trouble. But it will matter against a number of teams on the Wichita State schedule. Luckily the bench saw, and played, some good minutes tonight. Eric Hamilton was a ball hawk, grabbing seven rebounds and scoring 13. J.R. Simon added four points, and his contributions just don't appear in the stat sheet.
This game was for learning about the rest of the Shocker team, but no one expected it would be under these circumstances. Certainly, Ron Baker got his, totaling 15 points, and newcomer Anton Grady added 12 inside for the Shockers. Rashard Kelly proved that he can be a solid addition to the starting lineup with seven points and four rebounds.
The bench though is where this team will live and die this season, and they succeeded this Friday in an opening night win. Marshall has a lot to work on, especially with getting his team to adapt and learn the new rules, but they will be fine in the long term.
By Tuesday, fans should be able to get a better understanding of how this team will play when they can actually play for more than 30 seconds at a stretch. Then the real Shockers for this season will be on display, and this team that is totally worthy of its top 10 ranking will have a better opportunity to showcase its talents.