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Coaches adjusting to NIT rules experiment

Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner yells to

Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner yells to an official about a call in the first half of an NCAA basketball game against Syracuse in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, March 4, 2017. Credit: AP / Nick Lisi

This year’s NIT might be more than a consolation prize for teams that missed the Big Dance or a steppingstone for programs on the rise. It could be the herald of a new era in college basketball with a better flow to games because of an innovative rule.

Or maybe not. Anyway, the coaches who brought their teams to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals this week have been at least intrigued with the experiment that resets team fouls to zero after every 10 minutes—effectively dividing games into quarters rather than halves. Quarters are used in just about all games on every level internationally, including women’s college basketball, but it has been unique for the 2017 NIT teams.

“It’s been good,” said Rod Barnes, coach of Cal State-Bakersfield and former Naismith Coach of the Year at Ole Miss. “Obviously, it’s different. But for us, because we play aggressive defense, it has benefited our team. It’s something that I would like to see continued, if I have a vote.”

Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner is pleased that the NIT did not formally divide the game into quarters. He likes the tradition of 20-minute halves. As for the reset rule, the former player on Arizona’s national championship team and John Calipari’s assistant and successor at Memphis said, “I think it has actually moved the game faster. I kind of like it.”

Because many regular-season college games have become momentum-draining free-throw contests, with teams reaching the double bonus early in each half and repeatedly going to the line, the NCAA decided to use the NIT as a laboratory. At the 10-minute mark of each half, each side is given a clean slate of team fouls. The threshold for the penalty situation is four team fouls per 10-minute segment. With the fifth, the opponent gets two free throws on shooting and non-shooting plays alike. There is no one-and-one situation.

“I do believe in the one-and-ones. I wish there were a way to incorporate it, to still keep that flavor that is unique to college,” said Central Florida coach Johnny Dawkins, the former Duke star who coached Stanford to the NIT title five years ago. “There is always less pressure when you’re guaranteed two free throws. You should have to earn the second one.

“I’ve been fine with the reset. It hasn’t been a difficult adjustment at all. As you start to play more and more games, you start to game-plan things you’re capable of doing. It’s pretty neat, actually,” Dawkins said.

TCU coach Jamie Dixon, who returned to his alma mater this season after a long and successful run at Pittsburgh, said, “I don’t know what the purpose of it is, but in some ways it can get you less free throws, in some ways it can get you more. I don’t love it. I think you can get in situations where you’re fouling in the last couple seconds of that 10-minute first quadrant. I don’t know if you want to have four of those situations throughout a game.”

Players say they barely have noticed any difference. “The first game, they mentioned it a little bit but after that they said, ‘Just go out there and play. It will work itself out,’ ” Georgia Tech center Quinton Stephens said.

Former St. John’s coach Fran Fraschilla, who has been working NIT games for ESPN and emceed the coaches news conference in Midtown Manhattan Monday, believes there is a notable and positive difference for fans in the arenas and the TV audience. He asserted the NCAA should and will adopt the plan.

“I love it. Men’s college basketball is the only basketball entity in the world without four quarters,” he said. “The flow of the game is better and there’s more strategy involved.”

He said that switching to quarters has helped the women’s game, adding, “You can say what you want, but the women often are ahead of the men on these changes.”

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