Now that the college basketball season is underway and we have three games under our belts, it's time to reflect a tad on a few observations from week one of college basketball.
First of all referees; rules were changed in the offseason and officials were instructed to disallow much of the contact and hand-checking that had been going on in recent years. They were told to blow the whistle more in hopes of reducing defense and creating more offense after scoring averages slipped the last few seasons. Unfortunately, during opening weekend across the country that plan backfired a little with multiple games taking over two-and-a-half hours to complete, and scores actually being lower than ever before.
Hard to encourage offense when a zebra is blowing the whistle every 30 seconds and putting someone at the free-throw line. We shot 28 at Washington State, fellow Western Athletic Conference-mate Kansas City set a school record with 72 free throws in their first game, and that was just a few examples.
By the time last week rolled around it was apparent someone in the NCAA got to the officials and told them to cool it a little. In our wins over UC Merced and Sacramento State, we shot a combined 37 free-throws and much of the contact that was called so tightly just days before at Washington State, was again allowed. Defense wins championships, not scoring-averages.
Funny thing is as I watched other games from the ACC, Big 12, Big 10 and Big East I didn't see the new rules being enforced in earnest like they were on the West Coast; maybe it's something in the water. Or maybe they're growing a different crop of official in the heartland.
As far as our conference, the WAC is concerned; it was a pretty good start for a league that many naysayers are poking fun of because of the massive-shift in membership. Conference favorite New Mexico State went 2-1 at a tournament in Hawai'i, including a 95-88 win over the Rainbow Warriors themselves. Utah Valley won a few games then took a few lumps when stepping up in competition against eighth-ranked Oklahoma State, but hey that's going to happen once in a while.
Seattle pulled off a nice win battling back from 18 down with just 12 minutes remaining to beat Cal State Fullerton. Given Bakersfield's checkered history with the Big West Conference, I can't say it doesn't make me grin when a WAC team handles a Big West opponent. I also realized that one can in fact wake up in Pullman, Wash., have breakfast in Seattle, eat lunch in San Francisco then have dinner at a wedding reception in Monterey, CA, all in a 12-hour span. Some call us jet-setters; I think I'm just plain crazy. But thanks to my wife for the assist driving from Bakersfield to San Francisco to pick me up so we could make our friend's wedding reception on the beach the night after our season opener at Washington State.
Nothing like watching the sun rise over the rolling hills of Eastern Washington then watching it set over the Pacific. A poetic opening to what promises to be another chaotic chapter of life.
COREY COSTELLOE, a Tehachapi High graduate, is Director of New Media and Broadcasting for California State University, Bakersfield.