“That’s more contact,” Gators coach Michael White shouted during Florida’s win over St. Josephs.
“And that’s more contact!”
It is a supposed point of emphasis for referees entering this college basketball season, but White was emphasizing his point following yet another seemingly benign foul call during last weekend’s Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament.
White, like many fans, had become frustrated with the developing foul-fest and what he perceived to be inconsistencies in what was and was not drawing a whistle.
“And that’s more contact,” he again argued to a nearby referee, suggesting the unfolding play was drawing more contact than had been whistled during a prior play that yielded another Kasey Hill foul.
White was not lobbying for more fouls, but making argument for fewer by pointing out contact that occurs during any basketball possession.
Narrowly avoiding a technical foul, his expressed exasperation did illicit an explanation. But one was not needed.
White and his team are well aware of the effort to free-up offensive flow by eliminating the hand-checking, bumping and grabbing that previously would have been considered physical, but acceptable defense.
But, not this year.
Referees are sounding the alarm – - – or whistle.
Again and again and again.
And the emphasis seems most impactful on the perimeter, where contact once labeled “touch fouls” are fouling players out of games — including Kasey Hill, who used up all five against St. Josephs.
But Hill is not alone is his struggle to adjust. Through four games, Florida has averaged 22.5 fouls a contest. During the same initial span a year ago, the Gators averaged 6 less per game.
“For a pressing team, we can’t allow teams the easy way out by fouling them and stopping the play,” White stressed during the offseason.
Though practice has yet to make perfect, Florida did play a cleaner game versus Purdue — committing 19 team fouls. But perhaps gun-shy from its preceding game, the Gators pressed less aggressively and defended far less effectively.
For Dorian Finney Smith, the solution is simple.
“We have to do a better job of playing without fouling the opposing team,” he said after a foul-infused victory over St. Josephs.
And though initially hampered by the tight whistles, Florida hopes to turn this refereeing emphasis to its advantage by exploiting a level of depth often not matched by the opposition.
“With people being in foul trouble, if you have deeper guys – you can play more and more,” Forward Devin Robinson said. “You can spread it out and it makes it easier on everyone.”
In theory, Florida’s equally aggressive offense should draw fouls at a higher rate — and in doing so create trouble for its opponent.
But the adjustment has been far from easy, especially for a team often defending the length of the court. And though White employed an atypical match-up zone this past weekend, do not expect wholesale changes to Florida’s aggressive approach.
Instead, White looks for improvement from a team still on the upward arc of its learning curve.
“To ask them to play really, really hard and really, really intelligently — it’s a process,” he conceded.
That process resumes versus Vermont.