The 2012-13 college basketball season saw the lowest scoring average among teams in more than 30 years. In turn, the NCAA passed changes in foul calls across the board that will favor offensive players.
It's no secret that such a change poses concern for Tennessee, who is boasting the motto "Tougher Breed" in representation of the defensive tenacity head coach Cuonzo Martin has instilled in Knoxville.
The changes include extra attention to defensive hand-checks and contact with the arms on an offensive player making a play toward the basket. Just as well, defenders have less time to set up for a charge with more calls going the offense's way.
To combat that, Martin led a scrimmage on Oct. 23 and brought in officials. So far, the Vols' third-year coach likes the way his team is adjusting to the new rules.
"We try to defend with arm's length anyway," Martin said. "We play a physical brand and try to defend arm's length without fouling. I thought we did a decent job."
For a player who struggled at times with foul trouble last season, Tennessee junior forward Jarnell Stokes' first reaction to the altered rules was concern.
"I'm pretty scared of the new rule changes," Stokes said. "I was already a guy who gets in foul trouble a lot."
In his first full season as a Vol, the Memphis native fouled out four times, two of which came in a three-game span against Kentucky and Ole Miss — both losses. In a five-game span of SEC play, he recorded 18 fouls.
Stokes broke down his struggles with adjusting to the new rules in last week's scrimmage.
"I couldn't contest shots," he said. "You know, a lot of times I like to body guys. I felt like I couldn't do that, just to stay out of foul trouble.
"I don't know, I guess I'll get more aggressive. Coach told me to stay aggressive, so I'll see how it goes."
Stokes then paused in his doubting, perhaps thinking about a 2012-13 campaign that included success offensively at 12.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per contest.
"I guess it could help me out on offense," he concluded.
With the impending return of fifth-year senior Jeronne Maymon on the blocks, charging rule changes could have a big impact.
"If you're a defensive guy like Jeronne, he made a living on taking charges," Martin said. "So now if you're a defensive guy, it's probably tough to take charges. It should be tough to get charges unless you just bulldoze a guy."
Despite the issues it poses defensively, Martin sees mounds of promise ahead for his star-studded frontcourt in the wake of these major changes.
His message was clear: the rules can help as much as they can hurt.
"I think the biggest question mark for us moving forward as a team, and I think for a lot of teams, is how you defend in the post," Martin said. "Because with guys like Jeronne and Jarnell, they're going to get fouled every time down."
Preseason SEC Player of the Year runner-up Jordan McRae said his team needs to walk a fine line to keep the rules from affecting the Vols' defensive possessions.
"I think they can hurt, if we're out there pushing and shoving guys," McRae said. "I mean, we're going to be as physical as we can be, up to the point to before they can call a foul."
For McRae, a scorer at heart, the changes could very well help out his cause. Martin described what it would take for the Vols to turn the new rules into a positive on offense.
"One of the things we stress on offense is really keeping your head down and getting to the rim," Martin said. "If you can do that, you can get to the free-throw line."