Higher number of fouls seen in Illinois’ first 2 games


Illinois’ Jaylon Tate passes the ball to Maverick Morgan during the game against Jacksonville State at the State Farm Center on Sunday. The Illini won 86-62.

By Johnathan Hettinger

The whistle blows with 4 minutes and 25 seconds left in the first half during Sunday’s basketball game against Alabama State.

“Foul. White. No. 25,” the referee says.

Fans let out a collective sigh. The foul is the 18th in the game so far.

“Come on. Let ‘em play,” one fan yells.

With new, more stringent rules regarding how fouls will be called, college basketball fans will have to get used to the whistle being blown more often this season.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

In June, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved new rules making it tougher for offensive players to get charging fouls. The panel also stressed that more fouls be called when defenders keep a hand on an offensive player or use an armbar on defense.

The panel said it anticipates these rules “will allow for more offensive freedom,” something that was stressed after teams averaged 67.5 points per game last season, a 30-year low.  

In Illinois’ first two games, referees called 37 and 39 fouls, respectively. Last season, Illinois games had an average of 34.4 fouls called per game.

Across the nation, the increase in fouls has been visible. Indiana broke a 58-year-old program record by making 45 free throws in its season opener Friday. In a game Saturday between Seton Hall and Niagara, referees called 73 fouls, which led to 102 free throw attempts.

The change was made to increase scoring, with the goal of increasing viewership, but Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo thinks it will just mean more free throws and will backfire on the NCAA.

“You’ll be falling asleep,” Izzo said at Big Ten Media Day. “Is that what we want?”

With Illinois’ lack of 3-point shooting this season, point guard Tracy Abrams said he thinks the rule will benefit the Illini, especially Joseph Bertrand and Rayvonte Rice.

Not coincidentally, Bertrand and Rice were Illinois’ leading scorers in each of the first two games. On Friday, Rice scored 22 points, while shooting 10 free throws. Sunday, Bertrand scored 20 points and shot eight free throws.

Groce said he’s brought referees into practice more than in any other season to help Illinois adjust defensively. So far, Illinois’ perimeter defenders have struggled, while center Nnanna Egwu, who has struggled with fouls in the past, has committed just one foul in two games.


Tate better than advertised

The lowest-ranked recruit in the freshman class has had the most impact through the first two games of the season.

Freshman point guard Jaylon Tate was a 2-star recruit with not many BCS offers, and when John Groce missed out on five-star point guard Demetrius Jackson, he added Tate.

Tate has had a huge impact so far. He scored 10 points and dished out eight assists Sunday, outplaying starter Tracy Abrams for much of the game. Tate had two points and two assists Friday.

Groce has said the key to freshmen playing is taking care of the ball and playing defense. Tate has done that; he has one turnover through two games.

In addition to his production, Groce said Tate’s attitude makes him stand out among the freshmen.

“The one thing about him that you don’t realize until you actually coach him is that every day he focuses on getting better,” Groce said. “That allows him to improve at a very rapid rate, and he’s getting better every day because of that.”


Rotation developing

Through two games, the rotation Groce wants to use is becoming more visible.

Up front, Illinois has started Ekey at forward and Egwu at center in each of the first two games, with freshman Malcolm Hill being the first man off the bench. Hill played 17 minutes and scored four points and grabbed six rebounds Sunday. Colbert has received the fourth-most playing time, splitting 13 minutes Sunday at forward alongside Egwu and anchoring the defense at center. Morgan received the least playing time with just 5 minutes Sunday.

In the backcourt, Illinois has started Abrams, Rice and Bertrand, but Tate has played as much as the starters so far. 

Those four split the majority of time on the court, but sophomore walk-on Mike LaTulip has started to play spot duty as a backup point guard and 3-point specialist on the wing with 8 minutes. Freshman Kendrick Nunn also played 8 minutes, as a backup to Rice and Bertrand. Hill has also spent some time in the backcourt when Illinois opts for larger lineups.

Johnathan can be reached at [email protected] and @jhett93.