Brumby's Daily Column: October 25, 2005

Brumby looks at some of the news articles that are revolving around college athletics for the day and provides some thoughts on them and the world of Illini sports.

ESPN's college basketball experts have been talking about the Agents of Change in College Basketball over the last twenty years, and looking forward to what the landscape of college basketball will look like ten years in the future as they preview the start of the 2005 college basketball season. Among the topics discussed are: The Big East, the impact of the three-point shot, the cultural impact of the Fab 5, the NCAA Tournament as a cash cow, the shoe influence, and prep stars making the jump to the NBA.

If you notice in the series, there is only one thing on here about the changing face of college basketball that involves the play on the court: the three-point shot. Every other topic ESPN has looked to cover is all about the money being thrown into college basketball, the way the sport is marketed by the schools, shoe companies, and the NCAA as a whole, and how professional basketball has changed the landscape of college basketball. For now, I am going to ignore those factors and move to the changes that have happened on the court in my time as a fan (it does not quite span twenty years, as I always had the three-point shot, but it is about the same period ESPN is discussing here).

The easiest thing every fan and expert can point to that has changed college basketball in the last twenty years is the three point shot. People call it the great equalizer, and have pointed to the three point shot as the reason so many mid-major teams have been able to hang with the high-major programs in the NCAA Tournament. The three-pointer has done more than just allow the mid-major programs to hang with the high-major programs in the NCAA Tournament, it has also changed how players are developed. Duke's JJ Redick told ESPN's Andy Katz that it even changed how he developed as a player:
"Growing up, most kids want to be outside shooting 3s," said the 6-4 Redick. "I would have developed differently without it. I would have probably spent more time working on my ballhandling skills, trying to be a point guard or something."
Basically, JJ is telling the readership of ESPN that without the three-point shot he would have developed himself as a more rounded basketball player, but instead he stayed behind the arc and practiced his shooting. Why? It is more glorifying to score three-points on one shot, and these shots are glorified on the ESPN highlight reels.

The introduction of the three-point shot was supposed to open up the game, and increase the fluidity of teams offenses by not allowing the defense to just pack it in and defend the low post. The three point shot definitely did do that, and it changed the game of college basketball forever, but now it is time for the game of college basketball to adjust to the three point shot. The easiest way to do that is to move the three-point line out to the international level, something the NCAA has been experimenting with for the past few seasons in certain pre-season tournaments, but that rule change would not be enough to lessen the impact of the shot itself.

Since Rick Pitino made taking the three-point shot the thing to do in college basketball when he was at Providence, other college coaches have perfected the idea that the three point shot is a deadly weapon in the game of college basketball. Unfortunately, just moving out the three-point line would not work to take the emphasis off of the three-pointer entirely, to do that you have to facilitate other rules changes (or the actual enforcing of already on the books rules) to make an impact.

There are reasons teams take so many three-point shots besides the fact that three is more than two, and it is a solid offensive strategy. One of those major reasons is defenses in college basketball are allowed to make contact with the offensive players way too often without a foul being called. Now, I am not advocating a foul on every possession, because you could call one easily, but the refs should be focusing on two things to make the game of basketball flow more: (1) eliminate the defenders ability to hand check the ball handler and (2) eliminate the defenders ability to chuck offensive players making cuts through the lane or on the baseline. Until basketball refs are calling these fouls, the extension of the three point line would just mean players are taking farther threes, and an improvement in the college game would not come.

What does eliminating the defenders ability to hand check provide offenses? Simple it give the ball handler more freedom and space to make a move. If defenders are not allowed to hand check the guy with the ball (thank you Pat Riley for his being commonplace), offensive players will be able to break down the defender better and get the basketball in the lane. Once the offensive player is in the lane, one of four things will happen: (1) a high-percentage shot for him, (2) a trip to the free throw line, (3) a high percentage shot for a teammate as the defense collapses, or (4) a wide open outside shot for a teammate as the defense collapses. The NBA has recently started to call more hand check fouls in an effort to free up the game and increase offensive flow, and it is time for college basketball to follow suit. This is a simple change, but a decided emphasis on calling hand check fouls would improve the game, and would require no real rules changes.

What does eliminating the defenders ability to chuck offensive players making cuts do? Simple, if creates a much better offensive flow. I don't know how many times last season I would see a baseline screen set for a wing player, and then the big man defender after calling out the screen would go and bump into the cutter. This slowing down of the cutter is a good defensive idea, and it is something I would coach my players to do until it is called because it effectively makes the baseline cut null and void as his teammate will now catch up to the offensive player, not giving him the open shot at the short corner.

So without even changing the rules of the game, the NCAA can make it better if they uniformly enforce these two rules across the game of college basketball.

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