Off The Dribble

Many believe that since football is the major factor in the ACC's proposed expansion, that basketball will actually suffer because of it.

Syracuse, Boston College and, of course, Miami, are all blessed with solid football programs that would benefit the conference financially and competitively, but with the exception of recent national champion Syracuse, their basketball programs have little to offer. That is, unless you look at it from another angle: one that shows how the addition of one potential powerhouse and two mediocre teams to a traditionally strong, but recently post-season weak conference could actually help the ACC gain significantly more clout in terms of NCAA Tournament consideration.

The ACC has long been considered one of the most successful conferences in the nation in terms of postseason men's basketball. But because the conference has been mired in parity over the past several years, the ACC has constantly struggled to get more than three of its nine teams into the NCAA Tourney. While bigger conferences like the Big 12 and the SEC had enough patsies in their membership to make their upper tier teams look better in front of the NCAA selection committee (and hence, get more of them in the tournament), the ACC was too good from top to bottom and its teams would "beat each other up" because there were no easy wins within the conference to fatten winning percentages.

Expansion would change all that. The addition of teams like Boston College and Miami would give the conference a definitive lower tier, and the other teams a couple more patsies to paste in league play. Just like the Pac-10 has Oregon State, Washington and Washington State for their upper echelon to feast upon, the ACC would have its weaker division.

The Big Ten experienced a similar effect when they extended an invitation to Penn State, a traditional football powerhouse, several years ago. While the Penn State football team aided in securing the conference another Bowl Championship Series representative, the basketball team contributed a post-season appearance every now and then, but mostly served as another punching bag to the Big Ten's elite teams. It was this extra team that helped the conference to get seven teams into the Big Dance not too long ago. Again, we're talking the NCAA Tournament – not a bunch of meaningless bowl games.

Since expansion, the Big 12 has consistently gotten six teams into the NCAA Tourney every year. Could the conference have achieved that feat if it were still the Big Eight? Could they have done it without the likes of perennial cellar-dwellers Kansas State, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Baylor?

True, the ACC could lose a bit of the mystique and integrity it has been building for decades, the elimination of the home-and-home series between some teams can weaken conference rivalries, and non-revenue sports like wrestling and field hockey will suffer significantly because of the increased travel. But for basketball, expansion makes financial sense. Getting more teams in the NCAA Tourney means more television exposure and, of course, increased revenue.

And as we all know from college football and its BCS abomination, it's all about the money. Isn't that what really matters in college sports these days?

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Much to the chagrin of college basketball fans across the nation, the NCAA has once again tampered with the rules of the game. This time, the organization's Rules Committee has decided to adopt international standards by moving the three-point line from 19'9" to 20'6", and by widening the lane at the baseline by nearly eight feet to resemble the trapezoid-shaped international key.

The changes, which will go into effect for the 2004-05 season, were meant to reduce "extremely physical play" and open up the court for more athletic players. They also appear to be the first step in a misguided effort to bring another sport that was born and raised in America in line with international styles that favor weaker and less aggressive teams (see volleyball). But do they really think these changes will represent a significant improvement to the sport?

If the changes were at all associated with the idea of improving shooting percentages, they would fail miserably. In fact, widening the lane will actually prove more detrimental for shooting percentages than any change to the 3-point line. By moving post players out away from the basket, they'll be forced to shoot more from outside their range. Also, it will push more guards and wing players to take ill-advised drives to the basket rather than taking the open outside shot.

This will also cause more true post players to flee to the NBA earlier and earlier. After all, where would be the better place to work on your low-post moves: in college, where you are forced further from the basket and are at the mercy of referees' interpretations, or in the NBA, where there is no trapezoidal lane and you can always train against the best big men in the world.

By the way, if NCAA officials couldn't make consistent calls for 3-second violations before, how in the world do they think they're going to make the calls now? This is just another case of the NCAA changing the rules of the game instead of ensuring their officials call the game as it is. I say, make more calls instead of more rules! Now, pardon me while I gnash my teeth in bitterness…

* * *

NC State center Josh Powell's decision to remain in the NBA draft is further proof that someone can be book-smart without having common sense. This is a kid who, while being an exemplary student at NCSU, averaged only 12 points and 5.2 rebounds per game and never totaled double figures in rebounding. At 6-9, 230 lbs., he's too small to guard NBA power forwards and he's far too slow to guard NBA wing forwards. He's inconsistent and often makes too many mental mistakes.

Most analysts project him as a mid-second round pick at best, and many have advised him to stay in school and work on his game. To make matters worse, he has struggled to make any kind of impression pre-draft workouts that he is ready to become a serviceable player at the next level.

He entered the draft because a friend saw his name in an internet NBA Draft projection that had Powell being taken with the 27th pick overall. Now he's getting some seriously bad advice to remain in the draft.

Is playing for Herb Sendek really that bad? The 2002-03 season could have been a breakout season for Josh and the Wolfpack, but now it looks as though State will have to depend on slow-moving (and not yet academically eligible) Jordan Collins and rail-thin project Adam Simons to man the post. Not very good options. (Note to Sendek: better add a center to your list of immediate recruiting priorities.)

And Powell? He seems bent on taking a risk now, instead of staying in school, developing his game and earning his degree. Does he realize that this decision will end up costing him millions of dollars and a future guarantee to start off in the NBA with a solid team, rather than overseas in some far away international league or wasting away in the NBA's developmental league?

There have been rumors that either Josh or a member of his family had done something to jeopardize his remaining college eligibility. If the rumors are true, then the damage is done and there's no going back. If not, then he still has an opportunity to take the wiser course of action. I mean common sense has to kick in sometime. Right?

* * *

If he actually ends up matriculating to Minnesota, former Duke recruit Kris Humphries will follow in the line of talented, yet delusional, forwards from Minnesota who think they're automatically ready for the NBA at the age of 19.

A few years ago, the line started with 7-1 Joel Przybilla, who didn't think he actually had to go to class at Minnesota until head coach Clem Haskins was fired and Dan Monson was brought in. He then decided to go to the big leagues rather than stay in school and has floundered in the NBA ever since, averaging 0.5 points per game for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Rick Rickert, who committed to Arizona during his senior year of high school, followed Przybilla and enrolled at Minnesota, where he enjoyed a solid two-year career, before entering this year's NBA draft. Currently, Rickert isn't even projected to go in the first round.

Now, Humphries thinks he'll be ready after one year of college ball. And after explaining that to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, he was released from his letter of intent to attend Duke and may now end up taking Rickert's spot in Minnesota… for one year. I wonder if he even knows that draft analysts say more about Josh Powell than they do about him.


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