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Inside College Basketball
Posted: Wednesday December 02, 1998 11:24 AM
A Rule Made To Be Broken
North Carolina cashed in at the Chase NIT
By Seth Davis
Brooklyn was in the house last Friday night at Madison Square Garden. This was apparent because every time North Carolina junior point guard Ed Cota made a good play, someone in the crowd shouted out, "Brooklyn in the house." For Cota, who grew up in the Crown Heights section of that borough, last week's Chase NIT was his first chance to play in the world's most famous arena, and he made the most of it. He had 28 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists as the Tar Heels improved to 6-0 and won the championship with victories over then No. 14 Purdue and No. 3 Stanford. Cota was the obvious--not to mention popular--choice for the MVP award. "It seemed like I knew everybody there," he said afterward. "I gave out 30 tickets, but I could have used a hundred, easy. It felt like a dream come true."
Ed was in eighth grade when the accident occurred. Cecilia and Jorge spent much of the following year recovering in Panama, while Ed lived with his grandmother, Felicia, back in Brooklyn, where he slipped into a pattern of truancy that lasted almost two years. He righted himself with the help of Eric (Rock) Eisenberg, his coach at Tilden High, who later arranged for Cota to transfer to St. Thomas More Academy in Oakdale, Conn. "I knew I had to get out of Brooklyn," Cota says. "I had too many distractions."
Cota was the ACC rookie of the year as a freshman at North Carolina, and his 274 assists in his sophomore year broke the Tar Heels' single-season record, set by Kenny Smith in 1984-85. If he keeps up his pace of 8.5 assists per game through Sunday, he'll break Smith's career assists record of 768 by March.
While he was home, Cota visited one of his best friends from Brooklyn, Dee McAarthur, who earlier last month had completed a six-year term at the Adirondack Correctional Facility in Elizabethtown, N.Y., for selling crack cocaine. Cota gave his buddy tickets for both games at the Garden. "I was really happy to see him. We did everything together growing up," says Cota, who is thankful for every reminder of where he has been and how far he has come. "Not too many people I grew up around have had the opportunities I've had. I feel blessed."
Two years ago Cincinnati led No. 1 Kansas by 16 points in an early-season tournament only to collapse in the second half and lose 72-65, a defeat that seemed to sour their whole season. The Bearcats found themselves in a similar spot last Saturday, having frittered away a 19-point lead to No. 1 Duke in the final of the Great Alaska Shootout. With three seconds remaining and the score 75-75, Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins called for the play known as Home Run, which began with Ryan Fletcher's tossing a baseball pass from his own baseline to center Kenyon Martin at the top of the opposite key. Martin deftly made a touch pass to a cutting Melvin Levett, who slammed home the dunk that gave Cincinnati a 77-75 win. "You work on that play in practice, but you never expect it to work that well," Levett said later. "I guess a Home Run is what it takes to beat the best."
The Bearcats, who are now 4-0 and ranked sixth, had built the huge lead against Duke with their trademark smothering half-court defense, forcing 11 turnovers in the first half. But they came out tentatively in the second half, scoring just eight points in one 10-minute span. "I'm proud of our team because we had a chance to pack it in but didn't," Huggins said.
The win was especially sweet for Levett, who entered the game shooting just 28% from the field but nailed 11 of 14 shots to finish with 25 points--and one home run. Levett had been pointing to this game since the first day of conditioning drills on Sept. 24, when he ripped off the cover of a magazine featuring Duke guard Trajan Langdon's picture and posted it in his locker. "I've looked at that picture almost every day, and it wasn't because I like the guy," said Levett after the game. "We had to travel millions of miles, but we showed the world we're for real."
Moments after Temple's 60-59 win over Michigan State on Nov. 20, Owls coach John Chaney shook hands with Spartans coach Tom Izzo and said, "We beat you on a rule change." Chaney was referring to the new held-ball rule, which the NCAA's men's basketball rules committee implemented this season. It stipulates that if the defense causes a tie-up, the ball is awarded to the defense regardless of which direction the possession arrow is pointed. (All other tie-ups are subject to the old alternating-possession system.) Temple was awarded the ball on tie-ups three times in the final minutes against Michigan State; without those possessions, the Owls could not have won. Still, Chaney disparaged the new rule. "I don't think anybody should be awarded a game on a draw," he said. "We won on it tonight but could just as easily have lost."
Early returns indicate that most coaches share Chaney's opinion. Even Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, a member of the rules committee, says the rule is "absolutely not working." Exhibit A: If a defensive player forces a loose ball, grabs it and is immediately tied up, the ball is given back to his opponent, on the theory that the offense became the defense when the ball was turned over. Montgomery says this was not the intent of the committee. "It has been a disadvantage to us three times already," he says. "That's not what it was set up to do. I think it needs a review."
The rule has also drawn criticism because it adds another element of subjectivity for the referees, which is why the men in stripes appear to dislike it. After one game last week, five refs were asked if they liked the new rule, and all said no. "There has to be a balance between the offense and the defense," said one. "I think the balance has changed."
Montgomery isn't ready to bail on the rule yet. There is, however, precedent for the NCAA to abandon a rule that isn't working. After North Carolina State won the NCAA title in 1983 by fouling liberally at the end of games, the NCAA put in the so-called Valvano Rule, making fouls in the last two minutes worth two shots rather than a one-and-one. Teams started fouling earlier, making the ends of games interminable, so the old rules were restored after just two months. South Florida coach Seth Greenburg would like to see a similar move now: "We're better off saying, It's not working. Let's toss it out."
Issue date: December 7, 1998
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