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AVANT GUARD
Alexander Wolff
March 17, 1997
A field (of 64) guide to the new Breed of penetrators who will control the NCAA tournament
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March 17, 1997

Avant Guard

A field (of 64) guide to the new Breed of penetrators who will control the NCAA tournament

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A key to Kentucky's national title last spring was forward Antoine Walker. He served a sort of drive-and-dish function from the forecourt, flashing through the middle, taking passes there and returning the ball to shooters beyond the three-point line. Similarly, top-ranked Kansas goes into this year's tournament as the favorite because the Jayhawks can effectively penetrate a defense in a variety of ways:

1) Vaughn breaks down his defender on the dribble or runs the old-fashioned pick-and-roll with frontcourt players Raef LaFrentz, Paul Pierce or Scot Pollard.

2) Pierce flashes into the middle and takes a pass from the wing.

3) Guard Jerod Haase stampedes along the baseline, looking for a hoop, a foul or a pitchout for a three, often to reserve swingman Billy Thomas.

4) The Jayhawks run a traditional motion offense, which is still devastatingly effective because they have threats both inside (LaFrentz and Pollard) and out (Haase, Pierce, Thomas and Vaughn).

THE COLD WAR IS OVER, AND THE RUSSIANS WON

Rick Pitino, the college game's earliest exponent of the three-point shot, says he took inspiration for his tone-setting offense from the spread-it-and-swish-it Soviet teams of the 1980s. Going into the 1986-87 season, the one in which the three-pointer was introduced into the U.S. college game, Pitino, then coaching Providence, decided he wanted the Friars to launch at least 20 treys a game. But just before the season began. Providence hosted an exhibition game against the Soviets and had to come from behind to win as the visitors squeezed off 30 three-pointers. "That's when I raised our goal to 25 a game," says Pitino. With guards Billy Donovan, Delray Brooks and Carlton Screen penetrating and kicking the ball out, the Friars made the '87 Final Four.

A decade later the rest of college basketball has caught on. We—and Pitino's defending NCAA champs at Kentucky—will soon find out if anyone has caught up.

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