"I think that's what experimentation is all about, to see what's good for basketball," says Smith. "I believe these rules are good for the game."
But even if the scores are different in the ACC, the balance of power isn't. Versatile teams that can go inside or outside, or play up-tempo or slowdown, as North Carolina can, are winning. Weak teams that use the three-point shot out of desperation or necessity, such as Clemson, are losing. Strong teams that don't use the three-point shot, like Virginia, are winning. Confused teams that don't know how to use the three-point shot, like Maryland, remain confused.
But the experiments have made a difference in the standings elsewhere. Akron University was the projected pits of the eight-team Ohio Valley Conference, but it was tied for third place last Sunday, mostly on the strength of its three-point shooting. Led by Guard Joe Jakubick, who was 34 of 82, the Zips have attempted and made more three-pointers than any other team in the country. Jakubick is the country's second most prolific three-point scorer, trailing Georgia Tech's Mark Price (35 of 91) and leading South Alabama's Michael Gerren (29 of 60) and University of California-Irvine's George Turner (27 of 56).
On the other hand, defending PCAA champion Fresno State, which used its tough man-to-man defense and a possession offense to go 27-3 overall and 13-1 in the conference last year, has been hurt by that league's 30-seconds-past-midcourt clock; Fresno was 12-6 and 3-4 through last week.
And defenses have been changed by the three-pointer. In previous years, most teams sitting on a lead near the end of the game would go to a zone, much as NFL teams go to the "prevent." But this year man-to-man is still being played at the end because a three-point sharpshooter can put the opposition back into contention. The carefully crafted traditional defenses, such as Idaho's matchup zone that Coach Don Monson learned from Jud Heathcote, have had to change with the times, too. "We're in a defense that has been good to us for years and all of a sudden we're trying to protect against a three-point play and we're spreading ourselves out," laments Monson.
Surprisingly, though, there have been remarkably few games in which the outcome has turned on a three-point shot. North Carolina has benefited twice: Jimmy Braddock's shot beat Maryland 72-71 on Jan. 12 and Sam Perkins tied Wake Forest last week with 1:08 left while Smith was yelling for a time-out. The Heels then won 80-78 on two free throws. Occasionally the late moments of a game produce a no-guts, no-glory situation. Trailing Idaho 57-55 late in a Big Sky game on Jan. 13, Northern Arizona chose to go for a three-pointer and victory rather than the higher-percentage two-pointer for a tie. Rick Rodriguez missed the shot and Idaho hung on. Idaho, incidentally, has not made any of its seven three-point attempts this year.
The effect of the shot clock cannot be measured as neatly as that of the three-point basket. First of all, the most meaningless stat in all of this experimental business is how many times the shot clock expires. The answer is hardly ever. But so what? Even a team of eighth-graders would know enough to throw up some sort of shot with time running out.
It surprises no one that scoring hasn't changed dramatically in the three conferences (Southeastern, Southwest and Big East) that have only a shot clock. The time limit is 45 seconds in each of these conferences, and even the most conservative of coaches, like Fresno State's Boyd Grant, has said that a 40- or 45-second clock wouldn't change the game profoundly, though a 30-second one might.
Further, the clock has not made a big difference in field-goal accuracy. The prevailing theory was that, without a clock, teams had time to work the ball inside for the best possible shot. That was one reason shooting accuracy has been so high (around 48% the last five years).
This isn't to say, however, that the clock hasn't made any difference. Though college basketball remains a game of upsets, in experimental areas those upsets can no longer be achieved with the refrigerator. On Jan. 15 a fired-up Texas team shot out to a 10-0 lead over heavily favored Houston. "If it hadn't been for the clock," said Texas Coach Bob Weltlich, "we never would have shot the ball again." But shoot it they had to, and Houston won easily 77-52.