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Defenses have changed, too, though not according to a set pattern. Clock opponents feared that teams would sit back in a zone because 1) the clock would not give the offensive team enough time to get a good shot and 2) an offensive team couldn't hold the ball to draw a defensive team into a man-to-man. Tennessee Coach Don DeVoe says this is exactly what's happening. "It's not as much fun coaching under the new rule," says DeVoe. "I felt all along the 45-second clock would take a lot of coaching out of the game, and it has."
On the other hand, some coaches are initiating more full- and half-court pressure to further limit the time an offensive team has to get into its pattern. But in the ACC, where one might have thought that defenses would have to change radically to adapt to more aggressive offenses, there have been only slight defensive adjustments. It's still basically a zone league, though the zones are playing tighter on the ball. That's because while the three-point shot begs for man-to-man coverage, the 30-second clock says zone.
Actually, a subtle rule change may have a greater effect in the SEC than the shot clock. The five-second close-guarding infraction, which used to force a jump ball if the offensive man did not make a move toward the basket, has been eliminated. Without that, strong point guards like Ennis Whatley of Alabama or Tyrone Beaman of Tennessee can almost single-handedly control tempo, clock or no clock. "Now we can afford to wait on something to open up inside," says Beaman. "I figure if we wait long enough, [Forward] Dale Ellis is going to shake loose sometime."
The most interesting theory about the clock is that it has helped the good rebounding teams. This is most prevalent in the SEC, where strong rebounders like Auburn and Florida are doing better than expected and a weaker rebounding team like Alabama is doing worse. It's based on the premise that a clock creates more possessions, more attempts, more misses and, thus, more rebounds.
The most obvious product of the clock and the three-point shot has been confusion. For one thing, the rules won't even be in effect during the NCAA tournament. For another, NCAA scoring averages count all field goals as two points in the ranking of individual scoring leaders. Charles Bradley of South Florida leads the country with a 28.9 average by the NCAA standard, but with full credit for his 24 three-pointers (in 48 attempts) his average is 30.2. But the confusion is most evident on the court: Did the clock run out or didn't it? Is that the three-point men's line you shot behind or the three-point women's line? Sorry, the scorekeeper missed the referee's three-point signal altogether.
There have been dozens of confirmed cases of experimental chaos, but none worse than what happened to Fresno State in its Jan. 22 PCAA game against UC-Irvine at the Anaheim Convention Center. Irvine was leading 74-71 when Fresno's Mitch Arnold made a three-point jump shot with 14 seconds left. Both officials signaled for three points, but the scoreboard operator was slow in recording the third point. Instead of a tie, the scoreboard had Irvine ahead 74-73 with time running out. Fresno's Tyrone Bradley glanced at the scoreboard, saw his team behind by one and fouled Irvine's Ben McDonald, who made two free throws to ice the win. Fresno Coach Grant was screaming at his team not to foul at the time, but Bradley didn't hear him.
Right about then, Grant felt as if the three-point shot was somewhere between the reptile cages and the lion cages. Maybe it should stay there.