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Jack McCallum
November 29, 1982
Twelve major conferences are experimenting with new rules intended to increase scoring
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November 29, 1982

It Will Be One Testy Season

Twelve major conferences are experimenting with new rules intended to increase scoring

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But some coaches even dispute the notion that the deployment of man-to-man defenses will increase. Creighton Coach Willis Reed, for example, feels the Missouri Valley Conference's shot is close enough—19'9" from the center of the basket—to be adequately covered by a zone. Only a shot of more than 21 feet would force a change in defense, he believes. Bradley Coach Dick Versace points out that defenses won't change that much until offensive players demonstrate they can make the three-point shot. This is further proof that the experiments will only make good teams better.

For example, North Carolina, if zoned, can go to Michael Jordan or Matt Doherty or Jim Braddock for the three-point shot. If manned, the Heels can bang it inside to Sam Perkins. Good teams have particular strengths, to be sure, but they also have the players to do other things well. One three-point marksman won't turn a bad team into a good one. One three-point marksman can make a good team a better one.

The three-point shot could have two specific consequences. The first is of questionable benefit to the game—players may be pulling up and firing more long-range shots off fast breaks. The pull-up jumper is a good idea for a good shooter, a bad idea if a Keith Lee is filling a lane on a three-on-one.

What all of college basketball will be waiting for is the first four-point shot off the break. That's where a guy like Arkansas' Darrell (Sky) Walker takes off from behind the three-point line, soars through the air to jam and draws the foul. Could it happen in the ACC where the shortest distance prevails? "I've seen Dr. J do it from about a foot inside the circle in the pros," says Coach Bob Zuffelato of Marshall. If that practice becomes commonplace, coaches may start recruiting long-jumping types like Carl Lewis instead of three-point shooters.

The second consequence is of unquestionable benefit to the game—if it happens. The three-point shot will help unclog the middle. "Players are getting so big, and inside play is getting so brutal," says Coach Les Robinson of The Citadel in the Southern Conference (three-pointer), "that it's getting hard to officiate. I hope this change will put more emphasis on the perimeter. The big men will still be major factors, of course, but it would help most schools if some of the importance of the big men could be reduced."

Adds Northwestern Coach Rich Falk: "We had to do something to open up the offensive end of the court, to make defenses get out of the paint. It had become very difficult to get penetration via the dribble. This had made basketball in the paint more of a football game. Now we might see more use of two genuine guards, instead of one point guard and a big wing player." Falk's point is valid in a conference like the ACC, where the dime-store three-pointer will definitely be part of every offense. Falk may be overstating the case in the Big Ten because a 21-foot shot isn't so easily made.

In the Big Sky (22 feet) the three-pointer shouldn't result in profound change, just as the NBA's 23'9" three-point distance hasn't. The Southern Conference used a 22-foot three-point shot the last two seasons. The overall three-point percentage was 29.9, and the shot was generally a loser's weapon; teams that didn't try a three-pointer won 85% of the time. "If any of our players look down for the stripe or step back to be in three-point range," says Montana's Mike Montgomery, "that's the quickest way to get a seat next to me."


The experiments are in for this season. Conferences that want to tinker further with either the clock or the three-point line will have to petition the rules committee. Steitz's goal is uniform rules throughout college basketball, but this is unlikely to happen next year because some of the non-experimenting conferences will undoubtedly want to do some testing of their own in '83-84.

The vast differences in rules from conference to conference are disconcerting, and should be, to any true fan of the game. Even in the five conferences that have both the clock and the three-pointer, no combination is exactly the same. The catalogue of excuses offered by coaches from experimenting conferences after they've lost nonconference or tournament games in which there's no clock and no three-point shot will be long and heartrending...and somewhat valid.

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