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All this data flowing into the game advantages the D. And that makes it much tougher to score—and leads to more and more shots going up late in a possession. "In the past the defense had to read the offense and react," says Northeastern coach Bill Coen. "Now the offense has to read the defense."
If it can't score a quick opportunity basket, a team will likely pull the ball out and use most of its allotted 35 seconds. "Our game has become either a first-eight-seconds [of the shot clock] game or a last-10-seconds game," says Donovan. "Once the defense gets back, every coach says, 'O.K., let's run offense and wear them down.'"
That offense might be a Princeton-style set. It might be a variation on the Burn, in which Notre Dame runs the clock to single digits before setting a high-ball-screen for a guard or dumping the ball to a big man. Tempo-free numbers suggest that the Swing, a sort of flex with European spacing developed by Bo Ryan at Wisconsin, is among the game's most efficient attacks; over the past few seasons the Badgers took more shots in the final four seconds of a possession than any other team in the country. In each of those offensive sets, a heightened appreciation for the value of possession is changing the game. "You have 200 Hubie Browns running around," says Pitino, whose Louisville team last spring featured the poorest field goal percentage in a Final Four field since 1962, but also led the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. "Everything's percentages."
John Adams, Basketball Patriot
After two of college basketball's best players, Oklahoma's Blake Griffin and North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough (left), suffer concussions during the 2008--09 season, Adams swings into action. A former Midwestern referee who had become the NCAA's officiating coordinator two years before, Adams pledges to champion "freedom of movement" and orders refs to whistle certain "absolutes" if they want to work the NCAA tournament.
Among the fouls Adams decrees to be absolutes: any impediment to a dribbler's progress, such as a hip check to ride out a guard as he comes off a high screen. In 2008--09, UTEP essentially builds its offense around this absolute, and penetrator Stefon Jackson winds up making more free throws (312) than any collegian since Pete Maravich.
The NCAA rules committee introduces an arc beneath the basket to eliminate cheap charging calls and further empower offenses. "Freedom of movement and cleaning up rough play have been themes for 10 years," says Notre Dame's Brey, who just finished a turn as chair of the rules committee. "The NBA has done a better job of permitting movement than the college game. The season starts out pretty well, but by January or February it's a bloodbath. A guy can't make a cut without getting chucked. It's one of the reasons widening the lane is being discussed."
College hoops has lost plenty in the course of its journey: the choreography of five guys who spend four seasons together; the subtle skills of the classic center; the fundamentally well-rounded player who's a threat from any spot on the floor. But, says Boston College coach Steve Donahue, "I love this way. It's exciting. You have to work on your craft. You've got to be tougher and smarter than your opponent. The first cellphone was attached to the roof of a car. Now it's in your pocket."