Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Great Unequalizer?

The biggest news from the world of college basketball over the past week was clearly the proposal by the NCAA rules committee that would push the three-point line back to 20'9". I'm sure everyone has heard the main suggested benefits: It should open up the lanes, help big-men in the post, and encourage players to improve their mid-range jumper. And it's all good and well to think about how this rule will help prepare our players for the international game and the NBA, but the real issue is whether this rule is a benefit or a detriment to the NCAA game itself.

The close three-point line has been called the Great Equalizer by just about every sportswriter under the sun. It's what allows teams to get hot and pull upsets against vastly superior teams. And there's no question that the NCAA game thrives on the upset. It's the reason that the Tournament is one-and-done. It's the reason that the system ensures that a bunch of spots to small and mid-major conference teams. So you don't want to change the ability for three-point shooting to be a major weapon for small-time teams.

At the same time, there is something to be said for having a little bit more consistency in the game. You don't want to have too many of the best teams to missing the important Tournament games. And there's also the sense of fairness: In a one-and-done situation you don't want to stack the deck too much against the teams that rightfully earned their top seeds. It makes the Tournament a little less worthwhile to the people that really follow the sport closely.

So in the end, I have to say that I approve of the decision. It should improve not only the quality of players (due to the different strategies on the newly shaped court), but also the quality of teams that make it further in the Tournament. It will force a lot of teams to change strategies, especially teams like Memphis and Tennessee that so heavily rely on drive/kick-out three-pointers. And all of this shouldn't affect too much the ability for small conference teams to compete. With it still being significantly shorter than the NBA, a good shooter will still be able to go close to 50% on the season. And if a few less three-pointers are taken per game, it should improve the day-to-day consistency of all teams. When a team shoots too many three-pointers per game, they are going to live and die by the shot, and rapidly switch between big wins and bad losses without much rhyme or reason. Anything that decreases that behavior is a good thing.

I don't think the rule change will be too much of a "great unequalizer," but it should improve the game.

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