The NBA and college basketball have borrowed freely from each other for a long time. The NCAA adopted a 3-point line long after the NBA had one. Then the NBA loosened up its defensive rules to allow teams to play zone.
Here’s one that is overdue: College basketball needs an NBA-style hand-check rule to free up ball handlers.
Roughly 10 years ago NBA referees were told to call a foul whenever a defender uses his arms to impede a dribbler. The idea was to open the game’s offensive flow and cut back on some of the wrestling matches we used to watch between the New York Knicks and Miami Heat.
The league’s coaches went through a tough adjustment, but they did adapt. So did front offices, as the dribble-drive point guard – guys like Derrick Rose, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving – became the most prized skill set in the league. Everyone needed one of those, or at least a variation on the theme, as in the Charlotte Bobcats’ Kemba Walker.
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The consensus around the NBA is that the game is more appealing for this change; more creative passing and less impact of brutish tactics.
That’s where the college game needs to consider some form of imitation, because there is a thuggish quality to college defense that isn’t visually appealing.
Take Louisville and Marquette, for example. Those teams advanced deep into the NCAA tournament because their coaches are smart enough to test the limits of what the rules allow: Poke, clutch and hip-check the man you’re guarding to disrupt offensive flow.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino used to call this his “Mother-in-Law Defense,” as in constant pressure and harassment. Not politically correct, but a great description of the intent.
I remember watching the Davidson-Marquette second-round game and thinking the subtext of the Golden Eagles’ approach is “commit 30 fouls and hope only 15 are called.”
I’m not saying anyone is cheating. Quite the opposite; I’m saying good coaches will always test the limits of the rules and right now that makes the college game less attractive.
Defenses constantly mugging stars isn’t what fans pay to see. Neither is a parade to the foul line. The NBA recognized that dynamic years ago, changed how the refs call the game, and remade the sport’s look.
Time for the college game to catch up to that reality.
Five passing thoughts on the NBA and the Bobcats:
• I get why LeBron James thought the refs allowed the Chicago Bulls to play too rough in the game that ended the Miami Heat’s win streak. But if James thinks he doesn’t get enough calls, I know 29 other NBA teams that would give him a debate.
• Several Bobcats fans contacted me about rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the second overall pick, playing only two minutes in the second half of Wednesday’s comeback against the Orlando Magic. It’s not my job to defend coach Mike Dunlap’s rotations, but I will say this: Sometimes sitting and watching is as educational to a rookie as force-feeding minutes.
• The tournament performances of several potential lottery picks – UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Kansas’ Ben McLemore – underscored the long-held perception the 2013 NBA draft won’t be a gusher well.
• Those underwhelming performances by others in the college game does beg this question: At what point is drafting Kentucky shot-blocker Nerlens Noel, regardless of his knee surgery, the best use of a lottery pick?
• Kobe Bryant is the NBA’s toughest guy, both mentally and physically, so I always assume he’ll play through an injury. But the ailments this season are piling up to an extent that you wonder if he can close out the Lakers’ run to a playoff spot.