In anticipation of the arrival of Brittney Griner, the WNBA is expected to add a rule familiar to NBA fans next summer: the defensive three-second violation.
For those who don’t follow the arcana of NBA play, the defensive three-second rule was instituted when the league did away with the prohibition against zone defense -- because making zone defenses illegal was designed to prevent an elite shotblocker from just standing under the basket the entire game and never allowing a layup.
Once zones were permitted, the defensive three-second rule was put in to make teams at least pretend to guard that seven-foot stiff who couldn’t make a shot outside six inches without a wind gauge. On top of that, the second time defensive three seconds is called, it’s a one-shot technical foul (charged to no one) so there’s no percentage in taking the violation late in the game.
With Griner, the greatest shotblocker ever in the women’s game (yes, better than 7-2 Margo Dydek) about to enter the league, thoughts of her guarding, say, Jayne Appel and letting Appel roam free outside the paint while Griner pitches camp in the paint, waiting for Becky Hammon to try and drive, puts this rule on the front burner. It has been effective in the NBA, so there’s little risk –- and plenty of potential reward for those who fancy higher scoring games.
Also, the league plans to push the three-point line back about five inches, aligning it with the FIBA rule book. Again, a sensible decision that should have little noticeable impact on the game.
Finally, the use of video replay will be expanded, primarily in the last two minutes of overtime, though now officials will immediately review any flagrant fouls to determine if they’re Flagrant 1 (nasty) or Flagrant 2 (really nasty).
The other relatively new reviewable calls are whether a defender is outside the restricted area on a block/charge call, and whether goaltending occurred –- which again will probably involve Griner more than anyone else.
All of the changes will be considered at the Board of Governors' meeting in Atlanta this week, and are expected to be approved.
So the game inches forward again, its synergy with the NBA being particularly helpful. And though none of these rules will have the impact of, say, the league's adoption of the 24-second shot clock, and the fans won’t notice much, these are all good moves.
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Turning to the NCAA, though the season is still young, the hierarchy is already clear when it comes to championship hopes:
The elite: Baylor, UConn and Stanford.
Almost there: Duke, Notre Dame.
Hoping for a miracle: Everyone else.
It’s not even mid-December, and barring injury, the Final Four will include at least three of the first five teams mentioned –- and it will be a major upset if a team like Cal, say, were to pull off the Elite Eight shocker.
And unfortunately, that’s going to turn the collegiate season into a very long preface to the real action in the tournament –- which makes me once more wish the NCAA wasn’t selling homecourt advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and were awarding it on the basis of seeding instead.
In the old days, the top 16 teams –- the top four in each region –- got to host the first two rounds. That meant that every game mattered for the teams that were in the three-seed to six-seed category, because getting those two home games was going to be a major boost for making it to the Sweet 16.
But now, teams just buy the right to host with the biggest bids, and 10th and 11th seeds can wind up hosting a four-seed who deserves much better.
So the only thing that’s really going on throughout much of the regular season this year is jockeying for position in the polls -- and perhaps trying to avoid becoming the fourth No. 1 seed, which, for anyone other than the Irish themselves, could mean drawing Notre Dame –- notable for its tournament upsets –- in the Elite Eight. But who’s to say the undersized Irish will last that long? Though they proved themselves formidable foes for their first 45 minutes against Baylor last week, they're more vulnerable to getting knocked out early that any of the others. And in any event, I don’t see it making much difference who UConn or Baylor plays. Assuming everyone remains healthy, the only way those two teams lose is if they beat themselves.
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Turning to prep, there are those who will tell you that the only thing that matters to college recruiters is summer basketball –- and they couldn’t be more wrong.
Yes, the level of competition is much higher in the summer, and it’s vital for coaches to see how players do against other potential D-1 athletes, but there’s a lot more to college basketball than just talent. What the high school season reveals is how a player fits in a roster and in a program, and how committed she is to winning, as opposed to just showing off her skills.
The first part is the most important, though, as it’s critical to know what kind of a teammate a player is going to be. Does the high school star blame her less talented and less experienced teammates when they make mistakes? Does she work hard all the time she’s on the court, even in blowouts? Does she respect her coach and the officials, even if she disagrees? When she’s out of the game, does she cheer on the reserves, or does she start laughing with her friends?
Remember, that high school star is far from guaranteed to play the same role in college, and she may be the reserve, not the leading scorer. She may be the player called on for a positive attitude no matter what the circumstance (not playing much, for example), and when a college coach is making what amounts to a four-year, $200,000 hire, she needs to know a lot more than whether a potential recruit has a killer crossover.