- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
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Partially inspired by TrueHoop's excellent HoopIdea series, College Basketball Nation humbly presents Change the Game, a weekly discussion on the game we love and the ways it could be made better. And nothing is off the table.
Last week, we took a look at the always-controversial block/charge call. This week, Myron Medcalf examines the aspects of the NBA game that have negatively influenced college basketball. On the flip side, Fran Fraschilla takes a look at the good things college basketball coaches and players have picked up from the pro game.
Midway through the third quarter of the Miami Heat’s 105-93 victory over the Indiana Pacers Thursday night, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy proclaimed that the Pacers had been “iso’d to death by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.”
Somewhere in America, a college player recognized the individual maneuvering of the NBA all-stars as confirmation of his own offseason growth as a one-on-one threat.
That’s just one way that the next level has had an adverse impact on the collegiate level. Too many college squads have abandoned the offensive sets that separate Division I basketball from the NBA and structure the game so that it’s executable for amateurs still absorbing the fundamentals. Organized offenses have been replaced by an influx of isolation plays, a direct influence from the next level.
There is only one LeBron James, but that doesn’t stop Division I players with a fraction of his ability from attempting to emulate him and other NBA standouts.
Isolation reigns. And that’s a problem.
It’s an issue because it strips Division I offenses of their fluidity.
The NBA’s stars can freestyle because they’re elite athletes who don’t necessarily need a motion offense to get to the rim. Yes, the NBA offensive sequences occasionally commence with a designed play. But when the ball goes to James, Wade, Kobe, you know what’s coming.
Those guys can score against any individual defenders in the world without much assistance from teammates.
Similar attempts at the Division I level, however, tend to involve poor shot selection. Too many plays end with a quick shot, an off-balanced drive or a tough jump shot – plays that only work for a few, special athletes. I don’t think that’s the goal for most college programs.
But that doesn’t stop players from pursuing the one-on-one plays that are the result of next-level thinking. It’s a troubling trend.
One coach told me that players accept contested shots as just a natural part of the game. And I think that’s attached to the isolation dilemma. There’s a sense of drama that comes with luring a defender and driving past him or shooting over him. But it’s not always necessary. Open looks come from the offensive sets that are properly executed. Too many college players, however, favor one-on-one scenarios based on what they’ve watched on TV the previous night.
But that’s not the only challenging byproduct of the NBA’s influence on the collegiate level.
There is also the issue with versatility. Players rarely sign off on the positions that are listed on their official bios.
Are you a shooting guard?
“Nope, I’m a combo. I can play both guard spots.”
Are you a true center?
“Nah, I can play a little wing, too. I don’t like to limit myself.”
I understand the mission. More versatility increases NBA potential. But again, most players won’t get to that level and they’re wasting their time trying to play four positions when they can barely manage one.
There is one Dirk. One Kevin Garnett.
But at the college level, a 6-7 center that commits to the position can succeed. The gritty rebounder has a place. The pure point guard is necessary. The sharpshooter off the bench can help his squad win a title.
There is certainly a give-and-take when you have guys who want to make money in the future and coaches who know most of their players need extensive work on the basics before they’re ready to earn that paycheck.
But there’s nothing wrong with trying to master one role. It always makes sense to add more wrinkles such as expanded shooting range. But the coaches I talk to want their players to focus on the tasks that helped them earn their scholarships.
The NBA has fueled this emphasis on offensive players at the collegiate level. And I think NBA officiating has affected the quick whistles against helpless NCAA defenders trying to stop them.
Breathing on James might prompt a foul call in the NBA’s upcoming Eastern Conference Finals. There’s this unwritten rule about protecting offensive players. It’s really hurt the game.
And that’s trickled down to the collegiate level, too.
Defenders don’t have many options when refs blow the whistle on the inadvertent contact that’s the natural result of two players vying for position in a live game.
I know the rules on fouls.
Per the NCAA rulebook: “A player shall not hold, push, charge, trip or impede the progress of an opponent by extending arm(s), shoulder(s), hip(s) or knee(s) or by bending his or her own body into other than a normal position or by using any unreasonably rough tactics.”
But I think NCAA officials should take a hard look at the limitations placed upon collegiate defenders due to foul calls that penalize them for competing.
No, I don’t believe a guy has the right to go Dexter Pittman on an offensive player and get away with it.
I do, however, believe in fair, physical play that offers offensive and defensive players a true opportunity to engage in competition.
The NBA has lost that. It’s a very soft game now.
And the college game has followed its lead with rulings that favor offensive players.
I think the college game has benefited from the pros in a multitude of ways, too. But they’re two different platforms. And they should remain separate.
But let’s get rid of the derivatives from the NBA that don’t help the college game.