- Rebecca Lobo, Women's Basketball
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Women's college basketball has finally implemented the 10-second backcourt rule. If a team hasn't crossed half court -- either by a dribbler handling the ball, the ball touching a person in the frontcourt, or the ball touching the floor in the frontcourt -- before the shot clock reaches 20 seconds, a violation has occurred and the defense gets the ball. The rule is overdue and will benefit a few of the top teams -- these three especially:
Jeff Walz earned a reputation as the "mad scientist" of defensive schemes during the NCAA tournament last season. He plays a lot of junk and isn't afraid to try different things in the full or half court. The Cardinals often run at opponents with full-court zone pressure. This season, Walz has a lot of healthy bodies he can use to keep the pressure on -- Louisville averaged pressure on 21 plays in its first two games. The Cardinals don't have great size, but they do have great talent and depth. Both are keys to consistent full-court defense.
The Brittney Griner era is over in Waco, as the best shot-blocker in the history of women's college basketball has moved on to the WNBA. The new-look Lady Bears feature five freshmen, four sophomores and the best on-ball defender in the country in Odyssey Sims. Coach Kim Mulkey plans to give a lot of these young kids playing time and will let them try to wreak havoc in the full court. "We're gonna have to pick up full court," Mulkey told me. "We're gonna have to rely on effort and energy until the young players get knowledge and experience." In their home opener against Grambling, Baylor had 12 players play double-digit minutes and forced four turnovers off the 19 possessions where they picked up with full-court pressure.
Matthew Mitchell has preached "40 minutes of dread" since he took over at Kentucky. His teams pick up in the full court on every single possession. Last season, the Wildcats ranked second in the country in turnovers forced (22.8) and second in turnover margin. His players have plenty of quickness, depth and experience playing his unique style. In its first two games, Kentucky pressed on 87 possessions, forced two backcourt violations and a couple of timeouts to avoid violations. (If a team calls a timeout, it gets a fresh 10 seconds to get the ball over midcourt.)
The teams that will benefit most from this new rule are those with depth and quickness in the backcourt. Consistent pressure is exhausting, and players can't sustain that kind of energy, so frequent substitutions are a must. And in the last few minutes of a tight game, the leading team won't be able to dribble away 20 seconds in the backcourt anymore. It will have to get the ball over midcourt and avoid traps and aggressive defenders in a much smaller area of the floor.
While we haven't seen too many 10-second violations yet, the new rule will have a significant and positive impact throughout the course of the season.