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NCAA men's basketball rules changes: is illegal defense next?

Legal defense
Legal defense
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

I caught a little bit of game 2 of the NBA finals the other day. Fairly early in the game, Steph Curry came down the left hand channel in transition. He crossed over left to right, went behind the back and then behind the back again, then dribbled off of two screens around the top of the arc and buried a three from deep on the right wing. One possession, zero passes, three points. That's the kind of skill that draws defenses out of a shell.

That's also the kind of skill that few players actually possess, and almost none of those players spend very long playing NCAA basketball. NCAA defenses thrive on packing the middle to take away easy shots and daring opponents to beat them from the outside. That's why teams like Arizona and Virginia can defend so effectively with properly-executed pack line principles and why Syracuse can get away with playing a defense better suited to 45-year-old men in a YMCA league whose knees no longer allow them to change directions effectively.

Aside from someone with the transcendent individual skills that Curry has, it takes a player or group of players with a good feel for the game to find good shots against a defense set on packing it in. A superb point guard, a center who can pass from the post, or a five-man unit committed to moving the ball and passing up decent shots for excellent ones can crack open a team that has parked the proverbial bus. A coach that can really teach offense will also have better luck opening up an opponent, which is why you always see Bo Ryan and Bob McKillop posting good efficiency numbers.

Chopping five seconds off of the burden for defenses isn't going to do anything to open up the game. An offense with less time to execute a plan, find a gap, or grab a moment of brilliance is naturally going to be less efficient, not more high-scoring. There are plenty of ways to address this problem, but the laziest (and therefore the one I fear the NCAA is most likely to put into place) is to make it illegal for defenses to crowd out the easy looks inside. A defensive three-second violation like the rule the NBA currently uses would make it more difficult for help defense out of a man or any sort of zone defense to be executed. If the shorter shot clock doesn't bring the explosion of attractive basketball that the NCAA is hoping for, I suspect some sort of illegal defense legislation will be the next step.