Copyright 2017 Spokane Spokesman-Review
Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA)
INDIANAPOLIS - Rick Pitino watched in amazement as the Michigan Wolverines made 11 second-half 3-pointers, many from well beyond the arc.
The first comparison that came to mind was the Golden State Warriors.
"The amazing thing to me is you look at the size of the players that Michigan has, and they shoot it like backcourt players. That's what's really coming on," Pitino said last weekend in Indianapolis, where the Cardinals were eliminated by Michigan. "I made a concentrated effort this past year in our recruiting to recruit bigs who could shoot because we don't have bigs who can shoot now."
Pitino can find the NBA's influence on just about any college game.
The shot clock has been shortened, the 3-pointer has been embraced and everyone from 5-foot-6 Keon Johnson of Winthrop to 6-10 Moe Wagner of Michigan seems comfortable shooting from long range. Scoring is up, defenses are being stretched thin and coaches are trying to adapt to change by recruiting bigger, better shooters and fewer true centers.
College basketball has its own version of small ball going these days.
The Wolverines are not small by any means, but all five starters and each of their top six scorers are capable 3-point shooters.
Disbelievers can rewind Friday's 92-91, first-round victory over Oklahoma State, the game that caught Pitino's attention. The Cardinals did a solid job in Sunday's second-round game giving up only six 3s, though Wagner's deep shot helped send Michigan to the Sweet 16 for Thursday's Midwest Regional showdown against Oregon.
Style is only part of the ongoing change.
Two years ago, the NCAA approved a 30-second shot clock and followed the NBA's lead by using timeouts called within close proximity of a media timeout as the scheduled stop. It also stripped a second-half timeout from teams.
The numbers reveal just how much and how fast things have changed.
Through the first two rounds of this year's tournament, teams are averaging 74.22 points per game . If that average is maintained through the next four rounds, it would be the highest tourney scoring average since 1993 (74.31) and a 6.45-point per team increase over the 2015 average (67.77 ppg).
Last year, the first with the new shot clock, teams averaged 71.85 points in tourney play.
"I like it," said Michigan coach John Beilein, whose head coaching career began before the shot clock or the 3-point line existed in college. "I think it would be very hard to play if you didn't have shooters, though, because everybody would plug in there, and you wouldn't have anybody open."
High-scoring offenses are only part of the equation.
Pitino believes defenses are starting to add NBA staples, too. Instead of using traps and pressure to force turnovers, he said, many teams are simply trying to take precious seconds off the shot clock with "soft pressure," a notion he advocated during two stints as an NBA coach.
Analytics, which Brad Stevens used heavily during his coaching tenure at Butler, has become a bigger part of the college game, too, and other changes could be on the horizon.
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