Sports

Coaches opine on the new three line

It'll happen.

It'll happen just the way Billy Gillispie projected it at his news conference last week.

Next college basketball season, some would-be hoops hero is going to drain a shot from the perimeter as the buzzer sounds, then go running to the other end of the floor, grinning, screaming, arms toward the heavens believing he just sank the three-pointer that won the titanic struggle for his team.

Only there will be one little problem.

“Then they'll tell him it wasn't a three,” said Gillispie, grinning.

Exactly. See, when the dribbling officially commences come October, a major change will greet the collegians as they head back to the hardwood. The three-point line painted 19 feet, nine inches from the basket has been moved back exactly one foot, to 20 feet, nine inches.

But here's the rub: The women's game decided not to opt for the longer distance, instead agreeing to keep its version of the three-pointer exactly where it has been.

Two different distances. Two different lines. Never mind that the majority of the nation's universities have its men's and women's teams play games on the exact same floor.

“I think it will really create confusion with the women's line not moving and now moving the men's line back another foot,” said Mississippi Coach Andy Kennedy on the SEC's summer basketball teleconference this week. “I know they're going to be contrasting colors, but you're asking for problems as it relates to which line it was behind.”

The Kentucky women play most of their home games in Memorial Coliseum. But there are occasions when Matthew Mitchell's team journeys over to Rupp Arena for a tilt. In that case, Gillispie said he suggested that the men's three-point line be painted blue, as to contrast with the black three-point line for the women's game.

Kennedy has a different solution. He suggests a solid one-foot line be painted, starting at the 19-9 distance and stretching to the 20-9 distance. In the men's game, if the shooter is behind the line, the basket counts as three points. In the women's game, if the shooter is on the line, the basket counts as three points.

“I've been told that wasn't feasible, but I think two lines will cause confusion,” Kennedy said. “I'm talking about a line that's a foot thick. It would look odd, but we'd get used to it in a year.”

But weren't we all used to the old three-point distance, the one that had enhanced the game since it was introduced for the 1986-87 season? Sure, some complained that the distance was too close, the shot too easy. But for 22 years the college game grew in part thanks to mad bombers launching from the perimeter.

“I think the rule is intended to stretch the defenses out and open the middle of the floor,” said Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried on Wednesday. “I think the opposite may end up happening. If you're playing against a team that can't make the new three-point shot with a very high percentage, you're going to see defenses start to step back and clog up the middle.”

Or, perhaps the marginal three-point shooters who were good enough to make one from the previous distance will know they have no shot from the longer distance, and therefore won't take the shot.

“Good shooters are sometimes more effective than great shooters, if you know what I mean,” said Gillispie.

Gillispie means that the good shooter knows his range. The great shooter knows no range, and thus will take shots out of range.

“I don't know how it's going to affect the game,” said the Kentucky coach. “But I've been asking other coaches I talk to, and some think it will have a big effect and some don't think it will have much effect.”

Put new South Carolina coach Darrin Horn on the side of those who don't believe the new rule will change the game much. Put North Carolina Coach Roy Williams on the side of those who believe it will change the game.

“One foot is a big difference,” Williams told ESPN.

Big enough that when UK was at Anaheim last March for the NCAA Tournament, Gillispie instructed the caretakers back at the Craft Center to have the new 20-foot, nine-inch line in place by the time the Cats returned from California.

But it's in those places where both the men and women play where the trouble could really start.

“I do think,” said Gillispie, “it's going to be confusing.”

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