What Makes College Basketball Different?

Dear Sports Fan,

I’ve been watching March Madness and College Basketball looks really different from the NBA Basketball that my sister usually watches. Can you tell me what some of the differences are?


Dear Patricia,

One of the reasons why people love college basketball is exactly what you’ve identified — that it is very different from the NBA. The NBA for the most part, is dominated by a single strategy, the pick-and-roll. Critics of the professional game will say that teams just run eighteen variations on the pick and roll from different spots on the floor. I love the college offensive schemes:

  1. Dribble drive – a really quick guy beats his guy off the dribble, but he’s not talented enough to finish, so he kicks it out to someone whose defender is collapsing to contain the drive, except HE’S a 17 percent three point shooter, so he drives, draws more defense, kicks out, etc etc – until the whole offensive side of the court collapses in on itself like a dying star and it’s a mad scrum around the offensive glass (Memphis, Kentucky, kind of Syracuse and Michigan)
  2. Motion – pass around the perimeter, set half-ass, off-ball screens and hope that a defender gets confused, goes the wrong way and leaves someone open for a three-pointer or a back-cut; if the defense is disciplined enough not to make a mistake, wait til 5 seconds are left and pass to your one on one offensive threat and let him take a bad shot (Pitt)
  3. “I have an athletic big guy” – a team lucks into a really really tall/wide guy who’s athletic and can therefore dominate since that’s so rare in college ball, so they just give him the fucking ball (Kind of Miami/Indiana)
  4. Tom Izzo – run, throw the ball up on the glass, go get it and mug anyone who gets in your way (Michigan State)
  5. Wisconsin – motion + tall white coaches sons who can shoot with improbable range (Wisconsin)
  6. Flex – the only offense where success is measured not by the number of points scored but by the number of picks set in a given possession (Gonzaga)
  7. Coach K – one of the few offenses based solely on moral superiority/smugness (Duke)
  8. Zone attack – when facing the 2-3 zone, pass the ball around the perimeter repeatedly and have one player flash into the the “soft spot” (essentially at the foul line, behind the 2 and in front of the 3) – get him the ball, then watch him panic as the entire zone collapses on him and hope he makes the right pass (anyone playing Syracuse)
  9. Transition – RUN!!!!!!! (VCU)
  10. Three point – Whatever happens, shoot three pointers. Miss them, get long rebounds, shoot more three pointers. Pull up in transition, shoot them contested, shoot on the move…just keep shooting. Defender in your face? No worries – step back as far as you need to.

Enjoy the Final Four games tonight,
Dean Russell Bell

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