To some purists, college basketball this season has resembled a Chinese fire drill. I prefer to think of it as a Chinese dinner. You know the kind: each person at the table orders something different and shares with the others. You still might not be familiar with every dish by the time the meal ends, but you're happy for the experience.
Even hoop addicts aren't quite sure which conference had what experiment before the playoffs. Was it the Big East that had a shot clock but no three-point play? Was it the Big Ten whose three-point line extended all the way into the Rocky Mountain time zone? Was it the Big Sky that thought any tinkering with the game a Big Farce and didn't do anything.
No matter. The binge was good for basketball.
Now it's time to get back to a regular diet again, for NCAA thinkers to analyze what they have beheld and move forward with some significant rules changes. For its tournament, for everybody from Podunk in Division III to the University of Ralph in every game that counts, the NCAA needs to mandate:
* A 45-second clock.
* A three-point line at least 20 feet from the backboard.
* A shot clock that ticks until the game ends.
Neither the Atlantic Coast Conference's 30-second clock nor its 19-foot line was long enough this season; its games were the most interesting in years, or since coaches not as clever as Dean Smith tried to be. Without a shot clock, too many coaches intrude too much.
That's happening now in the NCAA tournament. There is no shot clock; there is too much hesitation on the floor, brought on by too many bench wizards thinking too much. Mostly, the regular season was for players and fans; the NCAA tournament is for coaches. Because of that, the postseason has been more drab than it should be.
Simply put, too many teams lately are playing like Princeton.
There have been 22 games so far in which only one team could score 60 or more points. Virginia-Washington State was 54-49; Houston-Maryland, 60-50; Georgetown-Memphis State, 66-57; Boston College-Princeton, 51-42. Many more such games and hockey will seem appealing.
"Lots of people in Boston fell asleep Sunday," BC's Gary Williams volunteered.
I don't want the cerebral part of basketball eliminated any more than Pete Carril does. Nothing offends me more than hoop shoot-'em-ups, players who let fly as soon as they see the whites of a defender's eyes past midcourt. But there is a limit to how many passes the mind can tolerate.
With a three-point line, a thoughtful and aggressive team can create a decent shot in 45 seconds. If five players cannot get somebody open in the time it takes an Olympian to run a quarter-mile, they probably don't deserve room, books, tuition and a little something from the shoe company.
Assuming the nation can develop shooters with slightly more range than Lefty Driesell and Billy Packer, a three-point line serves the same purpose as a half-dozen passes. It spreads the court, opens the defense, creates space for such as Patrick Ewing to work. Right now, he has trouble breathing without inhaling three Friars.
That was the Georgetown lament all season: none of their little fellows could regularly get the ball to Patrick. It would take magic, certainly more than Magic, to do that at times. With all the double- and triple-teaming going on, it would be easier to get in touch with Judge Crater than to slip a basketball to Ewing.
The myriad of the zones in the Big East and having to shoot in 45 seconds often meant that Georgetown's patience and hustle yielded nothing better than a 22-footer, anyway. If that shot is worth three points, an opponent will be forced to fire out toward, say, Michael Jackson.
That leaves one fewer body attached to Ewing.
So a Jackson hitting some hard three-pointers allows a Ewing to score many easy twos.
What's so offensive about that? To Williams, a whole lot. Throwing darts at the Mona Lisa would be less of a sacrilege.
"A three-point line stinks," he said.
"In basketball, you're supposed to be rewarded for handling the ball and running an offense," he said. "With a three-point shot, one team in five minutes can undo all the good work the other has done (to get a lead) in 35. ACC coaches must have gone crazy.
"You're taught from almost the first time you touch a basketball that the best thing possible is a layup; a three-point shot rewards just the opposite. Skills such as penetrating and passing, cutting to get open, will be eroded."
Williams twisted that cherubic face into a deeper scowl and declared: "It's a detrimental factor to basketball."
The good teams will work just as hard to free their Dereck Whittenburgs for three-pointers. And since there is so much more skill involved in depositing the ball in the basket from 20 feet than from 20 inches, the reward ought to be greater. Besides, it gives mortals a place in the game, a reason to be on the court with 6-9 point guards and 7-4 forwards.
The reason to keep the shot clock on in the final several minutes is so the game will stay a game as long as possible. Turn off the clock, turn off basketball. Grace and flow is reduced to stall and sprawl. Williams even agrees with that.
"A 45-second clock still allows for intrigue in the last minutes," he said. "The team with the lead must ask itself: 'Do we want to shoot quickly, or let 35 or 40 seconds run off?' What you won't have then is an out-and-out stall."
What the NCAA permits now is close to an out-and-out outrage.