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BOB RYAN

This 3-pointer is an easy target

Was this past weekend of NCAA Tournament basketball a supreme athletic treat? Yes.

Are we possibly watching the greatest NCAA Tournament ever? Yes, that is entirely possible.

Why, then, am I not 100 percent ecstatic about what's been going on? After all, I have been infatuated with the NCAA Tournament since I was about 8 years old, and I just said I believe we may be watching the most competitive and most riveting tournament we've ever known.

Start with this: You know the great deliberation in the Michigan State-Kentucky game over whether the shot Kentucky's Patrick Sparks made at the end of regulation was a three or a two? It's a question that never should have been asked. In a better college basketball world, the game should have been over. It should have been a 2-point shot, and that's that.

I say that because no shot taken from the spot where Sparks launched the ball should ever be a 3-pointer. In the college game, the 3-point arc touches the top of the key. That's preposterous! No shot from a spot that touches the top of the key should be worth 3 points. The dirty little secret of college basketball is that the 3-point line is becoming more and more of a farce. The distance is just too short. The reward is not commensurate with the achievement, and games are totally distorted as a result.

College basketball has gone 3-point crazy, sometimes to the exclusion of all other forms of play. Post play? Pull-up jumpers? Artful drives? Hah. Drive and dish, drive and dish, drive and dish. More and more teams have one theme: bombs away.

Whether there should even be a 3-pointer is something I'll address in a minute, but first may we at least agree on one important issue? At 19 feet 9 inches, the college 3-pointer offers a minimal challenge. If we must have the three, at least make it a challenging shot. Adopt the NBA three (23 feet 9 inches). Right now, it's a joke.

Here's a test I've been offering people for years. Get yourself to a court with a standard high school/college 3-point arc. Have someone throw you a pass. Catch and shoot. You, Mr. (or Mrs.) Lunchtime Three-on-Three Performer, will draw iron every time. You may not hit the shot, but if you're somewhere between 13 and 63, you'll almost invariably hit the rim, at least.

Now step off 4 feet toward midcourt. Have someone throw you the ball. Take the same casual shot you just took at 19-9.

Air ball.

Oh, sure, the next time you will make sure to get your legs into it. You'll take a deep breath and you'll concentrate, but you may or may not hit the rim. Even if you do, it's still a pure heave.

There's a biiiiig difference between the college shot and the NBA shot. I'm telling you: The college shot is too easy.

Everything's about threes now, but, to me, by far the most interesting player on display over the weekend was North Carolina's Sean May, who had 29 points against Wisconsin on 13 twos, three free throws, and zero threes. If you truly love and appreciate the game, you had to relish watching this kid maneuver himself in the low post for a succession of clever inside hoops. I realize that not every big man can play that way, but most of them don't even try. All the modern Shakespearean actors (i.e. big guys) want to be comedians (i.e. 3-point shooters), and the artistry of the game has suffered as a result.

Most of you will disagree, but I firmly believe that the 3-point shot is the worst thing that's happened to basketball in my lifetime. It's so bad now that kids don't even know how to think in any other terms. A team trailing by 4 with a minute to go and the ball in its hands doesn't need a three. Try telling that to the modern player.

Because of the three, the midrange game has disappeared and post play is nearly extinct, with only a few exceptions (I just gave you one). But in the NBA, at least we can say is that it's a difficult shot.

Among the casualties of this mentality are the memories of some real scorers. A kid can get 30 today with seven, eight, or nine threes. Big deal. Pistol Pete Maravich averaged 44 points per game for a three-year college career without the benefit of the 3-point shot. But that's not the real issue. I just thought I'd throw that one in.

People have forgotten the origin of the three. It was given to us by a promoter, not by someone truly interested in improving the game. The 3-point shot came to us courtesy of Abe Saperstein (yup, the Globetrotter impresario). When Abe founded the ABL in 1960, he instituted the three as an attendance gimmick. The Eastern League (forerunner of the Continental League) quickly picked it up. It was, of course, a natural for the ABA. It was geared to please impressionable fans, not those who had the best interests of the game at heart.

Proponents have always said it was good for the game because "it keeps the little man in the game." That's bogus. There are no more little men playing now than there were in the old days. People say it helps teams that aren't as physically talented as certain opponents to compete. Great. With a gimmick? I see. Working the ball to someone for a layup is less worthy than someone hitting a 20-footer. Why?

People say it promotes comebacks. I won't deny that, but do people think we never had comebacks before the 3-pointer? The greatest of them all (Carolina, down 8 with 17 seconds left, against Duke, tied it up) took place before the 3-point shot was instituted in college basketball.

I believe it was a better all-around game before the three, but I realize I'm never going to see the toothpaste put back into that tube. But would someone in authority at least make a move to move the stupid college line back? Right now the three is a glorified free throw. Is that what we really want?

Never forget that Larry Bird disliked the three. He had two objections. He didn't think a team up by either 2 or 3 should have its fate decided by someone hitting a three, and he thought referees couldn't always get it right, calling some threes twos.

I mean, if Larry Bird (who averaged more than 30 a game in college without the three, by the way) doesn't like something about the game of basketball, isn't that enough reason to get rid of it?

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.


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