Archive for Saturday, February 19, 2005

Mayer: Court sense - It all adds up

February 19, 2005


One of these days, Kansas University coach Bill Self should call aside Aaron Miles, J.R. Giddens, Michael Lee, Russell Robinson, Jeff Hawkins and any other "ball-handlers" and take an hour to fully acquaint them with the geography and mathematics of a basketball court.

At one time, I'd have had Bill include Keith Langford. Except Keith at last seems to be conversant with the fact that the area inside the three-point half-circle is not some Lord of the Rings hell-hole where you'll be destroyed by Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Jason, the Cookie Monster, Dracula or all of the aforementioned if you dare to venture inside and try to function offensively.

Kansas makes it terribly easy for opposing defenders to lessen their focus on almost one-fourth of the court.

Too often, Kansas ball-handlers, particularly Miles and Giddens, seem terrified at the prospect of driving toward the basket, maybe even going all the way for a layup or, just as important, pulling up and firing 10- and 12-foot shots they're fully capable of hitting. They may fake going inside the arc, maybe sometime even venturing in a little way, only to pitch the ball to some outsider or pivot and dribble out. How many good shots have Miles, Giddens and Co. eschewed because they seem fearful of doing one of the best things a really good player can do -- shoot the ball from shorter range than 19-9 or beyond? Don't kids (and coaches) ever work anymore on anything but treys and dunks? Whatever happened to all-around offensive threats?

Other teams with players such as Ronald Ross and Martin Zeno of Texas Tech don't seem the least bit worried about taking mid-range shots, same as Oklahoma State's John Lucas and JamesOn Curry. The Kansas guys continue to regard the arc area as some verboten dead zone. If you don't get it inside to Wayne Simien for sure, retreat and fork up a trey attempt after bypassing a shot that most guys once loved to get and which really inventive orchestrators still can use to advantage. Ten to 15 feet, it's legal, guys.

Tech's Bob Knight contends the three-point shot is the worst thing that ever happened to basketball. All the while he gets to savor his victories over Kansas State and Kansas that were direct results of trifectas.

But back to the geography and mathematics that Bill Self should impress upon his would-be league (or better) champions. Why are they surrendering very crucial parts of the court, almost a fourth of it, to more flexible opponents?

The regulation basketball court is 94 by 50 feet. That's 4,700 square feet of playing surface. At each end are three-point arcs with radiuses of 19-9 feet, let's call it 19.75. Flip those arcs, fit them together and you have a circle with a radius of 19.75 feet. As I recall from junior high, the area of a circle is reached by "pi (about 3.14) times radius-squared". That makes the area of the trey arcs about 1,225 feet total, or about 613 square feet at each end of the court.

Half-court amounts to 2,350 square feet. One arc has 613 square feet, nearly one-fourth of the half-court area. While other teams are taking and often sinking shorter shots by maneuvering into the 613 square feet of the arc, Kansas regularly keeps drifting around on the misty, more distant flats of the other 1,737 square feet from where a shot counts three points instead of the two -- which opponents like T-Tech keep hitting a lot easier than KU makes treys.

OK, the first option is to get the ball to Simien and Co. on the blocks. Periodically paint-men can kick it out for a trey attempt. But why not try more in-betweeners? If Miles, Giddens and buddies take off their tuxedos, penetrate more and take shorter shots, they might also draw more fouls and hurt the foes at the charity line, the way T-Tech did. Neither Giddens nor Miles goes to the foul line nearly enough considering how often they handle the ball. Giddens took disappearing potion in the final 30 minutes of the Texas Tech bungle. (Wish he'd stop flashing his shirt until he does something really big.)

My concern is that Kansas on offense seems to studiously ignore the 613 square feet inside the arc where so many teams have hurt the Jayhawks -- and where more and more will try to inflict pain after seeing how Ross, Zeno and the Red Raiders profited. KU better be ready for a flood of mid-range attackers. Think guys like Iowa State's Will Blalock and Curtis Stinson and OSU's Lucas and Curry.

Two other problems: KU's been letting its foes get far too many second and third shots while going one-and-out itself. Why should opponents be allowed so many second chances when Kansas has all the ability and muscle in the world to prevent it? Then many times when you look closely at KU's baseline defense, you wonder why in the world the Jayhawks are so timid about using the baseline as a sixth defender to prevent Ross-like penetration or at least to draw a charge.

Granted, Kansas got hosed horribly on that traveling call against a mugged and marked-up Aaron Miles. Aaron clearly had a rebound, was combed over and should have had a pair of game-clinching free throws. Once again, a Good Friend Eddie Hightower officiating crew figured in the fiasco. If Bill Self doesn't blackball the worst of those zebra sausages after this year, he deserves any misery some refs visit upon him and his kids.

Yet it wasn't the officials that dumped Kansas. Texas Tech did, and deserved to. If Kansas had somehow won, luck rather than skill would have been the key.

It's crunch time. The longer Kansas continues to insist on its Perimeter Waltz rather than playing old-fashioned basketball where you look for and never pass up an available mid-range shot, KU's going to be quite vulnerable. Barring changes, Kansas could have a tough time winning more than three games in the NCAA Tournament, or doing as well as it should in Big 12 Conference play.

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