If you’ve spent any time watching basketball, you probably aware there is a basketball, a court, and some talented players who have great agility. Professional basketball teams draw many of their players from the college ranks, and when you first look, college and pro ball appear pretty much the same. Upon closer observation, though, it’s easy to see that there are important differences between play at each level. In addition to quarters (NBA) versus halves (NCAA), 3-point shooting distances, and different rules regarding fouling, there are other important differences to consider. When you get a grasp of these differences, you will surely gain a greater appreciation for the game.
Possessions are handled slightly differently between the NBA and the NCAA. Any dispute over which team gets possession of the ball is resolved with a jump ball. By contrast, in college ball, the only jump ball is the opening tip. The possession just goes back and forth, with a “possession arrow” keeping track of the progress.
Defense is different from pro and college ball. As anyone familiar with the NBA rulebook can attest that the rules regarding defense are pretty intricate and complicated. “Zone defense” strategy is such that players guard a section of the floor instead of guarding individual players. This is not against the rules in NBA play, but the extent to which it can be used is restricted. The NBA rule is called “Defensive Three Seconds,” which forbids the defending player to remain in the lane more than three seconds. The rationale behind this rule is so that teams don’t just have their most imposing player camp out in one spot and bat at whatever is within his reach. Zone play is definitely used in NBA play, but on a limited basis. Man-to-man play is the name of the game in pro ball.
At the college level, however, this is not the case. Zone defense is not limited in any way by NCAA rules, which yields a wider array of defense alignments. In fact, teams can build a reputation for being a sort of defense specialist, where a unique defensive strategy becomes their team trademark. This makes for particularly exciting tournament play.
The differences in NBA and NCAA play are subtle, but important. Knowing the differences between the rules makes for a much more satisfying viewing experience on the part of the fan.