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Minor rule tweaks on display as MSU plays host to Nebraska in NIT


Xavian Stapleton will help lead the Mississippi State basketball team against Nebraska tonight in the National Invitation Tournament.

Xavian Stapleton will help lead the Mississippi State basketball team against Nebraska tonight in the National Invitation Tournament. Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to The Dispatch


Brett Hudson



STARKVILLE -- The National Invitation Tournament used to be a relatively good predictor of NCAA tournament success to come; that link has begun die down in recent seasons, but a close tie between the NIT and the men's college basketball season that follows remains strong in another area. 


In recent years, the NCAA has used the NIT as a testing ground for new rules. Two of them -- the restricted area arc underneath the basket and the 30-second shot clock -- were adopted into use for the entire NCAA as soon as the following season. This year, the NIT will take on four new rules that have obvious significant impacts on the game; Mississippi State will play under them for the first time in today's first-round game against Nebraska (8 p.m., ESPN2) at Humphrey Coliseum. 


Three of the four have to do with modifications to the court or the events on it; the other is the spread of a rule already seen in women's basketball. This year's NIT will be played in four 10-minute quarters as opposed to the usual two 20-minute halves. Women's basketball made the switch starting with the 2015-16 regular season and has kept it this way; now, men's college basketball is the only advanced organized basketball in America that does not play its games in quarters. 


With the new time system comes a new setup for bonus free throws after team fouls. In the two-half system, teams shoot 1-and-1 after seven team fouls and two after 10; in the four-quarter system, they will shoot two free throws after five fouls. 


Junior forward Aric Holman said he doesn't think the adjustment to quarters will make that much of an impact on the game. Sophomore guard Tyson Carter, a Starkville native, said MSU coach Ben Howland hasn't done much with that change other than telling players about it in Monday's practice. 


"I haven't put much thought into that," Carter said. "I haven't done four quarters since high school, but it's still 40 minutes, so I don't think it will be that bad." 


Two rules will modify the dimensions of lines within the court. First, the 3-point line wlll be moved back roughly 20 inches to a total of 22 feet, 1.75 inches, the same distance used in FIBA competition; the NBA 3-point line is 22 feet away in the corners and 23 feet, 9 inches away everywhere else. 


Carter, who is second on the team with 151 3-point attempts, 4.5 per game, does not anticipate the added distance being an issue: "We shoot from back there anyway." However, since most offensive sets base their positioning on the 3-point line, there is an adjustment to make there. 


"We have to start back a little farther to make sure you're behind that line, since that's the one that counts for three points," Carter said. "It shouldn't be too bad. It's not that bad of an adjustment, just a couple of inches." 


MSU hopes it learned that in the practices leading up to Wednesday's game: Holman said he saw a few players lining up at the usual 2-point line in practice. Junior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon said forward E.J. Datcher took a shot expecting it to be a 3-pointer, just to realize it was not. 


The other dimension change is in the lane, which is now widened out to 16 feet as opposed to the usual 12. The lane in the NBA is 16 feet wide. 


"Probably the first quarter, the first half, maybe it'll be a little tough. It will be difficult because you're basically posting up at the 3-point line," Holman said. "It's a little tougher because we're setting screens and guys don't really have much room with the lanes out so wide." 


The biggest impact of the new lane may come on missed free throws, where each player will now start two feet wider than they normally do; Holman is prepared to hold box outs even longer in the wider lane. 


Missed free throws could invoke two rules being tested in the NIT. The final adjustment is, after offensive rebounds, to reset the shot clock with just 20 seconds as opposed to the full 30. 




Nick Weatherspoon in high spirits 


After his injury in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, MSU freshman guard Nick Weatherspoon was with the team at Tuesday's practice and posted a video on Twitter of himself running an the Alter G treadmill -- a machine that allows athletes to run while not supporting their entire body weight. 


Quinndary Weatherspoon, Nick's older brother, painted a picture of Nick in high spirits -- despite Quinndary getting his friendly jabs. 


"I called him soft after I found out what injury he had," Quinndary Weatherspoon said. "I had to go to the hospital and call him soft, he can't be scaring everybody like that. 


"He's walking around and everything; he's driving himself around today. He was talking about playing today." 


Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson



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