Saturday, March 25, 2006

Can anyone here play this game?

So here's what five of the eight teams, who in turn are among the best 16 in the country, failed to do last night: score 60 points in regulation. Think about that on NBA terms -- that's an inability to score 72 points. Even the Knicks are capable of that.

Consider: BC and Villanova totaled all of 102 points combined in regulation; Wichita State had to work hard for 55, Georgetown and Florida totaled 110. Villanova shot 35% and won because BC had 21 turnovers; Georgetown shot sub-40%, Florida scored all of 19 baskets.


This year has provided some of the best evidence of how the quality of play in college hoops has degraded. Shooting is bad, ball-handling is weak and ineptitude around the hoop is horrible. Most telling comment: Len Elmore on how UCLA kept getting good shot opportunities in the first half of its win against Gonzaga -- the Bruins hit 7 of 27.

Back in the day, my editor griped at me when I complained Virginia basketball was boring. "How can you say that? Every game is close, 58-55, 54-53; that's exciting!" I demurred: that type of basketball is exciting at the end, but it requires 35 minutes or more of ugly play to reach the thrilling finish. Who needs that? I'll take West Virginia's shootouts, Washington and UConn's run-and-gun and that fantastic Syracuse-Texas semifinal in 2003 over any 60-59 overtime "thriller" decided on a goaltending call.

Basketball, especially high quality college basketball, is America's beautiful game: athleticism, artistry, with highly coordinated interaction on offense and defense. Just watch Duke and UNC -- those games are tough and hard-fought but well-played and fairly high-scoring. When the game turns into dull defensive wars characterized by ineptitude (see Texas' 9-29 in the first half today) and excessive physical play, it becomes just another sport without the fun qualities that set it apart.

UPDATE: The games got even worse after I finished posting this. Consider: through the end of regulation in today's Final Eight games (LSU-Texas went to OT), the four teams vying for spots in the Final Four today scored a combined total of 199 points! That is awful. The UCLA-Memphis fiasco, 50-45, is just ineptsketball. Memphis shot under 32%, UCLA shot 35% and 20 of 39 from the line. Ugh. That's just as awful as the heinous Michigan State-Wisconsin Final Four game in 2000, which the Spartans won 53-41 and led by 19-17 at the half. Three years later, Syracuse led Kansas 53-42 in the national title game . . . at HALFTIME.

More on the uglyball that UCLA and Memphis played, courtesy ESPN: (1) the combined 95 points is the lowest total in a regional final in the shot clock era (1987-present for NCAA Tourney games); (2) the 50 points by UCLA was its lowest total in winning an NCAA Tourney game; (3) Memphis' 45 was the lowest total ever for a #1 seed (Oklahoma's inept 47 against Syracuse in '03 may be next lowest). Yeesh.

Give me the days of the Sherman Douglas Syracuse teams anytime -- high-flying offense, but you don't beat teams who wind up with more than 25 wins by 102-78 and 90-66 without playing some D.

Heck, everyone praises Duke's defense to the heavens, and their best teams had more than their fair share of shootouts (1990: 97-83 over Arkansas; 1992: 81-78 over Indiana, the 104-103 OT win over Kentucky that went to OT tied at 92). Bring back the offense to basketball!

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