In the aftermath of the semi-final games on Saturday night, I think it was pretty clear that Michigan State was overmatched against Duke and that the Spartans deserve recognition for the degree to which they over-achieved in order to get to that game. Duke shot 52% from the field in the game; State just did not have any way to stop them.
[Aside: In the first half, Jim Nantz referred to State guard, Lourawls Nairn Jr. as a “sharpshooter”. From what I saw in the tournament, Nairn has several positive attributes on a basketball court, but a great shooter he is not. In the game Saturday night, the “sharpshooter” went 0-3 from the floor.]
Wisconsin beat Kentucky by playing harder and smarter basketball on Saturday night. Unless you are a Wisconsin alum, you have to realize that Kentucky had more talent to put on the court in that game. What Wisconsin did was to play team basketball – minimizing, by the way, the number of blockheaded plays. If the contest would have been decided on the basis of a series of one-on-one contests, I do not think it would have been very close. But that is not the way the game is played.
With regard to that last point, perhaps I can go waaay out on a limb here and offer a bit of negativity with regard to one of the newest members of the Basketball Hall of Fame. John Calipari is a great recruiter and he has shown the ability to take a bunch of highly regarded recruits – all of whom have been told they are the best thing since the invention of sex for the last dozen years – and get those kids to accept one another and share playing time and share the basketball. I do not mean to minimize those two things; they are very important and not every college coach can do either or both outstandingly.
Having said that, I do not think John Calipari is a great coach in the sense of “developing players” – making them better players when they leave Kentucky than they were when they showed up – or in the sense of being a great sideline tactician within a game. For example:
Willie Cauley-Stein has been at Kentucky for 3 seasons. He is a very good player and will likely enjoy a nice NBA career. Nonetheless, I do not think that he is significantly better than he was 3 years ago; the difference is that he has started now and was a back-up when he was a freshman.
The Harrison twins are naturally gifted players but they are not highly accomplished guards. Even with two full seasons of tutelage, they each have two basic things they do on offense – they drive to the rim or they catch-and-shoot open jump shots. Neither has learned much about penetrate and pass.
I do not think that those players are incapable of developing new parts of their game; I just do not think that has been a priority for them as team members because it seems not to be important to the coach. I used to marvel at Lefty Driesell when he was at Maryland. Lefty got some top-shelf high school players to come to College Park and those kids had lots of talent. Back then, most players stayed 4 years in college and it seemed to me that most of the Maryland players left College Park playing about the same way they did on the day they arrived in College Park. They were bigger and stronger – but they just were not very different.
I do not expect many folks to agree with me on this point – particularly a long-term friend who is a Kentucky alum – but that is my feeling as of this morning.
Another highly accomplished and acclaimed college coach, Geno Auriemma, made the news last week for more than just having his UConn women destroy yet another opponent. Auriemma said aloud that he thinks the men’s game “is a joke”. As with just about every outrageous outburst, there is kernel of truth and fact at the core; but the full message is not correct. The thesis of his commentary is that basketball is entertainment and the game needs to be changed to increase scoring because that is what people will pay to see. He cites rules changes in football to favor the offense and the fact that new baseball parks have short fences and that MLB lowered the mound. [He conveniently neglects to mention that the mound lowering was more than 40 years ago and that scoring is down in baseball in recent years.]
In the extreme, he is correct. If there were no shot clock in basketball and lots of coaches played 4-Corners Offense any time they had a 5 point lead in the second half, people would tire of that style of play. A steady diet of college basketball games where the final score was 38-35 would blunt interest in the games. However, the problem with lack of scoring in men’s basketball now is that players are not great shooters anymore. Moreover, far too many players have seriously limited games. There are catch-and-shoot guys who cannot put the ball on the floor and there are guys who can only go to their right to get to the rim and who cannot hit an open jump shot. There are interior players who put up shots that come off the rims as violently as an errant 3-point shot but those players survive because loads of interior defenders have no idea what it means to “box-out the shooter”.
Players do not learn fundamentals the way they used to for whatever reasons exist in the high school and AAU levels of the sport. Therein lies the central part of the problem and changing the rules to aid the offense will not cure that central problem. In fact, those rule changes may make the problem worse. I suggested this before and I still think this is a good idea:
Devalue the dunk. Make a dunk worth only 1 point.
Make the alley-oop problematic. Any player grasping the rim for any reason gets an automatic technical foul.
Players need to learn a broader spectrum of offensive skills than dunking and “alley-ooping”. If/when they do, scoring will increase and by Geno Auriemma’s definition the game will be lots more fun to watch.
Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this comment over the weekend:
“The NFL suspended Browns’ general manager Ray Farmer four games for sending text messages to his sideline during games. Cannot confirm Farmer responded by sending out a sad-face emoji.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………