As I get set to watch the Sweet 16 whittle itself down to the Final Four this weekend, let me talk about college basketball in general today. I have always liked college basketball; I began watching it on TV in the mid-50s. There were not a lot of games on the air back then, but I enjoyed them when I could get them. My first “live game” was in February 1959; I learned quickly that college basketball was even better in person than it was on TV. I have said before and will repeat here for the record that:
- The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is the best sporting event of the year. Its excellence makes the existence of the normally useless NCAA worth tolerating.
Having said that, I still believe that college basketball can be improved, and I would like to offer a few suggestions as to how to do that:
- First of all, no college basketball game should ever be played in a venue where it is possible to play a football game or a baseball game. I reject any and all attempts to justify such settings and I would put a hex on Houston and UCLA for opening up that can of worms with the “Game of the Century” in the Astrodome back in 1968. Feh!
- I have said before that I want to limit dunking in college basketball. I do not want to ban it completely as the rule makers tried to do back when Lew Alcindor – not yet Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – came into college basketball. However, it does not take a ton of skill for a player who is 6’9” to jump up and throw the ball down through the hoop from 6 inches away. So, I want to make a dunk worth only 1 point.
- I also want to modify the 3-point shot in college basketball. Too many teams employ an offense where one player – and sometimes two – go and stand in the corner doing nothing until and unless the player with the ball whips a pass out to them from the lane and we see a “catch-and-shoot” 3-point attempt. That is boring offense.
- The problem here is that “solutions” to that irritant may have negative impacts on the game. The problem with the 3-point shot is not just the guys standing the corner waiting for something to happen; the problem is that some teams do not even try to play offense; all they do is come down and set up and throw up a 3-point shot. Extending the 3-point line and/or painting the corners as 2-point shots would only encourage those teams to take longer jump shots – – and that won’t be a ton of fun to watch.
- So, maybe we need to insert a bit more coaching and skill development into the game and perhaps the way to do that is to put a cap on the number of 3-point shots a team may take in a game. Suppose a team could only try 20 3-point shots in a game; after that allocation is used, any field goal would be worth only two points – other than a dunk which would count as 1 point from the modification above. Now, teams would have to shepherd those attempts in case they need to come from a double-digit deficit late in a game. Maybe that would encourage coaches to teach players how to do something other than shoot long jump shots or play “two-man-inside-out-offense”.
Those ideas seek to change the over-arching way that the game is played. The other problem with college basketball games in 2019 is that the final three minutes usually take a half-hour to complete. There are three major factors that contribute to that stasis and the solutions are not so difficult:
- Teams have too many time-outs. If a game has even one “TV Timeout”, then the teams should not have more than 2 timeouts apiece. That will move the game along faster and it will put a premium on coaching and floor management.
- Teams commit too many intentional fouls late in the game to stop the clock. Indeed, teams that are behind are playing against the opponent and against the clock at the same time, but the strategy of “foul-after-foul” can drag a minute on the basketball clock into a geological time dimension. The solution here is to put a limit on the number of fouls a team can commit before the next foul gives the opponent “two-shot-and-the-ball”.
- Officials spend far too much time at the monitors in the final two minutes of college basketball games. I have no problem with them reviewing if a shot is a 2-point or 3-point shot; I have no problem with them reviewing if a foul is flagrant or not; I have no problem with them reviewing an out of bounds call or if a shot was taken before the expiration of the shot clock. I do have a problem with them spending 2 full minutes reviewing to see if they should add or subtract 0.2 seconds to the game clock. If they cannot figure a way to speed up all of those reviews – – and there are a ton of them since teams are intentionally fouling for the final two minutes of just about every game – – then they need to stop doing it at all.
There is a perversion to the final minute reviews of timing. If you think about it, you will realize how silly all of this is. Let’s do some back-of-the-envelope estimating here:
- When officials review the game clock in the final two minutes, it is almost always “incorrect” and some adjustment needs to be made. Let us assume that the average correction is 0.3 seconds.
- For the first 38 minutes of the game, no such reviews are carried out. But if every clock review in the final two minutes shows the need for a correction, it is only logical to assume that every out of bounds play and every called foul in the first 38 minutes also should have resulted in a clock correction.
- If there are 30 total fouls called in the first 38 minutes and 15 out of bounds calls in that period and a half dozen time out calls, that means there are about 50 instances where 0.3 seconds (on average) need to be added to the clock. That means at the very least, the game clock is 15 seconds “off” before the first time that an official is allowed to check to see if it is “correct” down to the tenth of a second. [By the way, every out of bounds call results in two potential clock errors – one when the ball goes out of bounds and the clock does not stop perfectly and one when the ball is thrown in bounds and the clock does not start perfectly.]
Lest anyone think that I am losing my affection for college basketball, that is not the case. I still enjoy it immensely and only seek to make it better. Many folks argue that NBA basketball is the superior basketball product for the simple and indisputable fact that the skill level of the players in the NBA is far superior to that in the collegiate game. Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot has made that argument in the past; my counter-argument has always been that too often there are NBA players on the court who are “playing nonchalantly” (if I am being polite) or who are “dogging it” (if I am saying what I really believe). We have agreed to disagree on this point.
However, Professor Molinaro had a comment in a recent column that makes me think he might be open to considering my point of view slightly more favorably:
“Hoop du jour: I’m not sure when this phrase began appearing in the NBA lexicon, but the all-too-prevalent trend of teams sitting down their healthy stars is called ‘load management.’ For fans who buy tickets expecting to see the absent stars, it’s a load of something.”
You don’t see any “load management” in college basketball and when you tune into the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games this weekend, you will not see any players “dogging it” on the court either.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………