The issues of scoring and pace of play in college basketball continue to get a considerable amount of press, and that’s a very good thing.
ESPN this past weekend on College Gameday had a thoughtful, quality discussion of the state of the sport, and a good share of the conversation was about those very topics. Jay Bilas has rightly continued to be outspoken about the ridiculous levels of contact allowed in college hoops, which has no doubt affected offense for years. Basketball Times magazine has been a frontrunner in reporting on this topic for several years now (if you don’t get it, you’re missing out; what Blue Ribbon is to preseason annuals, BT is to reporting on the sport). And yesterday, USA Today looked into the issue again in depth, with comments from a number of people including Belmont coach Rick Byrd, who is the chair of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee.
Things do need to change, and we could write 10,000 words about this topic (in fact, we sort of have in the past already). From this view, it’s that important. But the one hope we have is that any changes in the near future do not come about from overreactions.
On that note, there is hope, as Byrd sounded like a voice of reason in the USA Today article. According to Nicole Auerbach’s story from Monday, “Byrd isn’t so sure exactly what changes would actually help offenses — he personally believes that shortening the shot clock could help defenses more and would also cause the sport to lose its unique styles of play — and is hesitant to suggest changes just to try them out. ‘The job the committee has is to make college basketball the best game it can be,’ Byrd said. ‘If you’re going to make a rule change, you better make sure it’s the best for the game.’”
Byrd is right. This is not the time for change for the sake of change, and the sport’s balance needs to be a serious consideration in any changes made. Scoring in this sport was at its highest in the 1970s with no shot clock and was still considerably higher than now when the shot clock was 45 seconds. It makes zero sense to assume that somehow the shot clock being too long is the issue. If anything, it may not be long enough.
No, this problem is ultimately on coaches and players. If coaches are running bad offenses (and many are, see: the way-too-popular high ball screen), then that needs to be fixed. There’s no reason why coaches need to cave to the AAU influence and adopt AAU-style offenses, no reason why they can’t consistently run motion offenses and teach players how to move without the ball. (And if you think teams are running a lot of ball screens now at the end of the clock, just wait until there’s a 24- or even 30-second clock.)
It would also help if referees finally got the message that physical play doesn’t help the sport. We know officials are prideful and don’t like being told how to call a game. We know it’s not an easy job. But for the good of the game, they need to change. Last year it was a thumbing of the nose at the sport as a whole, the way so many by midseason were ignoring the rules that were supposed to be re-emphasized. And the excuses that players are too physical, too long, etc., are just that-excuses. Players always need to be forced to adjust to officiating; not the other way around.
By keeping this issue in the forefront, though, things can get better. Control-loving as they are, coaches are smart enough to eventually figure out that the sport is being harmed right now. Most coaches fancy themselves as playing up tempo, even when they don’t. Most also don’t want to be known for having teams struggle to score 60 points in a game. And even if they don’t care, they’ll reconsider if recruits start telling them that they do care by where they choose to go.
In the meantime, let’s not forget that not all is bleak. There are still plenty of teams that can and do score points and play distinctive styles, and we’ll continue to highlight them the rest of the season. There is no reason for all gloom and doom yet. It definitely is a time for evaluation, though, and for all involved in the game to question if they are doing the sport right for the long run.
- A 35-second shot clock didn’t prevent Kansas and Oklahoma from putting on a terrific game last night. The Jayhawks ultimately won 85-78 in a game that had plenty of theater. KU made 8 of 8 three-pointers at one point in the first half and led by 19 at halftime before a furious Sooner comeback.
- A 35-second shot clock also didn’t keep Duke from scoring nearly 80 on normally stingy Pittsburgh. Tyus Jones scored 22 and the Blue Devils canned 11 of 23 three-point tries in a 79-65 win. Mike Krzyzewski has win No. 999, and now goes for 1,000 on Sunday at St. John’s.
- In a statement game, Georgetown easily handled Villanova 78-58. It’s a statement for the Hoyas, who pick up a big win, the type that can improve your seed line in March, but hopefully for Wildcat fans this also isn’t a statement for their team, which was overpowered inside too often here.
- Texas looked better Monday night, rolling past TCU 66-46 by shooting 48% and owning the boards (37-24). Tough break this year for the Horned Frogs (who shot an awful 9 of 23 from the charity stripe), having to play their home games at a high school arena while Daniel Meyer Coliseum is renovated.
- The Sun Belt continues to confound this year. Your conference leader now is not Georgia State, not Louisiana-Lafayette, but Louisiana-Monroe, which is now 6-1 in league after a 57-55 win at UL-Lafayette last night. The Warhawks are in search of their first NCAA bid since 1996, when the school was still known as Northeast Louisiana and its teams were known as the Indians.
- Stony Brook was considered a relatively heavy favorite in the America East this year, especially after the Seawolves won at Washington in late December. Not so fast. Albany went to SBU Monday night and came out with a convincing 64-47 win in a rematch of last year’s A-East championship game.
- Albany now shares the America East conference lead at 5-0 with Vermont. The Catamounts drilled Binghamton 64-44 on Monday.
- North Carolina Central moved to 6-0 in the MEAC with a 59-52 win at Hampton.
- Texas Southern also is now 5-0 in the SWAC after a 67-54 win over Jackson State. TSU’s Tigers share the conference lead right now with Alabama State, which was idle Monday.
- In a quality non-conference game for February, Detroit went to Northeastern and won 81-69 in overtime. Good matchup, and good win for the Horizon League.
- Finally, Charleston Southern held off UNC-Asheville 82-75. The Bulldogs’ Andrew Rowsey won the battle, scoring 34 points, but CSU’s Saah Nimley won the war with his own career-high 31 points. Rowsey is a scoring machine who was averaging 25.3 points per game earlier this year but had been in a bit of a funk, but he bounced back in a big way with a season high. Nimley can score himself and is averaging better than 18 points per game.
- One news item from Monday, Air Force leading scorer Max Yon has taken a leave of absence from the team to take care of a personal issue, as reported by the Colorado Springs Gazette. The senior leads the Falcons with an average of 15.3 points per game.
Iowa at Wisconsin (9 p.m. EST, ESPN) Armed with a sweep of Ohio State now, this is almost a free shot for the Hawkeyes.
LSU at Florida (7 p.m. EST, ESPN) It’s becoming go time for the Gators, who can’t afford a whole lot more losses.
Mississippi at Georgia Is there a such thing as play-in games to the NCAA Tournament play-in games? If there were, these two might be in one.
Dayton at Davidson (7:30 p.m. EST, CBSSN) Terrific matchup, both can drill the three. Newly ranked Flyers go on the road to take on a good Davidson team that is smarting from 26-point loss to Richmond on Saturday.
Tennessee at South Carolina (9 p.m. EST, ESPNU) Don’t count out either team as an NCAA tourney contender. The Volunteers in particular are not far at all from being there.
Vanderbilt at Kentucky It feels like about time here for the Wildcats to have another one of those games where they allow a lesser opponent to hang around.
Have a terrific Tuesday.