If anyone needs more ammo for declaring that college basketball too frequently is not an easy sport on the eyes, they received all they needed last night.
The subject is coaches micromanaging the ends of halves of college basketball games. It is leaving us frustrated, begging for change, ready to organize a celebrity panel of athletes, sportscasters and mascots to write and sing a song about it, the way “Fans Against Traveling” once pleaded “Don’t Walk” to the NBA in a memorable “This is SportsCenter” commercial years ago.
The ends of both the first and second halves of last night’s Michigan-Illinois game (eventually won by the Fighting Illini 64-52 in overtime) were dominated by fouls. Fouls committed intentionally by both teams, because they were under the foul limit and were apparently trying to keep the other team from a certain type of shot. As if both teams’ defenses weren’t doing just fine (or both offenses weren’t perfectly inept) on this night in the first place.
Our frustration came to a boil at the end of the first half. With the Wolverines leading 22-20, the Illini had the ball for a final shot. Michigan had just two fouls in the game to that point. (We’ll set aside for now the absurdity of any team in the Big Ten-the self-described most physical league out there-having just two fouls in a half, even one that plays as much zone as Michigan)
As the clock ran down under seven seconds, Michigan committed a foul. Then it did so again. And again. Three fouls in four seconds.
And for what? With 2.7 seconds left, the Illini still was able to inbound the ball and got a contested-but-good look for a three-pointer at the end of the half, or roughly the exact same look it would’ve gotten without the Wolverines’ three intentional unintentional fouls. And just like most of Illinois’s (and both teams’) other shots in the first half, it still missed.
(By the way, the situation repeated itself at the end of regulation, when both teams, again somehow way below the foul limit, kept fouling because they were apparently afraid that suddenly what they had been doing defensively for 39 minutes wouldn’t work in the final minute)
Sigh. Situations like this, where the ends of halves are hijacked by coaching calls that take the game out of players’ hands, are part of exactly why this sport has a tag as “unwatchable” (sometimes deserved, other times unfair) right now. It’s why coaches apparently are nearly 60% in favor of a 30-second shot clock according to a survey by ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, because they themselves don’t think the game looks good right now.
And exactly whose fault is it? The next time coaches are surveyed on anything related to what’s “wrong with the game,” can the survey include mirrors?
At this point, personally don’t even care what the percentages say. Don’t care how many times television analysts praise committing fouls as “good strategy.” I don’t watch the sport primarily for “good strategy,” and most fans don’t, either. If we wanted strategy, we’d watch chess. We just want to see the kids decide these games by themselves. Players making plays.
The same goes for the end of games, with one team leading by three and the other trying for a final shot. Coaches love to coach defense so much, so let your team play defense. If the trailing team hits a big shot, so be it. We go to overtime, we play on, we have great competition, memorable finishes, memorable games. You rarely get memorable finishes when teams foul intentionally while leading.
At some point, players need to be trusted to play the game. They are on scholarship, right? There is some sad irony in the deaths of Dean Smith and Jerry Tarkanian this week in that both, while no doubt with insecurities like any coach, were also headliners of an era when coaches prepared their players and then allowed them to play. They did not coach scared of what their players might do wrong. It’s unfortunate just how far the sport has drifted away from that.
Coaches regularly fancy themselves as teachers-and they are. How about letting the student-athletes learn from their own experiences, not from the highly controlled science experiments that the sport has become?
PLEASE coaches. If you have any interest in the best for your student-athletes long term, or in dwindling viewing audiences for that matter, let your players play.
- An amazing performance from VMI, which made 24-TWENTY-FOUR-three-pointers in a 93-59 win over Furman. The Keydets hit 24 of 45 from long range, tying the NCAA Division I high this season previously set by Iona. The game was tied at 38 at halftime, but VMI blitzed the Paladins in the second half, shooting 71.4% (20 of 28) from the field and hitting nine straight from long range at one point. The team mark ties a single-game school record, and senior guard Brian Brown also tied a school record with nine triples on his way to 25 points. Teammate Tim Marshall added 25 points with seven three-point bombs.
- Top 25 teams winning were Gonzaga, Utah and SMU. The Bulldogs raced out to a 20-0 lead in breezing past Loyola Marymount 80-51. The Runnin’ Utes used a 15-2 run to start the second half in controlling Stanford 75-59, and SMU held off pesky Houston 75-69 to get its 20th win.
- Mississippi earned a sweet road win, defeating Florida 62-61 on a Stefan Moody three-pointer with 2.7 seconds left. The Rebels swept the season series from the Gators for the first time since 1990 and have won six straight. It’s also incredible just how things are breaking for the SEC to get a lot of bids to this year’s NCAA Tournament.
- Minnesota is not done yet. The Golden Gophers won at Iowa 64-59, once again exposing the Hawkeyes’ enigmatic nature and improving to 16-9 overall and 5-7 in the Big Ten. You haven’t heard the last of Connecticut, either. The Huskies blew out Tulsa 70-45 for their third straight win. Ryan Boatright scored 23. And this was not a good showing at all for the Golden Hurricane. And once, twice, three times a renaissance. Suddenly, California is playing well again. The Golden Bears won at Colorado 68-61 for their fifth straight W.
- Murray State’s winning streak is now at 20 after a 73-47 rout of SIU-Edwardsville. Per usual, the Racers shot it well-55.8% for the game.
- Louisiana Tech remains atop Conference USA after a 65-54 win over Florida Atlantic. The Bulldogs are now alone in first place after Western Kentucky was idle and UAB lost at North Texas 67-64.
- Old Dominion had a terrific non-conference season, but the Monarchs have squandered pretty much all of the goodwill built up by wins over VCU and LSU. ODU lost to improving Texas-San Antonio 72-67 for its fourth loss in Conference USA and its third against a team outside the RPI top 100.
- Eastern Washington held off Sacramento State 64-61, as freshman Ognjen Miljkovic and Parker Kelly combined to make 11 three-pointers. The Eagles played again without Tyler Harvey, the nation’s leading scorer who is still out with a thigh injury. EWU is now half a game up on the Hornets in the Big Sky standings. Would love to see these two meet again the conference tourney final.
- Northeastern won at Hofstra 79-68 in the CAA. Scott Eatherton scored 24, and the Huskies are just a game behind league-leading William & Mary.
- Tennessee-Chattanooga served notice that Wofford has real company in the fight for the Southern Conference. The Mocs defeated the Terriers 56-46 on the road behind 23 points from Casey Jones.
- It was an exciting night all around in the SoCon, as The Citadel got a jumper from Ashton Moore at the buzzer to defeat Samford 66-65. A memorable night for the league’s two military schools.
- Finally, in a game that was on just about nobody’s radar, Florida International defeated Southern Mississippi 73-71 in overtime. FIU finished the game on the power play, as USM finished the contest with just four players on the court. Doc Sadler’s depleted team only had seven players in uniform for the game and lost three to fouls, playing the final 48 seconds of OT down a man.
- UNLV’s high-scoring freshman Rashad Vaughn is out indefinitely after tearing the meniscus in his left knee. The injury happened in the Runnin’ Rebels win over Fresno State on Tuesday. Vaughn, a guard who is averaging 17.8 points per game, could return in time for the Mountain West tournament, according to the school.
- Canisius had a promising season going in the MAAC this year but has been hammered by injuries of late. The most recent is to freshman Jermaine Crumpton, who is expected to be out 4-6 weeks with a broken bone in his right foot. Crumpton has played in all 23 games this season and became a starter after teammate Phil Valenti was sidelined on Jan. 30 due to an ankle injury. Crumpton is averaging 8.4 points per game this season, second in the MAAC among freshmen.
- Ohio State coach Thad Matta announced on Thursday that forward Marc Loving will return to play for the Buckeyes Saturday against Michigan State. Loving was out the past three games due to suspension.
- Kansas assistant coach Jerrance Howard has been suspended for two weeks by coach Bill Self after it was reported Wednesday by the Peoria Journal Star that Howard pleaded guilty to a marijuana possession last summer in Peoria, Ill.
Wisconsin-Green Bay at Valparaiso (7 p.m. EST, ESPN2) Arguably the two top contenders in the Horizon League, and their first meeting was decided by a point.
Kent State at Toledo (6 p.m. EST, ESPNU) The Rockets are gaining steam while the Golden Flashes have lost three of four since their MAC schedule toughened up.
Arizona at Washington Not sure how much the Huskies have left in the tank this year, but if they’re going to make a last stand this would be a good place to do it.
Albany at New Jersey Tech The Great Danes step out of the America East for a good matchup with the Highlanders, who have won four straight and after this one have just one Division I opponent left this season-on March 4 against Howard.
Iona at Manhattan (10 p.m. EST, ESPNU) A late-night game in the MAAC and a series that always provides hotly contested games.
Columbia at Harvard The best game of the night on the Ivy schedule.
Have a great Friday and start to the weekend.