Thursday, April 18, 2013

What's Wrong with College Basketball

The Big East used to be known for more a more "bruising" style of basketball.  The officials let more contact go and the league liked being known for being a little more "nasty."  Still, go back and watch tape of top Big East teams during the 80's, 90's, and even into the early 2000's.  They aren't painful to watch at all.  They did have occasional lower scoring affairs, but in general a Big East team in the NCAA tournament, where it was said to be called more traditionally and thus "tighter", could score in the 80's and 90's, too.

Fast forward to today and everyone is screaming about how low scoring the game has become.  The fix, people seem to think now, is to lower the shot clock.  I do believe that will increase scoring some, but it will still make the game more painful to watch than it is now.  You'll have even more hurried possessions resulting in low percentage shots.  But due to a noticeable increase in possessions, the scores will go up.  A little.

No, the answer is not a shorter shot clock.  24 seconds in the NBA is crazy low, but it works at that level.  35 seconds in college is plenty short enough already.  We used to score in the 80's, 90's, and even into triple digits just fine with a 35 second shot clock.

The answer is call the fouls.  Call every foul as is spelled out in the rulebook already.  Call them on the perimeter.  Call them on the blocks.  Call them in between.  Just call them.  You say "oh, but that'll slow the game down for all the free throws we'll be shooting."  Not for long it won't.  Players want to play, and players will adapt and stop fouling.  Currently it's getting to be a free-for-all where players know the refs aren't going to call much of it at all, so they do things with wild abandon now.

Guys with natural ability dribbling the ball can't turn the corner because the defender is allowed to bump them.  Offenses have adapted some, but all they can do is try more moving screens, which has actually had some success, especially if you use a moving screen in the lane to free a screener heading to the top of the key (see: Louisville in 2012-13).  In general, allowing overly physical play helps the defense way more than the offense.  And hence scoring goes down.  Let the offenses work without all the contact, and I believe scoring will go back up.

The other thing is the charge/block call.  It's here where I do feel for the officials.  It's a hard call to get right.  It always has been.  Here I'd like to see a major change that would make it easier, though.  Change the rule so that the defender has to be set (two feet planted, no significant leaning) when the offensive player picks up his dribble.  Currently the rule is when he leaves his feet, but I think that encourages help defenders to try to simply "get to the spot" before a player leaves his feet.

The point of making it when a player leaves his feet is that he's basically "out of control" at that point since he's going airborne.  I say he's all but out of control once he picks up his dribble because he can only take the two steps, almost always toward the basket at that point, and he's got to get rid of it.

Now, is this an easier call to make?  Not really.  So why do it?  Because there won't be as many charge/block calls to make at all.  It'll be too hard to try to draw a charge intentionally as a defender.  It'll only happen when an offensive player is truly out of control, and those will be obvious.  The rest of the time defenders will go back to trying to block the shot.

What will this do?  It'll let guards who are quick enough to turn a corner on their man have a better chance of finishing, rather than constantly getting scared and pulling it back out.  Again, scoring will go up.  That silly circle they put in place changed almost nothing.  I don't think we saw any fewer attempts by defenders to draw charges, and almost never did we see any inside the circle.  So maybe it did change the way players draw them a little, but not enough to matter, I don't think.

But these two changes alone would restore the scoring in the game and make it more fun to watch.  There's simply too much advantage in contact right now, and that's never been what this game was about.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Today's Unexpected Joys

As of a few days ago, today's schedule was supposed to go something like this:
  • get up early and run for an hour
  • go to Moncure (about 45 minutes away) to coach Zach's game (and picture day)
  • bolt straight to Kevin's school to coach Kevin's game, eating lunch in the car (and picture day)
  • leave Kevin's game and go to the UNC baseball game (a little late)
  • leave the UNC baseball game and go to Burlington to meet friends for supper
Today's first unexpected joy was snow.  All day.  It was mixed with rain and just a tad too warm to really accumulate (it would for a while, then go away), but snow is cool and sometimes those flakes were huge.

Snow led to the second unexpected joy, and that was the cancellation of Zach and Kevin's basketball games.  See, I don't enjoy coaching.  I really don't care for picture day, in particular, because it takes an hour game and makes it an hour-forty-five affair of aggravation.  On top of that, we only had an hour between games and the game sites were 20+ minutes apart, which meant we'd have to eat in the car and likely be a little late.  So it's like a day off work.

The cancellation of those basketball games led to the third unexpected joy, and that was that I got to go to the UNC versus Virginia basketball game.  Due to the fact that Zach and Kevin's games overlapped that game, I had let my parents use all four seats, and they already had invited Dad's cousin Phil who was bringing a friend (from all the way in West Jefferson!).  But me and the boys decided to go anyway and scalp tickets.  Fortunately I have the Sprinter van, too, so we were able to all still ride together and use the good parking pass.

Having to scalp tickets led to the fourth unexpected joy.  I know this seems unlikely, but it's awesome.  While I've always been willing to use scalpers if I have to, the reality is I hate doing it.  It's a dirty, opportunistic business.  Anyway, I passed on a good set of three tickets at $90 each (face value was $50) and kept looking.  Then a guy approached me and said he had two tickets.  I asked where and how much and he replied they were front row of section 210, which is upstairs but the front row.  210 is also side-court.  So they are very good seats.  And he said we could have them as he was just planning to "look for a Dad" and let him have them.  He and his daughter were using his other two seats.  I said we'd take them and if the boys had to sit without me we could make that work.  So I then bought another seat for face value from a scalper in the upper deck and we headed in.

[ As a sidenote here, I was definitely a beneficiary of the pay-it-forward line of thinking.  Dad and I used to buy tickets from scalpers quite a bit back in the 90's for UNC basketball games, but one day a nice man gave us two tickets provided we were "going to use them."  You see, he had given tickets away before only to watch the guy he gave them to sell them.  So we said absolutely, we weren't scalpers and would go in with him.  Since then, I've always done the same thing when I've had spare tickets before games.  And I never charge my friends or family for tickets.  While I could certainly have afforded to buy tickets today, it was nice having a fellow father help me out. ]

I had hoped that some of the people that sat around my normal seats wouldn't show, as is often the case for games in bad weather.  But today was kind of a big game for UNC and the fans really came out in force.  It was a great crowd.  So before the game we headed up to take the boys to their seats and most of that entire area was empty, including the row of four seats behind them.  So I decided to sit there, especially upon hearing those folks didn't show up pretty often.  And they didn't, which was today's unexpected joy number five.  I did pay face value ($50) for the ticket I used to get in, but I ended up able to sit with my boys in much better seats.

This was the first pitch of the season, yesterday, and it was 60F. Huge contrast to the snow today!
The UNC baseball game was cancelled completely due to the weather, which wasn't an unexpected joy at all.  But I had decided last night that I needed the sleep more than I needed to see the baseball game and planned to run after the kid's basketball games.  But that plan still worked as there was plenty of time after the UNC basketball game.  But it was still snowing and right around 32F.  Cold and wet.  The ground was very wet.  But you know what?  It was a great run.  Running in the snow is an unexpected joy all by itself, so that's unexpected joy number six.  I should note that I considered a treadmill run (which I haven't done in nearly two years), but my coach subtly reminded me that it really wouldn't be that bad.  And it wasn't.

I was worried about exactly what to wear during the run.  I ended up with compression shorts, running shorts over those, a long sleeve Smartwool shirt, a dry fit long sleeve running top, a fleece zip up vest, thin running gloves, an ear covering headband, Smartwool socks, and trail shoes.  So I was bare legged.  And I ended up pretty much perfect...I did need to unzip the fleece vest most of the way, and I contemplated removing the gloves a couple times, but I was basically comfortable.  I was pretty much soaked when I got back, but still warm.  Nothing would have stopped me from being soaked by then even if I had a water barrier on as I would have simply been sweating inside it anyway.  So it was great.

And then there was supper.  Originally we were going out, but Ashley realized she had all the fixings for homemade chilibeans.  That was unexpected joy number seven, as that's better to me than anything we would have eaten out.  Combine that with the comfort potatoes that Alisa made for me in exchange for letting her take an extra half day off to extend her weekend a little, and supper was fantastic.  (And another note here...she didn't have to make me those potatoes.  I really just sort of begged my way into them.  They were appreciated, but she would have gotten that half day off just for being the world's most awesome assistant anyway.  Don't tell her, though.  I'm probably not giving anything away, as she doesn't read my blog.  Or by the time she does, it'll be a month later.  Time heals all compliments, or something like that.)

The view from our seats as Tyler Zeller prepares to have his jersey officially honored.
So that's one day with seven unexpected joys and the only cost was missing the UNC baseball game and missing dinner with the Kimels.  So if we play the plus-minus game, we're still at a solid plus-five for the day.  You simply can't beat that.  Oh, UNC did beat Virginia, but in fairness to my Unexpected-Joy-O-Meter, I really did expect to win that game.  Some would say I shouldn't have, but I did.  And I'm still happy and a little bit relieved that they did, but I can't claim it for the UJOM.  Getting to be there for it was important more than just for the game, though, because I also live for moments like today's half time see, they officially honored the hanging of Tyler Zeller's jersey in the rafters.  He was also given the Patterson award before the game, and Lennie Rosenbluth and Tyler Hansbrough were also given special recognition today.  Being there for those things is just as important to me as seeing another win.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Once A Year Punch In the Face

Ever learn your lesson the hard way?  Of course you have.  We all do.  But what lessons do you seem to have to learn the hard way regularly?

Backstory: I learned a couple years ago about the virtue of arm warmers.  In particular, I love SmartWool brand arm warmers.  And it's been "arm warmer season" now for pretty much two months.  So I've put them on quite a few times already.  But like last year and the year before, at some point, the inevitable happens....

You see, if you get in a hurry putting them on, you'll try to pull them up a little too fast.  And you're usually looking at what you're doing, and pulling them up fast once they get near the shoulder means you're likely to let it slip...and BLAM.  You punch yourself right in the nose.  Not hard enough to do damage, but in my case it seems like it's always hard enough to make my eyes water. 

So, arm warmers are awesome.  Just be careful with the installation.  The world is dangerous enough without senseless violence that could be avoided if we all just take our time putting our arm warmers on.  And by all means, if you're going to learn this lesson, try learning it just once, not every year like SOME people I know.