NCAA Wrap(crap) Up

And breathe.  The first round madness is over and we all have time to grab a quick one before the the second plunge.  Honestly though, I don’t need a breath.  I need a restart.  Sure, there is some great talent and have been quite a few da da dum, da da dum, Sportscenter top plays but the basketball itself is lacking.  By the time the second half rolls around everyone has figured everyone else out and the game becomes dull and ugly to watch.

I have been overwhelming depressed by the basketball in this year’s tournament and here is why:  Offense is stagnant and one-dimensional, fundamental concepts have gone by the wayside, and finally, team defense is at an all time low.

Stagnant Offense:  When did college basketball switch to the two-man pick and roll, everyone else stand around with our hands in our shorts, game plan?  It seems like every team follows some version of the following.  Bring the ball down the court, make a pass or two around the perimeter then some big come set a ball screen and see what happens on the drive.  This works twice, then the defense wises up and the offense is left bumping into each other and backdribbling out of the lane until there is two seconds left on the shot clock and we hoist an ill-advised something.

Stockton and Malone perfected this pick and roll and it was continually successful for two reasons, they played together for eons (a record 1,412 regular season games) and they had talented threats around them to keep the D honest.  This simply does not exist in college.  Kids are in and out in less time than it took me to figure out where my college’s library bathrooms were and let’s be honest, college teams simply don’t have the depth to surround a would be dynamic duo with reliable threats.

Secondly, it would appear to me that we have lost all sense of what to do when facing a zone.  Not once during this tournament have I seen anyone dribble drive to a gap, make two guys guard them and then pass either to an open man on the wing (who is toeing the 3-point line) or feed the high post.  Instead the standard is to whip it around the wing to players seven feet from the arc and then looked bewildered when the clock runs down and we turn it over.

Fundamentals: Who in the name of everything holy is designing out-of-bounds plays these days?  Just terrible.  Every team seems to rely on the ol’ wait, lazy cut, lazy cut, wait, wait, panic, throw a lob towards the back-court and pray that your guy can jump the highest.  Out of bounds plays should be a simple well designed machine that almost always result in 2-3 guys being open.  I don’t know if the coaches are just over looking these in practice or the players are too lazy but it is bad.

Team Defense:  COMMUNICATE!!!  Unbeknownst to me, the NCAA has issued a credo stating that it is irrational and simply rude to  talk to ones teammates during the ball screen.  Instead players should simply run smack into each other or play follow the leader – chasing the ball carrier, leaving the screening johnny come lately wide open under the hoop.  Next, should said johnny come lately make his cut and find himself open it shall be a sin to have anyone yell help and pick up the open man.  Such simple things to work on in practice, but from what I can tell essentially nonexistent during the games.

My conclusion?  Schools are hunting out the 1-2 superstars and trying to build a team around them.  Then, when those superstars leave  before they’re halfway done with their college career the teams is left in shambles without ever having formed any sort of bond or “chemistry.” You’ve got to get players to stay with and buy into a system.  That is the only way to develop the team skills, and flow that make for the great basketball of years past (Princeton offense baby!).

Mark my words, without change I say that within the next two to three years we’ll finally see a 16 upset a 1.  The teams that have a deep core group of bonded players, regardless of athletic talent, will rise to the top.  Look at the two who nearly did it this year.  Lehigh, I thank you for saving my tournament sentiments with your genius and simple picket fence scramble out of bounds play that slammed the lid on the Dukies’ coffin. (skip to 1:20 for the play)

There is hope for collegiate bball yet.

– Rob Melick

March Madness and Dairy Sports

I know…. it’s here isn’t it?  Regular seasons are becoming fleeting memories, drifting out of consciousness, and conference tournaments are stacking up to what I dare say will amount to quite an epic queue’s worth of college basketball showdowns.  Then selection Sunday; where seeds are planted for the birth of coming heroes.  Who, given the perfect stage, are sure to dazzle and delight in a first round melee of upsets and buzzer beaters.  Hopes will flare up faster than the current gas prices only to be dashed against the cliffs of poor rebounding and missed free throws.  It will be a time of honor and grace, fear and destiny….

I know it’s taking hold of me when two things happen.  First I start writing like the above paragraph and secondly I find myself standing up in the middle of the living room while watching random basketball games I could care less about and realize that my heart is beating at a very abnormal rate and I’ve just yelled at the young man on the court whose college acronym has more letters than I have fingers on my right hand.

The madness is coming and it’s coming fast.  So what is one to do?  Well, dear readers, I say embrace that which consumes you.  Start breaking out the secret bean and spinach dip recipes saved only for this time of year.  Restock your face paint supply and overload on cough drops.  Start the initiation sequence of pretend coughs and faintness for that sickness you’re sure to develop middle of next week;  you’re going to need all of the above.  We only get to have this joy once every year and we must take full advantage.

And besides, our madness can’t be that mad can it?  Well, at least not nearly as mad as this:

– Rob Melick