Apr 15, 2013 12:22 AM EDT
Integrity and Credibility
Almost all forms of entertainment have their casual fans and their hardcore fans. Often, particularly in the music industry, hardcore enthusiasts will start to dislike a musician when that musician becomes popular. Hardcore fans love bands when they are regional, talented, and under-appreciated. But the moment a band has a pop hit and starts to sell records nationally, they’ve sold out.
Somehow over the weekend the Masters managed to make a decision that irritated both hardcore and casual golf fans. Hardcore golf enthusiasts were disappointed that Tiger Woods was not disqualified for signing the incorrect scorecard on Friday. Woods admitted that he made a mistake with his drop, and in the eyes of golf insiders, that admitted rules violation should have led to the end of his participation. The age-old adage in golf is that “being unaware of the rules is not an excuse”.
But casual fans were not happy with the 2-stroke penalty Tiger received either. Casual fans of sports want to see the athletes that are playing the best be rewarded. They hate to see capricious, random, or bizarre rules prevent the better athlete from succeeding. This is why basketball fans hate flopping so much. You can argue that flopping is part of the game, that acting is part of practicing great defense. But fans don’t watch basketball to see the best actors. They pay to see players with incredible body control do amazing things.
Similarly in golf, no casual fan tunes in to see a bunch of players win or lose based on minor rule minutiae. And yet golf continues to insist that minor unknown rules should have a major impact on its championships. In 2010, it was Dustin Johnson, playing the best golf in the PGA championship, who was disqualified for not knowing about some course-specific rule. And on Friday, it was Tiger Woods who took a 2-stroke penalty for not knowing the proper way to drop the ball. But Tiger wasn’t the only one. When I heard about the violation, I still had the event on my DVR and re-watched the call of the action on the 15th. Before Tiger dropped, David Feherty noted that what Tiger should do is drop the ball “about two yards back from the original spot he hit it from”. In other words, Feherty’s instinct was to do exactly what Tiger did. Meanwhile, Feherty tried to read through several pieces of paper on whether it was a red or yellow drop, and still couldn’t figure it out in real time. Yes, giving Tiger Woods a two-stroke penalty protected the integrity of the game. But to the casual fan, it continues to destroy the credibility of the game. It shows that golf is more about knowing rules, than about rewarding the player making the best shots and putts.
This isn’t to say that college basketball doesn’t have its own credibility problem. Last year the NCAA added a rule that an unintentional elbow is an automatic flagrant foul. This is exactly the same type of rule that destroys the NCAA’s credibility and turns off casual fans. It rewards acting over basketball, and it must be changed.
Of course we’ve now reached the point of the year where the casual basketball fans have moved on to the NBA. The folks who started caring about college basketball the day the NCAA tournament bracket was released are now long gone. By the time we get to the Jordan Brand Classic, the only people who are trying to read the tea leaves for next season are true high school and college basketball enthusiasts. Even the McDonald’s All-American game attracts some casual fans. But if you are watching the Jordan Brand Classic on a Saturday night in April, you’ve earned some street cred.
2013 Jordan Brand Classic
1) Let me start by praising a player who should NOT have NBA scouts salivating, the player with a 4.0 GPA who considered going to Harvard and playing for Tommy Amaker. As Paul Biancardi put it, Nigel Williams-Goss doesn’t have the athleticism of some of the other top recruits. And to the extent he has a more polished game, that is because he has needed it. Williams-Goss had a pair of beautiful floaters in this game, the kind of shots that players like Andrew Harrison haven’t had to work on yet, because Williams-Goss can’t depend on beating his man and getting to the basket.
But what sets Williams-Goss apart is that he is a leader and a consummate winner. And with the Jordan Brand Classic tied with 35 seconds left and the ball in the other team’s hands, Williams-Goss proved it. He stole the ball, drove to the hoop, and his bucket and one clinched the victory for the West team.
Somehow despite making the game-winning play and leading the victorious West team in scoring, Nigel Williams-Goss was not one of the co-MVPs. But that is so perfect for his game. Williams-Goss was not nearly the most exciting player on the floor on Saturday night. But he is the kind of player that as Jimmy Dykes put it, “when he subs out of the game, your team gets substantially worse.” And for fans of the college game, the Washington Huskies might have hit the recruiting jackpot. Like Ohio St.’s Aaron Craft, Williams-Goss is the kind of player that will do whatever it takes to win, and who will probably be around for more than one year too.
I need to stop raving about him, but I also loved Jimmy Dykes other story about Williams-Goss. Williams-Goss was not a great three point shooter in high school. But when he heard he was going to be participating in a high school three point shooting contest, he spent a month shooting basketballs off a rack. He won the three point contest. We haven’t even reached November yet, and this kid is my favorite freshman in the country.
2) One of my big questions for Arizona next season is how it is going to work out to have so many forwards on the team. But Biancardi and Dykes hit the nail on the head with their description of Arizona recruit Rondae Jefferson. He may be 6’7”, but he’s a versatile defender, capable of defending any position from 1-5. And in this game, he spent some time defending Florida’s super-PG Kasey Hill just to prove his quickness. Next year that versatility may make him the most valuable player on an Arizona roster full of talented front-court players.
3) With 11:10 to go in the first half, Memphis recruit Kuran Iverson had the ball on a 3-on-1 break. Despite having two open teammates to pass the ball to, he kept it himself and converted the lay-up. It seemed like bad ball-hawking etiquette, even in an all-star game. But as the announcers noted, Kuran is Allen Iverson’s cousin. Sometimes, you just can’t make this stuff up.
4) Paul Biancardi did a nice job contrasting Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. In his eyes, Parker is the polished player who can impact the college game immediately, while Wiggins is rated so high because of his potential. I think this is an important fact to remember next year. Wiggins is bound to be a bit of a disappointment no matter where he goes. We’ve seen it before with players like Harrison Barnes who are small forwards but who don’t have a developed outside shot yet. While the NBA scouts will be drooling at the height he gets on his second offensive rebound attempt, college fans will be left scratching their head why such a prized recruit isn’t a more efficient scorer.
5) It is really hard to learn much from the action in these all-star games because of the lack of defense. Jabari Parker looked much better than he did in the McDonald’s All-American game and Julius Randle was a force. So if you are a fan of Duke or Kentucky, maybe you want to watch the replay on ESPN3.com. But, I’m not sure if either of them made a legitimate post move all game. Yes, we saw lots of scrappy scoring around tall defenders. But Florida’s Chris Walker was the only guy who I saw catch the ball in the paint and make a legitimate back-to-the-basket move.
6) Three players missing in the McDonald’s All-American game did stand out some though. First, Syracuse recruit Tyler Ennis played like he had a chip on his shoulder at the earlier snub. He knocked down a three, had some great drives to the basket, had a nice steal on standard ball-pressure, and he even dove on the floor for a loose ball. Syracuse vitally needs him to play well next year given the lack of depth on the perimeter, and nothing in this game suggested he won’t be an instant impact recruit.
Meanwhile, Kansas recruit Joel Embiid was everything Paul Biancardi promised. According to Biancardi, Embiid is the senior center with the most potential, but his game isn’t polished enough yet. And Embiid showed his potential with an athletic early block of Julius Randle. But shooting 1-6 on the day, Embiid needs a couple years of seasoning before he can dominate at the college level. He’ll be a nice defensive player off the bench for Kansas next year, but he isn’t ready to play more than 15 minutes per night his freshman year.
Finally, I am now very intrigued to see forward Kennedy Meeks next year for North Carolina. According to Biancardi he has the best hands of anyone in his class, but the question will be his conditioning. He could be North Carolina’s version of Davante Gardner or Josh Smith. If he can get in shape and run the floor with North Carolina, his finishing ability will be spectacular. And he is apparently particularly good at outlet passes. But it should be fun to see whether he can get in shape enough to dominate for the Tar Heels.
Apr 04, 2013 11:08 PM EDT
Here are some random thoughts I had while watching the 2013 event:
-I thought when Aaron Gordon said he was going to commit at the event, he meant the game. But since the McDonald’s All-American showcase last four days with the practices, hospital visit, dunk contest, and game, Gordon snuck in his announcement on Tuesday. He chose Arizona.
-Early on we saw Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison feed Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison on an alley-oop dunk. I have a feeling these two will be assisting on each other’s baskets a lot next year. There’s nothing like the chemistry two twins can build with one another. It is particularly amusing to see such highly ranked twin guards. Many of the recent twins in basketball have been forwards or centers. (See Brook and Robin Lopez in the NBA and David and Travis Wear at UCLA.)
-I don’t dislike Jalen Rose or Jay Williams, but they were a terrible choice to announce this game. They talked about Mike Rice Jr. They compared LeBron James to Michael Jordan. They talked about the one-and-done rule. They talked about whether players should be paid. And they barely talked at all about the players on the court. Look, I’m not saying they have to be diagraming plays here. This is an all-star game. This is pretty much mindless entertainment. But the main audience of this game is fans of the various schools. Don’t you think the Indiana fans would like you to point out when Noah Vonleh actually got in the game. And what about telling some nice anecdotes about these players. No one knows anything about these guys right now.
-I found this particularly irritating when combined with the new jerseys the players were wearing. These were the jerseys with the dark on dark numbers. Sometimes you could see the numbers clearly, but often you couldn’t. So basically you have players that the viewers are not familiar with, the announcers are not calling their names out, and you cannot identify them by their jerseys. Nice.
-At 10:37 in the first half, one of the players took a brutal off-balance three pointer from way beyond the NBA line. I laughed and wondered who it was, but couldn’t figure it out. But if there was any question about my sanity, I can tell you from reading the play-by-play data the next day, that it was Aaron Harrison.
-The announcers do finally give us a factoid. They note that Kansas commit Wayne Selden wins by dominating other guards physically, but that he needs to work on his jump shot. Ouch, that comment hurts. But I do see it. With 3:42 left in the second half, he is left unguarded, stands for three seconds, before finally taking an NBA three. It doesn’t even hit the rim.
-At 6:49 of the first half, Aaron Gordon blows an under-the-leg dunk, then gets the ball back and puts in a floater. Later Jalen Rose praises Gordon for even trying that crazy dunk. Gordon will go on to get 8-9 dunks in the game and win the MVP. Amazingly, it seemed like just about all of Gordon’s points came on plays where he was unguarded. It wasn’t that he had great dribble-drives or post-moves. Gordon simply hustled more than anyone else on the floor. He was always the first one down the court. He was usually the first one back on defense. He was often the only won fighting for the offensive rebound. And as the announcers noted, he even asked for more practice time before the game so he could practice his free throws. Gordon might not be the best athlete in this game. But he might be the hardest working player, and that will be huge for Sean Miller at Arizona.
-Now it is time to talk about the major uncommitted recruit, Andrew Wiggins. It seems like he might go to Florida St. because both his parents went there. But they also say that Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky are in the running. While there is some scary part of me that wants to see him go to Kentucky just to see what happens when you have seven super recruits on the same team, I have to admit that they look overloaded at this point. And North Carolina has too many wings and off-guards too. I just don’t see how he fits in with the Tar Heels.
-With 12 seconds left in the first half we get my absolute favorite play of the game. Kentucky’s Julius Randle pulls off a ridiculous alley-oop reverse dunk in traffic. That play was worth the price of admission.
-I love Jay Williams. When asked who impressed him at half-time he said, “No one.” Look, you didn’t bother to call any of the action. How could you have possibly been excited by what any player was doing?
-I have an answer. My new favorite player is Washington commit Nigel Williams-Goss. At 17:45 left in the second half, Williams-Goss dove on the floor to take a loose ball from the other side. Who dives on the floor in an all-star game? Then with 15:30 left in the second half he blocked a shot on the perimeter. You only do that by paying attention defensively. You might block a shot by the basket based on athleticism, but you block shots on the perimeter by caring about defense. Then with 2:30 left in the game he was called for a hard foul on Wayne Selden, trying to prevent a lay-up. Nigel Williams-Goss is a competitor. He also led all players with 6 assists in the game. Williams-Goss has a 4.0 GPA too. Lorenzo Romar should be very excited.
-Just after the 15 minute mark in the second half, #1 recruit Andrew Wiggins busts out a beautiful spin move and banked floater to beat #2 recruit Jabari Parker. (Parker is committed to Duke by the way.) Finally Jay Williams has some real praise. He notes that Wiggins doesn’t have a lot of wasted motion. What makes him special is that he doesn’t dribble around for 30 seconds. To paraphrase, “At the higher levels of basketball, you have to make quick moves and quick decisions. Wiggins does that.”
-At the 13 minute mark, Kentucky’s Julius Randle goes coast-to-coast for a dunk. The other side tries to beat him back by cherry-picking a full-court basket. The strategy works. But notably, Randle is the only player to run from end to end to try to contest the shot. Nice hustle. Ignoring the obvious skill of Kentucky’s Harrison Twins, I was very impressed with the skill level of both Randle and James Young in this game. Both seemed to have fantastic body-control. If Kentucky gets the fast-break going this year, this team is going to be ridiculously scary.
-And with 2:30 to go we get the hard foul by Williams-Goss. Wayne Selden sells it with a few extra barrel rolls on the floor, to give us one more laugh on the evening.
Mar 29, 2013 12:47 AM EDT
It seems unlikely that Charles Barkely watches a single basketball game between November and February. And while Greg Anthony and Kenny Smith have their moments, both feel like NBA guys calling a college game. Both are complete professionals, but with Anthony calling Brooklyn Nets games this season, and Smith working Inside the NBA on TNT, neither is primarily focused on the college season.
That is why I was so excited when CBS hired Doug Gottlieb and planned to bring him in-studio starting in the Sweet Sixteen. While Gottlieb can rub a lot of people the wrong way by being extremely negative (think Billy Packer-lite), I can live with it. Because unlike the others, Gottlieb is passionate about college basketball. He follows it religiously from November to February, and he has an impeccable ability to recall college basketball trivia. Plus Gottlieb is not afraid to start and make an argument. In a room with Charles Barkley, Gottlieb’s ego is not too small to get lost.
Still, my initial impression was that four people is too many for a half-time show. At half-time of the Miami vs Marquette game, all four analysts rushed through their opinions, and I felt like I didn’t learn something from any of them. And throughout the course of the evening, Gottlieb was particularly bad. He felt like a kid who was trying to say too much to impress his new friends. On ESPN’s College Basketball Live, Gottlieb’s ability to drop random trivia made the show must-watch TV. But on a show like this, mentioning how Brandon Triche’s dad lost to Keith Smart’s Indiana team just seemed like too many words in too little space.
And Gottlieb seemed to have extremely poor chemistry with the others. He either didn’t react to what other folks said, or he reacted, but didn’t have enough time to make his point. Prior to the opening game, Greg Gumbel cut him off by laughing at him. It certainly wasn’t an auspicious debut.
Still, I think we saw at half-time of the Syracuse vs Indiana game that the four analysts all have something to offer. All four absolutely nailed key points about the Syracuse 12 point lead on Indiana.
Kenny Smith, “It isn’t so much about the zone, it is about Syracuse’s size. That is what is causing all those turnovers.”
Doug Gottlieb, “There isn’t anyone on Syracuse that Jordan Hulls can guard defensively, but Indiana needs him out there for his three point shooting.”
Greg Anthony, “The problem with the zone is that it makes someone else the point guard who isn’t used to being the point-guard.”
Charles Barkley, “As you see on that play right there, the Indiana players are just standing around. They have to make themselves available when Zeller has the ball at the top of the key.”
Ah, there is nothing like zone defense. Say what you will about Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, but everyone always has an opinion. On paper Indiana looked like the perfect zone busters. They had great versatile forwards to attack the top of the zone. They were great in transition which should have allowed Zeller to attack before the zone was even set. And they shot 40% on threes on the season, which meant that even if they settled for threes, that was still a good shot.
Unfortunately, that three point shooting wasn’t nearly as good as marketed. Realistically, most of that three point shooting came in a standard man-to-man offense. It came because Zeller drew double teams in the paint which led to wide open shooters. It came because Yogi Ferrell drove into the paint and collapsed the defense leading to open kickouts. Those same plays weren’t there against Syracuse. And when they were there, they collapsed quickly. As Kenny Smith noted, Indiana really wasn’t prepared for Syracuse’s size.
Most importantly, as Greg Anthony noted, Indiana had to depend on someone else to initiate the offense. Indiana flashed Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, and Victor Oladipo to the top of the free throw line. All three players seemed like plausible zone busters. But no one was comfortable enough passing and attacking the zone from that position.
A month ago, on the same Verizon Center floor where the Sweet Sixteen was held, a Georgetown team with Otto Porter at the top of the key shredded the Syracuse zone. And unable to create turnovers, Syracuse struggled scoring only 39 points in the game. At that point Syracuse hit rock bottom. An Elite Eight run seemed like a joke at that point.
But Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, and Victor Oladipo were no Otto Porter. And thus Indiana compiled 11 turnovers in the first 13 minutes of the game, lost the points off turnover battle 12-2 at the half, and built a double digit deficit that they could not overcome.
Georgetown dominated Syracuse this season because they had the right player to beat it. Indiana looked helpless against Syracuse. Georgetown lost to an up-and-down high flying Florida Gulf Coast team. But is there any doubt that Indiana would have beat Florida Gulf Coast by 20 points and scored 90 points in an explosive up-and-down game? In basketball, match-ups can be everything. And while it seemed on paper the Hoosiers were the right team to beat Syracuse, when it actually came down to personnel and size, the Hoosiers were the exact wrong team.
Final Note #1: The scary thing about being a super-athlete is that your athleticism can get you hurt. Baye Mousa Keita jumped up in the air to block a Zeller shot and Zeller ended up completely under-cutting him. There was no foul on Zeller, in fact Keita was the one who committed the foul, but Keita landed on the floor and his forehead was busted wide open. The scary thing is, I’ve seen this happen to at least two other Syracuse players this year. Sometimes players don’t realize how high they can leap.
Final Note #2: Sideline reporters are largely pointless, but Rachel Nichols gets credit for her questioning of Jim Boeheim. “Is your tone in the locker room going to be praising the team or criticizing what they did wrong?” On paper, this may seem silly, but it was a deceptively insightful question. Boeheim smiled, Verne Lundquist laughed, and Boeheim concluded that when you are leading, you should probably praise the team.
Ohio St. does it again
In the first half, Aaron Craft showed some of his elusiveness in taking the ball to the basket for a few key lay-ups. But it wasn’t necessarily good strategy. As TBS special announcer Jay Wright noted at half-time, you don’t want to challenge Mark Lyons to a game of street-ball. And with Craft taking it to the basket, Mark Lyons responded with a series of drives himself. As great a defender as Craft has been, with Craft in foul trouble, Lyons seemed un-guardable for much of the first half.
But here is the thing about the Buckeyes. People tend to think that because Ohio St. relies so much on DeShaun Thomas for scoring, that there are a bunch of scrubs at the other positions. But that isn’t true at all. Basically everyone in Ohio St.’s lineup is a former Top 100 recruit. These are athletic players. And Ohio St. came back and took the lead because Ohio St.’s wing players were relentless in taking the ball to the basket. Those drives resulted in a dominance of points-in-the-paint. And it resulted in Ohio St. going to the free throw line time and time again. With 3:30 left in the game, Ohio St. was an incredibly dominant 21 of 23 at the free throw line. While Arizona was missing wide-open threes, Ohio St.’s ability to get easier shots was the difference in the ball game.
Still, I’ve said before that I love when players go out at their best. And if Arizona senior Mark Lyons’ career had to end, I’m glad he got one last moment. His driving bucket (and one) to tie the game with 25 seconds left was vintage Lyons. He was the ultimate closer this year.
LaQuinton Ross nailed Ohio St.’s second buzzer-beating three of the tournament and the Buckeyes advanced, but Arizona has nothing to hang its head about in shame. And as the Arizona’s forwards begin to mature into dominant forces, Arizona will absolutely be back in the Sweet Sixteen or beyond next season.
-Much like Ohio St., Marquette dominated Miami by getting more easy shots. But the news that Shane Larkin was sick and hadn’t slept the previous night, dampened some of the enthusiasm for the upset.
-Sadly most people had probably gone to bed by the time they showed him, but I hope people don’t forget the heartwarming story of La Salle guard Ramon Galloway’s father. His father is blind and still attends his son’s games in person. He either listens to a radio for the play-by-play or depends on a friend or relative to provide play-by-play for him. But he loves to attend in person for the thrill of the sound of the crowd and the sneakers on the floor. It is a heartwarming story and one of many for a La Salle team that probably didn’t get enough love for what they accomplished in this tournament. After VCU went First Four to Final Four, First Four to Sweet Sixteen seems rather pedestrian. But it is a feat that may not be accomplished anytime soon.
Expected Wins Field of 64
Once again I list the expected wins in the tournament according to the Pomeroy Rankings. Two of the teams with the Top 5 highest expectations fell Thursday.
Sep 11, 2012
The Pac-12 has been suffering through a long dark period. The Big Ten has been dominant (at least in the pre-conference schedule) for the last few years. Should we expect a change this year? Is the Pac-12’s slump over? Is the Big Ten’s boom about to come to an end?
Aug 13, 2012
The Jazz and Thunder have had the most Gold Medalists since the USA began bringing NBA players in 1992, while Duke leads amongst colleges. How do the other 29 NBA teams rank?
Apr 16, 2012
Anthony Davis wanted to wear Michael Jordan’s number in this game last year. This year no one chose to wear #23. Maybe people are right when they say this year’s class of high school seniors is missing a larger than life star.
Mar 08, 2012
Washington won the regular season championship, but were ranked fifth statistically in a conference that was bunched together in the top half.
Jan 26, 2012
There are a lot of complicated ways to evaluate college coaches, but in this edition we look at the coaches with the best per possession numbers over the last five years.
Dec 22, 2011
Teams that play a lot of freshmen are the most likely to improve as the season goes on, while those with a lot of experience are more likely to plateau. In this piece, we examine freshmen minutes for every major school in the country.
Oct 03, 2011
The Pac-10 may have morphed into the Pac-12 this offseason, but the extra 24 players hasn't resulted in any surefire lottery players even though there are several sneaky good prospects.
Aug 15, 2011
It is hard to imagine a more exciting barnstorming series than a tournament featuring NBA players suiting up again for their college.
Jul 21, 2011
Unlike books and films, sports is always unscripted entertainment and the good guys don't win every time. Let's look at how that relates to the schools (beyond UConn) that should celebrate their March success.
Apr 05, 2011
The NBA doesn't have a lot of scorers in the mode of Derrick Williams, who also is probably the best bet to win the 2012 Rookie of the Year since he is more NBA-ready than his peers.
Mar 19, 2011
Kyrie Irving's return, Gus Johnson's Mom, why Georgetown was Friday's biggest loser, plus Texas' expectations remain relatively stagnant.
Mar 01, 2011
Looking at the surprises and flops this season in the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-10 and Mountain West.
Jan 19, 2011
As we have commonly seen in recent seasons, the Big East has been the deepest conference in the country.
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