Tuesday, April 05, 2005

And so it ends

Well, another college basketball season is in the books. So here are my thoughts on the national title game:

* Sean May is an absolute beast of a player. A man. No question. But since he's that good, does he really need overt assistance from the officials? He was clearly a protected player last night, in the sense that the refs were very obviously going to make sure that the only question about how much he would play was going to be how long he could jog without falling over. We're talking "T.J. Ford in 2003"-level protection here. If James Augustine sneezed in May's general direction, he was picking up a foul. And May was apparently going to be able to bowl over Roger Powell and Jack Ingram on his way to the basket, with nary a risk of drawing a charge, and, in actuality, a fair likelihood of getting a foul called on Powell (or Ingram).

The thing is, that sort of thing happens all the time, and seems to be implicitly condoned. And that speaks to a larger issue: I've never understood the concept of "superstar calls," a phenomenon that first reared its ugly head in the Michael Jordan days (and Jordan was the most protected player in the history of sports, be it NBA, MLS, or friggin' Jai Alai). I mean, I can't think of another sport that does this, and has it be so universally accepted. "This guy's really effing good ... I think we should let him get away with more, and give him a BIGGER advantage!" The only comparable thing I can think of in other sports is baseball pitchers getting wide strike zones (with Greg Maddux in his prime being the most notable example). This whole concept leaves me befuddled. Let's move on.

* There is no excuse for Illinois shooting that many threes. 40 three-point attempts? Jesus Christ. I understand that a big part of this was the perpetual absence of Augustine (0 points in 9 minutes, due to foul trouble), who, while not a bear in the post by any means, is capable of much more on the inside than the strictly-jumpshooting tandem of Ingram and Nick Smith. And I know that part of it was Carolina's (predictably) lax perimeter defense. But still. How about a drive to the basket? A backdoor play? Just a token feed to the post, to see if the defense will collapse? Whipping the ball around the perimeter is pretty, and it's by-and-large a good idea. But the goal is to get good shots, shots you can make. And Illinois was clearly off their 3-point shooting game last night. For the most part, the Illini were settling for "okay" 3-point looks, instead of making Carolina's defense really work.

* Speaking of that, I mean, I expected it, but man, was the Heels' defense lazy, especially in the second half. May doesn't want to move around, because he's fat. Felton just wants to reach. Rashad McCants doesn't want to do anything. The Completely Hilarious Jackie Manuel is an unabashed Foul Machine. I don't think I've ever seen an "elite" team defend screens that poorly. "Oh damn, there's a guy standing between me and my man ... well, I guess I'm just out of this play."

* On the plus side, this trend directly contributed to the funniest moment of the night, when Illinois had the ball with the game tied, and was working it around the perimeter. This led to Billy Packer quite literally shrieking "Those are MOVING SCREENS!" at nobody in particular. But no, I'm sure Billy pACCer wasn't rooting for one team over the other. He's much too professional for that, this ACC grad and former ACC coach.

* And finally, the larger picture: the clear message last night, from the final result down to the commentating, both during and after the game, was that talent is everything and discipline is an overrated harness that holds back supremely talented individuals. Roy Williams is going to be a Hall of Famer, and he has an assload of wins. But it's clear that he does his best coaching in the living rooms of high school athletes (I'll leave that one for Todd. Merry Christmas). He recruits like a banshee, but once the kids get there, he just rolls the balls out onto the court and lets them go nuts. And I guess that's fine. The thing I don't like, however, is that the entire night ended up serving as one big endorsement for this style of play. Some kid watching the game at his home in Cockfuck, North Dakota had to come away thinking "Defense is overrated" and "The only passes worth throwing are alley-oops" and "In a tie game with 3 minutes left, the ideal possession is have your PG dribble around for 20 seconds, then shoot a pull-up 25-footer ... while double-teamed." And that's just sad. It's sad that a new generation of basketball players is getting that message, and it's even sadder that the talking heads of the game are so clearly and excitedly sending it. You know what the final four could have used? A Pittsnogle. And a Beilein. And a Gansey.

So I guess it's time to sit back and wait for football season ... when we'll have to listen to bullshit about how the Buckeyes play defense too conservatively, and don't throw the ball downfield enough, and blah blah blah blah blah...


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