Friday, November 27, 2015

Princeton versus Lafayette in Men's Basketball -- Night Before Thanksgiving

Okay, so it wasn't Monmouth upsetting both UCLA and Notre Dame, but it was something of a spectacle at Jadwin Gym the other night.  Princeton was playing its home opener, and without senior center Hans Brase, who is out for the year with a torn ACL.  On a night when Yale was giving Duke a battle at Cameron Indoor Stadium and Lehigh tangled with UVA in Charlottesville for about 15 minutes, most observers would have thought this game to be a "ho-hum" affair.  An Ivy League team hosting a Patriot League team, blah.

You couldn't tell that the Tigers had lost their leader.  They were athletic, explosive, moved the ball around well, shot the three, hit the gaps in the Lafayette defense for a few dunks and won the game by fifty, scoring over 100 points for the first time since probably the Gerald Ford administration.  A mixture of upperclassmen and underclassmen led the way, and Coach Mitch Henderson probably could have seen little in the way of flaws from this Tiger team.  The bigs could shoot; the guards hit the glass. The bigs passed the ball to open men, everyone tried to block shots and the help defense was there.  If there were any flaws, perhaps one could argue if he is trying hard that the interior help defense was a bit slow to develop, but it is early in the season.  Still, as early-season games go, the Tigers looked very crisp.  The Tigers hit 17 3's and by my count about four dunks.

Henderson was able to play everyone in his lineup, many scored in double figures and there were two double doubles -- by starters who played so little in the second half that it was hard to remember that they had such good games.  Now, it is a long season, and Harvard has its recent history, Yale is the favorite, and Penn is always a formidable opponent, but. . . the Tigers did look very crisp.  

For what it was worth, a few of us speculated whether the scoreboard at Princeton actually could hit triple digits, given the stinginess Pete Carril's teams were known for on defense and patience on offense.  But the scoreboard does go to three digits -- we confirmed it -- and that compelled a few of us to chide former Athletic Director Gary Walters why the athletic administration hadn't cut a deal with a local fast food joint for a free burger if the Tigers were to score 100 points.  Walters was on a team that scored 118 points when he played for the Tigers in the mid-1960's -- and that was without a shot clock and the three-point goal.  

Fun times at Jadwin Gym to start a holiday weekend.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm

I think it was in 1905 that a horse came from out of nowhere -- literally and figuratively, to upset the favorite for the Kentucky Derby.  The horse's name was Upset, and that's how, I recall, that verb (which had meant to turn over, as in to upset a table) became associate with the sports and political worlds.

Well, in the wee hours in Australia, for something called the UFC Women's Bantamweight title, a fighter named Holly Holm stunned the very much touted and acclaimed Ronda Rousey, perhaps the Babe Ruth of women's UFC or the Michael Jordan of it, or simply the Ronda Rousey of it, with a kick to the head in the second round that knocked Rousey out.  That Holm got out of the first half a minute let alone the first round probably gave her some Rocky-like satisfaction, and I wonder if she has her own significant other worthy of a "Yo Adrian" like shout when the fight concluded.

Everyone anointed Rousey.  One commentator on ESPN said we would never see another fighter like her ever.  We saw that fighter last night, in Holly Holm.  Does that make Holm the real Babe Ruth/Michael Jordan of women's UFC fighting?  Or does that mean that on a given day, everyone is beatable, including Ronda Rousey.

I recall when Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's record for the most hits in a Major League Baseball career, that the reporters asked him how it felt to have had more hits than anyone else.  Rose, unimpressed, said he would bet that if they checked, he probably made more outs than any other hitter too.  The reporters checked, and Rose was right.  Show me someone who has an unblemished record, and I'd offer that either they are truly great or that they haven't taken enough chances.  Data without context is dangerous, and it was dangerous to anoint Rousey as some uber-Super Hero without a deeper body of work.  That said, Rousey was the best and is great.  Certainly not the best ever.

On a weekend where major college football teams turned their worlds upside down with a lot of upsets, most of us thought that the one constant would be that Ronda Rousey would win last night.  She didn't.

Now the spotlight probably is on the New England Patriots, with the question looming -- can they be that good?

The Problem with College Basketball

Much has been spoken, and some things have been done, but over the past several years, the game has become, well, unwatchable.

Some point to the 35-second shot clock as being the villain, but teams took an average of 18.5 seconds to get their shots off.

Others argue that the referees call too many fouls, but if they only called three more per game than in the prior season, it's hard to contend that this is the issue.

Even others argue that the "one and done" rule robs the colleges of their best players for more than a season, even if not all that many players take advantage of the rule.  How many, about ten?  I also would argue that to compel players to stay longer, the way they must in college football, smacks of a paternalism that is hypocritical at its best and arguably racist at its worst.  Tennis players can go pro when they are fourteen, and there have been teenage golfers in the LPGA and PGA.  Atop that, there are many teenagers in the elite soccer leagues in the world.  No, the lament about the stars leaving perhaps derives from the networks who can demand less for advertisements, this after they ponied up huge dollars to get the broadcast rights.

I would contend it's the timeouts.

There are just way too many of them.  It seems like there is a stoppage every four minutes for a TV timeout and then the teams get x number per half, and when you look at the NCAA rule book it offers well over four condensed pages of rules that rival a bill in the legislature in terms of complexity.  It seems like the NCAA has reduced the number of timeouts and has indicated that if a team calls a timeout close to the timeout intervals for television (read:  at the four, eight, twelve and sixteen minute marks) that timeout will count as the TV timeout so that you won't have two timeouts, say, within thirty seconds of one another.  It's hard to get a sense of the before and after picture, but suffice it to say that college basketball has a problem akin to that of Major League Baseball -- the games get so slow that they are unwatchable.

Here's the thing -- let the players play.  Let them move the ball down the court, give the teams a reasonable amount of timeouts and let the game flow.  The glut of timeouts has devolved the game into a chess match between coaches, almost a defensive war of attrition that seems to risk causing the fans to migrate to another form of sports entertainment.  The powers that be should study what worked well during the glory years (and there were many) and try to reprise them.  I'm all for change and innovation, but the changes that have been made over the past couple of decades have not made the game better.

I am sure that others who study the game more closely can point to other items that contribute to the problem.  But the crux of the issue is to put the ball back into the hands of the players -- without too much interruption.