Thursday, April 2, 2015

Geno's World: A galaxy far, far away

UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma has never been shy about opening his mouth, even when his mouth was in close proximity to one of his well-appointed loafers.

So no surprise that Geno opened his mouth again yesterday, and a lot of whole wheat hooey fell out. The subject was the state of college basketball on the men's side, which Geno labeled a "joke" because there's entirely too much defense being played and the offenses mostly stink because -- Cranky Old Man alert here -- players can't make the kind of shots they used to make.

This undoubtedly will come as a shock to those of us who've been watching Kentucky score virtually at will this season, or to those of us who caught any of the Notre Dame-UK game the other night. That might have been horrible basketball, by Geno's lights, but if it was they camouflaged it well. Perhaps there wasn't enough dunking for Geno's tastes.

Here's what I think any time I hear that stylish, intelligently played basketball at both ends of the floor is somehow a turnoff: It says more about the people who say it than the game they're watching. More than you might think, I understand that we live these days in an OCD society, where contentment means never having to wait longer than 12 seconds for anything.  And so I tend to chalk up opinions like Geno's (or radio foof Colin Cowherd, who doesn't like thinking man's hoops, either) to their apparent affinity for shiny things.

I also chalk it up, in this case, to the fact that Geno coaches the women's game, which is largely played below the rim and at three-quarters speed in comparison to the men's game. So there's an obvious agenda at work here, not to say a startling irony: The very things Geno decries in the men's game are the things that have made his own program successful.

Last I looked, after all, UConn was holding teams to 30 percent shooting and 48 points per game. And they've so outdistanced their competition by doing so that it's almost a pointless exercise to watch the women's tournament anymore. And so Geno's own team is perhaps a bigger detriment to the women's game than anything is to the men's game.

Listen. We have a tendency, those of us a certain age, to remember things the way we wish they were, not the way they actually were. Kentucky, the undefeated No. 1 in college basketball this season, has shot 46.8 percent this year and averaged 75 points per game. The 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers, the last undefeated national champions, shot just over 50 percent and averaged 82 points that season. That's a little higher, but not significantly so.

And if Geno thinks all the great shooters belong to the past, consider: Maybe the greatest pure scorer in NCAA history, Pete Maravich, averaged 44.1 points per game in his career at LSU. He shot 43.8 percent to do it. Of Kentucky's seven top scorers this year, only two shot worse.

So much for players not being able to make shots the way they used to.

Geno may be right that the men's game has suffered because it's been allowed to become too physical, and also because of the one-and-done rule. But the athletes playing the game today are far better almost across the board. And if offenses aren't what they used to be because of too much defense ... well, this isn't the first time defense has dominated the college game.

That Indiana team, for instance?

Opponents shot just 45 percent against it. Which was nearly eight percentage points better than another of the greatest teams of all time -- the UCLA Bruins from Lew Alcindor's senior year in 1968-69, who held opponents to 37.7 percent shooting.

Strange. No one thought college basketball was unwatchable then.

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