Thursday, April 9, 2015

Target of opportunity

First Geno Auriemma, now Mark Cuban. Who lines up next to take a swing at men's college basketball?

James Naismith came back from the dead today to blast college basketball, saying "It looks like wrestling out there," and "What the hell happened to the peach baskets?"


Adolph Rupp came back from the dead today, watched the national championship game and said "How come they're letting all these black guys play?"

Meanwhile, Cuban called the college game "horrible," said there was too much standing around and too much physical play, said there was too much getting back on defense and passing it around on the perimeter and no transition game.

"If they want to keep kids in school and keep them from being pro players, they're doing it the exact right way by having the 35-second shot clock and having the game look and officiated the way it is," Cuban said.  "Just because kids don't know how to play a full game of basketball."

Two things wrong with this. OK, a bunch of things, but two things in particular.

One, what comprises a "full game of basketball"?  Offense, defense, rebounding, athletic play, right? Cuban's gonna tell us he didn't see that in the national championship game? Where was he when Grayson Allen was attacking the rim, flying to Aruba?

And the second thing that's wrong with what Cuban says?

It's assuming that the sole purpose of college basketball is to prepare kids to play in the pros. It's not, for the excellent reason that 90 percent of them aren't going to play in the pros. The NCAA has fostered that notion with its relentless drive to make its product ever more corporate, but that's not the reality. The reality is that most of the kids you see playing college hoops are financial planners, marketing execs or computer software designers in training. They're headed to 9-to-5 Land, not Madison Square Garden.

But Cuban is an NBA owner, and the mindset in the NBA has long been that the colleges exist as a de facto farm system for the NBA. That's become especially true since the NBA instituted its absurd ban on drafting players out of high school, which has compelled kids like Jahlil Okafor to turn the college game into a waiting room until the timer goes off and they turn 19.

(A brief interlude: If Mark Cuban wants to fix the college game, that's where he should start, because the one-and-done culture created by the NBA has done more to warp the college game than anything. It's disingenuous for Cuban to rip college buckets when he and his fellow owners are such a huge part of the problem. You want to fix college basketball? Fine. Get rid of the rule or start using your Developmental League as an actual Developmental League, decreeing that any kid drafted straight out of high school must spend his first season in the D-League).

Does the college game have issues?

Sure it does. The play has gotten too physical. There are too many timeouts, which certain coaches (hello, Tom Izzo) hoard and then use in the last three minutes, slowing the game to a crawl and erasing any semblance of flow it might have had. The NCAA has proposals on the table to address both those issues, and they're long overdue.

But the college game is not, and never was intended to be, the pro game. The irony in all this is that while Auriemma and Cuban are ripping the men's game for not being enough like the pro game, there's a competing school of thought that the colleges have become too much like the pros. The bumping, the banging, the hated Euro step (aka, traveling), the one-and-done: There's a litany of complaints.

Most of them have to do with the fact that college hoops is not as much a coach's game anymore. Frankly, I'm glad it's not. Too much of the spotlight has always been on the coaches in college basketball, and if the one-and-dones have had any upside, it's that they've managed to dim that spotlight a bit. Taking some timeouts away would do that as well, which is why I applaud it.

No one's coming to games to watch Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or Bo Ryan draw up plays on a greaseboard. The fewer chances they have to do that, the more appealing the game will be.

Even if it's not, and never should be, the NBA.




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