Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

March 20, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:18 am

Last week I posted my 12-step program to perfect the very nearly perfect sport of college basketball. I’ve been trotting these suggestions out for three seasons now, and again this year there were a good number of fresh eyes looking at them. As I chatted back and forth with the newcomers this time around, it occurred to me I’ve been fighting these brush fires ad hoc when in fact there’s a common systemic cause behind at least some of these blemishes.

Whether it’s five timeouts in the last 60 seconds, or camera-craving excessive refereeing, the enemy is intrusiveness — specifically intrusions from persons no longer in college. Think of a basketball floor as being populated by 15 people: ten players, three officials, and two head coaches. I want as much in-game basketball content as I can possibly get from the first ten and as little as feasibly possible from the last five.

I would rather see college athletes playing basketball in the open floor than see them in a huddle listening to a grown-up on the sidelines, or arrayed around the lane waiting on two free throws, or, for that matter, on the bench in foul trouble. The last ten seconds of the round of 32 game played between Michigan State and Maryland in 2010, for example, were close to perfect. There were no fouls or timeouts called, and the cream of both teams’ personnel was on the floor to decide the outcome. Our goal should be to export that kind of near-perfection so far as we’re able. (Close to perfect unless you’re a Maryland fan. I know.)

Anytime I see old footage of John Wooden seated comfortably and placidly on the UCLA bench for the balance of a given contest with that ubiquitous rolled-up program of his, I do wonder if maybe the love that so many of us have for college hoops has set off this mounting undertow of intrusions. Millions of us watch the NCAA tournament because this is an intuitively just and compelling way to determine a champion in what happens to be a gem of a sport. Because millions of us watch, the stakes are very high for the participants, particularly the coaches. Because the stakes are very high, coaches feel like they need to be seen coaching, often histrionically. Officials feel like they need to be seen officiating, often needlessly on block/charge calls. Basically I view with heightened suspicion and weathered trepidation any action on a college basketball floor authored by someone 24 years of age or older not named Bernard James.

On a separate note, a healthy aversion to intrusiveness is also one completely non-mathematical and non-analytical grenade to lob the RPI‘s way. In my piece on the origins of the RPI, one anecdote I left out involved John Calipari, when he was still at Memphis, spending several hours on the phone over a period of two days with an NCAA staffer, trying to understand the intricacies of scheduling to the RPI‘s liking. Here a coach was saying to the entity that would be evaluating his team’s performance, in effect: Tell me how to create a schedule that will conform to your subjective preferences. Once a coach has to say that, we’ve reached the saturation point for evaluative intrusion.

I’d prefer for the evaluator to tell the coach simply: Play basketball as well as you can. That’s your job. We’ll be able to tell how well you did even if Arizona State isn’t as good this year as you thought they’d be when you put them on the schedule. That’s our job. We don’t wish to intrude.

BONUS plug! The essential Sweet 16 preview starts rolling out tomorrow. Lucid, lilting, lean, keen and comprehensive, guaranteed. That last adjective’s a lot easier now than it was last week. It will be easier still next week.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

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