Saturday, March 15, 2014

Observations on March Madness

Marquette could have used me this year.
The month-long celebration of college basketball is here.  Conference regular season champions have been crowned, conference tourneys are wrapping up, and tomorrow is Selection Sunday for the NCAA tourney.  It’s the time of year where Big East giants are humbled (sorry Nova), where 5-seeds come out of nowhere to become Horizon League champs and crash the Big Dance (congrats Milwaukee Panthers), and where Bill Raftery yells things like “organize the puppies – nylon delivery!”  But even the most wonderful time of the year can be improved.  Below are some thoughts for fans, coaches, players, and especially the zebras. 

For fans, don’t forget that March Madness includes not only the NCAA tourney, but also conference tournaments and even conference regular season titles.  Soak it all in.  Winning your conference regular season title or winning your conference tournament are huge accomplishments – and are probably as glorious as it’s going to get for you and your team.  After all, only one team in the ever-expanding field will be NCAA tourney champs, and every other team and their fans will leave with their spirits crushed.  Yet, when evaluating a team’s season, most people forget earlier accomplishments and focus only on the NCAA tournament – which is the equivalent of hoping to win the lottery.  I recently heard a sideline reporter ask a coach: “What does winning your regular season title do for your NCAA tournament seeding?”  Proper answer: “I don’t know and I don’t give a damn.  We just won our conference title.”

For coaches, won’t someone please make the game about the art of shooting?  Too many teams are passing on open 3s to drive the lane for contested 2s.  They pass on open looks of all distances because it’s supposedly too early in the shot clock.  They’re too worried about getting paint touches instead of making baskets.  They’re too focused on drawing contact in the lane so bodies crash into each other and fall to the floor.  How about dumping the conventional wisdom?  Just shoot the ball early and often.  Throw in a full-court press on defense and you’ll have a brand of basketball that everyone will want to watch.  Run and gun!  (Think LMU and their 110 points-per-game average in 1990.)  

For players, stop the dramatics.  You look silly when you try to make even the slightest contact appear to be life threatening.

Finally, for the zebras:
  1. Start calling traveling violations.  It’s especially bad when a player dives for the ball, grabs it, and then slides on his back across the floor.  Blow your whistle. 
  2. Don’t anticipate fouls.  If you don’t see one, don’t call one.  Your phantom calls are really hurting the game. 
  3. Conversely, don’t swallow your whistle at the end.  If you see a foul, call it – even if it’s on the last play of a game.  Don’t worry about the criticism about refs deciding outcomes.  If a player commits a foul, then he is deciding the outcome, not you.
  4. Figure out the over-and-back rule.  Is it a violation if a player goes backwards and his foot goes over the half-court line?  Or some part of his body?  Or the ball?  Or any of the above?  This type of situation happens enough that you should learn the rule and be consistent about applying it.
Happy March Madness!

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