Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tourney Musings

You know, before the Tournament started, I had planned to write a post about how ridiculously overrated NCAA basketball is (until the startup life got in the way...). I still feel that way in general, but I must admit that I enjoyed this year's tourney once it got down to the final eight - I thought that all four regional finals were well-played, and even though the Final Four was underwhelming, I really enjoyed watching this Florida team play, and I thought it was fun to watch Oden last night as well.

But let's be real here for a second:
-The best basketball game played in March this year was Suns 129, Mavs 127 (2OT), March 14.
-The most exciting buzzer-beaters this March were Rasheed's 60-footer and Mo-Pete's crazy game-tyer from Friday.
-The best individual performance in basketball this March was by Kobe Bryant.
I'm just sayin'.

Much like last year - as anyone who saw the LeBron-DWade epic on Final Four Saturday remembers - regular-season NBA action in March offered a much better brand of basketball than the NCAA Tournament overall, as anyone who actually bothers to watch both is fully aware.

2006 vs. 2007
I find it interesting that there seem to be two distinct schools of thought on last year's Tournament vs. this year's - people who found this year's lacking because there were many fewer buzzer-beaters and wild finishes, and those who greatly preferred this year's because the quality of play was much higher.

Put me in the latter camp. I'll always take a well-played game which might not have drama at the end over a crapfest punctuated by a buzzer-beater. I agree entirely with the B. Simmons analysis that the biggest factors in improving play over last year were a) the increase in the NBA's age limit, which brought several talented freshmen into the college game, b) a crop of talented point guards who were able to organize play, and c) most important, the decisions of the Florida kids to come back to school.

As I mentioned above, I really enjoyed this Florida team. My overarching problem with the college game has been that, since guys starting leaving early for the League en masse, NCAA teams have been comprised of either scrappy upperclassmen without much talent or (somewhat) talented underclassmen who usually don't know what they're doing.

Last night, you had an experienced, unselfish Florida squad that was a team in every sense of the word - plus Ohio State's having some freshmen who were mature beyond their years. The whole strength of the Gators, IMHO, begins with the fact that the big men are able and willing passers. From there, the game becomes easy - if you play the post one-on-one, the big guys take it to you; if you double them, they find shooters.

The starters just complement each other's roles so well, and credit Donovan for teaching good spacing on offense, sound team defense, and also for adjustments like going to the high pick-and-roll game last night to create shots when it became clear that Oden would own the interior.

I have great respect for Joakim Noah, who put his status as the No. 1 overall pick in jeopardy by coming back to school, and had the unselfishness to take just three shots from the field last night in the championship game. (I also enjoyed how he sent Jim Nantz cowering into his whitebread, Masters self with that "we're going all day, all night" postgame rant that Nantz had no idea how to respond to....)

That said, I just don't understand how he's going to score in the League. He couldn't score one-on-one in the post last night against a much smaller man, he has absolutely no range on his shot, and fugly free-throw shooting form. I just don't see where points are ever going to come from, unless he signs on with a fast-breaking team, I suppose.

I think the consensus in most people's eyes, including my own, is that Horford has surpassed Noah as an NBA prospect. I just wonder if Brewer - with his stock-soaring performance on both ends this weekend - has as well! Probably not, as Brewer still needs a lot of work on his offensive game to take it to next level.

Like many others, I've had a really tough time evaluating exactly where Greg Oden stands as a NBA prospect. I think that we all saw how dominant of a force he can be on the defensive end last night, and I think he has to go No. 1 for that reason.

That said, something that happened on Inside the NBA last season has always stuck in my head. Reggie Miller was in the studio, and the guys in general touched upon how Oden was a potential prize in the 2007 draft. Reggie piped up with a dismissive, "He's alright".

I presumed that Reggie had maybe seen Oden in a different setting than we had - maybe in some pickup games with NBA players in Indianapolis - and that just offers a different perspective. I recalled, by contrast, that NBA guys who'd played pick-up with LeBron when he was in high school, for example, were pretty uniform that he was the real deal. Maybe it was just Reggie being Reggie, but it stuck with me.

I want Oden to be great, I really do - I want him to be Tim Duncan-plus, but I feel like what I'm watching is a lesser version of Alonzo Mourning. He has that same raw-but-effective feel to his moves on the offensive end, and he is just a dominating presence on the defensive end but... without that force-of-nature ferocity that Zo brings to the painted area on D. Yeah, Oden can make spectacular blocks like he did last night, but I don't feel like I see him making the impossible help blocks - racing from the foul line to swallow a shot at the rim - like I remember from Zo at his best.

Now, don't get me wrong, a lesser version of Zo is not a bad thing, I just think it falls short of "franchise center". I hope I'm wrong, and I think you gotta take him No. 1 overall b/c too much potential to possibly be a franchise center *is* there.

Six fouls
It seems like a lot of influential folks like Dick Vitale, Bill Simmons and even Billy Packer last night are speaking up in favor of increasing the disqualification limit from five fouls to six or beyond (with extra shots awarded on subsequent fouls) in the NCAA.

I would just ask that anyone who's considering this rule change go back and watch tapes of games from the era when the Big East experimenting with a six-foul rule. It was the most brutal college basketball I've ever seen - literally and figuratively. Games took forever and were ugly to watch.

I know that people don't want to see guys sent to the bench with foul trouble, but really the consequences are obvious to anyone who thinks about it for half a second: a higher foul limit will lead to more fouling, which will make games more physical and tend to turn them into parades to the free-throwline - that's not the kind of basketball I want to see.

I think there's a certain balance in the 1 foul/8 minutes in both college and the NBA, and I've never really had a problem with guys having to sit down - I think it's a time-honored basketball strategy to try to get the opponent into foul trouble, and I don't think it should be messed with.

Billy Packer
I can't believe I'm about to write this, b/c I think Billy Packer is an insufferable, hateful prick, but I have to give credit where it is due: I think the man is one hell of a college basketball analyst.

I think he does a great job of coherently boiling down and explaining the major strategic trends of a game, and I think he does a very good job as a "first-guesser" - of seeing and pointing out things right before they happen, such as Saturday, when he pointed out that Roy Hibbert was tired and vulnerable of picking up a fourth foul right before it happened.

Basic analysis, but so many guys don't provide it. I have to admit that I wouldn't rather have another analyst calling a Final Four game than Packer, and I hate myself for writing that. Jim Nantz, he's another story....

OK, boys time is over - let's get back to the men: Suns-Spurs on Thursday night, baby.


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