This post is by Jeff Carter from Points and Figures
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The NCAA tournament is excellent. It always surprises. Cinderella captures our fancy for a while and there is hope for the underdog. I watch it avidly every year. Yes, my bracket is so blown up it looks like it was hit by a nuclear attack. I was counting on the Big Ten to play better and they didn’t. You have to tip your hat to the ACC.
Basic fundamentals are important in any business. They are also important for success in athletics. Sometimes, there is only one way to do something. In order to perfect it, you drill on that specific skill over and over again. It’s boring, but in the heat of the moment when you need to rely on it-that skill just happens. You don’t even have to think about it.
Over the course of the last decade, I have heard a continual dialogue about the degradation of quality. However, casual observers haven’t noticed because the pure athletic talent of the people playing has skyrocketed. There is also a lot more talent than there ever was so more teams are better.
Different rule changes have contributed to the change in the game. The three point line incentivized longer shots. Longer shots dropped shooting percentage. It also killed the midrange jumper because as defenses scrambled to contain the outside jumper it opened up drive and dish lanes for guards.
The other thing that changed the game was the “one and done” of so many players. They rent a school for one year on their way to the NBA. You don’t see team cohesion like you used to. Some of the truly great teams in college basketball played together for two to four years. It can take some time to build up the rapport and trust to really get a team working together. What Calipari does at Kentucky each year is pretty amazing.
Of course, the game before high school has changed significantly too. Back in the day, your high school season mattered. Now it doesn’t even matter if you play high school basketball. AAU is where it is at. By the time these people have gotten to college, they have played hundreds and hundreds of organized games.
This tourney might be the tipping point though.
I have seen some really boneheaded play down the stretch. It’s not the pressure. It’s not just playing bad defense or taking a bad shot. It’s more about turnovers. Kids from team to team don’t know how to handle a press. They don’t know how to step through and fight off a double team. They don’t know how to pass and come to the ball. The Northern Iowa kids didn’t choke. They turned the ball over. Last night, Wisconsin didn’t choke. It turned the ball over. Gonzaga should have beaten Syracuse, but it didn’t take care of the ball.
These are fundamental skills that they should have learned before they got to college.
I guess you could give credit to the other teams. They pressed and played defense. But, in years past more fundamentally sound players would have taken care of the ball and sealed the deal.