Basketball, Or Free Throw-Shooting Contests

The NCAA apparently doesn’t believe in the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” — at least, when it comes to college basketball.

This year the NCAA decided to change the rules by which the game is officiated.  Although many of us love college basketball and the NCAA Tournament keeps hitting new heights of popularity, the NCAA was concerned that the college game had become too physical and too low scoring.  So, this year, officials will be cracking down on “handchecks,” where defenders touch the offensive player in an effort to maintain contact and control.  The idea is to make the game more free flowing, allowing skilled offensive players to dart up and down the floor, making acrobatic dunks and shots, unimpeded by pesky defensive players.  Scores would rise, the theory went, and the game would have more dash and flair.

On Tuesday I watched my first game officiated under the new approach, and it sucked.  The Ohio State Buckeyes played the Ohio University Bobcats, and the game quickly devolved into a whistle-blowing and free throw-shooting affair.  The Buckeyes won, 79-69, after shooting 51 free throws.  51!  OU would shoot from the outside and make or miss, then Ohio State would come downcourt, try to penetrate the lane, an OU player would touch the Buckeye ball handler, and a whistle would blow.  The game was a leaden affair with no rhythm or flow and lasted about 20 minutes longer than normal. Five OU players fouled out.

Free throws can be exciting in certain contexts — say, at the end of a close game — but watching 51 of them being shot makes you feel like you’re hanging out at the local YMCA.  I cringe when I think of what Big Ten games will be like, where the play tends to be more physical and some referees are eager to showboat whenever they get the chance.  The depth of rosters will be sorely tested.  How many players will still be eligible to play at the end of games?

College basketball coaches and NCAA people are now saying that this year is likely to be a transition year, where lots of fouls are called as players adjust to the new rules.  Fans should just prepare themselves — it’s going to be a frustrating, free throw-filled year.

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The Q Score

A “Q score” is supposed to measure the appeal of a character, celebrity, or TV program.  After last night’s pulse-pounding last-second win, the phrase “Q score” has a different meaning for Ohio State fans — and it’s pretty appealing, too.

The Baby-Faced Assassin

Thanks to Aaron Craft, the Ohio State Buckeyes have survived and advanced, and my heart rate has just about returned to something approaching its normal rhythm.

IMG_3101What a great game this was, and what an impossible game to watch if you were a fan of either team!  Iowa State had the advantage early, and the Buckeyes clawed their way back.  Ohio State took control in the second half, Iowa State counterpunched, and then the Buckeyes rolled out to a big lead.  But then, it was Iowa State’s turn.  They made incredibly tough threes, erased a 13-point Buckeye lead in the blink of an eye, and left me and every member of Buckeye Nation shaking our heads at an epic collapse.  But Aaron Craft, who had missed the front ends of two one-and-ones to expedite Iowa State’s comeback, wouldn’t give up.  He made the big plays down the stretch and then, with the final seconds ticking away, swished a three-pointer to put the game on ice for the Buckeyes.

Kudos to Aaron Craft — the baby-faced assassin — and Deshaun Thomas and LaQuinton Ross, all of whom made big shots in the second half.  And kudos, too, to the Iowa State Cyclones, who were tough, dogged, and determined not to give up.  I’m glad the Buckeyes won, of course, but I have a huge amount of respect for Iowa State and their classy coach.  Great game, Cyclones!  I hope you will turn out to be the toughest team the Buckeyes have to play, because I don’t think Ohio State — or its fans — could survive a tougher game than this one.

The Big Ten In The Big Dance

The NCAA Tournament is put up or shut up time.  All year we hear about teams and conferences, and then March Madness comes and separates the pretenders from the contenders.

This year, there’s been a lot of talk — from people not named Charles Barkley — about the Big Ten being the best conference in basketball.  Seven teams from the Old Conference made it to the Big Dance, and so far they’re represented the league well.  The Big Ten’s record after the round of 64 is 6-1, with the only hiccup being Wisconsin’s dismal performance against Mississippi in a game where the Badgers simply could not put the ball into the basket.  The Big Ten’s top-seeded teams, Indiana and Ohio State, both won by wide margins, Michigan State and Michigan played well in convincing wins, Illinois survived some poor shooting to beat Colorado, and Minnesota spanked UCLA in a surprising upset.  Other conferences that were touted prior to the tournament, such as the Big East and the Mountain West, did not fare so well during the first round of play.

The great thing about the NCAA Tournament, of course, is that everything can turn on a dime.  All of these Big Ten teams could lose their next game — and if that happens the conference will be viewed as an overrated paper tiger.  For now, the Big Ten has 6 teams in the round of 32, and that’s not bad.

Buck Back Gack

We had our annual Buck Back draft the other day, and I think I gagged big time.

Long-time readers may recall that I play in an alternative approach to NCAA pools called the Buck Back.  Rather than trying to forecast the results of every game, eight of us put in eight bucks each, select eight teams in a serpentine draft, and then get $1 — i.e., a buck back — every time one of our teams wins. The Buck Back during March Madness is now a time-honored tradition.

This year the draft was the hardest ever, because it’s impossible to have great confidence that any team is going to do well in the tournament.  Every school has struggled at some point during the season, and every team has weaknesses.

I drafted fourth, and I look at my teams and wonder whether I’ll win even a few games, much less break even.  My first pick was Indiana, which stumbled to the finish line, and my second pick was Michigan, which also struggled in the last half of the season.  Both have talented players, but which teams will show up — the early season world-beaters, or the battered squads that limped home?  My third-round pick was Memphis, which plays in one of the weakest conferences in the country, and my fourth selection was Wichita State, which has to start the Tournament against a tough Pitt team.  My later round picks — San Diego State, Cincinnati, Montana, and Iona — all are question marks.

So I sit, waiting for the Big Dance to start in earnest tomorrow, and I wonder whether my entire Buck Back draft was a choke.  I’ll bet I’m not the only one who feels that way — and I can’t wait for the Tournament to start.

The Year’s Best Buzzer-Beaters

We fans need to train and prepare for the NCAA Tournament, too.  To help everyone get ready for the miracle finishes, Cinderella stories, and upset specials that will come our way this weekend, Webner House hereby offers this compilation of the best basketball buzzer-beaters of 2013.  Some of them are pretty spectacular.

It’s time for the Big Dance!

A Heartfelt Ode To Office Basketball Pools

Our diverse country is rarely unified in thought or deed, but this week is an exception:  we can say with supreme confidence that virtually every worker in America is filling out their office’s version of the NCAA Tournament pool.  Our ability, from sea to shining sea, to share in the communal experience of NCAA Tournament wagering has moved me to verse:

An Ode To Office Basketball Pools

IMG_3402The Ides have passed, and now it’s here,

Our annual betting racket

I feel the heat, I must complete

My NCAA bracket.

I’ve studied hard and thought with care. 

And confidence?  I don’t lack it

I know this year I’ll win it clear

Thanks to this perfect bracket!

I’ll fold it neat and keep it near

So success, I can track it

And I’ll peruse whene’er I choose

My pristine tourney bracket!

Then Thursday comes, and upsets, too

And my forehead, I will smack it

As X-outs sprout and teams go out

And mar fore’er my bracket.

By Sunday night I’m crushed and mad

And fit for a strait jacket

My Final Four are all no more

Another failed bracket!

A shining moment, I ne’er had

If it were underground I’d frack it

I’m in the ditch, it’s fit to pitch

Curs’d NCAA bracket!