A GRIP ON SPORTS
There is one thing last night's NCAA championship game taught us. Bad dress rehearsals don't necessarily mean a bad play. Read on.
• The Associated Press moved a story yesterday on the college basketball season. Nothing unusual about that. But what the story contained was unusual. It was filled with scoring and shooting statistics that harkened back to a time before I was born. See, this college baseball season was one for the aged. You have to be in your 70s to remember a season when so few points were scored. College hoops teams averaged 67.49 points a game, the fewest since 1951-1952, before Wilt Chamberlain played college basketball. The players shot, on average, 43.3 percent from the field, the worst since 1964-65 (hey, I was in elementary school then). Shooting from beyond the arc was the worst since 1996-97 and scoring during March Madness was as bad as its been since the 3-point line was introduced. So what's behind this offensive malaise? Television commentators are quick to tell you it's because players don't work on their shooting enough, that it's a lost art. Baloney. Kids works on their shot as much if not more than ever before. They just don't get as many open looks as they used to and the path to the basket is more crowded. College basketball defenses have improved greatly. There is a greater emphasis on it at most schools. There is an increased devotion to eliminate transition basketball. Kids are bigger, stronger and tougher on the defensive end. Scouting, thanks to technology that puts at a coach's fingertips each of their opponent's possessions, has improved immensely. And the officials allow defenders to manhandle the offensive players. How can I prove that? Easy. The NCAA has been keeping track of fouls called per game since 1947. In that time, never have there been fewer fouls called than the 17.66 per team this season. Never. Now players haven't gotten better at not fouling. Just the opposite. There is more contact than ever. It's just being ignored. "Let 'em play" has gone from the rallying cry of some wahoo in the stands to the philosophy among the guys with the whistles. And it has to change. In the same AP story, Rick Pitino, the coach of the Louisville Cardinals who just won the title – and who are as physical as anyone on the defensive end – has a suggestion for improving the offensive output. But it's a suggestion that may tick a lot of people off. Pitino believes it's possible for the officials to take control of the game again, to allow freer movement for the offensive players, to begin to return the game to its roots. It's just, according to Pitino, a matter of officals calling the game tighter. He's seen it in the NBA, when the pro league began cleaning up its game. "The only way to do it is the first 10 games of the season, the games have to be ugly," Pitino said. "Then the players will adjust, then you'll see great offense again. Like the NBA now, you see all those great scoring teams. Now they have a great product, and we need to go the route of the NBA." I'm not so sure the NBA is a great product – that's a discussion for another day – but if calling the game tighter will, in the long run, improve scoring, I'm all for it. Even if the nonconference games turn out to be long, ugly affairs. Sometimes you have to eat your overcooked vegetables before you get the tasty dessert.
• Despite the inability of teams to score in the regular season, the teams that met last night in Georgia – Michigan and Louisville – put on a show at both ends. A lot of people with short memories were calling it the greatest championship game ever – they must have forgot Villanova/Georgetown in 1985 or Indiana/Syracuse in 1987 or Arizona/Kentucky in 1997 or Duke/Butler in 2010, just to mention some semi-recent ones – and if it wasn't to that caliber, it still was an excellent game. Louisville was behind often in this tournament and still won another title, which is why Pitino had the ultimate compliment for his players. They were tough. And tough teams find a way to win.
• Washington State: The Cougars return to the practice field this afternoon and Christian Caple will be there for you. He was also here this morning for you with this blog post.
• EWU: Eastern is in the middle of spring football as are other Big Sky schools. Portland State is just getting started.
• Chiefs: It's time for the Chiefs to begin winning against Portland or their season will be over soon. Game three of the second-round WHL playoff series is in the Arena tonight. Chris Derrick has this advance. ... The Winterhawks' third and fourth lines have been producing.
• Mariners: It was opening night in Seattle on Monday and all anyone could talk about was the new video screen and the closer-to-home-plate fences at Safeco Field. The new dimensions, as John Blanchette points out in his column, had little effect on the first game of the season in the park, but they probably will have some sooner or later. ... No matter the dimensions, the way the M's scored yesterday, with timely hitting, had to be appreciated, since such things were not happening on the recent road trip. ... And then there was Joe Saunders outstanding pitching, his first good outing of the year, including spring training. ... The last time Philip Humber pitched at Safeco he was perfect. It's not been all that perfect for him since. ... Franklin Gutierrez can still go get a fly ball with the best of them. ... Mike Morse is off to a hot start and the Nationals miss him. ... Has Jamie Moyer retired? Not officially.
• Sounders: The Sounders have a tough task ahead of themselves today. They have to win a road game against Mexico's Santos Laguna if they want to advance to the CCL championship.
• That's all we've got for this morning. Hope it's enough to get your day going. Until later ...