An NBA Fan Tries to Find Excitement in College Basketball…And Fails

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David J. Phillip / AP Photo

Because in 2017 you’re allowed to pass off opinion as truth, I’d like to start by stating a few rock-solid facts.

College basketball is bad. It just is. There is little strategy on offense, which means there doesn’t need to be any on defense, either. Officials make up what constitutes a foul not just game by game, but minute by minute. The rules that are fixed, like the 30-second shot clock, 20-minute halves and the possession arrow, are outdated, dumb, or both.

It’s like the deadball era of baseball compared to the NBA’s liveball era. One of them made necessary changes to grow and improve the game, the other hung back where it’s safe. Safe, more often than not, means boring. Here’s the catch, though: it’s still basketball. And basketball has a way of producing excitement even when held back by arcane rules.

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FULL DISCLOSURE: I wrote the previous words before the NCAA Men’s National Championship game last night. It was a rare moment of optimism for me, I really wanted it to be a good game. Because I am such an NBA snob, I was hoping that something in last night’s contest would make me rethink my anti-NCAA basketball stance for at least one night. I even planned ahead, just in case the game would win me over.

That didn’t happen. Not even close.

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As I’m finishing writing this the next day and looking back on my above criticisms, I can’t help but laugh. I feel real vindication. Look again. Every complaint I had about gameplay and officiating showed up in droves last night. Even I, a massive skeptic, didn’t anticipate that large amount of suck.

There were 44 fouls called, more than one each minute. Gonzaga had a 34/42/65 shooting split. North Carolina, the team that actually won the freaking game, put up an even worse 36/15/58. Yet they did win, thanks to some combination of fouls more evenly spread among their players, Gonzaga’s 14 turnovers and because unfortunately its impossible for both teams to lose. This was supposed to be the best college basketball has to offer. I know this wasn’t the best this game can be, but it was indicative of the sport itself.

It was slow. Choppy. The offenses were simple and boring. Defenses didn’t know what to do that wouldn’t be called a foul. Officials confidently made incorrect and difficult calls and waffled over the easy ones. Apparently nobody could shoot. And there wasn’t nearly enough Adam Morrison.

You may think I’m dumb, saying “but it was a one-possession game with 30 seconds left, how can that not be exciting?” In response, I’d tell you that it was a close game, and close games are not necessarily exciting ones. In fact, I barely noticed there was under a minute left. I had been arguing with friends, both in person and in a group chat, about how garbage the game was for the entire second half. When arguing about how bad your sport is is more engaging than your actual sport, you’ve got problems.

There are plenty of ways, scores of ways, to fix college basketball. I don’t have time to get into them. We can all see what isn’t working throughout the regular season. But the national championship is the biggest chance to prove that college basketball is a worthy style of play. That at least the inherent drama of the postseason can filter through the clogged up college game and create an exciting product. It’s an opportunity to win over skeptics like me, a Shining Moment, if you will.

Instead, the NCAA called a flagrant on itself and bricked both free throws. Cue the music!

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