NCAA Championship was one not-so-shining moment
BY MARK POTASH | COMMENTARY
Butler and Connecticut set college basketball back more than 60 years with an abominable performance in the NCAA Championship game. Butler shot 18.8 percent (12-of-64, including 3-of-31 on two-point shots). UConn shot 34.5 percent overall (19-of-55) and was 1-of-11 on three-pointers — and still won by 12 points. | AP
If you were clinging to the “It’s still entertaining” argument in defense of college basketball and the NCAA tournament, the bottom dropped out Monday night.
Butler and Connecticut set college basketball back more than 60 years with an abominable performance in the national championship game. Butler shot 18.8 percent (12-of-64, including 3-of-31 on two-point shots). UConn shot 34.5 percent overall (19-of-55) and was 1-of-11 on three-pointers — and still won by 12 points.
It wasn’t even close. And it wasn’t even close to entertaining. As a showcase event, it was like the worst Academy Awards show ever — you can’t set the bar much lower than that. The worst championship game at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament (Proviso West 48, Proviso East 38 in 1992) was better than this.
Worse than that, though, the championship-game debacle blew college basketball’s cover. Amid criticism that the game has been diluted by early defections to professional basketball and an influx of meat-market processed talent that is difficult to coach, college basketball has at least been able to rely on the “entertainment” and “shining moments” value of the game.
Well, the shining moment Monday night was Kemba Walker holding the championship trophy after shooting 5-of-19 from the field, 0-for-4 from three-point range with no assists in the biggest game of his life. Or maybe a coach on probation, Jim Calhoun, celebrating his third NCAA title. College basketball is alive-and-well all right.
Even if college basketball coaches acknowledged the downward trend, it’s unlikely they can do anything about it. The game has two major problems — one-and-done players (and two-and-done players) are having a negative impact, causing more and more quality teams to fill major holes; and the AAU-ification of developmental basketball in the U.S. has created more NBA-ready players, but fewer coachable players with an aptitude for team basketball.
Maybe this is just a bad year or two, but the players are worse. Last year’s McDonald’s All-American team included six players who were suspended or reprimanded for one reason or another as college freshmen this season.
Villanova’s JayVaughn Pinkston was charged with assault and harrassment and suspended for the season; Memphis’ Jelan Kendrick was suspended for the season opener for a bad attitude and transferred to Mississippi; Kansas’ Josh Selby was suspended for the first nine games of the season for an improper association with a “business manager.”
UCLA’s Josh Smith was reprimanded by the Pac-10 for complaining about referees calls and lost his starting position; And Illinois’ Jereme Richmond missed three games for “personal issues” and “violating athletic department rules” — including both of Illinois’ NCAA tournament games for the latter infraction.
The Richmond episode was a classic irony that exemplifies the difficulty college coaches face today. Bruce Weber, criticized for not parlaying the 2005 run to the national title game into a recruiting bonanza, finally stooped into the muck and offered a heralded eighth-grader a scholarship before he had even played a high school game. And when it came time for the payoff — Richmond is just the kind of player Illinois needed to upset Kansas – the prized recruit was on the bench serving a disciplinary suspension.
And he’s also not as good as we thought. Richmond showed flashes but neither the all-around ability nor the consistency to raise Illinois to a higher level. With rare exception, that’s the kind of player college basketball is counting on these days.
It’s symptomatic of a problem that isn’t likely to be easily remedied. The fear after watching Butler and Connecticut take college basketball back to the days of set shots and canvas sneakers on Monday night is that the worst is yet to come.