Few coaches in any sport are as accomplished as UConn women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma: his teams have won the NCAA tournament nine times, he’s won his conference tournament eighteen times, and the regular season conference crown nineteen times. In short, in the women’s game, Auriemma has been dominant, and with those accomplishments, you’d have to believe that he knows a thing or two about hoops.
When asked for his opinion on the men’s game, he had this to say yesterday at a press conference leading up to the NCAA Women’s Final Four:
I think the game is a joke. It really is. I don’t coach it. I don’t play it, so I don’t understand all the ins and outs of it. But as a spectator, forget that I’m a coach, as a spectator, watching it, it’s a joke. There’s only like ten teams, you know, out of 25, that actually play the kind of game of basketball that you’d like to watch. Every coach will tell you that there’s 90 million reasons for it.
And the bottom line is that nobody can score, and they’ll tell you it’s because of great defense, great scouting, a lot of team work, nonsense, nonsense. College men’s basketball is so far behind the times it’s unbelievable.
Those are harsh words, obviously, and one that not all fans would agree with. The men’s game is extremely athletic and competitive, and is compelling to watch because of it. But Auriemma does have a point about the game having turned into a grind, one where defense all too often dominates the game and makes each possession more reminiscent of rugby than free-flowing basketball. ACC fans need look no further than Virginia and its Pack Line defense for an example — Virginia will never be mistaken for a high-scoring offensive team, but on defense, their physicality shuts down almost everyone.
Players fundamentals seem to have dropped as well. Auriemma is correct when he implies that the fundamentals of modern hoops players is not what it used to be. Mid-range jumpers and free throws seem to be lost arts especially for super-athletic players who’ve starred their whole lives on the AAU circuits.
Jahlil Okafor, for example, shoots 51.1 percent from the free throw line. He’s a back-to-the-basket guy who’s only now developing a shot outside of the post, and is over 50% in only one spot: to the right of the key. On the left side of the rim, he averages around 35% inside the paint. Down low on the right, 38%. And he’s the consensus #1 pick going into the draft. Okafor is not alone in his lack of a solid outside shot, in fact, few centers and all too many forwards seem to lack one these days.
Then there are the rules itself. Physical contact is allowed in NCAA men’s hoop that would result in whistles every time in the NBA, in every league in Europe plus international competition to boot. That’s not to say that defense is not part of those leagues, in fact, it is, but the accepted general rules of defensive position are more strictly enforced. The net result has been a more free flowing game, and one that requires players to have good jump shots from anywhere inside the three point arc to climb up each successive level of competition. Referees are also more consistent, the lack of which has dogged NCAA men’s competition for some time.
All in all, Geno Auriemma may have been well over the top when he said that the men’s game is “a joke.” He does, however, make some good points about a lack of fundamentals and the general lack of free flowing back and forth hoops that’s become the norm in NCAA men’s basketball. Some tweeking of the rules may be necessary, as well as an edict for men’s referees to call the games consistently not only throughout a single contest but also throughout the length of the season may well be needed. By opening the game more, basic fundamentals will become more important, and kids growing up in the game will learn them if they want to have great careers. With better players and rules not slanted towards wrestling matches over skills, the game will become even more exciting.