Just a Game?
SPRINGBORO, OH -- Yes, it is March Madness time where sixty-four NCAA men’s and women’s (no pronouns here) basketball teams compete to see who will win the coveted trophy for best team of 2022- 2023. Only one team will survive six grueling and white knuckle games while the other sixty-three teams will go home disappointed and heartbroken.
This year the perennial men’s basketball pedigree teams (think Duke, North Carolina, Georgetown, and Villanova) did not even make it into the “Sweet Sixteen.” Teams like Florida Atlantic and San Diego State made it in, while all Number 1 seeds (Houston, Purdue, Kansas, and Alabama) are heading home.
Many of us have entered contests at home, the office or at the local betting parlor to choose the winners in each game. We go through great angst in creating the winning bracket to “win the pot” and make some extra money.
This year a person would have had greater success in choosing winners by using the Ouija board (pronounced “weegie”) or drawing names out of a hat. The gurus at ESPN have finally proven beyond a shadow of a doubt just how much (or how little) they know about who would win.
The Big Ten was represented by eight teams in the final 64. Only one team, Michigan State, made it into the Sweet Sixteen only to lose to Kansas State. Obviously the selection committee was enamored by the balance of the conference this year. However, in the year of bracket busters, the Big Ten was the biggest bust.
Are you “mad” yet because your bracket got busted on the first day of the tournament (Purdue, the Number 1 seed lost to Farleigh Dickenson, a Number 16 seed)?
This year many players used their extra year of eligibility (offered by NCAA because of the “pandemic”) to take graduate studies at their respective universities and play a fifth year. That, combined with the “redshirt” rule to practice but not play their freshman year has resulted in older players competing.
For example, my college team, the Drake Bulldogs, fielded a team consisting of four starters over the age of 23 and still lost in the First Round. This year, I did not fill out a bracket, but I have watched many games so far (still not over as of this writing) and I have some observations I wish to share.
First of all, it is obvious that the refs are allowing the players to be more aggressive in their play (much like the NBA). Hand checking and playful shoving to get a better position close to the hoop have been mostly overlooked. Players are being coached to fall down and fake contact to draw phantom offensive fouls.
Back in my day (the Naismith era) if you hand checked or shoved… a foul would be called. If these rules were followed today, each team’s players would have fouled out before the second half. The team that got to four eligible players first would have to forfeit to the last five standing of the opposing team.
Secondly, the game has gotten faster. In 1985, the NCAA introduced the 45 second shot clock. Then it was reduced to 35 seconds in 1993 and further reduced to 30 seconds in 2015. If you play the game nowadays, you had better be able to “run and gun” and have the stamina to last 40 minutes. If not, better try out for the chess team.
Thirdly, the 3 point rule has really put more excitement into the game. If a three point shooter gets “hot,” he or she (correct use of pronouns) can literally change the outcome of any game. The skill set of a three point shooter cannot be overemphasized. However, if the shooter starts shooting “bricks,” offensive rebounds and easy 2’s can save the day.
Finally, recruiting has become more international in the last ten years, and the ability to change schools via the transfer portal has become easier for the student athlete. For example, our local team Dayton Flyers had five international players on their roster. In just the last three weeks, the Flyers have lost three players (two international) to the transfer portal. They did, however, sign a 6’10” player from Serbia to play for them next year.
On April 3rd, two surviving NCAA men’s basketball teams will compete for the 2022-2023 National Championship. One team will take home the hardware and the other will lament the thought of what could have been. All the hard work, conditioning and trying to balance school and practice the last six months is on the line. It might come down to which team hits their free throws or whether that last shot nets through or rims out.
To us, it might be just a game... to the players, it is THE game!