All posts by Scott Elmore

I have been a sports fanatic since I can remember. My family vacations were trips to college and high school tournaments and Christmas was all about high school basketball. I’ve been a Duke fan FOREVER and a Miami Hurricanes fan since my daughter decided to take her talents to South Beach, but I try to be objective in my writing. My focus is on basketball and football, both pro and college, and I believe those to be the most exciting and engaging sports on the planet. I might offend, occasionally inspire but I’ll always be unfiltered. dunksanddowns@gmail.com Follow me on Twitter @dunksanddowns

Elite 8 Day 1

NCAA Basketball by Phil Roeder, on Flickr

Kansas taking on Villanova seems like a three launching extravaganza.  The Jayhawks have been in the top 5 in 3pt percentage all season and Nova is shooting at a nut-trageous clip.  Each team has one true big man who can patrol the lane and neither of them runs the offense through him.  Bill Self has enjoyed a loaded team that can simply get behind whichever star is hot in a given game.  Some days it was Wayne Selden others it was Perry Ellis or Devonte Graham.  All four losses came against teams with balanced squads who were able to play solid team defense.  When KU faces Nova they’ll be facing a team that plays solid, not exceptional defense, but can score in bunches and push the tempo.  The Jayhawks need more than one of their stars to have a good game and a big time defensive effort on the perimeter to neutralize the Wildcat shooters.
While Kansas is doing all of that, Villanova will be working to establish some interior defense and hoping their fiery shooting continues.  While Jay Wright’s team shot the ball well in the regular season, even he didn’t see this kind of offensive explosion coming.  The most important key for Nova to win will be keeping Ochefu in the game.  He is the only post player and the only rim defender on the squad.  If he finds himself in foul trouble, Kansas will pound the ball inside to Perry Ellis or even Landen Lucas where the Wildcats will be left with 6-7 wing men to defend the post.

Bottom Line:  Kansas will have too much firepower for the Big East champs.  Even the Kansas guards are built for physical play.  They’ll attack the basket, create contact and force the Wildcats to pack into a zone to protect the middle.  A solid shooting night from Selden and aggressive defense from Frank Mason will be too much for a Villanova team whose shooting streak will hit it’s end on Saturday.

 

Oklahoma has become the fan favorite this season.  From Buddy Hield’s cranked up style to the last second heroics of the whole team, it’s tough not to be a fan when watching the Sooners.
Meanwhile, Oregon has quietly (to most of the country) won the Pac-12 title and secured themselves a number one seed.  Their length and athleticism has made them a matchup nightmare and an unexpected night of 3 point efficiency propelled them past Duke with ease.

This is going to be a sprint for the first half, at least.  Both of these teams love to get out and move in the open floor.  Oklahoma is phenomenal at finding open shooters on fast break kick-outs.  Their guards (and even forwards) are good-to-great shooters and equally solid ball handlers.  There are few teams who can draw you out with their shooting and blow by you to take advantage of defensive creases.  The key for the Sooners will be dealing with the long arms and leaping ability of the interior Ducks.  Bell and Boucher will try to force Oklahoma to make an extra pass to avoid their shots getting blocked.  Oklahoma will continue to do what they’ve done all season on offense by moving the ball and getting their scorers in position on the perimeter.  Defensively, Lon Kruger will force Oregon to keep shooting as well as they did against Duke.  On the season, the Ducks were only a 34% three point shooting team and it’s a safe bet they will come back to earth sooner rather than later.
Oregon will try to attack Oklahoma and force their offensive stars to guard and commit fouls.  As deep as the Sooners are, foul trouble is the one thing that will trip them up.  Oregon will try to take charges on the perimeter and defend the rim inside with shot blockers.  If Brooks heats up, Oklahoma will have to dedicate a defender which might take him out of the offensive game plan.

Bottom Line:  Oklahoma will have too many weapons for a Ducks team who has played above their talent level the whole tournament.  Brooks may shoot well, but they’ll be too busy chasing down Sooner scorers to get into their offense.  Oregon will grind hard to score inside, but their lack of depth and perimeter defense will catch up to them in a shootout.

Sweet 16 DAY 2

ACC Panorama 1 by jsmjr, on Flickr

UVA/ISU

It’s been said all season, “The Cavs need to score”. Malcom Brogdon is their best scorer, but would be a second option on most other contenders. In the end, the whole team has to shoot well because of the Cyclones size. Perrantes must force the issue through penetration in hopes of getting the Iowa State frontcourt in foul trouble. If Tobey can give them any real rim protection on defense, they can exploit a lack of athleticism on the ISU squad.
ISU must shoot well and push tempo. They can outscore VA if ball keeps moving and doesn’t hit the floor a lot. Virginia has athletic guys who can close quickly on shooters and will scrap for rebounds and loose balls. The key will be if Nader, Morris & Niang can all bring it tonight. If two of the three plays to regular season form they’ll outpace the Cavs and render the Pack Line useless. On defense, the Cyclones need to use their offense to set themselves up for success. They don’t have the athletes to stay in front of Perrantes, Brogdon and the others but a 10-12 point lead might force some ill-advised outside shooting. A solid, not great, defensive night could be enough to hold UVA at bay.
Bottom Line: Tony Bennet’s squad got this far behind a hot hand each night and the ability to stop the other team’s best scorers. There will be too many scorers to cover tonight and the Cavs will be the first #1 to go down.

Wisc/ND
The Badgers rely on D and streaky shooting. If Koenig isn’t hot they’ll struggle. Success will come if they establish an inside presence that forces a foul-prone Zach Auguste to play physical. Wisconsin hopes to make Colson the best inside option for the Irish.
ND must keep Auguste on the floor and force tempo. Jackson is the X factor and when he finds that groove through penetration, shooting and drive-and-kick, Wisconsin can’t match up to him. On defense, Mike Brey will stay conservative and make adjustments based on who’s hot. This may mean a deficit for the Irish at the half with an early second half run. If Notre Dame struggles early shooting the ball, watch for a more aggressive defensive approach.
Bottom Line: Notre Dame will struggle early but find a way to push the ball and create transition match up problems for Wisconsin. Hayes will battle inside but the inability of the Badgers backcourt to get him the ball will prove too much.

Cuse/Gonzaga
Syracuse is lucky to be here. They don’t do anything extremely well but are opportunists who go with the hot hand. Cooney must shoot well and the team has to force Sabonis to defend the basket against penetration. If he gets in foul trouble the Zags interior advantage will diminish. That 2-3 zone will need to stretch to cover shooters which might open driving lanes, though that’s not really Gonzaga’s game.
Mark Few needs his team to be patient on offense and move the ball with as few dribbles as possible. The Orange will use it to protect their frontcourt against mobile, hot shooting forwards like Wiltjer. If Sabonis gets in early foul trouble watch for Gonzaga to go “small” with Wiltjer being their de facto five in a motion scheme.
Bottom Line: Gonzaga will be too deep and shoot too well for the Syracuse Zone to be effective. They’ll stretch the wings and open up passing lanes to the middle for Sabonis.

UNC/Indiana
This has the potential to be the hottest game of the evening. Carolina comes in playing really well, but relying on quantity over quality. They play a lot of guys and Roy will try to keep everyone fresh, sometimes at the expense of the hot hand. The Heels have lived off the offensive glass and allowing opponents very few second chance points. If Bryce Johnson starts off hot and is able to exploit the Hoosiers lack of true big men, he’ll get a ton of confidence and feed off of it. However, the flip side is true as well. Johnson is an extremely emotional player and can sometimes allow those emotions to create mistakes and uncertainty. Marcus Paige has been the best leader on the team this year but his shooting touch is streaky at best. If Joel Berry heats up and plays with the swagger he’s been known to have, his talent will create problems for Indiana.
On the other hand, Tom Crean has his guys playing phenomenally and they are dismantling teams right now. They shot well the second half of the season and have continued to do so in the tournament. Their shooting percentage (#1 in effective FG%) will nullify UNC’s advantage on the defensive glass and also bring the Carolina Bigs out further than they like to play. The Hoosiers need that outside threat and to penetrate and go to the free throw line as much as they can. On defense, it will be important to force the Tarheel offense away from the basket. Carolina shoots the ball horribly and relies on interior scoring. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Indiana in a match-up zone or NBA-style zone, daring Paige, Britt and Berry to carry the offensive load. Indiana won’t be able to match up inside so expect double teams and some easy baskets to avoid foul trouble.
Bottom Line: Johnson and Paige are the 2 stars for Roy Williams and he will lean heavily on Johnson to put up points against a smaller Indiana team. As has happened all year, the moment Yogi Ferrell and his backcourt mates back off the three point line, Paige, Berry and Britt will start launching threes. If they drop, the Heels are on to the Elite 8. If not, the Hoosiers will frustrate an unbalanced team and pull the biggest upset of the Sweet Sixteen.

Sweet 16 Day 1

ncaa by bionicteaching, on Flickr

Why they won……and why they lost

The game is layered and there’s always a lot going on.  On any given day, anything can happen.

On this day, a lot happened.

The Hurricanes came out fairly flat and never recovered. Their game has been built on solid-to-tight D and the ability to play above less athletic teams.  Their streaky shooters can often keep opposing defenses honest enough to open up lanes for cutters and lobs.  The problem tonight is they ran into a Nova team with the right blend of athletic ability and hot shooting.  The ‘Cats aren’t great on defense (though some make them out to be because they can block shots).  They can outscore and out rebound some of the best teams around…..and that’s what they did to Miami.

 

Oklahoma was not ‘on’ tonight.  Buddy Hield wasn’t raining threes, but he didn’t have to against an A&M team that struggles to put points up.  The Aggies have been fortunate to operate in a conference devoid of competition and in particular a division (the West) that was the worst in a bad league.  When they were able to slow it down and go inside to their big freshman they had success.  Unfortunately, those moments were few and far between.  A&M seemed unable to stick to a successful game plan while the Sooners continued to move the ball and find open shots and cutters.  Oklahoma is a far more balanced team than the analysts would have you believe.  Spangler, Cousins and the rest of the crew have been able to step up whenever they run into a defense who makes life hard for Buddy.  And tonight Woodard was the Big Dog with Buddy throwing in 10 rebounds.  

 

Kansas started a little flat tonight, too.  Maryland was able to get the ball moving in transition and also had success inside with Diamond Stone.  Some early foul trouble forced Stone to sit and that seemed to affect Maryland in a major way.  The Terps got stops on defense and were extremely competitive with the Jayhawk guards, but lost confidence in their offense.  And once again, Melo Trimble was inconsistent and failed to put this team on his shoulders.  On the flip side, upperclassmen Perry Ellis (the best-dressed man in college basketball) and Wayne Selden pushed the issue for Kansas.  With Graham and Mason struggling at times, the front court was too athletic for Maryland which led to the foul trouble.  The leadership of the upperclassmen coupled with Maryland’s lack thereof created a no-win situation.  On a side note, Diamond Stone has talent but he lacks court awareness and plays solely on instinct.  If he works on his upper body and learns another position he’ll be a beast.

(Perry Ellis has the skills to be a good-to-very-good NBA player)

The final game of the night pulled back the curtain on 2 teams with more image than reality.  Duke (full disclosure: my team since childhood) benefitted from the Baylor upset and almost didn’t make it to the Sweet Sixteen.  Oregon won a league that we’ve all seen is last of the Big 5 conferences.

The Blue Devils seemed to hang around, much like the first UNC game, by hitting jump shots and riding Brandon Ingram’s coattails down each side of the lane.  They had no answer for the athleticism or defensive intensity of Oregon.  And the foul shooting killed them almost as bad as it did Texas A&M.  Oregon, on the other hand had an outrageously good shooting night.  They were a full 10% higher from 3pt range than their season average and doubled their assist average.  The Ducks brought out their top offensive game and patrolled the paint and protected the rim, which isn’t hard to do against a Duke team with only one true big man.  Grayson Allen having an off night and Duke not shooting well as a team showed they were the most exhausted team in the field.  When Oregon gets a lead, they feed off the energy and it shows on the defensive end.  

DA BOSS!

 

We love to think about how teamwork and sharing make champions….expecially this time of year.  From the Spurs to Wichita St to VCU, the story of selfless teams keeps us all warm and fuzzy.

Problem is, it takes Big Dawg to win championships.

The Spurs passed the ball like mad back in 2014.  But when they needed a big play it went through Kawhi Leonard.  Tony Parker handled the ball a lot and Tim Duncan got his shots, but they would’ve barely made the playoffs without the small forward’s presence.  Golden State sliced through the playoffs last year with Draymond Green leading them in assists and rebounds.  Klay Thompson was able to spot up for long range daggers throughout.  But none of that happens without Steph Curry commanding respect (and often double teams) from opposing defenses.  And last year’s Duke team needed the sizeable impact of Jahlil Okafor in the middle to open up possibilities for his teammates on the perimeter.  His ability to turn and score on almost anyone who guarded him made everyone around him better.

I LOVE team basketball.  Magic has been my favorite player since childhood because passing the ball is so much more entertaining than isolations and pick and rolls.

But, c’mon…….do the Hawks really strike fear in the Cavs?  Is anyone under the impression this Celtics squad is contending?  Are you willing to turn in a Big Dance bracket with Virginia as the winner?

Think of a team as a company.  The coaching staff is a board of directors.  They provide wisdom and advice; steering the ship in the right direction.  Then you have the COO (Chief Operating Officer) doing the trench work, making sure the loose balls and long rebounds get tracked down.  Every successful company has a CFO as well.  As the numbers guy, he’s the gunner who can make it rain from anywhere (as long as his feet are set).  Don’t look now but here’s the CTO, shutting the opposing team’s best player down, using the edge gained from film study and technique.  They all take their cues from the CEO, the Head Honcho, Numero Uno, Tha Don.  This dude has a cool like Django and is ruthless as Frank Underwood.  There’s no shot he won’t take, pass he won’t throw or charge he won’t commit.  He’s Buddy Hield launching a three as the shot clock strikes zero……Steph Curry dribbling through everyone to finger roll with English for an and-one……LeBron taking the inbounds pass after a made basket and barreling coast to coast for an emphatic, locomotive throwdown.  That cat makes deals and topples empires because he bends opponents to his will.  His team provides the support, but he’s the tip of the spear,.

See, we champion the ‘glue guy’ because that’s who WE are.  We are perfectly fine running our TPS reports and hoping we do enough to keep our job but no too much to rock the boat.  When the moment comes to drop that shot, close that deal or nail that presentation we choose to pass it to off to the Dude who has the confidence….not to succeed, not to fail, but to do it at all.

So the next time you find yourself admiring the “team-first” attitude of some successful basketball player, check to see what lens you’re using.  Is he really the pass-first Mother Teresa of the hardwood or is he simply a Boss keeping his C-Suite buddies happy.

Crime and Punishment

 “I am not a crook”

Tom Brady is fighting tooth and nail in federal court to get his suspension wiped away.  Not reduced, but totally gone.  Much like Lance Armstrong, Tommy Boy has denied ANY wrongdoing.  Even after a ton of text messages with an equipment manager and footballs below the acceptable PSI range, Touchdown Jesus is still using the Shaggy defense (“it wasn’t me”) and soooo many football fans and analysts are buying it.

On the flip side, Greg Hardy had his domestic violence case dismissed on appeal after his accuser refused to cooperate with the prosecution.  This lack of cooperation conveniently occurred after a civil settlement was reached with Hardy for an undisclosed amount of money.  Read what you want into this, but there is definitely a cloud of uncertainty surrounding this situation.  As usual, Roger Goodell decided Hardy still needed to be punished by the league and dropped a 10 game hammer on the defensive end.  He appealed and the suspension and it was dropped to 4 so he’ll be hitting the field for the Cowboys in week 5.  Hardy never kicked and screamed for the league to go to zero.  This guy was suspended by the Panthers after game 1 last season but never bashed the team or raised hell about being persecuted.

This is another example of how race creates a different reality.  White men, in particular, refuse to take an “L”.  The idea of getting caught AND punished is so foreign to so many of these “Golden Boys” that they’re blindsided by accountability.  Mark McGwire appears in a Congressional hearing but deflects questions by “not talking about the past” even though the entire circus is about the past.  He’s now a hitting coach and soon to be manager in Major League baseball.  Armstrong lied to every interviewer and burned several friends for years before he finally admitted to doping.  He’s got a reality show and white folks love to wear those little yellow wristbands.  Big Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of rape twice but only served a 4 game suspension.  And Pete Rose, the Don of the Who Me? Mafia, is still telling the truth at a snail’s pace but has the backing of Baseball Fandom for reinstatement.

When you look at most black athletes, they file the obligatory appeal or negotiate a reduced punishment.  Some are even able to fight for their innocence.  But rarely will you find them fighting a tide of circumstantial evidence.  Most accept the punishment, make a statement of apology and promise to make better decisions.

The Reason:  Black people have been dealing with punishment with little-to-no evidence for a very long time.

The black community, in general, is used to get the short end of things.  They aren’t surprised by police brutality, unequal pay or unfair treatment by the media.  And they are damn sure not shocked by being treated unfairly by employers.  This is a part of the “conversation” many mothers and fathers of color have with their kids.  It’s not right, but necessary.

Ray Rice has never cried foul after his season-long suspension…..he just wants to find a job, make some money and stay under the radar.  Adrian Peterson voiced an opinion about NFL contracts but was quickly jerked back in line by the very team that left him twisting when he was Public Enemy No. 1 last year.  Even Michael Vick is STILL trying to get a job even though he went to prison for his crimes.

There’s a recurring theme that black athletes must accept punishment and accept it with humility.   White athletes are allowed to be defiant and “defend their reputation” at all costs.  Probably because white athletes are thought to be inherently honest and black athletes are thought to be suspect and too flashy to be trusted.

Don’t let these professional leagues fool you…..they’re just like the rest of society.

Real Recognize Real

What I learned from NBA offseason moves

Not that he’ll ever admit it, but Adam Silver is loving all the drama of the offseason.  The Finals capped an exciting playoffs and then we moved right into a draft with surprises and controversy.  And just when you thought the drama was over – BAM – free agency and a moratorium that makes no sense.  The analysts will talk the stats and back-up acquisitions to death, but here’s what we really learned….

  • DeAndre Jordan’s decision to run back to LA just days after verbally committing to the Mavs proved that he has no business being a number one or two player on any team. He has every right to change his mind, especially when the contract isn’t signed, but he handled it poorly.  Not calling Cuban was a punk move. He just wanted the Clippers to tell him he’s pretty and invite him to the prom.  And what’s with the slumber party with his teammates?
  • The Knicks are desperate. They have a superstar who will never win a championship, much less share the ball with any up-and-coming talent.  Their ownership has been suspect, at best and the Zenmaster seems a little off-center these days.  Face it, young stars don’t feel the connection to a New York basketball team that hasn’t been relevant in their lifetime.  Throw in a young International shooter who needs to grab all the NYC slices he can (not good for your shot) and this is a team looking at a 5 year rebuild.
  • Milwaukee is making it happen with a growing young team. Adding Greg Monroe, re-signing Middleton and picking up Vasquez shows this team is committed to getting better and staying young.  Health is always an issue but they could be a sleeper in the East next season.  I’m not sure how they got this kind of talent to commit to MILWAUKEE but it seems to be working.
  • Kevin Love was The Dude in Minnesota for years. He was a rebound machine, scored points and led a mediocre team by example.  After one year in Cleveland he was injured in the playoffs, rumored to be leaving and sat at the lunch table by himself while J.R., Shump, BronBron and Kyrie took selfies.  He re-signed hoping to get a ring, but he can’t defend like Thompson or bang like Mozgov.  The ring might happen, but his role will be recurring…..not co-star.
  • Speaking of the Cavs, if Irving can stay healthy they will be a force next year, again. Mo Williams will help with the PG load, but the Cavs will use some of the beef they acquired to rest LeBron and allow him to handle the ball while Kyrie rests.  If they can either find a coach or teach this one to get out of the King’s way, they have a real shot at repeating.
  • Too many teams just shuffled role players around. Memphis signed YMCA free agents who will be great in practice,  Boston is casting for the Semi-Pro sequel and Portland employed the ostrich method of wooing LMA back.  There aren’t 20 LeBron’s or Curry’s out there, but too many teams seem hell-bent on finding a hidden gem at a bargain-basement price.  This is probably the natural progression of analytics and the lack of collaboration between geeks and coaches.  I believe numbers are important but only when used with informed change.  McHale and  Daryl Morey have made it work in Houston.
  • The Lakers have officially gone off the rails in LA. Apologists will blame taxes, distractions and even the internet age for the lack of free agent appeal, but it’s obvious that Jim Buss lacks the expertise to successfully run the team and the humility to hire or allow someone else to fill that role.  This fool tried to woo LMA with marketing opportunities and lifestyle options.  Jeannie has said he has three years to turn the team around.  I say that’s too long of a leash.  They are going to be further from success than the Knicks if they don’t make a change.
  • The Hawks and Spurs made the most logical and immediately impactful moves. Atlanta used their draft picks to ultimately get Hardaway, Jr. from the Knicks, who could turn in to a slasher.  They also picked up Splitter from San Antonio, filling the need for a true center so Horford and Milsap can play a 3-4 rotation.  The Spurs, on the other hand, signed the top free agent of the off season in LaMarcus Aldrige.  He will be a difference-maker on a team that needs youth, not stardom.  And in keeping with the geriatric theme of San Antonio, they were able to bring in David West for a little leadership and depth.

Who knows how these moves will pan out this time next year?  One thing is for sure…….

…..Mark Cuban will make sure Dallas never lets DeAndre Jordan get a pass when he comes to town.

Insanity

Doing the same thing over and over……we expect different results.

  1. Let’s yell about domestic violence again and call this kid a monster and banish him from our consciousness so we don’t have to see the ugliness…..WE created.

De’Andre Johnson was Mr. Football 2014 in Florida and a big time recruit from a big time program at First Coast High School.  Athletes in these powerhouses are kings and they rule over their kingdom with help from coaches, administrators and even parents.  Stars like Johnson sign autographs, rock fly kicks and hold press conferences to pick a hat.

But somewhere in there, away from the accolades and interviews, this kid and many like him, start feeling like they are above the rules.  It may happen when coaches start thinking about their record rather than their responsibility to the player entrusted to them.  It certainly happens any time a school administrator allows elite athletes to miss a quiz, drop a low grade or do some “extra credit work” not offered to the rest of the class.  And, unfortunately, it happens far too often when parents decide to become a part of their kid’s entourage instead of keeping them grounded and focused.  These adults are all about the celebrity and pats on the back they get based on proximity to talent.  Some will even give horribly self-serving advice under the guise of expertise while knowing nothing about sport, finance or education.  Coaches use past players as recruiting tools, administrators reap financial benefits for their schools through sponsorships and parents, disgustingly, even accept cash from boosters to sway their kids to certain schools.

Look, I’m not saying this situation was caused by coaches, parents and schools, but its obvious punching a chick in the head became an option for this guy when it clearly isn’t for the vast majority of us.  But thinking this kind of behavior is in his DNA is naïve and dangerous.  Adrian Peterson didn’t invent whipping kids with switches.  His son wasn’t the first child to have his legs marked up like this.  Aaron Hernandez isn’t the first dude to shoot his buddy and try to cover it up.  Hell, Dick Cheney did that, too!

All of these idiots were told from junior high on that they were great because they had athletic talent.  In high school all the chicks wanted to kick it with them and the coaches wanted a state championship banner.  College introduced them to boosters and tutors, both of who looked out for their prized athletes like Japanese Wagyu cattle.  If there’s a “girl”, settle out of court; if there’s an F, talk to the professor and if cash changes hands, keep it to yourself.  By the time these guys get a 6-8 figure professional salary they have a patchwork education, zero coping skills and no boundaries to speak of.

Kinda like the old joke about cocaine and alcohol:  If these drugs simply enhance your personality, we’re all in trouble if you’re an immature moron.

Keep pushing these kids through the system without checking their behavior and intelligence give him $2 million and expect him to act like he’s got some sense.  We see how that’s been working out.

 

Small Ball myth

 

Ohh….the poor, unwanted, prehistoric big man.  The plodding giant who was great at Mikan drills and drop-steps has dropped off.  Golden State was the massive meteor that crashed into planet NBA and rendered the brontosaurus extinct.

Or maybe not….

It’s hard to argue with success.  The Warriors pulled Bogut and played Ezeli sparingly after finding themselves in a 2-1 hole and won out to take the title in six games.  It was a great strategy move that just happened to work against a team reeling from injuries and poor coaching.  However, this was probably more of a situational thing than shift in the whole league.

Take a moment to think about the notable big men in the league…..I know, it may take a minute to come up with one.

Tim Duncan is a prime example of a true center (or power forward – not the venue for that argument).  He’s old, no doubt, be he is what being big in the modern NBA is about.  He moves his feet, has passing vision and can score with either hand.  Those are the skills needed to be successful in the paint and force opponents to respect the middle as much as the 3-point arc.  Unfortunately, there has been a dearth of those skills in young players.  I’m not saying they aren’t athletic.  I believe the current league has more athleticism than any other time in the game’s history.  But there’s no question that the understanding of the game and the development of well-rounded basketball skills has declined.

Go to any AAU or high school game featuring top prospects and there will be very little schemed offense, much less a team willing to feed a post player for a back to the basket move.  Kids are gravitating to the arc more and more because the EFG is greater out there and the analytics show how much more successful teams are when they shoot a high 3-point percentage.  Next thing you know, your center is shooting more threes and leaving money on the table under the basket because he doesn’t understand how to make post moves work for him.  This is what we have seen from Tristan Thompson, Deandre Jordan, Festus Ezeli, JaVale McGee and countless others around the league.  All of them can grab rebounds, usually because of their size and because the rest of the team is posted around the 3-point line, maybe block a shot, but none of them are offensive threats unless it’s a lob or a put back.  And that’s unfortunate because they are all so athletically gifted.  Yet no coach along the way or even now has required them to work on their BASKETBALL game.

These same coaches will now jump on the “small ball” train and start stockpiling a team of 6-8 shooters.  Seems that’s how the league works.

Someone wins with a Euro-squad…….pick from overseas talent the next 10 drafts.

Success with a 6-8 point guard………turn every power forward into Penny Hardaway.

Pick and roll getting baskets…….draft solely on that strategy.

The strategy of the game has fallen by the wayside.  GM’s and coaches merely seek the handful of players who can fit into a pick and roll or perimeter passing/TEAM concept.  If those players aren’t available?   We’ll play who we have and try again next year.
Once coaches start teaching and developing from high school up, teams at every level will have the ability to play how they need to play to win.

 

Difference-Maker

One player doesn’t win a game, but these guys might determine their teams fates

Cody Kessler (USC)  Kessler is coming off a solid year of completing 70% of his passes and throwing just 5 picks.  He’s proven he can take care of the ball and put up points.  This year he’ll have to prove he can do both without Nelson Agholor snatching passes and Buck Allen keeping defenses honest up front.  The Trojans lost key players on the defensive side of the ball as well so he’ll need to give his defense a lead to work with and be the senior leader to take control of this team.  The Pac-12 doesn’t look to have a lot of powerful offenses so he won’t need to put up 40 to win this season.

Dalvin Cook (Florida State)  For better or worse, the Jameis Winston era is over in Tallahassee.  But the Seminoles didn’t just lose their quarterback.  Jimbo Fisher only has three offensive starters back from a team that relied on their explosive ability to jump back into games in the second half.  They also fielded an average defense in a conference that could barely be called a Power 5 football member.  Cook is an explosive runner who led the team in rushes, yards and yards/attempt last season but also had a tendency to fumble.  With Everett Golson stepping under center in a new offense in a new uniform and a new school, FSU will need Cook to step up and be a steady offensive influence.  He can allow them to control the clock, keep the defense off the field and take pressure off Golson, who has a tendency to throw picks and fumble.  The fortunes of the ‘Noles may rest squarely on the 6’, 200 lb running back’s shoulders.

Deshaun Watson (Clemson)  Dabo Swinney seems to win 9-10 games and keep his team in some sort of championship discussion every year.  He’ll need Watson to come thru big this year if he wants that streak to continue.  With only 4 offensive starters returning and only two of them skill position players, the Tigers QB will need to mature quickly and create some points.  The Venables-Hobby defense will be suspect at best so the sophomore will need to be efficient and hope the running game keeps defenses more honest than last year.  Bottom line:  this team will go as far as Watson takes them.

Jake Coker (Alabama)  Blake Sims didn’t exactly light it up for the tide last year, but he was solid and didn’t make too many mistakes.  If Jake Coker is the same kind of game-manager the Tide may be in the hunt again this year.  The offense only has two starters returning and none of them are skill position players, but with 7 defensive starters back and most of them upperclassmen he may only need to give a Dilfer-esque performance to make the playoff.  If another T.J. Yeldon emerges, Coker’s job might get tremendously easier.

Royce Freeman (Oregon)  Marcus Mariota is gone……he’s not coming back…..just accept it.  Transfer quarterback Vernon Adams might jump in seamlessly or junior back up Jeff Lockie might leapfrog the fifth year senior and light it up in this scorch-the-earth offense.  More than likely, there will be an adjustment period for whoever takes over the helm and Freeman will carry the load until they’re up to speed.  His speed and nose for open spaces might make teams think twice before blitzing and give their pass plays time to develop.

Kicking and Screaming

Three trends that will continue in college football…..like it or not.

Chip Kelly’s been gone a couple of years and Ohio State is back atop college football.  Think this signals a return to the old school ground and pound Saturdays of yesteryear?

Hell to the naw!!

Everything you’ve been loving about college football is going to continue.  The scoring, passing and college free agents are here to stay.

Pace of play has been the topic du jour at conference meetings across the country this offseason.  Nick Saban complained about opposing teams snapping the ball too quickly and not allowing his defense to substitute, thereby endangering the health of his mountainous front three.  Translation:  I keep my defensive linemen at a ridiculously unhealthy weight so would you please change the rules to help me win ANOTHER national championship.  This is the football version of subverting the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy.  And that’s just what hurry up offenses are, a strategy.  The average football program doesn’t have the kind of strength required to block 300-lb linemen and 250-lb linebackers so they use quickness and push the tempo.
Not to mention, think about the rhythm and confidence developed by an offense when they get the defense on it’s heels.  This is what happened to the Tide against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.  Cardale Jones got that offense rockin’ and ‘Bama was playing more of a reactive game than the attacking style that won Saban three championships in 4 years.

It gave us a pretty exciting semi-final, too.

And since we’re talking about these speedy offenses, could we now accept the Spread Offense and shotgun as legit and productive options?  I know most of the blue-hair boosters and ex-jock commentators spend game days singing the praises of the wishbone and power-I of “the good ole days” but sports (like life) moves forward and innovation happens.  Many coaches point to the rules changes to pass interference and how tightly most games are called as a motivating factor in spreading the field and playing toss-up.  Some teams like to allow athletic quarterbacks (read: football players) the space and option to use their feet to create opportunities.  Just look at Kansas State, Ohio State, TCU and several other programs who have had success getting their quarterback out of the pocket.  Other teams use the space created by shotgun formations to allow their quarterbacks to see the defensive alignments and have additional time to make decisions.  And, dammit – it’s exciting!

And when Saban wasn’t lamenting the unfair advantage created by quick snaps, he was butt-hurt about the transfer rules in the SEC.  Other AD’s were critical of the increase in transfers altogether while most coaches were able to prohibit transfers from attending rival schools by not releasing them from their scholarships.  The problem with all of the above is that many of the transfers are graduates looking to attend graduate schools or pursue additional degrees.  They all look like assholes for trying to control a young man who has done everything right in the “student” part of “student-athlete”.  The more intriguing question is whether conferences and the NCAA will have the stones to formally restrict a legitimate practice…..especially when coaches can recruit and then abandon kids for a new job.  I’m betting the Power 5 conferences and NCAA will back away from any real action on transfers since the negative P.R. will outweigh any possible positive.  Who knows…..maybe transferring players will create the offseason intrigue and offensive power the NFL enjoys every year.

All of these new wrinkles to America’s new national sport have met opposition and skepticism, mainly from traditionalists and vested interests.  As with any innovation, there will be speed bumps and U-turns, but there will also continue to be excitement and (best of all) David’s beating Goliath’s.