Streaking the Lawn, our Virginia Cavaliers brothers (and sisters)-in-arms, brings to my attention this article by Pat Forde, a writer whom every Kentucky fan has reason to loathe despite his estimable skills as a sports wordsmith. Forde is a typical passive-aggressive Kentucky and John Calipari detractor, and we’ve become well used to his vapid but well-constructed bloviation as part and parcel of our semi-official mantra, "embrace the hate," here at A Sea of Blue.
In the article, Forde laments the state of college basketball and holds out Kentucky and Virginia as two examples of the "unwatchable"-ness of the college game. I have another piece in the queue ready to address the recommendations for improving college basketball, so we won’t delve into that deep and fertile vein here. Instead, we’ll discuss the perverse waste of talent that is Forde by examining his commentary, to wit:
There is no need for John Calipari to repair something that’s running just fine. He does not owe America a skills clinic. His job is to win games – and if he wins all of them, this team will go down in history as an all-time great. Even if he loses a game or two and just wins the last one, Kentucky fans will take it gladly. But when it comes to entertainment value, gigantic UK squashing the overmatched SEC is somewhere short of riveting.
Okay, now hold that in your mind for a second, and consider this along with it:
Watching Virginia beat Rutgers 45-26 or Georgia Tech 57-28 certainly is enjoyable for fans of the team. It isn’t for anyone else.
If you combine this all together, and go read the piece if you want to ensure I didn’t suck out all the context, what you have is a commentary on the state of basketball fandom. If you are a fan of good college basketball, both Virginia and Kentucky provide virtuoso excursions into just this most nights. They show you how to properly utilize size, positioning, skill, intensity, the shot clock, and depth. They provide free clinics on good college basketball almost every game.
Now, the college game has rules and a framework under which the teams must play. Utilizing that framework and those rules to the best advantage of your team often require playing a brand of basketball that isn’t going to excite the casual fan looking for dunks or threes every 15 or 20 seconds. When you have high-scoring games, you have two teams that care more about scoring than defending, and that’s just how it is. If you cannot appreciate good defensive basketball, you can’t possibly appreciate either Kentucky or Virginia.
Kentucky could probably be averaging 85 points per game if they wanted to, but to do so, they would have to defend less intensely. When you defend hard, scoring is going to be necessarily limited because possessions are going to be longer on average. Virginia compounds this by taking their time on offense to get not just a good shot, but a great shot, and by doing so have become one of the most efficient offensive teams in America. But they are never going to score in the 80’s unless the other team is really bad or the game goes into overtime.
Without intending to do so, Forde is commenting on the state of basketball fandom, which is pretty lamentable if he's representative of the average fan. Fans demanding a fast, high-scoring game that cannot appreciate good defense and teams who use the shot clock to get great looks should go watch the NBA, where defense is largely a rumor until playoff time. The college teams that are most likely to be playing on the last day of the season are the teams that play great defense.
Streaking the Lawn makes this excellent point:
If Virginia did theoretically decide to play faster, the team would score more points per game. However, it would likely score fewer points per possession in the process. Would Forde really prefer an offense that is faster but less efficient?
The answer is apparently yes, and he even asked Forde about that directly. Forde’s response is indicative of his lamentable level of basketball understanding, truly worthy of basketball barbarians:
Just cast the ‘Cats and ‘Hoos in the role of Maximus. Are you not entertained, Forde?