I’m always thrilled to see the end of exhibition. But unlike most years, where I come out excited and ready for the real season to start, this year I’m more relieved. The OVC struggled, relatively speaking, with two teams losing, and few more close games.
So, what conclusions can we draw from this season’s exhibition slate? I have a few:
At some point this year, you’re probably going to say the new rules are destroying college basketball.
You’re probably going to say the game has never been this unwatchable. You’re probably going to lament the foul calls, complain how no one can play physical, and bang your head with each and every free-throw.
But here’s the thing — they’re just going to keep doing this until it sticks.
The start of this season is going to feel a lot like two years ago, when the NCAA tried the first time to implement some of the same rules, especially those regarding physical play. Whether it was the outcry from fans or coaches, or whether referees just fell out of habit, by the end of the season most of those changes had gone out of the window. Had they not — we wouldn’t be in the position we are now, bracing for another season of whistles.
There are long term benefits, and we can see them through this year’s exhibition games. Bad defenses will be punished with fouls. You saw this a lot with lower division teams that weren’t as quick or as big. In the past, you could often get away with being a little late on rotating over to help, or a little slow getting around a screen. This year — that won’t happen. You do that, and try to slide in late on a play, it will get called. You slap at an opponents wrist trying to get a steal, you will get called. Yes, this will help offenses run more freely, but this should also benefit defenses, because defenses will be required to be that much sharper to make plays. Lazy defenders will struggle, and they’ll either be expected to shape up, or will spend more time on the bench.
The benefit to offenses is just as tangible. As those sloppy defensive plays are punished, they’ll be reduced. That means more opportunity for great scorers to operate. Ball handling will become a premium, and great dribblers will be able to create better chances, and great shooters will have more room to work.
Is the transition to that game going to be a bit bumpy? Sounds like it. Some officials say games could last two and a half hours on average, which is a terrifying prospect, knowing that extra time will be filled mostly at the free-throw line. There will be bad games, where teams combine for 70+ free-throws, and the complaints will fly.
But those games have already existed for years. The difference between then and now is there’s a clear directive how the game should be played and called. That’s something that’s lacked, and with a clear direction for the game, everyone should start pulling in the same direction.
It’s not the end of college basketball as we know it. It’s a rebirth of it.
It’s too early to panic about the strength of the OVC
Both Murray State and Jacksonville State dropped exhibition games, which on face sounds pretty awful. In fact, it’s hard to spin it as much of a positive in either case. And you can’t exactly blame the new rules either — their opponents were dealing with the same changes.
I don’t want to write off either loss, but I’m hard pressed to push the panic button either. Both these teams are going through transition — and both will likely be much stronger come conference play. (In Jacksonville State’s case — thanks to the addition of former Notre Dame and Mizzou player Cam Biedscheid in December) And there was something fluky about both — in the Racers case, bad three-point shooting, and in JSU’s case, just awful shooting in general. JSU isn’t going to be a team that shoots in the 35-40% range all season, and Jeffrey Moss is either not going to go 1-11 or stop sometime before he misses 10 three’s in a game again.
The OVC, for as long as I can remember, has been defined about the strength of the top four or so teams, and this year, it’s a pretty solid four. Belmont, on paper, is a better team this year than they were last. UT Martin returns a great frontcourt, and should continue their impressive run from a year ago. Morehead State plays an aggressive schedule, and is expected to continue to be a fast-paced, hard to handle type of team. And do we really want to count out Murray, after just a single loss, exhibition or not?
The issue for the conference more often than not has been it’s depth, and there are a lot of questions in the back half of the conference. But that’s situation normal.
Right now — there’s just no reason to think the OVC is going to have a “down” year. It just might not be a huge step forward, either.
Why doesn’t every team just do two secret scrimmages?
That’s what Belmont did this year — and if the Bruins are doing it, you should probably at the least take notice. The benefits are virtually endless. You get more on-court time in (aren’t restricted to a 40-minute game), nothing is put on tape, you can play against Division I opponents, and if you’re awful, no one knows. You can still have referees to call the game with the new rules.
The only thing you lose is the fans. So I have a solution:
Just add two games to the regular season, NCAA.
Exhibition basketball needs to go. It’s either unexciting, because it’s a blowout, or it’s terrifying. (See the two teams listed above…)