We’ll get to regularly scheduled programming in a moment, but first I’d like to report a Eureka moment.
I watched about 20 hours of basketball this weekend. Mostly at the state tournament, but also Sunday afternoon on the couch. What I saw at the Devaney Center felt like tapping on my shoulder. What I saw at Arch Madness felt like a sledge hammer to the head.
In order to save basketball, officials have to take control again. Blow the dang whistles. Stop allowing a finesse sport to devolve into rugby on hardwood. Call fouls!
What I saw between Creighton-Wichita State blew me away. At least 10 obvious fouls in the first half that weren’t called. (No wonder it was 6-3 after the second media timeout.)
The game is losing fans because final scores are in the 50s. And final scores are in the 50s not because players aren’t skilled — go check the shooting percentages in the old days — but because refs are letting defenders hand-check ball-handlers. At the rim, there’s no such thing as fouling with the body anymore. And off the ball? Well, quarterbacks in green practice jerseys absorb fewer blows than power forwards on the block.
I know that calling more fouls would initially make the game even harder to watch. But long-term, it’s the only way to force change. Players would eventually adjust. Scores would rise. Skill would separate itself.
There are a lot of things I can’t stand about NBA officials. But I will say their quick whistles have allowed stars like Kevin Durant to show off their skills. I wish colleges and high schools would make the same commitment.
>> On the last offensive play of the Missouri Valley tournament final, with Creighton clinging to a one-point lead, the Bluejay who’s been an absolute mess offensively the past month took the ball to the hoop and scored in traffic for his 15th and 16th points of the game. And then at the other end, the nation’s No. 2 scorer — who isn’t exactly Victor Oladipo on defense — perfected the defensive slide and forced an errant 3 at the buzzer.
What the heck is going on with this program?
It has been a wild, wild year for the Bluejays. They don’t play a close game until mid-January. They start 17-1. They hit the skids. Then Doug McDermott scores 73 points the final two games of the regular season. Then they reportedly jump to the Big East without, you know, actually announcing anything. Then Jahenns Manigat and Ethan Wragge outscore McDermott in the Missouri Valley tournament final, but they almost blow a 12-point lead with four minutes left.
On one hand, the Jays — and their fans — could use a week to soak it all in. On other hand, they’re playing so well they should fly to New York and see if the Big East will let ‘em play at the Garden this week. As successful as the 2011-12 season was, I imagine Creighton will look back at 2012-13 with even more satisfaction. How it composed itself the past two weeks and rallied to win five straight is a heck of an accomplishment.
It makes it all the more sweet if Sunday was their last Valley game. Husker fans will always regret that 2010 Big 12 championship game, blowing a 17-point lead to Oklahoma. They had a chance to slam the door on the Big 12 and hold their heads high. They didn’t. Creighton, on the other hand, finished the way it wanted to.
Of course, the season is just beginning. Back in October and November, all the talk wasn’t about a Valley title, it was the Sweet 16. The Jays are in position. They need two more.
>> My guess is Creighton will end up a No. 8 seed again when the NCAA tournament field is announced Sunday. Unlike most years, it doesn’t make much difference.
Traditionally, it’s critical to stay out of the 8/9 game because it’s so difficult to beat a No. 1 seed in the second round. This year, the gap between the 1 seeds and the 2s is almost non-existent.
Unlike Joe Lunardi, I am not on the NCAA selection committee. If I were, these would be my top four seed lines:
>> St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell rightfully scolds CBS for pulling the plug on the ending of Creighton-Wichita State.
>> What does the selection committee do with Iowa? The Hawkeyes haven’t beaten anybody away from Carver-Hawkeye — their best road/neutral win is Northern Iowa. They haven’t even really beaten anyone at home, aside from Wisconsin. But a 9-9 Big Ten record should be good enough in a field of 68 teams. I say Iowa needs to beat Northwestern in the first round in Chicago. Do that and the Hawks deserve a bid.
>> I’m thrilled to welcome March Madness. But I’m a little sad to see the Big Ten regular season conclude. In a world where the media makes a bigger deal of the No. 1 seeds than it does the conference champions — how often do you see the Big Ten standings on SportsCenter? — the Big Ten produced one of the best conference races you’ll ever see. If Michigan’s last-second tip-in drops Sunday afternoon, it’s a four-way tie for the crown. Instead, the ball fell off the rim and IU won its first outright title in 20 years. What a climax.
>> Indiana’s Tom Crean resembles Urban Meyer, in his work ethic, brilliance and habit of ticking people off. His actions after Sunday’s win were pretty classless. On a sidenote, Tim Miles was asked for an opening statement during today’s Big Ten teleconference. “You know, we got through the handshake line just fine, so let’s go forward,” he said.
>> Pat Forde profiles Victor Oladipo, who has a tense relationship with his father.
>> Bo Pelini has so many young players on defense — and so few proven veteran players — he’ll need to push every button possible over the next six months. I imagine a public tongue-lashing is one of those buttons. My guess is it won’t be the last.
>> Tiger Woods is one of the world’s best golfers when he’s struggling with the putter. When he putts like he did for the 2000s, nobody can touch him, including Rory. That’s the Tiger I thought would never come back. Well, Tiger just finished one of the best putting weeks of his career. We’ll see if he can sustain it.
>> An illness called Rhabdomyolysis is wrecking athletes’ careers and lives.
>> Howard Bryant with an elegant piece on how money is changing — and hurting — the games we love.
>> Texas is considering selling alcohol at football, basketball and baseball games. If Rick Barnes were coaching my program, I probably would, too.
>> Trey Johnson, a high school basketball player in Oklahoma, did something unthinkable to lose a state tournament game last week. But the response from Gregg Doyel, Derek Harper and Kevin Durant demonstrates another reason why sports unites people.
>> Frank Beamer isn’t quite on Bo Pelini’s level when it comes to the Harlem Shake. But at 66 years old, his participation is no less shocking.
>> Adam Kramer says ejecting college football players for “targeting” will cause more problems than it solves. He’s right.
>> The NFC West just keeps getting better. Seattle traded today for Percy Harvin. If he can stay on the field, how do you defend the Seahawks’ offense? By the way, any Harvin news is a good reason to link this video again.
>> DeAndre Jordan is finally getting the love he deserves. Blake Griffin’s sidekick is the best dunker the NBA has had since Vince Carter was in his prime. Poor Brandon Knight.
>> Let’s end on a happy note. Grantland compiles the 30 most reviled college basketball players of the 30 years. For me, it’s Christian Laettner and everybody else.