ATLANTA — The teams will have to climb a short flight of stairs to reach the court for the national semifinal games at the Georgia Dome on Saturday night. The stage will be surrounded by lights and pomp, and college basketball will be on full display. Even though it is April, March Madness is commanding the national spotlight.
It will be a spectacle . . . until the ball is tossed up.
Then what? A spectacle of talented, athletic players and shrewd coaching, or a spectacle of missed shots, after-basket timeouts, official reviews at the video monitor, and other stoppages?
Defense is far ahead of offense in the college game; Syracuse’s zone could choke Michigan’s shooters and Louisville’s pressure could finally make Wichita State look like a No. 9 seed.
“The college game is fantastic in terms of the drama, the fans are behind you, and the spirit, and the allegiance to your alma mater. The format of the tournament is brilliant,” said Steve Kerr, the former University of Arizona star who will call the games for CBS. “But the one thing that needs to improve is the quality of play.”
In early February the 347 Division 1 men’s basketball teams were averaging 67.7 points a game, the lowest since 1982 (67.6). The final season statistics have not been calculated by the NCAA, but considering scores tend to drop in February and early March because games are more competitive, the national scoring average could drop to its lowest figure since 1952.
Coaches claim the college game has suffered from summer basketball — when players skip the gym to work on fundamentals for nonstop showcase games to impress college coaches. As a result, shooting has suffered. The high-flying high school players do not meet much resistance on defense in the showcase games.
“When you play a lot of pick-up no one is playing defense, even in the All-Star games, they just care about offense,” said Louisville guard Wayne Blackshear.
In college, coaches stress physical defense, team defense.
“College basketball is physical, there is a lot of physicality, so you have to be a tough-minded person or a tough-minded team to overcome that,” Blackshear said. “There is not necessarily anything you can do about it.”
Louisville guard Peyton Siva said teams routinely pack the lane and block the path to the basket. The goal is simple, he said: Wear teams down and create fatigue.
Kerr said there are two factors contributing to the ragged play. The rules are stifling the game, and the talent pool is thinned by players leaving early for the NBA.
“You don’t have the star player who will affect the quality of shots everybody else is getting,” Kerr said. “If Anthony Davis was still at Kentucky, across the board you would have better field goal percentage for the rest of the guys. Stars can change the game for everybody else.
“Mostly it is freshmen playing a much bigger role and not any stars to take the pressure off. Guys have to play before they are really ready.”
There is not much that can be done about that, but Kerr said something can be done about the rules.
“You’re allowed to hand check, something needs to be done about that,” he said. “The charge circle needs to come out more [from under the basket] or [be] eliminated. The defender is getting every break on charge/block calls. They could lower the shot clock to 30 to get teams to play a little faster.”
Dan Gavitt, the NCAA executive vice president for men’s basketball championships, said the caretakers of the game are aware of the issues.
“Scoring has gone down at a level that raises concerns,” he said.