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Monday, April 08, 2019

Reflections on Final Four Weekend

This was an action packed basketball weekend, with the 2019 Basketball Hall of Fame inductees being announced, the NCAA Men's Final Four in full swing, Baylor claiming the 2019 NCAA Women's Championship, and several NBA teams jockeying for playoff position as the season winds down. I will address the NBA playoffs in my annual Playoff Predictions article within the next week, so this article will focus on the Hall of Fame and men's college basketball.

The Hall of Fame's North American Committee chose Bill Fitch (coach), Bobby Jones (player), Sidney Moncrief (player), Jack Sikma (player), Paul Westphal (player) and the Tennesee A&I teams of 1957-59 (the first collegiate team in any division to win consecutive titles). The Women's Committee selected Teresa Weatherspoon (player). Al Attles was selected as a contributor and Chuck Cooper (player) was chosen by the Early African American Pioneers Committee. The International Committee tapped Vlade Divac (player), the Veterans Committee chose Carl Braun (player) and the Women's Veterans Committee selected the Wayland Baptist University Teams of 1948-82.

NBA commentators and fans often get upset about the Hall of Fame induction process, and wonder why non-NBA players/teams that they have never heard of get selected while some prominent NBA All-Stars are left out. The Hall of Fame voting is far from perfect, and I have lobbied successfully (along with others) for the long-overdue inclusion of neglected ABA players and coaches such as  Artis Gilmore, Mel Daniels, Roger Brown and Slick Leonard.

It also must be remembered that the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is not an NBA Hall of Fame or even a pro basketball Hall of Fame; it is designed and intended to honor people and teams from all levels of the game, as one can see from looking at the various committee names listed above. So, for example, Bobby Dandridge and Chris Webber were not beaten out by Vlade Divac, and no one is necessarily saying that Divac was a better player than those guys; Divac was the one international player selected this year, and he was being compared with other international players. Dandridge and Webber must pass muster with the North American Committee or, failing that, at some point with the Veterans Committee (I am not sure what time frame the Veterans Committee looks at; Webber surely would not yet be eligible but I don't know where Dandridge fits in that regard).

As indicated by the links above, I interviewed and then wrote articles about Jones, Sikma and Westphal. Jones was the ultimate glue guy, a selfless two-way player who was the premier defensive forward of his era plus an efficient scorer. He did not post dominant scoring numbers but he was a key member of winning teams in Denver and Philadelphia, including the 1983 Philadelphia squad that is on the short list for consideration as the greatest single season team of all-time. The inside pivot move is often called the Sikma move because Sikma was such a master at it. He was a very durable and dependable two-way player who helped Seattle advance to three straight Western Conference Finals while capturing a championship during the middle year of that run (1979). Westphal was a dynamic scorer who was one of the top two or three guards in the NBA in the mid to late 1970s.

I have not yet interviewed Sidney Moncrief, but I included him in my 2007 article about 10 NBA All-Stars who made comebacks after retiring, describing him as follows: "Few people seem to remember how great Moncrief was during his 10-year career with the Milwaukee Bucks, when he won consecutive Defensive Player of the Year Awards (1983 and 1984) and made the All-NBA First or Second Team five times. Chronic injuries dogged him during his final three seasons and he retired in 1989. After a year off, he felt well enough to return to the court. Moncrief's 72 games played in 1990-91 were his most since he appeared in 73 contests in 1985-86 but he put up career-lows across the board and called it quits for good."

Regarding Chuck Cooper, he helped to break the NBA's color line and he should have been inducted a long time ago, although one could argue that he should be inducted as a contributor more so than as a player; Cooper made a great, historic contribution to the league but he was not necessarily a great player, even if one accepts the premise that his career might have been longer and more distinguished in a less prejudiced era.

As for the Final Four, the Virginia-Auburn and Texas Tech-Michigan State games were long on drama but short on good basketball, as has increasingly become the case in college basketball; the sport has been hopelessly watered down by the parade of elite players to the NBA after just one or two collegiate seasons. Few colleges are able to develop and nurture players/teams, and they are instead annually throwing squads together on the fly, which is readily apparent to even a casual viewer.

Imagine the outcry that would take place if NBA teams struggled to shoot .400 from the field and scored less than two points per minute during the playoffs. I have compared the NBA game to the NCAA game in several articles--including March Madness, Part III--so I will not belabor points that I have made before, but consider some of the numbers from the two Final Four games. In Virginia's 63-62 win over Auburn, the Cavaliers needed a missed double dribble call and three late free throws to sneak by a team that shot just .382 from the field. During one extended stretch, both teams not only failed to score but they failed to fire a shot that even hit the rim! You cannot make a convincing argument that this is the result of great defense; while both teams are good defensive squads, both teams are also apparently incapable of running an offense that generates open shots that their players are capable of consistently making. Saturday night's second game was even worse, as Texas Tech and Michigan State each struggled to score more than 20 points in the first half. Texas Tech pulled away in the second half to capture a 61-51 victory but, again, this looked much more like mediocre offense than great defense. What happened to moving without the ball, crisp passing, and forcing the defense to react/concede? If the best college-age players were not already in the NBA, none of these schools would have made it to the Final Four, or at least they would not have made it there with these rosters.

The biggest college basketball story of the year was the emergence of Zion Williamson but, as we have seen so often in recent seasons, teams that rely heavily on freshmen are far from locks to win the championship. Williamson will likely take his talents to the NBA next season, but it will probably be at least a couple years until we see his game fully blossom on that level; instead of watching his game mature in college, the NCAA loses its most high profile talent, while the NBA gets a player who probably is not quite ready to be a superstar. I am not sure what the answer is, but the current system is less than ideal for both the NCAA and the NBA, at least in terms of putting the best basketball product on the floor (both leagues are making money hand over fist, so they may disagree with my assessment that the current system is less than ideal).

I will be watching the Virginia-Texas Tech NCAA Championship Game on Monday night--I have watched every NCAA Championship Game for the better part of the past three decades--and I hope to see a contest that is not only dramatic but that is also played at a high level at both ends of the court. I am hopeful but not optimistic (and since I have a 50% chance of being right, I will go on the record to pick Texas Tech to win).

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:15 AM



At Monday, April 08, 2019 12:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Auburn did foul the ball handler before the double dribble though.

At Monday, April 08, 2019 8:03:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


My point is that Virginia, one of the four number one seeds, needed a lot to happen at the end to just squeak by. There are no dominant college teams any more, and the overall level of play has dropped a lot in recent years.


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