FI Blog: College Basketball = Fun?

Let me take you back to a simpler time. A time long, long ago… before ESPN, Sportscenter, the internet, cell phones and even microwaves. A time when you could actually enjoy a college basketball season.

• When the Friars lost to Brown by a score of 51-41, back on November 18, cries of anguish filled our message board. "The season is OVER!"… "No way we make the NCAAs now!"… "Our season is SUNK!", wailed the faithful.

Wait a second, I thought. How can this be? It's November 18th… there's twenty-seven more games to be played. I'm not ready for Spring Training yet.

Then it hit me. College basketball has become all about makng the NCAAs. If you don't make The Dance, you might as well not even play the season. And a loss to Brown in November is monumental because it may affect your chances in March.

It wasn't always this way.

Flash back to November of 1974. The Friars were coming off of back-to-back 27-4 and 28-4 seasons, a trip to the Final Four, and Top Ten rankings. As a pimply sixteen year old with bell-bottoms and platform shoes, I thought it was Providence's birthright to basically not lose a game and spend the year as the top team in the East. So what if All-Americans Marvin Barnes and Kevin Stacom had graduated? We had a freshman class that was reputed to be one of the best in the nation with Bruce "Soup" Campbell, Bill Eason and beefy Bob Misevicius, all national Top 25 recruits.

So the season starts out promisingly enough. PC wins their first seven games and I'm figuring the world, post-Watergate, is a beautiful place. Except then the Friars lose to St. John's… and San Francisco… and Oregon… and before you know it, PC is 13-8, and Soup is sulking because he has to come out of games and Big Beef is thinking of transferring because he's homesick, and the returnees don't like the freshmen, and mini-skirts aren't as popular as they were. I exclaim to Toto, "We're not in Kansas anymore."

So I do the only rational thing that a fan of the 1970s can do, and what ALL fans of the 1970s did: I sit back and enjoy the season. I watch the development of the young freshmen. Each game is enjoyable and stands alone. We might get to the NCAAs, we might not, but who cares? I like just watching a young team grow and develop.

As it turned out, PC did not make the NCAAs in 1974-75. And the world did not end. They finished the regular season 16-10, were invited to the NIT, made a nice run to get to the finals before losing to Princeton, and ended up 20-11. And I thought it was a great year.

Now flash forward to today. The NCAA Tournament is EVERYTHING. Every game, from Fairleigh Dickinson in November to Villanova in January, is a must-win situation. If we don't win THAT game, we don't make The Dance! Okay, we lost that game, but now if we don't win THIS game, we don't make The Dance!

I get anxious just thinking about it.

There's RPI, Bracketology, Sagarin Rankings, SOS, Lunardi… god forbid, if on January 16th, Lunardi doesn't have you IN… your season is done. An invite to the NIT makes you a laughingstock, no one cares and even if you won 20 games, your season is an unmitigated disaster.

After every game, win or lose, there are calculations to the nth degree to determine the one universal constant in a college basketball season now: Are we in or out, and if we're out, what do we have to do to get in? No single game stands alone… there's no time to enjoy the team coming together… there's no time to breath.

This single-minded approach to a college basketball season has sucked the joy out of the sport for all, save fans of the perennial elite teams. This approach has created the pressure that's responsible for the miserable angst that's become evident on message boards of all teams, the "Sky is falling, the season is over! Fire the coach!" rants after each and every loss, from November through March… the negative tenet that you better make The Dance, or else! The only successful season is one that ends in the NCAA Tournament. PERIOD.

Not fun. Not for the fans, the players or the coaches. I love college basketball and I always will. But the joy has been sucked out of it for many… and for many, its not about enjoying each game, its about just getting through the season to see what happens at the end.

Bell-bottoms and all, for a fan, college basketball in 1974 was better.

• A poster who goes by the handle "pdaj1" posted these thoughts on Saturday, under the title "Outcoached" (and I'm excerpting here):

"I see this term used a lot on this board. And quite simply, I find it to be a bit odd .. because that's the word I'm most hesitant to use on this forum.

How many of the posters on this board have any coaching experience in the game? I'll have to admit ... I only played the game while a student Charles E. Shea High School - and basketball was merely my third best sport. And it wasn't even close. I ended up playing Division II football at Stonehill College before severely injuring my shoulder.

Thus, who am I to state that any Division 1-A basketball coach has been out coached by another?

Not that I don't know anything about basketball .. or that I'm not capable of making general observations. But let's be real - I've never coached a game in my life. I've never been at a Providence College basketball practice. CCRI wouldn't even hire me as a ball boy.

So when our beloved Friars lost a tough game to Villanova earlier this week .. I certainly wasn't ready to run to this board and claim Welsh had been out coached. But a lot of posters did.

Welsh knows the deal. Sometimes he says it publicly .. but I'm sure there's a lot he keeps close to his chest. We are dealing with young kids, after all. Again, I think it's often difficult to grade a coach's overall performance, considering the fact that most fans are not aware of all the important details that only the coaching staff know about.

That being said, I think the phrase "out coached" should be used less loosely .. and when it is used, it'd be nice to see some facts to support the statement."

This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. And I couldn't have said it any better than pdaj1.

Whenever I see the words "So-and-so was outcoached today!" or "This one is on (insert coach's name)!", I usually leap to the assumption that the writer knows very little about basketball. The coach is an easy scapegoat… and certainly much easier than looking deeper for the real reason that the hometown team lost.

I've always been a big ‘player's guy'. I believe that coaches put players in position to make plays… and then players have to make the plays. Thus, more talented players usually win, because more talented players are more… well, talented.

I'm over-simplifying, I know. Coaches are responsible for team chemistry, motivating players, calling plays, game plans, scouting, making in-game adjustments, and calling time-outs to stem runs by the other team and talk over the blondes behind the bench with his assistants. But you can call any play, set your defenses and discuss those blondes, and if the opposing player who was a McDonald's All-American in high school, steps up and knocks down a corner three with hands in his face to beat you at the buzzer, what are you gonna do? If you call a play that's worked in practice a hundred times and your players don't execute it at that moment in a game, or your guy misses four free throws down the stretch and you lose, were you "outcoached"?

Now, I'm not a big fan of Rick Barnes' bench coaching. I know the guy, I like the guy, but he sort of proves my point. I was talking to a very knowledgeable hoops fan at the last PC home game, and Barnes came up. I said to this fan, "You know, I watched the Villanova-Texas game, and it was the same old Rick. He's probably the best recruiter out there and he amasses huge quantities of talent, and if you give him a point guard who can run his teams, he usually wins…", and the fan interrupted me and finished my thought by saying, "Rick uses overwhelming talent and good point guards to mask his inabilities to bench coach."

So is it the coach or is it the talent that wins? There are examples of coaches winning with lesser talent… and these coaches deserve a lot of credit (although they're few and far between). But even these coaches are eventually going to hit a wall and lose, simply because the other team just has too much talent to overcome.

In my mind, there are very few games over the course of a season where its obvious that one coach has outcoached his counterpart. Usually, either one team is more talented, or a great player stepped up and made great plays, or on that day, the other team just played better. It's no more complicated than that.

Scout Friars Top Stories