BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The entire Tennessee State basketball team gathered around a hoop during Long Island University’s pregame practice on Sunday. Two balls got stuck in the net, then three, and then someone decided the Volunteers needed to get all the balls stuck between the rim and the backboard. The players cheered and celebrated when Julian Phillips put the last goal back in place as they achieved the above goal.
This is where the frivolity ends.
For most teams, game day drills consist of more shooting shots than doing anything very productive. The players relax, stretch, shoot, maybe enjoy the half-court shooting game and move on. Tennessee is committed to defense. Slides and recoveries and double teams. rinse. To repeat, the Vols made a real difference before calling it quits after 90 minutes.
Three hours later, they came on and smothered Maryland with a two-pointer, three field goals, 17 total points in the first half when the Terrapins hit make sense. There’s a reason the Vols apparently rank No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive rating. But just as the fans settled for the rout — “You’ve got to be joking,” Patric Emilien threw open slices twice, and the nearest defender was three boroughs away — Some grumbled — the 2022-23 season happened.
With just over a month to go, it seems too early to make any bold sweeping statements, but it’s safe to say this year will be… chaotic. If one game could serve as a symbol of what’s happening across the country, this is it. Trailing by 17 points at halftime, Maryland scored more points in the first nine minutes of the second half than in the entire first half. Tennessee threatened to lose touch with its own scoring effort as Josiah-Jordan James (knee) and Jonas Aidoo (flu) all but negated its defensive effort, as the Vols rallied to hold on to a 56-53 victory. Before the last clue.
After that, Rick Barnes and Kevin Willard met at halftime and both shrugged like I don’t know what just happened. Barnes later said he was proud his team held out, and Willard said he was impressed with his fightback, but neither was sure what to make of it all. “You look around the country right now, and I’m not sure if anyone has established themselves like they’re on a higher floor than everybody else,” Barnes said. “Proof is going to be the main hurdle for everyone. We’ve played games like this before and we’ll do it again. Just get used to it.”‘
It used to be easy to attribute early equality to Young, new players to men’s college basketball figure out what they’re doing. But the game is older. COVID-19 handed out additional eligibility years, complicating how experience is measured. For example, Pomeroy changed to “minutes played” metric to try to combat the way different schools are reporting class years to account for COVID. But even so, 157 teams average more than two years of college basketball experience; that may not sound like much, but in college basketball , using dog years to measure age.
So what’s the upside-down? Just this weekend, Houston looked like college in a loss at home to Alabama The meanest, nastiest team in basketball allowed more points than season average at the half. Purdue got pushed to the brink by Nebraska, then won in overtime. Creighton lost to BYU … Tennessee nearly got beat after looking unbeatable in 20 minutes. And those games weren’t outliers. Odd all season. Baylor was trucked by Marquette, who then trucked Gonzaga. Michigan State Beating Kentucky and getting lit by Notre Dame, the Wildcats were no exception, losing to the Zags after the Zags got beat by Texas. That would be Texas, by the way, losing to Illinois this week, then Another home loss to Penn State.
Don’t try college basketball pass theory at home, boys.
Willard doubts the schedule on the one hand Scheduling does matter. College basketball has long produced the best season finish in any sport, and the least impressive start. November and December traditionally include a couple of extravaganzas in far-flung island paradises Game of the week and a series of guaranteed games. If there’s a silver lining to COVID, it’s that many college basketball coaches have decided to put down their practice wheels and play each other.
And more one-offs- There are more televised events and mini-tournaments than ever before. Combine that with the ever-expanding field of multi-team events — especially this year’s PK85 in Portland — and you’ll see really good teams playing early on. Played against very good teams.
It’s good for college basketball. Not so good for the win/loss column.
Some coaches have been Work out their schedules that way. Tom Izzo basically stitches “anytime, anywhere” into the fabric of Michigan State’s jersey. Gonzaga becomes national hay by roaming the country, and Mark Few doesn’t seem too interested in stopping because his team is among the country’s elite. Scott Drew will obviously play anywhere that someone can create a pickleball court in a ballroom.
But chasing games across the country comes at a price. “I think the great thing about going to these games this time of year is that you really get to know your team,” Willard said. “But I’m not sure it’s fair to these guys. A lot of our problems, we haven’t had time to practice. You really need to balance your schedule a little bit. I’ve learned a lot, but I also think we’ve regressed a little bit. We The way we’ve played the past week and a half, we haven’t been as sharp as we’ve been in the early days and that’s because we haven’t practiced.”
He has a valid point. His Terps play Tuesday in Louisville, Illinois at home on Friday, Wisconsin on Tuesday, Tennessee in Brooklyn on Sunday … and UCLA on Wednesday. Undefeated a week ago, the Terps have now lost two in a row.
Also, Purdue looked unbeatable in Portland, then its flight got delayed and Boilermakers did a Portland to-four day West Lafayette to Tallahassee road trip. Not surprisingly, they looked a little quiet against Florida State. Baylor played two games in Vegas, returned to Waco, then went to Milwaukee for an exploit.
But the solution is not to get rid of the good games. The sport needs to force itself into the conversation in November and December, and the only way to do that is to have some games with meat. The solution is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. With the colleges Unlike football, the beauty of college basketball is that no one gets knocked out of a game. The committee routinely rewards teams that stick to the schedule and penalizes teams that eat cream puffs.
Even Willard, who will never be accused of being an optimist, finds a lot to celebrate on the team (if he can stop staring at the difference on the offensive glass). Terps Picked No. 10 in the Big Ten for good reason, but they’ve already made it to the top 25 with a high-quality schedule and competitive grades. Plus, Maryland has proven to be both resilient and tough, a year No one used those two adjectives before.
Meanwhile, Barnes could have glared in the second half and reached for a half-full glass. 1.1 points per game Tobe Awaka answered the call, filling the lineup with seven points and eight rebounds. The Vols apparently kept all of their shots inside the rim during drills, and despite shooting just 28 percent from the field, they won. “People Always told me, if a team is shooting well, that’s great,” Barnes said. “If you’re shooting, it always looks beautiful. But can you win when you’re ugly? The second half was terrible for us and we found a way to win. ”
For the 2022-23 season, this may be enough.
(Photo: Jessica Alcheh/USA TODAY)