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I totally lucked into being able to watch the last 10 minutes and overtime of the national men's college basketball final last night. Virginia pulled away from Texas Tech in overtime (85-77) thanks to stellar efforts from sophomore forward De'Andre Hunter (a career-high 27 points, including the ultra-clutch game-tying three as the final seconds ticked away in regulation) and junior guard Ty Jerome.
Notice what I did there. I focused on the players first and foremost. Even the best national college basketball analysts continue to fail to do that. We hear so much about coach Tony Bennett, and how he handled the heartbreak of Virginia's historic loss in the first round of last year's tournament to the University of Maryland Baltimore County (becoming the first ever No. 1 seed to lose to a 16), but it is the players who win or lose everything.
All pregame and postgame analysis should begin and end with the players. One of the elements of college basketball that continues to infuriate me is that analysts still can't seem to help themselves. They still worship at the cult of the coach.
I was late to the party Monday night because my daughter Alana's Lane Tech soccer team was playing a night game against Wheaton St. Francis (a 4-3 victory, thank you for asking, and Alana scored a goal and assisted on another), but afterward we hustled home in time to watch some great basketball.
I suppose I was rooting against Virginia because it represents the ACC, but it wasn't as though I cared about Texas Tech. The main thing I was hoping for was compelling basketball, which these teams delivered big time.
Over-coaching still plagues college basketball at times. I feel like guys should be suspended if their teams score less than 55 points in a given game, although they would need to have a chance to appeal based on low shooting percentages, i.e., their team put up a decent number of shots, they just couldn't hit most of them.
And Bennett has been one of the worst at times, with his teams running never-ending sets on most trips into the offensive end. But he has been forced to change as his ultra-successful program at the highly academically respected Virginia has attracted more and more talent. In other words, even a "Slow it down!" coach like Bennett has been forced to change by the talents of Hunter, Jerome and several of their teammates.
The best thing to happen to college basketball the last few years was changing the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30. Yes, that means that less athletic teams (i.e., ones without guys who can take the ball with five seconds left on the shot clock and do what they have to do to get up a better than low-percentage shot) end up heaving up too many lousy shots to beat the buzzer, but overall it has meant more offense.
Monday night's game was a great example. Both Texas Tech and Virginia finished in the top three in the nation in defensive efficiency this year, but this game was never a plodding, whatever-you-do-just-run-your-sets kind of affair.
The Red Raiders and the Cavaliers both boasted great players doing great things. And Bennett and Tech coach Chris Bears know what they are doing as well.
The local angle was the kid from Wauconda. Texas Tech's Matt Mooney grew up in the southwestern Lake County community located north of Lake Zurich, but commuted two hours a day to attend and play for Notre Dame College Prep in Niles.
Mooney has been at it awhile at the college level. He originally enrolled at the Air Force Academy in 2013, but missed his first season there having suffered a serious bike-riding injury over the summer. Then he didn't adjust well to the Academy's culture of hazing underclassmen, so he transferred to South Dakota. Mooney was a star there, but South Dakota was not a tournament program. So, with the eligibility he still had left, Mooney headed to Tech as a graduate transfer. He tied his season-high in points on Saturday in Tech's semifinal win over Michigan State, and his three sparked a late Tech comeback on Monday, but he and his team came up short.
We can't wait to see if his shooting will earn him a shot in the pros. Because that is what it is still all about, by the way, for the good players that is - using college basketball to prepare themselves for a shot at a professional career in basketball.
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.
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