What’s the Matter With College Basketball?

It isn’t the low scoring or the quality of play.

Comments: 58

  1. It's easy to identify and hard to change...

    1. The excessive fouls near the end of each half
    2. The very excessive TV times outs
    3. One and done
    4. ESPN with its constant self promotion, breathless announcers more concerned about hype than anything else.
    Only #1 will ever change.

  2. One of the reasons college basketball's quality of play is suffering
    is the increasing influence of AAU teams and summer leagues.

    The influence of high school coaches is diminishing with the AAU coaches
    having an undue increase in importance.

    Members of these AAU teams may play up to three or four games in a single
    day of summer play with little practice time. Thus, the skill development
    of players i.e. ball handling, shooting and passing within the scope of team
    play is not a priority.

    No less an authority than Bob Hurley, the Hall of Fame coach at St. Anthony's of Jersey City, New Jersey holds the view that AAU summer basketball has had a detrimental effect on young player development.

  3. College basketball suffers from the increasing influence of AAU
    summer teams during the high school years.

    Teams can play three or four games in a day in AAU play.

    Individual skills such as, ball handling, shooting and passing within the
    scope of team play is not a priority.

    Basketball fundamentals suffer as a result.

  4. I do not watch college basketball at all, no time to waste on that, but I have found Jay Kang to be an talented new writer on the scene with an edge to his stories.
    Sadly, he has yet to write one that does not take a shot a "rich white hairs"
    ...........white people.
    If a white NY Times sports writer had written, Nappy headed bro, or slant eyed
    dim sum guy, how would that go over?

  5. Yeah, I thought it was a bit of a cheap shot , as well.

  6. Anyway, good to see Villanova break the Duke-North Carolina-Kansas-etc. hold on the sport.

  7. don't forget uconn

  8. Just when you’re beginning to learn the best players’ names, they’re gone.

  9. It's hurt basketball as a 'team' game.

    That said, it's made some of the mid-majors more competitive because they keep their players longer.

  10. Oh, I dunno. Jay Kang will be around for a while.

  11. Kang couldn't be more wrong about the quality of play, which has vastly improved with the speed-up of the game to value athleticism over machine efficiency, cunning over discipline, floor leadership over coaching, jazz over minuet.

  12. disagree with most of your assertions....that is if winning is important. If you are looking for entertainment value a la the NBA the you must be enjoying the direction of Division I basketball.

  13. "Quality of play, whatever it means, will always be, and should be, an afterthought."
    This cannot possibly be a serious statement. Can we imagine a scenario where an art critic would argue that the quality of the works should be an afterthought?

  14. Why would you hate the "rich Whitehairs" ? Was it just because they were economically successful and White? Why did you dislike the Pious White Duke players? Was it because they were pious or white, or both ? if the races were reversed and you stated that you disliked black players, or older black fans supporting the team you would rightly be labeled a racist. You lament that North Carolina has turned away from so called progressive politics, but so long as progressivism is linked to excluding white people it deserves to fail.

  15. At the time in North Carolina, you couldn't get away from racial stereotypes. Your anachronistic holier than thou comment preaches that we should ignore reality. Mr. Kang describes things as they were. Although I would add that the school that best represented the actual racial makeup of North Carolina was North Carolina State.

  16. I hated their latent air of smug privilege as well. And I happen to be white.

  17. Who says the rich whitehairs are white?

  18. I think you got part of the problem. One is the over-saturation on TV. I remember when "Big Monday" on ESPN was a big deal and you hoped your team was on and what great national attention it was. Now, you can catch a game and your school just about any day of the week. Two is the scandals. I still remember watching the 2014 National Championship game with some fellow suburban dads and the outspoken and constant mockery of the players' "amateur" status (and the hypocrisy of the schools and NCAA) was something I had never encountered so vociferously. But you failed to mention the turnover and one and dones. A four year starter, much less a three year starter is as rare as a dodo. I'm not saying they should stay in school (see #2 above regarding hypocrisy) but fans don't get to watch the best players develop over 3-4 years from raw talent to complete basketball players.

  19. Jay Caspian Kang can never let an article go by without slipping in some of his racist anti-white animus:

    "My friends and I hated the quiet crowds and the cabal of rich whitehairs who sat together in matching, powder blue sweaters, but our fandom was built on the team’s identity as an athletic, fast-paced and pro-ready answer to Duke’s line of pious white players..."

  20. The author does not like seeing white players in college basketball. Wow, if that's not racist, the word should be retired. Oh, wait, I'm just to ignorant to see the sophistication of this article. I'd rather not be that sophisticated, I don't judge anybody by their skin color.

  21. Jay Kang's statement about Duke is every bit as racist as Phil Jackson's "posse" statement was yesterday. Since Mr. Kang is new to the NYTimes he should be dismissed right now. It will only get worse. It is ironic that he replacing WC Rhoden who got away with his "closet" racism for years.

    Enough already. Time for the NY Times to show all racism needs to be stopped including "anti white."

    I suspect that Arthur, Dean etc. will wimp out.....again.

    I bet Jill Abramson wouldn't have.

  22. As an old crank who remembers the ACC Championship game with Michael Jordan, James Worth and Ralph Sampson [and Rick Carlisle, I believe] on the court and Dean Smith had UNC play catch with each other for nearly half of the game - I can't look back on those days without remembering that game and Clemson's "Paws/Pause" 'offense. And I wasn't even an ACC fan.

    A 30 second clock is not the answer, perhaps rules on fouls and times out might work.

  23. Am surprised there's no reference to the multi-millionaire coaches and the unpaid players living in poverty. Per recent comments from Ben Simmons, the exploitation of this unpaid talent pool needs to be looked at.

  24. my takeaway from this column is that the author hates white people.

  25. College teams in the 1980s and 90s had identities. You could see teams develop over the years as freshman grew to seniors with the occasional hardship declaration after the Jr season. A somewhat casual fan and hard core fans could have a real sense of how a team stacked up against the competition. Today teams don't have an identity and therefore fans don't have the passion.

  26. What's the evidence that College Basketball is on the decline? The only evidence the author gives is a couple of opinions, one from Mark Cuban. I would love to have fewer time-outs (i.e. fewer ads) and now instant replay is hurting the flow of the game even more. However, I would 100 times rather watch a "bad" NCAA game than an NBA game. Cuban, your game is B-O-R-I-N-G!

  27. How did this get in the newspaper? Who wants to know this guys feelings?

  28. In the 80's. I'd watch any ACC game and most of the Big East games. Learn those 2 conferences and the teams coached by Bobby Knight, Lou Henson, Eddie Sutton, Jerry Tarkanian, Norm Stewart, Ray Meyer, Denny Crum, Ray Lewis and Billy Tubbs and you knew most of what you needed to know. Plus it was fun. Dean ran the insufferable 4 corners. Jimmy V fouled the last 5 minutes. Tark did whatever. Bobby Knight was the master of fundamentals if not is own temper. John Thompson ran a frightening press. Boeheim ran the 2-3. And Wethead had Loyola-Marymount scoring 120 points per game.

    These days the key to following college basketball mostly is what happens in the off season -- who recruited who and who transferred where. I can't keep track of all of it. And I'm less inclined because the game is less fun. The coaches, and their strategies vary, but not nearly as much as in the '80's. Not much pressing, not much fast breaking and not much creativity.

  29. Reading this article, I had personal thoughts of our family sitting in our little West End Louisville cabin round the wireless in Ma and Pa's room, listening to Cawood call 'em.
    My sister, brothers, and I would join Ma and Pa taking in the sounds of the Big Bleu Ball action. Ma and Pa would be a-kissin' and a- huggin' but we kids didn't pay 'em no matter-mind cause the Cats was on the radio!
    Cats going left to right on your radio dial ... Baesler with the ball ... brings it over mid-court ... over to Deeken ... back to Baesler ... up to Mobley ... into Ishmael ... and out to Nash.
    Nash up with a 30 footer ... bingo-bango-hit-a-mango ... two more points for Cotton.
    And the Big Bleu wins going away as Cotton Nash and Ted Deeken score 33 and 23 points respectively.
    “I call Cotton the savior of Kentucky basketball,” legendary Wildcat radio announcer Cawood Ledford would say on air.
    Ah, the Big Bleu memories!

    That's what's missing from the game these days!

  30. What about the one-and-dones? We wouldn't see Michael Jordan or Patrick Ewing as upperclassmen today. The game is driven by the NBA, so that 14-year-olds on AAU teams begin to consider every game as a showcase for their skills. They never learn the all-around game that's so essential (unless they possess the gifts and determination of Lebron James or Kobe Bryant). Jahlil Okafor, an offensive juggernaut, may never learn to play defense.

    And then there's recruiting. It's a breath of fresh air when a team, like Villanova, rather than a showcase, like Duke or Kentucky, wins the champiomship, with juniors and semiors playing sigmificant roles. Ben Simmons exposed the hypocrisy: go to class enough to stay eligible through March, then drop out. These kids aren't students. They're hired hands. You can't follow their college careers, because they don't have them. No more fight and die for the Big U; it's fight and die for the big contract. And we fans are all enablers.

  31. One word in answer to your headline question: College........followed by 'money'. Sound familiar???

  32. Referees call blocks or charges inconsistently ... and way too often. My goodness, you would think 18-22 year old men can be knocked over with feather dusters they way they go sprawling all the time. "If you fall, no call" should be a guiding principle. There are foul calls on nearly every possession, and the flow of the game is lost. I rarely watch college ball any more, having tuned in too many times to watch a highly-touted star, only to see him trudge to the bench with early, ticky-tack fouls. Stop rewarding phony flops and let the boys play. I'll watch old clips of Bunny Levitt if I want to watch someone shooting free throws.

  33. Nothing has changed basketball more than the three-point shot. I enjoyed the college and pro game more without it, when there was a premium on getting a shot closer to the hoop. Obviously, there are many fans, and more all the time, who never experienced basketball without the three, and I know it is here to stay.

  34. Kang's gross simplifications and frankly racist dismissal Duke and of the Duke program is unworthy of this publication. He should have a look at Terry Sanford's record on civil rights before he throws darts.

  35. ". . . jump shots required two ungainly seconds of setup before being fired from the hip." I don't know what this means. I've been watching hoops for over 60 years and 'jump shots' were never shot from the hip. When I first started watching college and pro ball, set shots were still used but they emanated from the chest or higher. Paul Aragon and a few others popularized the jump shot which originates from in front of or over the shooter's head. You cannot shoot a jumper shot from your hip. Which makes me wonder if this writer actually knows anything about basketball.

  36. As a born and bred Hoosier, I've always had a special place in my heart for college and, yes, even high school basketball. But what we grew up and learned about basketball in Indiana was that it was a team sport, not merely a showcase for a couple of one-and-dones. The problem with college basketball today is obvious -- with the exception of schools like Harvard, Princeton, Butler, Gonzaga, and a handful of similar mid-majors, the sport is dominated by a handful of "blue chip" programs filled with future NBAers and NBA wannabes who are, for the most part, just biding their time until they can get out of academia as soon as possible.

    These aren't teams -- they're just associations of one- and two-year contract players who barely know each other and who have no opportunity to develop the coordinated effort that defines a "team" in basketball terms. Thus, you get more and more upsets and Sweet Sixteen appearances by the Butlers and Gonzagas of the world, teams whose players have gelled into a cohesive unit over several years together. They're the only thing worth watching any more in NCAA basketball.

    Want more evidence? Watch the "One and Done" story about Ben Simmons, a major talent who clearly didn't want to be in any college and had little or no real interest in developing any skills that wouldn't translate into NBA draft payback.

  37. I emailed the executive editor about the racism in this piece, 24 hours ago. No change to the article. He hates white people and pious white players? There was no humour or irony or growth there. As for the white people, where is no path to redemption allowed. How can a basketball player be less pious (? Self righteous)? How can a rich old person be less conspicuous in a blue sweater? Hate is hate. There is not even the fig leaf of a simile.

    I always thought that people who told the world that they were cancelling their subscriptions were tossers. Looks like I'm about to become a tosser.

  38. I read the article searching for a clue as to why I wasn't really enjoying watching my Duke Blue Devils this season (sorry, Mr. Kang!) but found more answers to that question in the comments than in the article itself. Thanks, commenters! Many comments were spot on.

    Also, as to Mr. Kang's comment about the rich white hairs in their Carolina Blue sweaters, I would have thought he was a little young to remember the early days of the "quiet" Dean Dome with the Rams Club in the prime seats, rather than the noisy students. Maybe he and his friends were precocious youngsters.

  39. Here's to the old Wine and Cheese Crowd at the Dean Dome!

  40. The article is a prolonged exercise in needless hand-wringing, omphaloskepsis, and Freudian projection. What's wrong with college hoops? Not much, obviously. Maybe a tad too much TV coverage. But as this author clearly demonstrates, certainly nothing worth writing about.

  41. First, regardless of race, older folks tend to have white hair!

    In Green Bay, we called it Bennett Ball, and we loved it! We cheered loudly for hard-nose defense and team offense. The Brown County Arena was packed, always. I had season tickets for 20-plus years, but stopped when coaches after the Dick Bennett-Mike Heideman era adopted up-tempo, run-and-gun, "everyone is doing it" basketball. Predictably, UW-Green Bay men's basketball became mediocre.

    Now, with some white hair, I cheer loudly for the women's BBall team (which plays something close to Bennett Ball) a team consistently ranked and at the Dance........and which almost upset #1 ranked Notre Dame this past week.

    Tony Bennett still holds the NCAA record for percentage of 3-point shots made at an impressive 49.7%. I think Tony would tell you that Bennett Ball helped immeasurably by setting up uncontested shots.

  42. O.K., first problem is that Mr. Kang admits he's a UNCCH and Dean Smith fan. There goes his credibility. Before "the clock," Mr. Smith did really, really exciting four corners thing. Then I say he invented the foul-in-last-few-minutes thing, or if not, perfected it. I won't get into the racism issue -- much too complicated for my brain.

  43. I have a problem with all college sports. The recruiting scandals are a constant. No college is immune. It's just a dirty slimy business.

  44. I live in a college town. I would rather watch the women and men's basketball teams play than watch professional teams. I go to the games because I get my money's worth. Maybe the difference is where I live. There are some great college players here, but the hype of professional careers seems less. Or maybe it's because the media ignore us a lot.

  45. The length and frequency of TV timeouts are ruining the game. I can't imagine going to a college basketball game anymore, a game I used to love, now ruined by TV commercials.

  46. First and foremost, the increase in TV marketing has led to a media fixation with Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky etc. And because elite players are one-and-doners, this translates into a year-in-year-out fixation with coaches who are either egotistical control freak millionaires or slime-balls, yet nevertheless held up constantly as media idols and even hawkers of goods for international corporations. And these same teams get early-season national TV exposure in ESPN-generated matchup games. The role of the media in this is just HUGE.

    And when a pretender rises up to compete, it is far from uncommon for $ bias, and even refereeing, to stand in the way. Witness the way in which the NCAA went out of its way to place Kentucky in the Final 4 path of Wichita State's team of 2 years ago, a team that was the best college hoops story in years. The dopes couldn't figure out that Wichita WAS the story.

    I grant you the over-coaching, especially in the excruciating final "2 minutes" of a game, which usually consume about half an hour. Multiple time-outs; refs stopping play for 4 minutes to review a call, then, even more absurdly, another 2 minutes to decide whether the clock should be reset to 13.7 seconds or 13.9 seconds.

    To me the NBA is unwatchable; a bunch of greyhounds running back and forth and launching 3s or running over people to slam one home. Just level the playing field and college hoops will take care of itself, thank you very much.

  47. Simply stated, the problem with televised sports is ESPN and its imitators. ESPN has spawned an army of "expert" commentators, who actually believe that they are more stimulating and entertaining than the games they cover. And because these experts must endlessly dissect and critique every aspect of every game, the experience of the game, itself, becomes less satisfactory.

    Sports media has also reduced our enjoyment of sports by projecting the culture wars into the realm of sports. Rather than providing a respite from all of the divisive controversies afflicting our country, sports "journalists" are insisting that our sports become as obsessively politically correct as the rest of our society. And so we get endless sermonizing and moralizing, when all we really want is scores and highlights.

    Against this backdrop, is it any wonder that "suits" like Roger Goodell earn twice as much as our best quarterbacks?

    The on-field performance of the players is better than ever in every sport. ODB made that spectacular one-handed catch on MNF, and now we see one like it in every high school game. We simply need a movement to put the sports media back in their place and our enjoyment of sports will return. And that movement should start with banning all of those "never-played-the-game" sports journalism geeks who think they are "TV personalities." No, we are not entertained!

  48. It's America, more is better. More food, bigger drinks, more points. It's why soccer can't catch on here. The only more that isn't better is broadcasting more games. TV doesn't understand the scarcity principle, people desire what's hard to get. It explains why lots of folks pay outrageous prices to attend games of all kinds, despite a better seat and cheaper snacks in their own home. The stadium 'experience' is crowded, loud, and vulgar, but it costs a lot, which means it must be good, cause it's expensive.

  49. 'Member Christian Laettner's perfect game against Kentucky?
    'Member The Shot?
    'Member the Fab 5?
    'Member Hoosiers and Gene Hackman?
    'Member Yoda?
    'Member?

  50. Here's a few things that would improve the level of competition:

    1) For the NCAA mens baseball, players sign a three year deal with the school, before they can sign with a pro team. For BB, I'd change that so, if the player left early, the team couldn't use his scholarship until that time runs out. A Kentucky or Duke team would have to back off recruiting every great player out there and instead find mid-level complementary players, who would stay on, unless the team wanted to be short-handed by losing players to the NBA.
    2) Since the NBA obviously is very interested in player development, the NCAA should charge a 10% fee whenever a player is signed by the NBA and use that money to pay for the pocket money that a poor student might want so he could eat or go to a movie. That goes for any sport.
    3) And, of course, players should get full ride scholarships for 5 years, and be allowed to transfer whenever the coach departs (but not to where the coach went). If the new coach wants to get rid of a player he didn't recruit, then the school should still be on the hook for the scholarship.

    Keeping mid-level players around for 3 or 4 years instead of a bunch of one and done's allows the fans to follow the team instead of the university.

  51. I am so sick of hearing about UNC's black thoroughbreds and Duke's stiff white boys. Duke's five championship teams all had plenty of great black players, and UNC's program has had plenty of slow, plodding white guys. The bottom line is, Duke has been the more successful program over the last three decades and Coach K is a better coach than Dean was. I'm sorry that upsets Jay Caspian King. Personally, I'm upset that Jay Caspian King has to go by three names. But that's a different story.

  52. Not sure if this guy ever played basketball on any level, but I did; and I can tell you that today's game is more about individual performances than about team play. If I was really into watching individual stars, I'd subscribe to the Golf Channel. Part of the beauty of basketball is in the kinetics. The movement of the ball and the movement of the players (especially when they are not in possession of the ball) is what creates scoring opportunities from team effort. Defense is valued by the occasional fan only when a stat is generated. A dramatic block or steal elicits a roar from the crowd. Forcing a bad pass or a clock violation is also appreciated, but typically with less excitement from the stands. What is generally unnoticed by most unless and until they read the box scores is shutting down the opponent's big gun. Wearing the opponent out with relentless defense. Forcing the opponent out of set patterns and making them improvise has the dual excitement potential of either seeing good defense rewarded by an offensive error or allowing an opportunity for offense creativity in the face of a difficult defense. All of this takes team work. Today's college stars are often in a different world from that the 9th, 10th 11th and 12th men on the bench. The stars may play a year or two and then turn pro. The bench warmers often earn their scholarships by providing practice work for the starters. Too bad, but that's where we are today.

  53. They're in quite the quandary. TV timeouts slow down the game, plus there are too many allotted to each team per half. But that's how the networks make their cash.
    The author is remiss for not mentioning the AAU circuit. Poor fundamentals have been discussed ever since everyone thinks they're a slam dunk highlight reel, yet they can't hit open jump shots. Everyone's trying to get tape for their scholarship offers, team play and defense is nonexistent. On the same topic, with many of the best players leaving after a year or two, continuity is impossible. John Wooden, easily the most successful coach in college basketball history, built his dynasties with players who stayed all four years. Interestingly youth coaches are now deploring their young charges firing up the ball from deep, with everyone thinking they're the next Stephen Curry instead of MJ.
    Scoring will always be more interesting than defense, in every sport. A dunk or 3 pointer might not be more compelling than a thunderous block, but most defense is much duller to watch and appreciate. Unless you're a rabid fan of the team you're watching, turnovers because of stellar defense that leads to bad passes or shot clock violations simply isn't exciting in the same way as a made shot. Highlight reels on ESPN feature more great offense than great defense.
    As the top rated commenter pirranha pointed out, your comments have a whiff of racism. If a "white privilege" writer penned similarly, there'd be outrage and protests.

  54. I get a kick out of it when someone from the media neglects to add blame to the media for problems with a particular sport. For instance, how about the television timeout? Can we knock them off for a little while? One real problem with college basketball is it now has become a launching pad for NBA stars. Look with John Calipari has done in Kentucky. I long for the days when we had four years of a good player, as opposed to one or maybe two. Also, how about we enforce some of the rules that are already in place. Walking? How about that? Finally, the use of fouling at the end of the game as a strategy is frustrating for fans. I do wish we could do something about that. How about three fell shots for intentional fouls?

  55. There are a few dynamics that are influencing the current state of college basketball and sadly, I cannot see a change in the wind.
    The first and foremost is the network money poured into these programs that insist on often needless, mandated timeouts, the glorification of dunks and threes and emphasis on individual achievement. ESPN will continue to dictate the rules--not a good thing.
    A close second would be attention-deficit America that needs to scoring or otherwise be bored. In every major sport in America rule changes have been made over the last generation to put more scoring into the game when frequently the most defensively talented team is often the champion. Why is it that the entire world can appreciate a 1-0 soccer match and Americans are thoroughly bored with that game or a pitcher going for a perfect game or any other defensive struggle?
    As long as money is the driving force and the NCAA sees fit to continue the 'student athlete' argument, we will continue to see athletically gifted, low basketball IQ play in Division I basketball.

  56. What's wrong? Everyone responds to incentives, so change the incentives for players, coaches, referees, etc.
    1. The takeover of secondary school ball by AAU teams has given kids a totally wrong focus for college play. They play to showcase themselves, not to develop their skills. Solution: Restrict summer play to reasonable amounts; never televise AAU games.
    2. One-and-done players result from that, and are no longer developing their skills in college. Fans barely get to know Kentucky players. Ditto several other schools. Solution: An offered scholarship is for a minimum of three years, and cannot be re-used before that, whether or not the player stays in school. Coaches will recruit athletes who will have to be students too.
    3. Capricious refereeing. In the recent Villanova-Purdue matchup, refs called the game so tight that Purdue's center played only five minutes in the first half. An abrupt change by the refs in the second half allowed him to finish with 22 points, at the end scoring at will. Solution: Better ref training for consistency among them, and over time; public evaluations of referees.
    4. No penalty for defensive flopping is ever called as such. Solution: A flop results in a technical and personal foul on the defensive player.

  57. Waning interest in college basketball really means waning interest in televised college basketball—and that is better explained by a glut of product and the rising proportion of airtime devoted to truck and beer commercials than anything happening down on the court.