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Monday, March 18, 2013
Season wasn't worth watching

By Jemele Hill
ESPN.com

If you haven't watched a men's college basketball game lately, this is pretty much how it goes: Bad offense disguised as good defense. No flow. And scores that hover in the 50s.

If you're lucky.

Seriously, college basketball has been bad this season. And because the NCAA tournament is such a good postseason setup, college basketball inevitably will get a pass, despite being largely unwatchable.

KU/TCU
Ben McLemore, who has been mentioned as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, shot 6-of-16 in a loss to TCU and missed all six of his 3-point attempts.

There aren't any dominant teams, which is evidenced by the fact that there seems to be a new No. 1 team every other day. There also aren't any real stars.

That wouldn't be so daunting if the product itself weren't so bad. Sure, there have been some good games this season -- and Indiana has, for the most part, been consistently entertaining -- but those games seem like an anomaly.

Most college basketball fans can't objectively criticize the game because they can't separate the emotional connection they have to their school. They can't understand that loving the NCAA tournament and the survive-and-advance construct has nothing to do with whether good basketball actually is being played.

If you think I'm being too hard on college basketball, let me warn you that the statistics are on my side. Last season, scoring in college basketball hit the historical bottom. The 68 points per game averaged by Division I teams was the lowest output since 1982 (and second-lowest since 1952), when there wasn't a shot clock or a 3-point line. And as of now, college basketball is on pace to set a new low.

There have been a lot of college basketball games this season that were real stinkers. For example:

• In November, Georgetown beat Tennessee 37-36. The halftime score was 18-16. The teams combined to shoot 34 percent. Middle-school games offer more scoring than that.

• Northern Illinois scored five points in the first half against Dayton in December. A month later, the Huskies broke their newly designated NCAA record for lowest score in a half with a four-point first half against Eastern Michigan and still only trailed by 14. Northern Illinois (5-25) cemented itself as being good at being bad.

• In February, coach Bill Self called his Jayhawks "the worst team Kansas has ever put on the floor since Dr. Naismith was here," after the Jayhawks scored a pitiful 13 points in the first half against TCU in what eventually became a 62-55 defeat. At the time, TCU was in last place in the Big 12 (the Horned Frogs finished 2-16 in conference play). Needless to say, the inventor of the game was not smiling down from basketball heaven.

I could go on, because there were countless examples, from the Miami-Maryland 19-14 halftime score to Vanderbilt's 11-point half against Arkansas.

This is supposed to be better than the NBA?

It's not just about scoring. Try to name a player, a star, a kid you'd stop everything to watch play. It says something that Kentucky's Nerlens Noel still might be the top pick in the NBA draft, despite suffering a season-ending ACL injury Feb. 12.

A lot of people -- college coaches, pundits and fans -- believe the sole reason college basketball is declining is because of the one-and-done rule.

That certainly has had an effect. The best players not sticking around college long enough has watered down the game.

But that still doesn't explain why some of the players who remain seem so limited.

I put some of the blame on coaches. They have become the stars of the game because so many kids leave college early. As a result, many of these coaches seem hell-bent on sucking the life out of the game to justify their status and exorbitant salaries.

"Coaches keep their hands on the steering wheel way too much in basketball," CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg told reporters at CBS' pre-NCAA tournament media day last week. "And it's not just in the game, I think it's overall. The ability to have kids in summer school now that are on scholarship, and the offseason workouts, there's too much hand-holding under the guise of doing what's best for the kids. And that transitions into the game."

Kenny Hall
Georgetown wasn't the only high tournament seed that had a really poor offensive performance this season.

Some have proposed that the shot clock needs to be shortened, and that referees need to be held more accountable for poor officiating. Some coaches also have theorized that technology has improved scouting to such a degree that defenses are further along than offenses.

The rules of the game don't need to change. However, maybe the players do. ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Williams was a guest on my weekly podcast with "Numbers Never Lie" co-host Michael Smith and I asked Williams bluntly, "Why does college basketball stink?"

Williams' answer was surprising, only because he didn't feel obligated to make excuses for a game he obviously loves.

"Players don't want to work hard anymore," Williams said, and he launched into a story about how an unnamed West Coast college basketball player bragged to him that he was going to "torch cats" in the NCAAs. So far, that player has done very little.

I have no doubt that college basketball is full of players who think they are better than they are. Clearly they aren't watching the same game I am.

And an exciting tournament won't make up for a season that overall hasn't been worth watching.