March Madness has begun as the four “Play In” games and Thursday’s games are in the record books. The NCAA field is in motion some teams are on the way home. The NIT started with a major upset as little Robert Morris and their home crowd of 3,500 fans beat the defending national champions Kentucky Wildcats 59-57 which should send the NIT into a tailspin as teams vie for an NIT title. Where are the fundamentals?

Men’s college basketball’s inconsistent play and the inability of teams to maintain a lead and/or blow a team out have plagued NCAA Division I basketball this season. In recent years, the team scoring averages have been getting lower. This season’s play has produced the lowest team scoring averages in decades. The overall turnover level of teams has reached epic proportions literally going through the roof. Men’s college basketball across the board needs an execution makeover.

Today’s version of the game of college basketball is experiencing the effects of years of various policies, methods and acceptances that have brought on realities that have impacted the essence of the game we call men’s college basketball.

Most of the games played in NCAA men’s college basketball look like an AAU high school basketball tournament on energy, protein drink. Why? For decades now AAU basketball has taken dominance over regular high school basketball which demands more team play and the execution of the fundamentals. Most high school basketball players today understand the recruiting system and they also know they will be seen and evaluated more often by college coaches on the AAU circuit. In addition, recruiting became economically inconvenient for many college basketball recruiters to watch a prospect in their hometown high school gymnasium.

 Most high school coaches know that if they do not have some involvement in their college prospect players’ AAU traveling team their influence diminishes greatly with their player’s recruiting process. Include into the equation the high school player who has “one and done” potential along with the extra sneaks, apparel and travel provided by shoe sponsors to AAU teams and individual players. One can image which coach will usually win the battle for who will have the influence with these players and their families.

College coaches have to learn quickly which coach has the influence with anyone they are recruiting. The high school coach gets to see the young man daily, not only from the basketball perspective but also academically and socially. The AAU coach generally does not. We need a “Discount Double Check “here. The young players see much of this process and it has negatively affected some of their attitudes as players sparking a lack of respect of what coaches try to teach them fundamentally on the basketball court and advise them about their career so that the player can reach full potential.    

On the AAU circuit players know that on offense they will get to play the run up and down game, shoot the three, go one on one or pick and roll 30 feet from the basket. Many AAU teams will run a mindless form of the passing game, while trying to throw lobs and dunk. “You know throw it down! That’s how we do it” is their cry. A fast-break looks like someone frantically escaping from a hoard of bees running in any lane to get to freedom. Spacing, what’s that?  

On defense, players lose contact with known shooters, many players are not aware of the strong hand of the player they are guarding. Do they want to go left or right, does their opponent want to shoot the jump shot or penetrator or both? Most players who can do both will either shoot the three or try to penetrate to the basket. Not many players on any level of basketball will pull up on you consistently, off the dribble, for the fifteen foot jump shot. “How appalling . . . that’s ancient”.

On defense players are constantly turning their heads, either seeing where the basketball is, consequently losing sight of their man, or turning their head to see where their man is but losing sight of where the basketball and the action is; thus they are consistently missing their rotation responsibilities that are essential to a team’s defensive execution or lack thereof.

The inability as an individual and as a team to see “man and ball” at all times leads to open shots, penetration into the lane, easy layups, dunks, and lobs leading to dunks. Thus team leads dwindle and potential blowouts turn into nail bitters by the end of the game.

Beyond the pick and roll and some form of the passing game the only plays that are generally run are those that are drawn up for out of bounds plays or during time outs in desperate situations. When teams are allegedly running plays it is hard to see what the choreographed play is that is being run and even more difficult to determine what is the desired conclusion because of too much dribbling, a lack of purposeful movement and effective passing.

Rebounding among most high school players today is all based on athletic prowess instead of the science of rebounding fundamentals. The most important fundamental in defensive rebounding is boxing out. Situational boxing out occurs occasionally because of positions players happen to find themselves in but not because of a trained, disciplined mindset that produces a consistent intent to box out or to impede the opposition as you purse the rebound. When you see a player box out the perimeter shooter you need to document the moment because that is how often you will see it done in today’s men’s college basketball games.

Then there is the free-throw. Some guys look like they are going to the Sahara Desert with no water when they get fouled and have to go to the free-throw line. Most young players never shoot from fifteen feet during a basketball game so why should they be able to shoot at least 75% or higher from that fifteen foot free-throw line with everything stopped and the whole world watching especially when there is pressure involved. Could I get a second “Discount Double Check” here?

I am sure you are asking yourself why I have spent so much time talking about high school, AAU circuit basketball when the article is about men’s college basketball. Good question, I am glad you asked, because I am describing men’s college basketball after an energy, protein drink takes effect in college.

The AAU circuit is the breeding ground for what we have in college basketball today. Many recruits select schools where they will be able to play the AAU brand of basketball on the quicker, more aggressive and physically challenging college level while hoping it will help them become NBA worthy without learning and executing the fundamentals and the mindset, discipline and decision making that goes with executing the fundamentals. Many college coaches have had to adjust, because the money and pressure is too great for most coaches to take a stand against the trends of the day and the younger coaches only know this style of play.

Consequently, we see an AAU brand of basketball that has transcended to college that now feeds the new kids coming on the AAU basketball circuit. The vicious cycle has the game of basketball played based on the athletic abilities of the players to execute things in the game rather than using their athletic ability execute the fundamentals of the game of basketball to achieve maximum efficiency which leads to true success.

Between AAU high school basketball, “one and done” and the lack of consistency, the college basketball game is now heralded as the great “Parity”.

The success of “March Madness”, the overall viewership and success of men’s college basketball has grown over the last twenty years. Of course, the explosion of ESPN, Fox Sports and CBS’s coverage and marketing along with the huge sponsorship and advertising dollars is the foundation for the popularity of men’s college basketball, but “Parity” has been the electricity that has driven men’s college basketball to a place where no one knows what team is going to do what on a given day and forbid if you try to predict an NCAA championship winner before it happens. “Parity”! I need a “Discount Double Check” here.

Last year’s eventual NCAA title winner Kentucky was everyone’s odds on favorite to win the title. The athletic talent laden Wildcats seemed to have all the physical /athletic talent to win the NCAA championship but no one in Las Vegas bet the farm on it. Even with Anthony blocking every other layup attempt no one was a 100% sold that Kentucky’s athletic talent would gel to bring home an NCAA national championship title. After all, John Calipari has had several athletically talented teams that could have won a title but were turned away. All of this lack of domination by any college basketball team has made “Parity” a stream roller.

UCLA, at the time a top 25 team, losing to Cal State San Luis Obispo. A Duke team looks like Goliath only to be slain a couple times before regrouping. Or would you prefer your dose of “Parity” to be Oklahoma State going into Phog Allen Field House and just taking a win that breaks KU’s home win streak at 33, while also snapping their 18 game win streak which was the longest in college basketball.  Many of this year's #1 ranked teams could not hold on to the prestigious position for more than a week before being upset.

You hear the word “Parity” everywhere as the explanation for why teams are beaten that should not have been. When teams have tremendous leads only to blow them and allow their opponents to not only to come back but in some cases win the game. The so called, good teams are often unable to maintain consistent play each game. The answer to cover the lack of consistent execution of the fundamentals of the game of basketball that results in a smorgasbord of casualties and calamities is called “Parity”.

The host, announcers and the analyst use “Parity” on almost every sports TV, radio show, blog and web-site. The players today are better athletes, man for man than their predecessors, but not in grit, skill in the knowledge of the game or in the execution of the fundamentals, team plays and team play.

Most men’s college basketball analyst are former college players some dating back to the seventies and eighties. Almost every analyst I have heard use the word “Parity” say they like it in the college game, “it’s what makes the game exciting, any team can beat any team on a given night.” Most fans have accepted the men’s college basketball product that they are being fed.

Where is men’s college basketball going from here? The impact of the AAU, “one and done”, the overwhelming perspective of the players today is no longer a surprise but a part of the men’s college basketball landscape.

Maybe a young Adolph Rupp, or a John Wooden type who would press you all game and destroy your team with the fundamentals or what about a young Bobby Knight or John Thompson who will teach and enforce the fundamentals into their players and demand execution. How would they fare?

Impossible! These types of coaches could not demand that brand of basketball in today’s environment! That is what the basketball world thought 49 years ago when a team with a 6’5’ center, a 6’3’ power forward and two guards stunned the college basketball world beating teams with seven foot centers, big forwards, etc… by 2-2-1 full court pressing along with execution of the fundamentals. Coach John Wooden’s 1964 UCLA team shocked the college basketball world with their style of play winning the first of ten NCAA national championships.    

A toast to salute coaches and players coming with the grit to teach, learn and execute the fundamentals and only then March Madness will not be so mad.