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Pretend We’re Football’s Final Show & BWG’s Final Thoughts on ‘17-’18

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NCAA Basketball: Northwestern State at Texas Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Pretend We’re Football has our final show of the season where we run through our thoughts on the season, plus Tim goes on an extended rant that’s worth a listen unto itself.

BWG’s NCAA Thoughts

Make the NIT experimental changes permanent

The NIT has become a bit of an experimental playground for the NCAA to test out ideas it is seriously considering implementing. Two years ago, they used it to debut the 30-second shot clock before deploying it across the land the next season; this year they made four changes:

  1. Widening the lane to 16 feet
  2. Resetting the shot clock to 20 seconds (instead of 30) after an offensive rebound
  3. Moving the three-point line to FIBA distance (22.15 feet tapering to 21.65 in the corner compared to the NCAA line of 20.75 feet)
  4. Switching from halves to quarters

I am 100% in favor of all of these changes, they would address most of my bucket list. The only item missing from my list is pushing the restricted arc under the basket from three feet to four feet, which would match the NBA. These four changes should speed up the game by incrementally increasing total possessions as well as help the offensive movement by forcing defenses to extend out a bit further. The halves are just dumb, a weird relic of some older time that has since passed. The NCAA men’s game is the only level of organized basketball that uses halves; the NBA, WNBA, G League, FIBA, and high school games all use quarters. It’s time to remove the vestigial appendage and go to quarters.

Put a timer on reviews

The moment the refs blow the whistle to review a play, a 2 minute countdown starts; if they can’t find conclusive evidence to overturn the original call within 120 seconds, the original call stands. Then over the next 3 years, reduce the time by 10 seconds per year. I was a hard 90-second limit on reviews; the last two minutes of basketball games already take long enough as it is, the refs being afraid of slow-mo replays pointing out their errors has caused them to get gun-shy about making definitive calls. I’m all for accuracy, but the current system is slower than Tony Bennett’s bowel movements. That guy probably takes 45 minutes to shit because he’s found an incredibly monotonous way to poop that’s 20% more energy-efficient than the rest of the D-I coaches. I bet his toilet is a gravity well.

Make refs full-time & limit their hours

A handful of these NCAA Tournament games have been officiating shit-shows. It’s dumb that a billion-dollar organization is relying on independent contractors to referee games and letting them book as many hours as they possibly can. Some of these refs are working 6-7 games a week during the season, flying hundreds or thousands of miles between games to make their games. Tired refs are bad refs; it’s time for the NCAA to pay somebody if they want the quality of officiating to improve. Build an infrastructure that doesn’t force 100+ hour work-weeks on the people in pinstripes. Speaking of refs...

Make at least one ref talk to the media in post-game

Bob Huggins, god bless him, was 100% accurate after the Kansas Jayhawks/West Virginia Mountaineers game when he said the refs should have to talk to the media after games. He said something along the lines of “we ask 18-22 year-old men to come out here after games and talk, why shouldn’t the refs”. Hear hear, Huggy; at least one ref needs to come out and talk to the media about the calls they made. More transparency in why the rules were applied in the manner that they were will not only help fans and teams better understand how these calls happen, but it will also create a dialogue that can better push the consumers’ point of view into the officiating bubble.

Put a 4-point line 28 feet from the basket

Just kidding.

quietly slides suggestion to NBA SBNation blogs

BWG’s Texas Longhorns Thoughts

This has been a hell of a ride, from the highs of the Duke & Gonzaga games showing this team’s potential to the lows of the Tennessee State game & last quarter at Morgantown showing the worst of this team. This season has been a soap opera even by normal college basketball standards; there was a player dealing with cancer, another player fighting through injuries at the worst possible time, and yet another player has to deal with the FBI. All we really needed to complete the melodrama bingo card was a player in a coma after unknowingly marrying his sister. Grading this team in a vacuum is pointless, all of this other stuff has to be factored in because any one of these would have been huge stories in their own right much less combined into one season. With that in mind, I’m OK with how this season turned out. It is not the ending I had hoped for when writing the ebook last summer, but I also never envisioned the basketball equivalent of a plague of locusts descending upon the program. I think it is possible to simultaneously recognize that there were individual elements of the coaches’ decisions that were suboptimal within games while also understanding the heavily reduced options they had through no fault of their own. For example, Dylan Osetkowski pretty clearly played too many minutes this season, but that happened in large part because he needed to help shoulder the scoring load left by Andrew Jones disappearing from the lineup. Or take the incredibly slow tempo of the team despite having better athletes than the majority of their opponents; it would be preferable to let players like Roach & Coleman get out in transition, but when Texas is forced to run a 7-man rotation they have to consider the cumulative impact of that energy output over a 34-game season. It’s one of the reasons Texas didn’t press more, either; pressing like West Virginia means using 10+ guys every night. There are some games where WVU put fifteen guys on the court, Texas simply didn’t have that depth this year. Tactically, this team never realized their preseason ceiling because they spent 23 of the year playing without one of their hole cards. (I rarely play cards and I’m mixing metaphors here, so if you’re cringing right now console yourself with the notion that I’m the guy who invariably dumps money to you in Vegas. I am the seal floating through an Orca pod waving at all the pretty predators.)

This is a long way of saying I’m giving the coaching staff a pass on the tactical stuff because a majority of their limitations were induced through no real fault of their own. We can discuss edge cases of how Jordan Barnett still being on the team could have helped or a couple of other chickens coming home to roost, but in my view most any of these chickens pale in comparison to the gaping hole left by a guy getting leukemia. It’s not like there was a super senior stuck on the bench who could have replaced the lost contributions of Jones — no offense Joe Schwartz and Ryan McClurg — and averted the sort of major reshuffling of responsibilities cascading from that illness. Further, the fact that Texas kept battling through the adversity is a sign Shaka Smart and his staff are instilling the culture they preach. We have seen other teams fall apart when hit with adversity; look at our neighbors to the north for an example of a team that checked out before the season was over. The Oklahoma Sooners were on auto-pilot for the last 2-3 weeks of the season and all they were dealing with was a losing streak. I have heard from a variety of writers across the country who were impressed by Texas’ mental resilience in the face of such daunting problems, and credit for that goes to not only the players from buying in but the coaching staff building an infrastructure that induced the buy-in. Our dearly departed Augie Garrido was famous for saying that adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it; this team’s character was revealed over and over again in the last two months regardless of the results on the scoreboard. When people discuss this coaching staff’s ability to coach, in addition to talking about offense & defense they need to include the ability to motivate. I don’t think there’s any question that this staff has an elite ability to motivate its players.

There are a series of questions that will determine the outlook for this program next year, questions we won’t have all of the answers to for awhile.

  1. Who declares? Mohamed Bamba is the obvious loss to anyone who had eyes. There is some question as to whether Kerwin Roach II will leave for the NBA Draft; it’s my belief he will declare to get more information, which is the smart play. Any player seriously considering going pro in the next 1-2 years should declare so they’re able to find out from the NBA what they need to improve, so Roach declaring shouldn’t surprise anyone. I suspect he will get feedback that says he’s not quite ready and he will return for his senior season, but we will see.
  2. Who leaves? Transfers are a part of D-I life, and this year should be no exception. It’s not hard to do the math on this team and see that Texas was counting on at least 2 players leaving this offseason when they recruited their 2018 class; the difference is that one of them was expected to be Andrew Jones and now that’s not necessarily the case. So who asks for their release? Jacob Young is leaving, but my guesses as to who else is likely to go elsewhere in order of likelihood are Eric Davis Jr. and/or James Banks. It is difficult to imagine Wildcard playing at Texas again given the ongoing FBI probe, though there’s a chance he could surprise us. Lord knows it wouldn’t be the first time.
  3. Is Andrew Jones healthy? Jones is recovering from his first round of treatment really well and the family is cautiously optimistic, but the next 60 days will tell us a lot about if Jones has any chance of returning to Texas. This team without Jones can still be good, but bringing back a fully-healthy Jones (even if he’s 70-80% what he was before) will increase this team’s ceiling substantially.
  4. Does Courtney Ramey choose Texas? The former Louisville commit would be a shot in the arm for the Longhorns, adding both a solid shooter and ballhandler to a stable of quality guards. I don’t think he’s picking Texas, Mizzou seems to be the leader but that recruitment is quiet enough I don’t have a very good feel for where he’s going.
  5. How much can Eli Long contribute? At his best, Long is an above-average shooter and another point guard to put on the floor. He hit nearly 39% from three and was one of the better assist generators in his last season at Mount St. Mary’s, so there’s the potential for him to become a major contributor. It’s possible he takes up a significant portion of the offensive load if Andrew Jones is unable to return, and based upon his first two years with the Mountaineers he seems up to the challenge.
  6. What is Texas’ offensive strategy? Maybe a better question is how effective Texas is with the read & react system, because we know that’s what they’re likely to run. My question is more about tempo and execution than system, because next year Texas can possibly run 9-deep. If they’re that deep, they can push the pace on offense more than they did this year. Will they?
  7. How much does shooting improve? Tell me the players that return and I’ll tell you if they’re only incrementally better or significantly better. It’s possible Texas will have five guys shooting 35%+ from three, with a couple of guys potentially in the 40% range. This is also dependent on where the three-point line is next year. Moving it to FIBA distance could affect everyone other than Osetkowski, who seems to like to shoot the ball from Mars 2-3 times a game.
  8. Do they press more? My hunch is that Texas will never be HAVOC South if they want to attract the Bambas of the world. Maybe five years from now when the G League is taking all the lottery picks Texas converts to a press team, but outside of that I don’t think Texas is likely to press more than 20-25% of the time on the season. I’m less concerned with the distance of the floor Texas defends than the efficacy of their overall defense. The last three years tells me Shaka will be able to field a quality defense regardless of the system he employs.

To the elephant in the room of Shaka Smart’s job security, here is what I think. I think there are relatively few scenarios in which Shaka doesn’t get a fifth year. If Texas has another 11-win season or if he gets ensnared in the FBI probe all bets are off. If Shaka is the one who gave Jones leukemia or is using Chris Del Conte’s garage as a puppy mill, he’s probably gone. If Shaka has rigged the jumbotron to mine bitcoin or he compliments Kirk Bohls in public he’s probably done at Texas. If Shaka punches Karen Aston in the face during a TV timeout or makes jokes about DJ Mel’s height then he should probably start shopping for a new home lest he CATCH THESE HANDS BECAUSE MEL IS MY BOY, BLUE. If Shaka nominates Eric Davis Jr. as team treasurer or saws the horns off of the court then honestly he’s probably already lined up Andy Kennedy’s gig so that kinda takes care of itself. Other than these scenarios, Shaka probably gets a fifth year.

This is to say his seat should not and probably will not be warm this coming season. Having said that, if this next team doesn’t show clear signs of progress or a clear identity then his fifth year is going to be very much a make or break year. I hesitate to put quantifiable goals for what constitutes “progress” until I see what the roster will be and dig further into the rest of the conference, but as next season gets near I’ll put down something more concrete.

It’s a long offseason ahead; as much as I wish Texas was still playing, I’m looking forward to the break. This season has been emotionally draining for myriad reasons, and it’s been kinda nice to passively watch basketball with my brain turned off. I feel like Reggie Miller, no wonder he’s always smiling.

BWG’s writing tunes provided by Niereich & Linus Quick.

P.S. I went on Chad & Kevin Wednesday to talk about the future of Texas basketball, among other things. Interview starts at ~3:14.