I watched my former player Mackenzie Coleman last night as her Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles played my alma mater, EKU. It was a half court, defensive battle with Tech winning while holding Eastern to 42 points. A quick look at the box score caught my attention. The fast break points were won by TTU…2-0.
I went then to check the mens box score. EKU plays a fast paced style under former Scott County star A.W. Hamilton. In the Colonel’s 74-59 victory over Tech the Colonels won the fast break points…8-6.
So then I checked all the OVC box scores from last night. And…
The Murray-UT Martin double header had the most transition points. In the men’s game Murray scored 22 fast break points while UTM had 13. This was the only game on either side in which both teams got to double digits. The women had Murray scoring 14 and UTM 4 on fast breaks.
Morehead and Jacksonville State were able to combine for 12 fast break points. Total. Men’s and Women’s. 4 teams and 12 fast break points in 80 minutes. Must have been a fun night in Morehead. The library probably saw more fast paced action in the classics section while some poor undergrad was researching Mark Twain.
SEMO and APSU did not have a men’s box score available yet, but the women had SEMO with 18 but APSU with 5 in transition. In women’s action in Nashville, Eastern Illinois was credited with 2 fast break points while TSU claimed none. Not an anomaly by any stretch.
Admittedly this is just one night in one DI conference. Perhaps someone can do more extensive research and prove my hypothesis wrong. But after I apologize for burying the lede, the assumption is this: transition basketball in DI college hoops (and likely elsewhere) is dead. Dead as Old Marley in a Dickens novel. Stone, Cold, Dead.
So many reasons exist for the extermination of transition hoops. One, it doesn’t happen much in the league. And we all know the league is the vastly superior form of hoops we should all be assimilating to. One study once suggested that 86% of all action in the NBA happens in the half court. And why wouldn’t it?
80+ games and a lengthy playoff system plus all the preseason stuff while banging up against the greatest athletes in the world. I wouldn’t want to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes either (pardon the outdated Roger Murdoch allusion).
But it is more than that. Coaches now are more complex and more controlling than ever at almost every level. None more so than DI. Defenses are tougher to figure now than 8 hours of NASA transcripts. Offenses are too. Coaches hate leaving anything to chance and despise turnovers more than the flu. And the money. The thought of letting these young guys just go play at the risk of millions of dollars is just too much to consider.
And then there are the rules of the game which have morphed over time to help create a very pedestrian approach. Early attempts to speed up the game were hash marks, ten second violations to cross half, and eventually 5 second calls for individuals dribbling or holding the ball too long. But now folks can dribble it for as long as they wish in college and the pros and each has deferred simply to my most hated of nemeses, the shot clock. (Feel free to read my scarily accurate post from a few years back.)
The NBA instituted theirs years ago at 24 seconds. It wasn’t designed to improve the game so much as sell tickets. And it succeeded. Scores went up, fans paid attention (somewhat) and the game become at least marginally popular. Still, as early as the 1980’s even with 3 point lines and dunk contests and all the flavor absorbed from the ABA merger, the NBA was still less than must see TV. In fact, its playoff games were often shown on tape delay.
And then came Magic, and Larry, and David Stern and then eventually Jordan. And all of a sudden the league was hot.
Still, every other form of the game held to its origins for as long as they could. Some teams ran. Some teams didn’t. You could find box scores with teams in the 40’s or teams in the 100’s in both college and high school.
But eventually we all conform don’t we? Colleges instituted :45 clocks and three point lines at 19’9″. But that wasn’t enough. So we went to :35 and a little longer line. Now we are at :30 and a little longer line.
I have taught my English students for a long time that “slippery slope” is a logical fallacy. Yet, I wonder. Because we surely can all see where this is going can’t we? Eventually all this will seep into your local high school too. It has in many places. I may not live to see it, but eventually college will get to the NBA line and a :24 second clock and an extended semi circle for charges (if charges live that long) and a wider paint and while we are at it quarters and no one-and-one (five fouls per quarter and two shots, right) and even that stupid timeout advancement rule too. It is all coming folks.
And we will be told it is for the betterment of the game. All this so we as fans can watch a more fluid 2 hours or so of action. Oh, if this were only true.
Because at most every level of basketball but one it is not. Sure, we can reminisce about the game we remember that one time when so and so played 2-3 and the other team held the ball. But I can provide just as many anecdotes to show the game more fluid in its original state. Faster, full of transition. Free from the confines of the rules designed to enhance it.
A quick glance of the KHSAA Riherds scoreboard shows that at least in our state (a basketball state I would add) that in 32 minutes many scores equal or exceed those we see scrolling across our ESPN ticker.
That very ticker in fact this morning showed not only mundane scores languishing in the 50’s and 60’s and maybe 70’s but also homogeneous scores. And there in lies the real tragedy in the demise of transition.
It has made every game look the same. Each half court slogs with little to no noticeable strategic shifts. Each played in the half court almost in its entirety. Each made up of a majority of shots taken under the :10 mark of the shot clock. Each made up of those very shots often being one-on-one Hail Marys. The kind of shots that make ESPN when LeBron shoots them, but make their way out of bounds after missing everything in most of your local gymnasiums. Is that a better brand of basketball, really?
So, I suppose I do not come to bury transition basketball but to praise it. And to curse all these awful contrivances that have murdered it. I loved the game as a paramour and to watch its heart stop beating as we celebrate its demise ignorant to its death is just too much for me to take.