Starting today, the College Basketball Closer will be written (more or less) daily by Jonah Keri. Jonah's work has appeared in a bunch of different publications, including ESPN.com, Baseball Prospectus, the New York Times, the New York Sun and YESNetwork.com. E-mail your questions, comments or Clarence Ceasar-related memories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My three favorite pastimes are obsessing over college basketball, cheesing off proponents of intelligent design, and acting out Shakespeare tragedies using tattered old Youppi! dolls. Since Will hasn't authorized me to do a fuzzy, orange King Lear, I figured I'd talk briefly about college hoops and evolution.
The first college basketball game I can vividly remember watching was the 1982 finals, Georgetown vs. North Carolina. Dean Smith's Tar Heels matched up with any team in the country, trotting out the likes of Sam Perkins, James Worthy and Michael Jordan. But for all their talent, Carolina could also beat you by working the trends of the day to their advantage. With no shot clock to worry about, Smith would often have his players go into the Four Corners offense, a clock-milking tack the Heels used when they owned a lead, especially in the second half. When the NCAA introduced the 45-second shot clock in 1985, the Four Corners withered away.
Evolution has defined the sport since then. When teams started recruiting three-point specialists who could pop 20-footers like they were lay-ups, others responded by recruiting quick, rangy defenders who could run out and get a hand in the shooter's face (Jay Bilas calls these guys "long;" I ummm...don't). More recently, referees have grown more lax about calling hand slaps, leading to a new generation of ballhawks. As a result, we now have a new breed of stronger players — college and pro — able to get hacked, hang in the air and muscle the shot in.
But my single biggest beef with today's game remains unchecked: Refs are calling more charging fouls than ever, and no one seems able to do anything about it. In the past, the standards for getting an offensive foul call were high. First, you had to establish position. Then, then you had to set your feet for long as three seconds, making sure not to stand too far under the basket. If the offensive player plowed into you, and you stood completely still, you'd get the call — assuming you were at home. Now, thanks to the Dukification of the game, offensive fouls are being called all the time. If the defender gets to a spot a nanosecond before the ballhandler does, even if it's right under the rim, that's a charge. If he jumps out to meet the dribbler at halfcourt, then flops on contact, that's a charge. If he stands on a spot where the offensive player is about to land and absorbs the contact, that's a charge, plus the possibility of torn ACLs for all.
The best way to stop this epidemic (other than smacking refs upside the head) is for teams to recruit and train players to hit pull-up jump shots. At the moment, no one seems able to push the ball downcourt, stop on a dime and stick a 13-footer in someone's face. The players best equipped to score off the dribble are speed freaks like Ty Lawson or D.J. Augustin, able to slash through defenses before anyone can get back to draw the charge. But if you can't run down the court at warp speed, get ready for Ed Hightower to bring the pain.
So consider this a call to arms, for college basketball coaches, high school and grammar school coaches, or even these guys, to start drilling players in the lost art of the pull-up jumper. We're one step away from a preening, flopping, bald spot-sporting love child named Manu Redickobili wreaking havoc on the world. No one wants to see that.
• Children of the Cornholed. Our best wishes to the Hawkeyes, who start their Big-10 season by hosting No. 11 Indiana, at No. 25 Wisconsin, at defending national runner-up Ohio State and at home against No. 6 Michigan State. Iowa nearly pulled off a miracle against the Hoosiers, before falling 79-76. Indiana seemed to have the game well in hand, until Iowa's Justin Johnson went nuts, nailing six threes in the final two minutes. The highlight came when Johnson chucked a 40-foot bank shot that somehow went in, drawing Iowa to within two. A missed Indiana free throw gave the Hawkeyes a chance to tie, but D.J. White stole a pass intended for Johnson that would've set up a desperation three attempt at the buzzer.
• Slaying the Ghost of Lamar Odom. The Atlantic-10 is having a renaissance this season, and the Rhode Island Rams are looking like Botticelli in his prime. URI whacked Fairleigh Dickinson 94-63, running their record to 14-1 with their ninth straight win. Jimmy Baron, son of Coach Jim Baron, potted 6-of-8 from behind the arc to lead the Rams with 22 points. Even a drunken, pantsless Jim Harrick couldn't ruin the good vibes in the Ocean State.
• Speaking of Pants. Dayton nearly got caught with theirs down, going to double overtime against a game Akron squad before pulling out an 83-81 win. Normally light-scoring big man Kurt Huelsman led the Flyers with a career-high 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting, while All-America candidate Brian Roberts added 17. The stage is now set for a Rhode Island-Dayton showdown next week on the Flyers' homecourt, in what should be a great conference opener. It's the fiercest local battle anyone has seen since native sons Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, Jonathan Winters, Phil Donahue, Dan Patrick, Mike Schmidt, Roger Clemens and A.J. Hawk (he of the infamous, Brady Quinn-tastic wedding photos) squared off for the title of most famous Dayton native. In a huge upset, the winner is Nancy Cartwright. To celebrate her victory, here's 10 glorious minutes of Ralph Wiggum goodness. "I ated the purpleberries!"