February 7, 2023

The Athletic

How Tennessee’s win over Maryland explains men’s college basketball in 2022-23

BROOKLYN, NY — Early in Sunday’s pregame round at Long Island University, the entire Tennessee basketball team rallied around a hoop. Two balls were stuck in the net, then three, and then someone decided that the volunteers needed to get all the balls stuck between the rim and the backboard. When they achieved the stated goal, with Julian Phillips Lifting the latter into place, the players celebrated with cheers.

And that was the end of frivolity.

For most teams, the game walkthrough involves more practicing putting basketballs in than doing anything terribly productive. Players break free, stretch, throw some shots, and maybe even enjoy a half-shot contest and get moving. Tennessee I worked on defense. Slices, Retrieves, and Double Teams. rinse. Repeat, Valvolls is working up a real lather before you name it and you’re done after 90 minutes.

When, after three hours, they took the court and suffocated Maryland During a first half in which the Terrapins had one two-point kick, three field goals together, and a combined 17 points, it all made sense. The Vols clearly number one in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive proficiency for a reason. But just when the crowd settled for defeat — “You’ve got to be kidding me,” someone groaned after Patrick Emilien twice fired a wide-opening shot that had the closest defender three blocks away from New York — the 2022-23 season happened.

It seems like it’s been a little over a month in making any all-encompassing bold statements, but it seems safe to say that this year is going to be… messy. If a game could serve as a symbol of what was going on nationally, this was it. Maryland pulled back from a 17-point halftime deficit, scoring more points in the first nine minutes of the second half than they could score in the entire first half. Threatened to fail, Tennessee is struggling to score without both Josiah Jordan James (knee) f Jonas Ido (The Flu) nearly nullified their defensive effort completely, before the Vols recovered to hang on to the last leads for a 56-53 victory.

Then, Rick Barnes and Kevin Willard meet at Half Court, and they both shrug off a I don’t know what just happened kind of moment. Barnes later said he was proud of his team sticking with him, and Willard said he admired his fight back, and they’re both unsure what to do with it all. “You look around the country now,” Barnes said, “I’m not sure anyone has established themselves as being on a floor higher than anyone else.” “Proof will be a major hurdle for everyone. We’ve been in games like this before, and we’ll do it again. Maybe you’ll get used to it.”

It was easy to spot early par for the youngsters, for players new to men’s college basketball figuring out what they were doing. But the game is older. COVID-19 eliminated additional years of eligibility, modifying the way experience is measured. Pomeroy, for example, changed to a “minutes played” metric to try to combat the way different schools report school years for the COVID account. But even so, the 157 teams average more than two years of college basketball experience; This may not sound like much but in college hoops, measure age in dog years.

So what gives the results upside down? Just this weekend, Houston, who looked like the miserable team in college basketball, lost more points in a half than their season average in a loss at home. Alabama. Bordeaux Pushed to the brink Nebraskabefore winning in overtime. Creighton Lost BYU. Tennessee almost took the lead after looking unbeatable for 20 minutes. And it’s not like these games are extreme. The whole season was foolish. Baylor was trucked in by Marquette and then trucked in turn by Gonzaga. Michigan State get over Kentucky And they burned Notre Dameand the Wildcats, who must not be disqualified, lost to the Zags after the Zags were relegated Texas. That would be Texas, which incidentally lost to Illinois, which they lost to next Pennsylvania state at home.

Don’t try the transitive theory of college basketball at home, kids.

Willard wonders, for example, if the schedule is the problem. College basketball has long produced the best season finish in all sports, and the least impressive start. The months of November and December have traditionally featured some Feast Week matches in remote island paradises and a foolproof games parade. If there is an upside to COVID, it is that many college basketball coaches have decided to take off the training wheels and go play each other.

There are more made-for-TV events and short trips than ever before. Combine those with the expanded multi-team field of events – and especially this year, PK85 in Portland – and you have really good teams playing really good teams early on.

Which is great for college basketball. And it’s not too big for the win-loss column.

Some coaches have built their schedules this way for years. Tom Izzo is basically “anywhere, anytime” stitched into the fabric of Michigan State uniforms. Gonzaga He made it his national strength by slinking across the country, and Mark Vue doesn’t seem terribly interested in stopping now that his team is among the nation’s elite. Looks like Scott Drew would play anywhere anyone can model a pickleball court on a dance floor.

But there is a trade off to chasing games across the country. “I think the good thing about these games this time of year is that you really know about your team,” Willard said. “But I’m not sure that’s fair to those guys. We didn’t have time to practice a lot of our issues. You really need to balance your schedule a little bit. I learned a lot, but I also think we’ve pulled back a little bit as well. The way we’ve played over the past week and a half We didn’t play as sharply as we did early on, because we didn’t train.”

He has a valid point. His Terps played in Louisville on Tuesday, at home against Illinois On Friday, at Wisconsin on Tuesday, and against Tennessee in Brooklyn on Sunday…and you’ll be hosting University of California Wednesday. The Terps, who went undefeated a week ago, have lost two in a row.

Likewise, Purdue looked unbeatable in Portland, then its flight was delayed, and the Boilermakers made the Portland-to-West Lafayette-to-Tallahassee road trip in four days. Not surprisingly, they seemed a bit mute against Florida. Baylor played twice in Vegas, returned to Waco, and then went to Milwaukee for his bombing.

But the solution is not to throw away the good games. Sports need to force themselves into the conversation in November and December, and the only way to do that is to schedule matches with some meat on the bone. The solution is to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. The beauty of college basketball, unlike college football, is that no one is eliminated from contention by a single game. The committee routinely rewards teams that play tough schedules, and punishes those who feast on cream.

Even Willard, who no one would ever accuse of being an optimist, has found plenty to celebrate about his team (if he can stop staring at the rebounding offensive differential). The Terps were picked to finish 10th in the Big Ten for good reason, yet they’ve already worked their way into the top 25 with a quality schedule and competitive results. Moreover, Maryland has proven resilient and tough, two adjectives no one would have used to describe them a year ago.

Meanwhile, Barnes, who could have shimmied through the second half, also made it to the glass half full. Toby Owaka, who averaged 1.1 points per game, answered the call to fill the roster gap by scoring seven points and adding eight rebounds. The Vols, who apparently left all of their shots in the basket when roaming, won despite only connecting on 28 percent from the floor. “People tell me all the time how good a team can be if they make their shots,” Barnes said. ‘If you’re doing your shots, it always looks pretty. But can you win when it’s ugly? The second half was really ugly for us and we found a way to win’.

And for the 2022-23 season, that may be good enough.

(Photo: Jessica Elsheh/USA Today)