Monday notes (Final Four edition)

1) This is very much a coaches’ Final Four, isn’t it? I count 27 final four appearances between the four coaches (including Cal’s vacated appearances).

2) I share Greenie’s general complaint about all the foul-calling in college basketball. But a brief quibble about something he said this morning. Greenie counted up total fouls called in the Elite Eight games this weekend. In the great Kentucky-Notre Dame game, only 26 were called, and the game did indeed have a great flow and was a pleasure to watch. Greenie said that the low foul totals directly contributed to the watchability of the contest. But there were only 27 fouls called in the Duke-Gonzaga game, and that was a much less aesthetically appealing game (and no, that’s not a complaint about the outcome. OK, maybe it is a little bit). As I’ve written before, I don’t share the widespread view that the game – at the college or pro levels – is worse now than it was 10 or 20 or 40 years ago. And I was pleased to see, incidentally, Bill Simmons recently comment that in a typical NBA regular season game thirty years ago, no one played defense (this is more or less correct).

Fundamentally, however, the size of the court hasn’t changed in decades, while the elite players are faster, rangier and more athletic. It’s shrunk, effectively, the amount of open space on the court with some consequences for the flow, scoring and, at times, the visual appeal of the game.

3) a quick note on athleticism. The weekend games featured some high profile white players. We all know the trope that white players are deemed “smart” and “gritty” while black players tend to be characterized as “athletic” “freakish” and so on.

What struck me watching Wisconsin beat UNC Thursday night was the athleticism of their 7-footer Frank Kaminski and their power forward, 6′ 9″ Sam Dekker. They’re both tall, can score inside and out and have excellent speed/quickness for their size. Athleticism is often reduced to the most basic measures of 40-yard dash time and jumping ability. Anything else is a product of “work ethic,” or something. But very clearly, Kaminski and Dekker have natural gifts that make them freaks relative to the general population. Likewise Notre Dame’s Pat Connaughton, the 6′ 5″ power forward. Connaughton grabbed nine rebounds and Golic praised his “want-to,” since he did that board work in amongst the trees that constitute Kentucky’s massive front line. At least twice Saturday night, Connaughton grabbed a rebound one handed when his body was not squared to the trajectory of the carom of the ball. In other words, he had to have possessed quite extraordinary body control and hand-eye coordination to have snared those boards. Connaughton, of course, is also a pitcher, a draftee of the Baltimore Orioles. He may be the hardest working guy in the room. But he’s an athlete, first and foremost, born with physical attributes most people can only dream of.

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