The college season begins with a familiar refrain by Clay Kallam
The high school preseason rankings have come out, but the games haven’t really started yet – unless you’re in Texas, where it seems like teams have already played 15 games. All right, I’m exaggerating, but not by much.
Still, before the high schoolers get serious, let’s spend a little time at the college level…
After barely surviving at Florida State, despite some boneheaded plays and goofy coaching in the final minute, UConn put the hammer down on Baylor, a team that most assumed would pass the Huskies by this season. But despite Kim Mulkey’s exhortations, Baylor was simply no match for UConn, despite the almost complete absence of Kia Nurse, who is expected to be one of UConn’s top players.
Two new faces – Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier – emerged, and that’s the strength of UConn. The coaches there don’t just recruit, they make their players better once they get there. This is not always the case, as the incredible importance of recruiting overshadows skill development for most coaches. If you can attract eight or nine elite players to your program, you’re going to beat a team with three or four elite players almost every time, regardless of how much time is spent on skill development and practice.
But UConn has talent too, and with the landing of Megan Walker, it looks like the beat will go on…
2. The South rises. Despite indifferent results, rumors of disenchanted players, and the sense that coach Holly Warlick’s time on the bench isn’t going to be that long, Tennessee landed an elite recruiting class.
Of course, they’ve done that before, and it hasn’t turned out quite like Lady Vol Nation had hoped. Mercedes Russell, for example, was considered the top player in her class, and she has done little to live up to that reputation since she landed in Knoxville. Other recruits have arrived and, unlike their counterparts at UConn, have stayed at the same level or in some cases regressed.
That was true during Pat Summit’s days as well, as she was the classic beat-them- in-recruiting- and- you’ll-beat- them-on- the-floor coach. Warlick has followed her mentor’s plan of attack, which is to defend and rebound, but the modern game requires a little more than that.
3. Three-pointers. It’s a pretty simple equation: If you score two points every time down and I score three, I’m going to win.
Of course it’s a little more complicated than that, but studies clearly show that the percentage of made shots on mid-range jumpers is almost exactly the same as the percentage of shots made from three-point distance. That means every mid-range jumper is, by definition, a bad shot because that same shot taken from beyond the arc has just as good a chance of going in and will deliver more points.
Naturally, shots close to the rim are by far the highest percentage shots, and that’s what elite recruits are used to getting. If they’re tall and talented, they just hang around the block; if they’re not that tall but are superior in quickness, speed and strength, then they just put the ball on the floor and get right to the rim. Why shoot it if the layup is there for the taking?
Well, the answer is that the layup won’t always be there for the taking, and what will you do then? A lot of times, sadly, the answer is, “sit on the bench,” because at every new level of competition the athletes are bigger, stronger, quicker, and faster. That means that those moves that work at 16 and 17 aren’t necessarily going to work anymore, especially since girls are no longer playing against their own age group, but against a four- or five-year age span – including 22 or 23-year- old seniors who spent four years in the weight room and do not take kindly to players trying to attack the basket while they are within striking range.
Which brings us neatly back to UConn, which is shooting a mere 46.4% from beyond the arc. And you wonder why they keep winning…