Athleticism erases skill – unfortunately.
A 6-1 superior athlete with a minimal offensive arsenal can completely dominate a 5-9 player with great skills and court vision. Even if the 5-9 player is a three-point sharpshooter, she’ll very likely get outscored by the 6-1 athlete, who will get a few layups, a putback and shoot some free throws.
Rebounds? It’s obvious who gets more. Blocked shots? Steals? Same answer.
And so what today’s women’s basketball comes down are games like that awful 42-40 Georgia-South Carolina display Sunday, which featured 11 more turnovers than made shots. And despite that woeful one-for-20 three-point shooting, both of these SEC teams are in the top 20, and are likely to remain there all season.
Why? Because coaches know that the best way to win is have the taller, faster, stronger players, even if they can’t shoot and have only an average basketball IQ (or lower). In the end, the athlete overwhelms the canny wing player who can shoot threes and handle the ball well enough to make a YouTube video. To do either of those things, though, requires space, and that taller, faster, stronger defender is going to pin the lesser athlete into a smaller and smaller box until she can basically do nothing at all.
And this does more than make for unwatchable games, or allow Stanford to dare Cal’s entire roster to make shots by pretty much standing in the paint for 40 minutes. Both of those teams are in the top ten, and if not for Cal’s deep reserve Mikayla Lyles coming off the bench to make some threes and jumpers, the Cardinal would have swept the Bears by challenging them to show if they had the skill to make outside shots.
Let’s go to the Big 10, where Michigan is 14-2. The Wolverines were two of 15 from three-point distance Sunday and shot 38 percent overall. They had eight assists and 13 turnovers – and beat Wisconsin by 11.
Are these the kind of games that are going to have fans lining up at ticket windows? Is this the kind of entertainment that TV sports are supposed to provide?
Kentucky’s No. 6 in the nation. The Wildcats missed 15 of their 20 three-pointers, shot 38.8 percent overall and had as many turnovers as assists. They won by 26.
To be fair, there are some good games. Alabama knocked off Ole Miss 83-75, but that was the Tide’s first SEC win – and Mississippi has none. It’s good to be able to score, but the problem is it’s not the best strategy.
And coaches know what keeps the paychecks coming: Wins. They can recruit shooters and clever point guards if they want, but when the shooters and passers are faced with defenders who have nowhere near the level of skill but long arms, tall bodies, great leaping ability, incredible quickness and lots of speed, who’s going to be more effective?
High school fans are often stunned by the players who get scholarships from the big colleges, because often those players aren’t nearly as productive in high school as smaller, more skilled ones. The small players put up better numbers and their teams win more games, and the fans (not to mention the smaller players) don’t understand what coaches are after.
They’re after wins, and the way the game has evolved, playing ugly with great athletes is going to produce more wins than playing smart with outstanding skill.
So we get Sunday’s USC-Washington State game, which may have been exciting (a 61-59 final in favor of the Women of Troy), but featured 34 turnovers (to just 17 assists) and only 18 baskets. Three-pointers? Nine of 33, or 27.3 percent if you’re counting.
Luckily, times change, and styles do too. Eventually, we can only hope that the wheel turns, and that the women’s game delivers offense as well defense, skill as well as athleticism.
That day can’t come a moment too soon.