- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

The NCAA tournament isn't just the NCAA tournament, it's the NBA of tomorrow. And the NBA, as we all know, has had some problems with its product lately. Only in the last season or two and with the help of some major rule changes have players and coaches begun to rediscover the joys of offensive basketball. Teams are actually breaking 100 these days without going into overtime.
It's a trend the league would obviously like to see continue. And if the first week of the NCAA tournament is any indication, there's a good chance it will. First of all, eight of the top 10 scoring teams in Division I got bids this year, the highest total in the last decade. (In '96, only two of them did.) There's an increasing correlation, in other words, between winning and putting the ball in the basket.
And the first two rounds of the NCAAs bore this out. Twelve of the Sweet 16 teams are averaging at least 75 points a game in the tournament (and Oklahoma just missed at 74.5). Two years ago, only half of them averaged that many. Moral: If you want to advance, you're probably not going to do it by grinding out 63-50 wins. (There's only been one of those so far.) A much better strategy is to shoot first and draw offensive fouls later.
This, of course, is why the tournament has been so riveting. There have been some upsets, sure, and a bunch of close games, but the big thing is, teams are pushing the ball up the floor, looking for the fast break at every opportunity. (It sure beats walking the ball up the floor and looking nervously over at the bench for guidance.) Just as war is too important to be left to the politicians as the base commander in "Dr. Strangelove" said basketball is too important to be left to the coaches. At some point, you just have to let the kids play, let them unleash their athleticism and use their own judgment. And the NCAA tournament is as good a time as any.
Look at the No. 1 seeds. Maryland, Duke and Kansas all routinely score in the mid-80s, if not higher. Cincinnati, meanwhile, put up 191 points in the first two rounds … and it wasn't enough. Perennial powers Arizona, Kentucky and Connecticut also like to run and gun. This seems to have had a trickle down effect on the rest of college basketball. More and more programs are following their lead as well they should. If you want to compete with the big boys, you have to be able to play at the same frenzied pace.
The two-overtime tug-of-war between Cincy and UCLA on Sunday was as good a second-round game as you'll see especially the last 10 minutes and the first OT. No fewer than 66 3-point shots were launched. (Plenty of them missed, but it's the thought that counts.) Then there was Leonard Stokes, who stepped out of Steve Logan's long shadow and lit up the Bruins for 39 points in defeat. Just great theater.
And Stokes' wasn't even the best performance of the weekend. That belonged to either Tayshaun Prince or Caron Butler. Prince broke loose for 41 points Saturday in Kentucky's narrow win over Tulsa, and Butler had 34 and hardly ever missed (10-for-13 from the field, 12-for-12 from line) in Connecticut's even narrower victory Sunday over North Carolina State.
Forty-point games aren't exactly the norm in the NCAAs. Heck, a few years ago, Georgetown beat SMU in the second round, and neither team scored 40. Sometimes such as when Dayton's Roosevelt Chapman went for 41 in '84 or when Wyoming's Fennis Dembo did the same in '87 it's a freak occurrence. But you get the feeling somebody else might have a day like that before this tournament is through, what with the offenses playing so fast and loose.
Maybe UCLA's Jason Kapono will go bonkers against Missouri. Or maybe one of Oregon's Big Three Frederick Jones, perhaps? will have the game of his life against Texas. There are probably a half-dozen guys who could do it (and another, whose name has escaped you, who probably will do it.)
For sheer offensive star power, the Terps might be in the best regional of all, the East. Prince is there (the player, not the performer). Butler is there. Juan "29 Points Per Game" Dixon is there. And Jermaine Dearman of Cinderella Southern Illinois is there. Dearman ran off 10 straight points at the end of the first half Sunday and finished with a career-high 25 as the Salukis came back from the dead to eliminate Georgia. Walt Frazier U. is playing with house money now; maybe Dearman will be the one to go for 40.
This much we do know: With Maryland, Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Arizona, Kentucky and Connecticut still in the mix, the scoreboard operators will be kept plenty busy this week. And the TV chatter will be focused less on match-up zones and more on shooting eyes, hot hands and other parts of the scorer's anatomy.


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