College basketball philosophies figure to clash Sunday at KeyArena, where a doubleheader will showcase styles as dissimilar as Dixieland and Delta blues.
Gonzaga favors an upbeat pace that emphasizes such aggressive offensive tactics as fast breaks, driving to the basket and — in a nod to those of us who remember when more points were scored on a basketball court than on a football field — attempting shots before the shot-clock dwindles down to, like, a second.
Iowa, the Zags opponent in the opener, similarly embraces a kind of basketball that’s liberating for players and fun for spectators.
“We try to score in the 80s every game we can, and the 90s would be great,” Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery said Saturday, dispelling any notion his underdog team will grind out every possession. “We’re not going to come in with a mindset that, hey, we’ve got to keep this thing, we’ve got to work the ball.
“That’s just not who we are.”
The winner of the second game, between Louisville and Northern Iowa, might not score as many as 70 points. If you’re among those fans inclined to believe there’s a reason why basketball was designed to be no-contact sport, Louisville versus Northern Iowa will move slower than one of those Woody Allen movies that wasn’t conceived as a comedy.
Louisville guard Terry Rozier has no problem disappointing those unfamiliar with the rock-ribbed commitment to defense the Cardinals have taken under coach Rick Pitino.
“All they want to see is scoring, but defense wins games,” Rozier said. “A program like ours, that’s what you mainly talk about. We know it’s going to be pretty ugly, and probably going to be a low-scoring game. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to be the better defensive team if we want to come out with a victory.”
Rozier clearly has bought into the Pitino system, and it’s understandable why he shrugs at the prospect that the second game Sunday will be “pretty ugly.”
But college basketball’s scoring drought is on the fringe of an epidemic. Field goal percentage was down this season, possessions were down, and a team’s average score — 67 points — was the lowest in 60 years.
Oh, and in a related development, attendance was down, too.
Zags coach Mark Few senses the slow-down trend was enhanced by Butler, a mid-major that advanced to national championship games in 2010 and 2011.
“No offense to any of you out there,” Few said the other day, “but it seems to have evolved from the Midwest and just kind of worked its way West and East.”
Whatever the source, college basketball is in the grips of a body-snatching philosophy that typically converts an offensive player’s half-court consciousness from Free Flow into Stand And Maybe (Or Maybe Not) Deliver.
“I hope we will make some adjustments to the shot clock,” Few said Friday. “It’s silly that we’re operating with a 35-second shot clock. I’ve been fortunate enough to do USA Basketball, and the 24-second clock was great. It was fun. It was what your guys want to play with, and you can certainly play great defense within that, and you certainly can run great offense with that.”
Pitino agrees a shot-clock modification to, say, 30 seconds is reasonable, and that rules can be written to allow offensive players a bit more freedom to create some space for themselves.
Still, he’s not convinced that low-scoring games are ruining college basketball.
“The worst basketball to watch — and I refuse to watch it — is high-school all star games and AAU basketball games where scouts aren’t there and the NBA All-Star Game. It’s terrible to watch, because no defense is being played. Everybody’s just trying to throw lob dunks.
“I think there’s a lot of excitement in what you’re seeing right now because defense is a big part of the game. The fans stand up and get into great defense.”
Sunday will offer KeyArena fans a sample of both worlds: A game with a winning score likely in the 80s, followed by a game with a winning score likely in the 60s.
And while the Zag-centric crowd might stand up in appreciation of tenacious defense, its loudest cheer will be for the lob dunk.