Yahoo's Pat Forde wrote about a topic that's sure to touch the nerves of the Wahoo faithful, criticizing college basketball as a whole, and UVA and Kentucky more specifically, for being increasingly unexciting - here's his full piece.
In the article, he argues that the sport is on a decline and that it "just isn't fun to watch." He pegs the nation's two undefeated teams as leading the race to the bottom in this boring sport we all obsess over. I'll respond because he isn't the first to demonstrate this pacist bias, and he sadly won't be the last.
Part of the battle in disputing Forde's argument is that "excitement" is a very tricky thing to measure. It's unquantifiable and completely subjective - we Wahoo fans, for example, probably go ballistic about shot-clock violations more than the average fan. If Pat Forde thinks UVA is boring, then there's not going to be a way to "prove" him wrong. All we can do is determine that Forde is not excited by excellent basketball - that's a shame.
Luckily, Forde begins by setting some broad standards for what exciting basketball is:
Here is the biggest problem as it relates to the game as a whole: it is ugly and slow and unskilled.
Here is an ancillary problem specific to this season: the two teams currently atop the rankings aren't helping.
I think we could agree that "ugly" basketball is bad and "unskilled" basketball is bad. "Slow" basketball may be marginally less exciting that "fast" basketball...but I would argue that category is much less important than the first two.
And yes, Virginia plays slow. The team averages 58.3 possessions per game (only American University is slower), and it's only partly because of its suffocating defense. Virginia's offensive possessions average 20.6 seconds and its defensive ones 20.2 seconds, good for 340th and 347th in the nation, respectively.
But, most importantly, the team plays great basketball. People like watching skilled athletes shoot balls into a basket. They like dunks. They like three-pointers. As a whole, people like efficient play, and UVA is 6th in the nation in offensive efficiency. The fact that the team's average offensive possession is 2.3 seconds longer than the national average is probably not going to overcome that.
Additionally, Forde's issues with the sport completely ignore the fact that Virginia's defense is a marvel to watch - and defense is, actually, half of the sport of basketball. See this quote:
Then there is the other unbeaten, Virginia (6). There are 351 teams playing Division-I basketball. All but one of them (American U.) plays at a faster tempo than the Cadavers - uh, Cavaliers. Just like his dad, Tony Bennett always has been a slow-down guy - yet this is his slowest team in nine seasons as a college head coach.
Watching Virginia beat Rutgers 45-26 or Georgia Tech 57-28 certainly is enjoyable for fans of the team. It isn't for anyone else.
I'm not going to argue that the 45-26 win was a thriller - it wasn't. But allowing under 30 points in a game (including Virginia's win over Harvard, when the Crimson had just 1 first-half FG) is a spectacle in itself. The Packline defense at work is the opposite of ugly and unskilled. It is "slow"...but that's probably the fault of UVA's opponents.
Forde's biggest misunderstanding seems to be his conflating slow pace and poor offensive efficiency.
Speaking of what I wrote about in Minutes: Georgetown on pace for about 20 tonight. Total. Nebraska on pace for 32. http://t.co/FmDTpzpxHb— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) January 28, 2015
Virginia plays at a slow tempo, but has one of the nation's best offenses - the Hoos are VERY good at scoring the basketball and do so with good shooting. which Forde claimed in his article is more important than just putting in offensive rebounds, which Kentucky excels in. (Apparently Kentucky's dominance on the boards is something to look down upon). Georgetown played a terrible game last night, turning the ball over 12 times in the first-half while I groaned in my nosebleed seat in the Verizon Center. This was bad basketball. Comparing the two because UVA plays at a slow pace doesn't make sense.
If Virginia did theoretically decide to play faster, the team would score more points per game. However, it would likely score fewer points per possession in the process. Would Forde really prefer an offense that is faster but less efficient?
When I pressed Forde to clarify, he picked out the team's worst offensive game of the season (save that Rutgers matchup back in November).
@BSchwartzUVA The offense I watched at Blacksburg didn't do a lot for me, no.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) January 28, 2015
That sample size of one is not representative of the team's season, so we can disregard.
In the end, it's not important whether random sportswriters think Virginia is exciting or not. If you are reading this blog, there's an excellent chance that you're entertained by UVA's style and are probably enjoying the season. But if someone isn't entertained by teams like Virginia and Kentucky, which perform among the sports elite on both sides of the floor, then he just isn't a fan of great basketball.