Cuban’s comments target NCAA basketball

By: Daniel Massa – Staff Writer

I can see it now. The basketball gods woke up Wednesday morning and decided it had been too long since some controversial comments divided fans around the country.

Looking down on us mere mortals from their palace in the clouds, the gods searched for the perfect vehicle to provide some spark to the basketball landscape. The NCAA season had ended two days earlier, and the NBA playoff picture had already mostly taken shape, with the ever-embarrassing Eastern Conference looking at the possibility of sending three under-.500 teams to the playoffs.

It didn’t take them very long to decide on Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. He’s used to it anyway, as he is arguably the most visible of NBA team owners, and has been since he bought the team in 2000.

Cuban has never been afraid to speak out about topics separate from the NBA, and his comments this time were focused on college basketball. First of all, in his mind, the NCAA is, or should be, more connected to the NBA than people may think. But more on that later.

Before the Mavericks game against the Phoenix Suns Wednesday night, Cuban didn’t pull any punches in getting his opinions across about the state of the college game.

“It’s horrible. It’s ridiculous,” Cuban told ESPN. “It’s worse than high school. You’ve got 20 to 25 seconds of passing on the perimeter and then somebody goes and tries to make a play and do something stupid, and scoring’s gone down.”

Not only is that a gross overgeneralization, it is not very accurate either. That is not to say there are not college basketball teams that like to slow the game down, but it is not the epidemic that Cuban is making it out to be. At the risk of sounding biased, we don’t have to go far in our search for entertaining college basketball. Both the Dayton men and women’s teams play a fantastic style that not only leads to success on the court, but also keeps fans entertained.

I can just as easily make an overgeneralization about the NBA and the amount of traveling players get away with, and use Cleveland Cavaliers center Kendrick Perkins’ nine-step shuffle that was ignored by the referees last week as an example. But similar to Cuban’s statement, that doesn’t mean traveling is never called in the pro game.

Cuban went on to suggest that the NCAA should worry about the fact that it is not preparing its players for the style of play in the NBA.

“If they want to keep kids in school and keep them from being pro players, they’re doing it the exact right way by having the 35-second shot clock and having the game look and officiated the way it is,” Cuban said. “The referees couldn’t manage a White Castle. Seriously, the college game is more physical than the NBA game, and the variation in how it’s called from game to game [is a problem].”

It is not the NCAA’s job to prepare its athletes for the professional game. If Cuban wants there to be a league that closely resembles the NBA and prepares younger players for the high-level pro game, then he should get his fellow owners together and have discussions with the NBA Players Association about a more fully developed minor league system.

I do agree with Cuban’s comments on the officiating in college basketball. Teams get away with way too much contact defensively on the perimeter, and still no one knows what is and isn’t a charge anymore on the offensive end, after multiple efforts from the NCAA to clarify its rulebook definition.

Something also needs to change in regard to referees’ reactions when there is contact under the basket, especially on a shot attempt. I couldn’t believe the amount of times this year that I saw a defensive player standing straight up with his arms straight in the air, only to have the offensive player drive into him, initiate contact and draw a foul on the defender. When it seems like the only way to defend without fouling is to get out of the way, there’s a big problem.

Ultimately, I’m glad Cuban made these comments, because I’m hopeful they will spark some more dialogue on how to improve the college game. I would, however, caution the NCAA to make sure it is improving for its own sake, not to appease the NBA. Let Cuban and the NBA worry about their own product.

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