Home What’s wrong with Pat Forde writing about college basketball, and how to fix it

What’s wrong with Pat Forde writing about college basketball, and how to fix it


basketball1Pat Forde still writes about college basketball, which is newsworthy in itself. He doesn’t do it all that well. OK, to put it bluntly, he sucks.

Maybe that’s unfair. “Unreadable” is a better modifier.

Forde wrote this week for Yahoo! Sports about how top-ranked Kentucky and second-ranked UVA are making college basketball unwatchable. You read his column, and you get the idea that what he means by unwatchable is, “I don’t watch it.”

The issue he has with the Wildcats and the Wahoos: they play defense. Quel horreur, right?

KenPom.com, not coincidentally, has UK and UVA ranked 1 and 2 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Given that there are two parts to the game of basketball, that you’re supposed to score when you have the ball, and you’re supposed to keep the other team from scoring when they have the ball, being elite-level good at one of the two should be a feather in your cap.

Not to Forde, who cites KenPom.com when writing about Kentucky’s rebounding prowess, so we know he has his subscription up to date there enough to be able to dive into the numbers.

Which means he isn’t all that good at processing numbers in making the case that the current best two teams in America can only do it on the one end. Because according to KenPom.com, Kentucky also happens to have the 16th-most efficient offense in the country, and Virginia has the sixth-most efficient offense in the country.

So, wait a second, Chris. You’re telling us that, you know, these guys are elite defensive units also in the top 20 nationally at putting the ball in the basket?

And these teams are “unwatchable”?

Yes. Because Forde doesn’t like the tempo that they play. There are 351 teams in D1, and Kentucky plays the 280th-fastest pace (63.3 possessions per game), and Virginia is 350th in tempo (58.3 possessions per game).

VMI plays the fastest tempo, at 79.4 possessions per game. Of the top 50 teams in possessions per game, six are ranked in the Top 25 overall this week (West Virginia is the highest-ranked of the ranked teams in possessions per game, at 70.7, 12th overall in the possessions-per-game metric).

Which is to say, playing a fast tempo is no predictor of success, and then you look at the other end of the spectrum, at the bottom 50 in tempo, you’ve got, well, five teams in the Top 25.

So playing a slow tempo doesn’t guarantee success, either. Hmmm.

Wonder what does factor into that success thing? Oh, yeah, being good at things like offense and defense. As with the ways you can skin a cat, there are as many ways to win basketball games, playing an up-tempo game that beats opposing defenses down the floor and scores on them before they can get set up, or uses a full-court press to get an opponent out of its offensive rhythm and turn the game into 40 minutes of havoc (with a nod to Shaka Smart at VCU).

Or you can slow tempo, play gritty half-court D, run an intricate offense with ball screens, motion, lots of backdoor and general cutting action, feeds to the post, and bludgeon your opponents to death on both ends.

Like the Kentuckys and Virginias do.

But you have to do more than look at the box score to get a sense of how Kentucky and UVA are both 19-0 right now. Forde mentions in his column that only fans of UVA basketball could appreciate the 45-26 win over Rutgers in November and the 57-28 win over Georgia Tech last week, as if the Cavs always go out and score in the 40s and 50s.

How about the 83 points the ‘Hoos scored in defeating Davidson (14-4 as of this writing, #32 in KenPom.com’s PR)? Or the 76 in a road win at Maryland (18-3, #29 in KenPom), or the 74 at VCU (17-3, #16 KenPom)?

Virginia also put up 76 on Harvard (11-5, #86 KenPom), while holding the Crimson to 27, including one first-half field goal.

Three times this season the Cavs have held opponents under 30 points, and yeah, Pat Forde, you’re damn right, Virginia fans have a deep appreciation for the value of the defensive stop, the forced shot-clock violation, the defensive rebound, the 28-second offensive possession that leads to an easy layup.

As of this writing, there are 38 reasons to appreciate the way Virginia and Kentucky play basketball, and no reasons for anybody with even a rudimentary understanding of how it’s played to be critical of them for doing it the way they’re doing it.

I’ve got a ready solution for Forde, though, that will make him happy as a clam. Let’s get VMI, Coppin State, Nebraska-Omaha and Louisiana-Lafayette (the top four teams in adjusted tempo, according to KenPom) to play in a Pat Forde-inspired BracketBusters Final Four.

Scoring like a pinball machine, not a shred of defense to be seen for the weekend, four teams with a combined record of 30-51 duking it out to see who can, as the kids say these days, keep it hundred.

That’s Pat Forde’s vision of “watchable” basketball.

And this guy is apparently the star writer at Yahoo! Sports. Wow. So you can imagine what the rest of the operation there at Yahoo! Sports looks like. Unreadable.

– Column by Chris Graham



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