Is Virginia’s style of basketball detrimental to the game?


College basketball’s appeal and the integrity of its product are what Myron Medcalf had in mind when he penned the recent column, “Is Virginia’s Style bad for the game?”

Medcalf’s concern is that the Cavaliers’ emphasis on Tony Bennett’s “grind it out” philosophy is detrimental to the product since Virginia tends to go deep into the shot clock and, God forbid, try to stop its opponents from scoring points.

Because of their emphasis on taking efficient shots and playing defense, the Cavaliers, as Medcalf cites, rank 350th in KenPom’s adjusted tempo, which is meant to measure the pace of play or speed of the game. For Medcalf, the statistic illustrates how Virginia’s style of play is not appealing to the fans and is detrimental to the game. Furthermore, Medcalf goes onto argue that if the Cavaliers were to make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament, fewer fans would watch the games which, again, would negatively impact the sport’s appeal.

It is unfortunate that Medcalf, writing for ESPN, fails to back up his bold and disheartening claims with any facts outside of that one statistic.

First, let’s look at the adjusted tempo rankings. Yes, Virginia is ranked 350th in adjusted tempo in the NCAA and to put that into perspective, No. 1 Kentucky is ranked 286th. But the game of basketball has changed over the last few years as more and more analytics are employed to make the game more efficient.

A byproduct of this efficiency booster is the slower pace of play. It stands to reason that the two best teams in the nation have some of the most efficient defenses and offenses in the nation. In contrast, the No. 1 team in adjusted tempo, Virginia Military Institute, has one of the least efficient offenses in the country. VMI is also ranked 289th overall by the KenPom statistics that Medcalf uses.

It is unfair to say that Virginia’s style is detrimental to the game based on the tempo statistic when that is only a side effect of the team’s quest to play smart basketball.

Let’s move on to Medcalf’s argument that based on their style of basketball, Virginia’s game is unappealing to the casual fan. If that’s the case, it reasonable to also say Kentucky’s games are unappealing, as the Wildcats are ranked 289th in the nation in the same statistic. However, contrary to Medcalf’s logic, Kentucky drew in 2.4 million viewers on a casual Tuesday night last week when they took on the LSU Tigers. The week before, the Wildcats attracted 3.2 million viewers as they faced against unranked Florida.

I won’t use Kentucky as the sole example of how slow, defensive-oriented basketball can be appealing to the mass of collegiate ‘hoop fans. Let’s look at Virginia’s own games.

When Louisville visited Virginia, about 2 million people tuned in to see Virginia’s “ugly” brand of basketball. A similar number of people tuned in to watch the pounding the Cavaliers gave to UNC the week before. And when both Duke and College Gameday came to to Charlottesville, a whopping 3.5 million viewers watched Virginia fall in heartbreaking fashion to the Blue Devils.

It is hard to believe, as Medcalf claims, that Virginia’s style of play provides little to no appeal the casual fan and that the 2 – 3.5 million people just left the TV on. Virginia’s brand of basketball — through which fundamentals are taught, players improve for four years and freshmen are not compared to legends even before they play a minute — cannot be bad for basketball.

related stories