Professional and collegiete hoops heat up in the winter cold

Santo Caruso

It’s been a long time since my last column, so I wanted to take a look at the major events in basketball.

As a Philadelphia native and fan, it is automatically bred into me to hate Kobe Bryant, but here are three reasons, bias aside, his 81 is less impressive than Wilt Chamberlain’s 100:

1) Bryant had a three point line, and not that you expect Chamberlain to attempt many shots similar to the 30 foot bombs Bryant was dropping, but the added line allowed Kobe to take the ball 10 yards from the basket and keep defenders slightly off of him, giving him the opportunity to score more points with less shots and with less defensive pressure (not that Toronto was exactly doing everything in their power to stop him). Chamberlain spent most of his game in the low post, getting abused and surrounded by defenders. The entry pass for Chamberlain was also significantly more difficult than the hand-offs Bryant received from his Laker teammates as he crossed the half-court line.

2) The Knicks, against whom Chamberlain scored his 100, were ranked fifth out of the nine teams in the NBA at the time in points allowed. Not great, not terrible either, though. Toronto? 29 out of 30. So much for the “tough modern defenses” Bryant was supposedly facing.

3) Chamberlain had just as many assists as Bryant. And he was a center. Chamberlain helped himself as well, pulling down 25 rebounds to Bryant’s six. A few more stats: Chamberlain’s teammates attempted 52 shots to Bryant’s Lakers’ 42. Yes, Chamberlain’s game was higher scoring (169-147 was the final score), but it was still a 48 minute game, in which Chamberlain played every second.

And to be fair….three reasons Kobe’s 81 was more impressive:

1) Chamberlain’s average points per shot attempt was 1.05 to Kobe’s 1.22. Admittedly, Chamberlain shot way more free throws, which at one-point-a-shot brings his average down markedly, and Bryant had seven three-pointers which inflate his, but the idea is that had he matched Chamberlain’s 95 shot attempts, he would have toppled the record by 16 points. That is frightening.

2) Bryant only got to the foul line 20 times. Chamberlain had almost that many trips, 14, by the end of the first half. The Knicks made a much more concerted effort (hacking, sending Chamberlain to the line 18 more times in the second half) to stop history, whereas the Raptors laid off Bryant, forcing him to score all his points with the clock running.

3) Chamberlain’s shooting, 57 percent from the field and 88 percent from the line, was uncharacteristically good. In fact, Chamberlain’s career free-throw percentage is a meager 51 percentage. Many who were there that night in Hershey claim that loose rims in the less-than-adequate arena allowed Chamberlain to make a great deal of shots that he would have more-often-than-not missed. This, plus the fact that the Knicks usual center, Phil Jordan, was sick, has caused no small amount of questions as to what could have happened that night. Bryant barely even touched the rim and all of his performance was shown live on television.

4) Chuck Norris would have scored 200 without ever touching the ball. Out of pure fear, the Raptors, Lakers and referees would have all scored for him and attributed the points to Norris.

In honor of one of my favorite sports writers’ 10th anniversary, here are 10 truths about the College Basketball season, a la Jason Whitlock.

10) Shelden Williams’ owning of the paint and Redick’s ability to shoot from nearly anywhere on the court covers for the fact that the Duke star couldn’t guard a statue. Ever notice how much worse Duke is defensively when Williams gets into foul trouble? It’s not just because he is an All American. It is because J.J. takes too many risks for steals, and the Landlord is not there to stop the driving player whom Redick has left behind.

9) If he hadn’t stolen a bunch of laptops, Marcus Williams of UConn would be one of the top contenders for national Player of the Year. There simply is no better weapon for a team with an athletic front court than a point guard who can make a spectacular pass, and Williams is the best I’ve seen in years. He is like a bigger Steve Nash.

8) Coach Phil Martelli’s comments about Villanova being similar to his 03-04 Hawks team, sans Jameer Nelson, aren’t just backhanded, they are false. Let me introduce the coach to No. 1 in your playbooks and hearts: Kyle Lowry. The tough guard from Philadelphia trained with Nelson and Sixers star Allen Iverson, and, though he lacks the senior leadership of Nelson, is turning into a player of very comparable ability.

7) The Big East is the best Conference in the nation, but it has nothing to do with expansion. It has everything to do with the old Big East teams, like UConn, Pitt, Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova playing above their expectations, while newer teams expected to add depth to an already deep conference have struggled.

6) Georgetown’s win taught us one major thing about Duke: In crunch time, Coach K trusts freshman Greg Paulus handling the ball over seniors Sean Dockery and J.J. Redick. But why?

5) Despite the rankings and national opinion, Pittsburgh is a more legit Final Four threat than Florida. The SEC is having an off year, the Gators only face one more ranked team: the No. 20 Volunteers, who just beat them, and really only have two more tough games against a fast rising Kentucky team. Pittsburgh, as always, defends, rebounds and has a great home court advantage. Their schedule also features three more highly ranked teams, with them facing No. 16 West Virginia in a home and home and No. 1 UConn on the road. Who do you think will be more tournament ready come March, the Panthers or Gators?

4) With Rudy Gay playing so inconsistently, the NBA draft will feature more upperclassmen in the lottery than in many years past. And Memphis’ Rodney Carney should lead the way.

3) No one wants to see the West Virginia Mountaineers in the tournament. That includes Duke, UConn and Villanova. Mike Gansey is scary, Kevin Pittsnoogle is ugly and that spread offense drops threes like daggers all game. Gulp.

2) Next season, Ohio State could win both the NCAA football and basketball championships. With Ted Ginn Jr. and Troy Smith returning to fuel that offense, and an already overachieving squad of Buckeyes getting the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation with top prospect 7-foot monster Greg Oden, an all Ohio NCAA season is not too far-fetched.

1) When only seven teams from the Big East make the tournament, critics will start to chirp about the conference not being as strong as advertised. When three of those teams make the Final Four, those critics will swallow their tongues.