Another year of tournament basketball is in the books. Deep sigh. Now what do I do?

Every student-athlete knows that each semester ends with a progress report. Of course, I bet a few of them wish their performance on that 94-foot-long rectangle were the only measuring stick!

Today, then, is their lucky day. What follows is my report card from a 20-day smorgasbord of basketball. (Drum roll.) And no worries: In honor of the standards-based times in which we live, there are no letter grades. (Rim shot.)

Areas of strength

Atmosphere: Three of the four venues used for tournament play are solid. There’s no better active location than Augusta Civic Center for closeness to the action, access to amenities, acoustics and overall experience. Cross Insurance Center in Bangor is beautiful. Whatever it has lost in Bangor Auditorium’s alleged “rustic charm,” it has gained in cleanliness, construction and a roof that repels water. And Portland Expo, largely because of development and improvement by the Maine Red Claws, is a great place to watch a game. I only wish it could be used beyond the quarterfinal round. No matter how much makeup is applied to newly christened Cross Insurance Arena up the street, it’s built for hockey games and metal concerts and has zero hoops ambiance.

Drama: We didn’t get the volume of close games all of us love. The Class A East and Class C West boys’ tournaments, both touted through December and January for their anticipated craziness, were overall disappointments. The number of major upsets went through the roof compared to recent years, though. There were at least two buzzer-beaters, one coming in the Cape Elizabeth-Medomak Valley Class B boys’ final. Fourth-quarter comebacks have been a common wrinkle in recent tournaments, perhaps a good consequence of some bad elements such as poor shooting and questionable clock management. All in all, I think the grownups still get that much-maligned eight dollars’ worth most of the time.

Big-time players: The overall quality of high school basketball goes through cycles. Anybody taking an honest look at things should conclude that we’re in a valley right now. At the top of the hill, however, Maine is still producing great individual talent. If you watched the games and don’t appreciate the passion and panache that the likes of Nick Gilpin, Nick Mayo, Riley Robinson, Ian Mileikis, Isaiah Harris, Andrew Fleming, Tyus Ripley, Nia Irving, Mary Butler, Mackenzie Worcester, Ashley Storey, Christine Miller, Taylor Esty and countless others bring to the game, I can’t help you.

Needs improvement

Shooting: It’s horrible. I don’t even know where to start. The mid-range jumper and free throw are lost arts. The offense in a typical tournament game almost all falls into one of four categories: Layups off set plays; transition due to poor protection of the basketball; out-of-control drives leading to a violent collision (and usually a player control foul) under the basket; or a 3-point attempt that goes in at a clip of 1-for-4 on a good day. I hear a lot about the supposed need for a shot clock, but I’m not seeing it. Most teams lack the discipline to use up 30 seconds in a half-court set, regardless of the quarter or game situation.

Flopping: It’s related to that woeful inaccuracy. Unless something has changed, it is supposed to be a technical foul. Guess how many technicals I witnessed for this infraction in the month of February? Zero. What I did see, usually, were kids crashing to the floor being rewarded with a foul on the offensive player. This isn’t on the officials, either, for the most part. Aside from the drama-club theatrics that are leading them astray, they are interpreting and administering the rule correctly. Coaches, and especially players, need to adjust. The well-schooled ones pull up, launch what should be a high-percentage jumper from the paint, and draw legitimate contact, potentially producing a 3-point play. But it’s impossible for me to express what a rarity this is in the current game.

Zone defense: I hate it. Loathe it. Despise it. Am I making myself clear? And do you see how these three issues are tied up in the same, slimy ball of wax? When devising a defensive game plan, a coach knows that at least three of the five kids on the other team can’t consistently make a shot from between 4 and 20 feet if their lives depend on it. And human evolution being what it is and athletes being so much more, well, athletic than they were two generations ago, one-on-one battles almost always favor the offensive player. Packing it in makes sense. I don’t blame them a bit. But the end result is that 74-72 games have become 38-31 games. It isn’t because fewer shots are being taken. Twice as many are being missed and taken from silly, ill-advised angles, that’s all.

Which side of this report outweighs the other?

Well, I’m about 15 hours into the offseason as of this writing, and I’m already depressed that I won’t be watching a game tomorrow, so you tell me.

I’m often asked which sport is my favorite to cover. The convenient and honest answer is “whichever one’s in season.” But the real truth is that there’s no season like February.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.


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