What is it that makes college basketball so enjoyable for all of us?
There are plenty of reasons. Many people have a strong attachment to their alma mater. Others root for schools near where they grew up or that a relative attended. The raucous atmosphere of a sold-out arena with a big student section is also a draw, as is the allure of a scrappy mid-major upsetting a BCS power in the NCAA Tournament.
I would submit to you that there is another major reason why we enjoy college basketball so much: the role of the pass. Maybe it's a Philadelphia thing because of this city's long history of great guards, though I suspect it spreads beyond just our region. For as much as we celebrate scoring, we also take a certain joy in watching a team that passes the ball well and sets up good shots as a result.
Take Fran Dunphy for example, and the motion offense for which he is renowned. Dunphy's system is predicated on great passing. You've seen the play countless times: the ball is passed around the perimeter from Juan Fernandez to Ryan Brooks or Luis Guzman, as the guards look for a good shot. If there isn't one, they feed the ball to Lavoy Allen, who kicks it back out to Craig Williams for an open three.
Another play: Villanova went to the Final Four last season as much because of a pass as because of a made basket. Scottie Reynolds made his dash down the floor because of Reggie Redding's inbounds pass and Dante Cunningham's dish to Reynolds as the hinge in the picket fence.
There are so many examples. We might not be Supreme Court Justices, but to paraphrase Potter Stewart, we know them when we see them.
The value of a pass varies from sport to sport. It certainly matters in hockey. There is some passing in baseball - the 6-4-3 double play comes to mind - but the game is built on other skills. Football has plenty of passing, but unlike in basketball, a football pass is a play in and of itself. And you can't win football games without running the ball as much as you throw it.
If there is any sport in which passing is as intrinsic to the game as it is in basketball, it is soccer. Throughout the ages, the best teams in soccer history have been those who win games by passing the ball well.
Think about the great players: Cruyff, Pele, Maradona, Zidane. Sure, they scored goals, but they also were exceptional passerse. Indeed, no position in the sport is more celebrated than the playmaking midfielder who sets up goals with a good pass.
Yes, strikers get the big salaries and endorsements these days. But that's in part because the number of great passers is declining, and the game has become more defensive in general.
Still, when we see a great pass, we know it. We rise when a through ball splits two defenders and sets up a clinical finish. Fans around the world chant "Olé" when their team strings a series of passes together. Remember Argentina's goal at the 2006 World Cup that was set up by 26 consecutive completed passes?
Think back also to the goal that sealed Barcelona's victory in last season's Champions League final. Lionel Messi's header was set up by an exquisite cross from the right flank by Xavi Hernandez. We remember the goal just as much as the pass.
So why do I bring all this up today? Because today, I'm passing my soccer coverage into a new era. Philly.com has launched a dedicated soccer blog that I'll be writing called The Goalkeeper. I've cross-posted this piece on it and on Soft Pretzel Logic as an introduction.
Rest assured that I'll still be writing about college sports on Soft Pretzel Logic. But as you've probably noticed, the soccer and college basketball coverage have started to step on each other a bit.
From tomorrow morning through Saturday, I'll be covering the National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention on the new blog. That will include live coverage of the Major League Soccer and Women's Professional Soccer drafts, as well as a range of video features and interviews with some of the big names who will be in town.
This is going to be a historic year not only for the sport in Philadelphia but for American soccer as a whole. I know that many of you have been waiting for a long time for it to arrive, and now it finally has. We're in this journey together, and I'm looking forward to being a part of it.