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For love of a game

Basketball is supposed to be fun.

NCAA Basketball: Savannah State at Wisconsin
Jaquan Dotson undoubtedly readying to shoot a three.
Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

This isn’t about Xavier. Not even tangentially.

I love basketball. When I was born, my dad put a ball in my crib, when I could walk he put a rim in the hallway, when I had a brother, he took us both outside, when our family is together now, we watch ball. Basketball is fun, it’s slam poetry in motion. The best athletes in sports combining freakish athleticism with hand eye coordination only topped by baseball. It’s a great game and, even at 3 am when Hawaii is taking on Northern Arizona, it never fails to deliver.

It was during one of those late night watching sessions this week when official younger Banners brother number five mentioned that his second favorite squad, South Dakota State, had dropped a casual 139. That’s not a typo. No, the game didn’t go into nine overtimes, and no, the Dakotas don’t play special 50 minute halves. That was one game worth of regulation scoring. And it was thanks to the incredible machine that is Savannah State.

The Tigers are not a good basketball team. Well, they are likely better than you or I, but they aren’t anywhere near the top of division one. KenPom has them at 345th in the nation. Their best KenPom finish ever was in 2012, when they were 182nd. That doesn’t matter though, because they play some fantastically entertaining basketball. Not constrained with trying to compete with the guns, the Tigers come at you in the only way they have a chance, with a relentless barrage of speed and three pointers.

Against SDSU, Savannah got up 52 three point attempts. That’s not the most they’ve had this year though, no, that belongs to the 57 they lifted against Georgia. The fewest threes the Tigers have gotten up in a game this year is 36. That’s an incredible number of shots to get off from behind the arc, but for Savannah State it was a bad night at the office.

That’s possible because the Tigers get 84 possessions out of each game. The major with the most is UNC, way back at 76. 60.5% percent of the Tigers attempts come from behind the arc, and the average possession lasts only 12 seconds. So Savannah State is the team that you always wanted to play for, and always emulated at the YMCA, racing from one end to the other, jacking threes at will.

As you may have guessed, this doesn’t lead to a lot of winning. SVU shoots just 28% from deep and they essentially don’t defend at all. Georgia scored 110 against them, Kent St got them for 104, Vanderbilt poured in 120, Wisconsin even scored 101. Then there was that spectacular game in which the Jackrabbits somehow came up just short of 140. Like scoring? Watch Savannah State games.

Leading the way with 90 three point attempts in 12 games is Jaquan Dotson, a 32% shooter. Jaquan buried his first two against SDSU and didn’t let missing his next nine keeping him from lifting another 11 against Wisconsin. The Badgers held the Tigers to just 39 three point attempts, but Savannah countered by pounding it inside to earn not one but two free throw attempts. It doesn’t matter how you attack the Tigers, they just keep running and shooting. 17% of their attempts are blocked, but they fire at will anyway.

I don’t know how Xavier’s season will end this year, but it doesn’t look good. That doesn’t mean that the fun has escaped from basketball. Down in a beautiful city on the Georgia shore is a team that refuses to conform, but just keeps playing a maniacally frenetic version of a crazy person’s game of horse. Savannah State is playing ball for all of us out there who just love the game. Go nuts, guys, we’re all pulling for you.