The Sports Talk Shop – January 22nd

“SportsTalk Shop: HS Basketball Parody vs. Mediocrity”

Every few years, we have a high school basketball season like the one we have this year – lots of teams with similar records and “common opponents” knocking each other off with seemingly no single team, or even a couple squads, distancing themselves from the rest of the pack. Inevitably, we, as local sports fans, start to debate. Do we have a lot of really good teams this year, or are most teams merely average?

I actually feel we have more of the former. Here are some of the reasons why: field goal percentage, defensive points allowed, average, and turnovers.

First, field goal percentage. I don’t recall so many teams in recent memory that were shooting near 50-percent as a unit (no, I’m not going to bring up the woeful free-throw shooting percentage—that’s a whole other issue). The solid “FG” numbers indicate a good deal of high percentage shots being taken, which is a direct result of good execution. We’re seeing quite a bit of quality passes, good pick & rolls (yes, it’s back in style again), solid picks and some all-around good play. You could argue that this is a result of shoddy defense, but when you look at the points allowed, most teams’ numbers are down from a year ago, indicating an improvement in defensive performance. As for teams that are giving up more points than normal, like Easton, the Rovers have played in four overtime games, including two that went into double overtime. With the extra periods, it inflates their per game averages. However, if you look at quarter by quarter numbers, you’ll find nearly every team is playing better defense.

Secondly, the turnover numbers. Local teams are bucking the trend of actually cutting down on the number of turnovers per game. This despite a few teams trying to play a more up-tempo style of basketball. Most teams over the last few years averaged in the mid-teens, but I’ve seen quite a few teams averaging ten or 11 turnovers per game, which also supports the theory that teams are taking better control of the basketball, and, therefore, the quality is up from recent years.

One other point that supports more quality basketball in both the boys and the girls basketball teams, is that of depth. We’re seeing quite a few teams, shall we say “missing” players for various reasons (let’s just say I’ve heard a number of stories why players are not available to play this winter). Injuries or otherwise, teams are having to use their bench quite a bit more. In fact, both the Bangor girls and boys teams were without key players last weekend. Yet they got outstanding efforts from their reserves & younger players, and even members of their JV squad, that stepped up and battled some very strong teams last week. With more and more teams going deeper to their bench and getting quality efforts, it’s clear that there is an upswing right now in the level of play here in the Lehigh Valley. (Bangor, by the way, will be guests on “SportsTalk” this Thursday at 6pm to talk about their season).

Do I see any one Lehigh Valley team knocking off the powerhouse programs from the Philadelphia area, or even some of the top teams from the western part of the state? Probably not. But it has made for an entertaining season thus far. Do you think high school basketball is improving, or are we continuing down a trend of playing more of a ‘playground’ style that a number of long-time local sports fans have been lamenting the last several years? Send your comments to us at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com & we’ll discuss on our upcoming shows.