CRAWFORD | Will Houston's cavernous dome keep posing problems fo - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Will Houston's cavernous dome keep posing problems for Final Four shooters?

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Depth perception has been a problem in past NCAA events in Houston's NRG Stadium, site of this year's Final Four. (AP photo) Depth perception has been a problem in past NCAA events in Houston's NRG Stadium, site of this year's Final Four. (AP photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — We grow up shooting basketball in our driveways, maybe, or in my case, a bare spot in the grass beside the house in summer and an old barn in the winter. Some find the game on the concrete of playgrounds.

If you’re any good, you wind up playing on teams in gymnasiums, maybe big ones, if you go to a good-sized high school. The best of that lot moves onto college, where they play in larger arenas still, and should they reach the NBA, they get to the glitziest basketball palaces.

At no point, however, do you play basketball smack in the middle of a football stadium — unless you reach the NCAA’s Final Four.

Even regular games in domes aren’t like these NCAA Tournament events, with the court on a 5-foot platform. When Louisville played in the 2013 NCAA Championship game in the Georgia Dome, I got to my media seat in an upper-level press box and could not hear the ball bounce or the whistle blow. I didn’t need a program to identify the players, but I did need binoculars. That’s when I decided it was time to go watch the games on TV.

But my vision problems in Atlanta are nothing compared to what players have experienced in NRG Stadium in Houston, the site of this weekend’s Final Four.

This is the same stadium that will play host to the next Super Bowl. And for that, it will be great.

But I’ve been to a Final Four in NRG Stadium, and it wasn’t great.

Depth perception is an issue in any dome. But in some, like Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the effect doesn’t seem to be so pronounced, even in its Final Four configuration, which produces crowds in excess of 70,000.

But in the 2011 NCAA championship game in Houston, we saw the lowest shooting percentage ever in an NCAA title game by Butler (18.8 percent, 12-64 from the field, which also was the worst shooting in any NCAA Tournament game since 1946), and we saw the lowest-scoring title game since 1949.

When Kentucky lost to UConn that year, the Wildcats shot 33.9 percent from the field and sharp-shooting guard Brandon Knight went 6-for-23. Kentucky coach John Calipari left the whole experience talking about getting more regular-season games in domes.

Connecticut won the national championship, and went 2 for 23 from beyond the arc in two games.

In short, it wasn’t the kind of basketball we watched all season from those four teams. Nor has it largely been for any of the teams to visit the venue for the NCAA Tournament (though shooting in in the smaller regional configuration was a bit better than in the Final Four.)

“Did anybody in the Final Four have a good shooting night?” analyst Tom Penders asked The New York Times. “Depth perception is a real problem.”

In Houston, the cavernous feel of the place affects the games. Don’t ask me, ask the Vegas oddsmakers, who adjusted their over-under line down by four points for each of the two national semifinals, and favored North Carolina a little more because it hasn’t relied as much on the three-pointer this season and has plenty of talent and depth inside.

The phenomenon was noticeable enough that none other than Ken Pomeroy wrote a blog entry about the “NRG Effect” last year and noted that the three-point shooting by NCAA teams in games there was about two standard deviations off the expectation.

“Whether it’s the Final Four where the entire stadium is exposed, or the configuration for this year’s regionals where a giant black curtain is hanging well behind the basket, it appears that it’s only slightly easier to make 3-point shots at NRG Stadium than it is on an aircraft carrier,” Pomeroy writes.

Or, maybe it’s all in our heads. Maybe the higher level of defense played by NCAA Tournament teams is enough to throw normally good-shooting teams off.

Maybe Buddy Hield of Oklahoma will drain three after three and show the past performances of bricklayers to be just a random blip.

On Thursday, Oklahoma assistant athletic director Mike Houck posted a 30-second video of Hield draining a half-dozen three-pointers in a row without even hitting the rim. Sooners' coach Lon Kruger said his team looked comfortable with the surroundings after Thursday's practice.

"Shooting is important, especially for our club. I was pleased yesterday," Kruger said. "So much conversation about it, the players get asked about the stadium effect. I was pleased yesterday that we did shoot it well. The first couple were pretty bad. I was thinking, 'Don't let this get in their head.' After that, we shot it pretty normally. I think the players came away from there comfortable that all those questions are just that, really didn't play into the way they shot it."

Villanova's Jay Wright said the teams are given enough practice time to acclimate to the atmosphere.

The NCAA awarded the 2011 and 2016 NCAA championship games at the same time, despite many media complaints about Houston that went far beyond what most would call the ugliest set of Final Four games in their lifetimes.

I don’t know what adjustments the NCAA has made. It did send its own rims and backboards to venues this season, and I noted at the KFC Yum Center that the rims were more forgiving than usual. That would help.

Something needs to. If this is another Final Four where good shooters can’t find the rim because the NCAA insists on a football-sized gate attendance for the men’s basketball championships, the Final Four might not find its way back to Houston for a while.

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