There is a tendency in basketball to think big. It used to be true that the bigger the player was, the greater the advantage. Think of Shaquille O’Neal. He was one of, if not the, most dominant player in National Basketball Association history. Quite frankly, the reason why he was so dominant was because he was bigger and stronger than everyone else. Makes sense, right?
While it might be true that height is an asset in a game with a ten-foot net, there are ways to challenge this. With the increasing move from the paint to the arc, teams are looking for other opportunities to make buckets.
The value of height in basketball was challenged following the recent NBA trade deadline, after which the Houston Rockets became the smallest team in the league, with no players over six foot seven. This is very different from the rest of the league. Only the tallest player on the Rockets meets the league-wide average height of six foot seven.
Remarkably, a total of 11 per cent of the league is over seven feet tall, so you’d think the six foot seven center on the Rockets would have a tough time guarding opponents.What the Houston Rockets are doing is referred to as small ball, and to any Ontario University Athletics fan, this is very familiar.
OUA teams have been playing small ball for quite some time. Out of the teams who choose to disclose the height of their players, only 25 players in all of the OUA are over six foot seven. The average height between all 25 players over six foot seven comes in at six foot eight and a half. In addition, the OUA has only two players who are seven feet or taller. To give context, there is a minimum of 15 players per team and a total of 20 teams in the league, with the largest rosters reaching just under 20 players.
Clearly, the OUA is a much smaller league than the NBA, which recruits top-notch talent from around the world. However, the OUA is still significantly smaller when compared to other collegiate level athletics associations. The National Collegiate Athletics Association, for example, regularly hosts talent above seven feet on many of their division one programs,.
The OUA’s shorter roster leads to faster-paced games that are focused on shooting or quick cuts to the hole rather than focused on slow, grinding out offence with bigs backing down the defence. The big man is more or less non-existent for the OUA. In fact, there are even teams without any players over six foot five, like the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks. Having shorter players means that scoring can't come from big men with their backs to the basket. Instead, these teams must rely on skilled shooting.
The smaller teams and faster pace does make for exciting basketball, and certainly higher scoring games due to more three-point shots, but is this good for basketball? With the NBA getting perpetually smaller and the OUA looking the same, we have to ask ourselves, is this the future of basketball?
It very well could be, especially if the OUA embraces the strategies of teams like the Houston Rockets.
Positionally, the OUA plays to traditional roles of basketball. While there are exceptions, the majority of centers in the OUA play like centers of the past like Hakeem Olajuwon or Shaquille O’Neal, and leave the shooting to the guards. These are the fundamentals of basketball, but rules are meant to be broken and the innovative are rewarded.
Let’s look at our Marauders to see how they shoot from three. They do not prioritize three-pointers, with top scorers Jordan Henry and Kwasi Adu-Poku taking less than a third of their attempts from beyond the arc. But should they continue this way? Working on the three-pointer is a tough task, but well worth the time.
Pounding the paint is tried and true, but with the emergence of smaller teams and the continuing reign of the three-pointer in professional leagues, the OUA has room to adapt. They could benefit from taking advantage of the smaller skilled players they inevitably have and go all-in on small ball.
In order to be more successful, coaches could stand to benefit from taking notes from the pros and start experimenting more from the three-point line. This could help to crack the scoring code that many famous players like Steph Curry and James Harden use, and ultimately lead to long-term success.
Any team in sports history that was ahead of the curve has been considered a wild card, whether it was “Dr. J” dunking or the Golden State Warriors changing basketball by making their team all about the three ball. As they say in Vegas, you have to bet a lot to win a lot. In this case, the OUA should play small to win big.
Things have been going very well for the McMaster women’s basketball team and they have no plans to slow down. Currently in first place in the Ontario University Athletics West with a 12-2 record, and the worst arguably behind them, another trip to the University Sports national finals looks on the horizon. But this time, senior guard Hilary Hanaka and the Marauders aim to leave with a medal.
“Once you get that taste on court playing against the best teams in Canada, it only makes you hungrier for more,” said Hanaka. “You know that you're there and you can compete, but I think just being on that playing field for the first time there was a lot of nerves going into it. I think we didn't play quite to our full potential.”
Although the Marauders faced teams like the McGill University Martlets, who they have seen before in exhibition play, the games against teams like the University of Calgary Dinos, who play a much grittier style than Hanaka and the Marauders were used to, caught them off guard. But Hanaka believes that having been there before, in addition to having such a tough OUA season this year and playing against highly skilled Ontario teams, will help the Mac women get to that top level to compete at Nationals.
“Knowing that we got there is a huge step in our team success,” Hanaka said. “Of course, our ultimate goal was getting to Nationals and getting a medal would have been a bonus, but I think for a young team with lots of changes, that was a huge stepping stone for us. So right now we are just making sure we have an opportunity to get back there to prove that we deserve to be there and that we can do better than we did last year.”
So far ensuring that OUA playoff spot has been going well for the Marauders. Even with the loss of key veterans like Lexie Spadafora, Jelena Mamic and Adrienne Peters, Mac does not appear to have missed a beat. One of the reasons is the addition of Christina Buttenham, a Hamilton native and transfer from the University of Iowa, where she played from 2014 to 2017.
“It's always tough to lose senior players. With their experience on and off the court, it’s obviously a huge loss for us,” said Hanaka. “But I think gaining players like Christina, who's been in high-level basketball for years, is something that is huge. She stepped right in and already fills a leadership role on the team.”
Not only does Buttenham have National Collegiate Athletic Association experience, but she also played for the Canadian Junior National team in 2014, and was named an Academic All-Big Ten selection as a junior and as a sophomore while at Iowa.
Buttenham has already been such a great addition for the team helping defensively, averaging 5.4 rebounds a game and having the fourth highest points per game average on the team, with 9.9. The help has been able to give Hanaka the opportunity to have big games like she did this past weekend against the University of Guelph Gryphons.
With a game-high of 28 points, shooting an astounding 62.5 per cent from the field and 72.7 per cent from the three-point line, Hanaka led the team to defeat the Gryphons 109-80 on the road.
🏀 FINAL: Hilary Hanaka drops 28 on the road, as @MacWbball blows past the Gryphons 109-80 to improve to 11-2 on the season.@mcmasteru returns home to Burridge Gym tomorrow! #GoMacGo pic.twitter.com/pEXrId3YnT
— McMaster Marauders (@McMasterSports) January 12, 2019
“Getting back into things after the holiday break is never easy, so just going back into these last two games I've been on myself to make sure I've been coming out with that fire,” said Hanaka. “Of course, once you start hitting those first couples of shots and my teammates are cheering for me on the bench and making great passes, it just makes it so much fun to play with them and to do well.”
Guelph was one of two wins this past weekend, the second came against the Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks, who they defeated 59-43 to earn their sixth straight win. Having already played their most personal game this season against the reigning OUA champs the Carleton University Ravens, defeating them 64-52 in November, the worst is over and focusing on staying on top is the Marauders’ top priority.
“Just knowing that our end goal is to get that national championship helps us take every game as it comes and to not overthink them,” said Hanaka. “Another focus has been trying to remembering to take no game for granted, because there has been a lot of upsets in the OUA this year and we don't want one of those to be us.”
With the Marauders’ next two games coming against the Lakehead University Thunderwolves this weekend, they will be making sure they go into every practice seriously so that they are focused come game time, regardless of who is wearing the opposite jersey. This is the mindset the Marauders plan to have until the last buzzer goes off for the season.