In case you haven't heard, the ball is important in basketball.
I know, I know — breaking news, right?
Well, in the men's and women's NCAA Tournament, there's been plenty of chatter about these balls across multiple media outlets. For example, on the "Pat McAfee Show," ESPN journalist Rece Davis discussed the balls, including players in the men's tournament losing their handle on the ball.
The most recent example came from the women's tournament, and LSU Tigers coach Kim Mulkey had some choice words for her team and the balls. She isn't the only coach to speak about the ball being used during March Madness.
Does The NCAA Tournament Have a Bounciness Problem?
"If I was watching this game I'd turn it off."
Kim Mulkey didn't hold back in her 4th quarter interview ? pic.twitter.com/zrkCJ7maJW
— Just Women?s Sports (@justwsports) March 27, 2023
In the clip above, Mulkey says her team's poor performance to that point "might be something to these balls being too bouncy, but that's some bad ball." The Tigers would go on to beat the Miami Hurricanes 54-42 while shooting 30.2% from the field, but this has been a topic of conversation dating back to the beginning of each tournament.
In the first two rounds of the men's tournament, there were low three-point shooting percentages. Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nate Oats said his team also discussed the balls.
"We've kind of had the discussion as a staff," Oats said Thursday, via the Associated Press. "You can pump up any ball to be too hard. It would be great if the referees actually made sure it was within the guidelines of how hard it's supposed to be because, obviously, if you pump it up to where it's a rock, you're not going to shoot as well."
In addition to Oats, Alabama guard Jahvon Quinerly said, "I just feel like sometimes the balls are a little too bouncy. I don't think it's affected me personally this tournament, but you know, it's been something the guys talk about in the locker room."
Alabama, one of the favorites to win the tournament, lost in the Sweet 16 to San Diego State after making just three of 27 three-point attempts.
On the flip side, some players are seemingly unaffected by it, such as Iowa Hawkeyes women's guard Caitlin Clark. Throughout the tournament, Clark hasn't scored less than 22 in a game. Most recently, she dropped 41 on Louisville, shooting 57.1% from the arc.
So, what gives?
The Truth About the NCAA Tournament Balls
RELATED: Caitlin Clark is Hoping Her Revenge Tour Ends with Iowa Cutting Down the Net In Dallas
So, here's the deal — new balls are being used in the NCAA Tournaments.
Players in the tournaments are using Wilson Sports Goods' Evo NXT. These were also used in the championship games last year. The men's tournament featured the Kansas Jayhawks and North Carolina Tar Heels. The Jayhawks shot 35.3% from the field, and the Tar Heels were 21.7% from behind the arch. Both were lower than the teams' season averages, with the Tar Heels having the largest discrepancy of more than 14%.
Wilson EVO NXT https://t.co/NV6ZHNl9hl
— Sam Dekker (@dekker) March 19, 2023
For the women's championship against the UConn Huskies and South Carolina, both teams shot 25% or less.
The Evo NXT is supposed to be a "high caliber" ball. It's equipped with a micro-touched cover and is bright orange. The micro-touched cover is supposed to add an "extra layer of grip and moisture management, and a super soft core providing exceptional control and a softer feel," according to the NCAA.
As expected, the NCAA, which has been using Wilson balls in the NCAA Tournament since 2002, has defended the Evo NXT.
"Supplier relationships like Wilson are invaluable to the NCAA as they provide superior brand quality and innovative product for our basketball championships," Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball, said in June 2021.
Still, many have pointed out the poor quality of this ball. It's clearly been a topic of conversation at both the women's and men's tournaments (re: Mulkey's Tigers and Oats' Crimson Tide), but users on social media have also voiced their disapproval.
Former Wisconsin forward and NBA first-round pick Sam Dekker has called attention to it:
Wilson EVO NXT is completely different than the Wilson NCAA Tournament balls that were used from like 2011-2019 https://t.co/Tg9d4s5SMX
— Sam Dekker (@dekker) March 18, 2023
So have others:
The ball being used for the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season is the Wilson Evo Nxt.
Kentucky is 1-5 in games played with that ball.
As of now they have made 23 out of 100 threes using it. pic.twitter.com/5Q0f5vFe0s
— Steven Peake (@StevenPeakeKSR) March 17, 2023
Either way, the numbers are hard to ignore. ESPN's John Gasaway compared the Round of 64 three-point shooting to past years, and...it's not great:
Tournament teams are shooting 31 percent on 3s.
Future historians will puzzle over increasingly bad 3-point shooting in the tournament at a time when no such dip appeared across all games and FT shooting (both in all games and the tournament) has never been better. pic.twitter.com/pIg9F6oyUS
— John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) March 18, 2023
In the Elite Eight, many teams shot well below their season averages from behind the arc. Gonzaga made just two of its 20 three-point attempts against UConn, good for 10%. Creighton shoots 35% from three but shot 11.8% on them against San Diego State, whose 23.1% mark was also subpar. But is that because defenses are improving? Oats has said he believes so. Could those teams just have had off games? This is all speculation.
One way the NCAA could make this a non-issue is having a uniform ball the way the NBA does. If every team in the NCAA used the same ball throughout the regular season and postseason, teams would be used to that ball come tournament time. And even if the ball is poor quality, well, at least everyone is using it.
?(Assistant coach) Charlie Henry was in the NBA and he's like 'I have no idea why college doesn't have a uniform ball, like I couldn't imagine. You're in the NBA, everybody plays with the same ball every night,'" Oats said. "I do think it would be a lot better if the NCAA mandated a particular ball."
That day has yet to come, however.
Perhaps this scandal is a bit inflated, but should either NCAA title game come down to a last-second shot that rims out, look for fans to begin questioning the bounce.
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