The Corner

Culture

Politics Imitates Basketball

The scheduling of the Trump–Clinton debates will remind college-basketball fans of the Princeton–Loyola Marymount matchup in 1991. At the time, Princeton’s ultra-methodical offense, coached by Pete Carril, was at the peak of its success; it basically consisted of passing the ball around the perimeter a few dozen times until the defense made a false move, at which point one of the Tigers would flick a lightning pass for an easy back-door layup. A typical final score would be something like 52–39.

Over on the West Coast, Paul Westhead’s Loyola Marymount team was getting excellent results with an entirely different but equally unconventional offense. As soon as the Lions got the ball, all the players except the point guard sprinted to designated spots on the court, looking for a pass; the goal was to put up a shot within seven seconds. A typical score of an LMU game would be 147–112.

After both teams had successful NCAA-tournament runs in the late 1980s (in those days, “successful” for an Ivy League team meant a gallant loss in the first round), someone came up with the idea of scheduling a game between these two schools. By the time it was played, at the end of the 1991 regular season, the matchup had lost some of its luster; Westhead had left LMU for the Denver Nuggets, several of its top players were gone, and the team had already been eliminated from post-season play. But Westhead’s offense was still in place, and the game seemed to offer an intriguing contrast in styles: Mozart vs. the Ramones, or Henry James vs. Charles Bukowski.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bust. What the matchmakers forgot was that Princeton was a lot more than its Simon Says offense; it also had one of the tightest defenses in the NCAA.Princeton easily slowed down LMU’s breakneck offense, which destroyed their timing at both ends. Princeton won 76–48, and it wasn’t even that close.

The lesson for Trump and Clinton is obvious: You can’t win if you let the other side determine the pace. If the debates are all about Trump saying, “Yes, the moon actually is made of green cheese, all the top scientists agree on this” and Hillary saying, “Hey, did everyone hear that?,” Trump will win. But if Hillary and the moderators can succeed in bogging down Trump in real facts and plausible policies, it will be easy to make him look and sound foolish. Not that his fans will care . . . 

Fred Schwarz — Fred Schwarz is a deputy managing editor of National Review.

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