Early April is, without a doubt, the most exciting stretch of the college basketball calendar. Brackets are destroyed by the millions, future NBA stars put together Top 10 Plays-worthy feats every weekend, and the excitement of March Madness peaks as the four remaining teams gear up for the home stretch.
The ever-growing influence of improving technology on the tournament and players, however, is often overlooked. Here are four examples of game-changing sports tech affecting the college hoops scene this year.
The NCAA adopted the Precision Time system in 2015. The system automatically stops the game clock on the referee's whistle. The system saves an estimated 90 seconds of game time that would have been lost between the official's whistle and the reaction of a manual timekeeper.
The Washington Post recently reported that the system also recognizes each referee's whistle. This feature allows it to create a detailed report of game stoppages complete with the referee that made each call. To restart the clock, officials press a button on a beltpack.
STATS, a sports data and technology company, is using artificial intelligence to provide more detailed analyses of player stats and performance. The company's use of Carnegie Mellon's OpenPose system allows it to statistically measure player performance directly from a broadcast feed. The system projects "skeletal poses" onto players through the video stream, which allows it to track their movement. It tracks player speed, can identify the play the team is conducting, and analyzes court spacing.
This function creates an overall spatial report on the effectiveness of the player's on-court movement. It even projects "ghost defenders" onto the broadcast, allowing players and coaches to re-imagine plays or correct decisions, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
“Using this technology, we can actually digitize the video, query it, do analysis and compare players over a long period of time,” Patrick Lucey, vice president of AI at STATS, told the Star. “People talk about Jordan and LeBron (James) — now that’s possible.”
Alabama-based company Noah Basketball's shooting system measures shots from any position on the court, and provides immediate auditory feedback to the shooter. This feedback, which comments on shot arc, length and lateral position, then allows the player to correct their shot and develop a consistent shooting form.
The Associated Press recently reported that 45 NBA and college customers have purchased the newest version of its analytic system. It also stores and archives each player's data, allowing users to track their progress.
One of the most memorable moments of this year's college season was Duke star Zion Williamson's shoe blowout against UNC. 33 seconds into the game, Williamson's left custom Nike PG 2.5 sneaker ripped apart when he pivoted at the top of the arc. The incident left Williamson injured, created a storm of questions surrounding Nike's quality and production values, and created speculation regarding the value of constantly changing shoe models.
Athletic apparel companies like Nike and Adidas have long touted their products, especially their shoes, as items on the cutting edge of the sports-tech relationship. Much of their best-known technology focuses on making shoes as light as possible. Nike's Flyknit material, for example, is "made up of strong yet lightweight strands of yarn that have been woven into a one-piece upper, securing an athlete’s foot to the shoe platform." The lightweight material is often marketed as a lightweight but strong mesh.
Nike appears committed to its image as a technology-focused brand. A 2012 video featuring Lebron James details the extensive technology and thought process behind creating a shoe that is both protective and functional.
The University of Virginia and Auburn will take the court Saturday, April 6 to kick off the Final Four matchups at 6:09 p.m. before Texas Tech and Michigan State face off at 8:45. The winners of each game will play for the championship title Monday.