By Brad Thompson–
Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about how watered-down college basketball is and while I can’t completely disagree, it sure has made tournament exciting. Never before has a No. 10 seed, No. 11 seed and a No. 12 seed advanced in the same bracket to the Sweet 16 until this year in the Southwest bracket.
Upsets abound this March and Thursday night was no exception. A No. 1 seed, a No. 2 seed, a No. 3 seed and a No. 4 seed all went down on the first day of Sweet 16 action. Only one of those teams was defeated by a higher seeded team (No. 3 seed BYU lost to No. 2 seed Florida). So out of four games the underdogs won three of them.
What’s wrong with that? Parity and a water-down tournament field have only increased the drama of March. I’d rather see teams like Butler and VCU make deep runs than watch powerhouse programs like Duke, UCLA and Michigan State repeatedly show their dominance by crushing everyone.
I’ve heard the arguments against this year’s tournament – it’s not great basketball, with too many young superstars. Players are making crucial mistakes (think Texas vs. Arizona or Pittsburgh vs. Butler) instead of making plays to win games for their respective teams. So many superstars are one and done players to the NBA, which leaves college hoops without senior-laden teams and stars who haven’t developed over the years.
What’s college basketball supposed to do about the one and done NBA players? Do I like the rule? No, but I’d rather watch these players in a college uniform for one year instead of not at all. I don’t know how you can stop pro-ready players from making millions in the NBA. So why not accept his as the way things are and the way things will be for years to come.
Thursday night’s games were full of pro prospects that have been in college for more than one year. Arizona’s sophomore Derrick Williams had a monster game (32 points, 13 rebounds) against Duke and Kemba Walker, a junior, was dominant (36 points) in Connecticut’s win over SDSU. Senior Jimmer Fredette poured in 32 points for BYU, albeit in a loss to Florida in overtime. Only one superstar from Thursday night’s action is a potential one and done player, Kyrie Irving, who had 28 points off the bench for Duke.
Friday night’s Sweet 16 games will be loaded with pro talent, much of which could be one and done guys. Kentucky, North Carolina and Ohio State each have at least one player that might hightail it to the NBA after his freshman year.
This is just the reality of college basketball. If you’re sitting around waiting for teams to emerge with their top talent as juniors and seniors you may be waiting forever. The fact is more top talent is one and done, but that doesn’t mean the tournament or college basketball is any less enjoyable. If you are like me, it actually means the tournament is better.
Parity can mean a lot of things for college basketball, but it offers smaller programs a chance to advance in the tournament and possibly compete for a title. It definitely makes picking a winning bracket harder, but it doesn’t mean that we’ve seen the last of title clashes involving titans like North Carolina vs. Michigan State. In fact, this year there’s still a chance Kansas could play Kentucky, UNC or UConn in the championship game.
No matter how you see the landscape in college basketball, the tournament has been filled with the usual – drama, buzzer-beaters and upsets. As much as people complain about how watered-down the game is by talented underclassman leaving early, at least this sport’s champion is still decided on the court by players and coaches.
Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.
Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad’s blogs here.