Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Uconn-Butler championship game fitting end to a down college basketball season
As I watched UConn win yet another national championship in a game that put me to sleep I wasn't surprised. The game featured so many bricks you could build a house but that was to be expected as the women's game is pretty boring. Wait, wait this was the mens game?!! Yes it was in a game that set men's college basketball back to the pre-shot clock era. This game was a fitting end to an otherwise terrible display of basketball this year in mens basketball. Sure the NCAA tournament was great because of all the upsets but parity is only good for so long. Sports in general thrives on marquee teams and when you have cinderalla making a run every year that isn't a good thing. In this following post I'll explain why this was the worst year in the NCAA in quite some time. The first problem was the game has changed in the past 30 years especially in the last 10.
The talent pool has shrunk over the years due to players leaving early. In the 1970's and before that freshman weren't allowed to play. While you couldn't get a freshman year out of anyone most coaches often received two to three great years. Take the UCLA Bruins dynasty for an example as John Wooden won five titles with Lew Alcindor(Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton. Now he didn't get either player for their freshman year but in today's game he would only get the freshman year of both. If players were allowed to leave straight out of high school back then Alcindor in today's game would be the #1 pick straight out of high school. The days of seeing elite players stay more than three years are over. Even as of 20 years ago elite players would stay like Tim Duncan stayed all four years at Wake Forest. Over 20 years ago you saw dynasties which is great for the game because either you love them or hate them. When Duke with Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley were going for a repeat title everyone had an opinion. Now you don't see that even the team they defeated in 1991 the UNLV runnin rebels doesn't happen today. UNLV had won the title and superstars Larry Johnson and Stacy Augmon came back. UNLV went undefeated in the regular season and were upset to the Duke Blue Devils. Duke in 1992 defeated Michigan's fab five which started five freshman. Now that fab five team like the 2010 Kentucky team all leaves but they chose to come back. That is the problem by the time you learn a kid's name he is gone to the next level.
Now college basketball is being forced to be carried by freshman. Sometimes you get a great class of kids and other times like this year you get nothing. Before the one and done rule was in place you saw Michigan State win the title in 2000 led by Mateen Cleaves who was the best player in college. In 2002 Maryland won the title with such "stars" like Chris Wilcox, Juan Dixon and Steve Blake. The game safe to say was pretty weak back then which saw #1 picks overall be Kenyon Martin and then non college players such as Kwayme Brown and Yao Ming. In 2003 the champion was the Syracuse Orangemen who were led by super freshman Carmello Anthony. Anthony could have gone to the NBA straight out of high school if he wanted too. That final four also featured cinderalla Marquette who was led by Dwyane Wade. Then in 2007 the NBA implemented a rule where high schoolers had to play at least one year in college basketball. That year was a good year for the NCAA as such players who normally would have left straight of highschool had to play college. The players were Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Kevin Durant and Spencer Hawes who were all lotto picks after their one season in college. Since then you have seen guys like Kevin Love, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Michael Beasley, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins make a huge splash as a one and done player. The problem with that is in a year like this year where there isn't that one and done type talent it kills the product.
In today's college basketball the teams who typically win are the teams without great NBA players. The last team to win a national championship with an elite player was the 2003 Syracuse Orangemen with Carmello Anthony. Ever since then look at the rosters of the winning team they feature good role players in the NBA. The last team to repeat the Florida Gators returned their whole team and only Joakim Noah and Al Horford are making an impact. While you look at a team like the Kentucky Wildcats who next year will have the #1 ranked recruiting class for the third straight season. Now if this was just 20 years ago Kentucky would probably go undefeated next year with a roster of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, three other first round picks and four McDonalds All-Americans coming in. Instead Kentucky for the third straight year will most likely fall short as they will once again have to rebuild that is the price you pay for being such a great recruiter.
Just look how the NBA landscape is different compared to college basketball. In the 1980's your stars were Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan. Those four players all played for a national championship and in the case of Thomas, Jordan and Magic they won the national championship. Bird played all four years in college, while Jordan played three, Magic and Thomas played just two which was unheard of back then. You compare that to today which saw just one guy in the All-Star game starting lineup win a national championship just shows how different the game is. Of the 10 starters only three played in a final four(Anthony, Wade and Rose) and two of those players played just one year in college. While in that same starting 10 you saw five guys never lace it up in the college game. Of the 10 all-star game starters only Tim Duncan who is from a different era than the other guys played all four years. The game's biggest stars Lebron James and Kobe Bryant never played college basketball. Over 20 years ago Bryant is playing for Duke and becoming the next Grant Hill while James as a senior is playing with freshman Greg Oden making one of the greatest college teams of all-time. Instead we get a year with no stars and no future all-stars in this title game. We saw Butler break WSU's record set in 1941 for worst shooting performance ever. The numbers were just sick 19-55(34.5%) from the field and 1-11(9.1%) from three point range. Those numbers are from the national championship UConn Huskies. Butler shot 12-64(18.8%) and 9-33(27.3%) from three point range and 8-14(57.1%) from the foul line. Butler was so bad they shot just 3-31(9.6%) from two point range. This is what college basketball has come to unfortunately.
All in all, there is nothing college basketball can do to stop this. You can't prevent or blame kids for wanting to make money. The NBA just pays their players too much money for a kid to want to stay in school. If you are a first round pick guaranteed you'd be a fool to stay in school. The fall back to that is you have a title game with an 8th seed who lost three starters from last year and a team who finished 9th in their own conference. This was the first final four with no #1 or #2 seeds and the games were poorly played. Nobody could hit a shot in all three final four games. Expect the NCAA tournament to continue to be wide open which is good for the smaller schools and non traditional powers. The problem is the basketball just won't be the same. You need a face and when your face is Jimmer Fredette who screams NBA bust then you know the game is in trouble. Hopefully next year some super freshman can come in and save the game. That is the problem college basketball is banking on some 18-19 year old kid to save the sport. If the kid is a junior or a senior odds are he won't be an elite NBA player or he would have left by now. This title game was epicly terrible and I don't expect another game quite like this. I also don't expect the game to improve ever again in my lifetime.