After a few bold words from UCONN women’s basketball coach, Geno Auriemma, a hot debate circling the Final Four this weekend is whether or not men’s college basketball has lost its appeal. Geno says:
I think the game is a joke. It really is. I don’t coach it. I don’t play it, so I don’t understand all the ins and outs of it. But as a spectator, forget that I’m a coach, as a spectator, watching it, it’s a joke. There’s only like ten teams, you know, out of 25, that actually play the kind of game of basketball that you’d like to watch. Every coach will tell you that there’s 90 million reasons for it.
Here’s the thing… he’s not wrong.
In 2010/2011, John Calipari x LeBron James changed the landscape of basketball, both in college and in the NBA. LeBron infamously took his talents to South Beach to team up with a pair of superstars to create the first “Big 3” the NBA had ever seen. Concurrently, Calipari reeled in what can be labeled as the best recruiting class college basketball has ever seen (Four top 20, 5-star recruits, three of which in the top 5 of that class).
The Heat went on to win two NBA titles in 4 appearances. Big Blue is entering their third Final Four in four years: once champion, once runner-up, and very well could be on their way to another title.
Point being? The formula works.
Our generation has become obsessed with the idea of “Super Teams”. A new standard has been set and players are all about it. With the emergence of AAU basketball at the high school level, top recruits are already playing on the same teams, in the same tournaments, and through the same circuits all year round. Guys form bonds, on and off the court. They look forward to the spring when they can travel the country and play on the best teams, with the best players against the best competition. Then, when it comes time to choose a school, it doesn’t become a matter of “where”. Rather, it becomes a question of a “with who”.
Now that “Super Teams” aren’t frowned upon, why are we so surprised that there has become an imbalance in college basketball? Whose doing anything to say ‘no’? Coach Cal doesn’t mind. I don’t think Coach K is saying anything.
Geno is right. College basketball is flawed – but that doesn’t mean it’s a joke. Yes, there are only 10 or so teams that actually have a chance to hear ‘One Shining Moment’. Should there be more of an even playing field? Sure. But, out of those 10 teams (and all the players on them), look who we get to watch on Saturday: future top 5 draft picks, NBA All-Stars, Hall of Famers, etc., all squaring off for one chance to raise the trophy.
Need I remind you of that thrilling 2011 Butler v. UCONN game? Would you rather watch that, or Okafor v. Towns? Winslow v. Cauley Stein? Calipari v. Coach K?
I know what the NCAA (or should I say the $pon$or$) wants to watch. As fans, we love underdogs. That’s why we love the first weekend of the tournament! A 14 v. 3 buzzer beater. A 12 v. 5 blowout. A 15 taking a 2 down to the wire. Sure, it’s great seeing crutched coaches fall out of their chair.
But once it comes time for players to earn their money, we love “Super Teams”. We love good basketball. The reason why nobody is doing anything to say ‘no’ is because this is EXACTLY what we ask for. I don’t want Butler v. UCONN. I want Duke v. Kentucky. And so do you.
That’s not to say the system is perfect, though. Geno is right, there should be a more even distribution among teams. It would be nice to see how the UK players would fare on their own. It would be cool to see more “teams” and fewer stacked lineups. But talent distribution isn’t the only corruption in college hoops. We just need to start asking the right questions…
- How can we create a more even talent distribution?
- How can we make the gameplay keep us on the edge of our seats?
- How can we make sure that our student athletes don’t become both millionaires and bankrupt before they’re legally allowed in a bar?
The question isn’t whether or not college basketball has lost its appeal. The question is where college basketball has the potential to go… if they answer these questions.
My suggestions will be posted tomorrow.