Friday, March 22, 2013

NCAA Tournament: The Next Generation

Kelly Olynyck helps #1 seed Gonzaga fight past a game Southern University

 Another round of NCAA Basketball in the books and another reason presented why we love the sport so much.  Upsets, last-second hero shots, and raw emotion decorated the first day of the best postseason in major American sports.  The Pac 12 showed up and showed out with big wins over the higher ranked UNLV and OK St. (Cal and Oregon, respectively).  The Mountain West enjoyed receiving the most bids in conference history when it sent 5 teams to the tourney this year (or one more than the ACC’s number of bids).  Unfortunately, it’ll be a short trip for four of those teams as UNLV, Boise State, San Diego State, and New Mexico all lost in their opening round games.

Another conference showed its mettle as well, the Atlantic 10 is 4-0 so far in the tournament with wins by VCU, St. Louis, Butler, and La Salle.   But more importantly than just their collective records, the Atlantic 10 is showing the new landscape in men’s college basketball.  With many at bigger program athletes thinking that the one year in college basketball is a maximum allotment and not a minimum requirement of being NBA eligible, lower-ranked recruits at historically less accomplished programs are staying in school longer.  That added time in college allows for the less heralded players to physically and mentally mature.  In essence, you get 21 year old players playing 18 year old players, so any delta in talent can be negated by the marked age disparity.
Marquette's Vander Blue finishes the layup, and Davidson, with this Game Winning Shot
 The knock on NCAA men’s basketball is that it has been down this year, and that there is generally less talent than in year’s past.  While I agree that there is no hands-down best player as in some years past, the talent is still there.  The simple fact of the matter is that NBA execs simply have to do more work to find the talent.  Players no longer want to be the 8th man at collegiate powerhouses for years before getting significant time to display their skills and expose their games to scouts in the pros.  Instead, starting immediately at a smaller school may allow them more exposure sooner.  Indeed, read Ole Miss’ Junior Marshall Henderson’s comments regarding his own college basketball career

Moreover, look at the college landscape this year, Gonzaga (who survived a great game by HBCU Southern University in their 1st round matchup) finished the season ranked number 1; and 7 of the top 25 teams (as voted in the USA Today coaches poll) come from “Non-powerhouse” conferences.  Even in the NBA, the runaway Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard, is from Weber State (I still hate you Harold “The Show” Arceneaux).
 While often said, this tournament is as wide open as it has ever been.  Not because the sport isn’t any good, but because talent has been dispersed more evenly than in previous years.  Ten teams have legitimate chances of being crowned the NCAA tournament winner.  Evenly-gifted teams in a one-and-done format will make for several shining moments, and I plan on catching every one of them.

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