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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Stop whining about one year NCAA ballers

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament drew to a close on Monday with the Kentucky Wildcats’ victory over the Kansas Jayhawks. The game was a true battle of blood-blue programs, with nearly as many Final Fours between the two schools as Coach John Calipari has vacated. Yet for all the pomp and circumstance of prestige programs facing off for the title, the game was underwhelming. The women’s tournament offered a much more compelling story line in Baylor’s quest for perfection versus Connecticut’s powerhouse program. The tournament’s biggest upsets came in the first round (“second” if you buy into the NCAA’s branding scheme) to my beloved Missouri Tigers and nobody’s beloved Duke Blue Devils, at the hands of Norfolk State and Lehigh, respectively.

Contrary to the song from the ubiquitous Buick ad, which I imagine all proper college hoops fans have seen enough to replay from memory, the tournament did not start with a whisper, but rather two bangs. The seventh and eighth times a #2 seed has fallen came on the same day at the hands of mid-minors not to be denied by ostensibly more talented and better coached teams, or even the way they played all season—Lehigh and Norfolk both outplayed their season-long statistics by an incredible degree. (That Buick song’s called “Everybody Talks” by Neon Trees, by the way.)

While it would be a disservice to the basketball clinic the Wildcats put on to say that the tournament ended with a whisper, this tournament left something to be desired in the way of excitement or story lines after the first weekend. Sure, Ohio’s run was nice, but nobody gets too excited about a Cinderella whose carriage turns back into a pumpkin at 9 p.m. instead of midnight.  The championship game left some fans feeling hollow about March Madness, but can we really blame Kentucky for being so good that the game’s outcome was never really in doubt?

Some sports pundits appear to think we can. Numerous articles on and have taken issue with the fact that Kentucky’s rotation of seven players included just one senior, with the rest of the Wildcats’ key contributions coming from so-called “one and done” players like star center Anthony Davis, who took home MVP honors. Some misguided writers and fans see this admittedly somewhat dull tournament as a referendum on “one and done.” They say Kentucky was too dominant with its preponderance of NBA talent. Indeed this year’s Kentucky team will likely have to replace its entire starting five, with three freshmen and two sophomore holdovers from last year looking likely to leave early for NBA riches.

I can’t agree with any of these arguments. If this season and this Kentucky team are to serve as the defenders in the battle over “one and done,” they have already won. A team whose best players are a year or two removed from first buying their own tickets to R-rated movies dominated older, more experienced lineups and proved that tournament experience is nice but having five future professionals is nicer. It seems completely antithetical to say that the tournament was boring and the college game is suffering from having the best players. Can you fault Calipari for successfully recruiting Davis and fellow diaper dandies Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague? Can you fault these players for wanting to play at the highest level of competition and receive proper compensation for their work?

It’s no surprise that people are trying to turn a drama-free tournament into a referendum on “one and done.” I took to the pages of this illustrious newspaper two years ago to defend the NBA’s decision to impose an age limit for drafting players and received quite a bit of negative feedback, much of it from my own family (they’re clearly the only ones who read this anyway). The rule effectively created a system in which the best young players, the LeBrons, the Kobes, the KGs, who would have jumped straight from high school to the NBA now have to spend at least a season in the NCAA ranks. Some people see this system as corrupting the purity of the college game, making players into mercenaries and coaches into roster building NBA GMs rather than the leaders and teachers of young men. These charges operate from an antiquated perspective on college sports that still prizes amateurism in an age when college sports bring in millions in revenue for networks and universities.

The tournament lacked its usual drama because thrilling upsets and buzzer beaters simply failed to materialize like they often do. But you can’t blame a higher level of talent in the college game for that. This season was better because we got to watch Anthony Davis swat away opposing shots like King Kong swatting down planes, because we got to see MKG fearlessly drive the lane and dunk, because we got to witness Teague swish impossible threes with a hand in his face. Increasing parity by lowering the level of play through the elimination of surefire NBA players is a toxic idea for the college game. Remember last season’s indefensibly boring championship game between Butler and Connecticut? Me neither. But will we remember this year’s Wildcats? You betcha—all we’ll have to do is turn on an NBA game.

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