College Hoops and The NBA: Bad Play All Around

For those of you who didn’t stay up to watch the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game last night, let me just say I’m jealous. I could have used the extra sleep. I’m surprised the game didn’t complete put me to sleep on its own. And I say this as a big time College Basketball junkie.

I can fully admit it. The college game is seemingly getting worse and worse each year. There are fewer and fewer great teams and mediocrity seems to be order of the day. Some say the rise of the mid-majors is because the scholarship rule has been limited to 13 per school, meaning the top tier programs cant horde all of the great players. The real reason is because mid-major programs for the most part are able to keep their teams together and are Senior and Junior-laden.

Butler has made back to back Final Four appearances, a feat that is only topped by UCLA’s incredible run of titles in the sixties. Great coaching is certainly a part of it – Brad Stevens is a stud – but the main fact is that the core of the team remained. Despite losing two starters in Gordon Hayward and Willie Veasley, Seniors Matt Howard, Shawn Vanzant, and Zach Hahn, Juniors Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored all were key cogs in last year’s run to to the National Title game. By comparison, last night’s winner Connecticut, brought back star Junior Kemba Walker and Sophomores Alex Oriakhi from their rotation last season. Their only Senior, Charles Okwandu, only averaged 7.7 minutes per game as a Junior.

Talent eventually wins out, the talent pool is as shallow as its ever been. There is one reason and one reason only to blame for this.

The NBA’s “one and done” rule.

For those who need enlightening, the NBA currently allows anyone who is 19 years of age and over to enter the draft, as long as their class has completed their Freshman year of college. Even before this rule was put into place in 2005, the mid 90’s changed both the college game and pro game forever.

Kids like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and Tracy McGrady were making the jump straight from High School to the pros. It used to be that even the best underclassman were staying in college at least two years before declaring “hardship.” While the success of kids like KG, Kobe, and McGrady gave others after them wide eyes that they could be the next great thing without going to college, nobody ever wanted to mention the failures.

For every LeBron James, there was James Lang. For every Dwight Howard, there was Leon Smith. Meanwhile, college basketball was losing talent and the NBA was gaining kids who weren’t ready for the league both on and off the court while veterans were losing their jobs.

Now with the “one and done” rule in effect, all of these top high school players are forced to go to college despite having little interest in being there, making sure they stay eligible after one semester of play, and then bolting for the NBA, causing many of the top programs to essentially start over year after year. Without the ability to build teams, the mid-majors are rising towards the middle, while the quality of the “BCS” conference programs moves down.

The college game suffers because there are no household names on the court anymore. The real stars are the coaches. We all remember the Christian Laettner Duke teams, the Patrick Ewing Georgetown teams, even the Fab Five (who was together for two seasons). Those days are over.

Kemba Walker will head to the NBA, as is his right to do, this summer, but his backcourt mate Jeremy Lamb, who wasn’t even on the NBA radar heading into this year, may join him. Household names in college last a year nowadays, they become folklore, and then they move on, most are forgotten. But we all remember Scottie Thurman and Corliss Williamson from the 94 and 95 Arkansas teams. Or the O’Bannon Brothers from UCLA. Or the Anderson Hunt/Larry Johnson UNLV duo.

I was five minutes into last night’s clank-fest and all I could think about was how neither of these two teams could have held the jocks of any of the Champions of the 80’s or 90’s. I love the Butler story, but you think they’d have even played within 20 points of the 1987 Syracuse team with a frontcourt of Rony Seikaly and Derrick Coleman and Sherman Douglas running the point?

The NBA loves size and potential, and they draft on it. If that weren’t the case, Darko Milicic wouldn’t get drafted #2 ahead of Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade

Take Kansas reserve Power Forward Thomas Robinson for example.  A Sophomore who came off the bench to average seven points and six rebounds a game, Robinson is viewed as a potential mid-first round pick and may turn pro. I’ve seen every game he has played in college and while he has that “NBA body” right now, he is nowhere near ready for the league. Another year at KU to develop his offensive game as the teams #1 post option would help both the college game and the pro game. Two years from now, Robinson will be more polished and ready for the NBA, and next year college hoops will get a third year from a great kid who has the chance to become star.

Something needs to be done to save the college game. The quality of play can no longer be ignored. On its biggest stage last night, the game was as bad as its ever been. Does the NBA change the rule and let high school kids go straight to the pros and if they go to to college, they must stay for three years? Do they make the age requirement 20 instead of 19? I don’t know what will happen in this next round of NBA labor negotiations, but something needs to be done.

Last night was a painful watch.

(AP Photo)

  • mgbode

    i always look for the positive. well, the next time somebody says that college basketball is better than the NBA, I can point to this game.

    I agree on the 1-and-done rule, but it’s better than having all those kids jump and fail completely, no? the NFL has it better with the 3-year rule for college/pro, but the NBA may just have it correct for the kids (if they want to make $$$ after a year of cutting their teeth to at least show they might be able to handle the jump, then they should have some say there)

    next year will be an interesting experiment. Kentucky has a fab-5-esque class coming in (and St. John’s isn’t far behind). Ohio State has a bunch of veterans to pair along with a top10 class. UNC, Duke, and several others will be pairing hot-shot freshmen with more veteran rosters. Interesting to see how the year goes.

  • mgbode

    Oh, and if the UConn v. AZ or v. Kentucky games were the final (not just for the name, but the games themselves) you wouldn’t be complaining in this manner. You still would likely be opposed, but you (like me with the NBA-argument) are just using a terrible game for a jump-up to your soapbox :)

  • Swig

    Or, the players could get some of the money that everyone else is making, thus limiting the allure of jumping to the NBA early for players not likely to go top 5.

  • BAJ22

    Thanks TD. I would include in the discussion that, because they have been using football stadiums for the final 4 games, it affects the quality of play. The teams all shot better in earlier rounds where they played in “basketball” arenas than in the final 4 where they played in “football” stadiums. IMHO that factors in the lower level of play – especailly the poor shooting.

    That being said, I agree with you that something must be done. I love college basketball too, but the level of play in the first half was so bad I went to bed. I watched the NIT finals between Witchita State and Alabama and the level of play seemed pretty good…which is why I think part of the problem is the venue.

  • mgbode

    @Swig – sounds good in theory, but it would break the structure that is currently setup. NCAA itself makes nearly all of it’s operating money off the March Madness tourney. Money from merchandise/tickets help fund other sports.

    You could get rid of the NCAA (yaayyy!), but it’ll have to be replaced with some type of oversight organization that will need money. You could get rid of secondary sports completely (or roll their costs into tuition), but then you would have to be really careful about Title IX and other associated issues.

    I agree with you that they should get more, but I am not sure how to do it without breaking everything else.

  • ClevelandFan14

    Last night’s game was the worst basketball game I have ever seen. Period.

  • Ben

    I am going to tune in and watch the women’s game tonight so I can see some shots go in.

    That is the most painful thing that I have ever typed in my life.

  • Swig

    I know paying the students in any form would introduce a new set of problems. But, look at why they leave (money), and why colleges care about the quality of the game (money). Any idea will have it’s negatives, they should just address the issue. TAs and RAs get a stipend, but we pretend the athlete’s aren’t working for the university they represent.

  • Mike

    TAs and RAs get a stipend because they are helping other students. Watching the school’s team win basketball games may be fun, but it doesn’t help someone earn their degree.

    You could put a bunch of 70-year-old guys in Ohio State uniforms and the football program would still make money. A vast majority of the income derived from basketball and football has nothing to do with the players, but is due to the connection with the school. Kemba Walker could join a semi-pro league in Storrs, Connecticut, and no one would pay two bucks to watch him play.

    Point is, as much as the schools need players, the quality of those players doesn’t matter nearly as much as the name on the front of the uniform when it comes to generating program income.

  • Bryan

    To be fair to Kemba, he’s actually completed all the course work he needs to graduate.

    I’ll also agree that was the worst basketball game I’ve ever seen. Record lows in total points since they invented the shot clock and record low shooting percentage for Butler. Yuck.

  • B-bo

    Was it an ugly game? No question. And something does need to be done to encourage more continuity with college players. But I’d still rather watch UW-Milwaukee battle Iona on a Tuesday night in December than just about any NBA regular season game. I just prefer college ball to pro, even with the problems mentioned here.

  • Harv 21

    Not sure I agree that all the missed jumpers was a result of freakishly athletic but inexperienced freshmen and sophomores playing more experienced but less talented opponents. Butler shot very well against athletic teams, as did Conn. Probably more likely that in a pressure packed nationally televised game the nerves are more liable to show up in your shot than in your defense. In the second half Butler was clanking wide open shots and I thought if one teammate got hot they would all relax. Sometimes that just happens.

  • mgbode

    @Mike – you said “Watching the school’s team win basketball games may be fun, but it doesn’t help someone earn their degree.”

    this is very wrong. as mentioned, men’s bball helps pay for other sports, who also give scholarships. so, yes men’s bball does help many earn their degree.

    also, athletes do get a stipend though it’s not much.

  • DJ

    The NBA has instilled the one-and-done rule; the NCAA can’t do a thing about it. Any changes to it will have to come from the NBA, who would rather up the age limit to 20 and force colleges to take them for two years (unless the players go overseas, of course).

    Forcing some of these players to stay in school won’t help educators with their mission either, especially when the players in question have no desire to be there in the first place and, in many cases, drop their classes the second their season is done. Lobbying the NBA for similar rules as in baseball (H.S. seniors eligible for draft, but once they go to college they won’t be eligible for the draft for three years) may be an effective compromise: More continuity at the college level, and those who have no interest in going to college (and in some cases, shouldn’t really be there, as college isn’t for everyone) get a chance to begin their chosen careers.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    Last night’s game was bad, especially in the second half, but the exception does not make the rule.

    College basketball is very competitive, and there were many memorable performances in this year’s tourney to back that up. And there’s always “late bloomer” talent to watch. Did you happen to watch the Arizona/Duke game. I was up out of my seat on a couple occassions.

    There’s nothing wrong with college basketball. Last night’s game was a fluke. Last year’s title game was the opposite…a nail-biter right down to the last shot. You just can’t predict these things.

    I just feel that the “college basketball is going downhill” argument is a false narrative promoted by people that remember “the good old days” being better than they really were. There were plenty of great performances in college basketball this year, and if the national title game didn’t live up to your expectations, then that’s just too bad…it happens.

    On a side note, Butler played FANTASTIC defense, especially in transition, in the first half, but nobody’s interested in showing appreciation for great D. It’s all about great offense.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    On a side note…

    If anything’s ruining college basketball, it’s AAU basketball. One reason why the top players only stay in college one year is that, on the whole, they are WAY more experienced than college players of the past.

    Nowadays, and now I’m sounding like an old-timer, the average college star has been playing competitive basketball year-round since they were about 11 or 12 years old, or younger. The fact is, players are bigger, faster, stronger, and more experienced at age 19 today than they were even 25 years ago.

    Just look at a picture of Michael Jordan in his UNC days and compare it to a picture of OSU’s Sullinger.

    I’m not saying AAU ball is bad, per se…I’m simply saying that college players today are peaking earlier in their careers, because they are playing more at a younger age.

  • MattyFos

    @mgbode- I agree with everything you’ve said.

    I like the baseball idea. You can go pro after graduation. But if you go to school you have to play 3 years. I was gonna say something similar to that but you beat me to it.

  • MattyFos

    Correction- DJ put the “baseball idea”. Good work