Last night's Wisky vs. Kentuckers game might be the last straw breaking the back of my NCAA basketball fandom. I've been gravitating toward the NBA for the past 6 or 7 years, but still got fanatical about the college game. No longer. No one can say the college game is more pure at an institutional level - we've known that for a long time. Exhibit A: all those commercials Coach K got to do for over a decade during the NCAA tourney. That couldn't have helped recruiting, no? Exhibit B: the recent court ruling against the NCAA cartel. No need to belabor that point. But now its simply not even a better 'brand' of basketball. Maybe it hasn't been for a very long time...
Even as I began to truly appreciate the NBA game for the first time when the Celts were passing and defending teams to death with that first Garnett-Pierce-Allen team, I still waffled toward the college game when it came to the product on the court. Sure the players weren't as skilled or athletic per capita as those in the NBA, but it was always so interesting to see lots of various offensive and defensive approaches face off and truly see teams get outcoached or outplayed based on superior strategy, heart, etc.Only the top 8-10 NBA teams really come together by the end of the season and play really smart and cohesive team basketball. So the playoffs are flat out the best basketball in the world, but most of the regular season features lots of unwatchable teams playing too many games and only hustling in the 4th.
But that isn't as bad as what I saw last night. The talent disparity IN THE FINAL FOUR was so great that an unbelievably well-coached team clicking on all cylinders couldn't beat a team of semi-pro players (btw, I'm not saying they're getting paid under the table, but simply that most aren't really students. They are all going pro, and so don't need to really go to class - classes which I assume are designed to be easy for athletes - and live in relative luxury as campus demi-gods) whose coach simply told them to never shoot a jumper and drive into the defense every single play. That's not even street ball, which is often more creative and beautiful than something like what Wiskey plays.
At least in the NBA, at least among the top half of the league, the talent level is so high for everyone that you can't win with it alone. You have to have a sophisticated offensive scheme and well-oiled D (don't believe me? see Lebron's entire career at Cleveland and his first year with the Heat; he was the most dominant force on the court, and yet his teams always fell to TEAMS, with Mike Brown's patented 'clear out for Lebron' offense only getting them so far). Not in college. Not anymore at least. The pool of player-spots is so huge and the institution so screwy that monopolistic tendencies lead to Kentucky being Kentucky and being able to diddle themselves all year and then get to a finals by simply driving hard to the hoop all game and either making the bucket, getting fouled (don't get me started on that crap we saw last night), or getting an offensive board for a putback. Meanwhile Wiskey is putting on a b-ball clinic.
Sure this kind of thing has happened before, and I never felt like being such an old curmudgeon and railing against 'street ball' - but this was a new low. The juxtaposition between teams was just so huge, and not because Wiskey doesn't have talent.
I'll still follow and root for Purdue, but more and more, it's only because it's Purdue, and not because it's college basketball.