Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The NCAA's Missing Ingredient

The NCAA Basketball Tournament is still a wonderful sporting event. Lots of drama and lots of fun. But there is something missing, and eventually it's going to hurt this great event. That missing ingredient? Names. Big names. Legends.

This event was built on legends. Russell, Chamberlain, Baylor, Lucas and Alcindor all won NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player trophies. They, along with other legends like Oscar, West, and Wooden, laid the tournament's foundation back in the 50's and 60's. Legends like Bill Walton and David Thompson took us through the 70's. Then, in 1979, Magic met Larry in the title game, and the rest was history. The NCAA Tournament was on the map, with a bullet. Popularity soared--because of the big names "Bird" and "Johnson".

The next decade saw names like Isiah Thomas, James Worthy, Ralph Sampson, David Robinson, Danny Manning--and literally hundreds of other recognizable faces--help vault the tourney to just-behind-the-Super-Bowl-in-popularity status. It seemed like each year we were treated to big names doing something huge: Michael Jordan's title-winning jump shot to beat Georgetown, Darrell Griffith dunking all over UCLA, Larry Johnson dunking all over everyone, Goliaths like Ewing and Olajuwon going head-to-head, phenoms like Lee and Tisdale going head-to-head. Webber, Laettner, Brand, Camby, Bibby, Hill--names that thrilled us in college and went on to (in most cases) thrill us in the pros.

Now, look at some of the players who made All-Tournament teams from the 00's--guys who were among the five best players in the tourney that year:

Dane Fife
Kyle Hornsby
Lonny Baxter
Chris Wilcox
Loren Woods
Keith Langford
Gerry McNamara
Will Bynum
Luther Head
Luke Schenscher
Goran Suton
Kalin Lucas
Wayne Ellington

Yes, we did have Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Al Horford and Joakim Noah also make All-Tournament squads in the 00's. That would be the All-DECADE team, which couldn't hold a candle to the 1982 All-Tournament team:

Sleepy Floyd

Even more shocking: the players who played college basketball that year who did NOT make the All-Tournament team:

Clyde Drexler
Dominique Wilkins
Terry Cummings
Ralph Sampson
Paul Pressey
Dale Ellis
Keith Lee

In one year (82), we had more big names play in the NCAA Tournament than we did in one decade (00's). That's a problem.

Note: Even though he is my all-time basketball kryptonite, I must acknowledge the sour-faced Tyler Hansbrough. He, at the very least, stayed in school for four years, gave fans someone to love or hate (mostly hate), and put up great numbers and won a title. He was a throwback to the good 'ole days of college basketball. So, as much as it hurts to say, here's to you, Tyler. Don't sweat it that you're averaging a whopping 8 points and 4 boards a game for the crappy Pacers.

And, because we had giants back then, we also had the opportunity for great upsets. We won't see anything like NC State knocking off the Phi Slamma Jamma Cougars or little Villanova beating Ewing's Hoyas ever again. Why? Because today Olajuwon and Ewing wouldn't stick around long enough for a good team or a good story line to be built around them.

Think about it: we never got to see LeBron lead Ohio St to the Final Four. We were cheated out of that sports memory. How great would that have been? Is there any doubt he would have had a Magic-like effect on his college team of choice, and thus given us a Magic-like college memory? Not just LeBron--we never got to see Kobe, or KG, or Howard--basically today's NBA All Star team--put on a college uniform (a big thank you to Melo for going to Syracuse and supplying us with one of our few big name moments from the last ten years).

The one-year rule helps a little, but not much. Great players like Kevin Durant bolt for the NBA so quickly after their freshman year that it's hard to imagine that they found their way into a classroom. So what's the point? It's a silly rule that I think may do more harm than good to the schools. It's a rule that I'm sure will soon be challenged and probably won't be around much longer--especially if more players bolt to Europe for the year.

So, we're stuck. Stuck with getting our college basketball thrills from the likes of Ali Farokhmanesh. Something tells me that, as I look at my basketball spice rack, "Farokhmanesh" won't make as tasty of a tournament stew as "Jordan" would have.

John Wall, you're our only hope.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Sorry, pholser, I screwed up your posted comment and now I can't get it back (still trying to figure out how to work this blog thing). Anyway--yes, thanks for pointing out Bosh's year at GT. I should say also that Wade gave us some good time at Marquette, Paul did a couple of years at WF, etc. And, the influx of Euro stars makes it seem like fewer players go to college.

    And yes, we should start calling him John "Yah" Wall. Funny!

  3. You nailed it. Been trying to put my finger on this for years but couldn't figure out why the tournament is still a great spectacle but the luster doesn't shine as bright. The guys today are riding the huge wave pushed ahead back in the 70's and 80's by the legends.

    I would add that the 'star power' extends to the coaching ranks as well. Think of the names from the past: Dean Smith, Knight, Digger, Ray Meyer, Al McGuire, Valvano, Wooden, Thompson, Gene Keady, Lute, Carnesecca, Massemino, Crum, Tark, Guy Lewis, Lefty Driessel, Cremmins, the list is endless.

    There are a handful of 'star' coaches today: Coach K, Boeheim, Calipari, Pitino, but there are very few just like the legendary player count.