Concluding Thoughts on the 2010 College Basketball Journey
This will be my last college basketball post for quite some time, as all of us at SAI find ourselves quite knowledgeable in the sport, and that abundant confidence in our knowledge manifests itself in our 325,432 posts about the sport each day, while beloved sports such as cricket, shuffleboard, and Mario Kari Wii often get the shaft. So with college basketball in unofficial hiatus until mid-October, I will bow out of the discussion and let my colleagues fight for the “silly season,” recruiting, and NBA Draft scraps. But with that said, here are my concluding thoughts from a wild and wacky 2009-10 season of college basketball…
1. This isn’t exactly a newsflash, but it’s quite apparent that parity is ruling college basketball. Not only are smaller programs making big runs during the season and additionally during the tournament, but “power” programs are now more often making big swoons. This year, North Carolina, UCLA, and Indiana all missed the NCAA Tournament, and frankly none of them were even close. Contemporary powers Arizona and Connecticut also missed out. Just recently, Kentucky had fallen on tough times. While power programs still often recruit the highest-ranked (but not necessarily the best) players, the unpredictability of the “one-and-done” phenomenon can strip these teams to their bare bones in any given year. It’s quite fair to say that the NBA’s policy of early entrance has a direct effect of the level of competition and parity in college basketball.
2. Overall, this was a relatively weak year for freshmen across the college basketball landscape, with the notable and emphatic exception in Lexington, KY. Outside of the Kentucky Wildcats, very few freshmen made a significant difference in the fortunes of their teams. Xavier Henry, Derrick Favors, and Avery Bradley (of Kansas, Georgia Tech, and Texas respectively) all failed to live up to the preseason hype, in my opinion; all three were gone from the tournament by the first weekend. North Carolina’s freshmen class failed miserably in trying to replace the dynamite stars lost from the national championship squad a year ago. While the level of freshman influence is likely to waver from year to year in college basketball, this was a year that freshmen didn’t matter all that much…except for John Wall and Co. of course.
3. This recent talk of NCAA expansion makes me want to vomit, but if these changes go forward, then it will change the face of college basketball as we know it. In my opinion, there will be less marquee matchups in the preconference part of the season. Yes, the star teams like Kansas, Duke, and Michigan State will still play the big boys, but teams like Virginia Tech and Mississippi State will have less incentive to strengthen their schedule to play tougher teams and better games. Both the Hokies and Bulldogs were left out of the Dance this year based in part of their poor nonconference schedules. With 32 extra at-large teams in play, the margin for error will be much greater in the eyes of the NCAA Selection Committee. Now, any BCS team which wins 20 games will be a near-lock for the Dance, no matter if they played 10 games against Lady Margaret’s Sisters of the Blind Technical Center during preconference play, therefore making November and December irrelevant during the college basketball season.
4. A word on the Kentucky Wildcats, who a year ago were floundering in the NIT and going nowhere very quickly under the direction of Billy Gillispie. But enter John Calipari and a host of talented freshmen, and Kentucky barged back in the national spotlight. What Kentucky was able to do with so much youth was quite impressive and at times breathtaking. It was truly a pleasure and a thrill to watch John Wall fly, Eric Bledsoe amaze, and DeMarcus Cousins dunk, laugh, and deliver forearm shivers. Kentucky, no matter who will be wearing the uniforms next year, will once again steal national headlines with their incredible talent and frightening youth. The nation should get used to it.
5. The first day of the tournament, March 18th, was the greatest day of basketball of my life. Just consider all of the amazing games from that day: Murray State wins at the buzzer over Vanderbilt, Wake Forest wins an overtime thriller against Texas, Washington comes from way back to beat Marquette, Old Dominion wins a close one over Notre Dame, Villanova somehow escaped Robert Morris, BYU wins a double overtime thriller over Florida, Ohio stuns Georgetown, and Northern Iowa finds a way to win over UNLV. ALL of those games either produced unlikely results or were absolute thrillers which went to the final minute. Rarely has there been tournament days which featured buzzer beater after thriller after stunner. I will NEVER forget it.
6. This NCAA tournament will remembered for many things. Looking at it objectively, it might be considered the most exciting and unpredictable tournament of all time. For Kentucky fans, infinitely disappointing if not infuriating. But looking past Big Blue, it will be remembered for Ali Farokgshalojrhrash’s shot to doom Kansas, Cornell’s improbable run to the Sweet 16, Saint Mary’s run of tournament wins, and Bob Huggins’s touching moment with Da’Sean Butler in the Final Four. But then there were two: the Duke Blue Devils and their unlikely but well deserved championship. The Devils’ three stars were spectacular and the solid post play gave Duke the muscle it had lacked for several years. Duke was playing the best basketball by the end of the season, and whether or not they are truly the best team in the country (I still think Kansas is and always will be when playing their best), the Blue Devils are the champions of 2010.
6. But it will always be Butler’s year. Many have debated whether Gordon Heyward’s shot, if it had gone in, would have become the greatest moment in sports history. Think about it – a buzzer beater from half court to win a national championship. That’s never happened in the NBA, or the NFL, or college football. This would have been the best. But the shot clanged off the rim and Duke ended up winning and that’s all she wrote about that…but what Butler achieved was nothing short of remarkable. A team of recruiting afterthoughts and a coach which catches the eye of SAI’s Jazmin Smith came together to forge an incredible tournament run which included a first round win over UTEP which many believed the Bulldogs would lose. Well they were wrong, as they were about Butler against Syracuse, and Kansas State, and Michigan State. It was the greatest tournament final run for Cinderella possibly since Villanova in 1985, and even though these Bulldogs didn’t pull off the great victory as those Wildcats did, Butler will long be remembered by America as the Little Engine That Almost Did. And that’s the concluding thought of the 2009-10 college basketball journey.