The knock on college basketball this season was that the talent level was the lowest its been in recent memory. Fair enough. It didn’t help that it coincided with arguably the most entertaining season of NBA basketball since Jordan was still lacing ‘em up for the Bulls.
This stark contrast on a nightly basis set the table for one of the least hyped NCAA Tournaments that I can remember. At the time of the selection show, the only headlines college basketball could hang its hat on was UConn’s magical run through the Big East Tournament and Jimmer.
If any of us had the perception that this March wouldn’t be as magical as some of its predecessors, that notion was shattered on the first Thursday of the tournament. Six games were decided by three points or less including four buzzer-beaters.
That trend has continued throughout the tournament with a pace that can only be described as frenzied.
The most interesting aspect of the whole situation has been the resounding and repeated proof that basketball is truly a game about emotion, passion and desire. So often these days, the knock on sports is that the athletes don’t care. They get paid too much, complain too often and have no sense of camaraderie or team spirit.
These, of course, are staples within the college game. As stated though, with the NBA talent and interest level at an all-time high, it seems that basketball has moved more towards an entertainment option as opposed to a competition based sport (like football).
The college game itself has taken numerous hits the past few years as the country’s best high school prospects have repeatedly chosen to don a random powerhouse’s uniform for a semester and a half before skipping off to the NBA. It’s increasingly rare to see the four-year senior leaders (or even juniors for that matter), especially at the schools atop the rankings.
If this tournament has proved one thing, however, it's that none of that matters. The beauty of basketball is in the passion of the people that play it. Watching teams like VCU, Morehead State, Butler and Richmond will themselves to victory by playing for each other has been a breath of fresh air.
I’ve watched what seems like every game so far in this tournament and seeing the emotion that rides on every possession has been intoxicating. Nobody takes plays off. Nobody acts ambivalent. Every player, from Jimmer and Kemba on down, have displayed nothing short of white-hot fire and intensity for the past two weeks.
My playing days stopped after high school and over the last several years, some of those memories have started to fade. However watching this tournament has been like looking through a year book. It has allowed me to vividly remember a time when I cared about every possession, every shot and treated each game as if it was the most important thing in the world to me. Because it was.
I think the fact that this tournament lacks a Kevin Durant, John Wall or Derrick Rose has allowed the team concept to capture the headlines. Even traditionally star-driven programs such as North Carolina and Kentucky have relied on more than one outstanding player to get to where they are.
In the shadows of a Barry Bonds perjury trial that I don’t think anyone cares about, and an impending NFL lockout over the division of $9 billion, the NCAA Tournament personifies the beauty and purity of competition. Luckily, there is no price tag on that.
I can’t remember a time where I have enjoyed an NCAA Tournament more than this one and this entire experience has rekindled in me a love for the game of basketball that I think may have been slightly lost. There is no question I am more of an NBA fan, but I think when you spend too much time watching the pros you tend to think of the game as more of a business. You analyze players against their salaries and teams off of their superstars.
The NCAA Tournament is literally all about W’s and lasting memories. The only “Decision” we all have, is which team to pick to go all the way in our brackets. I am more than excited for the Elite Eight but like reaching the last few chapters of an excellent book, I don’t want it to end.
At least not without a few more buzzer beaters.
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