As a big-time b-ball fan we hate to say this, but our enthusiasm for the NCAA tourney diminishes each year, because frankly college basketball isn't nearly as great as a sport as it was up to a decade ago.
The problem? The best teams have no continuity. The top players rarely if ever stick around a college program for the completion of their eligibility, and as a result the nucleus of most of the best programs changes from year to year.
The prime example is the University of Kentucky, billed by many analysts as the team to beat in this spring's tournament. Four of the Wildcats' top seven players are freshmen, and two more are sophomores. Like every year with UK, enjoy watching the individuals on this team, because many of them may not be back next season. Instead they'll be taking their talents to the pro game, where they can be compensated for their skills.
In the past two years, seven underclassmen at Kentucky have declared for the draft.
On Friday USA Today reported on the Kentucky phenomenon, featuring their coach, John Calipari, who gets criticized for exploiting the one-and-done rule, an NBA law that declares that players cannot enter the professionals until they are at least 19 years old and a year out of high school.
Of course, the fact that it's all about these guys going to the pros proves that it's somewhat of a farce that they're truly student-athletes. But Calipari argues (persuasively) that if the kids on his program can make millions of dollars putting a ball in a hoop, why should they remain in school to get a degree?
"If it's your son, if he had that kind of talent, you would make him stay in college four years?" he says. "What if he got hurt? What if the (behavioral) direction he was going went different?
"I cannot morally tell a young man that he should stay in school - in the interests of the school, the program or me - when it's in his best interests and his family's best interests to go reach his dreams. I couldn't tell (Bill) Gates, 'Do you know what you did to the integrity of your school by coming out and starting Microsoft?' "
Calipari is right. But simply as a college basketball fan, I'd argue it's made the sport not nearly as interesting. The games themselves in the tournament will continue to be pretty good — there will be some buzzer beaters and some major upsets.
But the fact that rosters change so much every year makes it tougher to be a fan, unless you're a huge aficionado of a particular program because it's your alma mater or, as in the case of USF, you're feeling some local pride.
The one recent exception to the one-and-done routine is the Florida Gators of 2007. They repeated as national champions when many of their star players such as Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer eschewed the pros to try to win one more championship, and in fact became the best college team of the era, and arguably the greatest since the Duke championship teams of the early ’90s.
Yours truly will always prefer the pro game. On Sunday, the league's greatest rivalry, Boston-L.A., hooked up at the Staples Center in a mediocre game that ended dramatically, with the Lakers holding on, 97-94. WIth the league's regular season delayed nearly two months because of the lockout, the play around the league has been inconsistent, as the teams cram a 66-game regular season into four months' time, making veteran teams like the Celtics and Lakers look at times not clicking on all cylinders.
Of course, the NBA season goes on way too long anyway (82 regular season games vs. 30 college games), which is why nobody but die-hards was really that sad the pros didn't begin until Christmas this past season. We can't wait for the playoffs to begin. But in the interim, we look forward to watching some of the future pros over the next few weeks, many of whom will never play in college again after this month.