Before moving ahead, it?s worth taking another look back at the recent college basketball season. Here are some observations that might stimulate some watercooler talk.
Is there any doubt that parity is the operative word in college basketball?
March Madness was maddening on a variety of levels to a number of teams this year. When Butler and VCU made the Final Four, some analysts and so-called experts practically pulled their hair out lamenting the decline of college basketball. They were lamenting that the usual superpowers?Duke, Kansas and Ohio State?didn?t advance, hence, TV ratings would suffer.
Did you know that in the six Final Fours from 2006 to 2011, the Colonial Athletic Associa?tion (two) and Horizon League (two) have each sent more teams than the Big 12 (one)?
ESPN.com columnist Andy Katz also points out that the Horizon also had more Final Four victories (one) in that span than the Big East, which hadn?t won a game at the event since Connecticut?s 2004 national championship. Of course, Connecticut ended that drought in a big way this year.
For what it?s worth, you could make the case that the difference between the NCAA champion and the NIT champion this year was a mere four points. After leading much of the game last November, Wichita State lost to Connecticut by four points on a neutral floor in Hawaii.
By the way, WSU lost by one point to VCU late in the season. It?s not a stretch to say that if Wichita State had beaten VCU, the Rams wouldn?t have been invited to the Big Dance, hence, KU wouldn?t have lost to them.
And it?s interesting, if nothing else, to note that Wichita State won at Virginia Tech during the NIT, something Duke was unable to do in the regular season.
The NCAA tournament is undeniably entertaining and unpredictable, but ESPN.com columnist Michael Wilbon bemoans the quality of play, saying it isn?t as good as it used to be.
?With the best 19- to 21-year-olds gone to the NBA and thereby leaving the college talent pool barely shallow enough to swim in, there aren?t as many good college teams as there used to be,? Wilbon said.
He goes on to say, ?But I?m not expecting the game to look like it did in the 1980s and early 1990s, when the really good teams like Michael Jordon?s Tar Heels, Patrick Ewing?s Hoyas, Chris Mullin?s Redmen, Christian Laettner?s Blue Devils and Tark?s Runnin? Rebels had multiple All-Americans, multiple player-of-the-year candidates, juniors and seniors and?get this?redshirt players who stuck around for four, maybe even five years? long enough to actually learn how to play the game.?
Because the best players jump to the pros early, the playing field in college basketball has leveled considerably. Non-BCS teams like Butler, VCU and Wichita State can more readily compete by recruiting good players who stay in college four years.
Of course, analysts will sometimes say things for entertainment value, which can lead to foot-in-mouth disease.
For example, ESPN?s Jay Bilas verbally blasted Virginia Commonwealth?s admission to the NCAA tournament, saying, ?Those were bad decisions. We talk about the eye test. Well, this one fails the laugh test.?
Turns out that VCU had the last laugh on Bilas, KU and several other teams on their march to the Final Four.
I still maintain that the Big 12, Big 10, Big East and other BCS conferences are stronger from top to bottom than non-BCS conferences. However, the gap, at least with the best of the non-BCS schools, is less than it?s ever been.