Once again, March Madness is upon us and there is plenty to look forward to in the 2014 edition. Connecticut is ready to repeat as national champions as they enter the NCAA Tournament with a perfect mark of 34-0, while Notre Dame also finished with an unblemished 32-0 record. The Huskies are led by sophomore All-American forward Brianna Stewart, who has been doing it all for Geno Auriemma’s team by averaging 19.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game and registering 107 assists and 94 blocked shots. Senior guard Kayla McBride was named ACC Player of the Year for the Fighting Irish after recording 17.5 points, 5.5 boards, 3.8 assists and a 1.82 assist-to-turnover ratio per game this season.
The men’s tournament? Why waste time watching an inferior product?
The men’s game has deteriorated in quality in recent years and much of that stems from the maligned “one-and-dones” who make the jump to the NBA after one year in college. There are no “great” teams anymore – there are a ton of pretty good teams that are far from unbeatable and are comprised of players who have no intentions of coming back next year (case in point: last season’s Kentucky team). This opens the door for smaller schools like Creighton, Wichita State and Butler to make long runs in the Tournament since they have players who have been together for an extended period of time and have limited to no aspirations to leaving to go professional early.
With women’s college basketball, the lure of playing professionally is not as great as it is with the men (mostly because a career in the WNBA is not as lucrative as one in the NBA), so there are more “great” teams in the sport due to the retention of upperclassmen. One of the reasons that the Connecticut women are among the most dynastic programs in all of sports is that the players that Auriemma recruits are there for the long haul. This model allows for continuity for teams to have a consistent level of success year in and year out, despite the problems associated with the WNBA not being a highly sought after destination for college players.
Men’s college basketball can be salvaged, if there are alterations to the “one-and-done” rule. By making players stay in college longer, the benefits would be two-fold: the product in the men’s college game would be better as there would be stronger upperclassmen classes and the NBA would benefit by having better draft classes through getting college players that are more polished and having more data for teams to make decisions on players. The idea of raising the minimum age of draftees is one that was contemplated by new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in a recent interview with ESPN.com: “Maybe the 20-year-old is a shorthand. I would just say a better integration of AAU, youth, high school, college basketball and NBA basketball. This is the sport of the 21st century. We have enormous opportunity.” Until that time comes, however, watch the better product.