This was supposed to be a blog about March Madness, but I guess it just has to be about basketball in general. The tournament was downright awful this year. And I'm not talking about the fact that there was no "George Mason" in the Final Four. I don't care as much about that stuff. Sure the Missouri Valley only got two teams in and that hurt, but the games just flat out weren't good this year.
College basketball is funny. I'm a huge Chicago Bulls fan, but there's something about college basketball. I'll take it every single time. Maybe it's because I grew up going to Carver Arena in downtown Peoria--listening to the courtside band play the hits during timeouts, but the atmosphere surrounding that sport is unmatched (even by college football in my opinion).
Obviously the skill level is not there. But aside from maybe the Golden State Warriors and some selected NBA arenas in specific situations, when do you ever hear professional basketball fans actually expend energy trying to help their team. In college basketball, being a fan is hard work. There's no hip hop playing during the action, you're not being fed the lines of "Let's Go Mavs," or "DE-fense" by the P.A. announcer. College basketball fans are smart, hard working, and have a lot to do with the atmosphere—and often the outcome.
And the fact that there are only a handful of games—usually two a week, everything is magnified in college basketball. Every play seems to mean everything, and even though the talent is not there, the game is more visually and aesthetically pleasing. To me that is.
That said, when you see an NBA jumpshooter get an open shot, you're surprised when he misses. That's different.
This next point is nothing more than a simple observance. College basketball is a guard's game. It's certainly been that way for awhile now. But about halfway through this year I was thinking about the college basketball scene and I realized that the only "name" players were big men. I don't know if it is the new NBA age limit or what, but coming off of last year's NCAA tournament, you had to figure that a list of ten real reconizeable active college basketball players would include:
Glenn "Big Baby" Davis
While guys like Chris Lofton, Aaron Brooks and Acie Law pressed themselves into the national awareness as the season wore on; only Afflalo of the aforementioned list is a guard. That's very unusual…to have that much big man talent in the NCAA all at once. This was a very unique season in that regard. I wonder if that had something with this year's downer of a tourney. There wasn't the star guard play across the board that there may have been in years past. Guys like J.J. Redick, Randy Foye, Brandon Roy, Ronnie Brewer, Quincy Douby, Jordan Farmar, Daniel Gibson, Hassan Adams and Dee Brown had all been taken in the 2006 draft. That's a lot of good guard play missing.
I mentioned the NBA earlier. NBA basketball (and particularly regular season games) have become borderline unwatchable these days. However, for someone like me who does like college basketball, the Chicago Bulls are a perfect remedy. Ok, of course they've been my favorite teams since 1986, but this current roster is very well-built for someone who likes the college game.
The fact that the Bulls have no stars will likely be their downfall. If they beat the Heat in round one (they're up two game to zero), they will lose to the Pistons in the second round. But the way they're built makes them extremely compelling, fun to watch, and very easy for whom to root. Their coach coaches them like a college team. The GM John Paxson selects his talent carefully and intentionally as if a college recruiter. Even their biggest name, Ben Wallace, is the epitome of a role player. Their three top offensive players all became famous first as college basketball stars--all playing in the Final Four at least once (Kirk Hinrich - Kansas, Ben Gordon - UConn, and Luol Deng - Duke).
The only substantial player on the roster who didn't attend college is foreign (Andres Nocioni). And even he led Argentina to the Gold Medal in the 2004 Olympic games. There's another player from Duke (Chris Duhon), as well as former collegians from programs including Villanova, Seton Hall, and LSU.
And speaking of Nocioni, people forget what a stud he was in last year's playoffs. His foot injury rendered him a non-factor in this year's postseason. Anyone who doesn't think the Bulls missed his toughness, defense, and scoring is wrong. I don't know if it would have been enough to make the finals, but he makes them a different team. He single-handedly kept the Bulls in the Heat series last year, and people spoke of him as a budding superstar. Instead the injury retarded his 2006-07 season.
The Bulls still haven't really been full strength in the playoffs in recent years. When Nocioni was healthy, Deng was down. Even Eddy Curry missed the playoffs in his final year as a Bull. And now this year, Deng is at full strength But Nocioni is a non-factor.
Just one run through the playoffs with the whole roster available. That's all I ask before they break this group up.