No Goliath in college basketball

by Matthew Bain

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Men’s college basketball is a sport traditionally dominated by one or two teams per season. Last year, it was the University of Kentucky. It was Saint Joseph’s University in 2004. It was the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 1990 and the University of California, Los Angeles in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Who would you say it is this year?

Since Indiana University’s overtime loss to Butler University on Dec. 15, The Associated Press No. 1 men’s college basketball teams have gone 10-6—not very No. 1-like.

As of now, Week 15 in the season, there are no teams with fewer than two losses in the AP Top 25.

With only a few weeks left until March Madness, college basketball is without an apparent king. This is rare for fans to see, and many of them are embracing it, claiming this NCAA Tournament will top them all.

However, there are some who look upon the lack of dominance in college basketball differently. In a Fox Sports article, columnist Jason Whitlock cites many reasons to be upset with this college basketball season. Whitlock claims the king-less season that others view with “optimism” is actually “a sign of American basketball’s ruination.”

Whitlock said the summer basketball leagues where high school athletes showcase their talents bear selfish, show-off attitudes to young players. Consequently, in college they play more for themselves than for the consistent greatness of the team. He goes on to say modern college basketball has bred a game where only the NCAA Tournament matters—fewer people care about a regular season conference championship than in the days of John Wooden. For instance, he attributes Indiana’s last loss to the University of Illinois on Feb. 7 to players waiting to “buckle down when the ring is on the line.”

Whitlock makes some fair points. I agree there are selfish players in the league. Unfortunately, that will always be the case as long as athletes earn celebrity status and the NBA only seeks the most dominant players. However, I disagree with the bulk of Whitlock’s argument.

Balance in college basketball doesn’t mean top-tier schools aren’t reaching their full potential. It means more schools are reaching their full potential. It signals how teams such as Kentucky and the University of North Carolina don’t have all of the talent this year.

Instead, talent is spread across the country to teams such as the University of Wisconsin, Colorado State University, Indiana State University and many more schools that now have a real chance to succeed in March. Teams have to bring their A-game every day or they’ll lose (just ask the University of Kansas or University of Florida). In a season with no Goliath, a whole lot of Davids have a hand in the fight for the championship. More schools are involved, more communities are involved and more fans are involved.

To Whitlock’s point that Indiana eased off the throttle in its loss to Illinois: rivalry is more elevated in college basketball than in any other sport.

San Diego State University would never relax in a game against UNLV to save up energy for the NCAA Tournament. Student-athletes absolutely hate to see their conference foes beat them, to hear the opposing fans scream their heads off, to lose their pride—this season or any other season.

As SDSU junior guard Jamaal Franklin said after the Boise State game, “you can’t take college basketball lightly … everybody’s ready to play and playing on all cylinders.”

So, be happy college basketball has a more level playing field. Be happy you have no clue who the number one team will be next week. Be happy we are in for potentially the wildest March Madness in years. Enjoy this awesome season — who knows when there will be another season like this one?

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