The High School to College Jump Debate… Righting the Ship

March 1, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

The NBA may be peaking in terms of popularity right now, but make no mistakes – it is an organization in very serious trouble.

The league has been hijacked by players, it is hemorrhaging money, and now the limited population of truly talented athletes in the league have all decided to migrate east, creating what is sure to be an extremely top-heavy NBA.

The league is enjoying a spike in popularity, but how long can that popularity be sustained? There are only so many superstars that are worth the media attention lavished on LeBron James and Dwayne Wade during this past off-season. Now that Carmelo Anthony has signed on with the Knicks, the only thing left for the talking heads in the sports world to talk about is, “Where will Chris Paul sign?

Things just aren’t like they used to be.

Comparisons to the “good ol’ days” often point to the fact that the league’s biggest stars from back in the day would have never teamed up to play on the same team. The notion that Magic would have taken his talents to Boston to team up with Byrd, or that Jordan would ever put on a Knicks uniform to share the same court with Ewing is just absurd. These were hyper-competitive athletes who wanted to share none of the glory.

There has clearly been a change in mentality between the stars of yesterday, and those of today. It has completely altered the climate of professional basketball.

That change has been the talent level of the B and C class talent.

Superstar talent may be comparable to the golden days, but supporting casts in the NBA are a shell of what they once were.

NBA Lite

Thanks to the miracle of NBA expansion, the league has officially reached its saturation point. The league has outgrown the boundaries that would have allowed it to remain competitive, and the limited pool of real NBA-worthy talent is not enough to stock the ocean that is the current NBA.

Talent is watered down to such a point now that the current NBA draft format (which is only two rounds to begin with) is completely irrelevant. With the exception of a small handful of lottery players, most of the draft class from each new season spends the first two to three years of their professional careers either in the D-league, or playing foreign ball. It is not until after some REAL development has taken place that a player (no matter how promising they might be) will actually get an opportunity to test their mettle in the big leagues.

Where in previous years a team might have three or four role players with genuine talent, the teams of today are lucky if they have one guy who can truly hold his own in helping to hoist the elite up.

So who can blame the athletes with REAL talent from wanting to team up?

Guys like LeBron James are no longer expected just to be great players, they are expected to act as mentors and trainers who must take on the responsibility of developing those players around them. They cannot focus solely on their game, because they have to make everyone else better.

The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Denver Nuggets are the perfect example of this fact. Before their superstar saviors came to town, they were the bottom-feeders of the league. While those superstar saviors were in town, they realized elevated levels of success, but nothing truly satisfying. Now that those superstar saviors are gone, they have sunk back into the depths of irrelevance.

They enjoyed a boost in winning percentages because they had a difference-maker on the court, but that boost was short-lived because those difference-makers didn’t want to have to do everything. While they want to be the best guy on the court, they don’t want to be the ONLY guy on the court. So they have sacrificed their shot at EXCLUSIVE glory so they can at least have a shot at glory.

Fixing the problem

The good news for NBA fans is that the upcoming CBA expiration provides the perfect opportunity to fix the league’s problems. Who would have thought that inspiration for that fix would come from the same organization blamed for the overhyped condition of sports in America today – ESPN?

Last weekend, analysts Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis, following one of their broadcasts, discussed a recommendation that was so well received that Michigan State’s head coach, Tom Izzo, has decided to propose it to the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

The recommendation was that the NBA should implement an ultimatum of sorts to prospective NBA draft entrants. For those who feel they are truly ready to make the immediate leap from high school into the pros, they deserve that opportunity. The one-year waiting period will be waived, and they can follow in the footsteps of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and several others who have gone on to superstardom.

For those who are not ready, though, they will have to commit to a THREE-year (as opposed to one) stint in college.

This is actually a brilliant proposal that would boost the level of play, not only for the NBA, but also for college basketball (although the benefits for the NCAA are irrelevant to the topic at hand today).

For starters, this would actually not be an unprecedented policy. In fact, it is exactly the same policy held by the MLB. Although the NFL does not offer an immediate entry into their ranks, they still require a three-year wait.

The greatest benefit that the NBA would realize is that it would no longer have to assume the responsibility of developing athletes who are SUPPOSED to be NBA-caliber talent. As evidenced by the current state of talent in the league, it is obvious that the league stinks at developing talent anyway. Why not let players grow-up in college, at someone else’s expense, so that when they DO join the professional ranks they do so as matured athletes who are ready to hit the ground running.

This elevation in entry-level talent coming into the league would help boost the level of competition across the board. Teams would be able to populate their rosters with a better class of athlete, and the support-starved stars of the game today will feel less pressure to take on the role of team savior.

The end result is that all of the teams in the league would get better. The depth of talent from the five starters to the pine-riders and the D-leaguers would make the game more competitive, and stars of the league might be more compelled to resume the competitive nature of their predecessors, staying put and striving for individual glory, rather than a shared piece of the ultimate prize.

This proposal, which is now being championed by one of the most respected coaches in basketball today, is one that will benefit the entire game of basketball. It will make the players better, and it will make the league better.

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The College Basketball Top 25 Purpose Debate… Watch Me Pull A Ranking Out of My Hat!

February 15, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

When I was eight years old I thought the greatest illusion ever performed happened on my television when I watched David Copperfield walk through the Great Wall of China.

Then I discovered college basketball.

The NCAA Division I basketball, each year, pulls off a feat that would make Blackstone ask, “How’d they do that?!” What is the illusion, you ask? It is the illusion that there is any value at all to the top 25 ranking.

In college football, the top 25 rankings serve a very important function. They help to determine which teams get to participate in the series of the biggest bowl games, and ultimately which two teams will compete for the National Championship.

What purpose does the top 25 poll serve in basketball?

Last year, do you know what the respective national rankings were for Duke and Butler as they entered March Madness? Duke was ranked fourth in the nation, while Butler was ranked number 12. Despite those rankings (which in College Football earned #12 Missouri an invitation to the Insight Bowl… Ooooohhhh!!!!), those were the two teams that faced off for the crown last April.

Unlike the Football Bowl Subdivision of the NCAA, every single one of the more than 300 teams in Division I basketball kick the season off with an opportunity to compete for the National Championship. They don’t have to impress any voters, or beat the “right” teams. They don’t even have to have a good regular season.

All they have to do is win the conference tournament.

Sure, the worse a team does in the regular season, the tougher their road to, and through, the national tournament is, but that doesn’t change the simple fact that a team needs only to win in the post-season, and it is through to the Tournament.

If the top 25 rankings are irrelevant and unnecessary when populating the 64 teams for the national championship tournament, they must SURELY impact the seeding in the tournament, don’t they? I mean it only makes sense to do it that way. Teams ranked one through four would be given one-seeds, then the teams ranked five through eight get two-seeds, and so on.

WRONG!

Last year, for example, the teams ranked one through four did each earn a top seed in the national tournament (Kansas, Duke, Syracuse, and Kentucky).

So what about the two-seeds?

After the top four in the rankings came Ohio State (fifth in the nation), Purdue (sixth), West Virginia (seventh), and New Mexico (eighth). But neither Purdue nor New Mexico were rewarded with the second spot in their respective brackets. Instead, it was Ohio State, West Virginia, Kansas State (ranked ninth in the country) and Villanova (ranked tenth).

New Mexico actually received a three-seed, and Purdue (the sixth best team in the country, according to the national rankings) was bumped all the way down to a four-seed, while Baylor (the 21st ranked team in the country) was seeded third, ahead of them in the same region.

What led to the disparity between the national rankings and the seedings for the national tournament? Once again, it was the selection committee.

Rather than overload a region with too many teams from the same conference, or with a prospective high-powered regular season rematch too early in the dance, they try to distribute the Major Conference representatives evenly across the bracket, regardless of their projected worth on the national stage.

Now, as this year draws towards another March full of basketball Madness, fans of the San Diego State Aztecs (currently ranked sixth in the nation by the AP) can expect the same head-scratching logic as an answer to the questions of why they were seeded third or fourth – behind some big-named program from a big-named conference like the 20-team Big East – that will simply ride the merits of their name and neighborhood into an easier road to Houston.

The top 25 rankings are completely worthless in college basketball. They provide water cooler conversation at the workplace, and give sportswriters something to do each week in the football off-season. But when it comes to what really matters (a chance at the national championship), they hold as much value as a Mel Kiper, Jr. mock draft.

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