August 22, 2012

Madness not so mad

When looking back at the 2012 college basketball season there is one thing that seems very clear, the best teams won.

Not only did the Kentucky men’s and Baylor women’s basketball teams prove that they were the best, they dominated at unprecedented levels. Kentucky won 38 games, a record for a men’s national champion, while Baylor became the first team to ever go 40-0. But while those in Lexington and Waco deserve to be ecstatic about the results, fans should be cautious of what these victories say about the state of the respective games.

In Kentucky’s case steamrolling through the competition came while having no starters with greater than sophomore status. Past squads carried by youth (Ohio St. 2007, Memphis 2008, Kentucky 2010) had all come up short despite having future pros at their disposal. Kentucky broke through this mold, proving that a group of “one and dones” could get it done.

Unfortunately this feat, while impressive, has sent a very precarious message to the rest of college basketball. Before this year recruits that were going to school to build a one season highlight reel for pro scouts went to schools like Kentucky and played for coaches like John Calipari because they were the perfect breeding grounds for pro players.

These freakishly talented all-star teams fell short in the face of grittier and more experienced competition. It was senior laden teams like North Carolina in 2009 and Duke in 2010 that won the titles, not baby faces.

But this has all changed. Now teams like Kentucky are not only the best place to showcase individual talent, but seem like the best chance to win a title.

If there weren’t already enough recruits isolating their choices to about six schools, then that process will only intensify as a result of this championship.

March Madness was built on the idea that the underdog has a shot. Butler has an equal opportunity to compete with the big boys.

And yes, though Ohio, Lehigh and Norfolk St. had their moments of glory, one got the feeling that this year more than others featured the favorites coming out on top.

But when talking about a top heavy system, just look at women’s college basketball and the Britney Griners-excuse me- Baylor Bears.

Their 19-point victory in the national championship game over Notre Dame was a microcosm of the lack of competitive balance in women’s basketball. In addition to the beatdown of the Fighting Irish, Baylor won their tournament games by an average of 20.8 points.

These results were of course overwhelmingly the result of Griner dominating the game more than any player before her, but Baylor was not the only team racking of massive winning margins, and that’s where the problem lies.

In the four Elite 8 games the average margin of victory was over 19 points. These were not unfavorable first round matchups, each of the games pitted the number one seed against the number two seed, and in each case the number one seed ran their opponent out of the gym. Notre Dame took out Maryland by 80-49, in the Elite 8? Really?

Worse yet, in a second round matchup Connecticut defeated Kansas State 72-26. 48-point win in a tournament game? That shouldn’t happen.

For the last ten years women’s basketball has relied on its dominant teams to market the sport to the public. Connecticut, Tennessee, Stanford, Baylor all these teams grab the attention of the sports networks and bring casual fans to the game. But at some point the disparity between the “have” and the “have nots” gets boring and embarrassing.

The runs that Kentucky and Baylor just completed may ultimately be unprecedented, but they could just as easily be the beginning of a more boring, easily predictable era of college basketball.

If the latter is the case then we can all write in our national champs for next year now, Kentucky has yet another loaded recruiting class and Griner is coming back for her senior season.

Jackson White
Jackson White is a senior double majoring in political science and secondary education. This is his third year as a sports editor for TKS. Over the course of the 2010-2011 academic year, Jackson worked for, writing feature stories and columns about high school and college baseball in central Illinois. Outside of the Publications Office, he is an information assistant for the Knox College Sports Information Department and a two-time all-Midwest Conference baseball player. Jackson is the recipient of five awards from the Illinois College Press Association, including two first place awards for sports game coverage and sports page design.

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