Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Kentucky's Struggles and Why College Basketball Might be Okay

On the eve of last year’s Final Four, Chuck Klosterman wrote one of my favorite articles of 2012, titled “Kentucky’s Death March”. It declared college basketball, as we know it, was ending because John Calipari’s evil genius empire of stud players who should have gone straight to the NBA meant the sport was now professionalized, that the traditional, power programs would adapt, and college basketball would become “a niche sport for people like me (Klosterman)- people who can’t get over the past.”

At the time, his fears seemed plausible, if not inevitable. Fast forward 12 months, however, and his fears seem a little overstated.

(I’m not bashing Klosterman in the least. Hindsight is the easiest way to troll a writer who puts out a bold statement. Years from now he could end up being right.)

Kentucky has struggled with a collection of freshmen who have, well... played like freshmen. The team has lacked leadership and looked downright sloppy in a mediocre at best SEC. So much so it may miss the tournament all together.

Kentucky in the NIT? Think of how shocking that is. Sports writers (like any other fan) tend to exaggerate, but UK forever dominating with one-and-dones seemed like such an inevitability. Today, they’re in the “First Four Out” with Southern Miss and Alabama.

So at least for the moment, the basketball purists can breathe easy. Gonzaga may finish the season number one, the Player of the Year and Defensive POY will likely be upperclassmen (Victor Oladipo and Jeff Withey), and only two freshmen have a remote shot at being a first team All-American (Ben McLemore and Marcus Smart). Kentucky will still turn its freshmen into first round picks (even if one has a torn ACL), and this lamenting might start all over again when Cal brings in his next round of superstars. But for now, this season is for the old school.

Unless the NBA becomes altruistic and decides to change its rules, the one and done player is as much a part of college hoops as irrationally hating Duke. But UK’s struggles have at least brought us back to reality that the sport isn’t on its death bed. As exciting as this season has been, it seems far from it.

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