Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today to celebrate the life of college basketball. College basketball lived prosperously for 122 years before fate intervened on Monday in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Of course, college basketball will still be played. Next season, Hilton Magic will be back in business, the “Phog” will beg patrons to “Pay Heed,” and the Cameron Crazies will hang their fifth banner in Durham, North Carolina after Duke beat Wisconsin Monday to capture the 2015 Men’s Basketball National Championship.
No, this is not a funeral for the institution of collegiate basketball. On the surface, nothing has changed. March Madness served up numerous moments of enjoyment for the adoring masses sitting at home (or in class and work). Notre Dame vs. Kentucky, Georgia State upsetting Baylor, and the spectacle that was Monday’s championship game all laid witness to the fact that the body, for now, is still strong.
The soul, however, is no longer present.
Monday’s championship game (and one of the Final Four games before it) saw two great teams, made of two very different sets of players, battle it out for dominance.
The runners up in the Wisconsin Badgers had a strong veteran-laden team — players who had put in the work for the long haul, which is almost a throwback in today’s college basketball.
Normally, Duke is a team known primarily for winning championships with Wisconsin’s formula: get good players, add in great coaches, put it in the oven for a couple years and boom, championships.
But the Blue Devils’ longtime head coach Mike Krzyzewski knows better than anyone that in life, the successful adapt and pass those unwilling or unable to change with the times.
This year, Coach K reloaded with young talent. In addition to headlining freshman center Jahlil Okafor, Duke also added five-star talent in guard Tyus Jones and forward Justise Winslow to round out the No. 1 recruiting class going into the 2015 season.
The competition began, Duke worked their way to a No. 1 seed and Monday’s championship berth.
We’ve seen this script before, several times. The young upstarts fight their way to the finals where a veteran team waits to put them in their inexperienced place.
Monday, however, saw the script change. The ad nauseam dialogue about veteran know-how and toughness (basically personified in Wisconsin) is moot.
Freshmen scored 60 of Duke’s 68 points and all of the team’s 37 second-half points.
Now, this wouldn’t be an issue in a world where Okafor, Jones and Winslow would be returning for a sophomore campaign. But they’re likely one and done.
Some lay the blame at the feet of the coaches, but what do you expect them to do? It’s their job to go get the best. It’s not their fault that in order to do your job well, you basically turn your college basketball team into an unpaid NBA D-League squad.
It’s easier. Every year you get the headliners. Every year you have a chance to compete. Every year, if your jersey has a certain name on it, you reload.
And now we’ve seen that it works.
The easy way works. Rebuilding doesn’t exist anymore if you have prestige.
The home-cooked meal has been left out to rot while teams can order carry-out. Both taste the same, so why bother?
We’re entering a world where a developed team will soon become an accident. Where veteran college players are just that and nothing more. Meanwhile, the NBA will have their factories, pumping out Andrew Wiggins’ and Anthony Davis’ made to order.
For the powers that be, it’s no longer about the love of the game. It’s about the love of the green, and it’s their hands that are stained with the blood of what once was college basketball.
So farewell college basketball, goodbye to your competitive spirit and underdog philosophy rooted squarely in the American dream. You were too beautiful for this world.
Tim Everson is a sophomore in mass communications.