‘Tis the (basketball) season

Why NCAA March Madness is actually better than NBA play-offs

It’s the same feeling you get as you’re unwrapping that first gift on Christmas morning: you know what you want, but you’re prepared to be surprised. It’s the same uncertainty, high expectations and feeling of pure hope. 

It’s the best time of year for any basketball fan. And, to me, it trumps anything the NBA has proven to be. It’s something special—it’s March Madness.

I know, I know. A lot of you diehard LeBron or Kyrie fans are about to tear these words right off the page. And yes, I too have my NBA favorites, but the NCAA Tournament proves college basketball to be superior. And I know I’m not alone in thinking this. 

It’s no secret that the NBA game now revolves around the three-point shot. In fact, teams are now attempting an average of 31.3 three-pointers a game, according to a 2018 CBS article. That’s almost twice as many as the 18.1 average in the 2007-08 season. 

It’s a scoring game, with defense almost completely out the window. 

The NBA is designed to be fast, hence the 24-second shot clock. Offensive possessions are short, shots are long, and the flashy dunks and fast-breaks are the highlights of the night.

However, when you’re a professional athlete, those skills are expected of you. If you really want to impress me, get low and play some disciplined, lock-down defense. For a full 24 seconds, at least. 

Anything other than that, to me, isn’t real basketball. Now, college ball is also changing, as players are mimicking the NBA three-point shot. 

The thing is, they’re making those shots a lot more. The San Antonio Spurs lead the NBA in three-pointers, shooting 40 per cent from behind the arc, according to NBA stats. However, in college ball, there are six teams that are shooting just as well, if not better than that, starting with Lehigh University at over 42 per cent percent, according to ESPN. 

Shouldn’t professional, adult players be better shooters than students? Well, college shooting percentages are higher because, to the players and coaches, the shots mean more.

College players are on a timeline; they have four or maybe five years before their expiration date. That means if they’re throwing up an absurd, half-court, NBA-style three, they better make it. 

Because in college basketball, those three points are often the difference in the game. 

In March Madness, it could cost them their season. And their senior year? It could cost them their career. 

With no guarantee of playing after graduation, the time limit for players makes it that much more competitive. 

But that’s just what makes the tournament so worthwhile. Every round poses the threat of elimination. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re the Number 1 seed or at the bottom of the barrel, any team can muster their way through to the Final Four if they pay attention to the details–to the fundamentals of the game. And that takes heart.

After all, it’s called an “upset” for a reason. College basketball, and March Madness specifically, is an emotional game. 

It might sound crazy if you’re not a sports fan, and who knows, maybe it is. Maybe screaming in your living room over a buzzer-beater is crazy. 

Maybe yelling at the referees on television or shedding a tear when your team loses is crazy. 

Maybe it’s crazy to have an earbud in as you leave work to catch the end of a game. 

Maybe we’re all crazy. Isn’t that why it’s called madness?

That’s the beauty of the tournament that the NBA just doesn’t measure up to. 

The NBA’s seven game series in The Finals is a drag. Perhaps it’s meant to combat the fast-pace game, but in reality, it just makes the three-pointers and fast-breaks that much more boring. 

The one-and-done style of the NCAA tournament gives every game, possession and shot more importance. 

It means something. And as long as your team makes it into the tournament, it’s really fair-game for anybody. 

That is, anybody that puts in the right work.

So, the competitive spirit is there simply by the nature of the game. But it goes beyond that as individual players are working to get a spot at the “next level.” For many of them, the NBA is the goal, making them even more determined to perfect their game. 

There’s a certain appeal, I guess, in watching kids work to prove themselves in something they love, especially when they do it as a team. 

As a fan, our attachment to the players develops throughout their four years as we witness their growth as athletes. 

It’s bitter for us to see our beloved seniors walk off the court. The school teams we root for, especially if it’s your alma mater, have a little piece of our hearts. 

In the end, the tournament proves a little something about life: you should never discount the underdog. 

You should always play and live like it’s your last chance. And, in the grand scheme of things, the only thing that defines your success is how you live and play the game. 

You don’t always have to have the title to make a difference. 

Call me mad, but I live for March. Every day this month is like Christmas morning. Let’s unwrap this gift together.

~Michael Innacelli, CNUTV Managing Editor & Sports Editor~


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