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NCAA basketball: Don’t mistake maturity for lack of talent

Stars Buddy Hield and Georges Niang led their teams to deep tournament runs as seniors this season. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)
Kyle Gaudette
Connector Editor

It’s wise to be a fan of something before you decide to critique it. That’s just part of being a good critic.

When Kentucky steamrolled its way to a 38-0 record and a top seed in the NCAA tournament last season, it was a completely valid to critique that team among the best college basketball had ever seen. But outside of the Big Blue Nation out there in Lexington, was it really fun for anyone watching that team dominate?

Every game last year for the Wildcats brought about the same narratives. Everyone wanted to speculate whether they would go undefeated, and everyone wanted to slap the “greatest college team of all time” logo.

It was excruciatingly boring.

So, when the 2015-16 season began with current NIT participant George Washington beating highly ranked Virginia and the preseason No. 1 North Carolina losing to little Northern Iowa, it was a welcoming sign indeed.

The only certainty about this season was that there was uncertainty all around. It was awesome. It was glorious. It was led by a fantastic senior class.

College basketball did not have the one or two dominant “super teams” this year that the sport has grown accustomed to seeing in recent memory. Rather, there were just a bunch of really, really good teams led by senior-driven talent. As the only noteworthy freshman stud, Ben Simmons put up great numbers at LSU, but failed to lead the Tigers even remotely close to the big dance.

When describing this season of college basketball, it starts and ends with the seniors. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield is going to win the Wooden Award for National Player of the Year and is putting up 25 points per game in what has been the Sooners best season since the Blake Griffin era. Brice Johnson has been a double-double machine for North Carolina, and conference foe Malcolm Brogdon has a Player Efficiency Rating of over 30. Don’t forget about the three most dynamic point-guards this season in Denzel Valentine, Melo Tremble and Kris Dunn – all seniors. And Kansas, the team with the best record in college hoops, was led by Perry Ellis – a man whose hair line makes him look 35 years old, but he’s still in college. The list could go on.

The NCAA and ESPN especially love to brand the freshmen “superstars” that come into the college game every year: it’s a hobby of theirs. Unfortunately, while some, as ESPN likes to call them, “green-room guys,” have panned out, ie. Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving, many have proven to be too young to have that label thrown on them. They are placing the idea of these kids playing for your favorite team in the NBA before they even step onto a college court.

Look, we all know that the NCAA has flaws, and the fact they make mountains of money off of unpaid athletes is absurd. But the fact of the matter is that they have coveted the one-and-done guys to be more important than the ones who had stayed in school to complete their degree.

Everyone should be forced to spend a minimum of two years in college before declaring pro, plain and simple.

Now, I don’t fault a guy leaving early if he has the talent and actually wants to go somewhere he can get paid. But I also don’t fault the guys who stayed in school all four years, are really good at basketball and now have a degree to fall back on. In fact, there is a strong argument to suggest that athlete may be smarter than his one-and-done counterpart.

Take a guy like Jahlil Okafor for example. As the third pick in the 2015 NBA draft and a former one-and-done freshman phenom at Duke, the most press Okafor has received this season is when he got into an alley fight in Boston. He was suspended for his actions, the Sixers tried to trade him at the deadline and a couple more incidents like that may leave him jobless.

I get it, incidents happen at both the collegiate and professional level. But raise your hand if you’ve ever met anyone who was genuinely depressed that they stayed in school and got a degree. Plus, as mentioned before, this season of college basketball was the best and most unpredictable year the game has seen in a long time.

You can criticize players, coaches and this article all you want, but I implore you to put away the critics’ glasses and look at your beloved game as nothing more than a fan. College basketball is more entertaining when the kids stay in school, and maybe the kids are better off too.

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