Opinion: College basketball has been revived—for now

Matt Poe

For anyone who followed college basketball this season, it was one of the more forgettable regular seasons in a long time. There was no team searching for a perfect record heading into tournament time, no dragon that must be slain. Teams throughout the season would capture the #1 ranking and hold onto it for a week or two before ultimately losing and making way for the next team to do the same.

This past week’s Final Four was the epitome of a season awash in lopsided victories and relatively dull storylines—until around 11:30 p.m. Monday. All of that changed when Kris Jenkins of Villanova University hit the game-winning three-pointer as time expired, giving the Wildcats the victory over North Carolina and the NCAA championship. It was a game for the ages and did a lot more than just give Villanova its second championship and first since 1985—it saved college basketball, at least momentarily.

College basketball isn’t what it once was. With conferences realigning and shifting due to money interests, so much of the lore has died. Rivalries that had been played for decades have vanished overnight. Historic conferences like the Big East, which notoriously boasted the best conference tournament, disintegrated in just a few years and scattered the remaining teams, spilling over into other conferences.

We haven’t even mentioned the players. It has become extremely difficult, even for a sports junkie like me, to keep up with who’s playing where. Blame this on the “one-and-done,” which leaves us with very few players who stay long enough to become legends. Guys like Tyler Hansborough, Shabazz Napier, Joakim Noah—we don’t get many of them anymore. Buddy Hield of the University of Oklahoma was that guy this year, and his remarkable season came to an end during the worst loss in Final Four history.

But all things considered, much of what has been lost from college basketball for the last five years was brought back to life in a championship game that seemingly had everything. On one hand, there is a historic program in North Carolina led by an all-time great coach Roy Williams, starring players like Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson. On the other hand, Villanova was a team that had woefully underperformed in the tournament over the past several years. We knew they were good, but good enough to beat Kansas, Oklahoma and North Carolina? I can’t say I saw it coming, but led by Ryan Arcidiacono and an underrated coach in Jay Wright, they pulled off the improbable.   

Monday night’s championship game is already firmly cemented as one of the greatest college basketball games ever in a time when most of us forgot what a game of that magnitude was like. I can’t remember the last time I was glued to a college basketball game like that. The entire game was truly a title fight, with each team trading blow after blow. Marcus Paige hits that three-pointer that has no business going in, a shot that in its own right should have been the one we remember forever. Not this time. Jenkins’ shot is up there with the best ever, as is the game.

So while this game only momentarily solves a lot of what’s wrong with college basketball, we need to savor it because the collegiate game is in somewhat of a stand-still. If it means having four plus months of so-so basketball for a thrilling two-and-a-half hours of championship game, I’ll take it every time. At least for one night, we all remembered how magical the game once was and still can be. 

Matt Poe is a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].