Which way? THIS WAY! Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-US PRESSWIRE
I don't want to step on actioncuse's toes here. He's been doing the yeoman's work on this site, covering the basketball team every single night, and I can't even pretend I've been paying attention. But it's March, and March makes basketball lovers of us all.
I'd like to say I have some noble reason for not following the team that closely. That I was protesting the style of play or something (though it is pretty brutal, only two players over 10 PPG and Hamilton leads the team at 13.0 PPG... that's soul crushingly terrible offense).
But I like Trent Johnson, and he's been successful wherever he's been, well, except here. But I don't know who else is out there, dying to take the LSU job. He's also one of the good guys in sports, and I really want him succeed, not just because he coaches at LSU, but because he's the kind of guy I like to see win.
No, I'm pretty much ignoring the team because I know how this movie ends. LSU is a mediocre at best program, and it has been ever since Shaq left campus. I'd like to say it's since Dale Brown left, but the last few years under Dale were pretty miserable -- it's like the light went out for him. I think coaching the most selfish team in basketball history (the 93-94 Tigers) was enough to extinguish even Dale Brown's fire.
But this is March, and this is the time when you start to believe. Western Kentucky couldn't manage a winning record this season, but they got hot at the right time. They pulled a few upsets, and now the Hilltoppers are in the Big Dance. Why not LSU?*
*Because Kentucky exists. But let's not think about that right now.
College basketball sucks right now. Sorry, mom. I know you're not supposed to say "sucks", but you know what? That's the word that fits. Most sports slowly evolve and get better. Objectively measured sports like track and swimming see times get increasingly lower and distances increasingly longer or higher. That's just the nature of sports.
Sometimes improvement is gradual. I think the 1964 Cardinals could hold their own, if not beat the 2011 Cardinals. Both won a World Series, but only one of those teams had Bob Gibson. Sometimes it is radical. The 2012 Giants would curb stomp the 1959 Giants. Curb stomp. Hell, they'd probably crush the 1990 Giants, LT be damned.
But college basketball is moving backwards. Kentucky is probably the best team in college basketball this season and I'm not trying to go all "back in my day", but this current team would not be able to compete against the best teams of the 1980s. Not even close.
Kentucky only has two upperclassmen who get significant minutes. Two. This is a team that was essentially put together this summer, and there's no way they have the teamwork of those teams built upon a solid foundation. UK only goes seven deep, really, relying on a short rotation of quality players.
This isn't a knock on Kentucky -- they are the best team in the nation. That's my point. A team with a short bench and almost a complete lack of experience is dominating right now. Because they are a lot better than everyone else right now. But this is no way to build a team.
The one-and-done rule is killing college basketball. The quality of play has suffered, and even the top programs experience such violent turnover that it's difficult to follow the sport. A guy like Patrick Ewing seemingly played at Georgetown forever. We got to know him as fans. Now, as soon as I learn a guy's name, he's off to the NBA.
There's just no continuity from year to year. The faces change too much and outside of the programs I'm personally interested in, I don't know anybody across the nation. It's just too hard to get a feel for teams - the only players I'm familiar with aren't that good, because they weren't good enough to go straight to the NBA.
But you know what?
None of that matters come March. Because as much as the regular season is a slog, March is still March. The tournament is still the most exciting three weeks in sports every year. More than any other sporting event, it reliably delivers the thrills.
As soon as Championship Week starts, all of the systemic failures of the sport cease to matter. It doesn't matter that the Kentucky teams of the past could probably mop the floor with this current Kentucky team. Those teams aren't playing each other. UK's playing the other team on the floor. They only have to beat them.
One of the great things about overall declining quality of play means that the gap between the best programs and everyone else is continually shrinking. Which means upsets, and upsets are exciting. Sure, Butler making two consecutive Final Fours says more about the decline of the power programs than the rise of quality in the mid-majors, but that doesn't make it any less fun.
Conference tournaments and then the NCAA tournament essentially rob the season of all of its meaning. Four bad months can be erased by one great month. All of the criticisms of the tournament are correct: it is unfair and a terrible way to crown a champion.
But that's what makes March so much fun. Sure, LSU doesn't have much chance of making any noise, but they still have a chance. LSU can erase this whole season by going out and winning the SEC tournament. Heck, why not?
It's March. Anything can happen.