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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: The case for professional over collegiate basketball

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) drives the ball as Miami Heat guard Kyle Lowry (7) defends in the first quarter at FTX Arena in Miami on Sunday, April 17, 2022. Photo courtesy of TNS.

I’m still grieving over the night of the NCAA championship. 

We, as UNC students, were sold on the dream of our team — our boys — being able to pull off what would have been a historic, miraculous tournament win. Despite the dreams Armando, Brady, RJ and company gave us, we fell short. We lost. 

To get over this grief, I’ve had to come to one logical conclusion: college basketball is bad. The NBA is where it’s at.

In defending this opinion, a crucial question has to be asked: what makes a fun basketball game?

For one, I want to see high-quality, competitive matchups. The intrinsic nature of college basketball is counterintuitive to this desire. All of the top talent is generally assembled at just a few schools, and they all rarely play each other due to regional differences. 

The logical thing to do when you’re stuck with just a few great teams is to only let those few great teams play against one another, but instead, the NCAA lets 64 (or 68, depending on how tolerant you are of the play-in games) teams have at it. This kind of tournament setup is predictable — only one seed lower than three has only won the NCAA tournament in the 21st century — and deprives the audience of matchups between truly great teams. 

The counterpoint to this kind of setup is that "Cinderella stories", like St. Peter’s in this year’s competition, are greatly celebrated because of just how unlikely they are. However, lest we forget, St. Peter’s tournament run ended with a 20-point blowout to UNC. 

Because talent is so inequitably distributed in college basketball, these "Cinderella stories" usually count for nothing. They’re magical for a moment, but the spark fades away. The NBA is certainly not an unpredictable tournament, but at least upsets result in fixtures that are still competitive.

Secondly, I want to see points being scored — a controversial opinion for some reason. I recognize that good defense can be entertaining to watch and is an admirable quality, but the extent to which good, tough defense is highlighted in college basketball is laughable to me. 

If you listen to any former college basketball player who has gone on to have success in the NBA, you’ll realize that the only reason teams appear to be playing better defense at the collegiate level is because collegiate offenses have been running the same schemes since the 80s. 

College basketball is rife with awkward post-ups, gentle passing around the 3-pt line, and very few players actually driving to the rim. Everyone bumps into each other— the spacing is completely off. 

Compare this to the NBA, where more shots are made from a wider variety of regions on the court, and college basketball seems significantly more dull. Offensive schemes in the NBA are constantly evolving, and even if you’re not aware of that evolution, you’re able to see the best basketball players on Earth do their thing. The quality is incomparable.

Finally, I want drama. College basketball’s rivalries are undoubtedly more intense than the NBA’s, but beyond the big names like UNC and Duke, there’s really little interpersonal beef. 

In the NBA we’ve had Chris Paul vs. Scott Foster, Ben Simmons vs. Donovan Mitchell, and Trae Young vs. the entire city of New York — just to name a few. 

How can there be personal investment and drama from the players’ side when so many of them are keen to leave their schools and make the big bucks in the NBA? UNC’s core returning for next season is the rarest of exceptions. Rooting for your school is rooting for a faceless idea because players simply just come and go.

Ask any college basketball player what their end goal is. They'll say they want to play in the NBA. 

College is a stepping stone for them, and that’s not a problem at all. It makes professional basketball one of the world’s greatest sports: a perfect combination of ego, entertainment and incredible sporting ability. By comparison, the collegiate game lags far behind the NBA — something they might be realizing too. 

Two of its last three Rookies of the Year, Luka Dončić and LaMelo Ball, did not play college basketball.

If college basketball doesn’t change and improve, it might be left behind. 

After all, what’s stopping an up-and-coming prospect from packing their bags to play abroad in a higher quality competition that actually pays them?


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