Contrasting two roads to championship

Every March, college hoops is all that any sports fan can think about. It is a craze that is not easily explained, but when it is time for the NBA playoffs the same enthusiasm is not there.

Why is this? The NBA is the step up from the NCAA. The players are professionals, and the money is certainly bigger. So why aren’t the lights just as big?

Part of the answer to that question is that the NBA is far more predictable. A person can fairly accurately predict who the Final Four NBA teams at the end of the playoffs will be. For example, this year one might say the Warriors and the Spurs will face off in the West and the Cavaliers and the Raptors, Wizards or Celtics will face off in the East.

Who the Cavs will play in the Eastern Conference Finals seems to end up being the biggest toss up in recent years. This opens the door for “bandwagon” fans to jump on board for one of these few teams, because they can be pretty sure the ride will last at least until the Conference Finals. In college, there are bandwagon fans as well, but it is harder to be a bandwagon fan when it is far less consistent who wins; therefore, fans tend to pick a team and stick to them and in turn are often more passionate towards the team.

Another possible issue fans may have with the NBA is that the teams are built to win. In today’s NBA, if a team does not have a “Big Three,” their chances of making it deep in the playoffs fall significantly. Think of all the super teams in the last 17 years: the 2000-02 Lakers with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, who won three straight championships; the 2007-2012 Celtics with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, winning one of their two appearances in the finals; the 2010 Lakers with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom; and the 2010-2013 Miami Heat with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, who made it to the finals all four years that LeBron was there and won two of their four attempts. This season, the Warriors, Cavs, and even the Spurs are all very likely to reach their Conference Finals, and a huge reason is because they are loaded with superstars.

Competition is what interests people in sports. It is what makes it exciting to watch. When a small handful of teams are allowed to dominate a sport, the competition is no longer there. College basketball is more of a group effort. Teams are built from years of recruiting and players sticking around.

There are, of course, exceptions to this even in college, though. A couple of examples include the 2012 Kentucky and the 2015 Duke Championship teams, which were dominant forces because of the big names they had. The 2015 Duke team won with three of their best players being freshmen. The college game has evolved over the years, and sometimes a team can win it all after a single offseason with some very talented freshmen coming in, but more often in college, championships are won by strength of upperclassmen or experienced players. Trying to give examples of teams like this would be futile, because this is most often the case and there are too many instances to point out.

Because the NBA playoffs are best of seven, the better team almost always prevails. If the stronger team loses the first game in a series, there is no reason to panic because they have many more chances to come out on top. In the NCAA Tournament, however, it is win or go home. The first week of the tournament begins with 64 teams, and by the end of the weekend it is weeded down to 16. The next weekend begins with 16 and ends with four. This means that the stakes could not be higher in the tournament, and upsets, however big, happen every year. Notable upsets in recent tournaments include the 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast beating number two seed Georgetown in the first round in 2013, and just last year when 15 seed MTSU defeated two seed Michigan State, who many had pinned to win the whole thing, in a bracket-busting game.

The NBA is a business, as is the NCAA, but the NBA’s dominance by these super teams and their far less risky playoffs (but granted, more fair) could be what makes the NCAA Tournament a more appealing venue to many sports fans.

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