Welcome NBA Fans: A Guide to Watching College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2011

NBA Commissioner David Stern is calling it a “nuclear winter.” The NBA Player’s Union’s decision Monday to reject the owners’ latest offer at best means that any professional basketball played in America this year will be extremely curtailed, or at worst, will never happen. Characterizing the decision as one “hell-bent on destruction,” the four-month lockout now threatens to head into the judicial system where it will most certainly result in delays to the point where NBA basketball will remain a whisper in the wind for the 2011-12 season.

If you haven’t noticed, there is no such accompanying lockout at the collegiate level. Where the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant is busy attending sensitivity trainings, North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes is putting in work leading his #1-ranked Tar Heels to victories on aircraft carriers and brand-new opposing arenas. While the Magic’s Dwight Howard is assiduously dominating himself on NBA Live, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger is dropping double-doubles on players foolish enough to check him inside. As Chris Paul and his family make their way to awkward Family Feud tapings, Conneticut’s Jeremy Lamb is finding a stairway to heaven on his way to a second national championship run. Why worry about SportsCenter graphics showing NBA games missed when there are plenty of good basketball games already at your fingertips?

We know… we know… it’s just not the same for you. And we understand that. The NBA isn’t the same for us either. Really, it’s not you, it’s us. But in the interest of throwing you a bone in the hopes that some of you will want to see real, live hoops action this winter, take these five tips to heart. It’ll help what you’re viewing go down a little easier, we promise.

An NBA Fan’s Guide to Watching College Basketball

  1. Get Over the Talent Thing. There’s absolutely no way on earth we will try to convince you that the high-flying acrobatic feats performed on a nightly basis in the NBA translates to college. That’s like trying to tell a Luddite that he should buy an iPad because it will make his life easier — not only it is philosophically tenuous, it’s also an outright lie. But notwithstanding the occasional acts of jaw-dropping brilliance from collegians (see Lamb’s dunk), we believe that the game being a little harder for its players to execute perfectly actually serves to make it a little better. How is that possible, you say? Because introducing more randomness into the game through sub-perfection contributes to the close finishes and major upsets that lead to all that excitement we see every March.
  2. The College Environment is Far Better. Because the players care more about a game on a random Tuesday night; because the games matter more; because the sport caters to rabid alumni and their tribalist sensibilities rather than the out-for-a-good-time set; and well, just because most things having to do with collegeare better. Look at the name of this site — as far as we know, nobody RTCs in the professional game (Boston ’84 one shining exception). Instead, you call over the waitress and ask for another cocktail. Jumping wildly among a maelstrom of your fellow face-painted screaming idiot friends at a college basketball game is a sensation unlike anything in the professional game, and even viewing it from a safe perimeter is still fairly exciting — maybe it’s not your cup of tea, but if you haven’t done it, you really haven’t experienced everything this sport has to offer.
  3. Individual Games Matter More at This Level.  Most college teams will play a third to a half as many games as an NBA team will in a normal regular season. As a result of an endless professional season, too many NBA games results in too many nights of half-hearted efforts from players looking to get through a rough road stretch and back to their own beds. With more time off between games, college players’ bodies have a better chance to recuperate and become fresh for the next one. We’re not suggesting that every game counts at this level, because that’s most certainly not true; but, with decades of experience watching both sports closely, we’re comfortable saying that collegiate effort, on an average mid-season night, is higher than NBA effort. When you as a fan sense that players are putting out a maximum effort more often, you can’t help but become more interested in the game you’re watching.
  4. An Opportunity to Learn About Xs & Os.  It’s no secret that the NBA is a players’ league. If you don’t have some reasonable combination of several of the best players in the world, you don’t stand much chance at winning long-term in the Association. Give Dirk Nowitzi a good point guard who can run pick-and-pops with him and you’re good to go; provide Kobe Bryant with a big man to take the pressure off him and… you see the point. This is less true at the collegiate level because coaching systems serve to hide individual player weaknesses (of which there are many) and maximize their strengths (of which there are few). Look at how Brad Stevens does it at Butler, or Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh, or even Mike Krzyzewski at Duke — knowing that it’s rare for an opponent to have so much offensive or defensive talent to beat them singlehandedly, these coaches are experts at coming up with schemes to opportunistically help their teams win. Watching them carefully craft and execute a game plan gives you a behind-the-scenes insight that you’ll never find at the NBA level, where talent is (mostly) everything.
  5. The Unknown Will Always Trump the Known. When it comes to excitement, the unknown will always trump the known. The NBA and its players, coaches, tendencies and settings are an extremely well-known commodity. Rarely will a player nobody knows take the league by storm in the same way that Kevin Durant did for Texas in 2007. Never will a team like Butler (well, the NBA doesn’t have Butlers) have a realistic shot at winning the national championship as the Bulldogs did in both 2010 and 2011. The seven-game NBA playoff series standard virtually ensures few major upsets (and if there is one, it’s because the higher seed was obviously flawed in some way). Some people like a fair amount of certainty with their sports, but college basketball is unknown and uncertain to its very core — and from our view of the world, that ultimately makes it more exciting.
So there you have it. Don’t bother writing us with all the reasons and counterpoints contending that the NBA is better than college basketball. We already know them and agree with some of their merits, but besides, it doesn’t matter anyway. It’s not going to bring your sport back from the precipice, nor is it going to cause college basketball to lock up the doors. The only thing we can do is compromise, and if you’re willing to give our maddening little sport a chance this winter, you might find that it has its charms and you might even be surprised — some of our guys can play a little basketball too.
rtmsf (3954 Posts)

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