The Difference: College vs Professional basketball
It is no wonder why college basketball far surpasses the NBA in popularity, viewing enjoyment, and intensity. Joe Freihofer explains why.
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There is nothing I love more than being able to turn on my TV and watch a toe-to-toe battle between the 64 teams selected for the Big Dance each year. The kids out on the floor are giving it everything they have, because for them, winning and losing is synonymous to life and death. They lay it all on the line for the school on the front of their jerseys, diving to the hardwood for lose balls, taking tough charges, flying to the rim for a fancy finish, and playing relentless and tenacious defense. The excitement and emotion surrounding March Madness is nothing short of contagious. It is a wonderful thing.
For some, the NBA is also a thing of beauty. More and more, final scores are reaching the one hundred point mark and then some. Sure, the flashy offenses of teams like Golden State and Houston are incredible to watch, raining down threes, step back jumpers, and no look passes. But for a fan like myself who loves the grit and intensity of a college game, the league has disappointed me. Growing up, I loved watching Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh all combine their superpower onto the world’s mega team: the Miami Heat. The trio was reminiscent of the Pippen, Rodman, and Jordan Bulls. They were overflowing with talent, and other franchises shuddered at their scheduled when the Heat were up next. But why has the NBA become so boring and dull, despite the presence of mega teams like the Warriors, Cavs, and Spurs?
For starters, there are hardly any two way players left in the game. Players are often lazy on the defensive end, passively stepping to deny the other team from getting to the rim. There are never any presses or traps, and certainly not any full court defense. And never do I hear of a defensive specialist who will surely cause problems for the opposition. Now, the league has lulled us to sleep with an abundance of scoring and stacked teams. Still, they keep our pulses by telling us to wait until the playoffs roll around at the end of the season. Only then do the five guys on the court give it their all on both ends. That is why they are so fun to watch, but we are subjected to the brutal series of uninteresting blowouts, scoring stretches, and dull defense the rest of the season.
Just a week ago, twenty year old Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns dropped seventy points in a single game. Surprisingly enough, his side still managed to lose. Now don’t get me wrong, anybody who can score that many points in a professional game is quite the player but after watching some of the highlights and the brutally apologetic defense played by the Boston Celtics, it took away from the performance. The game ended at a mind-boggling final score of 130-120. I have to believe that neither team decided to put up much of a fight down on their own end of the floor.
College basketball has always captivated me. Whether it’s because of the pride that each fan takes in supporting their school, the trash talk that commences after an unexpected victory, or a last second finish that has the entire internet talking, there is nothing better. I grew up as a huge Ohio State Buckeye fan, watching the likes of flashy scorers such as Jared Sullinger. My favorite player of all time, however, was the hard nosed, defensive specialist, Aaron Craft. Scrappy and tough guards like Craft thrived in the college game, taking advantage of the up-tempo fast breaks after a crucial steal or igniting the fans and the bench with a big-time charge. But, for some reason, he never made it to the NBA,. Neither did several players just like him developed in the college game.
Kawhi Leonard, the San Antonio Spurs’ young and upcoming superstar, has been a breath of fresh air for NBA fans all across the nation. Not only can he spot up from anywhere on the floor, but he also never shies away on defense, racking up numerous blocks and holding stud scorers to impressively low numbers. Giannis Antetokounmpo, better known as the Greek Freak, has also provided some much needed life. The twenty-two year old has an unbelievable wingspan that makes him almost impossible to shoot over. He crashes the glass hard, locks down any player without hesitation, no matter who they are, and throws down monster dunks that end up in the SC top ten almost every night.
For me, college ball will always captivate me far more than the NBA. But, if the league can start to bring in some more two way guys, then I would be more than happy to give it a chance. Besides, it is home to The King, the Greek Freak, the Slim Reaper, and so many other superstars. I just wish they would protect their own basket just as hard as they go at others’.