City Sports Report

The David versus Goliath theme is dead in college basketball

Georgia State has been one of a couple surprises on the first day of the tournament (photo courtesy of www.fivethirtyeight.com)

The parity in college basketball has gotten better and better with each year. Gone are the days where a 3 seed can take a 14 seed lightly and still blow them out by 20 or 30 points. In Thursday’s matchups between 3 seeds and 14 seeds, both 3 seeds got sent home as the 14 seed came out and played very well. The University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers knocked out the Iowa State Cyclones 60-59 and the Georgia State Panthers would go on to beat the Baylor Bears 57-56 on the strength of an extremely long-distance three pointer by the coach’s son, R.J. Hunter, with a little under three seconds left. Both wins required some great plays by the underdogs and an unwavering faith by the so-called “little guy” would not allow them to lose. These upsets may be more widely seen in the NCAA Tournament, but they are far from rare these days. As the ever-changing world of college basketball continues to evolve, there are more of the so-called “big guys” getting tested by or losing to the little guys. And with that, some teams from bigger conferences avoid some smaller conference teams like the plague when they can. But what happened to cause this shift in college basketball? A few things come to mind.

The college basketball landscape has been being altered for a few years by the NBA rule that makes kids go to school for at least one year. When that started happening, you saw kids that knew they did not want to be in college going to schools as just a place to dabble around before they entered the NBA Draft. And as a result of that, there are more and more programs that have ebbs and flows when it comes to their continuity. The result of that is a program that can be good one year and then drop down a level the next season. When it comes to lower-tier college basketball, there is really no such thing as leaving school early. There may be someone transfer to another school at that same level or lower, but hardly do we ever see someone leave school from a lower-level basketball school to go to the NBA. The result of that is there is more continuity at these schools and the players end up staying together longer. At that point, more team chemistry is created and the pieces mold themselves together over time. When you get a school with players that have been together for a while, they tend to know each other’s tendencies better than the team that has not been around each other that well. And often, it can create some confusion and some problems for the talented although younger team. Some teams can overcome the youth and inexperience, but others buckle under the pressure and cannot survive the more veteran team.

Another big thing that is helping the smaller schools versus the bigger schools are the talents that end up playing there. In the past, there was not as many kids that transferred to smaller schools. They would usually transfer to schools at that same level or better to continue to play. But over the last few years, things have changed in that regard. For example, if you take a look at the Georgia State Panthers, their roster is made up of guys that were not going to go to bigger schools. But if you take an even further look at their players, there are two former high-level players that are a part of their roster. Former Louisville guard Kevin Ware is a contributor on their team that adds experience to them. And even though he did not play today, former Kentucky guard Ryan Harrow has been a very good guard for them and has scored in bunches for them. Add these two to the coach’s son, R.J. Hunter, who is definitely a high-level player, and this team is way tougher than many envision them. This is the same story at other schools as well at the lower-level. Players don’t make it at bigger schools and go to smaller schools to make it happen. And at times, it is something that benefits the school and the player, as the player is afforded playing time to develop more into what they are. You quite honestly never see transfers go the other way (from lower-level college basketball to higher-level basketball) and when you do, those players are usually contributors off the bench as opposed to stars.

The day of the David vs Goliath is now not as much of a story as it used to be these days. The lower-level schools have begun to get some of the higher-level talent to come there as well as they have a ton of players that have been playing together for a while. That combination can give blue-chip teams that are young issues and it can create the unpredictable as well, as we have seen in the first day of the tournament. But let’s be clear: the so-called “little guys” aren’t so little anymore.

For more sports talk, feel free to follow me on Twitter @General_MP or check me out on Facebook at Mike Patton-The General .

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