Column: College basketball was still fun

Villanova's Donte DiVincenzo, left, and Jalen Brunson celebrate after the championship game of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament against Michigan, Monday, April 2, 2018, in San Antonio. Villanova won 79-62. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

This was looking like an ugly year for the realm of college basketball. AAU, agents and pay-for-play had run amok. It appeared time for an extensive airing of dirty laundry, with a stench so bad it could ruin the sport.

Some of that happened, and more of it seems likely to come, but in the eyes of most fans, it was another season, another fun several months.

Villanova was the best team in basketball, hence the destruction en route to their National Championship. But more importantly Villanova was fun. They had a dynamic roster of versatile pieces. Their players were incredibly talented, but more importantly they played great together. They were shot-makers, they played hard, were old and young and afraid of nobody. Hats off to Jay Wright. If you didn’t enjoy watching them, then you just don’t enjoy good basketball.

Wright and co. also appear to do things “the right way.” You didn’t hear their name as scandals arose, nor did you hear the name of John Belein and Michigan, who constructed their own talented team to a national runner-up.

Despite down years for perennial powers UNC, Louisville and Kentucky, relatively speaking, college basketball was still great. I hope people watched Marvin Bagley III play. Love or hate Duke, he was tremendous. And the Blue Devils still fell to Boston College and St. John’s, allowing people to revel in their misfortune.

Bagley wasn’t the only phenomenal freshman. When people speak about abolishing the NBA age limit, Exhibit A is Deandre Ayton. The young man is an absolute physical specimen, and like Bagley, watching him when he was on was to watch something simply on a different level.

Ayton and Bagley were supposed to shine. But college basketball’s breakout freshman was unquestionably Trae Young at Oklahoma. Young was expected to be good. At 6-foot-2, frail and leading a meager supporting cast, he was not expected to absolutely destroy everything in his path early in the season. His shot making was electric and his storyline polarized even the most casual basketball fan.

Yet Ayton, Bagley and Young all fell earlier than projected in March Madness. What a glorious March Madness it was. The usual buzzer-beaters, mid-major moments of glory and just pure pleasure of binge watching competitive hoops were all present as usual. What made the tournament spectacular was elsewhere. First, little UMBC pulled off the first 16 over 1 upset of all time. More importantly, they did it over the No. 1 overall seed, who had a historically great defense, mainly by just playing with swagger and hitting shots. Their Twitter trolling was a nice ancillary feature as well. Within the same region an even better storyline came into existence as the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, who assuredly would not have been selected without an auto-bid, played tremendous team basketball and introduced the world to their 98-year-old leader, Sister Jean.

In hindsight, Villanova was always going to win this tournament. What’s amazing about that is that I’m confident people will still refer to it as a tournament for the ages.

The season could be the last of its kind. Reform seems imminent. Top prospects are skipping out on college and the professional ranks are on the precipice of doing more to help them. There was corruption in the sport, that’s why the Rice Commission was created, and according to Yahoo’s Pete Thamel, their recommendations will be taken into action. Transfers may become immediately eligible, agents may be allowed to provide representation and athletes may finally get more equitable compensation. Any and all changes could really alter the landscape of the sport. It is normal to be averse to change because it is not always positive. But no matter what happens, fans will be able to point to 2017-2018, and simply say, “That was fun.”


Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.barresi@uconn.edu.