The season was supposed to tainted. With the Federal Bureau of Investigation barring down on some of the game’s preeminent faces and places, with the light being shown on its dirty underworld and with an indefinite judgement day(s), college basketball seemed mired to a season of gloom and doom.
The injustice of NCAA amateurism and the misappropriation of federal resources are a debate for another time. The NCAA’s definition of right and wrong may be just their own societal construct, but that shouldn’t comfort anybody. The affected parties live in the society of that creation. Rules were broken, and corruption occurred.
The first wave cost Louisville head coach Rick Pitino his job, Five Star Freshman Brian Bowen his eligibility and cast shadows and investigations (with players having to sit) at Oklahoma State, USC, Miami, Arizona, Auburn and elsewhere. Later in the season Yahoo!’s Pete Thamel had a report indicating many other current and former stars being attached to impermissible activity. Elsewhere powerhouse Michigan State, embroiled in a systemic negligence culture, may have protected multiple constituents accused of sexual harassment.
It was a sad reality for the game’s pure fans. However, with one weekend left, and the season at its annual pinnacle, the cheaters have yet to win and to many that means a lot. Michigan State made a run, but they were supremely short on talent, losing to Syracuse in the second round. USC, Oklahoma State and Louisville all had good seasons – but not good enough. All three were bubble teams that did not qualify for the big dance. Arizona, with reports of wiretaps, pay for play and an arrested former assistant, were not just defeated, but plum embarrassed by Buffalo in a first round upset. Earlier in the same day Miami, a dark horse team with talent, had been upset themselves by 11 seed Loyola-Chicago.
Those same Ramblers are still playing. Led by a 98-year-old nun named Sister Jean, they will take on Michigan in the first national semi-final. John Belein has a tremendous reputation of being a good guy who runs a clean program. His team is talented, but devoid of McDonald American types at the center of most of the controversies. Curiously, the number one source of illegal conduct, Christian Dawkins, is a Michigan native and many players indicated, like former Kansas star and Flint native, Josh Jackson. None to be found on this Wolverines gang. The Ramblers of Loyola are the penultimate Mid-Major, they have no real stars; rather they have won by playing excellent team basketball and executing beautifully on both ends on the court.
The second semifinal gets even more dicey. Bill Self and Kansas have dominated the recruiting trail and have a talented team. Could that success come from sinister means? The NCAA thought so about Billy Preston. They were investigating how the former top 20 recruit had come to use a car (a car he later crashed, leading to the suspicion) and if it was an impermissible benefit. He eventually left. Kansas is also a flagship Adidas program. As the FBI, who has pursued a couple Adidas executives, indicated at Louisville, the company and its employees were not above shepherding its top recruits to its collegiate institutions by dubious means.
Its opponent, Villanova, is similar to Michigan. Jay Wright has one of the best stature’s in the game right now. Yes, the Wildcats have high level recruits, but so far there is no inklings that they matriculated to suburban Philadelphia illicitly. Wright’s roster is full of underbought recruits redshirted and/or took the time to develop into the stars they have become.
Kansas may or may not be clean, but we’re working with at least 75%. That’s a good mark. There will be no vacated titles, no black-eyes to come. These programs, and the men who lead them, epitomize what is good about college basketball: teamwork, execution, player development and leadership. In a season where it seemed like those traits where as lacking as ever, to have the Final Four we do is the ultimate irony. People who care about the game can only hope they’re the ultimate role models as well.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.