Anybody who watched the NCAA Tournament knows one sorry fact about college basketball: It is broken.
Anybody who watched college basketball's regular season knows … wait, what? There's a regular season in college basketball?
Yeah, this whole thing needs to be fixed.
I don't mean fixed fixed, I mean repaired, as in made better.
Reflecting back on what we all just saw concluded in Atlanta a ho-hum season followed by bad basketball in the tourney and punctuated with a really good championship fight between Louisville and Michigan it's clear that trouble has fallen on the college game. Instead of inspiring us to think college basketball is great, that title game made us wonder where that kind of play had been for the better part of five months.
Scoring dipped this season to its lowest level since 1952. Shooting percentages were as low as they've been in more than 50 years. Until the championship game, this was the lowest-scoring NCAA Tournament since the 3-point line was implemented.
There were times during the tournament when it looked as though everybody on the floor had hands of stone, which is a lot more advantageous at the defensive end. The term touch was redefined as and reduced to a forearm shiver into the back or chest of players attempting the slightest bit of offensive creativity.
To too large a degree in the college game, offense has been outpaced by defense, which is to say clutching and grabbing and bumping and fouling.
That's just one of the problems plaguing the game. There are many others. But the purpose here isn't to complain. It's to suggest improvements. So here are a few that would make college basketball better than the mess it has spiraled into a draw only when America is checking its brackets, looking to see if it can win its office pool:
Make the regular season mean something
The NCAA Tournament is terrific fun, but it shouldn't be the only three-week period when anybody pays attention. If 68 teams are getting in, sometimes seven teams from the same conference, then who gives a flying rip about a game between Wisconsin and Purdue in January? If the purpose of a national championship is to allow the country's best teams a rightful shot at a title, then the present format is too accommodating. What has the sixth-place team from the Big 12 or ACC done all season to earn that shot? (Yes, we know Michigan finished tied for fourth in the Big Ten.) That kind of inclusion turns the regular season into an exhibition. The field should be cut sizably, and the number of teams from each conference also should be limited. Then those midseason league games would have meaning. It never will happen, but it should.
Get rid of conference tournaments
What started as a nice little concept in the ACC has transformed into a coast-to-coast beast. The worst aspect of them is they compromise the regular season, in the case of mid-major leagues nearly eclipsing all significance of anything that has come before. Why should a 14-15 team have a shot at knocking off a 23-6 team? Regular-season champions should get the automatic bids, not league tourney champs.
Move the shot clock to 24 seconds
Bob Cousy once said the 24-second shot clock saved the NBA. It now needs to do the same for college hoops. NCAA basketball needs more scoring, and 35 seconds is too many per possession. Even the women's college game has lowered that to 30 seconds. Those who believe the lesser teams would suffer against the greater ones because of this proposal should remember that rewarding the best teams is the purpose of competition. Everything else is wasting time.
Find and train better referees
Let's say it the way it is here: Far too many college refs suck. They make too many calls where they anticipate what's going to happen rather than react to what really happens. They allow too much physical contact, which gives the edge to the defense. Even Rick Pitino noted as much at the Final Four, lauding the NBA for making space for offensive basketball, while the college refs continue to allow defensive clutter, which uglies up the college game. Another thing: End the refs' love affair with charging calls. It's gotten ridiculous.
Keep eligibility rules the way they are
Early departures for the NBA by elite players dreaded one-and-dones not only are disrupting the continuity of the college game and reducing its quality of play, but they also are limiting the connection fans have to what otherwise would be recognized names. If all the young stars in the NBA were still in college, the impact would be huge.
What's happening now is a spinning door of peek-a-boo premium talent at marquee programs facing bunches of juniors and seniors at lesser programs, with other mixes in between. Retaining that top talent for three years instead of one would make the college games better. The trouble here is, at what cost? Blocking the professional options of young men who are talented and marketable enough to be drafted by NBA teams just for our pleasure or for the good of a college game that remunerates them with nothing more than a scholarship while that college game makes billions of dollars is disingenuous and, even worse, un-American.
Given that choice, we who watch college basketball, and for that matter, the college game itself, will have to go on suffering with and making the best of the scarce, brief talent available.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.