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Nuts to Bill Simmons: Why NCAA Basketball is Superior to NBA Basketball

This article has been submitted by Stu Wilkinson.

A couple weeks ago one of my favourite writers, Bill Simmons of ESPN’s Page 2, called the NBA a “markedly better” product than college basketball in one of his NBA Mailbags. This both surprised and disappointed me as a big college basketball fan. Hey, I love the NBA like Vin Baker loves the hooch, but I’m not about to call the NBA a drastically more entertaining product than NCAA basketball. In fact, if I had to choose between losing the NBA or NCAA basketball, I would choose to lose the NBA, basically because there are some elements in college ball that David Stern and the NBA can’t or won’t provide in the pro game. Here are a few of those elements compacted into three concise reasons why I’d ditch the NBA in favor of college basketball.

Reason #1: The Postseason
I’m sure that you, the sports-savvy reader, know what the most vital part of college basketball is. If you’re not sure, I’ll give you a couple hints: Its name involves alliteration, and it’s not Smarch Smadness. In ten days spread out over three weekends, the NCAA gives fans a dose of glorious basketball nirvana. Coincidentally, the period of time from when the NCAA Tournament is started to when it’s finished is the exact amount of time it takes to complete a first-round NBA playoff series. What are the odds?!

March Madness provides drama at a level the NBA can only dream of thanks to a large number of participants, a sudden death elimination format (as opposed to a best-of-seven format), and great parity between elite teams and middling teams. I don’t need to bore you with stories about how great and unpredictable the Tournament is – the fact that you’re on this site tells me you probably sat through a couple awkward Tim Micallef-Rick Majerus studio segments just to see the end of Western Kentucky-Drake in the first round this year. You were probably even four beers deep before the 2:00 games tipped off on Opening Day Thursday. What I do need to tell you, however, is that the NBA Playoffs kill me inside every year.

Hey, I love to follow the NBA, but not enough to sit through an entire playoff game that I have no rooting interest in. I think I differ from a lot of people who follow the NBA in that my passion for the individuals in the game – the Stephen Jacksons, the Tim Duncans, and of course the LeBron Jameses – doesn’t really translate into me becoming passionate about their teams. Basically, I’m rooting for a lot of things in the NBA Playoffs. I want to see KG win a championship, but I also want to see LeBron and the Cavs somehow upset the Celtics. I want to see the Spurs win another championship, but I also want to see Chris Paul and company make a run to the Finals. Every time I see Paul-Chandler alley-oop during the San Antonio-New Orleans series, part of me will say “Woohoo!” and part will say “D’oh!” Outside of the Raptors there are no teams I’m fully rooting for in the playoffs, and that makes for me not caring for the first three quarters of 87.5% of playoff games.

I’m still interested in the outcome of the games, don’t get me wrong. But I’m not going to wait around for the full four quarters to see what happens. I’ll tune in for crunch time of a lot of games — I’ve ended up passively watching a Lakers-Nuggets game just to see how awesome Melo and AI are. I even checked out a Wizards-Cavs game to see the true MVP of the NBA dice up D.C.’s finest. But the bottom line is that while March Madness has me pretty much glued to the couch, the NBA Playoffs have me checking scores on Yahoo! Sports to see if I should stop studying to check out T-Mac against the Jazz in the fourth.

(Quick note about the NBA Playoffs and their number one fan, the aforementioned Bill Simmons: I hate it when he goes crazy over individual battles, like he did in this column. Deron Williams and Chris Paul going head to head for the Point Guard Championship of the World? Really? After reading that piece I had to check the NBA rulebook and make sure basketball was still being played by teams of five.)

Reason #2: The Game
Yeah, the NBA has more highlight-reel dunks, deeper threes, bigger blocks, et cetera, et cetera. I’m not going to deny that the NBA delivers a ridiculous number of electrifying plays in the course of a normal season. NBA highlights are easily one of my favorite things about YouTube, from seeing Iverson dunking back in the day to seeing Baron Davis posterize Kirilenko in last year’s second round over and over and over again. When I tune into NBA games I’m in a constant state of anticipation for YouTube moments – waiting for a big dunk, waiting to see which player steps up in the clutch or which one makes a comically lazy effort. But surely there’s more to basketball than waiting for the occasional entertaining moment, right?

That’s where college hoops comes in and smacks around David Stern’s league. The NCAA provides a game that’s not built around providing fodder for stats geeks and SportCenter, instead it’s a game built around hustle and team play. People still get to the rim for dunks in the NCAA (Chris Douglas-Roberts against UCLA, anyone?), but they work harder to do it. A more laissez-faire approach to the defensive end – allowing zones, not creating a no charge zone, giving Duke the freedom to hand check opposing players until their ribs are bruised – creates a grittier and more intense version of basketball. This version of the game is called “Big Ten Basketball” and it’s what wins you championships at the college level, unless you’re actually from the Big Ten, in which case it’s what gets you to the Sweet Sixteen.

While NBA games, especially those of the regular season variety, come off as soft (a little doughy) on the defensive end, NCAA games come off as intense, physical battles. Non-BCS and BCS teams alike hang their hat on defense, motivated by superb coaching and the strange absence of multi-million dollar guaranteed contracts. A team like Tennessee, likely featuring no future NBA starters in its rotation, can visit Memphis for a titanic battle and come out on top, thanks in part to its defensive ability to get tough and stop a future NBA star like Derrick Rose.

Maybe it’s just me that likes the physical and defensive nature of most college basketball. I like smashmouth football, hard-hitting hockey, and the scrappiest baseball team there is, the Pittsburgh Pirates. So I guess liking sports that emphasize the same traits college basketball emphasizes makes me a somewhat biased party on this point. Even so, you can’t deny that there’s something about teams going all out for forty straight minutes that the NBA simply can’t touch. Not until Tim Thomas is out of the league, at least.

Reason #3: The Atmosphere
The atmosphere surrounding NCAA games is consistently great thanks to enthusiastic student sections led on by their school’s spirit squads. Forget your NBA dance squads and their outfits straight from Zanzibar, give me those wholesome NCAA cheerleaders! Well…let’s go ahead and scratch that last sentence (unless the cheerleaders involved are from UCLA) and move onto other advantages in atmosphere that college ball has over the NBA. We all know that no sporting event eye candy can compete with NBA dance teams, not even the Dallas Stars Ice Girls.

The fact remains that college basketball fans know how to “bring it” thanks to a combination of youthful exuberance and youthful tolerance for alcohol. From the Oakland Zoo to the Cameron Crazies, student sections provide enthusiastic and borderline-appropriate cheers. You thought the DUI chants at Carmelo in Staples Center were bad? How about Cal’s student body chanting the phone number of a made-up girl who had been “chatting” with an opposing player the week leading up to a game? Genius! “Rondo’s Better” chants directed at Mike Bibby by the Boston faithful? How about Kevin Love getting absolutely abused at Oregon in a Pac-10 game? A kid’s father took away his car for being caught in an SI photo flipping Love the bird!

I think this is easily the most universally accepted reason why college basketball is better than the NBA. Aside from the Malice at the Palace or a Vince Carter visit to Toronto you’re not going to find an NBA arena as loud as a college one. The fact that NBA arenas try to make their fans get loud by playing music DURING THE PLAY just makes the atmosphere obnoxious and impure. I’m sorry, but if you need a DJ and a 100 decibel drum machine to get you pumped up for a playoff basketball game you might want to just save your money.

In Conclusion
Once again, I’m not out here to hate on the NBA, although I probably just did. I like following The Association and its players and the highlights they provide. I’ll be the first guy to tell you that the Shawn Kemp mix on YouTube might just be my favourite video ever. However, NCAA basketball is simply a better product than the NBA. The atmosphere around NCAA games, the quality of the games themselves, and the unmatched postseason excitement that college ball provides are definitely, to channel my inner “Sound of Music” fan, a few of my favorite things. In conclusion, anyone stepping to college ball best “protect their neck”, because I will almost assuredly “bring da ruckus.”

This article has been submitted by Stu Wilkinson.

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7 Responses to “Nuts to Bill Simmons: Why NCAA Basketball is Superior to NBA Basketball”

  1. khandor Says:

    Men’s NCAA D1 Basketball is just that … basketball.

    The NBA has the BEST BASKETBALL PLAYERS in the world … but what they provide …

    is best classified as …


    in a basketball environment.

    There’s a big difference.

    The BEST BASKETBALL in the world …

    is played in the NBA …

    after you get past the Entertainment.

  2. Stu P S Says:

    The NBA has the best basketball PLAYERS in the world. But when I’m watching basketball, the NCAA provides better entertainment than the NBA. Since entertainment is the reason why I’m watching the games, NCAA > NBA.

    Just because you have the best players doesn’t mean you’re playing the best basketball. Maybe the NBA is the most difficult form of basketball for a player to excel at, but it’s not the best basketball for me to watch.

  3. khandor Says:

    The skill level, athleticism, and advanced degree of Conceptual Basketball Strategy on display every night in the NBA is unparalleled in the NCAA.

    e.g. Several years ago a feature length article in Sports Illustrated claimed that a head coach in the NBA makes more “decisions” re: his team’s personnel and strategy in a SINGLE game than many NCAA coaches make in an entire SEASON.

    To each his own however … as I have no intention of telling a man who is married to an over-weight spouse that he fiddling in the kitchen with the wrong genie, on a nightly basis, if that’s his cup of tea.

  4. Blake Murphy Says:

    I’m with Khandor—the best players + the best coaches + the best presentation = the best basketball product. Since you cannot effectively separate the basketball from the entertainment, you have to give the (huge) edge to the NBA.

    I have watched almost every playoff game so far this postseason and can safely say, despite being a huge March Madness fan, that I strongly prefer the NBA product. Sorry, Stu.

  5. AJ Says:

    Did Slamball separate basketball from entertainment?

  6. Stu P S Says:

    Slamball was the purest form of basketball ever created - some great basketball minds couldn’t find success on the court/trambampoline.

    Reggie Theus was only a personality on the halftime show for Slamball. Now he is a respected coach in the NBA.

    These are facts.

  7. Frank the Tank Says:

    As a kid growing up in Chicago during the Michael Jordan era, the Bulls were my favorite team by far. After heading to Illinois for school, though, college basketball became my passion. While I still enjoy the NBA during the playoffs when the players are really performing to the best of their abilities, regular season college games trump regular season pro games every time. Chuck Klosterman put it the best out of anyone:

    “What the NBA cannot manufacture is meaning, and that has nothing to do with level of play. In their 1987 book, Forty-Eight Minutes, Bob Ryan and Terry Pluto make the case that pro basketball is profoundly superior to the college version because “in the course of the average NBA game, there are more spectacular shots, more artful passes, more man-size powerhouse rebounds and more dazzling hustle plays than in any 10 college games.” This is mostly correct — but misses the point entirely. Level of play is never as important as context. For most of the regular season, very little is at stake during any NBA contest, and fans intuitively know this. I love the NBA, but I would rather watch players miss shots during a Texas-Kansas game than make shots when the Bucks play the Jazz. Meaningful failure trumps meaningless achievement every time. This is something the NBA just needs to admit.”

    There’s no question in my mind that NBA players are probably the best pro athletes in the world, but the college regular season still means something (even with the out-sized importance of the NCAA Tournament, the outcomes of early season games in December still matter in March when reviewing who makes the tourney) while the NBA regular season is, at best, about who gets the home court in a 7-game series down the road. Don’t get me wrong - I love the NBA and the Bulls as much as anyone (and I’m psyched beyond belief about the prospect of Derrick Rose coming home, by the way), but when it comes down to the two, I’ll choose college basketball.

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