March May be Mad, But It Doesn’t Match May

It is officially spring, which means one very important thing in the world of sports: the annual batch of articles debating the relative merits of March Madness and the NBA playoffs. This writer is only human, and so constrained by—among other things—a lack of imagination and a thesis due in a week. Still, I submit my own parcel of opinion to the ocean of pro-versus-college debate articles.

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I will preface this by saying that I have never had a college team to root for and have always watched professional sports far more than college, not necessarily because I determined one was better than the other, but rather just because I grew up watching pro sports more. That being the case, I must admit that I cannot understand what the tournament would be like for someone who passionately follows a college team, though I can’t believe it is significantly different than my passionate following of the Boston Celtics.

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It has been some years since I filled out a bracket for the NCAA tournament, because making a bracket means I will inevitably follow the outcome of every game with an unhealthy (read: sweaty and nauseous) passion. College basketball’s greatest leg up on the NBA playoffs, and really on all other sporting events, is the type of excitement you get from a one-and-done tournament that packs games into such a small amount of time. The sheer number of games alone means that there is always something exciting happening, whether it is a huge upset bid, a double-overtime thriller, or a Snooki sighting. The tournament is never boring. But upon some reflection I realize that many of the things that make the tournament so exciting also prevent it from ever reaching the heights of the NBA playoffs.

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One-and-done: The elimination style makes things exciting, but at the same time the tournament’s existence in the first place means that the regular season is relatively meaningless in the context of a championship, short of determining who makes the tournament in the first place. I like that the NBA regular season matters; the last NBA Finals was likely determined by the fact that the Lakers had a superior regular-season record to the Celtics, so that game seven was played in LA. I like that the season in the NBA can be viewed as a continuous narrative, with the regular season always echoing in the background of the playoffs. You don’t get this in college basketball.

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Close Games: March Madness inevitably has a huge number of nail-biters, but to me these close games often highlight the fact that the quality of play in college is greatly inferior to that of the pros. A case in point is the Butler-Pittsburgh game last Sunday. Butler upset the top-seeded Panthers in a game that was exciting in the box score but more frustrating in reality. The game should have been over after a spectacular play by Butler left them with a lead and 7 seconds remaining. A stupid foul on the inbounds pass resulted in free throws for Pitt, who missed the second and then fouled Butler’s Matt Howard with 1.3 seconds remaining. Howard made his free throws to win the game for Butler, but it was only after two of the stupidest plays I have ever seen, the likes of which are far more common in the college game. In addition, the ends of games are often far more exciting than they are in the pros because the free throw shooting in college is terrible. Memphis lost to Kansas in a thrilling championship game in 2008, but it was only close because Memphis could not make free throws. In general, things seem to be more exciting at the expense of quality of play.

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Game Seven of last year’s Finals aside, the nail biters in the NBA playoffs are more often of the “players making big plays” variety than they are of the “who choked less” type often seen in college tournament games. And this is a perfect segue into my final and most important point.

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Jerseys: College jerseys tend to be terribly boring or outright ugly, and for some reason this only seems to be the case for basketball (I think many college football jerseys are terrific). I don’t usually brag, but my reputation around campus is that I am something of a fashion expert, and the jerseys in NCAA hoops just suck. There are notable exceptions, like UCLA and UNC, but for the most part they just don’t work well. Someone needs to tell college players that wearing undershirts looks awful. One of my favorite parts of the NBA, in fact probably the best part, is seeing those toned arms ripping a board and dripping with sweet, sweet sweat (Dwight Howard, I’m looking at you). And how can you watch an NCAA game when there are so many classic and beautiful ensembles sported in the pros? The Celtics’ rich greens, the Knicks’ Pomona-Pitzer inspired blue and orange, the Lakers’ regal purple and yellow—the list goes on and on. The NBA is ultimately a more beautiful sport than college basketball in all aspects of the game, and this superiority is fully manifested in the aesthetics of NBA getups.

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