Bloguin Basketball Roundtable: NCAA vs NBA, Part 1

ncaa vs nba

It is an age-old debate among basketball aficionados – which brand of hoops is best, the NBA or the NCAA.  While there is no right or wrong answer to this question – it basically comes down to personal preference – that doesn’t stop people from having very strong opinions on the subject.  In that vein we present to you the latest Bloguin Basketball Roundtable – NCAA vs NBA.

Participants in this battle royale are Jeff Fox of The Hoops Manifesto, Don from With Malice, a Bloguin newcomer in Ezra of The Purple and Gold Blog, Dave “College Wolf” Kelsey of TWolves Blog, David Pustilink from Da Bulls’ Eye, Gene Zarnick of Favre Dollar Footlongs and A Stern Warning’s mookie.

Opening Shots

Jeff Fox: I don’t see how anyone could argue against NCAA basketball being an inferior product to the NBA after witnessing this past NCAA Tournament.  Without a doubt, March Madness is the best North American sporting event outside of the Super Bowl.  And the main reason for this is two qualities that the NBA doesn’t bring to the table: the thrill of sudden death and the rise of the underdog.  In the past 15 seasons, only once has the NBA Finals come down to a seventh, winner-take-all game.  And any NBA team that makes the playoff really isn’t an underdog (the way Butler was in the NCAA) and, further, the underdog almost never wins an NBA playoff series anyways.

Don: As a non-American, I have the benefit of being somewhat able to look at the NCAA with clarity of vision, not clouded by affiliation. The NCAA is an organisation mired in history, lacking perception.  They want to have their players acknowledged as “student-athletes”, when the reality is far from that.  The vast majority of “big-time college hoops stars” have no interest in obtaining an education.  It’s merely a stepping stone to the big show, the NBA. 

The reality of the NCAA is that they need to make a decision as to who they’re there to support: the participants in their programs, or themselves.  Thus far, I’ve seen very few decisions made by the NCAA that are in anyone’s interest but the NCAA’s.
In retort to your point Jeff: The underdog winning doesn’t necessarily make it a better product, and in any case: in case you missed it – DUKE won.  As one of the superpowers of college hoops, they’re anything but.

The simple reality of college hoops is that yes, it’s nice.  It’s fun.  But it’s no where near the quality of the product the NBA produces.  March Madness provides a nice diversion from the dreariness the end of the NBA season can become, but give me the NBA playoffs over that any day.

Ezra: NCAA vs. NBA has been an age-old debate, but I have to agree with Don here guys (and gals). Just because there’s no paychecks involved at the NCAA does not mean the players there aren’t playing for one. Of course, they’ll play with a sense of urgency because of the element of sudden death but also the idea that the further these kids can take their team into the tournament the more NBA scouts will pay attention. But if the NBA borrows that lose-and-you’re-out form, we’ll probably see more teams preparing for and playing in the playoffs a whole lot better. But that doesn’t make the NCAA any better than the NBA. Besides, rooting for the team that represents your city or your hometown just gives a sense of something bigger.

As far as the underdog element in the NBA playoffs, I think any team not deemed to win it all is an underdog because the second best team never gets to bring home the gold, never gets a parade, and never gets to meet the president.

Dave Kelsey: The NCAA is all fine and dandy, but when it comes down to it, I want to see the best.  Heck, Duke -vs- Butler looked like a Division II college game with some of those “athletes” out there on the floor.  The NBA playoffs has the very best basketball players in the entire world; their grace, beauty, strength, speed, and skills is unmatched.  I’ll take that any day of the week over players from schools I don’t really care about, played by a majority of athletes that will never even reach the next level.  Yes, March Madness has thrilling moments at times, but the level of basketball just doesn’t compare.  Especially when some of the best athletes/schools get knocked out of the tournament.

john wall kentucky

David Pustilnik: My issue is with the NCAA’s level of play.  When comparing to the NBA, it’s honestly pathetic.  The possessions are painful to watch.  The 35 second shot clock kills me.  And not only that, the players usually can’t figure out what to do with the ball within 35 seconds.  The game moves at such a slow pace when compared to the NBA because of the 35 second shot clock. 

Beyond that, you have the constant zone defense.  Watching sub-par college basketball players try to break a zone is like watching someone bang their head against the wall repeatedly.  It’s painful and you’re not getting anywhere.  And because of the combination of zone defense, the 35 second shot clock, and young kids who don’t exactly have the skill or knowledge to do the right thing with the ball, usually all you see on an offensive possession is players swinging the ball round and round along the perimeter until the clock gets down to about 7 seconds.  At that point, the best player gets the ball and finally tries to do something crazy with it and it often just turns into a turnover.  That’s literally what half of any college basketball game looks like. 

Beyond that, the number of timeouts called is just ridiculous.  Sure, there are some elite coaches out there who are legendary for their techniques and ability to lead their team to the promised land.  But for the most part, college coaches call so many timeouts and probably don’t even know why they’re calling them.  “Oh, the clock is under 12 minutes, I better call timeout.”….”Oh, now it’s under 8 minutes…timeout again.”  Why?  It’s not like most college coaches are even capable of drawing up an effective play that’s capable of breaking a zone or anything else.  If the other team’s got more talent, there’s nothing you can draw up in a timeout that will help you.  In the NBA, the talent level is so widely dispersed and parity is so strong that timeouts are an incredibly useful and strategic weapon depending on the game situation and the coach who’s calling it.  But I honestly do not see the point of an “under 8 timeout” for no reason other than the clock being under 8 minutes.  So annoying.

Also, the zone leads to teams being forced to rely on the three.  The college game 100% revolves around the three-point shot.  And it’s a three-point shot that the college “centers” can usually hit, because it’s still in their range.  The three-point shot, in comparison with the NBA, is not a real 3-point shot.  That goes without saying.  I don’t need to convince anyone of that.  But that isn’t the point.  Because it is in the range of anyone who has decent shooting form, so many college teams absolutely live and die by the three.  They don’t have a choice.  Most college teams don’t have the weapons or the inside presence to break a zone.  You need a tremendous slasher…some Evan Turner-esque talent to consistently get to the basket against a zone.  Either that or a massive body who can just overpower anyone who is guarding him.  Most teams don’t have either.  For example, my Illini.  So they absolutely live and die by the 3.  So when it’s not falling, they are nothing.  In most situations, if a college team isn’t effective at shooting the three, then they absolutely cannot compete. That just isn’t the case in the NBA.  The Bulls are a great example of that, as they are the worst 3-point shooting team in the NBA and are about to overtake the Raptors for a playoff spot (that’s right, I said it).

So basically, I don’t consider being forced to jack up threes because your team isn’t good enough to do anything else within 35 seconds against a zone, or any defense for that matter, true basketball.  It just isn’t.  True basketball is elite basketball.  Watching the best players compete against the best players.  Watching teams who have players on their team who know exactly what to do with the basketball in every situation.  Watching players who are heady, and don’t have to look back at their coach every couple minutes to make sure they know what’s going on.  Sure, I understand why college players have to do it, and I don’t blame them, but that’s just not a better brand of basketball.  Just because college teams are so bad and lack so much talent that the games are incredibly competitive does not make the NCAA superior to the NBA.  I don’t watch basketball to see crappy teams duke it out in overtime.  I could go to the local Y on any given night and see that.  I watch basketball to see the greatest, headiest players on Earth compete against each other at the highest level.  And if some pro games happen to be less exciting than some college games, I just remind myself that the greatest college team in the land would get slaughtered by likely a 50-point margin at least if they played the 2010 New Jersey Nets.  That’s a fact, folks.

Gene Zarnick: David, the problem with your argument is that your thinking is solely based on the fact that the talent level is higher in the NBA so you think it’s a better sport.  There’s much more to sports then just the talent.  There’s competitiveness, there’s talent, there’s style of play, scheduling format, end of season tournament, enthusiasm of the audience, etc.. When you take in all the factors the NCAA is far superior.

You are correct it’s a given that the NCAA lacks an NBA style of play and the game is much different due to the shot clock, zone defenses, and other factors.  Many people love the college game though because of this.  We can go to the parity issue in college basketball and realize what makes it so great is that any team truly can win any night.  The reason for this is the style of play.  If you look at all the past NCAA champions you will see that each winner plays very great team ball.  You have to be a great team to win it all.  What the style of play does allow is a lesser team to have one individual play great for one game and beat the other team.  People love this.  This is something that could never happen in the NBA and that’s why so many games are boring.  Top team versus top team in the NBA is great, but does anyone really get excited to see Nets versus Cavs.  We know from the start the outcome of the game.  The NCAA gives us unexpectedness every night.

Next is the scheduling.  What the NCAA brings is a different game every single night.  Each team will only play some of it’s conference opponents twice and basically a maximum of three times.  This brings a new and exciting game every single night, plus when you do play the rival teams it’s much more special.  Duke/UNC or Duke/Maryland is great for the two games they play each other every year.  I don’t need to see the same game over the year.  Most in division teams play four times and even other teams in other conferences play each other multiple times.

The NCAA has placed importance on each conference.  No one cares if the Cavs win the Atlantic division, but people do care if their favorite NCAA team wins their conference.  The conference schedule is a battle every night and each game has a rival feeling to it.  After the year we have the conference tournaments that most people enjoy as well.  It’s great to see the competitiveness involved in these tournaments even if a team is already in the big dance.  We also get the underdogs who are playing for their chance to make the tournament.  It’s an excitement that is only seen in the NCAA.

March Madness is the greatest tournament in all of sports.  Everyone can complain that it’s not always the best team that wins, but every team that does win it all is still a great team.  The tournament is most exciting thing in all of sports and with 324 NCAA teams this is the most fair way to decide a champion.

Lastly, the enthusiasm from students and fans far outweighs the NBA.  You can feel the intenseness and the momentum change of each possession during the NCAA game.  The NBA has rare glimpses of this.  Yeah, exciting, wow, were getting an MVP chant at the foul line for LeBron.  That’s just not entertaining.  There is something special about the college game and the fans that connects them unlike the NBA.  All fans do is want their team to win and it’s not about what players scores the most points or even what players are on the court.  It’s all about your team and that’s it.

NCAA basketball has it all.  It may not have the style of play that you think is great, but it’s a style of play that brings excitement and that many people think is great.  It does have every other intangible that make it a much better product then the NBA.  If you look at one thing the NBA may be better, but when you look at the whole picture the NCAA shines over the NBA any day of the week.

mookie: For the NCAA: the school affiliation is something which builds an affinity and fandom for a team which is unmatched in the NBA. Few people have worked for or played for an NBA team which they support, so that makes it hard to have the same passion you’ll experience at an NCAA game.

For the NBA: firstly, we’re talking about a product which entertains from late October through ’til June every year. The NCAA may be
greatly entertaining for the month of March, but the rest of the collegiate play is largely ignored by the nation.

Secondly, the NBA is appreciated on an international level for one simple reason: the standard of play attracts the best players from
across the globe. The NCAA is largely ignored worldwide, other than one feeder for the NBA (along with other international leagues). That standard of play and athleticism is unmatched. I have to agree that watching kids repeatedly pass the ball around the perimeter, running 3-man weaves is painful after a while!

In short, the NCAA, as a form of entertainment, is phenomenal for those that have an underlying passion, rooted in being an alumn. Outside of that, the NBA has proven to be the far superior entertainment product, with the technical superiority of the NBA never
being disputed.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this lively debate.

About Jeff Fox

Jeff Fox is Mr. Manifesto - the Supreme Leader and evil mind behind The Hoops Manifesto, The MMA Manifesto, & A Dry Heat.