There were 275 colleges that claimed Division I status for the 1984-85 season, when the NCAA expanded the field for its men’s basketball tournament to 64.
There were 350 schools eligible for the DI tournament this season, with another eight colleges (including St. Thomas) waiting out their apprenticeship to become eligible for what’s now a 68-team tournament.
The opinion here is that more schools playing at a level they don’t really belong makes for putrid entertainment to start most seasons, and for increasingly shoddy play over the three weeks of the Big Dance.
The endless number of options mean Big Ten schools such as Minnesota can gouge their dwindling numbers of customers with alleged DI nonconference opponents that would lose by 15 to D-II Augustana (SD).
Then, in mid-March, come the early rounds and a dance that looks more like a drunken polka wedding in Stearns County than high-level basketball.
We are supposed to be breathless with excitement over the upsets staged by St. Peter’s, a school of 2,700 undergrads in Jersey City, even if it does mean this:
This week’s round of 16 now has a team that lost 71-60 on its home floor to St. Francis Brooklyn, which lost 91-73 on its home floor to St. Thomas, which finished 4-14 in its first season in the Summit League.
Yes, watching Kentucky choke as coach John Calipari looked on with disgust at his athletes was enjoyable, but seeing men’s tournament teams throwing more hard objects than a stone mason made for frightful watching.
Throw in the three-referee crews willingness to take a half-dozen breaks in the final two minutes to review which finger last touched the ball as it headed out of bounds and it’s often been unwatchable.
If you can get the last two minutes of a competitive tournament game completed within 15 minutes in actual time, it’s an upset.
What Wisconsin offered up as Big Ten co-champions – first in crawling on all fours to a 67-60 win over Colgate, then shooting 9% on threes in a miserable 54-49 loss to Iowa State – was an embarrassment to conference awards for Greg Gard as Coach of Year and Johnny Davis as Player of Year.
Basketball was long my runner-up to baseball among beloved sports, but doubts were near a zenith until Monday night, when I turned to the second half of the Timberwolves’ game at Dallas.
This became exceptional drama featuring outstanding players all around the court. And once again, Wolves-Mavs was a reminder of my constant wonder as to the high percentage of the sporting public that claims a preference for college basketball over the pro game.
The NBA is not without its issues. Due to the impact of one great player in a five-man game, the reward for tanking is much-greater than in any other sport, so you can wind up with disparities as high as 50 wins among the best teams and the worst in an 82-game schedule.
That imbalance already was the case when the Timberwolves joined the league in the fall of 1989 – and, obviously, our fellas have been at the wrong end way too often.
Now that the Wolves have reached mid-level, though, it’s high entertainment being led by Karl-Anthony Towns, the best men’s pro player in the Twin Cities. Which is saying something with Justin Jefferson, Byron Buxton (when healthy), Emmanuel Reynoso and Kirill Kaprizov in the race.
The Wolves lost Monday’s game, 110-108, when the great Luka Doncic made some plays late, and the Mavericks decided it with corner threes in the final 74 seconds by Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock.
Leave any of a half-dozen shooters open for those shots with a non-tanking NBA team and they are probable to go down.
Leave Kentucky and Wisconsin and numerous other college teams to be watched in this NCAA tournament and you’re going to see ricochets off rims.
The NBA does have the issue of star players not playing random games, as was the case with Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo last Saturday at Target Center.
The two-time MVP was absent for what became a Wolves’ blowout. Yet, that’s not always the case with shorthanded teams, which was explained by the great basketball man, Terry Kunze, in a recent conversation.
“The reason you see so many teams missing players and still managing to win games this season is everyone in the league has talent, ” Kunze said.
“Guy like Jaylen Nowell with the Wolves. He has to wait his turn, but he’s a terrific player. The NBA is great entertainment right now. ”
Even here in Minneapolis. And the college game… not unless you enjoy the sound of rock hitting metal.