This year’s college basketball season was one of the most interesting in recent memory. Story lines poured out of the action on and off the court. Here’s what I consider the main themes of the 2015-2016 season:
- Senior Rebirth
Some of this year’s best teams featured multiple seniors. Many of the Naismith and Associated Press Player of the Year candidates were seniors, unlike in previous seasons. The star power was held by many players who have developed over their years at their respective schools. People still question why these players did not develop faster or declare for the draft earlier. Recent trends have shown, however, that perhaps it is better for players to delay the jump to the pros. No one would say that Buddy Hield is not a complete player at this point, yet many people can pick out the weaknesses in Ben Simmons’ game namely his inability to shoot the jumper.
This year, there was a plethora of entertaining seniors to watch. The more notable players included Denzel Valentine, Marcus Paige, and Jake Layman. The final four teams featured line-ups riddled with seniors. The Oklahoma Sooners had several seniors that saw the floor in addition to their Naismith Candidate in Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins. National Champion Villanova had two prominent seniors in Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono. Syracuse had an excellent example in player development with former Duke transfer Michael Gbinije. The Tar Heels had a number of seniors on the team in addition to Paige, the most entertaining being Brice Johnson.
The fact that these players stayed for their whole careers shows that the NBA is not completely killing the amateur game. While some players will still make the jump too early and many top recruits will make the obligated year long trip to play school before leaving to make their money, the landscape of college basketball still shows growth and life which is something we saw this year.
Scandal is wreaking havoc on the game. Several schools were under the gloomy cloud of sanctions this year and some will carry this problem into the following season. An SMU team that started hot missed the tournament due to academic fraud. Likewise, two final four teams have dealt with their own problems. Jim Boeheim and Syracuse are still in muddy waters and North Carolina could be facing some loss of scholarships and postseason bans due to their school infractions.
The king of kings, however, is Louisville. Rick Pitino’s future remains uncertain as does the team’s season to come. At this point it seems that academic progress failure and scandal are normal parts of NCAA culture. While the NCAA has gotten many things wrong in the past two decades, it does appear that these schools will face harsh discipline at the expense of the student-athletes.
Many people indicated that this year’s domination of the final four, elite eight, and sweet sixteen by power conference teams was an indication of the lack of the so called “parity” in college basketball. Even ESPN’s Jay Bilas was in agreement with this train of thought. While I recognize the fact that the numbers show an inordinate amount of teams in the latter stages of the tournament, looking at the topic of parity from this one perspective oversimplifies the subject.
It is difficult to look at the season and tournament as a whole and not see the parity available in college basketball. In early season match-ups, Monmouth took down Notre Dame, an elite eight team, and Northern Iowa defeated North Carolina, the national runner-up. There was even a cry for Monmouth and St. Mary’s to make the tournament. Dick Vitale mentioned in his post season summary that there was no respect for the little guy.
We saw, for the first time in history, a 12, 13, 14, and 15 seed win in the same weekend. Northern Iowa was 35 seconds from the sweet sixteen and Stephen F. Austin was a tip in away as well. We saw Middle Tennessee State take out a team that caused many brackets to be busted. We saw Hawaii take down a very talented Cal team, Purdue get beat by Arkansas-Little Rock, and Yale take down Baylor. That being said, there was very little representation of the small conferences in the sweet sixteen. However, no one would say that just because Butler made the championship that this was an indication of parity. The opposite indication is represented here. The whole story is more complex and we were a few points away from having a year dominated by the little guy in the end chapters of March Madness, and the overall story includes this change in the winds of college basketball that should continue to make the opening rounds of the tournament interesting for years to come.
Now as we put a wrap on 2015-2016 we look ahead. There are a few final commitments, a few loose ends to tie up and then it is on to the following season. Every indication is that it should be fantastic, with a host of powerful recruits coming in but some of the tale of this season could bleed into the next. At this point it is very difficult to see what is to come in the vastly changing arena of college basketball.