The college season has now been over for nearly two months, but basketball is still being played at the professional level here in America. The NBA Finals will start on June 4th and admittedly, will feature a match-up involving two of the biggest names in the sport in LeBron James and Steph Curry. However, no matter how intriguing the professional series, I still always find myself wishing it was still March Madness.
Before I start gushing over all of the reasons the NCAA Tournament is the king of the sport, let's talk about what advantages the association's playoffs have over the Final Four. One obvious boost for the NBA is their established stars, we've been watching LeBron for 12 seasons now, and even if you only follow the league casually you'll know the history and storylines for guys like Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Derrick Rose. The other benefits of the NBA system are home games and that 7-game series mean fans are able to see the same intriguing match-ups play out multiple times. Other than that though, the NCAA has a lot more advantages.
1. More Entertaining Coaches
No matter how great a guy like Gregg Popovich is at winning games, he can't stand up to the larger than life qualities of his NCAA counterparts. This year's Final Four had four of the best coaches, both in coaching ability and entertaining sideline demeanor, of all time. Bo Ryan, Calapari, Tom Izzo and Coach K are legends, but for the NBA Finals we are going to get David Blatt and Steve Kerr. I honestly had to use Google to make sure I had Blatt's name right, that's how memorable he is to the average fan.
2. Hope is Plentiful
Almost every team feels like they have a shot in the NCAA Tourney to go deep. Recent history gives credence to this as #15 Florida Gulf Coast reached the Sweet Sixteen in 2013, and VCU and George Mason made the Final Four as 11 seeds. Upsets happen in the NBA, but they seem rarer and less shocking than in March. Only one 8 seed, the New York Knicks, has made the Finals, and it was after the strike shortened season in 1999, thus leaving the seeds to be less indicative of a team's prowess than usual. In the NBA, if you're lower than a 4 seed, your chances to make the finals are basically nil, as only one other team, the 1995 champion Houston Rockets, has accomplished the feat since the expansion of the playoffs to 16 teams in 1984.
3. Stronger Fan Ties
Rooting for the local professional team is great, but nothing really compares to cheering on your alma mater. Add to that the fact that there are more college teams in more localities and you get fans that have much better reasons to truly care about their team. The Chicago Bulls may be the closest NBA team for fans in Iowa City, but that pales in comparison to having the Hawkeyes right next door.
4. More Family Storylines
Ralph Sampson III, Jeffery and Marcus Jordan, Seth Curry, and Glenn Robinson III are all sons of NBA and NCAA greats that fans got to watch play college basketball, yet GRIII was the only one drafted into the association. College also features many more family ties, especially between coaches like the Pitinos, the Knights, the Drews and Ron Hunter coaching his son R.J. Hunter this year.
5. Easier to Find a Rooting Interest
Normally, I'm not a fan of switching allegiances as a fan, but when March Madness is on, I always end up rooting for one team over another. It makes the game more fun, and as long as they aren't playing your favorite team who cares if you root for the mid-majors of the world or your conference's teams. On the other hand, this year in the NBA, my favorite team, the Indiana Pacers missed the playoffs and I've found it very hard to pick a side in most of the series so far. I watched some of the Western Conference Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets, but with no strong feelings about either team or their players I found it difficult to really get into the games.
6. Higher Stakes
You always have a finite amount of chances as a player in the NCAA Tournament. Four is the most you can ever play in, but in the NBA guys have as many years as a team is willing to hire you. As a coach or AD, a big run in the NCAA Tournament can change a program and your career, just look at Butler and VCU. In the pros, winning in the playoffs can't change your team's trajectory nearly as much as offseason moves.
7. Every Game is Needed
Reggie Miller once scored 8 points in 9 seconds to win a playoff game, but it was just game one of seven. The Pacers would win the series, but if they hadn't then what would Miller's efforts have been worth? In the Tourney, every game is do or die, and that makes late game heroics even more important.
8. Heroes Emerge
Bryce Drew, Bo Kimble, and Ali Farokhmanesh all became heroes based on what they accomplished in the NCAA Tournament. For fans of the NBA, the heroes and villains are already well-established before the playoffs.
9. Better Mascots
I may be a bit biased but I'll take Purdue Pete, Sparty and Bucky over Benny the Bull and Boomer any day, plus don't forget about live mascots like Butler Blue.
10. Steph Curry was Cooler at Davidson
Come on, leading a cinderella run is much cooler than being an NBA MVP. I'm sure Lamar Butler and Shelvin Mack would agree.