Spotlight: The Rise of the Smaller Schools

Is this years Final Four a fluke or the beginning of a trend?

James LeBeauby James LeBeau

Spotlight: The Rise of the Smaller Schools

OK everyone, I want an honest raising of hands for anyone who picked that VCU, Butler, Kentucky and UConn would make it to the Final Four, ousting traditional favorites such as Duke, Ohio State and Kansas. What, No hands raised? That comes as no surprise as this years last four teams are as unpredictable as they are unprecedented. Nobody thought all of these teams would advance this far but as anyone who can see the possible growing trend in college basketball can attest to, it shouldn’t be shocking.

This trend I’m alluding to is the one that is seeing the less well known college programs catching up with the big boys of the sport. The best example of this came this season as there was not that one great powerhouse team. Instead there were top program teams with star power balanced by middle of the pack teams fielding players that have been in the system for a few years. It’s that classic battle of talent vs. experience and this year, and maybe in the years to come, experience won out for the most part.

"The term ‘parity’ is an interesting term in college basketball," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "You’re comparing two different things. You’re comparing budgets and then you’re comparing teams that are on the court. Only five guys play in basketball at a time. You may have 13 McDonald’s All-Americans, but you can only play five at once. As deep as you are and everything else, you still have to play and be good with those five, and they have to play as a team.

"I think that’s something that VCU, Butler, teams that have made these runs, they really understand that. They’re trying to better their programs in a lot of ways; we’re all trying to maximize our resources that are available, and hopefully continue to grow in that area.
"But at the end of the day, it’s about playing."

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the talent level in college sports is being watered down thanks to the yearly defections of ‘one-and-done’ players to the NBA. They play college ball only because they are forced to by NBA rules and run to the pro’s as quickly as they can, whether they are truly ready or not. This floodgate of talent that is pouring out of the college game is making it very difficult for the dominant programs to create the needed stability to win championships.

"As we started to have kids leave earlier and earlier, I think what it’s done … there’s been less and less power teams," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "I said all year there’s some terrific basketball teams — Pitt, Ohio State, Kansas, etc. But they may not be a great team. If it’s not a great team, it opens up the field for everybody else."

This growing problem for the NCAA may be addressed this offseason as the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement expires and one of the hottest topics revolving around the new one is making these kids play 2 to 3 years before being allowed to enter the NBA, something akin to what professional football has had in effect for years.

That may be enough to halt this growing trend of smaller schools dominating the big stage but one thing is almost a certainty now, if it doesn’t happen, Final Four’s like this one may go from being a fluke to being the norm.

Photo Courtesy of: AP Images