Destroying the Myths: Why the NBA is Superior to College Basketball

Every year during March Madness, I have to sit through people telling me why the NCAA is better than the NBA. How college basketball is much more exciting. How college basketball is so much more fundamental. How college basketball has a higher level of competition than the NBA. How, since college players aren’t paid, they haven’t been spoiled by the game. I have something to say to all those people: bullshit.

The NBA is a much higher quality of basketball than college basketball could ever hope to be. I’m not saying it’s wrong to like the NCAA or even prefer it to the NBA- everybody has their preferences and some people enjoy the NCAA crowds or take pride in their alma maters. That’s fine. But to say that college basketball is better basketball than the NBA is crazy. The college game is more amateur and the quality is much much worse. In an era where March Madness is one of the premier sports events of the year, let’s take a step back and consider why I think so.

Myth #1: College basketball is more exciting
This is probably the biggest myth in this debate. Fans who only watch college basketball during March Madness say things like, “ The game last night was so exciting. NBA games are never like that.” Umm… actually, yes they are. Look, March Madness is a great tournament set up. Teams with great seasons can be out of the playoffs with an off game. There’s basketball all day for the first few days of the tournament and it’s very easy to stay home from work or class and revel in the tournament. But let’s be honest. March Madness is fun for most people because they have a stake in the games. It’s one of the biggest gambling moments of the year. People make multiple brackets, enter different pools, and have a chance of making money or winning contests. When you have such a big stake in the games, they obviously mean more. You’re more likely to stand up, pace your living room, and scream at the TV. That’s a rare feeling if you’re not a die hard fan of a sports’ team. It’s fun to have something as exciting as a basketball game mean so much. And weeks later, when you look back on the tournament while watching the NBA playoffs, it’s really easy to convince yourself you enjoyed those NCAA games more because they were more exciting, not because you had a monetary stake in the game.

Myth #2: Anybody can win the NCAA championship
Single elimination in basketball means anybody can win right? That’s the magic of the NCAA tournament right? In the words of Jim Halpert impersonating Dwight Schrute: “False. Black bear.” Since 1995 the following teams have won a national championship: UCLA, Kentucky, Arizona, UConn, Michigan State, Duke, Maryland, Syracuse, UNC, Florida and Kansas. Kentucky, Duke, UConn, UNC, and Florida have won the title more than once in that time period. That’s the whole list for the last 15 years. Every single one of these teams is either a college basketball powerhouse and/or coached by a college basketball coaching legend. 12 of those seventeen champions were 1 seeds, two were 2 seeds, three were 3 seeds, and only one was a 4 seed. I’m sorry, but a sport where 16 of the last 17 champions were top 3 seeds means that actually, not “anybody” can win the championship game. Now, low-seeded teams can make the Final Four ala George Mason a few years ago or Butler this year. But that generally leads to at least one terrible Final Four game (George Mason lost by 15 against eventual champion Florida and Butler took part in the worst championship game in recent memory, although they did play in an entertaining game against Duke in the finals, so that’s not always the case).

Myth #3: College basketball is more “fundamental”
This claim probably annoys me the most. Fundamental basketball means good defense, good passing, no one on one situations, teammates working together to get the best shot and players trying hard. Duke and UCLA play fundamental basketball, NBA teams do not. That’s the myth and it’s total crap. In fact, we’re going to have to break this down into a few “submyths” (the best part about writing an article is making up words like submyths).

Submyth: The average college basketball game is more fun to watch than the average NBA game
This is a huge misconception which casual college basketball fans try to put forward. Let’s get something straight. Games where the Los Angeles Lakers are beating the Minnesota Timberwolves by 27 points in December are usually boring. You can’t compare these games to the best college basketball teams in the country playing against each other. You can however, compare them to UConn destroying American International in their first game of the season 96-58. And, in that comparison, the NBA still wins because at least at in the Lakers-T’Wolves game, you can appreciate Kevin Love’s ability to play the game. Can you name anybody on American International? Do you even know where American International is? Thought so (it’s located in Springfield, Massachusetts). If you’re going to compare the best college basketball games to the NBA, you’ll have to use Lakers-Heat, Bulls-Spurs, or other games where the best teams play each other.

Submyth: NBA players are selfish and only care about themselves while college players play for the love of the game
When people list the differences between NBA and college players, they always include that college basketball players listen to their coaches, aren’t making any money and play for the love of the game. NBA players, on the other hand, just play for their stats, don’t listen to their coaches, don’t care about the team, and care too much about money. This simply isn’t true.

Yes, there are idiotic NBA players, headcases who think way too highly of themselves and throw championship parades in June after signing with a new team. There are players like Derrick Coleman and Tim Thomas, who never reach their full potential because they stop trying the moment they get paid. But college basketball players aren’t exactly angels. The best players in the country, the ones that know they’re going to the NBA, are treated like stars around campus. They’re superstars in high school, recruited by multiple colleges around the country, maybe approached by agents offering money in the future in shoe deals and contracts. They come to college for one year because of the NBA age requirement and try to get through it without hurting their draft stock. They use the college game as a stepping stone to get into the NBA and that’s it. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this- I think players should do whatever they can to help themselves get to the NBA. But every time I hear “college basketball players are only in it for the love of the game”, I want to vomit.

Submyth: College basketball players play as a team, while NBA players play too much 1 on 1 and don’t care about defense
When you look at the highest level of NBA basketball, you’ll notice that every possession is very important. The point of each NBA possession is to get the highest percentage shot possible against the defense. It’s not to increase any one player’s stats, it’s not to have the best player play one on one, it’s to try and get a high percentage shot attempt and elite NBA offenses are designed to do just that. Sometimes this calls for the point guard driving, reading the defense, and making the best pass. Sometimes this calls for a lot of cutting and passing from different players. And yes, sometimes this calls for one-on-one situations. Good teams run a combination of different plays. Even when teams have the best one on one player in the world, like the Lakers, they try to get everybody involved. Phil Jackson, interviewed in The Jordan Rules, an excellent book by Sam Smith, recalled that before the 1990-1991 season, he decided that Michael Jordan would not win the scoring title that year, that he would pass the ball around during the first 3 and a half quarters and take over at the end when they needed him to. His whole offense was designed for Jordan to have enough energy left at the end of games to go one on one. This makes sense: if you have the best player in the history of the game, you give him the ball when you need to make a shot to win. So yes, there are a lot of one on one situations in basketball, but on the best teams, this is by design.

Now let’s talk about college basketball a little bit. It’s much sloppier than the NBA. The skill level is obviously much lower, and it’s apparent in the final product. Bad passes are made, layups are missed, and mistakes happen. This happens in the NBA also, but to a much lower extent. The biggest difference, and the one I notice on the most, is the inability to make open jump shots. NBA offenses are designed to get an open shot, either preferably in the key or from beyond the 3-point arc. Most perimeter players in the NBA make wide open mid-range shots over 75% of the time (I might have made that stat up, but it sounds about right). Every time I watch a missed wide-open 15-footer in college basketball, I cringe a little bit. I grew up on the NBA product and I’m used to a certain minimum skill level for all players on the court. College players may try to run an offense as efficiently as an NBA team, but the inability for every player to consistently hit jump shots puts them at a severe disadvantage. In addition, the 35 second shot clock is way too long. College players can dribble around the perimeter waiting for things to develop, dribble into the lane, almost lose the ball, recover it, restart the offense, and still have 20 seconds on the clock. The college game badly needs to speed up to a 24 second shot clock.

Convinced yet? Listen, I’m not saying that college basketball isn’t fun. March Madness is a great tournament and it’s obviously a fun two weeks. Alumni have emotional attachments to their college teams and enjoy the chance to cheer those teams on. What I am saying, however, is that college basketball is not better basketball or more fundamental than the NBA. Disagree? Say so in the comments below.

This entry was posted in NBA, NCAA. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Destroying the Myths: Why the NBA is Superior to College Basketball

  1. Jay-Hoosier says:

    I’ll preface my comment by saying that I am a fan of both College Basketball and the NBA. There are great things about both. That being said, I’m not sure what exactly is the point of your article. To me, comparing College Basketball and the NBA is like comparing apples to oranges. Both are fruits (both are basketball), but they are fundamentally different on so many levels that debating which is “superior” is generally meaningless.

    How do you define “superior?” Does it mean the quality of play (however you measure that), the number of fans who prefer one over the other (I’d wager that college basketball wins this one), which one is more exciting (again, not sure how to measure this)? You spend a lot of time arguing that the NBA is “better” without defining the term.

    The “myths” you cite and basically generalizations people make about the NBA (i.e. the quality of play is poor, it is a 0ne-on-one game, players are selfish, etc.). To counter these poor generalizations about the NBA game, you make generalizations about the college game. For example, with regards to college players “play for the love of the game,” you point to the “stars” and “one-and-done” players to show that they are only in college because of the NBA age limit. Do you realize that there are 345 Division 1 Men’s basketball programs? That means there are 4485 scholarship basketball players every year. How many of those guys are the one-and-done players? 10 (and that might be generous)? If we say 10, that means that 0.22% of college basketball players are the one-and-done type you are using the represent all of College Basketball. That is one hell of a generalization.

    The NBA is littered with examples of guys who care much more about money, contracts, their image, and the like, than winning. How many times do NBA guys have career years when they are in the last year of their contracts? They sign a nice 5 or 6 year deal and then are never the same player again (until the next contract year). How many guys quit on their team to force a trade because they aren’t happy with their current situation? Whole teams have even tanked the end of the season to get a better position in the draft lottery. This is to take nothing away from Kobe, D-Rose, Duncan, D-Wade, etc. who give a crap on a nightly basis. However, for every Kobe there is a Vince Carter. Shaq, one of the best players in the history of the NBA, has left 4 different teams on bad terms.

    The LARGE majority of college players care and care a lot. How often do you see an NBA player crying after his team is knocked out of the playoffs? This is a very common occurrence during the NCAA Tournament. College basketball is largely uncomplicated by the outside influences present in the NBA.

    I’m not arguing that the “quality” of College Basketball exceeds that of the NBA. It doesn’t. They are simply different. If I want to watch the best basketball players in the world at the peak of their powers, I watch the NBA. If I want to watch 18-22 year-olds who care about practically nothing more than winning the current game they are playing, I watch NCAA basketball.

    • Flying Haque says:

      listen, i’m not saying college basketball is not fun to watch or even that it’s not more fun than the nba (i personally don’t think so and don’t enjoy watching, but that’s my opinion). my point in writing this article is that i hear from many casual fans that college basketball is a) more exciting b) more fun to watch and c) more fundamental. i wanted to analyze that and show that when you consider the best nba games vs. the best college games, most of those generalizations are dead wrong- that’s the thing you have to remember here. i’m comparing the best college games (which are the only games most people watch) to the best nba games.

      yes i do realize that there are tons of players who play for the love of the game in college, and that the percentage is higher in college than in the nba. but, i’d also wager that you’re probably not sitting at home watching mediocre college teams play each other, you’re probably watching the best. and the stars of the best teams are just as spoiled as many of the stars of the nba.

      i know there are lots of players in the nba who care way too much about money, that a lot of them have career years in contract years. i’m not denying that. my overall argument was that the nba basketball product is better than college and that the reason people think otherwise is due to these generalizations they make about college basketball that simply aren’t true.

  2. 241rwienadale says:

    Completely agree about the shot clock. Like holy fuck, when will these guys throw up the ball, if college bbal went to a 24 second shot clock id consider tuning in.

    and 1 game upsets dont mean shit, look at butler what a booring team

  3. Jerba says:

    Myth #2 is the biggest crock of shit I’ve ever seen. It’s MUCH more feasible for a largely unknown team in college basketball to win the NCAA than an “unknown” or low ranked team to win the NBA Championship.

    In fact, using your logic, since 1995 only 7 teams have won the NBA (including the Rockets in 1995): Rockets, Bulls, Spurs, Lakers, Pistons, Heat, and Celtics. And I don’t know if anyone will bet on a team not in that list to win it all this year.

    Personally, I like college basketball because 1) I’m a huge fan of all sports teams that represent my alma mater. I think that you dismiss this notion somewhat. If someone is a fan of a pro sports team, 99% of them have never really been associated with that team other than being a fan. If someone is a fan of a college sports team, I would venture to guess that most of them have been associated with that college/university. Granted, the gambling on the Tournament does have something to do with it, but I bet most college sports fans will trade winning their bracket pool for their team winning the NCAA (I personally would trade winning my bracket pool for the rest of my life for 1 NCAA Championship).

    Hmmm… I had a second reason, but I’ve forgotten it. Oh well. Point is, your myth #2 is crap. At least compare the two before you claim that there’s no parody in college basketball. That is clearly not the case (e.g., Butler and VCU from this year alone) , especially considering college athletes are leaving earlier at a higher rate every year.

    • Flying Haque says:

      i’m not comparing parity (not parody) in the ncaa vs parity in the nba here. i’m saying that one of the huge myths in college basketball is that any team can win it, and that’s simply not true. it’s consistently one of the argument made my college basketball proponents about why the ncaa is superior to the nba, and it’s false. only basketball powerhouses have won in the last 17 years.

      also, nowhere in my article do i say it’s wrong to like college basketball more. in fact, i say that it’s a perfectly valid and logical opinion in the beginning of my article. i completely understand the ties people have to their college teams. i’m a huge college football fan because and i love rooting for my alma mater. my point is simply that the nba product is better basketball.

  4. Tesla says:

    are you serious? i wanna hear this nigga compare the nfl and college basketball…

  5. Adnan says:

    I think you’re also dismissing an important aspect of March Madness which in my eyes makes it hella more exciting than the playoffs.

    One shot is more important in college than NBA. One shot hurled up out of control can make or break a team. One shot can lead to the screams, the spazzes, the break downs. Yeah, for the most part the champion will be one of the schools with a long storied program. But March Madness is about those huge cinderellas, and every year we get them. Whether it be VCU or Butler this year, or Idaho St or St Mary’s last year, or George Mason from a few years back.

    Remember how hype everyone was when the Warriors beat the Mavericks? Imagine that happening every year in the NBA. Imagine that Warriors team getting to the finals. How nuts would have everyone gotten?

    And speaking of cinderellas, people don’t have a tie because of their pools. People have a tie because they form it. The way everyone became a Warriors fan that year, everyone does it every year for the underdog. There’s no other forum in sports where the underdog can do the work they can in March Madness. I will bleed whatever random color for those 40 minutes if they’re the color of the underdog. The NBA? Yeah, I’ll support the Pacers vs. Bulls, but I won’t care that much.

    And the biggest part of March Madness? The way games are set up until the Sweet 16, you have games that end in succession. What does that mean? The following scenario arises. 2 minutes left in a game. It’s tight, and it goes down the wire. Maybe even a buzzer beater. Game ends, switch to the next one. Same thing. Game ends, switch to the next one. First round you can get 4 games like that, 3 times in the day.

    I’ve seen 3 buzzer beaters in a 10 minute span. I almost had a heart attack. I’ll never see that in the NBA.

    Is the level of play better in the NBA? Absolutely. Is the game better on the whole. Yes. Would I rather watch a regular season NBA game than college? No doubt. But March Madness or NBA playoffs? March Madness all the way.

  6. Peter M. Arel says:

    I would also like to see a return to team play in the NBA. But until there is, and if team play really DOES exist in college basketball, then I prefer the college version of the game. David J. Stern, the Commissioner, is the BIGGEST reason why I prefer the college version of

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s