Sometimes, the more things change, the more they... eh I hate cliches too.
One year removed from one of the greatest runs in NCAA Tournament history, the Butler Bulldogs found themselves back in the spotlight, once again falling just one game away from cutting down the nets. Two nearly identical story lines with many of the same characters.
But peel back the layers a little bit more and, from my perspective, an ugly truth is revealed: if 2010 was a time where it was cute to see a mid-major over preform, 2011 might have just been the result of a much greater problem in the game.
As the tournament wore on, the national media had no choice but to focus on the frenzy as NFL labor talks stalled. The topic, however, seemed to be much more about the glaring low-level of talent proliferating the brackets, and not enough about Shaka Flocka Flame's unique character and Kentucky's affinity for dudes that wear jean shorts*.
Likely getting their first real look at the product on display Michael Wilbon yearned for better days, Colin Cowherd was just downright controversial, and some dude from Chicago that goes by the name of "Stump the Trump" said he preferred Always Sunny in Philadelphia reruns to a regular season college basketball game.
As much as these links can sting, it's the honest truth. I don't frequent the AAU circuit when it gets warm, but I have a hunch that the chatter amongst those involved is that college just isn't cool like you and I make it out to be. Instead, it's the allure of making a nice salary while sitting on the end of an NBA bench that is what's "in" (albeit a select few who ascend quickly to stardom).
Just yesterday, Illinois Jereme Richmond declared for the NBA Draft and didn't seem to suggest he was just testing the waters. A highly touted freshman with a lot of potential to be a college basketball star in one, maybe two years, Richmond shrugged off that opportunity in hopes of being a first round pick.
My take? The one-and-done Fighting Illini forward just signed up for a life of relative obscurity by passing up a chance to leave a far more indelible mark in the college game. Surely a somewhat irrational request from someone like me.
I'm not sure we'll ever see the type of breadth and depth of talent the college game spoiled us with in the 80s and 90s, and I'm not sure the next generation of athletes are interested in changing that. For every one Kemba Walker - who developed into a appealing star we awed over - there's a dozen Jereme Richmond's that vanish in an eye blink.
But with all this negativity swirling, there's no question that regardless of the talent level, March Madness remains the best that sports has to offer. Sure I am biased, but from bubble watching to the Big East Tournament, First Four to the Final Four, there's no annual event that offers such compelling competition and a reason-to-drink-with-friends-and-gamble-frivolously than what college basketball gives us to close its season.
That being said, you can't not ask (for the umpteenth time) for the NBA and NCAA to work together and cultivate some sort of mutually beneficial alternative that resolves what's currently ravaging the game we love.
*Kemba Walker, thankfully, got his due though. You can't by any means overlook his heroics.