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Blair Kerkhoff: Rich will get richer, but NCAA Tournament should stay dynamic

By Blair Kerkhoff The Kansas City Star (MCT) • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:17 PM

ARLINGTON, Texas — This space has often been a spot to review the college basketball season, but this year let’s look ahead.

The NCAA power structure is about to change. By the end of April it’s possible the five major football-playing conferences (Big 12, SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC) will have new voting power that will allow them to create financial advantages over the other conferences.

So, what would become of those other conferences, the ones that give the NCAA Tournament its full flavor?

Mercer, which knocked off Duke, was champion of the Atlantic Sun. Wichita State, perfect through 35 games, rolled through the Missouri Valley. Can those leagues stay in the game financially?

If Kentucky or Kansas offers full cost of attendance, putting dollars in players’ pockets on a monthly basis, and, say Stephen F. Austin cannot, does that create further imbalance in the tournament?

Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch, chairman of the Division I board of directors, said no.

“The commitment of the higher-resource conferences seeking greater autonomy will create a different scholarship value, but it’s not different now,” Hatch said. “Do you think the athlete at Kentucky has advantages over the athlete at Southern Illinois? It’s very different now.”

Those that are just outside the football-playing powers have vowed to keep up.

“I can only speak for our institution, but we’re on board with doing what it takes,” said Creighton coach Greg McDermott, whose program plays in the Big East, which doesn’t have football. “If there’s to be competitive balance, I think that has to happen.”


All-regional and All-Final Four teams are selected, but not an All-NCAA Tournament team, except in this space. Here’s our squad:

— Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: He went where Khalid El-Amin, Ben Gordon and Kemba Walker went before him — tough-nosed UConn point guards guiding their teams to the national championship game.

— Aaron Harrison, Kentucky: To hit one turning-point shot in the NCAA Tournament is the memory of a lifetime. Harrison did it three times, against Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin. And, like his starting teammates, Harrison is a freshman.

— Julius Randle, Kentucky: He’s taken his double-double consistency into the postseason, where he had at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in the first four games.

— Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Perhaps nobody’s stock rose faster in the tournament than Kaminsky, a 7-footer who beat Baylor at the bucket and Arizona from outside.

— DeAndre Daniels, Connecticut: Daniels took his game to the next level in the tournament, especially against Iowa State (27 points, 10 rebounds) and Florida (20, 10).


SEC. No league made more of its bracket than the football-first league, with Kentucky and Florida in the Final Four and Tennessee in the Sweet 16. With that performance, the league had a reason to gripe about number of teams and seeding. Credit to league officials for understanding those credentials are shaped before conference play begins.


Big 12. The host for the Final Four and the nation’s top-ranked league fully expected a team to push through to AT&T Stadium. But champion Kansas fell in the round of 32 to Stanford, and Iowa State and Baylor, the conference tournament finalists, didn’t get past the Sweet 16.


— Wichita State: Thirty-five up and 35 down. Wichita State became the most perfect team in college hoops history. The dream season came to an abrupt end when Fred VanVleet’s three-pointer missed the mark, sealing the round-of-32 loss to Kentucky. But the Shockers captured the sport’s imagination this season.

— Officiating: For the most part officials stuck to their guns and enforced the points of emphasis on hand checks, body bumps and other contact away from the basket to clean up the game. There seemed to be some slippage around midseason, but the overall impact was positive for offenses. Scoring was up, and that was the point.

— Doug McDermott: During an awards-acceptance news conference at the Final Four, McDermott revealed that he was so frustrated with the game as a teenager he wondered about becoming a team manager. His dad, Greg, who would become his coach at Creighton, talked him off the ledge and Doug McDermott had the best season in America. He led the nation in scoring with a 26.7-point average.


— Tournament seeding: When a seventh seed meets an eighth seed for the national championship, the selection committee missed something. In this case, it was the teams that played for the national championship. But No. 7 Connecticut and No. 8 Kentucky proved seeds don’t matter, matchups do.

— Freshmen hype: Sometimes there’s unfair criticism. In the case of players such as Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle, there was unfair praise. It was over the top, but the players delivered beyond what should be expected from freshmen. They all led their team in scoring. Parker was a first-team All-American, Wiggins was second team, and Randle led his team to the national championship game.

— Kentucky: The preseason top-ranked team plummeted in the polls and late in the SEC season looked lost at sea. Only a run to the conference title game allowed the Wildcats to be ranked in the final Associated Press poll, at No. 22. Kentucky caught a spark in Atlanta, and it became a raging blaze in the NCAA Tournament.


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