Sports Column

The baseball season is over. Football is at the halfway point. Hockey is in its second month. But it’s time to watch some college hoops, folks.

In my opinion, there really is no sports season like Division-I college basketball.

Surely, people will argue that the NFL and Major League Baseball are the top sports seasons, and I have no problem with that since both are great to follow and allow us die-hards to track our fantasy sports teams (You guys know it’s true).

The college games are simply much better than professional contests, due to the intensity level of the athletes and fans as well as the coaches having more of an impact on the outcome of each game.

Student-athletes work as hard, if not harder, than any professional athlete despite not making a salary for their efforts. These kids put their heart and soul on the line every day to play the game they’ve always loved, and the intensity shows once they take the floor in front of loud and sometimes rabid fans.

The athletes can leave whenever they want and take their game to the NBA, but many come back for a) the chance to succeed in a team-based environment, b) an opportunity to get a great college degree, c) the ability to continually improve individual skills before making the jump and d) a chance to grow as an individual throughout the whole experience.

Every college basketball player wants to be the one who takes his team to the tourney.

The NCAA Tournament is always so exciting to watch because of the last-second game-winners and the incredible upsets, but it’s the regular season that gives us the great games, clutch performances and ruckus crowds that makes college sports one of a kind.

In what other sport can a team like Valparaiso hit a buzzer-beater to knock off a big school like Missouri, or a school from the state of Vermont upsetting powerhouse Syracuse in overtime? And the season gets the fans pumped for the always-interesting conference championships, which act as a delicious appetizer before March Madness.

There are the powerhouse schools of Duke, North Carolina, UCLA and Kansas, each bringing in at least 20,000 fans per game and putting together a strong core of players every year. Now the smaller schools, known as mid-majors, are beginning to catch up.

During the last three seasons, teams like Butler are coming out of nowhere and competing with the Dukes and UCLA’s of the world. I think parity is great for the sport, with the “impossible” shockers happening on a regular basis.

Going to a college basketball game is a whole other story; it’s ten times better than watching from the couch.

Then you’ve got the NBA, which is like a soap opera with action and intense rivalries. Each year, there are certain storylines that capture the fans from November to May.

Is Kobe Bryant going to be traded? Will the Celtics, with the new “Big Three” of Garnett, Allen and Pierce, make it to the NBA Championship? Can Allen Iverson go a full season without complaining? I enjoy the drama that is the NBA, but give me college basketball any day.

Bold Prediction: My early-season picks for this year’s Final Four are Kansas, Memphis, Georgetown and Tennessee, with Memphis defeating Kansas in the Final.

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