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Tiki Barber’s Take: The Unsettled and Fascinating Landscape of College Basketball

WCC Basketball Tournament - Championship Saint Mary's v Gonzaga
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Tiki Barber is the all-time leading rusher in New York Giants history and a 3 time Pro Bowler. Each week, he’ll provide his take on some of the biggest stories in sports. This is Tiki Barber’s Take.

Selection Sunday is upon us, and as we begin to gear up for what always promises to be the most exciting stage of the college basketball season, I’m struck with how unsettled, yet fascinating, the college game seems right now. Conference realignment is in full force, parity is the word of the day, and if you should dare climb to the top of the mountain, watch out! An upset is surely in the making.

It’s hard to keep up with who has been number 1 this season. For all purposes we’ve had five teams that contend for that spot – Duke, Louisville, Michigan, Indiana and now the Gonzaga Bulldogs, led by Kelly Olynyk, who are for the first time in their school history atop the AP, making them the poster child for mid-majors. Of course, the jockeying at the top really doesn’t matter until the video montage plays under “One Shining Moment” on April 8th in the Georgia Dome. After the regular season, I could probably pick my bracket at random and have as good a chance as anyone.

Speaking of March Madness, I think it’s easy sometimes to lump the mid-majors in the category of Cinderella heading into the post-season – as if their weaker schedules disqualify them from being good teams and being able to hang with the big boys. Why should we though – are they any less predictable than the majors?

There are still those that say the #1 team in the land doesn’t deserve a #1 seed in the tourney because of “weaker” regular season schedules. Simply put, these teams can’t help who they play during the regular season, so if they are “number 1” why shouldn’t they have the “number 1” seed?

In truth, there really shouldn’t be that much surprise about some of these less visible schools that will make it deep into our brackets. They have great talent just like the majors.

I admit, I forget that some great talent has found its way out of the mid-majors throughout the history of the game. Stephen Curry went to Davidson. Tim Hardaway was a proud UTEP Miner! Steve Nash – Santa Clara. Karl Malone – Louisiana Tech. Walt Frasier – Southern Illinois. The great Bill Russell attended San Francisco. And that’s the short list.

Maybe I forget because I grew up having the known commodity – that player whose greatness made him either hero or villain – year after year trolling the hard court. Duke had a bunch because they are always there – Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner, or Jay Williams. The Fab Five were a cult of personalities – Jalen Rose and Chris Webber. And of course, my all-time favorite, Patrick Ewing, whose Hoyas I always wished would fall from greatness, yet remain in my mind because they never did!

Many of the current stars, mid-major or not don’t resonate as much as players in the past. It would be easier with this generation if so many guys wasn’t one and done, jumping to the NBA and leaving the college teams needing to rebuild and re-recruit every off-season. It’s almost impossible for the emotional connection to form if you see a guy for a year, and then lose him in the abyss of the perennial lottery pick of the NBA franchise.

I miss the years of seeing a player develop and hone his game while growing up protected in the undergraduate environment. I like to see our great college coaches and shapers evolve the game of the high school star and send him to the league as a man.

Unfortunately, college basketball has become somewhat of a sea of ambiguity. Mid-majors, majors, favorite or underdogs, it’s anyone’s guess who truly ranks where. I’m not sure it even matters as long you don’t have bad losses and win 20 games – not counting the automatic qualifiers, of course, who can get in with 15.

Next season, I likely won’t even know which schools are in which conference. I guess it doesn’t matter, anyway, because somewhere, great players will emerge and carry their teams to great heights and force me to keep trying to keep up.

Tiki Barber ThuzioTiki Barber is the all-time leading rusher in New York Giants history and a 3x Pro Bowler. He is the co-founder and chairman of Thuzio, an online marketplace to connect the public with professional athletes for appearances, coaching, speaking and unique fan experiences. He was a correspondent for NBC and currently co-hosts CBS Sports radio’s weekday morning show. Tiki graduated from the University of Virginia with a concentration in Management Information Systems.

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