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The Voice: NCAA tourney provides another fantastic ride

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgWith the conclusion of perhaps the craziest NCAA basketball tournament in history, this might be a good time to step back and look at the state of the game. Is it really watered down, as many observers believe? Are there too many teams? Could we expand again soon?

If Bo Ryan had his way, there would be at least 96 teams in the field. Agree or disagree, at least the opinion comes from a coach whose team has made the tournament each of his 10 years as the Badgers' head man, and 13 straight seasons overall.  

It turns out the 68-team field worked pretty well, despite the gripes of some in the basketball world. VCU, which had to play an extra game to reach Houston, entertained fans across the country, and it helped make Rams Coach Shaka Smart, a Fitchburg, Wis., native, a household name.

I tend to doubt whether Bo will get his wish anytime soon, but if and when it happens, my guess is the tournament will continue to thrive.

Maybe college basketball isn't quite as good as it was before the "one and done" player became so prevalent, but for my money the theater was hard to beat, and I say that after watching UConn's 53-41 slugfest against Butler.

Since that was the title game, no doubt many will cry about how bad the college game has become, but keep in mind the millionaires in the NBA also have struggled on the biggest stage.

In Game 7 of last summer's NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Celtics, Kobe Bryant missed 18 of his 24 shots, including every one of his six three-point attempts. The Lakers won the game despite shooting 32 percent from the floor. And that game was not played in a dome.

When I think of this year's NCAA tournament, a number of moments come to mind, including the runs of VCU and Butler.  

Morehead State knocking out Louisville on a dramatic late-game shot is what the song One Shining Moment is all about. San Diego State, led by former Michigan coach Steve Fisher, became a player with a run to the Sweet 16. It got there after a grueling double-overtime victory against Temple.

While he did not have his best game in New Orleans, it was fun seeing BYU's Jimmer Fredette try to work his magic one more time against Florida. It was not to be, but his offensive game was a treat to watch.

Seeing the Badgers advance to the Big Easy was gratifying, especially considering they were a popular pick to be knocked out in the first round. The third round match with Kansas State was one of the better Wisconsin games I have seen in a long time (not counting the win against Ohio State in February).

Of course we can say the college game is not quite as strong as the good old days, when players hung around campus a little longer. That will happen when stars such as Derek Rose of the Chicago Bulls, who may very well be the NBA's MVP, would have been a senior at Memphis.  

I still say the college game remains pretty healthy, and if nothing else, the early entries to the NBA have given many more teams a fighting chance. That includes Wisconsin. Yes, the Badgers have been a very strong program, but it remains an uphill battle to reach the level of Duke, North Carolina, UConn, Kansas, etc.  

That does not mean that the Badgers can't win big. On the contrary, the state of today's game gives them, not to mention the Butlers and the VCUs of the world, a legitimate shot.  Again this year, Wisconsin demonstrated that when it plays well, it can play with the very best.

Is that so bad? Certainly there are those who enjoy always having a Goliath, a New York Yankees type of program if you will. In college basketball, some schools have more resources and much bigger budgets than others, but as we have seen in the tournament, the competition appears to be more wide open than ever.

If the powers that be come up with a way to keep college basketball players in school for at least two years, so be it. If not, the game will survive.  

This year's NCAA tournament is just further proof positive. To me, even with the final act being less than scintillating, the tourney itself remains the best three weeks in sports.