College Basketball

Storin: Sweet 16 features sweet matchup between Kentucky, Louisville

storapse@aol.comMarch 27, 2014 

GAR Hazleton Area Basketball

GAR's Isaiah Francis dunks the ball early in the first quarter, Thursday Dec. 12, 2013, during the game against Hazleton Area in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (AP Photo Citizens' Voice/Andrew Krech) cv13GARbballp2

ANDREW KRECH — File -- The Associated Press

It is hard to imagine the 2014 NCAA basketball tournament getting any better than what transpired across the nation last weekend.

One terrific game after another--five going overtime and 10 decided by three or less points.

But starting tonight, it just might get even better.

The most intriguing game, of course, will be Friday night's matchup between Louisville and Kentucky -- the teams that have won the last two national championships.

This is more than just an intra-state rivalry. It is a battle of ideological opposites. Rick Pitino who builds his Louisville teams on maturity versus Kentucky's John Calipari, who sells the One-and-Done philosophy to his recruits.

Neither coach is much loved outside the state of Kentucky, but of the two, Calipari is most disliked for one reason. He has exploited the One-and-Done rule more than any other college coach.

It was his pattern in his previous job at Memphis State. Now at Kentucky, Calipari has carried it to such an extreme that his entire starting lineup is made up of freshmen. It is conceivable that none will be in school next season.

"All these people are trying to make this one-year rule my rule," Calipari says in his own defense. "When did it become my rule? I don't even like it.

"Would I like them to stay four years? Absolutely, but that is not the rule. This is the rule."

It is a "rule" that has been criticized over and over again by former coaches like Bobby Knight, former NBA players like Charles Barkley and most pointedly by Mark Emmert, the current president of the NCAA.

"It makes a travesty of the whole notion of the student as an athlete," Emmert says.

Emmert is quick to remind that One-and-Done isn't a college rule. The NBA requires players to be 19 years old or have completed one year of college before becoming eligible for the NBA draft.

There has been sentiment to change the rule, and former NBA commissioner David Stern expressed interest in a two-year minimum between high school and the pros. Stern's successor, Adam Silver, said this week that a minimum of two years after high school graduation makes sense to him.

The league's union said it might be willing to change if colleges allow stipends above scholarship costs. This is an idea that has recently been discussed among major conferences as television contract revenue increases and college athletes ask for a piece of the pie.

In my view, increasing stipends for athletes in major college sports is long overdue -- and not just to end the One-and-Done travesty.

The rule makes a mockery of the term "student-athlete." To play one season, an athlete has to be eligible for only the fall semester.

Academic performance can slip in the spring semester, but an athlete can compete through the basketball season without consequence.

Wouldn't you like to know how frequently these Kentucky freshmen starters are attending classes right now?

Kentucky is not alone in recruiting players for one year. Kansas with two freshman stars (Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid) and Duke (Jabari Parker) come to mind. All three are likely to opt for the NBA draft in June.

Keep in mind that Kansas and Duke were eliminated from the tournament last week while Kentucky's five freshmen are still playing. This is a tribute to Calipari's recruiting and coaching skills. Three weeks ago there was doubt as to whether Kentucky would even make the NCAA tournament.

All of a sudden, the eighth-seeded Wildcats have jelled. They found their rhythm just in time to knock off undefeated No. 1 seed Wichita State, 78-76, last Sunday.

Now the question is, will Louisville's experience trump Kentucky's young talent? Pitino, once a beloved Kentucky coach, against Calipari, the reigning idol of Lexington.

It doesn't get any better than that.

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