OPINION: Differences between college basketball and the NBA are game changers

Mason was overcome by Drexel on Jan. 31 by only four points, making the final score 58-54 (photo by John Irwin).
Mason was overcome by Drexel on Jan. 31 by only four points, making the final score 58-54 (photo by John Irwin).

A few weeks back, Richmond (13-9) beat Virginia Commonwealth (17-5). Last week, The University of Virginia (15-5) beat No. 19 NC State (16-5). Can anyone tell me what Richmond and UVA have in common? CORRECT! They were both beaten by Mason this season.

@gmuhoops said it best on Twitter: “Richmond beat VCU, UVA beat NC State. George Mason beat Richmond and UVA, oh college hoops”.

It is pretty obvious the Patriots (12-8) have somewhat underperformed this season, with questionable losses against inferior opponents like Northern Iowa (11-11) and South Florida (10-10).

To me, this is what makes college basketball one of the most exciting, yet infuriating, sports to watch. In the NBA’s regular season, it is clear to see who the best teams are. There’s little disparity in the standings. Teams like the Lakers are always near the top of the Western Conference and there's no way around it! (too soon, Lakers fans?)

On a serious note, teams such as the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and New York Knicks will always be at the top of the standings. Why? They have the best players, giving them the advantage to win. Yes, on any given night, the Cleveland Cavaliers can top the Heat, but it's a rarity—trust me, I’m from Cleveland. When teams lose those few games to cupcake squads like the Cavs, it's not a big deal. You lace up and play again tomorrow.

In college, it’s different.

The smallest of losses to a bad school like University of Northern Iowa or University of South Florida have the potential to keep a program out of the NCAA Tournament come March. With the countless team ratings and a dwindling number of at-large bids for smaller schools, every single game counts. Duke can get run out of the gym by the University of Miami (FL) and still receive a 1 or 2 seed in the tournament. Man it must be nice to be in a big, competitive conference like the ACC.

Even though small schools suffer from things like their size, location and exposure, it adds that much more excitement when teams like Mason beat UVA on opening night at home. It shows that any team can play with the bigger schools anytime, anywhere. Does anyone remember when VCU was on the jump start of their rise to being a top 25 program and beat Duke in the first round of the 2007 tournament? Or when Lehigh beat Duke in the second round of last year's tournament?

Butler making two recent runs to the Final Four and National Championship Game gives hope to small schools that one day, maybe they could make a run. The first time I ever heard about Mason was when they made their run to the Final Four in 2006.

Seeing as the NBA Playoffs are structured differently, it's a loose comparison, so bear with me. You never see a 7 or 8 seed contending for the title when it's said and done. You think the slightly-better-than-average Milwaukee Bucks or the Utah Jazz have a shot to play for the title?

In college basketball, the underdogs thrive. Instead of playing for money, these kids play for their education. Not to mention the fun of playing a sport their passionate about at a high level. Call me old fashioned, but I'll take dedicated kids playing for the love of the game over money-hungry divas that travel--on and off the court--for a living.

All that being said, let the countdown to March begin!

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