New eligibility rules will benefit colleges, NBA

A coaches clipboard is seen before the Butler Bulldogs take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 17, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

NEW YORK - It's March, and there's madness, but things don't get really crazy in the NCAA until April.

That's when the top college talent begins its annual migration to the NBA, with a fresh crop of unskilled, immature kids further diluting an already watered-down product.

Thanks to the one-and-done policy, the NCAA Tournament has devolved into a competition between powerhouses grown richer than ever with talent; and their poor cousins, usually riding a temporary wave of third-tier players whose experience compensates for their ordinariness. A record 10 double-digit seeds advanced to the second round. National titans Kentucky and Michigan State will watch them next week.

It is explained as "cyclical" (nine double-digit seeds advanced in 2001 and 2002) and excused as "parity," but, really, it is just godawful basketball that reflects the players' abilities.

Help might be on the way. The NCAA changed its system in January.

Previously, players had to declare themselves eligible quickly after the tournament's end and about two months before the NBA draft. They could only declare and withdraw once; a second declaration forfeited their eligibility.

Now, players can attend the NBA combine and work out once with each NBA team. They can discuss their shortcomings with teams to get a feel for when they might be drafted, if at all. They can withdraw from the draft up to 10 days after the combine, which is in mid-May. If they withdraw, they can declare again and again.

It is a clever compromise.

An expected trickle-down effect is that colleges will see more players return. Logic would imply that, if NBA-caliber players return, the caliber of basketball will improve.

This should make games like No. 10 seed Wisconsin vs. No. 7 Pitt less abominable. Wisconsin won, but the teams scored 90 points, combined. At 47-43, it was the third-lowest scoring tournament game since the advent of the shot clock and the first time in 72 games in which a team scoring fewer than 50 points won.

It also should make for a more even dispersal of talent. If more players begin to stay at the superpowers for an extra year or two, then fewer scholarships and less playing time will be available for incoming players. In turn, faced with riding the bench behind a sophomore or junior, more three-star and four-star high school talent might begin to again choose the Temples, St. Joe's and La Salles of the world with greater frequency.

The NBA will not be as awful, either. About half the markets feature an inferior product, a painful display of on-the-job growing pains.

"This one and done rule - it's lessening the quality of both," said Villanova coach Jay Wright.

Wright acknowledged that top 10 picks such as the Sixers' last three - Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor - won't be affected because their draft status won't change.

"The problem with the one-and-dones is not the guys that go to the NBA that are the (high) first-round picks. It's not DeMarcus Cousins," Wright said. "It's the 50, 60 guys that should be in college for four years and would be great players in college that wind up going overseas or playing in the D-League. To have the guys identified by the NBA and to go to this predraft camp is going to make decisions for these guys. It's going to really give them real information. And then once they go there, you're going to get even better information to make an informed decision."

It isn't 50 or 60, but it's usually more than a dozen or so, with some obvious, sad stories.

If the new rule was in effect in 2010 maybe Kentucky big man Daniel Orton would have stayed past his unremarkable freshman year, when he slid to 29th, got cut by the Magic before eventually starting in just six NBA games.

Maybe Josh Selby would have stayed at Kansas in 2011. He went 49th, played 38 games in two seasons for the Grizzlies before slipping into the Bermuda triangle of the D-League and international pro ball.

Kansas coach Bill Self and Kentucky's John Calipari applauded the NCAA ruling when it was announced, but they would, wouldn't they? Self coached Embiid in 2013-14 as well as freshman Andrew Wiggins, the top pick of the 2014 draft - but those aren't the players who will benefit.

Calipari had seven players declare after last season, including Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson and Aaron Harrison - who went 44th, 48th and undrafted.

How much were they influenced by hangers-on eager to benefit from a possible windfall - vultures with nothing to lose and everything to gain?

"A lot of these guys are getting bad information. They're making an informed decision with bad information," Wright said. "Now they're going to get good information, and I think you're going to see a lot better decisions, things looking better for the NBA, better for college."

Certainly, better for Kentucky, which entered as a No. 4 seed and exited Saturday at the hands of No. 5 Indiana. How much better would the Wildcats have been with those three NBA prospects?

The rule is aimed at one-and-done players but it affects all underclassmen. Sixers forward Jerami Grant said earlier this season he does not regret leaving Syracuse after his sophomore year in 2014, when he fell to 39th, but, despite his breathtaking athleticism Grant often looks like a newborn foal in a stampede of stallions.

Early exits and crashed draft stock don't always predict NBA failure. DeAndre Jordan was one-and-done with Texas A & M in 2008, when he plummeted through a rich draft whose second 15 picks included Roy Hibbert, J.J. Hickson and Serge Ibaka. Jordan, one of 11 one-and-dones in that draft, went 35th, which he immediately regretted, but he has become a star.

One-and-dones don't predict NCAA dominance, either. Kentucky had three on its team when it won in 2012, but that was the first time a national champion had any since the rule took effect in 2006. UConn had none in 2014. Duke, of course, had Okafor last year, along with forward Justise Winslow, who went 10th . . . and point guard Tyus Jones, who fell to 24th and wound up buried in Minnesota.

Duke is back in the Sweet 16, but sure could have used a pedigreed point guard.

Maybe the new rule will help the Blue Devils keep their next one.

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