Since January 2010 I have maintained that there was no "great" team in college basketball. Everything I looked at told me that there were some very good teams, but no great ones. Early in the 2010-11 season I felt the quality of play in college basketball was still down. As the season wrapped up, the talent on display in the NCAA tournament did little to change my mind.
While we have had some great drama and wonderful competition over the past two seasons, we have not had great quality of play. One look at the 2011 NBA draft class and you can start to see why I believe the college game has not had the same caliber of talent as past seasons.
This was a weak draft class (relative to past drafts) before the decisions to return by Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Perry Jones. Without that talent and potential, this year's pool looks historically shallow.
Of course, this all sounds very negative, and I don't mean it to be. These observations don't mean that there are no outstanding players in the college game right now, or that there aren't good values in this year's NBA draft. There are some very good players available, and someone will undoubtedly make it big in the NBA from this year's class. There's always a breakthrough or two. But there are fewer players capable of filling that bill in this year's class, and I don't think you will find much reasonable argument on that.
Ironically, the draft's loss is the college game's gain. I believe that the recent decline in quality across college basketball was due primarily to an overall talent drain in the game caused by a combination of early entry and a couple of weaker high school classes. In my judgment, the two-year lull we've just come through was probably cyclical. We had great talent in 2008 and 2009, and had some great players and teams. The college game will never return to the overall talent and experience levels of the 1980s and '90s, but there's no reason to believe that college basketball will not rebound to a higher level of play. The game can still reach the levels seen earlier in the past decade. And the 2011-12 season is shaping up to do exactly that.
To see why the 2011-12 season is shaping up to be a very, very good one for college basketball and how talent stockpiles could affect Kentucky and North Carolina, you must be an ESPN Insider.