Kentucky fans are excited at the possibility of Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad teaming up and playing together in Rupp Arena next year. Noel and Muhammad will announce their college decisions on ESPNU at 7:30 tonight. Speculation for the past weeks has been that the two could be next year’s version of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It is far from a done deal yet, but will college basketball fans want to see it happen?
There’s no doubt that a Kentucky team featuring Noel, Muhammad, Kyle Wiltjer, Archie Goodwin, Ryan Harrow, Alex Poythress, and Willie Cauley could be equally as exciting to watch as this past year’s team. They will have a similar dynamic and if John Calipari can work his magic to get this team to play well together, there is a good chance they will have the same outcome.
I have nothing against good players teaming up to become a contender. I do think this Kentucky dominance, however, will ruin the fun of March Madness. Part of the beauty of college basketball is the uncertainty of who will come out on top in March. Think about how fun it was to watch Connecticut make their run and win the title. This year’s tournament was amusing, but Kentucky’s road to the championship did not have much of a challenge. They won their six tournament games by an average of 11.8 points per game.
Next season, however, there won’t be a team like this year’s North Carolina, Syracuse, Kansas, or Ohio State. The next best teams will be Indiana, which will be almost as young as Kentucky. Louisville and Michigan will have some nice talent, but no big name stars. Face it: there will be little parity in college basketball if Noel and Muhammad team up in Lexington. The odds of them winning it all will be high.
But what if they don’t win it all? Now I’ve seen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, and Shabazz Muhammad all in person and I could tell you that a tandem of Noel and Muhammad will not be quite the same as Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist. Noel is a bit raw offensively and Muhammad tends to fall in love with using his left hand. There will be high expectations for these two if Kentucky ends up being their choice. If they don’t end up winning a national championship, a lot of people will feel as though they were a disappointment. That will be a lot of pressure on two teen stars.
It would be best for college basketball if Noel chose Georgetown and if Muhammad chose UCLA; it would be what’s best for them. First off, it would level the playing field. The excitement for next season will return and fans won’t be focused on Kentucky all year long. There’s also the idea that these guys would help save two dying conferences. Yes, the Big East is dying. If you were sleeping under a rock during the college basketball season, Syracuse, West Viriginia, and Pittsburgh are leaving.
Once Noel steps on campus, he would instantly make Georgetown a top-five team. With the return of Otto Porter, Noel will be apart of arguably the best frontcourt in the country. Also, Georgetown’s track record for developing big men and getting them to the NBA is equally as good as that of Kentucky.
Muhammad also has a unique opportunity. The Pac-12 has been on a steady decline in the past few years and so has the UCLA basketball program. UCLA has already landed two top-notch recruits in Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams. The potential addition of Muhammad would instantly push them over the top. The Arizona class featuring Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett, and Gabe York is nice but none of those players compare to the productivity level of Muhammad and Anderson. This would propel the Pac-12 back towards respectability, a conference that is slowly beginning to land high-level recruits again.
This is not about the fans. I root for young players to make good career decisions. While Kentucky is undoubtedly a solid movie given John Calipari’s track record of getting players to the NBA, it would not give the two much of a challenge. Going to a place like Kentucky would be like a five month NBA training camp for these two future stars. An impressive feat would be if Noel and Muhammad took their own programs and tried to win.
It would be one thing if these blue-chip recruits were choosing between UNC and UNC-Asheville. That selection would be a no-brainer. There’s very little difference between Kentucky and other high major schools. They have the opportunity not only do what’s best for their future, but what is best for the future of college basketball. We don’t want college basketball to be a battle for second place.
Will they team up at Kentucky or go their separate ways? One thing is for sure: their decision will have nearly as big an impact as LeBron‘s decision two years ago.
Where do you want to see them end up?
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