Greg Hansen: UA 4-0 in Big Breaks league, but luck may run out

Utah defenders Jason Washburn (42) and Jarred DuBois made UA guard Mark Lyons and the Wildcats work hard to pull out another close win.

College basketball has evolved so much that I suspect every Arizona team from 1988 to 2005 - all 18 teams, no exceptions - would've been favored to beat every team in this year's Final Four.

All 18 of those Lute Olson teams had more physical skill and firepower than this year's 30-8 Arizona club. And Butler, too.

Furthermore, I don't think a single UConn or Butler player would have started for Arizona's 1997 or 2001 Final Four teams. Kemba Walker, you say? Who's he going to beat out, Gilbert Arenas? Mike Bibby?

In addition, I strongly believe that Washington State's 2006-07 and 2007-08 teams, neither of which won the Pac-10 title, would have defeated UConn and Butler in a best-of-five series.

Wazzu's Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver and the boys won 52 games over those two seasons. They were a template; a modestly talented but highly effective group of upperclassmen that won with patience, intelligence and above-average skill.

They were VCU before anyone heard of Shaka Smart.

This year's NCAA tournament was the most talent-challenged of any in the shot-clock/three-point basket era. Such is the new order of college hoops.

Think of it this way: In the 1980s, when college stars such as Patrick Ewing, Danny Manning and Hakeem Olajuwon all spent four years in college, the only unfamiliar names, the only so-called mid-majors to reach the Elite Eight were Navy, UAB, Wichita State and Dayton.

That's it. Four Cinderella entrees in 10 years, and Navy was blessed with a once-in-a-lifetime talent, David Robinson.

In the '90s, when college superstars such as Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway and Vince Carter began a free-flowing pipeline of underclassmen to the NBA, the college game became more unpredictable.

Loyola-Marymount reached the Elite Eight. So did Rhode Island, Gonzaga, Utah and UMass. The game changed so dramatically that it is no longer novel to watch an Elite Eight game that includes Tulsa, Kent State, Xavier, George Mason, Davidson and, of course, Butler and VCU.

The Final Four is no longer a land so holy that only eight or nine teams are good enough to arrive there.

Start the NCAA tournament again tomorrow, with the same 68 teams, identical seeds, same locations, and it's likely four new teams would reach Houston. And maybe eight new teams would survive to play in the Elite Eight.

You can't do that in college football. Play the season and replay it over and over and it's always going to be some form of Oklahoma or Alabama or USC in the ultimate game.

College football is a money grab. College hoops is a sock hop.

The best team, with the best personnel, one through eight, I saw this season was the Washington Huskies. They had size, speed, skilled coaching, perimeter shooting, inside depth and a game-changing player, guard Isaiah Thomas. The Huskies were still a bit young, but in college basketball, who cares? Everybody else is young, too.

Arizona was one shot, one tantalizing second, from reaching the Final Four. But if you were to rewind the field and start again today, you could make a strong case that two of Arizona's victims, Texas and Duke, could win the title, too.

College hoops has become America's Game. You no longer need a giant budget, a millionaire coach or a conference that includes Duke, Syracuse or UCLA to contend for the national title.

It is cuddly and embraceable. What other sport makes you feel so good so often?

The composition of Arizona's basketball program, 1985 to present, is an accurate reflection on how the game has evolved.

From 1986 to 1995, the Wildcats started three freshmen: Sean Elliott, Anthony Cook and Ed Stokes.

Since then, Arizona has started 17 freshmen, and it won't be a shock if that total grows to 20 next season when Josiah Turner, Nick Johnson and Angelo Chol arrive on campus.

Why was BYU's Jimmer Fredette so good this year? Because he turned 22 in February; he was playing against kids.

As a BYU sophomore, Fredette averaged a middling 16 points per game. The Cougars lost to Arizona State and were blown out in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Texas A&M.

In the 21st century, anything goes in college basketball. This year, the city of Richmond, Va., had more Sweet 16 teams than the Pac-10 and the Big 12, and just as many as the Big East, Big Ten and SEC.

Practice doesn't begin for another 6 1/2 months. What will we do with ourselves until then?

Not your daddy's NCAA

As basketball players have moved on to the NBA earlier and earlier in the last couple of decades, the way college programs bring along their own talent has changed:

3

Number of freshmen (Sean Elliott, Anthony Cook and Ed Stokes) who started at UA from 1986 to 1995

17

Freshmen who have started for Arizona since 1995.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com