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FROM THE BENCH: TOO YOUNG TO PLAY, TOO GOOD TO STAY

By Josh Bronson

Pilot staff writer

And then there were four.

The four best college basketball teams in the land, or at least the four that have survived the longest, will battle it out in the Final Four this weekend for a shot at the National Championship.

Although this year's tournament has been chock-full of close games, it has been lacking one major factor: upsets.

There are two #1 seeds and two #2 seeds in the Final Four.

No Cinderella stories.

No unlikely Final Four runs.

And no underdogs.

In fact, only five lower seeds even won first round games, with three of them being #9 seeds over #8 seeds, which can hardly even be called an upset.

The dominance of the upper echelon of college basketball teams has made for some classic games because of the close match-ups, but without any upsets, the mystery of "how far will they go?" has been eliminated.

It would be much easier to pick brackets if you just chose the higher seed to win every game, rather than to pick and choose who the big underdog of the tournament will be.

And, essentially, that's what has happened this year.

But why the sudden change?

Why are a few of the teams so much better than the rest of the field?

One answer could be the new minimum age requirement set by the NBA.

No longer can high school superstars make the jump right into the NBA.

Nope, they have to be at least 19 or be one year out of high school.

So, instead of pulling a Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett and jumping into the lavish life of an NBA player, high school ballers are being forced, or at least strongly advised, to spend at least one year in college before making the leap.

Freshmen like Ohio State's Greg Oden and Texas' Kevin Durant would easily have been top draft picks in last year's NBA draft ... if they were old enough.

Instead, they went to college and made immediate impacts in their programs.

Now, although this may have eliminated some of the upsets in college basketball, all around, it has improved the talent pool at the college level.

The top programs in the country, i.e. Texas, UCLA, North Carolina, are benefiting the most from this new requirement.

In turn, this may improve the overall skill level of the rest of the field, who have to step up their games in order to try and compete with these high school superstars.

But of course, this rule is not loved by all.

Especially those high schoolers planning on making the jump.

But would it really hurt them to wait one more year to get paid?

One year at an institution of higher learning isn't going to kill them.

It just might make them smart enough to know not to fight the fans.

Or maybe not.

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