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A Look At The Recent Trend Toward Parity In Division I Men's Basketball


It's college basketball's big weekend, the Final Four. Tomorrow, two newcomers play semifinal games - Texas Tech and Auburn. It was the same thing two years ago. Two first-time teams made it to the championship weekend. NPR's Tom Goldman reports the recent trend of parity in the tournament is just one of the ways the college game has been changed by the NBA's one-and-done policy. One-and-done requires high school graduates who want to play in the NBA to take a year off before entering the draft. Most of those graduates join college teams, then leave for the pros.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It's left its mark on this tournament in different ways. First the done part. We're losing a lot of kids early, Michigan State assistant coach Dane Fife told The New York Times. And that's added to the parity in college hoops. The beneficiaries this year are newcomers Texas Tech and Auburn. In 2017, it was Final Four first-timers South Carolina and Gonzaga. Then there's the one part of one-and-done.


UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #1: And 36 seconds into the game, Zion Williamson is down.

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #2: He blew through his shoe.


GOLDMAN: After the infamous shoe explosion in late February seen 'round the sports world on ESPN, Duke freshman phenom Zion Williamson's expected one year of college hung in the balance. One-and-done critics said Williamson, who sprained his knee in the mishap, should end his year early, skip March Madness and focus on the NBA draft, where he's the projected top pick. Williamson said recently that was never part of his thinking.


ZION WILLIAMSON: Everybody has their right to their own opinion, but I knew I was coming back the whole time.

GOLDMAN: So he came back and, with several other projected one-and-done freshman teammates, led Duke into the tournament as the overall No. 1 seed. The Blue Devils lost to Michigan State in the Elite Eight, prompting this postgame comment from Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.


MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: I thought they played older than we did. I spent most of the first half not X and O-ing but, just settle down, man. But that's going to happen with young teams.

GOLDMAN: Indeed, in a tournament where traditional one-and-done destinations like Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina now are out, old is in. Although, Tariq Owens, one of Texas Tech's three senior starters, sounded pretty wide-eyed yesterday when journalists swarmed his locker room at the Final Four in Minneapolis.


TARIQ OWENS: I was just doing other media, and then I walked in here and I was like, wow. Like, this is kind of insane. I've never seen this many reporters in one room.

GOLDMAN: But whether it's dealing with insane attention or fending off opponents, Texas Tech tries to stay old, in the words of head coach Chris Beard. He spoke this week on a conference call.

CHRIS BEARD: I think there's a poise to our team. You know, every team we played to this point gave us a real punch in the face, but we just got ourselves back up.

GOLDMAN: Being old, though, hasn't been the only weapon against one-and-done heavy teams. Bruce Pearl is head coach for the other Final Four first-timer, Auburn.

BRUCE PEARL: There is more parity because there are more good players.

GOLDMAN: Pearl spoke this week the day after his team beat Kentucky with its several NBA prospects, including forward PJ Washington.

PEARL: When we play against Kentucky and we play against PJ Washington, for example, our kids have played against him before at lots of different levels. Our guys aren't intimidated.

GOLDMAN: There's talk the widely reviled one-and-done rule will end perhaps in the next few years. Certainly the phenom flashes on the so-called blueblood teams will continue having their moments in men's college basketball. But if the trend continues, so, too, will old guys on new teams that crash the Final Four party. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on