Season of the near miss in college basketball

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Maybe it was fitting that nobody - not even Kentucky - escaped this year unscathed.

Monday night marks the final chapter of a very imperfect season for college basketball. It was filled with the usual thrills of March and April but just as many rough patches in the months before.

A season closing with Duke playing Wisconsin for a title the smart money said would land in the Bluegrass State included a steady parade of complaints and concerns, both about the quality of the product on the court and the viability of the game off it.

This was also the season basketball lost two of its greats within the span of a week - coaches Jerry Tarkanian and Dean Smith. When they got into the profession, would either have envisioned the 2015 version of the beautiful-yet-troubled mega-business they helped create?

"It's a whole new world," said Steve Fisher, the 70-year-old San Diego State coach who made his name leading Michigan's Fab Five to the Final Four in the '90s. "With Dean and Tark, and I'll throw my group in there, no one ever got into it thinking, 'I'm going to get rich being in this profession.' Today, a lot of people get rich as a result of being in this profession. Everything about that isn't totally healthy."

What to change? Where to start?

"I guess if there was one thing I could change, it would be the 'one-and-done' rule," said Jim Harrick, the former UCLA and Georgia coach who, like Fisher, has had his run-ins with the NCAA.

As Kentucky's $7.5 million-a-year coach John Calipari reminds reporters frequently, the rule stating a player can leave for the NBA after a single year of college isn't his rule. Nor is it actually an NCAA piece of legislation. It was written by the NBA and its players union and they are reviewing it for possible changes.

When the Wildcats, with four NBA-quality freshmen on the roster, lost to a senior-laden team from Wisconsin in the semifinals Saturday, it struck a blow for traditionalists who say you can still have it all - a full college career, a chance to play for a title, and a wealthy future in the NBA. Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky and two of his teammates, Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes, forged opportunities to do all that with the Badgers.

Some think that's an all-too-rare occurrence anymore.

"The team I played for, they're still doing documentaries about it," said 1990s Duke star Grant Hill, a key character in the much-discussed ESPN account of his hateable teammate, Christian Laettner. "But if it was this day and age, that team never would've existed. I would've been pressured to leave after my first year."

Hill is now calling the games on TV, and though the tournament - worth $10.8 billion in rights revenue to the NCAA over 14 years - has been thrilling, the season leading up to it was something less.

Curtailed by changes in the way refs called the games, coaches' unending focus on defense and a 35-second shot clock that just seems too long, teams averaged 67.6 points per game. That was a drop of more than three points from last season, and back to just a tad over the 2012-13 numbers, which were the lowest since the pre-shot-clock era of the early 1950s.

Other problems include too many media timeouts that take too long, and the turtle's pace of the last 2 minutes of games, which are subject to even more timeouts, along with a steady flow of official video reviews that suck the life out of the arena.

The not-so-coincidental toll: Attendance at Division I games has fallen for seven straight seasons; as of late this season, ESPN saw about a 6 percent ratings decrease on its telecasts.

"I do have some concerns about the game itself, and some things, I think, need to be fixed and worked on," said Dan Gavitt, the NCAA's vice president for men's basketball.

Despite all that, March Madness has a way of restoring faith in the game.

It's the time for filling brackets, for falling in love with underdogs and, at the end, for watching one team bask in confetti while "One Shining Moment" blares over the sound system.

Thanks in part to Kentucky's now-stifled march for an undefeated season, Saturday's semifinal against Wisconsin drew the most viewers for a national semifinal in 19 years.

"When we criticize the game, we're using some selective memory here," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "We've got a unique product that millions of people love. Everything needs a little fixing and doctoring here and there. But, by and large, everything is really good."

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Season of the near miss in college basketball
UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 24: Jaroslav Halak #41 of the New York Islanders lies on the puck as action swirls around him during the second period against the Minnesota Wild at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on March 24, 2015 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
New York Yankees third baseman Chase Headley, right, is upended as New York Mets' Juan Lagares, left, slides safely into third with a stolen base during the first inning of an exhibition baseball game in Tampa, Fla., Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Lagares went on to score on John Ryan Murphy's throwing error. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Poland's Grzegorz Krychowiak, left, is tackled by Republic of Ireland's Aiden McGeady during their Euro 2016 Group D qualifying soccer match at the Aviva stadium, Dublin, Ireland, Sunday, March 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
SHANGHAI, CHINA - MARCH 25: Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada performs during the Ice Dancing-Pairs Short Program on day one of the 2015 ISU World Figure Skating Championships at Shanghai Oriental Sports Center on March 25, 2015 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang - ISU/ISU via Getty Images)
Dalton State forward Jordan Bowling, top, celebrates with teammate Jerrico Williams following the NAIA championship basketball game against Westmont in Kansas City, Mo., Tuesday, March 24, 2015. Bowling scored 18 points as Dalton State won 71-53. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 25: Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium serves to Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland during day 3 of the Miami Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 25, 2015 in Key Biscayne, Florida. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MARCH 25: Derrick Favors #15 of the Utah Jazz shoots against the Portland Trail Blazers on March 25, 2015 at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 24: Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators high-fives assistant equipment manager Jeff Camelio before warmups against the Montreal Canadiens at Bridgestone Arena on March 24, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 24: Jared Boll #40 of the Columbus Blue Jackets throws a punch against Clayton Stoner #3 of the Anaheim Ducks during the second period on March 24, 2015 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers, top, and New York Knicks forward Quincy Acy reach for a loose ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Clippers won 111-80. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
AARHUS, DENMARK - MARCH 25: Greg Garza of United States in action during the International Friendly match between Denmark and Unites States at NRGi Park on March 25, 2015 in Aarhus, Denmark. (Photo by Lars Ronbog / FrontZoneSport via Getty Images)
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 26: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been converted to black and white) A competitor jumps in the Decathlon Mens High Jump during the Australian Athletics Championships at the Queensland Sports and Athletics Centre on March 26, 2015 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
Lucie Safarova, of the Czech Republic, serves the ball to Johanna Larsson, of Sweden, during their match at the Miami Open tennis tournament in Key Biscayne, Fla.,Friday, March 27, 2015.(AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany steers his car out of the pit after the tire change during the second practice session for the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang International Circuit in Sepang, Malaysia Friday, March 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski (8) is checked by Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall (55) as goalie Petr Mrazek stops a shot during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit Thursday, March 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Ty Kelly (68) throws to second to retire New York Mets' Curtis Granderson after fielding a David Wright ground ball in the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game Friday, March 27, 2015, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO - MARCH 28: Tyra Izor jumps to third place in the ladies' aerials at the 2015 U.S. Freestyle Ski National Championships at Steamboat Ski Resort on March 28, 2015 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 28: Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers allows a goal by Milan Lucic #17 of the Boston Bruins in the first period at the TD Garden on March 28, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
VARS, FRANCE - MARCH 28: French athlete Eric Barone, 54 years old, rides his bike before he breaks the World Speed Record by bike with a maximum speed recorded at 223,30 Km/h on March 28, 2015 in Vars, France. (Photo by Richard Bord/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 27: DeMarre Carroll #5 of the Atlanta Hawks reaches for a steal against Luol Deng #9 of the Miami Heat at Philips Arena on March 27, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
SEVILLE, SPAIN - MARCH 27: Rusian Rotan of Ukraine goes for a high ball againsy Juanfran of Spain during the Spain v Ukraine EURO 2016 Qualifier at estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on March 27, 2015 in Seville, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Boston Celtics' Tyler Zeller and Los Angeles Clippers' DeAndre Jordan, right, vie for a rebound during the first half of the Clippers' 119-106 win in an NBA basketball game in Boston on Sunday, March 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Ben Revere leaps to rob Detroit Tigers' Rajai Davis of a home run in the third inning of a spring training baseball game in Clearwater, Fla., Sunday, March 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Jack Auty of Durham, N.H., goes airborne just a few turns into the men's slalom ski race at the U.S. Alpine Championships, Sunday, March 29, 2015, at Sugarloaf Mountain Resort in Carrabassett Valley, Maine. Auty did not finish the race. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Buffalo Sabres left wing Marcus Foligno, front, is knocked off his skates while driving for a shot by Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog, of Sweden, in the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 28, 2015, in Denver. Colorado won 5-3. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed to this report.

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