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Read and React: The NCAA tournament is college basketball's biggest star

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Good morning, Read and Reactors, and welcome to the most wonderful day of the year! We’d tell you to go ahead and call in before reading this, but your boss already called in sick too.

The NCAA will be fine without the one-and-doners

If you need a nice appetizer before today’s games kick off, our own Pat Forde and Pete Thamel teamed up on a stellar profile of Zion Williamson and how he just might be the last true superstar in college basketball. With the NBA almost certainly lowering the draft age from 19 to 18 by 2022, there’s going to be no reason for the uber-talented to ever see the inside of a classroom.

The exodus of underclassmen from the college ranks the past 15-20 years has no doubt hurt the college product in terms of quality and familiarity. It definitely hurts the regular season, which interests only locals and diehards, and it probably holds the tourney back from realizing its truest potential, particularly in later rounds.

Yet don’t cry for the NCAA tournament. It’s going to be just fine.

The college game has grown bigger than its stars

We were watching that stellar Celtics-76ers on Wednesday night and the thought struck us how little an impact the one-and-dones on both rosters had in their abbreviated time in the college game.

Kyrie Irving made the Sweet 16 with Duke, Jimmy Butler did the same with Marquette. Jayson Tatum washed out in the second round as a Blue Devil, Joel Embiid was hurt and never played in the tournament and Ben Simmons’ LSU team didn’t even qualify.

Now maybe those players would’ve done better had they stuck around awhile longer like Al Horford (Florida national title as a junior), Gordon Hayward (Butler runnerup as a sophomore) or JJ Redick (Duke Final Four as a sophomore and NPOY as a senior).

But they didn’t and the tourney kept on trucking without them. Go through the last two decades of Most Outstanding Players and there are only two true NBA superstars: Anthony Davis in 2012 and Carmelo Anthony in 2002. (Joakim Noah in ’07 and Kemba Walker in ’11 sit just a notch below.)

Zion is the cherry (but not the entire sundae)

Don’t get us wrong: It’s going to be a real trip seeing if Zion can do what so many other future NBA stars couldn’t do and carry his team to a national title as an 18-year-old. The ratings for the title game will probably be through the roof if Duke makes it and all the ensuing highlight reels in future years will feature him prominently.

But Zion’s regular season has nothing to do with people suddenly acting as if they’ve been watching Murray State and UC-Irvine since November or remembering where they were when UMBC finally slayed a Goliath. He’ll have nothing to do with whoever becomes this year’s Sister Jean or any of the millions of brackets being feverishly filled out before first tip.

The fact is this: Zion will be in the NBA next year and the NCAA tournament industrial complex will go on as if he were never here. Whether that’s a feature or a bug is in the eye of the beholder.

NCAA BASKETBALL: Syracuse suspends starting point guard Frank Howard

This seems like something you might want to know before submitting your final bracket. The Orangemen will be without Frank Howard in its opener against Baylor because of an unspecified violation of team rules. Jim Boeheim did say his team practiced as if they wouldn’t have Howard, FWIW.

NFL: Report — Admitting guilt a ‘non-starter’ for Robert Kraft

We told you in Wednesday’s newsletter that Florida prosecutors were willing to defer Robert Kraft’s charge if he’d simply admit guilt. According to a following report from ESPN, such a deal simply won’t do for the Patriots owner, whose lawyers reportedly filed a motion to suppress all evidence in his case. (We can imagine what that evidence might be and, yes, we’re probably in favor of suppressing it as well.)

NFL: Super Bowl viewers didn’t like Adam Levine’s nipples

And here we thought the mere presence of Maroon 5 at last month’s Super Bowl was offensive enough. Nope. SB Nation dug into the FCC complaints from CBS’ telecast and found that 55 people took issue with the halftime show, including Levine’s lack of a shirt. Won’t somebody think of the children. Not any time soon!

JEFF EISENBERG: Ranking Thursday’s 16 games from must-see TV to don’t bother

MIKE OZ: It’s time to play ‘relief pitcher or dude in a band?’

KIMBERLEY A. MARTIN: NFL players respond to Flint water crisis

A president shot a hole-in-one on Wednesday and it’s probably not the guy you’re thinking of (no, not that one either)
Richard Pitino has thoughts on this awkward Louisville matchup
A Red Sox minor-league affiliate is trolling the heck out of the A-Rod/J-Lo engagement

Do the Patriots need o-line help?

Marcus Smart played so rough with Joel Embiid that we asked Yahoo Sports NFL draft expert Eric Edholm to size his prospects up:

“Remember that whole Zion Williamson NFL first-round debate we had last week? That was adorable. We’re going to trade down now. Having seen this clip, give us Marcus Smart – 6-4, 225 pounds, and still only 25 years old – and we’ll put him at linebacker. Better value. Explosive player with a mean streak and a knack for leverage.”

(@NBA)

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