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Brutally officiated game mars likely end of Marcus Smart's college career

By Matt Norlander | Staff Writer

More NCAA hoops: Tournament bracket | Complete coverage of NCAAs | Latest news

I tell you, it's been a great first two days.

But nobody wants to relive what just happened in San Diego.

Gonzaga won 85-77 over Oklahoma State in what had to be one of the ugliest watches in a long time. Normally a game that clears 150 total points isn't such a bad watch. But this one featured the most fouls in a non-overtime NCAA Tournament game in 39 years. And in real time, the game took more than three hours and 20 minutes to complete.

A lot of quick whistles and fouls that haven't been called fouls in the rest of this tournament. It seemed excessive.

The eighth-seeded Zags win means it's two straight years of tourney one-and-done showings for a player that was originally thought to be one-and-done in college.

The NCAA Tournament's nature is to boot out teams and stars before they are ready, but in this case, the prompt exit wasn't a terrific surprise. No. 9 Oklahoma State unquestionably did enough to get into the field, but the team's 2013-14 season ends by losing three of its final four and 10 of its final 15. The Cowboys became the second team in the modern tournament era to endure a seven-game losing streak and still earn an at-large bid.

They were always worth the watch but rarely satisfied the experience.

So Pokes point guard Marcus Smart, who said in the preseason his plan was to definitely declare for the NBA Draft this June, most definitely will leave an interesting legacy at OSU. Without him, who knows if the Cowboys would have even made the past two NCAA Tournaments. Who knows how relevant the program would have been, or if Travis Ford would even be Cowboys coach.

There are a lot of positives, and a few negatives, that Smart's reputation carries even now. The flopping and the fight with the Texas Tech fan are as much about how he's received as his elite ability to play point guard -- and physically be unmatched by almost everyone at the collegiate level.

Smart, who's draft stock is still solid but not nearly as high as it was a year ago, most likely ended his college career with a typically efficient but flawed performance. He had a team-high 23 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and six steals. He also had six turnovers and was in foul trouble down the stretch.

The NCAA Tournament unquestionably is helped by star power. It would've been interesting to see what Oklahoma State could've done against Arizona, but the team was never steady enough to allow us to see it stay long enough in postseason play, Big 12 tourney included. Smart wanted to get back to a Final Four. The reasons why that will never happen stack high.

And Smart's exit wasn't the only big one from Friday. Jabari Parker will have zero positive legacy attached to the NCAA Tournament, should he opt to leave Duke and head to the NBA. His Duke March biography is basically the exact opposite of what Christian Laettner did with the Blue Devils. (And Laettner is none too happy right about now.)

There's some talk that Parker might not be totally satisfied with what's happened here, and he might entertain coming back and giving it a go with Duke next season. (I find that highly unlikely.)

Beyond anything happening to him today, perhaps Parker should look at happened to Smart both today and this season before he makes his decision, if in fact he's contemplating a return. Yes, they are two different kinds of humans, very different players, but the track of each's freshman season is pretty similar. Clear-cut top-five NBA pick potential. On a team that was inconsistent but at times impressive. Star player. Still feeling something has to be proven with another year.

Parker should see what Smart went through and ask himself if it's worth it. This month can hurt a player in a lot of ways. And it's more volatile for star college hoops players in this era than ever before, from a media perspective. The viewing audience and the biggest stars lose in the short-term with these quick outs in the NCAAs. That feeling can and should sting. Motivations thereafter vary.

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