Let's be honest here, college basketball has not been in the best of health recently.
To be sure, locally, it's as strong as ever. John Calipari has pumped talent and enthusiasm into the greatest tradition in the history of college roundball.
Celebrations commenced as Kentucky returned to the Final Four for the first time in more than a decade. Another No. 1 recruiting class invades the Craft Center come fall. Big Blue Nation's expectations are soaring.
Nationally, however, not so much. Most believe the product has suffered from too many body blows of late, an analysis apparently shared by the general public.
Average attendance for the 2009-10 season hit a 23-year low. Division I attendance figures for this past season showed only a minimal improvement.
Television viewership was up during the NCAA Tournament, but that had more to do with the coverage being spread over four different networks, plus the tip-to-final-horn broadcasts, not to mention the studio presence of Charles Barkley. Some tuned in just to see what Sir Charles might say next.
Overall, however, when a team that finished 9-9 in its conference wins the NCAA Tournament, you have a hunch things may have gone from prime to decline.
Thankfully, that could change.
Who says so?
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State's star freshman center, who is returning to Columbus for his sophomore season. Harrison Barnes, last year's top recruit, who announced he will return to North Carolina for a second season. Perry Jones III, a lottery-pick lock, who decided instead he wanted to try to play a full season at Baylor before cashing NBA paychecks.
There will be more to follow, once the speed-dating period that is the current two-week evaluation period ends May 8 and college stars who have declared for the draft realize their best bet is to boomerang back to the halls of academia for another campaign.
Don't expect Kentucky's tempted trio of Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and DeAndre Liggins to return to Lexington, but there will be plenty of others who regain their senses.
The looming NBA lockout is a factor, surely, but even if that doesn't come to pass it could work to college hoops' favor. After all, there seems to be growing momentum for the collective bargaining agreement to change the rule that a player has to be at least 19 years old, which has spawned the controversial one-and-dones.
Instead, there is much speculation the age limit will be eased back to 20, meaning most of those who go to college must stay at least two years.
There are other encouraging signs. One is the return of the traditional powers. North Carolina will be flat-out loaded next season. Even if John Calipari loses his trio, UK won't be lacking talent next season. Sullinger will spearhead another strong Ohio State team. Armchair experts believe Syracuse is ready for another rise.
The surprise top-five pick for next year is — drum roll — Vanderbilt. Kevin Stallings has everyone back from this year's team, which should silence grumps who say the SEC will be down next year. Gary Parrish of CBSsports.com put Kentucky at No. 2, Vanderbilt at No. 5, Florida at No. 12 and Alabama at No. 21 in his early, early rankings.
That didn't even take into consideration the fact that Renardo Sidney, the star-crossed center from Mississippi State, went back on his tweet from last June that he would be in the 2011-12 pro draft.
Instead, Sidney decided to spend 2011-12 playing collegiate basketball in Starkville.
When even Renardo Sidney knows it's smart to stay in school, you know better days must be ahead.