Mystery solved: Why the NCAA tournament basketballs look brighter orange this year

Eagle-eyed basketball viewers often had the same question the past few days when they flipped on their TVs and devices to watch the men's NCAA tournament.

Anyone from everyday fans, to TV personalities, to NBA players, wondered if it was their imagination or the ball was an atypically vibrant shade of orange.

Turns out those observations were correct. The NCAA tournament does have a new game ball this year. And, yes, Wilson’s Evo NXT ball is bright.

BUFFALO, NEW YORK - MARCH 17: A detailed view of the ball prior to the game between the South Dakota State Jackrabbits and the Providence Friars in the first round game of the 2022 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KeyBank Center on March 17, 2022 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
A view of this year's NCAA tournament game ball. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) (Elsa via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - MARCH 23: An official holds the ball during the game between the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Baylor Bears in the Second Round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament at Vivint Smart Home Arena on March 23, 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
The Wilson ball used at previous NCAA tournaments (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) (Patrick Smith via Getty Images)

In a press release last June announcing the new ball, the general manager of Wilson Team Sports described it as one of his company’s “highest caliber” basketballs. Kevin Murphy said Wilson worked with the NCAA and its member schools to create a ball that has “an extra layer of grip” and an internal construction that makes it “easier to shoot from long-range.”

While the Evo NXT balls were approved for college teams this season, NCAA rules allow home teams to choose the brand and model of basketball they use. Teams use anything from Nike, to Adidas, to Wilson, to Spalding depending on their preference and their shoe-apparel partnerships. Occasionally, coaches have admitted to purposefully choosing an obscure ball to give their teams a minor psychological edge.

Indiana guard Xavier Johnson called the Evo NXT “a good ball” but attributed his worst performance of the season to getting used to shooting it. In December, Johnson went 3-for-11 from the floor and 2-for-9 from behind the arc in a 64-56 victory over Notre Dame.

“The ball is just — it's just different,” Johnson said Wednesday. “It's more sticky, and it's a different English going off the glass when you make layups.”

The reviews from viewers have been much harsher.

While watching his alma mater, Indiana, in the First Four on Tuesday night, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban compared the appearance of the balls to the cheap, shiny, orange ones on the shelves at big-box stores.

That comparison, of course, did not go over well with Wilson executives. Wilson director of sales Dave White tweeted back at Cuban, “I can guarantee you these aren’t $5.99 basketballs.”

“We took the best technologies from the previous NCAA game balls,” White wrote, “the best technologies from the Evolution basketball (the number one game ball in the world) and created the new ball that you see being used this year.”