I don’t want to mince words here: Ted Valentine is the single biggest problem in college basketball. When the committee of officials or whatever meets this summer to decide points of emphasis for next season, “Ted Valentine” needs to be at the top of that list. Somebody needs to do something about college basketball’s evil dictator. Hopefully that somebody is Patric Young, and that something is a right hook to the face. But I’d be fine with a lifetime ban, or at the very least 60 years in prison.
A lot of people who saw the altercation between Valentine and Mick Cronin were left thinking that Cronin’s behavior was immature. It looked to me, however, like Cronin was just arguing a call like any other coach would. Then, when TV Teddy tried to humiliate Cronin by stepping to him and staring down at him, Cronin snapped. I know a lot of you think Jim Burr, Karl Hess, Tony Greene, and other NCAA referees are worse than Valentine, but incidents like this are what make Valentine the worst in my book. As Dan Dakich pointed out, this isn’t the first, second, 20th, or even 700th time TV Teddy has lived up to his nickname either. Hell, it wasn’t even the first time last week that Valentine leapt unnecessarily into the spotlight.1
I don’t condone fans being jackasses, and I realize there’s a good chance the fan deserved to be ejected. But aren’t the ushers or security guards supposed to keep an eye on fan behavior? Refs are there to make sure the rules on the court are being properly followed. If we’re going to let their jurisdiction cross over into the stands, the next thing you know Valentine is going to be kicking you out of the express lane at your grocery store because he counts each individual fruit as a separate item.
One more thought: Don’t officials have way too much power? I know it’s their job to keep players and coaches in line. But who keeps the refs in line? We’re supposed to believe that some faceless officiating committee is working to make sure referees stay at the top of their game? Why do players and coaches have to answer to the media when they screw up, but officials can blow a crucial call, hit the showers, and be out of the gym without having to explain themselves? The best response fans can hope for is a statement issued two days later admitting that the official got the call wrong. Even then, the ref receives no meaningful punishment, and a week later we all forget what happened.
This is why I think officials need to be paid more. I know it doesn’t make sense to give Hess and Valentine more money, but think of the long-term ramifications. More money would lead to more competition, which in turn means refs who consistently ruin the sport can be sent packing without having to worry about finding adequate replacements. As it stands, college basketball officiating has become an old boys’ club where getting fired seems nearly impossible.
12. Umm … let’s see … New Mexico, I guess?
Sometimes I think I get too excited for March. Sometimes I think “March Madness” is a clever marketing ploy and that March might not be that much different from any other month in college basketball. Sometimes I think we’re all just sheep being influenced by TV networks that need a big event to sell ads during an otherwise slow sports month. But then a week like this past one comes along and vanquishes these thoughts: Thirteen ranked teams lost at least once, five ranked teams lost twice, and unranked teams beat ranked teams 17 times. March Madness is real, it’s spectacular, and it’s here!
But with so many teams losing in the past seven days, it’s suddenly hard to identify 12 teams that deserve to be included in the most powerful power rankings in college basketball. Saint Louis, Cincinnati, Michigan State, Iowa State, Creighton, and Syracuse have all lost two in a row. Kentucky lost twice this week. SMU lost to Temple recently. UConn was handily beaten at home by SMU last week. And while Memphis beat Louisville, the Tigers also lost to Houston.
That leaves us with San Diego State and New Mexico. San Diego State has the better overall résumé, but the Lobos beat the Aztecs by 14 not too long ago. So, because I have to rank somebody 12th, New Mexico gets the nod. Yes, this feels like handing out a participation ribbon. That doesn’t make the Lobos a bad team, of course. Cameron Bairstow, Kendall Williams, and Alex Kirk are as good as any trio in America and, as much as history tells me this is a terrible idea, New Mexico is an attractive dark horse Final Four pick.2 That said, the Mountain West is awful this season and some of the worst MWC teams have played the Lobos close. Winning big against San Diego State and being six points away from an undefeated conference season is good enough to get the Lobos in the conversation. But to really earn their way into college basketball’s most powerful power rankings, the Lobos need to beat the Aztecs again on Saturday.
11. Team A
Related: “Belmont is my sleeper, Wisconsin and Pitt are in my Final Four, and I’m thinking this is the year Frank Haith finally gets it done in the tournament!”
Blind résumé time!
|Team A||Team B|
|Best win all season||vs. no. 2 in current RPI (neutral court)||vs. no. 4 in current RPI|
|2nd-best win all season||vs. no. 32 in current RPI (neutral court)||vs. no. 13 in current RPI|
|3rd-best win all season||at no. 37 in current RPI||vs. no. 26 in current RPI|
|Best win since January 1||vs. no. 43 in current RPI||vs. no. 4 in current RPI|
|Record vs. RPI Top 25||1-3||2-5|
|Record vs. ranked teams||2-3||4-5|
|Record in last 3 games vs. ranked teams||0-3||2-1|
|Average margin of victory/defeat vs. ranked teams||-11.2||-2.2|
I know. I skewed things to make Team B look better. I purposely left out bad losses, each team’s RPI, strength of schedule, overall record, and other things that usually show up in these comparisons. I did so because I care most about who a team can beat, not who they can avoid losing to. I care about how teams play against the best, not how they play against the “decent.” The goal of the most powerful power rankings is to list teams that I’d be terrified for my favorite team to face in the NCAA tournament if it started immediately. More often than not, these teams are the ones that have proven they are capable of playing well when the spotlight is on.
This is my way of explaining to Villanova fans why the Wildcats have been left out of my power rankings for so long and are back only now because everyone else keeps losing. Knowing that, it’s pretty obvious that Nova is Team A. But guess who Team B is. No, seriously, guess.
You ready for this? Team B is — I shit you not — Indiana. The same Indiana that lost to Northwestern and Penn State at home. The same Indiana that lost to Illinois and Notre Dame. The same Indiana that lost to Purdue by 18.
Look, I respect what Villanova has accomplished this season and I think the Wildcats are really good. They’re experienced and well-coached, with a well-balanced offense, plus they defend as well as they score the ball. But I can’t ignore the obvious — Villanova has two wins this season over ranked opponents, and both of those wins came in November. One was against a young Kansas team that has lost six other times this season, and the other was in overtime against Iowa, which is not that great anyway.
Villanova fans have been wondering for at least a month why I hate their team so much. I honestly have nothing against the Wildcats. I just can’t take a team seriously as a national title contender if it’s possible to make a case that this year’s Indiana team (which won’t even sniff the tournament unless a miracle happens in the next two weeks) is better suited for a Final Four run. And no, Indiana is not better than Villanova. But look at contenders like Florida, Wichita State, Kansas, and Arizona. There’s no way to skew the stats and make them look like Indiana. That’s why I “hate” Villanova so much. When the Wildcats give me a reason to believe in them, I will. Not getting blown out by Creighton in the Big East tournament would be a good start.
Well, that didn’t last long. Exactly one week after coming through in the clutch against Cincinnati, Louisville is back to blowing close games. Saturday, Louisville led Memphis by eight with 4:47 to play. Memphis then went on a 15-1 run to close the game and beat Louisville by six. Considering that the Cards were so bad in clutch situations last season yet still managed to win the national title, this could be awful news for the rest of the country. Of course, if you try to offer that silver lining to Louisville fans today, they’ll probably just ask you to leave them alone so they can continue throwing darts at their Chris Jones voodoo dolls. But as frustrated as Cardinals fans must be, there are positive takeaways from the Memphis game. For starters, whatever Rick Pitino was trying to pass off as a beard is gone. Also: Montrezl Harrell has transformed into the most dominant big man in college basketball.
Harrell’s recent explosion — averaging 22.3 points and 9.3 rebounds over his last three games — has made him one of the most intriguing players in America. He’s an athletic freak with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, he plays hard every possession, he tries to tear the rim down every time he has the ball around the basket, and he seems to take pride in rebounding, which isn’t always the case with young big men.
After being projected as a possible lottery pick before falling out of the first round early in the season, Harrell is playing himself back up the NBA mock draft boards, and it’s hard to say whether he’d be better off staying at Louisville for another year or declaring for the draft. One thing is clear: Harrell has to develop a jump shot to be effective in the NBA. He has the physical tools to become an All-Star and he’s got a smooth natural stroke, but he’s attempted only three triples all season, and his free throw shooting is almost as bad as Aaron Gordon’s. Harrell can wreak havoc on the low block in college, but at 6-foot-8 (which is generous by many accounts) and 235 pounds, the thought of him trying to post up NBA power forwards is laughable. His body says he’s somewhere between small forward and power forward while his skill set says he’s somewhere between power forward and center.
So what’s the best way for Harrell to develop an all-around game? Some might say he should return to college, because the NBA would eat him alive if he can’t knock down 17-footers. Instead of riding the bench and struggling in the few minutes he receives, he should work on his jump shot in the summer, come back to college, allow his well-rounded offensive skills (plus no Russ Smith) to help him average 20-plus points per game, become an All-American, and hit the ground running when he gets to the league.
But Louisville probably wouldn’t allow Harrell to use next season as his personal NBA tryout. Why would Pitino let Harrell float around the perimeter on pick-and-pop plays when he could just be a monster in the paint? Sure, Pitino won’t mind Harrell putting up a few jumpers against overmatched nonconference cupcakes. But against the ACC juggernauts Louisville will play next season, won’t Pitino flip out if Harrell takes a bunch of 15-footers instead of trying to grab every rebound and dunk on every possession? And if that’s the case, wouldn’t it be better for Harrell to be thrown into the NBA fire and forced to improve his shot? Even if he spends a year or two in the D-League, Harrell’s NBA team will be more willing than Louisville to prioritize his long-term development over regular-season wins.
Whatever Harrell decides, his emergence as a dominant big man is preserving my faith in Louisville despite the Memphis loss. I know Luke Hancock is still struggling and Jones has been even worse than Hancock. But with Smith and Harrell, Louisville still has one of the best guards in the country and one of the best big men in the country, and its defense remains one of college basketball’s best. There aren’t too many teams that have all that going for them.
9. North Carolina
After a seven-day stretch that saw the Heels beat Pitt, win at Florida State, destroy Duke in the second half at home, and then destroy Wake Forest from the tip, North Carolina players apparently spent their four-day break doing nothing but spinning their shirts above their heads on Franklin Street. I know needing overtime and Marcus Paige heroics to beat NC State isn’t that bad. After all, it was a rivalry game, State has the ACC Player of the Year in T.J. Warren, and the Wolfpack needed a big win to improve their tournament résumé. But squeaking by 2-15 Virginia Tech? And following that by needing more Paige heroics to beat 6-12 Notre Dame? Don’t do this now, Carolina. You’ve come so far. You’ve gone almost two months without falling back into the pit of inconsistency. Don’t relapse at the worst possible time.
No matter how shaky North Carolina has looked recently, though, the Heels keep finding ways to win. Moving forward, Roy Williams must make sure his team doesn’t start feeling too good about itself. UNC has proven all season that it plays better as an underdog. Throughout November and December, Carolina became a punch line for beating teams it was supposed to lose to (Louisville and Michigan State) while losing to teams it was supposed to beat (Belmont and UAB). Then the Heels started ACC play 1-4 and the college basketball world wrote them off. Not long after that, though, Carolina embarked upon what has become the third-longest active winning streak among power conference teams.
Now, Carolina’s Final Four potential is a talking point, and that could be disastrous for the Heels. The last thing they need is to be told they’re great. Yes, they’re on a long winning streak, they’ve beaten some good teams, and Paige is a hero ball stud. But the Tar Heels are still a team that has one reliable 3-point shooter (Paige); whose best interior player has been inconsistent his entire career (James Michael McAdoo); and is known for its defense even though its defense isn’t among America’s best. If the Carolina players start believing they’re just as good as Florida and Arizona, they’ll lose their edge and get embarrassed. This is why I almost think Carolina will go further in the NCAA tournament if it loses to Duke on Saturday. A Carolina team that thinks it’s hot shit doesn’t scare me, but a Carolina team that’s hungry to prove it belongs is an opponent I’d want no part of.
The Ewing Theory lives on! Michigan still needs to make the Sweet 16 for me to feel comfortable submitting its case to the Ewing Theory committee, but if the Wolverines pull that off, they could go down as one of the purest Ewing Theory examples since … Patrick Ewing. Michigan fans can pretend they knew the Wolverines would be fine without Mitch McGary, but they’re mostly lying. There couldn’t have been more than 12 fans who actually believed this when McGary went out for the season, and even those 12 would have to admit that clinching the Big Ten outright was beyond their wildest dreams for this team. It wasn’t the most beautiful Big Ten title campaign, with each of Michigan’s three losses leaving me wondering if it should even be ranked. But the Wolverines never let their problems compound, and they were the only team in the deepest conference in America to not suffer a losing streak. That’s why they’re the champs.
The weird thing about Michigan is that when Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III each bring their A games, it’s as good as any team in the country, yet I still have no idea what to expect from the Wolverines in the NCAA tournament. The last couple of months have proven that Michigan at its best is better than any other Big Ten team at its best. But what does that mean? The Big Ten is deep this season in the sense that any team can beat any other team. But I think we can all agree that the conference isn’t as strong at the top as it was last season. In fact, if I had to pick which conference the national champion would come from and my only choices were the SEC and Big Ten, I wouldn’t hesitate to say the SEC, even though that conference is basically just Florida and a steaming pile of manure.
Here’s the problem: The NCAA tournament is all about matchups. High-Octane Michigan — where Stauskas is an all-around stud, Robinson is catching lobs off backdoor cuts, LeVert is mini-Durant, Zak Irvin is making it rain, and Derrick Walton is taking care of the ball and playing great defense — is unstoppable. Nobody is touching High-Octane Michigan. But what about slow, hard-nosed Grind-It-Out Michigan? What if Michigan plays Cincinnati in the second round and the Bearcats shut down the Wolverines’ offense? Is Michigan capable of winning when it doesn’t shred the nets? Here are the results of every game Michigan has played without McGary and shot 43 percent or worse from the field: three-point win versus Stanford, 11-point loss at Indiana, 18-point loss at Iowa, 10-point win at Ohio State, 13-point loss at Wisconsin, and one-point overtime win at Purdue.3
For comparison, here’s how Duke (another offensive-oriented team) has fared in games where the Blue Devils shot 43 percent or worse: 23-point win versus Eastern Michigan, two-point loss at Notre Dame, 13-point loss at Clemson, 21-point win at Miami, 22-point win versus Florida State, two-point win versus Maryland, eight-point loss at North Carolina, and 18-point win versus Virginia Tech. There are obviously some duds in there, but there are also multiple blowout wins.
Grind-It-Out Michigan doesn’t finish above .500 in the Big Ten this year, which is why Michigan fans should be praying to the ghost of Glen Rice that Grind-It-Out Michigan doesn’t show up to the Big Dance. Of course, the other way to look at it is this: The Wolverines have done a great job all season of keeping Grind-It-Out Michigan locked in the bowels of the Crisler Center, so there’s no reason to think they can’t keep it that way for another four weeks.
I’m putting the same amount of effort into the Kansas section this week as the Jayhawks put forth on defense in the second half of Saturday’s game at Oklahoma State.
It’s halftime, which can mean only one thing: It’s time for Dick’s Degrees of Separation, the most mildly amusing Internet game involving college basketball! You know the drill: I give you the endpoint of a Dick Vitale tangent and you pick the path he took to get there. Let’s get down to business.
During Saturday’s Virginia-Syracuse game in Charlottesville, how did Vitale end up talking about Notre Dame?
A. During a break in the action, Dan Shulman brings up University of Virginia athletics, which leads Vitale to mention that Virginia and Syracuse play each other in lacrosse later that night. Vitale informs viewers that both lacrosse programs are among the nation’s elite and says the game will be on ESPNU. He adds that Eamon McAnaney will be calling the game, and that McAnaney played lacrosse with Vitale’s son-in-law at Notre Dame.
B. ESPN cameras pan to a suite in John Paul Jones Arena as Shulman asks Vitale to explain the arena’s name. Vitale circles Paul Jones’s face on the screen as he tells viewers that Jones donated $35 million to build the arena, and Jones requested that the arena be named after his father. Vitale explains that he has become close with the Jones family over the years, as they have been supporters of The V Foundation for decades and one of Jones’s grandchildren attends Notre Dame with one of Vitale’s grandchildren.
C. Shulman asks Vitale the last time he remembers a Virginia game being so highly anticipated. Vitale says you’d have to go back to the early ’80s when Ralph Sampson played for UVa. He explains that those teams were so good that Digger Phelps once joked that he lost on purpose in the 1981 Sweet 16 because he didn’t want to face Virginia in the next game. After nearly 10 seconds of laughter, Vitale clarifies that Phelps coached Notre Dame at the time.
Wisconsin beat Penn State in its only game since last Wednesday, so there’s not much new to say about the Buzzcuts. Instead, let me remind readers for the umpteenth time that Virginia and Wisconsin are different from their usual selves this season. Does that mean they’re both locks to make the Final Four? Of course not. No team is. But I can’t stress enough that neither team fits the stereotypical Virginia and Wisconsin molds. So when you fill out your brackets, it would be wise to actually do some research instead of just saying, “Bo Ryan is allergic to the Final Four” as you pick the Buzzcuts to lose in the first round.
By the way, if this ends up being the best team Ryan has ever coached, the notion that his best team lost three straight at home — including a blowout loss to Northwestern — will be what I remember most when I think about how strange this season has been. I still can’t believe Wisconsin’s January. If you told me the Monstars took all of the Buzzcuts’ talent to play a rematch with the Looney Tunes, it would make more sense than anything I can come up with. Teams go through peaks and valleys, sure, but Wisconsin went from Mount Everest to the Mariana Trench in a matter of days, and now it’s about to summit Everest again. I almost want the Buzzcuts to run the table from here, just so we’ll all be confused when we look back on the 2014 Wisconsin national championship team and are reminded of how bad it was in January.
Duke had a bye week after the Blue Devils’ game against Virginia Tech last Tuesday, so instead of discussing them this week, let’s watch this video of Jabari Parker making “Jabari Bars.”
A few notes:
1. Duke basketball’s YouTube account posting a video of its star player baking desserts for students that is set to Pharrell’s “Happy” is the most blatant piece of propaganda I have ever seen. I already said I liked you this season, Duke. Quit pandering to me or I might have to change my mind.
2. My favorite part is that we’re told the Jabari Bar recipe is top secret a hundred times, yet I’m pretty sure I know 90 percent of the recipe after watching the video.
3. People who are given a scale of 1 to 10 and then say a number higher than 10 make me sick. I know Duke students think they’re soooo much smarter than everyone else, but do they really have to ruin the curve in everything they do? Now if someone says they give the Jabari Bars 10 out of 10, they’re going to get asked why they didn’t like them. “That girl over there gave them 12 out of 10, another student gave them 100 out of 10, and that other girl gave them 1,200 out of 10. What do you have against Jabari Bars?”
Joe Harris went 2-for-10 in the same game that Virginia beat a top-five team by 19. I watched every second of the Syracuse game and I still can’t read that sentence without actually saying the word “bullshit.” If Florida loses to a 16-seed by 30 in the first round, I still might consider that first sentence to be the biggest upset of the college basketball season. It’s making me rethink everything I considered to be true about this sport.
(By the way, Virginia fans are nodding in agreement as they read this, while everyone else doesn’t get what the big deal is because it’s been ages since they paid attention to Virginia basketball.)
As much as I want to pat myself on the back for claiming one of the first seats on the Virginia bandwagon, the Wahoos are playing so much better than even I thought was possible. Over the last three games, Virginia is outscoring opponents in the second half by an average of 19.7 points. Those three opponents have combined to shoot 34 percent, while Virginia has shot 53 percent. If Thomas Rogers doesn’t blast the roof off John Paul Jones Arena with a last-minute 3, Virginia nearly pulls off the Trilly Five-Way against Syracuse. I could go on all day. I know Virginia only had one game each against the other five teams in the ACC’s top six, but the Hoos also haven’t lost to any team outside the ACC’s top six, which is something none of those other five can say. So discredit Virginia’s dominance of one of college basketball’s best conferences if you want. Just know that you’re wrong.
This question would’ve seemed absurd a couple of weeks ago, but does Virginia have a chance at a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament? Barring catastrophe, Florida and Wichita State both should have 1-seeds locked up, and Arizona has a huge lead on the race for the third 1-seed. Now, let’s say Virginia wins out from here and then beats North Carolina and Duke en route to winning the ACC tournament. That would give the Cavs both ACC titles4 and a 17-game winning streak that would include wins over Duke, Syracuse, Pitt, and North Carolina twice. If Wisconsin wins out, the Buzzcuts would definitely get the 1-seed over the Hoos. The same goes for Kansas. But you have to think those are the only teams capable of preventing Virginia from being awarded a 1-seed if the Cavs win out, right?
I know the ACC considers only the tournament champion to be the true ACC champion. But that’s dumb and I’ll stick with what makes sense, thank you very much.
The part of me that loves to see once-proud programs return to prominence absolutely wants this to happen. But there’s also part of me that wonders how bad college basketball must look to casual fans if they see that a team that lost to Tennessee by 35 is considered one of the four best teams in the country when the tournament begins.
Prepare yourself for the longest extended metaphor comparing video games to college basketball you may ever read. I promise it all comes back to Arizona in the end. Here it goes:
My favorite video game ever is the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. This doesn’t make a ton of sense, since I’ve never tried to ride a skateboard and at no point have I considered myself a fan of the sport. But that game had me hooked. I probably played it more than every other video game I owned combined. I still listen to the soundtrack from time to time, just so I can reminisce on how funny I thought the phrase “I am the ambassador of kick your ass-ador” was.
I was the man at THPS. I beat the game (which includes getting all the secret tapes) at least five times, and each time I’d reset everything and do it all over again. I got so good that my older brother refused to play me. Never before and never since has my brother conceded that I’m better than him at something. That’s how great I was. My life goal as a 12-year-old was to be the best Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater player who ever lived. And I thought I was well on my way.
But then one day I went over to this kid Isaac’s house. Isaac was the kind of kid I talked to at school and even played on a few basketball teams with, but we had never been particularly close. This was the first time we had ever hung out. As I walked into his room, I saw that he had THPS sitting on his shelf. Naturally, I asked him to play. He accepted the challenge and we set up the “Single Session” thing where you skate for two minutes and try to get the highest score you can. I wanted Isaac to be blown away by my skills, so he would go to school the next day and tell everyone about my legendary THPS abilities. Because of that, I was focused on only my side of the screen when we played. I had no idea what was happening on his side, because I didn’t care what was happening on his side. I wasn’t trying to beat Isaac. I was trying to beat every other 12-year-old in the world.
I put forth one of the best two-minute skates I ever had. My man Bucky Lasek was hitting Kickflip McTwist after Kickflip McTwist like he always did for me, and I was sure Isaac would be stunned by my skills. But when the clock hit :00, Isaac didn’t say a word. I looked over to his side of the screen and saw why — he had DESTROYED me. I lost so bad I thought my life was over. I wanted to change my name, move to Montana, and start over. But first, I had to know how he did it. How could I lay down a nearly perfect run and still get blown out? I had to know his secret. I made him play a round by himself so I could watch. My life was forever changed by what I saw — Rune Glifberg’s Christ Air.
Christ Air — specifically, a rotating Christ Air — is like playing with Oddjob and having the golden gun in GoldenEye 007. It’s like having a two-lap lead and a red shell in Mario Kart. It was worth so many points that if you could execute a 720 Christ Air, you could just lay your controller down for the rest of the two minutes and still probably double your opponent’s score. Hell, I was certain that if I could somehow execute a 900 Christ Air in a halfpipe, I might be able to become president some day. Isaac and I have lost touch since then, probably because I could never look at him without thinking of my failure. But I’m eternally grateful for what he did — there’s no telling where I’d be if I never knew about Christ Air.
I say all of that to say this: I’m pretty sure Arizona recently discovered the Christ Air. The Wildcats went through an adjustment period after Brandon Ashley went down, but now the Cats are landing Christ Air after Christ Air on the rest of the Pac-12. I mean, in the last three games (all against teams that Joe Lunardi currently has in the tournament), Arizona beat Colorado by 27 and Cal by 28, and it was up 25 on Stanford before easing up and winning by 13. Arizona is averaging 84.6 points over those three games. The only three-game stretch in which it has scored more came at the start of the season and included games against Long Beach State and Fairleigh Dickinson. It’s too early to say so with much certainty, but you could argue that Arizona is playing better now than it ever did with Ashley. That defies logic and it shows how great of a job Sean Miller has done this year.
2. Wichita State
Let me first say that Wichita State deserves all the praise it’s getting for finishing the regular season undefeated. I don’t care how easy its schedule was. A lot of teams have played in a lot of crappy conferences over the years, and none has ever gone 31-0 in a regular season. And look, nobody thinks Wichita State is the best team in the history of college basketball. In 30 years, people won’t be looking at Wichita State’s record and thinking the Shockers played a murderer’s row. So, if you’re up in arms about how overrated the Shockers are, relax. Those of us who are applauding Wichita State understand the context.
What we don’t understand is why so many feel the need to tear down the Shockers’ accomplishment. Sure, if a team plays Kansas’s schedule and goes undefeated, it will be much more impressive than what Wichita State did this season. And if that ever happens, my praise for that team will be exponentially greater than my praise for Wichita State. Until then, what’s wrong with tipping your cap to the Shockers? Why do we have to pretend their season hasn’t been impressive just because someday another team’s undefeated season might be even more impressive?
Of course, the asterisk many are putting next to 31-0 will quadruple in size if the Shockers disappoint in the NCAA tournament. That’s ultimately all that matters. We can all agree that Wichita State is good, but will it win the national championship? This has been a topic of debate all season, and that debate will only get hotter as we enter the postseason. That’s especially true now that WSU supporters can tout their undefeated regular season while Shockers detractors point to Saint Louis, Wichita State’s biggest win of the season, as a team that also lost to Duquesne. Now that Saint Louis’s decline appears to have turned into a free fall, putting a win over the Billikens at the top of the Shockers’ résumé is like bragging about doing better than the Purple Parrots in Legends of the Hidden Temple.
The crucial question shouldn’t be if Wichita State will win the national title; it should be if it is good enough to win the national title. As much as we like to get caught up in upsets and Cinderella runs, there are really only a handful of teams each year that are good enough to win six consecutive games. This season, Wichita State is among that handful. Anything can happen in the NCAA tournament, which is why being one of those teams guarantees nothing, and pretending we know how Wichita State will fare in the tournament is silly. All a team can do is reach the level where it’s good enough to win six straight and then hope it can navigate the minefield en route to the championship. Maybe the Shockers haven’t exercised their adversity muscle5 enough to go all the way. Or maybe their undefeated season has instilled a confidence and winning culture that will carry them through the next month. Nobody can say for sure. But Wichita State is absolutely good enough to win a championship, and that’s all that matters right now.
I love this analogy for Wichita State. Think of basketball teams like prize fighters getting ready for the biggest fight of their lives (the NCAA tournament). Kansas and Wisconsin have been going through vigorous training such as running through the underbelly of a city in sweats, doing one-armed push-ups, and punching meat in a freezer. Meanwhile, Wichita State goes to the local YMCA, does 30 minutes on the treadmill, benches 135 for three sets of 10, and does a few bicep curls before calling it a day. This has to matter, right? Then again, how much does it matter? I mean, if I do the Rocky training and Mike Tyson takes Wichita State’s approach, he’s still kicking my ass.
Should I break down what the past seven days mean for Florida’s national title chances? Or should we just watch Michael Frazier go nuts on South Carolina again? That’s what I was thinking, too.
And to think — this idiot didn’t even put Frazier on his Spot-up Shooting All-Star Team.
The Fuel to the Court-Storming Debate of the Week
Utah Valley beat New Mexico State over the weekend, prompting thousands dozens of Utah Valley fans to spill onto the court after the game. Then this happened.
My initial reaction to this video was anger. I wasn’t angry at security or the fans, or even the player who threw the ball and started the whole ordeal. I was angry at the talking heads who were going to use this incident to argue that court-storming should be banned. It seemed clear to me that the blame in this instance should lie with the New Mexico State players who were sore losers and couldn’t just shake hands and leave the court. Either way, after further consideration, I changed my mind and now I think court-storming really should be banned. But not for the reason you think.
What’s the point of storming the court? I’ve always thought it was meant to be a way for students to say, “Eff the rules, I’m running out there to celebrate a huge win with my team.” I’ve never actually stormed a court, but I did run out onto the field after Ohio State beat Michigan in the 2006 no. 1 vs. no. 2 football game, and the rush I got from doing it came from knowing I was sticking it to The Man. But wouldn’t that rush be 100 times greater if The Man explicitly banned that behavior? Think of a world where court-storming is prohibited and your student body hasn’t stormed the court in years. Now, imagine your team is beating the no. 1 team in the country with 10 seconds left. Think of how awesome it would be to lock eyes with everyone around you, say “Let’s do it!” in unison, and blitz past security with two middle fingers in the air. With the way the rules are currently set up, if you do that today, you have a memory. But if you do it after court-storming has been banned by the NCAA for years? Well, then you’d have a story.
The Dick’s Degrees of Separation answer is A. See you next week.