The past week in college basketball is a good reminder that when the calendar turns to January, the sport changes dramatically. I always seem to forget this lesson in the offseason and then remember around this time. Conventional wisdom said that Kentucky would breeze through the SEC, Wisconsin was the only Final Four–caliber team in the Big Ten, and Oklahoma was rising to the top of the Big 12 after destroying Texas in Austin. So how is it possible that all of a sudden Ole Miss and Texas A&M are taking the Cats to overtime? Or that Purdue can hang close with the Buzzcuts in Madison? Or that the Sooners can lose at home to Kansas State five days after embarrassing a potential Final Four team on the road? The answer: familiarity.
When Oklahoma played Wisconsin in December, Lon Kruger probably called his coaching friends in the Big Ten and asked for tips on stopping the Buzzcuts, and then did the best he could with that and some video from recent Wisconsin games. But when Purdue played Wisconsin, Matt Painter probably went into the cellar of Mackey Arena and sifted through 20 bookcases of Buzzcut material, not to mention all the years’ worth of film Purdue has of Bo Ryan’s system. During the conference season, the players know each other really well, the coaches know each other even better, and some intangible magic — “Let’s get revenge for last time!” insane crowds, rivalry games, “We’ve got nothing to lose!” — gets sprinkled on everything. Add it all up and it’s easy to see how vastly inferior teams can hang with national title contenders.
And let’s not forget that these guys are college students and amateur athletes. It feels like I write this every year, but it’s worth a reminder. Here’s last January’s version:
It’s easy to forget that even the best teams are made up of young men, which means there’s no telling what’s going on in their heads. Maybe a key player just got dumped by his girlfriend. Maybe he saw Anchorman 2 over Christmas break and can’t get over how bad it was. Maybe a star player is — ha-ha — taking a really tough class and — ha-ha-ha — pours so much effort into his studies that — HA-HA-HA-HA-HA — he loses his edge on the court.
We see college basketball players on the court for only about four hours a week, but they have lives off the court that can very much affect their play. Basketball is an unpredictable game before taking these factors into account, so it’s no wonder that young adults facing myriad distractions and playing under a huge spotlight tend to be a little inconsistent. It might sound like I’m making excuses, but think back to when you were between 18 and 22. You probably couldn’t go 10 days without showing up to your job drunk, high, or hungover. And that was probably just some dinky $6.50 an hour job at Subway, where you hid a Game Boy in the bathroom and took a 30-minute poop break every other hour.
Anyway, the conference season is off to a fun start, and it’s only getting better from here. Meet me back here in a year and we’ll go through the “Oh yeah — I forgot conference play is insane!” charade all over again. In the meantime, I’ll try to make sense of the chaos.
12. West Virginia
The good news for the rest of the Big 12, though, is that no matter how much Staten scores, West Virginia still won’t be much of a factor in the conference. The Mountaineers were 17-16 last season, before Eron Harris transferred to Michigan State and took his 17.2 points per game with him and before Terry Henderson took his 11.7 points per game to North Carolina State. The Mountaineers brought in zero top-100 recruits, and although WVU did land Juco transfers Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip, neither of them will make a huge difference.
In other words, West Virginia is Juwan Staten. Stop him and you stop the Mountaineers.
— Big 12 preview from some stupid idiot who knows nothing
Against Oklahoma on Tuesday, Juwan Staten went 1-for-9 and scored four points. West Virginia beat the Sooners by 21.
(The Big 12 might not get a single team in the Elite Eight, but good lord this is going to be a fun league to follow over the next two months. Kansas was the favorite at the beginning of the year. When the Jayhawks got stomped by Kentucky and Temple, Texas became the favorite. When Oklahoma destroyed Texas in Austin, the Sooners became the favorite. Now Oklahoma sucks, Kansas is on top again, Iowa State isn’t far behind, and West Virginia is a play or two away from being undefeated in the conference. The “Big 12 favorite” label is going to be passed around 100 more times before the season ends. Well, either that or Kansas is just going to cruise to another conference title and everyone else will kill each other for second place.)
Last week, when I called Maryland the biggest surprise in college basketball, I must have accidentally misspelled “West Virginia.” Whoops.
“Is Maryland really that good?” a buddy of mine asked after the Terps lost at Illinois last Wednesday. “Was that really that big of an upset?”
My response: I’m not sure. I want to say yes. When Maryland has it together — when the Terps get after it defensively; when Melo Trimble, Dez Wells, and Jake Layman are unguardable; and when guys like Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens are raining 3s — it can beat any team in America. But after watching Illinois’s defense eat Maryland alive in that second half, it’s hard not to wonder if Maryland is due for a three-game losing streak. Illinois played a 2-3 zone that would sometimes switch to man-to-man after Maryland’s first pass in the half court. It wasn’t that complicated to figure out. Yet the Terps looked like they were trying to read an engineering textbook written in Mandarin. Was this an aberration or a sign of future struggles as the Terps get deeper into the Big Ten schedule?
But for Maryland fans, does it even matter at this point? Given how low expectations were before the season, will fans be disappointed if the Terps finish second or fifth in the Big Ten? They’re leading the conference standings, and winning the league won’t be impossible, but Wisconsin remains the clear favorite. Plus, the rest of the conference isn’t as far behind Maryland as the national rankings suggest. But so what? Wouldn’t most Maryland fans be happy getting a 4-seed in the NCAA tournament and winning a couple of games before losing to Kentucky by 15 in the Sweet 16?
10. Notre Dame
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
When Virginia played Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday, I was certain either the Irish would win a close game or the Hoos would run away with it. An Irish win seemed plausible because Notre Dame has a history of crushing undefeated dreams at the Joyce Center and the Irish offense is the best in the nation. Maybe Virginia’s defense would finally meet its match. Maybe the Hoos would abandon their defensive identity, get sucked into a track meet with Notre Dame, and come up short. But instead, Virginia was just too damn good to let that happen.
A Virginia blowout seemed like the other likely outcome. I wrote last week that although Notre Dame’s offense doesn’t exclusively rely on 3-point shooting, the Irish do need to shoot well to compete with good teams. I worried that Virginia would bottle up the Irish offense and the Hoos would unleash a bloodbath. But Notre Dame rose to the challenge and kept the game close by playing surprisingly stout defense. The stats won’t necessarily back that up, but I thought the Irish forced the Hoos to work hard on offense and take tough shots. It’s just that Virginia made them. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame’s leading scorer and best player, had just six points, but the Irish still led against the most complete team in America with less than five minutes to play. Hanging tough in a loss to Virginia isn’t going to win the Irish any trophies, but it’s enough for me to consider them a serious Final Four threat.
Bad news: It seems pretty clear that Perry Ellis can’t be the best player for a national championship contender. He just isn’t wired to be that guy. It looked like Kansas could have been his team, but he seems more comfortable filling in where he’s needed rather than being the alpha dog.
Good news: Ellis isn’t Kansas’s best player anyway. That’s because there’s a certain point guard playing out of his mind for the Jayhawks and BITCH HE’S FRANK MASON.
Screw it — let’s listen to it again.
(I find something new to love every time I listen to that song. This time I realized that the pinnacle of comedy is the “and shit” that Mason throws in there at the start of the song, when he says, “What it do, man? This your boy Frank Mason, out here ballin’ in Kansas and shit right now.”)
Mason has scored in double figures in each of his last 13 games. In his last five games, he’s averaging 13.8 points, 5.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and just 1.6 turnovers while shooting 50 percent. Most importantly, with the exception of maybe Kelly Oubre, Mason was the only Jayhawk to show any sort of backbone when Temple massacred Kansas. This has clearly become his team.
The big question going forward is how much help Mason will consistently get from his teammates, which is something the rap warned us about: “I can’t do this shit alone, bitch, can you see him beat a nation?” Somebody has stepped up in each of Kansas’s recent wins, but no Jayhawk other than Mason has consistently brought it. When will a reliable sidekick emerge? How long until Kansas’s big guys start producing night in and night out? Hopefully it happens soon, because it’s my understanding that you don’t want to keep Frank waiting.
Paul Dye/J and L Photography/Getty Images
College GameDay will be in Ames for Iowa State–Kansas on Saturday. Hundreds of reporters who prematurely booked their trips will be in Louisville to see Coach K go for his 1,000th 998th career win. The state of Oklahoma will be focused on Oklahoma–Oklahoma State. The city of Philadelphia will be focused on Villanova-Penn. ACC fans will be watching to see if the same Miami team that just crushed Duke can knock off Notre Dame in South Bend. SEC fans will be watching Alabama try to beat Kentucky, while Big Ten fans will be crossing their fingers that the Maryland–Michigan State rematch isn’t as ugly as their first game.
And I’ll be in Tucson, stuffing my face at 1702 and Baggin’s, throwing back cheap beer at Dirtbag’s, and trying to contain my excitement at the McKale Center as the game of the year in West Coast basketball plays out before me. Here are my three big questions heading into Utah-Arizona:
1. Who will win the Zeus “Zeus” Zeuszeuski vs. Jakob Poeltl matchup?
If you asked Arizona fans how they think Zeus’s career has played out to this point, I’m guessing most would respond with a drawn-out “Ummmmmm …” as they collect their thoughts. On one hand, Zeus has been a rock in the middle for the Cats for close to three years. He plays hard, he’s an enormous body, and he doesn’t make many mistakes. On the other hand, Zeus hasn’t lived up to the hype that comes with being ESPN’s fourth-ranked recruit in the class of 2012. And he seems to have games every so often — like the one Sunday against Oregon State — when he finishes with four points, zero rebounds, zero assists, zero blocks, zero steals, and two fouls in 23 minutes.
This is a huge opportunity for Zeus to change his narrative. Poeltl is the hot new thing in Pac-12 basketball. The freshman center has turned Utah from a pretty good team led by Delon Wright into a national title contender. Poeltl is more talented than Zeus and he’s every bit as big. But Zeus has played in countless big games against players more talented than Poeltl. If Zeus gets pissed off at the Poeltl hype and challenges himself to take Poeltl out of the game, Arizona will be that much better for it.
2. Who will guard Delon Wright and Stanley Johnson?
Arizona will almost certainly play man-to-man the entire game, but none of the Wildcats matches up well with Wright. If Sean Miller sticks with the starting lineup of T.J. McConnell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley, and Zeus, my guess is he’ll put Hollis-Jefferson on Wright because McConnell is the only Arizona starter who can guard Brandon Taylor. But Hollis-Jefferson isn’t as quick as Wright, and he’s frequently plagued by foul trouble,1 while Wright shoots almost five free throws per game. Johnson is even less experienced and a weaker defender than Hollis-Jefferson, and he also struggles with foul trouble. The solution would be to start Gabe York over Hollis-Jefferson, put McConnell on Wright, and let York guard Taylor, but that could create a handful of other problems. We’ll see what Miller decides.
Hollis-Jefferson has committed 18 fouls in his last five games.
The good news for Arizona, though, is Utah doesn’t appear to have anyone who can guard Johnson (assuming he brings his A-game). If the Utes play man, Larry Krystkowiak will have to decide if he wants to put Wright (his best defender) on Johnson, which would give Johnson a significant size advantage, or if he wants to use Jordan Loveridge (not a great defender). I’m guessing Krystkowiak will put Wright on Johnson so Taylor can guard McConnell, with guys like Loveridge, Poeltl, and Chris Reyes providing help defense when Johnson posts up against Wright. But it’s very possible that Utah might also play some zone to negate Arizona’s slight size advantage. As big as Arizona’s front line is, you might expect it to pound Utah’s zone with offensive rebounding, but the Cats aren’t as good on the offensive boards as their size suggests.
3. Will either team be able to stretch the floor?
This is the big one. No matter what defense Utah plays, the Utes are going to pack it in and dare the Cats to beat them from the perimeter, and that dare doesn’t always turn out well for Arizona. Utah has enough size to bang with Arizona in the paint, and the Utes are good enough defensively to take away penetration. This is why York, Elliott Pitts, and even McConnell, Johnson, and Ashley have to hit outside shots. Transition 3s don’t count. These guys have to hit enough outside shots in the half court to make Utah extend its defense. If they do, Arizona will open driving lanes for Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson and create space for its bigs to operate on the block.
Meanwhile, Utah lit Colorado up from behind the arc in its last game, but the Utes offense tends to stagnate against zone defenses. Arizona probably won’t play zone, but the Wildcats defense will have a zone-like effect in that it will stack the paint and invite Utah to pass the ball around the perimeter as the shot clock gets sucked dry. If Utah can avoid this trap and knock down some 3s to unclog the middle, then Wright and Poeltl can wreak havoc with their two-man game.
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 the Louisville–North Carolina game in Chapel Hill on Saturday, how did Vitale and Dan Shulman end up talking about Duke?
A. Chris Jones hits a deep 3, prompting Vitale to joke that Jones took the shot from Duke’s campus.
B. Following a good play by Montrezl Harrell, Vitale declares Harrell to be one of the best big men in the country. After a beat, he says that when you talk about great big men in college basketball, you have to talk about Duke’s Jahlil Okafor.
C. After coming back from commercial, an update of the ongoing Kentucky–Texas A&M game is shown, informing viewers that the contest is headed to overtime. When the broadcast cuts back to Shulman and Vitale, Shulman says a Kentucky loss could move Duke to the no. 1 spot in the polls.
D. Shulman asks Vitale if the game we’re watching is bigger for North Carolina or Louisville. Vitale answers North Carolina, because it has to defend home court if it wants to compete in the ACC. He then says the conference is top-heavy with teams like Louisville, Virginia, and Duke.
E. Marcus Paige hits a big 3 toward the end of the game, forcing Louisville to take a timeout. With the North Carolina crowd going crazy, Vitale says that his late friend Stuart Scott would’ve said “Booyah!” for Paige’s shot. He then goes on to say that every time Scott would see him, the proud North Carolina alum would joke that he doesn’t want to hear Vitale talk about Duke.
Think of college basketball teams in January as meth recipes and coaches as meth cooks who are all trying to achieve Heisenberg levels of purity. And think of the NCAA tournament as the meeting with the head of the cartel, where the purity gets tested and all who fall short are shot in the face. Throughout the season, teams will have ugly wins, good losses, injuries, slumps, no-shows, hot streaks, transfers, suspensions, and everything in between, and coaches will toy with their recipes based on these events. All they have to do is weather this storm well enough for the cartel to believe the coaches can still deliver on time; in other words, all they have to do is be good enough to make the NCAA tournament. From there, if the product is pure, coaches stand to gain a ton of money and power. And if it’s not, well, they get shot in the face.
That’s how I think of basketball. It’s my drug and I’m on an endless search for the purest, most potent stuff I can find. Winning and losing matters, but at this point in the season the purity of the product is most important. Take Gonzaga’s offense, mix it with the kind of defense Kentucky was playing a month ago, put it in the freezer overnight, and you’ll have dope that makes Walter White’s Blue Sky feel like Advil. That’s the ultimate goal. If you can get Tuco Salamanca to snort your level of play and say “tight” more than three times, you’re on the right track.
I say all of that to say this: Rick Pitino is really close to figuring out the perfect recipe for this Louisville team, so Louisville’s loss at North Carolina doesn’t really bother me. In fact, the Cards played their best basketball of the season against Carolina. Of course, Louisville has some things to work on. The Tar Heels obliterated them on the boards. Terry Rozier took several questionable shots. Wayne Blackshear doesn’t make his presence felt enough. It often seems like Harrell recharges his battery by dunking, and if he’s not throwing it down regularly, he’s not affecting the game. But Harrell is still a top-five player in college basketball, Rozier can be unstoppable at times, and Chris Jones seems to have finally figured it out. Best of all, Chinanu Onuaku played really well against the Tar Heels and Mangok Mathiang played well Tuesday against Virginia Tech, giving hope that maybe Louisville will eventually find a reliable center. If the Cards can get everyone on the same page — and they’re getting closer and closer to that goal — their meth will blow my socks off.
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
What a brutal week it’s been for the Fighting Buzzcuts of Wisconsin. We’ll get to the Rutgers loss in a second. But first, let’s cover Traevon Jackson’s foot injury, which is a huge deal. Wisconsin fans have been begging to get off the Traevon Jackson emotional roller coaster for the last two years, and now I bet they’re dying to jump back onboard. Bronson Koenig is the second-best backup point guard in college basketball,2 so Wisconsin should still be able to run a smooth offense. But the Buzzcuts barely had any depth to begin with, and Koenig had been great as a spark off the bench. Koenig can fill in for Jackson, but who will fill in for the role Koenig is leaving? It’s not like Wisconsin has had another high-energy guard on the bench this whole time.
My top five, in order: Tyler Ulis (duh), Koenig, Javan Felix, Nate Britt, and Spike Albrecht.
Oh. Well, hello there, Zak Showalter.
By the way, Frank Kaminsky has to be the national player of the year front-runner right now, right? He already belonged on the short list, but Wisconsin losing at Rutgers without him has catapulted him to the top of my list. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve taken The Moose for granted this year. Wisconsin has so much talent that I forgot Kaminsky is more than the best player on the team — he’s its safety net. I swear he scores six points each game off bad possessions where the Buzzcuts offense stalls and they just throw the ball to Kaminsky and say, “Save us.” In a perfect world, Sam Dekker would be that guy in Kaminsky’s absence. But this isn’t a perfect world — Roman Reigns steals mic time from Dolph Ziggler, and Wisconsin is a completely different team without Kaminsky.
Losing to Rutgers counts and Wisconsin should be embarrassed. I won’t dispute that. Even without Kaminsky, Wisconsin should be 15 points better than the Scarlet Knights. But if the NCAA tournament started tomorrow, Kaminsky were 100 percent, and you asked me how I felt about the Buzzcuts’ chances to return to the Final Four, the loss to Rutgers wouldn’t even factor into my mind.
How about some love for Daniel Ochefu? He showed enough flashes of promise last season that I expected him to improve dramatically once James Bell graduated and Ochefu took over Bell’s spot in the starting lineup. But I never envisioned he’d be this good. Ochefu hasn’t had to do much in Villanova’s last two games because one was against DePaul and the Wildcats hit 15 3s in the other. But in the four previous games, Ochefu averaged 13.8 points, 14 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in less than 28 minutes. That’s silly. Ochefu is playing just a little more than he did last season, but he has almost doubled his scoring, he’s pulling down 2.5 more boards per game, his field goal percentage has improved despite attempting more shots, and he’s fouling less.
Given how common it is for big men to be passive, unskilled, and/or inconsistent (Ohio State, Kansas, and Louisville fans are getting headaches from nodding so hard at this), it’s a pleasure to see Ochefu dominate down low. The Big East might as well send the conference player of the year trophy to Villanova right now and let the Wildcats figure out who on the team deserves it most. If the season ended today, my vote would go to Ochefu. His presence on both ends of the floor gives Villanova an element it lacked last season, which is why this team has a much higher ceiling than last year’s Wildcats.
Can we please not do this again this year? I can’t take another year of “… but how many games would they win in the Big Ten?” I can’t handle every mention of the Zags prompting some East Coast doucher who hasn’t watched a Gonzaga game since 2006 to chime in about how “they don’t play anybody.” Because I hate myself, I made the mistake of searching “How Gonzaga” on Twitter to see if people were complaining about the Zags’ place in this week’s AP poll. Spoiler: They were.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Gonzaga is really, really good. This is the best offensive team, the best defensive team, and the deepest team Mark Few has ever had. I’m not demanding that everyone think it’s the best team in the country, but how about this compromise: If you’re going to crap on the Zags, can you at least watch them play five times before you do? Can you at least realize that the typical anti-Gonzaga arguments don’t apply this year?
Speaking of which, deploying the “they don’t play anybody” argument at this point in the season is an easy way to inform the world that you don’t know shit about shit. That line of reasoning may gain strength in a month, after Gonzaga blazes through an overmatched WCC, but as of today it has played a very strong schedule. The Zags have played true road games against three traditionally excellent programs (Arizona, UCLA, and BYU), and even though it was technically considered a neutral site, they also played St. John’s in Madison Square Garden. They played SMU and Georgia. They opened their conference schedule with three straight road games and they will end up playing five of their first seven WCC games on the road.
And Gonzaga has dominated their competition. The only team that seriously challenged the Zags was Arizona, which handed Gonzaga its only loss this year, in overtime. But anyone who watched that game (Arizona fans included) will tell you that Gonzaga looked like the better team for most of it. Outside of that loss, the Zags are shredding opponents, as no other team has finished within six points.
Yes, major-conference teams will be asked to do more than Gonzaga will have to do in the WCC. But we’re two weeks into the conference season. Wisconsin has played Penn State, Northwestern, Purdue, and Rutgers. Duke has played Boston College, Wake Forest, NC State, and Miami. Kentucky has played Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Missouri. Arizona has played Arizona State, Oregon, and Oregon State. None of those opponents is close to being ranked, so it’s not fair to act like these other highly ranked teams are struggling through some brutal gantlet right now while Gonzaga is blowing out middle school B teams.
Ugh. I’m going to have to do this every week for the rest of the season, aren’t I?
What does it mean to be a good college basketball coach? There’s so much that goes into the job that even the undisputed greats get criticized. Roy Williams is just a good recruiter. Denny Crum didn’t graduate players. John Calipari doesn’t keep his players around long enough to help them grow from boys INTO MEN, which is such a vital part of the college experience, you guys. Bill Self chokes in the NCAA tournament. Bob Knight chokes in practice, literally. You get the idea.
I answer the question by starting with “winning.” I don’t care how you get there — if you win games and follow the rules, you’re a good coach. But if I had to give a more specific example of quality coaching, I’d point to Tony Bennett. That’s because I’m convinced Bennett says nothing to his players during games. Now, I’ll admit that I used to make fun of Frank Haith all the time for this. I used to rip on Haith because every time the camera panned to him in a big spot, he’d be staring into the distance with a blank look on his face, like he was wondering if he’d left the iron on.
Here’s the difference: Bennett says nothing because there’s nothing to say. His guys are so well prepared and they have such a great understanding of what’s expected from them that all Bennett has to say is, “Yeah, keep doing that.” I have no ties to the University of Virginia, the state of Virginia, or really anywhere close to the East Coast, yet I’ve fallen head over heels in love with this year’s Hoos. They’re what you’d get if a basketball instructional manual from 1980 came to life. They’re the German national soccer team of college basketball. You could call every basketball junkie over the age of 50 and tell them ESPN is airing porn, and when they flipped over to see Virginia playing, they wouldn’t even notice the difference. If Notre Dame — the best offense in America — can’t crack Virginia’s defense during a game in South Bend, then what hope does the rest of the country have?
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Kentucky has flaws. I’ve been driving the “Is this the best team ever?” bandwagon all season, and I still think the Cats will complete the Cincinnati Double,3 but I’m also willing to admit that Kentucky is far from perfect. It looks lost on offense way too frequently. It doesn’t have many reliable shooters. Andrew Harrison is precariously close to becoming an offensive liability. Devin Booker is overdoing it with the jet-black hair dye. For all the great big men on the Cats roster, the team lacks a consistent back-to-the-basket scorer. In short, it doesn’t have a way to score easy baskets in the half court.
This is a term I made up for when Ohio State wins the football national championship and Kentucky wins the basketball national championship in the same season, since so many people from Cincinnati cherry-pick these two as their college sports teams. The only other time it happened was when the Buckeyes split the 1957 national title with Auburn before Kentucky won the 1958 NCAA tournament. While we’re on the topic, the Indianapolis Double is Indiana winning the basketball title the same year Notre Dame wins the football title, which has surprisingly never happened. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Double (USC football and UCLA basketball) has happened three times: 1967-68, 1972-73, and 1974-75.
Now, I’ll admit that it’s oversimplifying things to say Kentucky wasn’t ready to play every time the team suffers a close call. It’s certainly possible to outplay the Cats. At the same time, Kentucky’s length and athleticism means that 90 percent of its defensive success depends on effort. When the Cats defend like their asses are on fire, it’s almost impossible to score against them. It really is that simple. Ole Miss hit tough shots and Texas A&M ran some creative actions. But if Kentucky approaches defense in those games with a “let’s crush them so badly that half their team quits from embarrassment” mentality instead of just “let’s try to get a stop here,” it wouldn’t have mattered what the Rebels and Aggies did offensively.
When Kentucky decides to smother opponents with defense, it no longer matters if the Wildcats offense is a little ragged. This is why people tend to say “Kentucky just didn’t bring it” when the Wildcats don’t cover the spread. So while there’s no denying that Kentucky has real problems that effort can’t erase, it’s also true that if Kentucky treats every possession like life or death,4 then its flaws can be minimized to the point of hardly mattering at all.
And you know UK opponents play with this level of intensity because it’s their chance to slay a giant.
There are several teams in college basketball that could beat Kentucky even when the Cats give 100 percent effort. Ole Miss and Texas A&M aren’t among them.
The Fired Referee of the Week
Rich Barnes/Getty Images
I saw the headline. I clicked the link. Then I read the first sentence, and I still couldn’t believe it: “Veteran official Karl Hess has worked his final ACC basketball game and has withdrawn himself from assignments with the American Athletic Conference.”
WE DID IT, AMERICA!!!
In retrospect, I didn’t give Hess enough crap over the years, probably because I focused my referee hatred on Ted Valentine. So let me make up for lost time: SUUUUUUCCCKKKKK IIIIITTTTTTTT KARL HESS. SUCK IT SO HARD. I’m a neutral observer of ACC basketball and even I could tell you were a turd. So go ahead and get the hell out of our lives and never come back.
If there is one bad thing about Hess being fired, it’s absolutely nothing. I’m sure some readers think I’m being way too harsh, so let me remind everyone that Hess wasn’t just a bad official. All college basketball fans can tolerate bad officiating, because it’s unavoidable. But on top of being awful, Hess called games like a mean-spirited tyrant and he abused his power on a near-nightly basis. He’s so bad that I was able to come up with this list of things he’s done off the top of my head:
- He ejected Tim Miles from an NCAA tournament game last year when Miles tried to tell him the shot clock wasn’t working.
- He gave Rick Pitino a tech in an NCAA tournament game for yelling at his own player.
- He kicked Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani out of an NC State game, presumably because they hurt his feelings.
- Following a hiatus from officiating at NC State after the Gugliotta/Corchiani fallout, Hess gave Mark Gottfried a tech four minutes into Hess’s first game back at NC State. The Wolfpack went on to lose to Wofford by one point.
All of that happened in the last three years. There was also the time Hess tried to fight Eric Maynor.
To cap it off, Hess was fired for allegedly telling Mit Shah, a fan of Indian descent and the former chairman of the Wake Forest board of trustees, “When I’m older, I want to sit in your seat and watch your Egyptian ass ref a game.”
But now we don’t have to deal with any of Hess’s crap anymore, because the witch is dead! CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES COME ON!!!
The Dick’s Degree of Separation answer is all of them. No, really. Every single one of those happened. See you next week.