I still can’t get over how bad Sunday’s Royal Rumble was. The ball was dropped as soon as WWE failed to have D-Von Dudley save Bubba Ray from Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper. Kofi Kingston’s spot was underwhelming and made no sense. Mizdow’s spot was dumb. Bray Wyatt’s early domination and taunting built up to an elimination that the cameras barely caught. Daniel Bryan was eliminated ELEVENTH??? Dolph Ziggler got the coveted no. 30 spot even though he had just been fired and was supposed to be hated by the people in charge. Bryan, Ziggler, and Dean Ambrose were basically jobbers for Big Show and Kane.1 Everyone knew the final outcome 15 minutes before it happened; using the Rock to pimp Roman Reigns was insulting; and that last wrinkle with Rusev was over before the audience understood what was going on. Naturally, WWE fans have bitched nonstop since the Rumble ended, making Vince McMahon as popular in the wrestling world as Iowa’s Adam Woodbury is in the Big Ten.
Big Show and Kane were front and center in the wrestling world the same week Blink-182 kicked out a member. I suddenly have the urge to play Tony Hawk’s video games on my PS2 and shuffle around my Top 8 on MySpace.
Complaining about a product that the aggrieved swear they love is a familiar position for college basketball fans. Every year, discussions arise about how to fix the sport because scoring is down and we’ve decided that this is a bad thing. I’m fine with changes that make the college game more exciting, but I also want to guard against making it more like the NBA. The contrasting styles of play; the differences between teams that pursue success with one-and-done, NBA-bound talent and those that develop their players over longer periods of time; the various ways to build a Final Four–caliber team — this diversity drives college basketball, and taking steps to homogenize the sport would be terrible.
One aspect that should be made more uniform, however, is the game ball. With Deflategate/Ballghazi dominating the sports conversation, now seems like a good time to remind you that in college basketball, every team uses its preferred brand of basketball for home games. This means that a team playing a stretch of three out of four games on the road could end up using balls that are different in both feel and bounce in four straight games. How has this never been addressed? How has the NCAA not mandated that every team use the same brand and model of ball? Or at the very least, why don’t conferences make their teams play league games with an official game ball? Wisconsin fans will tell you that the Buzzcuts are so tough to beat at home because of their raucous crowd and Bo Ryan’s coaching genius, and they’re not wrong. But Wisconsin’s home success might also have something to do with how it’s always freezing inside the Kohl Center and the school’s ball of choice is a lopsided turd encased in hard plastic, polished with a tub of K-Y Jelly and stuck in an icebox for 72 hours before tipoff.
2013 Louisville: Three decent wins in the first 19 games, but no marquee wins. Lost two of four over a roughly two-week stretch in January. Leading scorer was a short shooting guard who would pull up from anywhere and could score 40 on any given night. Senior point guard. Four guys who averaged at least 9.8 points per game. Wayne Blackshear wasn’t as good as expected. One NBA big man who basically did everything down low. Top-five defensive team. Not a very good 3-point-shooting team. NATIONAL CHAMPIONS.
2015 Louisville: Three decent wins in the first 19 games, but no marquee wins. Lost two of four over a roughly two-week stretch in January. Leading scorer is a short shooting guard who will pull up from anywhere and can score 40 on any given night. Senior point guard. Four guys who average at least 9.8 points per game. Wayne Blackshear isn’t as good as expected. One NBA big man who basically does everything down low. Top-five defensive team. Not a very good 3-point-shooting team. NATIONAL CHAMPIONS????
Are these comparisons severely flawed? Am I grasping at straws? Yes. And yes.
11. North Carolina
Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images
Let’s see — tons of size, solid defense, made 3s are miracles, an offense that mostly consists of muscling the ball into the basket, and every game seems to be close with four minutes left. Yep, North Carolina is a more athletic, more uptempo, and less bulky version of Arizona.
It feels like a lifetime ago when Iowa beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill and Mike F’ing Gesell gave Marcus Paige the business. Since then, the Heels have won 12 of 14. One of their two losses in that span came against possibly the best team of all time and the other was a one-point defeat to a top-10 team in which Carolina missed five potential game winners in the final minute. Paige is back to playing like an All-American. Kennedy Meeks has been great all year. J.P. Tokoto has expanded his game so much that calling him a mere “dunker” is a huge slap in the face. Brice Johnson is one of the most underrated players in college basketball. And Justin Jackson is the best freshman in the nation who never gets mentioned in “best freshmen” discussions.
And how about Nate Britt’s game against Syracuse? With Joel Berry and Theo Pinson out, Britt’s role will surely grow. His 17-point outburst on Monday was a great sign. If Britt can keep this up moving forward, I hope he and Paige play in more lineups together. Every team that plays Carolina knows the Heels can’t shoot, and that they’re trying to pound the ball into the paint, yet defenses still can’t stop them. Can you imagine how good the offense would look if Paige and Britt — Carolina’s only 3-point threats — were on the floor together to consistently stretch defenses?
Washington’s Robert Upshaw made a layup to cut Utah’s lead to five early in the second half Sunday. The Utes then blew the game wide open with a 17-1 run. A stretch like that is always impressive, but here’s the mind-blowing part: Utah scored those 17 points in just 3:47. If Utah had kept that pace for the entire game, it would’ve won by a score of — are you ready for this? — 180-11! Doing this against San Jose State would be impressive, but to do it against a decent defensive team like Washington, which has two potential NBA players and the best shot-blocker in America? Holy smokes. I know it’s not true, but I’m choosing to believe that Lorenzo Romar kicked Upshaw off the team because of this run.
These scoring bursts make Utah such a dangerous team, especially at home. In just a few minutes, the Utes can turn a close game into a blowout. They’re great in transition, they have knockdown shooters, and they can shut opponents down with their defense. Utah might not be able to excel in slow, grind-it-out games (see: the Arizona and San Diego State games), but there’s no doubt the Utes can run with any team in the country.
Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/TNS via Getty Images
It’ll be our secret, Kansas fans. Don’t tell anyone that the Jayhawks are 8-1 against the toughest schedule in college basketball, and that their only loss came against what could be a historically great team. Don’t remind people that Kansas was a young team that faced Kentucky without much of a scouting report because it was only the Wildcats’ third game of the season. Don’t explain how that game would look completely different if they played again tomorrow. Kansas would probably still lose, but it wouldn’t be a 32-point blowout.
But don’t let anyone know about that. Let them keep thinking Kansas sucks because Kentucky boat-raced the Jayhawks in mid-November. Let them think Kelly Oubre is a bum who won’t have an impact this year. Let them think Frank Mason can’t run the point and Perry Ellis is overrated. Whatever you do, don’t tell the rest of the college basketball world that … Ellis, Mason, Oubre, Cliff Alexander, and Wayne Selden still haven’t all played their best in the same game this season. That way it’ll be more fun when people realize in January that Kansas is actually pretty damn good.
Five days after I wrote that, Temple beat the brakes off Kansas, shooting 58 percent en route to a 25-point win that could’ve been uglier than it was. Frank Mason was the only Jayhawk with a backbone in that game, prompting the “will anybody step up and help Mason?” question that has troubled Kansas ever since. Saturday at Texas, the Kansas supporting cast finally answered the call.
The crazy thing about the Texas game is that Kansas fell behind 8-0 to start the game and wound up winning by double digits, and I barely even noticed Mason on the court. That’s not to say Mason didn’t play well — it’s just that he got so much help from the rest of the Jayhawks roster. Everything finally came together for Kansas. Ellis, Mason, Oubre, Alexander, and Selden all played pretty well. The bench was phenomenal. The Jayhawks played stellar defense and took care of the ball. And perhaps best of all, Kansas’s big guys dispelled the notion that they’re soft (for now). Just watch this sequence from Jamari Traylor.
As is always the case for a young team playing in a brutal conference, Kansas will have a hard time remaining consistently excellent as the season progresses. But right now, at least, the Jayhawks are again playing Final Four basketball.
Villanova destroyed an awful Creighton team in the Wildcats’ only game this past week, so instead of pretending that game meant anything, it’s time to give Villanova the coveted “skimp on the writing but make up for it with YouTube videos” treatment.
Here’s Ryan Arcidiacono singing a karaoke version of “My Humps” with a former AAU teammate.
Here’s a video recapping Nova’s run to the 2009 Final Four. It makes no difference to me if Villanova wins a national title or doesn’t even make the tournament, but I still get chills watching this.
Here’s Kyle Lowry’s 39-point game against the Jazz from December.
And here’s the 1985 national championship game in its entirety.
7. Notre Dame
The Irish started Sunday’s game at NC State 1-for-11 from the 3-point line. Pat Connaughton battled foul trouble the entire game. The Wolfpack had PNC Arena rocking in the first half thanks to some hot shooting and a four-dunks-in-five-possessions stretch that extended NC State’s lead to 18. Notre Dame erased the 18-point deficit, but the Irish never seemed to be able to pull away. With 40 seconds left, the Wolfpack were up four with the ball. I would say I have no idea how Notre Dame won this game, but the Irish have Jerian Grant on their team, so nothing about them surprises me anymore.
This is the kind of game that turns Notre Dame from a nice story into a legitimate contender for the ACC title. NC State is better than most fans realize, and PNC Arena has sucked the life out of countless top-10 ACC teams over the years. For the Irish to gut out a win after a dreadful first half in that atmosphere is no small feat. Of course, it doesn’t mean Notre Dame will definitely finish near the top of the ACC. Virginia is better than them, Duke is probably better, and Louisville and North Carolina could make late pushes to knock the Irish down to fifth in the standings by the end of the season. But right now Notre Dame is 19-2 and its only losses have come against NCAA tournament teams. And one of those defeats might’ve been a win if the refs hadn’t swallowed their whistles on Grant’s final drive against Providence, while the other came against undefeated Virginia. We’ll know how good Notre Dame is after Wednesday’s game against Duke. At the moment, however, the Irish are rolling, Grant belongs in the ACC and national player of the year conversations, and Mike Brey’s national coach of the year campaign is as strong as anybody’s.2
My top 10 coaches of the year as of right now, in order: Wayne Tinkle, Chris Holtmann, Mark Turgeon, Brey, Tony Bennett, Bob Huggins, Tom Crean, Jim Larranaga, John Calipari, and Mark Few.
Joe Murphy/Getty Images
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 Kentucky–South Carolina game in Columbia, how did Dick Vitale and Mark Jones end up talking about Billy Donovan?
A. Following Kentucky’s eighth blocked shot of the game, Jones mentions that the Wildcats’ starting five is bigger than every NBA starting five except for the Portland Trail Blazers. Vitale then says the Blazers are back to being an NBA contender thanks in part to Damian Lillard. Vitale asks Jones if he knows where Lillard played in college, and Jones correctly answers Weber State, prompting Vitale to reminisce about how the 1999 Weber State Wildcats beat North Carolina in the NCAA tournament before losing in the second round to Florida and Billy Donovan.
B. A hustle play from South Carolina results in a Kentucky turnover, prompting Vitale to say that Frank Martin’s guys are playing with a ton of energy. Jones informs viewers that Martin thought his team lost its edge after a big win over Iowa State on January 3, but now he believes the team has returned to form. Vitale agrees and points to the run South Carolina made late in its loss to Tennessee four days earlier as proof that the Gamecocks are hanging tough. Vitale then says the Vols are playing well in the SEC and that Florida has been a huge disappointment, which must be frustrating for Billy Donovan.
C. When Jones mentions that Frank Martin isn’t having the same success at South Carolina that he had at Kansas State, Vitale reminds Jones that it’s hard to win in college basketball. He says it’s hard to win even at Kansas State, since K-State is in such a tough conference. Jones asks Vitale if the Big 12 is the toughest conference in America. Vitale says his vote is for the ACC, then goes on to name other good conferences. He even names a handful of Big East teams that he thinks can make noise in March. As Jones begins his response, Vitale cuts in to say, “And don’t forget about Providence! Doris Burke and Billy Donovan are yelling, ‘Don’t forget about our Friars, baby!’”
Helluva cameo off the bench against Stanford for Matt Korcheck. I hope he’ll get a mention in your next piece because you’ve waxed insightfully before about how tough a spot that can be for a reserve big man. Give him a shout. He deserves it.
This email came from an Arizona fan named Matt who didn’t provide his last name, so let’s all just assume it’s from Korcheck himself. Either way, Matt from Arizona is right. Korcheck played a great five minutes against Stanford. If you missed that game, then you missed Dave Pasch and Bill Walton cement their status as the best broadcast team in history, and not much else. Stanford kept it close against Arizona (shocking, I know), and Stanley Johnson and Chasson Randle had strong individual performances. But the game was ruined by referees who called 51 fouls — so many that I thought we were headed for He Touched the Ball Part 2.
With Zeus “Zeus” Zeuszeuski and Dusan Ristic in foul trouble, Sean Miller subbed in Korcheck to eat some clock in the second half until Zeus could return to finish the game. I’m not sure if Korcheck had previously played a meaningful minute all season. As a player, when you’re thrust into a moment like this, there’s only one goal: Don’t do anything to make people notice you. Don’t try to be a hero. Just minimize the damage and waste time until the starters can return. Don’t take chances on defense, don’t get dunked on, don’t set illegal screens, don’t pass to anybody who isn’t wide open, and whatever you do, don’t shoot. If someone can look at the box score after the game and say, “Wait, when did he get in?” you’ve done your job perfectly.
Korcheck took this advice and wiped his ass with it. Zeus and Ristic combined to play 34 minutes and finished with five points, five rebounds, and nine fouls. Korcheck played five minutes and finished with four points on 2-of-2 shooting (including a dunk!) and two boards. He played great defense, never fouled, and even dove on the floor to save a turnover. Not counting the free throws Stanford made as a result of Ristic’s fifth foul, Arizona outscored the Cardinal 11-2 with Korcheck on the floor. Korcheck didn’t just avoid mistakes — he was remarkably productive.
Sitting on the bench for an hour and a half before suddenly being asked to play high-level basketball with ice-cold legs is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It’s the exact scenario that led me to title my book Don’t Put Me In, Coach. And when I did it as a walk-on, I usually just had to play one possession of defense and dribble out the clock. I can’t imagine being thrown into the kind of fire Korcheck faced against Stanford, and I damn sure can’t imagine producing at the level he did.
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The thing everyone is overlooking about Duke’s win over St. John’s is that it was Coach K’s 1,000th career victory. This, of course, means he’s now the all-time wins leader in Division I men’s basketball, eclipsing the great Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski’s mark of 999 career wins. This is a phenomenal accomplishment that frankly deserves more attention. I’m not sure I’ve ever done anything in my life 1,000 times, yet Coach K has won 1,000 Division I college basketball games? Just think how insane that is. To get to 1,000, you’d have to win 20 games a year for 50 years. Or 25 games a year for 40 years. Or 30 games a year for more than 33 years. Or 1,000 games a year for one year. Amazing stuff.
In all seriousness, this is a huge deal, even if snarky fans of every other school in America don’t want to admit it. I was worried for a bit that Coach K was purposefully steering Duke to losses so he could get the Derek Jeter treatment and have everyone talk about him for as long as possible. But even if that’s what he was doing, as the greatest coach in the history of college basketball — and maybe all sports — he deserves it.
I know, enough already. You hate Duke and Coach K. Or more accurately, you don’t hate them, you “just hate how the media loves him so much and they [insert sexual act] his [insert body part] all the time.” You hate how pretentious he is. Do a damn halftime interview like everyone else, Mike! WHAT MAKES YOU SO SPECIAL??? You hate how he handled the 1995 season, how he speaks on behalf of all Americans and the entire sport of basketball, and how he put Mason Plumlee on Team USA last summer. He’s overrated and his inability to produce an NBA legend in 35 years of consistently recruiting the best high school players proves it. More proof: recent losses to Mercer and Lehigh in the NCAA tournament.
Think about how silly that sounds. Are people really pretending to hate Coach K because he doesn’t do halftime interviews,3 because he took a leave of absence once, and because he doesn’t produce NBA Hall of Famers? Are we sure we’re not just nitpicking? Are we sure we don’t just hate him because, you know, he beats the hell out of our favorite teams? And the whole complaint about the media loving Coach K is more annoying than his media praise has ever been.
There’s at least one person out there who thinks Gregg Popovich’s in-game interviews are hilarious while also feeling outraged that Coach K makes his assistants do in-game interviews for him.
Mike Krzyzewski is a one-man institution who will eventually leave college basketball in a million times better condition than it was when he started coaching. It’s OK to occasionally remove your “screw Duke” glasses and give the man credit for all he’s accomplished. With all he’s done in the sport, it’s almost impossible to shower Coach K with too much praise. Almost. If we have to endure this tedium again when he approaches Pat Summitt’s career win total of 1,098, then may God have mercy on us all.
Gonzaga’s offense is a thing of beauty that only Notre Dame can rival. The Zags have shooters, slashers, back-to-the-basket big men, a point guard who excels with ball screens, players who can create their own offense, and athletes who can finish above the rim. Their offense has no weaknesses. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone who’s paid attention to the last 15 years of Gonzaga basketball. The Zags have always been able to score, from Matt Santangelo and Richie Frahm to Dan Dickau to Adam Morrison to Matt Bouldin to Kelly Olynyk to Kevin Pangos, among many others. Defense, however, is where the Zags run into trouble.
That the axiom “defense wins championships” exists and that Gonzaga has a reputation of underachieving in the NCAA tournament probably isn’t a coincidence. In Gonzaga’s last six tournament losses, its opponents have shot a combined 51.1 percent. The worst shooting performance by an opponent in those six games came when Ohio State shot 47.2 percent against the Zags in 2012. This is what those of us in the business like to call a trend.
But here’s the good news: Gonzaga is a pretty good defensive team this season. The Zags are still an offense-first squad, but their performance against Saint Mary’s last Thursday demonstrated that Gonzaga can win games on the defensive end when they need to. The Zags shot 53 percent and scored 41 second-half points against the Gaels, so it’s easy to assume that Gonzaga rode its offensive firepower to the win. Instead, can we talk about how the Zags held Saint Mary’s to 47 points? This was a close game until Gonzaga shut down Saint Mary’s offense. The Gaels scored 13 points over the final 11:30 of the game. Saint Mary’s forward Brad Waldow was held under 15 points for only the fourth time this season, and he needed 13 shot attempts to score 14. Gonzaga’s defense won that game. Its offense was just the icing on the cake.
Look, Gonzaga’s defense isn’t striking the fear of God into opponents, but combined with one of the most potent offenses in the country, the defense doesn’t need to be suffocating to get the job done. I’m not crazy enough to guarantee a deep Gonzaga run in this year’s bracket, but I’m confident enough to say these Zags are clearly better suited for NCAA tournament success than any Gonzaga team before them.
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
Saturday afternoon, the Buzzcuts entered exactly the kind of game I anticipated being a problem for them without Traevon Jackson. The combination of Michigan being desperate for a signature win, Caris LeVert’s injury still fresh enough to be a huge motivator, and the Crisler Center rocking in part because College GameDay had been on campus all day meant Wisconsin was getting the absolute best shot Michigan had. The Wolverines were jacked up all game, while the Buzzcuts were troubled by their lack of depth. (Depth, as I suspected, is the biggest obstacle Jackson’s absence has created. Bronson Koenig is good enough to start in Jackson’s place, but the bigger question is who can fill Koenig’s role? Zak Showalter is the obvious choice, but Showalter was a no-show against Michigan. He was a handful of rebounds and one assist away from posting a 10 trillion.)
I won’t say Wisconsin was just lazy or tired against Michigan because that would discredit a hell of an effort by the Wolverines. At the same time, two things stood out from Saturday’s game: (1) Wisconsin wasn’t playing with its usual crisp execution and defensive tenacity, and (2) four Buzzcuts played 40-plus minutes.4 I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that these two may be related. This is why I’m worried about how Wisconsin’s thin bench may affect the team down the line. Thankfully, the Buzzcuts have a favorable conference schedule and there’s a chance Jackson will return in time for the team’s toughest stretch of games at the end of the season. It’s also worth noting that Ohio State basically went four-deep in 2010 and won the conference title in a much tougher Big Ten, so a lack of depth isn’t necessarily the kiss of death. But for Wisconsin, it’s definitely something to monitor until Jackson returns.
The only Wisconsin starter who didn’t play 40 minutes was Sam Dekker, who played 33 minutes and had to come out for a lengthy stretch because he cut his hand on the rim while dunking.
Why is everyone certain that Kentucky is better than Virginia? Why aren’t the Hoos ever mentioned as the best team in America?
These are valid questions. In nonconference play, Virginia crushed George Washington, beat Maryland in College Park, destroyed VCU on the road, and beat Harvard so badly that near the end of the game, I swear I heard Justin Anderson ask Siyani Chambers, “If you’re so smart, why are you guys letting us murder you?” The Hoos have since gone 7-0 in one of the best conferences in America. Three times this season, Virginia has held opponents to fewer than 30 points for an entire game, which is so insane it’s worth repeating in italicized caps: THREE TIMES THIS SEASON, VIRGINIA HAS HELD OPPONENTS TO FEWER THAN 30 POINTS FOR AN ENTIRE GAME. Frank Beamer and this little girl represent how the entire ACC feels reading that.
Meanwhile, Kentucky has struggled against some SEC teams, and the Cats’ insane nonconference schedule doesn’t look quite as tough now that UCLA has fallen off a cliff, Texas has lost four of six, and Louisville might not be the national title contender we thought it was. So why does Kentucky continue to be a near-unanimous no. 1? Maybe Virginia shouldn’t get the top slot yet, but shouldn’t the Hoos be closer than most people give them credit for?
The “eye test” is often cited to explain why Kentucky is perceived to be so much better than the rest of the field. But it’s important to remember that the eye test, in this case, is bullshit. Kentucky looks most impressive to casual fans who don’t know what they’re looking at. But to anyone with half a basketball mind — I’m cautiously optimistic that this includes all the voters in the AP poll — Virginia’s eye-test results blow Kentucky out of the water. Calling yourself a basketball junkie and then saying Kentucky passes the eye test better than Virginia is like calling yourself a cineast and then saying you like Michael Bay’s movies more than Christopher Nolan’s.
Set aside the preseason hype, the NBA potential of individual players, and the “no. 1 stays no. 1 until they lose” mentality. Here are the more significant reasons I think the gap between Kentucky and Virginia has remained wide in the public’s perception.
1. Kentucky advanced further than Virginia in last year’s NCAA tournament.
Virginia was much better than Kentucky last season, but Kentucky made it to the national championship game and Virginia lost to Michigan State in the Sweet 16. Most people don’t care that Kentucky was a Fred Van Vleet 3 away from getting bounced in the second round, or that there’s no telling how far the Hoos could’ve gone if they didn’t run up against a Michigan State team that was a matchup nightmare for Virginia.5 What people do care about is that John Calipari has won a national championship and a bunch of Kentucky’s core players have shown that they can make it all the way to the title game, while Virginia hasn’t proven anything in March.
I’m not using this as a cop-out to give Virginia a break for underachieving in last year’s tourney. The Spartans had the right combination of talent, familiarity with methodical and physical games, and an engaged Branden Dawson. It was like Virginia was playing a slightly more talented version of itself.
2. Kentucky is deeper than Virginia.
When Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon both play poorly, Virginia is susceptible to scares like the double-overtime game at Miami. When Willie Cauley-Stein and Aaron Harrison both play poorly, Devin Booker steps up and one of Kentucky’s 39 other 7-footers fills the Cauley-Stein void. Calipari has more flexibility with his lineup than Tony Bennett has, which means Kentucky should be better prepared to navigate the unpredictable waters of the NCAA tournament.
3. The source of Kentucky’s success is more reliable than the source of Virginia’s success.
This is the big one, and it’s why the most powerful power rankings in college basketball continue to favor the Wildcats. Virginia is a system team. This doesn’t mean the Hoos don’t have talent. Anderson will play in the NBA for a long time. Somehow, Brogdon remains underrated. Mike Tobey has improved dramatically from last season, Anthony Gill has improved even more than Tobey, and Darion Atkins has improved more than both of them combined. London Perrantes is good enough to be the best point guard in the ACC in a year or two. Marial Shayok and Isaiah Wilkins are inconsistent but clearly possess a lot of ability. Evan Nolte is also a Virginia player. The Hoos have plenty of talent, but Virginia’s physical ability isn’t what makes it so good.
Kentucky, on the other hand, physically overwhelms its opponents. If the Cats play hard, there’s nothing 99 percent of the teams in college basketball can do to win. Virginia is a really tough puzzle to solve, but a couple of teams have already come close to figuring it out. There’s no answer for Kentucky’s size and athleticism. Virginia can bring its A-game and still lose because its opponents had a great game plan and executed it. Even with the Wildcats’ flaws, their physical abilities will never fail them, which is why it’s so hard to picture them losing if they bring their A-game.
If college basketball were an egg that teams were trying to crack, then Virginia would be an elaborate machine that uses a laser to cut the egg so precisely that its contents remain uncontaminated and the shell stays so intact that it could be shoved back up a hen’s butthole6 and then laid again. Kentucky, on the other hand, would be a sledgehammer. Somewhere, somebody’s got the manual that explains how to shut down Virginia’s machine. There is no way to turn off a sledgehammer. You just have to close your eyes, stick your chest out, and pray you survive the blow.
The Paper Wad Toss of the Week
This is where eggs come from, right?
Marshall led UTEP by three with 1:20 to play when a deflected UTEP pass landed in a Marshall player’s hands. The turnover triggered a fast break for the Thundering Herd, but it was quickly halted by a referee’s whistle because a Marshall fan had apparently thrown trash on the court. Only it wasn’t a Marshall fan who threw the paper. It was UTEP assistant coach Phil Johnson.
Marshall went on to win, so there’s no point in getting too worked up over the paper toss. Instead, I’ll offer these two thoughts:
1. Jason Kidd is embarrassed by Johnson’s lack of creativity.
2. As bizarre as this is, my favorite Phil Johnson moment is still the time Tim Floyd got ejected from a game at East Carolina and Johnson took over as head coach only to be immediately tossed too.
The Dick’s Degrees of Separation answer is B. See you next week.