In the premature stages of this college basketball season, we’ve already been treated to several colossal upsets; dramatic buzzer-beaters; superlative performances from big-time players and John Q. Nobody’s alike; mid-majors staking claim to major rankings; and as the sub-zero temperatures, obscure tournament locales, and dense mall traffic would indicate, we are still miles away from March. Will college basketball sustain such absurdity as the season treks on? Of course it will, and I for one am more tickled than Michael Jackson at a Shriner’s Hospital charity carnival. Here’s a few of the big stories from the season so far, and a few things to look forward to as we trudge along the windy road towards March:
Wichita St and Butler–We all knew Wichita St. could play, but a strong case can be made that the Shockers have the most impressive resume so far out of any team in the country. They have disposed of half of last year’s final four–on the road–winning at George Mason and at LSU. To top it off, they waltzed into the Carrier Dome and downed a talented Syracuse squad en route to a flawless 6-0 mark. Likewise, the Bulldogs from Butler currently rest at a ‘cush’ 10-0, and get this, are number 1 in the RPI. Butler has played the 6th toughest schedule in the nation, beating the likes of Notre Dame, Tennessee, and Gonzaga along the way. Flukes? I think not. If George Mason proved anything last season, it’s that college basketball is not a talent monopoly like its gridiron counterpart, and these two teams have been living proof so far this season.
Before the season began, it didn’t take the ingenious insights of college basketball ‘insiders’ to tell us who the most talented teams were. Florida returned their championship squad fully intact, North Carolina went fishing in a stocked pond for all-world freshman to compliment Hansbrough and Terry, Ohio St. apparently has Kareem, Bill Walton, and Shaq rolled into one 7-footer to go with a dazzling cast of youthful talent, and Kansas was finally loaded enough to win a game in March. Well, Florida lost to Florida St and Kansas, the same Kansas team that lost to Oral Roberts at home to start the season and fell to previously wretched DePaul. Ohio St. has looked dynamite, although they dropped a scintillating showdown in Chapel Hill to a UNC team that fell to a Gonzaga team sans a fu-machu. In the wake of this pre-conference bedlam, UCLA sits atop the polls, with Pittsburgh not far behind. What does this mean? It means that this year looks to be as wide-open as any in recent memory, and like the Gators a season ago, it will be a game of who gets hot at the right time.
The SEC will be the most entertaining and competitive conference this season
With the typical world class thoroughbreds of Kentucky still finding their gait, and Florida still sharing dirty booty, 7-0 Alabama has emerged as the highest ranked SEC team heading into the holiday season. Don’t let LSU’s hiccup against Wichita St. fool you, rest assured Big Baby and company still have that “tapeworm” and are ready to sink their teeth into a juicy conference chocked full of ripened competition. Perennial overrated’s Tennessee appeared early on to be nothing short of their letdown reputation, but looked silky last night in trouncing Memphis. Arkansas is 7-1 and looks primed to make an NCAA tournament push, and annual cellar dwellers Georgia and Ole Miss have both far exceeded expectations thus far. The conference that football built should be a helluva show this year.
Duke kind of sucks
Ah, the Dukies. For so long they’ve been on-paper darlings, only to ‘flame’ out in March (or is that just JJ Redick…couldn’t resist). I’ve watched Duke twice this season, at home against Indiana, and last night in Cameron vs. Holy Cross. Both games were brutally enjoyable. Gone are the stacks upon stacks of soft five-star recruits and preseason championships. McRoberts is good. Sometimes. Paulus isn’t quite as hate-able as a Redick, Wojo, or Duhon, but bothersome nonetheless. They even play this guy McClure who looks like he could be another Battier, except he’s not very good. Bottom line: It looks like a ‘down’ year in Durham (because they too classify 20 win seasons as down), so get your punches in while you can. And please God, don’t make me have to eat crow on this one.
Anytime a player joins the team for the second semester, it generates a healthy dose of optimistic anticipation. Scott Padgett and Randolph Morris being a couple of recent examples. Even then, we somewhat knew what to expect from Padgett, and had seen Morris for an entire season prior. When freshman Ramon Harris suits up in Blue later this month, what should we expect? Yes, he was Alaska’s P.O.Y., but that’s like saying Barbara Walters is the smartest woman on The View. Obviously, Kentucky’s Achilles heel is interior depth, and at 6’6” 210, Harris projects as a Bobby Perry with-athleticism-but-not-quite-the-stroke kind of guy, which isn’t exactly what the doctor ordered, but hey, we’ll take it. Looking forward to it.