Saturday, February 9, 2013

Newsflash. And college hoops

This just in. Given the blizzard that's pounding the northeast US, a certain governor has declared anyone caught driving on the streets in his state can be thrown in prison for a year. What kind of tyranny is going on out there? Doesn't he realize people like me still need to be medicated, pregnant women can't exactly "hold it" when it comes to going into labor, and guys will run out of beer? This is getting out of control, but enough about that. On to the hoops.

What a weird merry-go-round it's been in college basketball so far this season. It seems like every time a team gets to be #1 -- POW -- they get knocked off.  And it's not just the top dogs. Highly ranked teams have been upset right and left by other teams they were favored to beat easily. Kansas was cruising right along until they got beat at home by Okla St., then followed it up by getting trashed at TCU. The Horned Frogs were 0-8 in conference play going into that game against the mighty Jayhawks. They beat Kansas? Really?  Guess it makes about as much sense as then #1 Duke getting throttled to the tune of 27 points by Miami (Fla), or #2 Florida getting thumped by Arkansas, or even Indiana earlier being upended by their pesky little in-state rival Butler. Indy managed to scrape their way back to the top, only to lose again at mediocre Illinois. Current #1 Michigan is the only team out there right now that hasn't crashed and burned in a game they were easily supposed to win. Yes, they were narrowly defeated at Ohio State and Indiana, but losing to two very high quality in-conference teams on the road is nothing to be ashamed of. Then again, their true test by fire will likely come in a few days when they visit their own in-state arch rival Michigan State. Should the Spartans knock off the Wolverines -- very possible -- the national ratings will shuffle yet again.

Of course, most of this doesn't really matter anyway. Once the NCAA tournament starts in another month or so, all the good teams will be there, and everything gets reset. Win a game and move on. Lose and you're out.

At that, stop and consider how college basketball has changed, or maybe not, over the years. In days of yore, there were certain teams that were perennial contenders. UCLA and North Carolina were always lurking. They seem to have fallen by the wayside of late. Though they certainly have a storied history and are the defending champs, Kentucky's "one and done" with so many players appears to have finally caught up to them. Few would consider the Wildcats to be a serious threat this year. It's risky business to underestimate Coach K at Duke and his Blue Devils, given their track history. The man didn't get to be the ongoing winningest coach of all time by accident. His teams are always good, but how many currently think of Duke as potential champions? Not me.

In the past, there have been "small" schools that put together a team to be reckoned with. Marquette had it's day, as did DePaul, for a couple examples. Bradley made some noise not long ago.

These days, other teams like Butler and Gonzaga have assumed the roles of "Cinderellas". That is not to underestimate or disrespect them in any way, because they have indeed become college basketball powers. It doesn't matter who's seeded where. Come tournament time, even top-seeded schools don't want to play teams like them, because they are very capable of beating anyone anywhere on any given night, and the big dogs know that -- or at least their coaches do. Still, for such a team to reach the Final Four is quite an accomplishment. After that, it would certainly stun the world of college hoops if they were to go on to win a championship. It's possible, but highly unlikely.

At that, it appears the days of dynasties are over. Teams go up, and teams go down. Maybe that's a good thing. For that matter, harkon back to ladies' college hoops once upon a time. Schools like Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech ruled. When's the last time you heard of them even being competitive? Coach Pat at Tennessee had a dynasty until that pesky Geno at UConn came along with so many great players. Then Baylor happend upon a freak talent in 6' 8" Brittney Griner with her supporting cast. Oops. Notre Dame put together a formidable squad of ladies most people outside of South Bend never heard of, and Texas A&M eventually won a championship with much the same type of team. Quick, name a couple of those Lady Aggies players. How about their coach? Chances are -- you can't. It's just the way it goes.

So as the regular season merry-go round goes on in college hoops, constantly super-hyped by the media, with one team after another grabbing the brass ring, only to have it snatched away from them -- we should all enjoy the competitions that take place, while rooting for our favorite teams.

But let's not kid ourselves. When the tournaments start for the boys and girls -- whoever was ranked where last week, this week, and even the next few weeks, will have been long forgotten.

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