The Ballad of Ricky-Bobby: March Madness
March Madness. Woooooooo.
BOBBY: Well, you burned out Julius Peppers. The Bulls are too depressing to even think about, let alone discuss. Hockey seems like it's in a post-Olympic lull. So I say we talk about crappy college basketball. I'll keep it simple: who do you have winning the NCAA men's tournament?
As someone who follows Michigan (colossal disappointment), Iowa (pathetic doormat), DePaul (um, dead?), and Washington State (bad headache), this really hasn't been my year for college basketball. I can't think of a year I've paid attention to it less since I really started following the sport outside the NCAA tournament in 2004. Still, I care too much about the NBA not to invest some time in its future stars.
I really like Kentucky... my favorite's probably Bledsoe, with Cousins behind him, then Wall. Shit, they're all incredible. It's pretty funny how Wall didn't win Freshman of the Year (Cousins took it) and Cal didn't win Coach of the Year (the Vanderbilt coach [seriously.] took it). When will someone finally step up and regulate some aspect of anything the SEC does? Oh well, screw them. As for Kentucky's chances? I'm firmly entrenched in the "they can't possibly close out in six straight tourney games" camp. Still, it'd be a travesty if they didn't make the Final Four.
I love Ohio State... they'd probably be nothing without Evan "The Villain" Turner and Mark Titus. But they are fun to watch. They're, like, the only thing good about the Big Ten. I think they have at least Elite 8 potential. Plus, one of their bigs, Dallas Lauderdale, has a receding hairline, a sweet gap in his front teeth, and occasionally throws down those two-handed standing dunks in the paint that have more to do with his size than athleticism (think James Augustine circa-2004 or Luc Longley circa-any year)... it's great.
I'm probably taking stupid Kansas... kinda old and experienced, kinda too young to know any better, pretty deep. Plus Bill Self ruins me all the time. And hey, maybe Aldrich ends up on the Nets next year and battles David Lee forever. I pretty much just picture Aldrich and Collins running pick and roll on every meaningful play and KU burying teams in that way. The odd thing is, I don't know if Kansas even runs a play like that. They do have Xavier Henry, and he was a heralded recruit. So they must be good!
RICKY: I know we're not talking about the Bulls - I am so glad we're not talking about the Bulls - but shit, I have to mention this: the first time I flipped on the game yesterday, their on-court lineup was...(get ready for this)....Acie Law, Jannero Pargo, Flip Murray, Hakim Warrick, and Chris Richard.
....let that soak in for a second....
I hate when people discuss if a college team could beat a pro team (no, USC couldn't hang with the Raiders), but seriously, that lineup couldn't take the Bulls to the Sweet 16.
So, college hoops.
I silently nodded when reading your "I can't think of a year I've paid attention to it less" line, but it just dawned on me that I say that every year.
I actually used to be good at this stuff - I've won a pool or two in my day and gotten the entire Final Four correct twice in the last six years - but I've been hilariously inept as of late. I'm pretty sure I even lost two Final Four teams on the first day last year. So, just as a warning, please don't take anything I'm about to say seriously.
The first question I always ask when filling out a bracket is "are the good teams actually good?". I'm not sure if they are this year. The only problem: I haven't paid close enough attention to identify some solid sleepers. The tournament has been pretty chalk-y the last few years, so I really wouldn't be surprised if all hell broke loose this time.
The second thing I always do when filling out a bracket: choose teams based on how many guys I know. The big three this year: Kentucky, Kansas, and Purdue. With Robbie Hummel, I would have had the Boilermakers in the Final Four. Is crazy to think they can maybe still get there without him?
Two other teams I like: Duke and Georgia Tech.
I obviously loathe Duke (MJ fan growing up = lifelong Tar Heel devotion), but I think they're pretty good this year. Scheyer Face is undeniable.
The GT love stems from my boy Iman Shumpert. He's my favorite player in college basketball.
In high school (he went to Oak Park), he wrote a player diary for his town's local paper. This is noteworthy because the paper ran his picture in the corner with COLUMNIST written underneath.
I always thought that was really funny.
* * *
* * *RICKY: I can't believe you just wrote that many words defending Duke. Now what am supposed to do with this conversation?
BOBBY: It's weird, the absence of regular college basketball in my life has really eased my Duke hatred. Don't get me wrong, every sports fan should take a side in the rivalry, and, like you, I'm fake-UNC through and through. I think my favorite thing UNC does is when they play an NBA style of basketball (high percentage shooting, sweet breakaway steals, cool dunks, individual talent-relying defense) and beat a decent team by something like 26 in a tournament game. Then everybody bitches how the game wasn't competitive enough. As if the only way a game can be good is if two shitty teams are "competitive" and tied up 40-all with six minutes left. ... ... ... I hate the Big Ten.
Anyway, it's like the all the things people hate about Duke don't bother me all that much anymore.
Coach K: He returned USA Hoops to the top of the mountain. Following that 2008 team was glorious. Plus, he swears a lot. I'll always respect him.
Success: Begrudging a team for consistent winning is petty, I say.
Grant Hill: My hatred of Grant Hill was so high that at one point in 2007, I described him as my least favorite player in the NBA. I have no idea what I was thinking.
Reddick: I'd argue he's likable in the NBA. I really enjoyed watching him try to hang with those dudes in the finals last year.
Paulus: Transferred to shitty Syracuse to play QB. A humbling experience.
Cameron Crazies: I actually still hate them. They take it way too seriously.
Sure, there are still things like Scheyer's face, the "we only recruit kids from good families" line, white people, and anything Kyle Singler does, but meh. I think we'd hate them a lot more legitimately if we lived on the East coast. It's just been hard when they haven't even been to the Final Four since 2004. You start to not hate them when Shanoff is all like "DUKE HAHAHAHA DUKE" every morning for six years. The man went to Northwestern, the only BCS team to never make the tournament. It's OK, he got to root for the Florida back-to-back title teams because his wife likes Florida. (Maybe he replaced my Duke hate...)
It also comes back to quality basketball. I had a roommate in college who would always defend Duke when I ragged on them. At the time, it perplexed me. But it's Duke! They suck! His argument usually involved how he enjoyed watching their style of disciplined, quality basketball. I think he was probably onto something. As my respect for the college game plummets off a cliff, it's at least nice to know you can turn on a Duke game and watch a team who has a semblance of an idea of what they're doing on offense and defense. I was watching a Michigan-Northwestern game this year, and the Northwestern guy in-bounded the ball from the baseline exactly like so.
Diagonal heave pass to the sideline at half court to no one. No one even close to that hemisphere of the court. The best part is I was watching with one of those "college is better than the NBA" people. I commanded he defend the travesty. He paused, then said something calmly like "not even I can defend that."
So yeah, maybe Duke's got stupid fans, maybe they're smug or whatever, but they would never pull shit like that. So my advice is to a) appreciate the small percentage of quality they bring to the college game or b) continue to hate them and really relish it when they lose to teams because of their inferior athleticism... because this is what always ends up happening.
(And I will argue to the death that 2004 USC could score on the 2004 San Francisco 49ers end-of-the-season defense. Maybe they couldn't defend them, but they could put up points. There was no talent on that team to begin with, and there were a plethora of injuries. It was so possible, dammit!)
I guess we can turn it to Illinois, a team that'll probably miss the tournament but it feels weird to talk about college hoops without 'em.
Here's my Illinois fandom in a nutshell: liked them when I was younger and still do, but I don't get even one percent bummed out when they lose. I guess they're my college hoops team, but I would never put them anywhere near the Bears, Bulls, Sox, or even 'Hawks. I'm definitely interested in them though, especially after having spent the winter covering high school ball around the area.
Bruce Weber is so terrible. A good X's and O's coach? Maybe. But look at how far that program has fallen since the '05. Do you think that would have happened under Bill Self? Please. When you add in how much talent this area produces, I honestly think it's shocking he even has a job. Illinois should be a perennial powerhouse, not perennial bubble team.
Look at the 30 finalists for the Naismith Award. There are four local kids on that list: Scheyer, Sherron Collins, Evan Turner, and Jacob Pullen. Illinois got exactly zero of those kids, and Weber's goddamn brother was Scheyer's high school coach. That is so pathetic.
For the record, I do think Illinois could potentially be awesome next year. Three seniors + D.J. Richardson would make for a decent team anyways, but I really think Jereme Richmond could be one of those Michael Beasley-type freshmen. I think I'd be surprised if they're not a top-15 team for most of the year.
I actually disagree with you on the Big 10 bashing, too. The upper echelon of Big 10 basketball is pretty sweet. Penn State, Iowa, Northwestern? Yeah, they're gross, but I'm down with the good teams.
It's stupid to talk about next year when we're on the brink of this year's tournament, but I'll end this by predicting Big 10 dominance in 2011. Illinois should have its best team since the Deron-Dee-Luther days. Purdue will have Hummel back and they're only losing Chris Kramer. You know MSU and Wisconsin will be solid, as always. Ohio State will lose Turner, but they're bringing in one of the nation's best recruiting classes.
Finally: my friend Danny thinks Evan Turner will be a better pro than Rose. Please everyone bash him in the comment section.
BobbyStompy is the assistant editor of Tremendous Upside Potential. He can be reached at stompaberdeen [at] aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @bobbystompy.