I should probably say up front that I'm horribly biased as a lifelong UNC fan, but if anything, my bias this year translates as all sorts of negativity and rock-bottom expectations. This made last night's win at Michigan State even more bizarre.
All offseason long, I've been asking fellow UNC fan Jay Kang, "Why is every other college coach building around superstars except ours? Did Roy forget how to recruit? How are we going to survive another year of watching James McAdoo and Marcus Paige? Will Duke and Kentucky beat us by 30? Can we grandfather Kendall back onto the roster?"
Then, sobbing softly, typing a Gchat to nowhere:
"Why did Kendall have to break his wrist two years ago???"
As a player who has been on the radar of NBA teams for quite some time, Creighton’s Doug McDermott has faced as much scrutiny as any prospect in the draft. Three years of college basketball is ample time for NBA scouts and executives to pick apart the weaknesses of any player, sometimes at the risk of forgetting about his strengths. Entering his senior season, McDermott is no exception to this dynamic. Lots of questions about his athleticism, position, body, and rebounding have piled up during his dominating run at Creighton.
Despite all that, McDermott looks poised to maintain his extremely high level of production for his final year in school. He has plenty of positive attributes to bring to a team at the next level, but the tricky part is determining which ones will carry over to the NBA. It’s performances like his 37-point outburst against the University of Missouri–Kansas City on November 11 that showcase McDermott as both a known commodity and prospect whose draft stock will likely remain fluid right up until his name is called in June.
Here is what I learned after going to Omaha to take a live look at McDermott earlier this month.
This year of college hoops is already ridiculous. Everyone is fun, the good teams are all stacked, and there are too many stars to even keep track of on any given night. This is why I was huddled over a laptop at 5:30 in the afternoon in L.A. yesterday, watching two grainy ESPN3 feeds at the same time and going nuts for Joel Embiid. We kicked things off with that fever dream in Chicago, but Freshman Watch got real this week.
Every big name played Tuesday, giving us a nice little slice of the madness to come.
I had a chance to be in Chicago on Tuesday night to cover the college basketball games for Grantland, and I said no for two reasons. First, because most early-season college basketball showcases are sloppy and a little bit depressing. Second, because after the months of obsession over Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Julius Randle, there's no way they could possibly live up to it.
People were comparing Wiggins to Durant and McGrady. Jabari Parker was supposed to be Paul Pierce and Glenn Robinson, and Julius Randle was the closest thing people had seen to LeBron.
There were 80 NBA scouts in attendance last night, which is a reminder that (a) NBA teams probably waste SO MUCH money scouting players they'll never have a chance to draft, and (b) this has all gotten kind of ridiculous. The United Center sold out the stadium Tuesday, and tickets for what was basically a preseason basketball exhibition were going for $750 apiece. We were due for a letdown.
But then all the players in Chicago made me look like an idiot.
If we’re going off StubHub, which is the objective arbiter of all things hype, last night’s Champions Classic was one of the most anticipated basketball showcases in recent history. So while the basketball turned out so good that people seem to be overlooking the fact that the games were choppy whistle bonanzas, I was there for more anthropological reasons. To Chicago:
The Champions Classic is in the books, with Michigan State surviving against Kentucky and Jabari Parker defeating Andrew Wiggins (historical footnote: Kansas would win the actual game), and, in the true spirit of college basketball, it was both joyous and aggravating. The basketball was transcendent at times, in a way we don't often see at the college level, but the referees were steadfast in calling handchecks and arm bars and other contact fouls to the extent that Duke-Kansas, originally scheduled for a 9:30 p.m. ET start, didn't finish until nearly 1 a.m.
Let's explore the full range of the good, the bad, and the ugly, from what might be the best night in the sport at least until January.
College basketball is back, and life finally makes sense again. Questions like "Where did all my money go?" and "Why am I such a disappointment?" and "How did I end up in this Dumpster?" no longer matter. Nothing matters, actually. Our salvation has arrived, and if you think I'm being overly dramatic, then you can get the HELL out of my Dumpster, pal.
As the headline on this post suggests, I recommend that you all take out the paper calendars you use to help remember when to watch sports (mine is the flip kind with autumnal photos above each month), and find a good, reliable pen, because you'll want to write this down. Below, I've listed the best possible games from each of the next seven days, along with some honorable mentions. Consider this your weeklong immersion guide. And it starts, as it should, in the mecca of the sport …
Last May, the NCAA Men's Basketball Rules Committee met with a chance to rescue college basketball from its ongoing doldrums. The aesthetic quality of the sport had hit rock bottom, with scoring dropping to its lowest levels since the 1951-52 season, according to the NCAA record book (page 44 [PDF]). An NCAA press release, and subsequent media reports, highlight the 1981-82 season, which was the previous low point since the 1950s.
Our pals at StatSheet have documented the decline in everything from shooting percentage to scoring to free throws attempted to possessions, and every chart tells the same story. Games were longer, too, and the style of play was slow and plodding compared to the NBA. In essence, athleticism and pace had been ground to dust under the jackboot of physical defense and control-freak coaches. Individuality, which makes basketball such a free-flowing, exciting sport, was systematically squelched.
Five years ago, former USC men’s basketball coach Tim Floyd told the Los Angeles Times he was canceling the Midnight Madness event the team had hosted for the past three years. "I want to go have a real practice and not a carnival atmosphere," he said. “I guess I figure we’re on TV enough, there’s enough other stuff going on in our city now, we don’t need it. We did it, we loved it, I just prefer to have good practices.”
Sure, at the time, the formerly sleepy hamlet of L.A. had been recently enlivened by $1 Taco Nights at Malo on Mondays and a reunited My Bloody Valentine assaulting the Santa Monica Civic Center, but depriving fans of copious Trojan gear giveaways and slam dunk contests seemed harsh.
Since we last spoke, the Andrew Wiggins hype cycle has continued to spin like a possessed electric dryer. There have been more magazine covers and a shirtless spread in GQ. His native country’s national sports network, TSN, has made arrangements to broadcast every Kansas game live throughout Canada, and the start of a new NBA season means the “Riggin' for Wiggins” among the NBA bottom-feeders has begun in earnest. As of Tuesday morning, though, one of the world’s most famous 18-year-olds had not yet accumulated a single statistic for Kansas. It’s not hard to imagine the pressure.
We're now less than a month from the tipoff of the 2013-14 season, and schools all around the country have held their various Midnight Madness celebrations (though a 2013 rule change meant that teams could begin practicing as early as September 27 this year). It’s almost time for college basketball, but before we ring in the new season, it’s time to wrap up the last bits of business. We'll start in Missouri, where
The NCAA Has Lost Its Teeth
This is not necessarily "news" to anybody who had a chuckle at Johnny Manziel's 30-minute suspension during football season, but it's still startling to see the extent of the NCAA's unmanning in the curious case of Frank Haith.
Given that I'm a fourth-generation Jayhawk, it should be no surprise to you that I have no goal, personal or professional, that takes precedent over living long enough to watch this year’s highly anticipated Jayhawks basketball season. To that effect, and in honor of Andrew Wiggins making the cover of Sports Illustrated, I’m making some large life changes to ensure that I’ll be able to view the entire slate of games, which begins October 29 with an exhibition against Pittsburg State. Below, I’ve outlined some of the things I’ll be doing to attain proper mind, body, and spirit; though this regimen applies to the forthcoming, Wiggins-ed out Jayhawks season, you can easily replace the major proper nouns for your own favorite teams or players, unless you’re a St. Louis Cardinals fan, in which case you should jump off the nearest cliff.
You can't go very far these days without hearing a sports fan say, "I can't wait until college basketball starts." I'm not sure why they keep mispronouncing it as "football" — it must be a joke I missed, or a meme, or something — but the anticipation in the air is palpable. We're still a few months away from tip-off, though, so here are a few bits of news you may have missed during the long offseason. November's coming!
On a Scale From 1 to Johnny Manziel, P.J. Hairston's Idiot Ranking Is 8
With all his noteworthy teammates opting for the draft, P.J. Hairston was set to be North Carolina's primary star in 2013. You could argue he was last season, too, when the sophomore guard led the team with 14.6 points per game while averaging just 23 minutes, and shot nearly 40 percent from 3. Everything about his game improved from his freshman season, and he'll arguably be the best pure scorer in the ACC this year.
There may come a time when you walk into a seven-figure job interview with as much leverage as Eddie Jordan did upon meeting with the Rutgers athletic department. But I seriously, seriously doubt it. For starters, wanting the Rutgers men's basketball job makes you a prime candidate for the position, considering the team’s legacy over the past two decades boils down to Quincy Douby, failing to make the NCAA tournament every single year since 1991, and, unlike Northwestern, failing to produce enough sportswriters to make a huge deal about that streak.