If you think the Heat-Spurs series is the most exciting championship being contested this weekend … well, you're fooling yourself. Out in Nebraska, eight college baseball teams will be vying for a trophy far less celebrated than the Stanley Cup, with a media presence a fraction of the size of the NBA Finals. But if you like baseball, or sports, or America, you'll love a week's worth of insane, high-intensity baseball, featuring some of the big leagues' stars of the future and some really likable kids with funny names. The College World Series combines the high skill of the professional game, the adorable unpredictability of Little League, and the insane intensity of March Madness. There's nothing quite like it in sports, and in a moment of great fortuitous corporate synergy, every game will be televised, live, on the ESPN family of networks.
Good, now that I've sold you, let's meet our contestants.
Outfitted in a scarlet tie, and in front of a gold backdrop, Pat Haden stepped to a podium yesterday to usher in a new era of USC basketball. In the past decade, Los Angeles’s lesser collegiate program has been decidedly inferior. Since the 2005-06 season, when Tim Floyd became USC’s head coach, the Trojans have won exactly three NCAA tournament games. The program’s recruiting prize from the Floyd era, O.J. Mayo, spent one year in Los Angeles, where the revelation of improper benefits forced the Trojans to vacate every win collected during his stay. In the four seasons Kevin O’Neill spent as coach after Floyd’s departure, the Trojans made the tournament once.
That sputtering is what inspired many of Haden’s opening remarks during his brief statement yesterday. “USC basketball should be relevant,” the school's athletic director said. “USC basketball should be relevant. But let’s be honest, it has not been relevant for a while.” What better way to achieve relevancy than hitching your wagon to March’s most relevant story? The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles were the GIF’d and fawned-over darlings of the NCAA tournament’s first two rounds, and in doing so, Andy Enfield became the maestro of fun. It was a word used more than once by Haden in the first news release about Enfield’s hire. Dunk City (which USC has since stopped using, per FGCU’s request) was moving in down the street from Lob City.
Except for those in the habit of learning about the fourth coach down NBA benches, no one knew who Andy Enfield was three weeks ago. Florida Gulf Coast was a 15-seed that finished second in the Atlantic Sun and lost to a Lipscomb team with a 7-11 conference record — twice. One hot point guard and one annual Hoya disappointment later, Enfield is receiving the keys to Troy.
To paraphrase Chris Rock, desperation is the worst cologne. And when it comes to the post–NCAA tournament coaching carousel, the landscape of college basketball feels cloaked by a cloud of metaphysical Drakkar Noir. The absurd time crunch and constant influx of hot new names on a daily basis make the whole process feel less like a protracted mating dance than an outwardly raging, inwardly fraught frat party, with nothing but overeager overtures and the progressive, unmistakable lowering of standards as the night continues.
It’s nearly impossible to look cool in these situations, but somehow, USC has done it. Now, we could just flat-out admit that Andy Enfield was a mortal lock for the Trojans all along — as a guy who achieved his life ambitions of “totally killing it” in the tech and finance games and marrying a Maxim cover girl, he was already a role model for the USC student body even before anyone knew he coached basketball. But as everyone from Old Dominion to Minnesota made eyes at Enfield over the past couple weeks, USC came out of nowhere on Monday night and pulled an "Is That Yo Chick?" move. Who cares if Enfield is grabbing this job off the back of just two wins, or that USC’s basketball team is on probation as often as Gucci Mane? They look cool, unlike these five programs who might need to hire Phil Jackson to counteract the effects of a coaching search that reeks of desperation.
Today is the first of March, and so I wish you a Happy March Day. March Day is the lesser-known cousin of May Day, which is a pagan holiday celebrated on May 1. But March Day is far more important because it means we're getting close to the most essential time of year: The Madness. When 64 become one, all shall be revealed. Hail March Day, for The Madness Is Upon Us.
(If there's ever an apocalypse that wipes out most of humanity, I hope the only thing future societies recover from our time is the paragraph above, with absolutely no context.)
Time for the top 10 games of the weekend. Note that a week from Sunday, the regular season is OVER.
Two weeks ago, when I predicted that Michigan would beat Ohio State on the road, and Minnesota would do the same to Indiana, I was hit with an avalanche of Big Ten fans insisting that I didn't know what I was talking about, and that IT WAS REALLY, REALLY HARD TO WIN ON THE ROAD IN THE BIG TEN. It was repeated so often that I started to wonder what the hell goes on in Big Ten gyms that makes them so different from everywhere else. Are the visiting players poisoned in some subtle way before the game? Does the home team get an extra player? Do they flash the lights and pump loud metal music into the visitors locker room, like the torture scenes in Homeland? What was this damn mystique?
I really wanted to be cynical about the whole thing — sure, it's not easy to win on the road, but it's no harder in the Big Ten than anywhere else — but then Michigan and Minnesota had awful first halves, came up short in their second-half comebacks, and the avalanche quickened. Big Ten road games were like land wars in Russia, said the legions. Then the anti-ACC comments trickled in, and I bunkered down in defense, accepting the Big Ten Road Logic against my better instincts.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Mason Plumlee had 21 points and 15 boards to lead no. 1 Duke to a 76-54 win over Elon on the same day that the nation's no. 2 high school recruit, Jabari Parker, committed to the Blue Devils. Parker is a Mormon, and sources report that his choice has given Mitt Romney a sliver of hope that someone else might take over the "Mormon Devil" nickname. Unfortunately, because Parker is a 6-foot-8 post player, it has already been confirmed that his nickname will be "The Hook of Mormon."
When my wife read Friday's post, she asked me why I cared who was the beefiest or bulkiest player in the country. And I have to tell you guys I didn't have a good answer. Let's move on to this week's epiphanies and observations.
Before we get going, I want to announce that I'm taking nom-nom-inations for the 2012-13 All-BeefyBulky Team. I was inspired to do this after watching Nebraska's Andre Almeida do battle in a losing effort against Creighton last night. At 6-foot-11, 314 pounds, the Brazilian Almeida is a man of some size, and the eye is immediately drawn in his direction when he's on the floor. Like the elderly couple entranced by the painting of Kramer, we cannot look away.
I was going to put together my own All-BeefyBulky team, but frankly, I haven't done the legwork. The country's elite teams are stocked with perfect physical specimens of varying height at every position, and my mental Rolodex couldn't produce five worthy BeefyBulksters. And this is not something you want to rush. The BBs represent the real America, and we can't risk choosing the wrong men. So far, my All-BB team has just two members:
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
A last-minute drive came up short when no. 3 Georgia opted not to spike the football inside the 10 and instead mistakenly completed a pass to the 5-yard line, allowing the clock to run out and giving no. 2 Alabama a 32-28 win in the SEC championship game and a spot in the BCS title game opposite Notre Dame. Georgia coach Mark Richt insisted that he kept trying to yell at his team to spike the ball, but that his vocal cords felt painfully constricted, while video footage of the Alabama sideline shows Nick Saban reaching across the field with one hand at that exact moment.
I'm one of those people who adhere to a strict famine-and-feast diet on Thanksgiving Day. I'll starve myself throughout the day, trying to not let the aromas floating in from the kitchen drive me insane, just so I can gorge myself like a crazed animal when 4 p.m. rolls around. From an informal poll of friends and family, it seems like this is a pretty common tactic. I'm ashamed to admit that I had to eat an apple to hold myself over at noon, but otherwise I held firm. And the feast was glorious. I didn't stop eating until midnight, when my wife hit me with a pan and knocked me into a deep, 18-hour slumber.
The whole Thanksgiving situation is a lot like the first two weeks of college basketball. The morning starvation is the offseason, when you want to avoid lesser temptations like recruiting updates or NCAA investigations or Tony Parker's eight-month press conference. Sometimes you need to check in on those things just to hold off the hunger, like with my apple. And then, when the season finally arrives, it's a delicious cornucopia of tournaments, amazing matchups, surprising players, and crazy upsets. I can't stop watching. I can't, and I won't! I've now binged on college basketball for two straight weeks, and from the depraved den of hoops gluttony, I bring you my 25 November epiphanies.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
Eli Manning threw for 249 yards and three touchdowns as the Giants routed the Packers 38-10 to take a two-game lead in the NFC East. The Giants defense sacked Aaron Rodgers five times, and rubbed salt in the wound as he lay crumpled on the field by repeatedly noting that he "looked smaller in person."
It's Rivalry slash Thanksgiving Week, when teams who have historically aggravated one another by virtue of shared geography, but who may not even be in the same conference in 2012, meet up for an annual gathering of bad feelings. This is the week for Florida–Florida State, Georgia Tech–Georgia, South Carolina–Clemson, and more. But before we get to the top 10 games, let's take a quick look at the perfect scenario for the final few weeks of college football, and let's do it in stream-of-consciousness form. For the ultimate comedic and poetic payoff, here's what has to happen:
Oregon loses to Oregon State, Georgia loses to Georgia Tech, Florida loses to Florida State, Alabama loses to Georgia in SEC title game, Georgia Tech beats Florida State in ACC title game, Kansas State loses to Texas, Stanford beats UCLA then loses to UCLA in Pac-12 title game, Louisville beats Rutgers but loses in a bowl game, Wisconsin beats Nebraska in Big Ten title game, Notre Dame loses to USC, Oklahoma wins out, Kent State and Northern Illinois both lose in bowls.
First, none of those outcomes are unlikely. All of them put together? Highly unlikely. But humor me for a second, because these are the teams that would earn automatic BCS berths if that scenario plays out: Georgia Tech, Georgia, Louisville, Wisconsin, UCLA, and Oklahoma. And the national title game would probably be Notre Dame vs. Georgia. Now, let's say Notre Dame, at 11-1, loses to 11-2 Georgia. Also, Ohio State beats Michigan this week.
The result? Zero bowl-eligible teams with even a one-loss record, and a BCS champion in Georgia that lost 35-7 to South Carolina, and suffered a hypothetical loss to Georgia Tech. The whole college landscape is a dusty wasteland. And then, rising amid the destruction, like a glorious phoenix, is Urban Meyer with his 12-0 Ohio State team. So riddle me this — could the AP poll, which is independent of the BCS, really put the Buckeyes anywhere but no. 1? I say no, and that means Ohio State would win a split national championship. The same Ohio State that's banned from postseason play because some kid got a free tattoo, and the same Ohio State that barely beat Cal at home, escaped from Indiana, and needed a miracle to beat Purdue in overtime.
And when all that happens, I'm going to phone up the BCS and just start laughing in their faces. A dude can dream.
In just its sixth year of existence, the Legends Classic isn’t exactly legendary or classic, and as early-season tournaments go, it certainly isn’t as renowned as the Maui Invitational. But this year’s Legends Classic was played in Brooklyn’s new Barclays Centre and featured the no. 1 team in the country (Indiana), the no. 1 recruiting class in the country (UCLA), another team that should comfortably make the NCAA tournament (Georgetown), and a team that is Georgia (Georgia). Because of this, this year’s Legends Classic was must-see TV for me. If you didn’t feel the same way, here’s what you missed: four takeaways from Monday's and Tuesday’s games.
Indiana Answered Some Questions
Because of their inconsistency a season ago, the two big questions concerning the preseason no. 1 team in the country this year were whether they could handle being the hunted rather than the hunters and whether they could beat a halfway decent team outside of Assembly Hall. Both questions were answered last night, even if they were answered less emphatically than Hoosiers critics might like.
The odyssey* of Shabazz Muhammad has finally reached the part where actual basketball is played. Here's how his college career started Monday night against Georgetown, after he entered the game at around the 14-minute mark:
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns as the 49ers trounced the Bears 32-7. "Not bad for an intellectual," sneered Randy Moss, just before snapping Kaepernick with a towel. Kaepernick seethed with pain and anger, but he knew from experience that it was useless to explain the difference between himself and the 16th-century Polish astronomer Copernicus.