The Big Ten Road Trip, with all its local comforts, is over, and now it's time to plunge back into the chaos of the national scene. A huge part of college basketball analysis is projecting what will happen in the postseason. It makes sense, because the sport is defined by a few crazy days in March, but I always get a fleeting sense of regret around this time of year. I wish conference tournaments meant more, and I especially wish regular-season conference championships meant more.
I love March Madness as much as anyone, but the truth is it's one of the worst postseasons in terms of crowning the actual best team. That's why it's great; you have to win on a given day, and the small sample size allows for the upsets and anomalies that give the tournament its character. In fact, of the six major American professional and college sports, I'd argue that college hoops is at the bottom of the postseason reliability spectrum. Here are my rankings, from most to least reliable:
Today's Shuffle is going to be a quick one — to get your college hoops fix, check out dispatch no. 1 on Indiana-Ohio State from my Big Ten road trip — but, wow, the wheels have really come off, haven't they? Let's do a list of 10 thoughts and conclusions from the weekend, except let's make it just like college basketball rankings and have the numbers mean absolutely nothing.
7. Nobody is good. Or everybody is good. But if everybody is good, then nobody is good. So in the end, nobody is good. Unless you reverse it, in which case, OH, JUST SHUT UP. THIS YEAR IS COMMUNIST. IT'S A PERFECT COMMUNIST YEAR.
With that in mind, who is communist icon Karl Marx's college basketball doppelganger? What about Friedrich Engels? If you take away the beards, I'm going with Marx as a young Bobby Knight and Engels as a fatter-faced Aaron Craft. But I'm not really happy with either of those, so please help me in the comments.
In case you were busy watching the test signal on the NFL RedZone channel and holding back the tears, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
Notre Dame outlasted Louisville, 104-101, in a five-overtime thriller in South Bend. Now, I just looked at the box score for this game, and I saw something a bit suspicious. The score was the same at the end of regulation, the first overtime, the second overtime, the third overtime, and the fourth overtime? Isn't that a little fishy? A little too fishy? See, both teams had 60 points at the end of regulation. Then they both scored eight points in the first overtime. Then seven in the second. OK, that's weird enough, but get this: In the third overtime, they both scored eight again. Too much, right? But it gets worse. In the fourth overtime, they both score 10. Perfect 10. Then, just to throw me off the trail, Louisville scores eight again, but Notre Dame, the Irish, I kid you not, scores 11. Lucky number 11. Now I don't want to accuse the good people of Notre Dame of any misconduct without proof, but it seems as if they were trying to get the same score at the end of every period, doesn't it? Until, quite naturally, they scored two different numbers. Very clever, guys. A little too clever. I'm keeping my eye on you, Notre Dame.
Wisconsin upset Michigan, 65-62, in overtime, after Badgers junior Ben Brust made an improbable half-court shot to tie the game at the end of regulation. "That's the sort of shot that needs to be immortalized with a song parody," overexcited Wisconsin junior Walker Nelson said after the game. "How does Brustified sound? Like, Justin Timberlake? But like, with Brust. We could do a whole suite of parody songs, like, 'Bringing Devin Back' in reference to [former Badgers point guard] Devin Harris. I'm totally going to get on this right away." Nelson then went back to his fraternity house, where he watched his ill-conceived ’N Sync parody from freshman year, "J.J. Watt You Back," and thought long and hard about his life choices.
In case you were busy preparing to confess your sins to Oprah for some reason, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Wisconsin notched their 11th straight win against Indiana, upsetting the no. 2 Hoosiers, 64-59, in Bloomington. After the game, Indiana head coach Tom Crean said, "Oh, those rascals got us again, but wait until next time when we deploy our secret weapon," gesturing at a large wooden crate labeled "Acme Explosive Basketballs." Crean then picked up one of the basketballs and started to cackle, only to have it explode in his hands, leaving his grimacing face covered in soot.
Despite missing Chris Paul for a second straight game, the Los Angeles Clippers continued their torrid play, beating the Houston Rockets on the road, 117-109. Though the Clippers' captain told the media "I'm really happy for those guys, and I'm glad they're able to get some W's without me" after the game, a visibly downtrodden Paul was seen making a Spotify playlist called "Better Off Without Me," featuring both "Stay" by Lisa Loeb and "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia.
Kentucky avoided a second straight SEC defeat, notching a 75-65 home win against Tennessee. Kentucky head coach John Calipari remained upset with his team after the game, telling the media, "With what those guys get paid, avoiding losing streaks is not good enough." When asked to elaborate, Calipari declined, saying, "Nice try, but I'm not going to incriminate myself wait, what did I say just a second ago? Like right before this?" A particularly sweaty Calipari then proceeded to tell the gathered media that the entire press conference was off the record, and if they told anyone about it, he would totally deny everything.
The Lakers won their second straight game, topping Milwaukee, 104-88, at Staples Center with Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant scoring 31 points apiece. "Point brothers," Howard said after the game, slapping his teammate Bryant on the back. "Pretty neat, huh Kob-meister?" Bryant did not respond to Howard at the time, but was later seen disdainfully muttering "Kob-meister" as he watched the first half-hour of a bootlegged copy of Zero Dark Thirty on repeat.
The Chicago Bears took their head coaching search north, hiring Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman to replace Lovie Smith. Trestman, considered a quarterbacks guru, prepared Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler, Jason Campbell, Tim Tebow, and current Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for quarterbacking in the NFL. "Wait, are you serious?" said Bears General Manager Phil Emery after being shown the list. "Oh, no. I swear he only mentioned Jay. He didn't say anything about those other guys. I really should've done my due diligence on this one."
The San Diego Chargers introduced former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy as their new head coach. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers responded to the news by saying, "Oh, man, I never thought I'd escape being coached by Norv Turner. It's like I'm Fantine and this McCoy guy is Jean Valjean, you know? Here, I'll show you." Rivers then proceeded to sing a mournful rendition of Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables, before laboriously drawing out the parallels between the lyrics of the song and his plight as a famous athlete playing for an underachieving team. A particularly hoarse Rivers then proceeded to tell the gathered media that the entire song was off the record, and if they told anyone he sang it, he would totally deny hitting that high E.
Australian Sam Stosur crashed out of the Australian Open, losing her second-round match to China's Zheng Jie, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5. "Lemme guess," said golfer Greg Norman when approached by a reporter on his way to his car Wednesday morning, "you want to know what I'd say to Samantha. I'd say, 'Get deeper in the tournament before you choke next time, so maybe The Shark won't be the Australian on call anytime one of his countrymen blows chunks under pressure.'" Sadly for Norman, the reporter had been there to profile his charity work, but after the unpleasant encounter, ran with the unexpected Norman-Stosur feud angle instead.
Former Yankees closer Rafael Soriano signed a two-year, $28 million contract with the Washington Nationals. "To all the Washington fans out there, I'm here to earn my contract, and not be another Jayson Werth," said Soriano upon his introduction. Werth, who was watching the press conference alone from his palatial estate, hung his head upon hearing Soriano's words. "I wasn't that bad last year when I played … eh, who am I kidding? No one wants to be another Jayson Werth. Not even me." A single tear then trickled down Werth's cheek, which a servant wiped off his face before Werth had a chance to launch into his own mournful rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream."
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
The Lakers came back from an 18-point third quarter deficit to top the Bobcats, 101-100, and avoid what would have been the most embarrassing moment of their already difficult season. It was a Pyrrhic victory for some Lakers, including Pau Gasol, who suffered his latest humiliation when Kobe Bryant shoved him into the scorer's table to create a distraction just before hitting the winning bucket. "Make sure you whimper," Kobe hissed. "Really Gasol it up."
The most interesting thing college football coaches did this month was to stay put. If you believe what you read, Charlie Strong, Mike Gundy, James Franklin, Gary Patterson, and Chris Petersen all had chances to leave their schools for bigger, more storied programs. None of them did. Collectively, they are college football’s new middle class, a well-paid group in no hurry to move.
College football, like America, has its rich and its middle class. Unlike an electrician, of course, a middle-class college football coach makes millions even when he fails. But stick with the analogy for a second.
Take Alabama and Vanderbilt. Bama is a rich school, with lots of national titles (some of them legit) and athletic revenue that last year topped $125 million. Vandy is a middle-class school, and that’s mostly because of its membership in the SEC. “When I took this job in 2003,” Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams said recently, “this was a stepping stone for coaches.”
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.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Kobe Bryant became the youngest NBA player to reach 30,000 points in the second quarter of the Lakers' 103-87 win over the New Orleans Hornicans. "Say the word youngest again," Bryant said to reporters, as he soaked his feet in hot water and epsom salts. "Just keep saying it while I close my eyes. Don't be weirded out if I moan."
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey capped off his improbable season by winning the NL Cy Young Award. "In frozen to name the scarlet lake we'll posit terrible worsts or declare any ripple tentative by the queen devouring sensations evasive," said Dickey, in his patented KnuckleSpeak language. "Thanks, this is awesome!" said his new translator.
Blake Griffin (20 points, 14 boards) and Chris Paul (16 points, 10 assists) each registered a double-double as the Clippers topped the Heat 107-100. "I guess it's time to concede that he won the Blake Griffin fame war," said minor British soap opera star Blake Griffin, as she sipped a gin and tonic at her computer and began to weep dramatically.
Part of my job here at Grantland is to solve moral dilemmas. For example: Are you a real college football fan? Or are you rooting for Alabama or Michigan in a manner that I might find offensive?
The Sports Guy has already laid out a set of rules for pro-sports fandom. College football deserves the same thing: a guide to picking a school, keeping a school, and, in extremely rare cases, changing schools.
I’m not interested in small-time rules. Like: Can you refer to your college team as “we”? (Yes.) Or: Can you watch a game plastered? (Of course.) Like an NCAA enforcement officer, I’m looking at your eligibility. Anyone can watch College GameDay or buy a T-shirt, but there are only a few circumstances in which you have a bona fide claim to a particular team.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
The Wisconsin Badgers hit 14 of their 27 3-point attempts, but it wasn't enough to hold off the efficient Syracuse Orange, who advanced to the Elite Eight with a 64-63 win. Fans of the Badgers' plodding style were heartened to see their team finish the season by running the stall offense while trailing by three with a minute left, and then stalling again on the last possession before Jordan Taylor was forced to throw up a low-percentage 3. Reporters asked Bo Ryan about the curious strategy, but he spoke so slowly that they were unable to transcribe his words, and then custodians threw everyone out of the building because it was 3 a.m.
I say this with a heavy heart, because I was reared in upstate New York rooting for Syracuse, but the town is a complete dump. It's literally one of the most depressing American places on earth, and I'm pretty sure it's not safe, either. When I was a kid, just stepping foot on South Salina Street, for a fraction of a millisecond, was enough to put your life in danger. I once spent six months lying in a bed with severe gout just because we drove on South Salina for like 30 seconds. Rough days. Also, Syracuse is in a weird weather climate that is perpetually at the nexus of a rain front and a cold front, ensuring that is always damp, frigid, and dark in the city proper. The campus is lovely, mind you, but when the two top tourist attractions in a town are the police station and the lost and found at the McDonald's PlayPlace, you know something wicked is afoot.
Madison, on the other hand, I've never visited, but in my experience there are four college towns whose praises are sung above all others, and Madison is one. (The three others are Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Athens, Georgia, and Austin, Texas.)
2. You decided to remake 1997's The Devil's Advocate, a film starring Keanu Reeves as a hotshot lawyer and Al Pacino as his boss. For those who don't remember or haven't yet seen it, Pacino's character turns out to be Satan. Sorry for the spoiler. (At the end, Reeves kills himself in a display of free will after finding out that Pacino is both Satan and his father. But it turned out all to be a dream, or a premonition, or something.)