It does not take much to realize that this winter, 99 44/100% of diehards in the Commonwealth of Hoops regardless of the school they root for are not happy.
Which is a shame. Since this has already shaped up as one of the more fascinating seasons in memory.
So topsy turvey it has been, so many legit contenders hot then not hot then hot again, so many schools with reasonable expectations of making it to the Final Four, and winning it. There’s a palpable sense of a shift of tectonic plates, as long time powers devolve, and new ones rise.
Only Purdue has stayed steady on course. But the Boilermakers are far from a given. Two rookie guards. Solid. Mature. But frosh nonetheless. But history hasn’t been kind. No last weekend appearances since 1980. That heartbreaking Elite Eight OT L in the Yum! to eventual national champ UVa.
Matt Painter is the most under-appreciated mentor in the game. His frustration must runneth over.
Is this the season they break on through to the Other Side?
As for those outfits that have gone from boffo to busto, there are many. At one point, Danny Hurley’s UConn Huskies looked unbeatable. Literally. Figuratively. Since, well, they’ve dropped six of their last eight. Including a couple to upticking Xavier.
Which Musketeers started 4-3 under the tutelage of prodigal son back in his old chair Sean Miller. But have only lost twice since — league games on the road — and sit atop the tough Big East.
Creighton started smokin’ hot. Then lost six in a row, when Ryan Kalkbrenner was out for injury. The ship has seemed to steady.
Kentucky dropped three of five. Then won four in a row, including a W over vaunted Tennessee in Knoxville. Then lost in prime time to Kansas. Which Jayhawks had lost three in a row coming in.
Alabama, #2 in the land, was absolutely crushed by so so Oklahoma on Saturday.
Houston lost to so so Temple. At home.
Gonzaga lost to Loyola Marymount. At home.
Iowa State, #11 NET, blew a 23 point 2d half lead, losing to Texas Tech.
IU started 1-4 in Big 10 play, but now has won five in a row.
Meanwhile Clemson is holding steady atop the ACC. While preseason #1 North Carolina, reigning national runner up with just about everybody back, is still trying to recover from its own quartet of setbacks in a row.
Those teams are really good.
As well as Rutgers. Who knew?
Northwestern is on the cusp of its second Dance appearance . . . Ever.
Not so good: Duke and Villanova, who are trying to find a way now that their iconic coaches have moved on.
And I didn’t mention Kansas State, Virginia, Arizona, Marquette, Texas, TCU, Providence or Miami, none of whose appearance in Houston for Jim Nantz’s last college basketball rodeo would surprise.
The question is which outfits will catch fire in March? Which will lose to NE New Hampshire State in the opening round?
All so sweet.
* * * * *
Roger Ayers is universally regarded as one of the premier refs in college ball.
He’s done a number of U of L games. A couple of weeks ago, he was just horrible. Made any number of obviously bad calls. Both ways. Very strange.
Until I looked at the calendar. Late January. These upper echelon guys have been working 4-5 games a week, or more, since November. Lots of airports, hotels, Double Bacon Whoppers with Cheese and Garlic Aioli, sprinting three concourses over in a full rush to catch a plane in Atlanta.
These guys have to be wearing down. It has to be affecting their performances.
Smart Guy pointed this out to me. There was a ref who did the 8:00 PM IU/ Ohio State game Saturday night. Then was on the floor for a noon tip of Michigan State/ Purdue the next day.
Sure, the drive from Bloomington to West Lafayette isn’t far. But still. The guy’s got to catch his breath. Not to mention eat and sleep. Guy’s got to have time for some ZZZs and an Egg McMuffin.
The fortunate thing is these top level zebras will get more rest come March.
Until then, don’t be surprised if there are some weird calls affecting games.
* * * * *
Whom I remember first of all from his appearance with Wake Forest, along with star Len Chappell (30 ppg, 15 rpg,) in the ’62 Final Four at Freedom Hall.
Had the pleasure of eating lunch with him and some others once at the Executive Inn, after he did a Saturday afternoon U of L/ Marquette game.
Nice fellow. The only conversation I recall is he seemed more interested in business deals than college hoops.
The connection that allowed that to come about: He split NBC, and his gig with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire, when CBS got the rights to the tournament beginning in the ’81-’82 season. A college frat brother of mine put together a syndicated radio show with him and McGuire, and Mike Patrick acting as moderator.
They’d tape back and forths as they criss-crossed the country. By phone. And, by whatever means necessary.
One time, they taped their segment in a restroom at O’Hare or the like, when they had a layover at the same time.
That ZBT connection also got me onto Press Row for the ’82 tourney in Nashville, which had been set up to be U of L vs. UK. But the Cats fell to Middle Tennessee in the round before. Truth be told, my pal and I got kicked out of those seats by the Vandy SID. Because 1) We were openly cheering for the Cards against the Blue Raiders, and 2) My buddy was dressed like schlepper in an old t-shirt and shorts. Our cover as “working press” was blown.
Anyway. Billy Packer was divisive. But he didn’t mince words. And was an astute observer of the game.
Enough for today.
— c d kaplan