It's that time of year again. No, not the time to load up the van and drive to Uncle Phil's house for Thanksgiving dinner, while you spend the afternoon watching football and listening to Grandpa's stories of “the old days.” And no, its not the time for waking up and opening presents and then watching the Christmas Story all day for the 300th time. It's somewhere in between the two, a time that most know best as hoops season. So far, the year has lived up to its hype, with upsets and good teams being, well, good. But that was only the beginning. In the months ahead we will find out important questions such as: Can small schools such as Xavier, Butler, and BYU compete with the likes of Kansas and UCLA? Or how about, who is the best freshman in the country? Or the question that's on everyone's mind: Which team is really number one?
Pac-10, SEC Schools Seem Upset
When most schools schedule matchups against teams like Southwestern Illinois State Tech, they usually put a W on the calendar beside that game. The Pac-10 and the SEC have yet to get that memo. Though the Pac-10 has four ranked teams (with Washington State and UCLA being in the top six), they haven't exactly been perfect. Stanford lost to Siena 79-67, Oregon got beat by St. Marys 99-87, and beloved USC lost their first game of the year to Mercer 96-81. The SEC started the season near the top of the best conferences. Oh how quickly things can change. Tennessee is the only ranked team from the conference, and there's a reason for that. Alabama lost in a nailbiter to Belmont 85-83, Mississippi State got beat by Miami (OH) 67-60, and big name Kentucky lost at home to - can you even remember the name? - Garner Webb 84-68.
Oh, Those Talented Freshmen
Ever since the rules changed to where a player must spend one year in college before turning pro, we've seen better and better players. This year is no exception. What was once believed to be the best class of freshmen yet has changed into the best class ever. Indiana's Eric Gordon and Kansas State's Michael Beasley have proven that by averaging 27 ppg to lead all scorers. Gordon is also averaging 3 assists and 2 steals per game, while Beasley leads all others in rebounding with 15.5 boards per contest. Some front court freshmen making big names for themselves are UCLA's Kevin Love, Ohio State's Kuston Koufos, and Syracuse's Donte Green. All three are producing at least 16 ppg, 8 rpg, and 2 blocks. But the biggest star everyone is watching is Southern Cal's 6-5 guard O.J. Mayo. Mayo has continued to steal the Trojan spotlight game after game, averaging 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists per contest.
You probably know all about the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but being intruduced for the first time ever this year are the Big East-SEC Invitational, and the Big 12-Pac-10 Hardwood Series. Whether you're a fan of the four new conferences competing or not, be thankful. The ACC-Big Ten Challenge has been dominated by the ACC for the past eight years, and this year was no different. The Atlantic Coast Conference whooped up on teams from the Big Ten once again, claiming the Challenge by a count of 8-3.
In the Big East-SEC Invitational, there will only be four games. On December 5th, Big East programs Georgetown and West Virginia will take on SEC schools Alabama and Auburn in Birmingham. The day after, SEC's South Carolina and LSU travel up to Philadelphia to take on Big East's Providence and Villanova.
The Big 12-Pac-10 Hardwood Series features all ten Pac Ten teams along with ten Big 12 schools. The games began November 29th, and games are scheduled everday until December 2nd. The matchups include Oregon at Kansas State, Oklahoma at USC, Washington State at Baylor, Iowa State at Oregon State, Washington at Oklahoma State, Missouri at Cal, Arizona State at Nebraska, Stanford at Colorado, Texas A&M at Arizona, and Texas at UCLA. Though the two new conference challenges will be fun to watch, expect the Big East and the Pac Ten to cruise to easy victories.
My Fab Fifteen For The Week
Who's Number One?
Ah, the ultimate question. Who is the best team in college hoops this year? A few teams seemed to have seperated themselves from the rest. Duke is once again the “good” Duke, winning their first seven games, including a victory over Wisconsin. But I'm not convinced that they belong at the top just yet. Kansas started the year around 3rd or 4th, and continues to stay there despite being 6-0. For me, the Jayhawks stay on the outside looking in until they can beat a decent team.
The three teams that no one can really argue as being the top three teams in the nation are Memphis, North Carolina, and UCLA. Your best bet for guessing who is the best of the three is drawing their names out of a hat (or choosing which mascot you like best, which is usually what I tend to do come Tourney Time). Memphis has played a couple of decent teams, winning the 2K Sports Classic by beating Oklahoma and Connecticut. The Tar Heels have won at the road against small but good Davidson and BYU teams, and won their ACC-Big Ten Challenge game by knocking off Ohio State without star player Ty Lawson.
UCLA, meanwhile won the CBE Classic by knocking off Maryland and Michigan State. The coming week, however will be a challenge for all three, as UCLA must face Texas and Davidson, UNC travels to Rupp Arena to play Kentucky, and Memphis gets USC at home. For now, (and I don't mean this week, more like this day, or this minute, perhaps) I have Memphis at the top of my list followed closely by UCLA, who is followed even closer by UNC.
Three Things I Have To Let You Know
1.Despite my incredible hate for Duke, they are a very dangerous team. Do not be surprised if they take the ACC away from rival North Carolina. And this year, do not mark in your Tournament Bracket the Blue Devils losing in the first round again. If you do, expect a lot of red X's on your paper, as I expect Duke to contend for the Final Four.
2.Michigan State will not win the Big Ten. I'm sorry Spartan fans. I'm just not convinced Tom Izzo's team is capable of playing with Big Ten opponents Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. Unless you see improvement in the program before March, don't have the Spartans reaching the Sweet Sixteen. Say it with me. O-ver-rat-ed.
3.Two “Non-BCS” schools will reach the Elite Eight this year. Yes, Memphis is the first of the two. Who the second team will be I've yet to realize. Butler and Xavier are the two favorites, but don't rule out Gonzaga and BYU.
Three Things You Have To Let Me Know
1.Who is the best team? If you know the who the best team in the country is, please let me know. Because as of right now, I see no difference in UCLA, UNC, and Memphis.
2.Which is the best conference? Many believe it's the Pac-10. However, I think the ACC or the Big East could be better. I also wouldn't rule out the Big XII.
3.What is wrong with the SEC? The only ranked team right now is Tennessee. The West with Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, and Mississippi is down right terrible this year. Is this really the conference that has had every member reach the NCAA Tournament in the last six years? Because right now they look like a four bid league. What's worse, for the Big East-SEC Invitational, a pretty big tournament with conference bragging rights on the line, the best teams the SEC could get for their side were Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina, and LSU? Did they realize this is a basketball tournament, not football?
NCAA Basketball is a thrilling, competitive sport. With the parity and tournaments, college hoops is tough to beat. However, sometimes we get a little too caught up in the sport; too caught up in beating our in-state rivals, too caught up in stealing recruits from our conference's top teams, too caught up in reaching the Final Four, or just too caught up in basketball itself to realize more important things going on.
Jim Valvano learned this when he was forced to step away from college basketball when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the summer of 1992. However, with the heart of a champion and the grace of God, Jimmy V was able to return to color commentary in the fall for one final tournament, before becoming very stricken from the illness. Every day for four and a half months, Valvano battled the cancer and never quit fighting. In March of 1993, he fought through the pain to go on stage at the ESPY's to give his famous, “Don't Ever Give Up” speech. Fifty-five days later, he passed. However, because of this great man, we were able to establish the V Foundation, whick has raised over 70 million dollars for cures for cancer already.
This week is Jimmy V week, where thousands of college basketball fans realize its not all about whether their favorite teams wins or loses, its about a bigger game. It's the game that more than ten million cancer-stricken patients wake up and play every day. It's the fight for their lives. Don't let cancer win. To donate to this amazing foundation that is changing the lives of people everyday, click the link or call 1-800-4JimmyV.
Enjoy the rest of your Jimmy V week everybody. Enjoy the matchups, the rivalries, the players, and the fans. Enjoy your love for the game, just as Jim Valvano did.