There are about 4,000 scholarship D-I basketball players in America, but if you listen to espn this season, you will find out that only three matter. The network has come up with a “Journey to the Tourney” slogan that doesn’t quite work on the East coast, where “Journey to the Torney” doesn’t have the same rhyming pizzazz. But if the four-letter people wanted to be honest, they would simply say “Screw Everybody Else” and broadcast each minute Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle are awake this season.
How would you like to be Creighton forward Doug McDermott, who has an outside shot at reaching 3,000 points this year? Chances are he won’t get any attention, because at 21, he’s too old. Michigan State and Louisville could each win the national title this year, but neither team has a phenom whom espn can promote as a bridge to its NBA coverage, so they might as well be Southern Utah or NJIT. Part of the new Big East? Forget it. None of your players has a chance of being drafted in the top 10 next year, so you don’t matter.
Welcome to the 2013-14 college hoops season, where new rules promise to free the game from the tyranny of conniving coaches’ evil defensive schemes, and Dick Vitale still screams the same inanities after a routine breakaway dunk. The action is already under way, so lace ‘em up and get ready to follow these big stories.
Spoiled Brats: Every year, college basketball analysts need bibs to handle the constant streams of drool that accompanies their frenzied assessments of top freshman players. But the affection showered on Wiggins, Parker and Randle represents a new low. The last time some 18-year olds received this much attention, the Olsen twins were reaching the age of reason.
This is a perfect storm of NBA need and media avarice, all rolled into one. Some of the rotten pro teams would prefer that life fast forwards to the annual Lottery reveal show, the better for them to find out which of the coveted collection of newcomers they’ll have a chance to choose. But espn wants to milk every minute out of this season and make sure fans see as much of the Three-cruits as possible. Brace yourselves, because this is going to get syrup-of-ipecac ugly, and that’s saying something about espn, ground zero of media self-aggrandizement.
Home, Sweet...: It’s over for a while. At least that’s what they promised us. No more worrying about which leagues will poach which teams and how many more teams the A-10 can possibly lose.
So, now we have the rebranded Big East, an expanded ACC, which shouldn’t be confused with the spanking new AAC (which should consider merging with the CAA to form the Palindrome Association). There’s also the WAC, which bids farewell to seven schools, brings in six and features for-profit Grand Canyon University, which has somehow offended ADs around the country with its bottom-line sensibilities. Good thing college athletics exist just for the love of sports.
But, wait, there’s more. There are eight new schools in Conference USA, a.k.a. the Realignment Waiting Room. The Sun Belt has three fresh conscripts. The A-10 added George Mason and brings on Davidson next year. There’s a new face in the CAA. The Ohio Valley brought on Belmont. El Hombre could go on, but he’s sick of talking about this stuff. If the Ivy League starts looking to expand, we’ll know to stock up on canned goods.
Jump Around: There’s no free agency in college basketball, but the transfer market was hotter than the UNLV dance team and had more activity than a Kardashian at a speed-dating event. Players jumped from school to school at a rate of about 14%, and the best part of the game was how they concocted stories to gain hardship waivers that would gain them immediate eligibility. Some were legit. Others, not so much. “My aunt’s second cousin’s husband has a head cold, and I need to be near him to help with his care.” Sold!
There is nothing wrong with players’ skipping town for a better situation, especially since coaches do with regularity. But that doesn’t mean the movement is free and easy. Some coaches won’t release players from scholarships if they want to attend rival schools. And yet Steve Alford pledge his troth to New Mexico last spring before bolting to UCLA. So, Johnny DribbleDrive wants to switch schools? Have at it, son.
What Was He Thinking? There are some people who believe Oklahoma State point man Marcus Smart needed to change his last name after deciding last spring to return for a second year of college, rather than becoming a top-five NBA draft pick.
Smart has said that he wants to get better at his craft before joining the pro ranks. He actually likes being on campus and enjoyed the opportunity to help the U.S. under-19 team win the world title over the summer. And he wants to help the Cowpokes improve on last year’s first-round NCAA tourney flameout.
Those are all sound reasons, but let’s face it, rational thought doesn’t have a place in college athletics these days, unless it’s surrounding a bottom-line financial decision. Smart must have been abducted by rabid OSU fans and brainwashed into thinking a second year of college was the right move. Either that, or the Communists got him. Come on, now. Who in the hell passes up a chance to go to the NBA? Not very Smart, is it?
The Picks: Expect some pretty nice name brands to convene at False Face’s house in suburban Dallas at this year’s Final Four. Michigan State, Kentucky and Duke all make sense. Expect Oklahoma State to fill out the card, with the Spartans hoisting the trophy at the end of it all.
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EL HOMBRE SEZ: Great news for all rookies around the world! The Minnesota Timberwolves have banned hazing of all kinds. That means Shabazz Muhammad won’t be scarred for life by wearing a Jo Bros backpack around anymore. Next up, the Marines start calling conscripts by cute nicknames and stage weekly sensitivity training sessions for drill instructors…A Ugandan fan of Arsenal lost his two-room house in a wager after the Gunners dropped a decision last Sunday to Manchester United. Had he won, Henry Dhabasani, who has three wives and five children, would have won the wife and Toyota of Rashid Yiga, his pal. Upon hearing of the bet, Las Vegas casino executives immediately announced plans for a Spouse book, which is expected to do big business with customers from Utah…The Buffalo Bills have contacted the NFL regarding what they think is unfair scheduling. Turns out the Bills are upset they have to play NFL teams and asked for the opportunity to schedule some Mid-American Conference foes in 2014…Last week, El Hombre reported on Kansas State’s promotion that gave students attending the Lady Wildcats’ first home game bacon. Now, Louisville coach Jeff Walz is going a step further. He’ll buy a beer for the first 2,500 fans over 21 who arrive at the KFC Yum! Center (Really?) for the Cards’ game with LSU. Nice. Can’t wait for Weed Night at a University of Colorado women’s game…A high school cross country runner in Kentucky forfeited her chance to qualify for the state championship meet, because she didn’t want to wear the number 666 during a competition. That’s a devil of a problem to have, isn’t it? Guess she didn’t have that fire in her stomach, eh? Let’s hope this decision doesn’t produce some inner demons down the road. What? Too much? Aw, go to…
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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? When he was asked Tuesday what he thought about NBA teams’ tanking to get one of the top freshmen in the country, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, among other things, “Shame on them” and couldn’t imagine any American doing something like that. Thanks for the patriotic speech, coach. Meanwhile, back in Realityland, there are some awful clubs in need of significant upgrades. One happens to be the 1-2-3-4-5-Sixers, who sit at 5-4 and actually lead the Atlantic Division. That leads to a simple question: Exactly what is going on here? It was clear during the off-season that the team’s goal was to tank for a good spot in the Lottery. The Sixers signed journeymen bench players, refused to extend Evan Turner’s contract beyond this season and announced that it was unlikely rookie center Nerlens Noel would play in 2013-14. What they didn’t count on was that practically every opponent would sit one of its stars when visiting Philadelphia. That means more drastic measures are necessary. Turner is playing well, so it’s time to trade him for the rights to a Uzbek small forward. Thaddeus Young looks good, too. Dish him to a contender for expiring contracts and injured players. Does the organization really want the 12th spot in the draft lineup and another shot at mediocrity next year? It’s time for GM Sam Hinkie to get busy and fix this thing.
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AND ANOTHER THING: If you don’t think professional sports teams are petrified about what can happen when their players take to social media, consider the mess the Clippers had to clean up Thursday after Matt Barnes took to Twitter following his ejection from Wednesday night’s game against OK City. Barnes was unhappy that defending teammate Serge Ibaka will end up getting him fined. So, he tweeted – while the game was still going on – “I love my teammates like family, but I’m DONE standing up for these n---as! All this s--- does is cost me money.” That’s all the Clippers need. And that’s all any team needs. You can’t stop pro players from using social media, and you can’t really guide them too well, either. Barnes’ comments, while stupid, are not horribly damaging. But more trouble lurks, especially as available options grow. It used to be that teams only had to worry about players’ spouting off to assembled media in the locker room. Now, every minute of the day can be a press conference for knuckleheads with smart phones. Good times.