The college basketball season can now begin in earnest.
Mercifully, the Super Bowl Ray Lewis-A-Thon has worn us all out but is finally over. Lance Armstrong came clean, sort of but not really. And Monti Te'o's phone relationship no longer obsesses us.
It's February. March Madness is just a buzzer beater away.
What got me engaged in this season, finally, was last weekend's scrap in Bloomington, Indiana pitting the Hoosiers against number one ranked Michigan. Nutjob college students in red T-shirts screamed their heads off the entire game creating a vintage college hoops aura.
The game had that certain "it" atmosphere typical of February inter-league competition. There is nothing quite like a basketball game in the state of Indiana. They live hoops, eat rims, inhale the gymnasium sweat. You know hundreds of Indiana college students dreamed while growing up of playing for the Hoosiers. Such fantasies are ingrained in the culture.
Around this time, and in this game, stars begin to crystallize who we will be hearing about them for the next several weeks and during the Madness. One is sure to be Trey Burke, the all-everything Michigan guard who dropped 25 points Saturday night. A sophomore National Player of the Year candidate, Burke reminds me of Allen Iverson as a sophomore at Georgetown. Burke glides around the court with the ball, slithers through double teams, accelerates like a bolt, and drains long jumpers. What's most admirable about him is he wasn't among the Top 75 ESPN recruits coming out of high school; he's overachieved and everyone loves this kind of success story.
Michigan is d??j?? vu basketball at its best. Two of its stars, Glen Robinson III and Tim Hardaway, Jr. are sons of players I used to watch play college hoops back in the day. Their Dads were serious college ballers: Glen "Big Dog" Robinson (Purdue) and Tim "Best Cross-Over-Move-In-Basketball-History" Hardaway (U. of Texas at El Paso).
Watching the sons makes me feel quite a bit older, AARP-eligible, and less mentally sharp. Nonetheless, I believe I'm wiser, and beliefs matter. I keep telling myself that anyway. Old age can be deceiving. But I digress.
Coach of the Year honors should go to Michigan's John Beilein. Now in his sixth year, he has brought the program back from serious mediocrity when he took over to a national powerhouse ranked number one as of last week. Last season he led the Wolverines to its first Big Ten regular season title in 26 years with a 24 and 10 record. Although hardly Mr. Flamboyant, the cerebral and controlled middle-aged man can coach. He is the only active one to record a 20 win season at four different levels: NCAA Divisions I and II, NAIA and junior college. Wherever he goes he wins. I put him right there with Butler's Brad Stevens and Marquette's Buzz Williams as the most intriguing and skilled Division I college hoops coaches. Sorry Coach K, Rick Pitino and John Calipari; you are good but not here and now anymore.
For Indiana, everything begins with their warm up pants, the coolest in the history of any sport. The Valentine's Day red and white striped pants dazzle and shout "Yes, I play for Indiana, the state where basketball began in the epicenter of Nice America, the Wonderful Midwest. Take that you shameless and sarcastic shoreliners, New York City, Washington D.C., and LA."
One day I think I'm going to order those pants off the Indiana website, along with the green helmet with yellow O off the University of Oregon site. In may not be today because I'm busy working right now. Then my life will be complete. I'll drink lemonade from then on every night and think happy thoughts.
Cody Zeller is one Hoosier sporting those world class warm-up pants. The guy has serious coordination and agility for a 7 footer. In the upcoming NBA draft he will go first or second. He may never be an NBA All-Star, but he will be a solid contributor in the league for at least 10 years.
If Zeller gets on a roll offensively where he can't be kept off the offensive boards, Indiana will make it to the Final Four. Butler, Gonzaga, and Michigan will join them. Butler coach Brad Stevens is a genius, Gonzaga is due and Michigan has Brainy Beilein.
Butler will cut down the nets on Monday night.
Take that, Joe Linardi.