This is one of the best times of the year in sports, no matter how far Michigan State and Virginia set shooting back Sunday afternoon.
The Super Bowl brings people together to eat, drink and be very entertained by TV commercials. The NCAA Tournament brings people together to argue about the NCAA Tournament. One of the arguments surely will center on Michigan State’s 60-54 victory over No. 2-seeded Virginia, the topic of debate being, “You call that basketball?’’
Yes, I do. The refs let them play. They let them play MMA, but that’s OK. Never mind all the clanking, bloodletting and inelegance. It misses the point. The game mattered. The game was life or death, basketball-wise. That’s the tournament, in all its gory glory.
I don’t care about the dearth of NBA talent in the college game. I don’t care about the lack of fundamentals. I certainly don’t care about the regular season. I care about the tournament, in which everybody has a chance of beating everybody else, unless the everybody else happens to be Kentucky, in which case never mind.
I care that there is as much discussion about what’s wrong with college basketball as there is about what’s right. For example, I happen to believe that college players should be paid, beyond their scholarships, for the revenue they bring to their schools. The president of the United States recently said he believes that they shouldn’t be paid, raising the question of whether there aren’t more pressing issues with which he should be concerned. And the correct answer is, no, there aren’t.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino recently said that high school players should be able to skip college and jump to the NBA, quite possibly because it’s the American thing to do but more likely because he’s sick of watching his in-state rival, Kentucky’s John Calipari, field team after team of NBA-ready freshmen.
The other day, Calipari uttered one of the greatest straight-faced fibs I’ve ever heard. He told his players that they should be proud of winning their 36th straight game, a “ridiculous’’ accomplishment in this era of “parity.’’ This from the guy who has nine McDonald’s All-Americans on his team.
My guess is that the people who have Kentucky winning the national championship in their brackets won’t be too upset if a decided underdog knocks off the Wildcats. That’s because the NCAA Tournament is about stories. The more dramatic, corny, farfetched the story, the better — unless winning your bracket pool with Kentucky is worth $10,000 to you, in which case never mind.
(I suppose you could argue that the desperation in a single-elimination, 68-team curling tournament would likewise keep me entertained, but I don’t think so. Too much sweeping. Makes me think of household chores.)
Before the NCAA tournament began, I did not know where Georgia State was or who R.J. Hunter was. But after he led the Panthers to an upset of Baylor, now I do, and I’ll bet you do too. The Big Dance is about relative nobodies like Georgia State becoming somebodies. That’s the beauty of this thing.
There’s so much to like.
I like that Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky wrote in his blog last year, “I hate looking in my bank account at the end of the month and seeing $20 left in there,’’ yet still decided to stay in school rather than enter the NBA draft. I like it not because it was the right thing to do but because he thought it was the right thing to do.
I don’t know what the heck CBS announcer Bill Raftery is saying half the time, but I like it.
I hate Duke, and nothing, not even the prospect of coach Mike Krzyzewski finding a cancer cure, will change that. When ESPN recently ran a “30 for 30’’ on Christian Laettner, it felt like someone had taken steel wool to my corneas.
I like that when I watch college basketball, I don’t spend my time thinking it pales in comparison to pro basketball.
I’m not trying to paint a picture of purity here. College basketball is dirtier than its pro cousin because there are more avenues for cheating. That’s all. When Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim denies that his program is as out of control as the NCAA’s harsh penalties against it suggest, few people believe him. And when he says those penalties will only make him retire later than sooner, it feels like all of us are being punished.
But let’s get back to the positive. Who’s going to bring down Duke?