Only a fool would poke fun at Clemson University or the University of Alabama these days. Of course, that’s why I’m here.
Those schools may have the teams that will meet Monday night for the national championship in football, but you know what? Big deal. Not impressed. So totally over it.
Wake me when they’re great at both football and basketball, because that’s what all the cool schools are.
Seriously, the list of schools where the football and men’s basketball programs are killing it is impressive. Here are four that are really standing out:
1. MICHIGAN STATE
2015 football season: The Spartans finished 12-2, won the Big Ten and were the No. 3 seed in the four-team playoff.
2015-16 basketball season: Tom Izzo’s squad has a terrific shot to reach the Final Four for the second year in a row. The Spartans — No. 5 in the latest AP poll, which came out Monday — were unbeaten and ranked No. 1 before last week’s loss at Iowa. Would that even have happened had senior All-American Denzel Valentine not been missing from the lineup?
Valentine could make his return as soon as this weekend. From there, the school’s sports-mad fan base will revel in MSU’s effort to outfight the likes of Maryland, Purdue and Indiana for the Big Ten title. Can you even imagine that last sentence ever being written about football?
2015 football season: The 11-win Sooners fell to No. 1 Clemson in the playoff, but not before their incredible November, when they knocked off Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State on back-to-back-to-back Saturdays to win the Big 12.
2015-16 basketball season: Isn’t this a football school? Yet there the Sooners were Monday night at Kansas, embroiled in a three-overtime-classic 1-vs.-2 affair. Kansas has won 11 consecutive Big 12 regular-season titles — an incredible feat — but this Sooners squad clearly has the pieces to finally end The Streak.
It starts with shooting guard Buddy Hield, a pure scorer averaging 26.3 points per game. But coach Lon Kruger has a roster loaded with experience and unselfishness. This is Kruger’s best shot since leaving Florida for Illinois two decades ago to reach his second Final Four.
3. NORTH CAROLINA
2015 football season: The Tar Heels won 11 games — the most at the school since 1997 — and gave Clemson a serious scare in the ACC title game.
2015-16 basketball season: UNC dropped two non-conference games by a combined six points, which means next to nothing in the big picture. Roy Williams has Duke-like talent and Virginia-like experience on his hands, a heck of a combo. The Heels are a good bet to claim their first ACC regular-season title in four years.
2015 football season: The Rose Bowl against Stanford got pretty ugly, but the Hawkeyes just won 12 games for the first time in Kirk Ferentz’s 17 years atop the program. That’s reason for fans to keep celebrating.
2015-16 basketball season: Iowa is ranked 19th and already has beaten Michigan State and Purdue to open its Big Ten slate. The Hawkeyes also have a very high-quality defeat on their schedule — by a single point at then-No. 4 Iowa State. It’s hard to say how long Fran McCaffery’s team can hang in the Big Ten race, but there’s no reason it can’t do better than last season’s 12-6 mark in league play.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
No. 9 Kentucky at LSU (Tuesday, 8 p.m., ESPN): Throw out the records, forget about the fundamentals and just enjoy this display of unreal freshman talent. The Wildcats have special guards Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe and somewhat enigmatic big man Skal Labissiere. The Tigers have Ben Simmons — the likely No. 1 pick in June’s NBA draft — and guard Antonio Blakeney. For hoops junkies, it’s can’t-miss.
No. 3 Maryland at Wisconsin (Saturday, noon, ESPN): Pretty much everyone has pronounced these Badgers dead already, but let’s see what they have for Melo Trimble and the Terps at the Kohl Center. An upset victory here would get the Greg Gard era going for real. (OK, probably not going to happen.)
Baylor at No. 13 Iowa State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN2): All the Big 12 talk is about Kansas and Oklahoma, but the Cyclones could end up being better than either of them. Baylor? Not looking so hot of late, but the Bears have enough athleticism and talent to beat anybody.
Up: South Carolina. Is it only temporary? Possibly, but the Gamecocks are 13-0 — their best start in 82 years — and clearly have come a long way under coach Frank Martin, formerly of Kansas State.
Down: No. 18 Butler. The Bulldogs were in the top 10 only a week ago, but they failed back-to-back tests against fellow Big East contenders Providence (81-73 at home) and Xavier (88-69 on the road).
Up: Melvin Johnson, VCU. The senior guard is a player you don’t hear much about, but he could become a need-to-know name in March. Johnson — who made eight three-pointers in a game earlier this season — has been on fire of late, knocking down 17 of 32 from distance over his last four outings.
Down: Jim Boeheim. Syracuse’s longtime coach is finishing up a nine-game suspension resulting from a lengthy investigation into the school’s athletic programs. Without him this season, the Orange are 4-4 and off to an 0-2 start in ACC play.
26.4, 8.9: Oakland guard Kahlil Felder leads the nation in assists, with 8.9 a game. Pretty good, right? Yet he also ranks second in scoring, at 26.4 points a game, and that combo is just plain hard to believe. Ask Michigan State — which Felder lit up for 37 and nine in a narrow defeat — how good this guy is.
4.0: That isn’t Omaha guard Tra-Deon’s grade-point average, at least not that we know of. Rather, it’s his national-best steals average. In fact, Providence’s Kris Dunn (3.1) is the only other player averaging at least three. No Division I player has averaged four for a full season since the 2001-02 campaign.
.622: Not a bad little three-point field goal percentage for BYU guard Zac Seljaas, wouldn’t you agree? The 6-7 freshman has splashed 28 of 45 long balls into the well. Next on this list: High Point’s Lorenzo Cugini, who’s at .591 with 39 makes in 66 tries.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.