More Than Just The Brackets
Hello there, and welcome to new fans and some of my old online friends from other sites.
Soon, it will be time to bring back that bouncing orange and black rimmed ball going through a net that is 10 feet high played on a hardwood surface 94 feet in length. This grand game creates many crazy and sometimes painful memories for players, coaches, fans, cheerleaders, and many scores of alumni and administrators in the United States. And yes, my passion of college hoops is way more than just fantasizing about how the brackets look each and every March.
The headline above might have caused some stirs had that been the main URL, but I think settling on the “40 Minutes (the word forty spelled out for clarity purposes) of Hoops Fun” is what this blog plans to be really all about.
Throughout the five pulsating months that is called men’s college basketball, I will take you on a virtual journey through my own thoughts and hopefully diving into some key statistics gleaned over popular sites such as ESPN and CBS Sports (and if space remains sprinkle some YouTube clips from time to time), and try to separate the truly great schools from the schools simply pretending to make noise in time for the arrival of Santa’s reindeer and then see their bubbles burst come Selection Sunday in March (Clemson in the late 2000’s immediately comes to my mind, starting off with 19 straight wins and losing out in the first round of the SEC Conference tournament the following March).
At times when the in-season records are almost identical to the first weeks of Major League Baseball play (both overall and in-conference), I will introduce you to one of many criteria the NCAA Division I Selection Committee uses in Indianapolis. That indicator is called the RPI–or Ratings Percentage Index. Most fans are confused on whether this is the only true indicator on how teams are selected and eventually placed into brackets.
Never fear, all I know is there are plenty of other coaches polls and other various computer polls that make up the RPI in its’ current form. Once the countdown to Super Bowl hype begins in late January, that is when talk about the RPI usually ramps up into high gear.
How I Became A College Basketball Fan
When I was a young boy, I saw one school and only one school that wore the American colors of red, white, and blue. They were ranked #1 in the nation and featured high flying players like Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings. Even legendary Coach Ray Meyer could have passed on as a great Mayor in Waiting with his affable, carefree personality on the sidelines–but the DePaul Blue Demons was the main team to watch during the winter of 1979.
However, two future Basketball Hall of Famers changed the course of the game and took the NBA to different heights when Earvin “Magic” Johnson and his Michigan State Spartans outlasted Larry Bird and the then-undefeated Indiana State Sycamores in still the highest rated NCAA basketball game, men or women before or since–when NBC posted a 28.1 rating.
And my eyes have seen a lot since then:
When CBS took over three years later, I distinctly recall seeing players names on the screen as:
PAT EWING and MIKE JORDAN
Patrick Ewing of Georgetown stood toe-to-toe with freshman sensation Michael “Air” Jordan of North Carolina in the 1982 title game at the Superdome in New Orleans. Jordan’s 18 foot jumper not only gave the Tar Heels the lead, but proved to be the winning points after Freddie Brown’s lapse in judgment in throwing the ball to James Worthy.
The next three years would set new benchmarks and raised the level of play in featuring great action and true theater for the dramatic.
1983, the Pit in Albuquerque, New Mexico saw higher drama. Super Saturday had one semifinal featuring the ultimate Dunkathon, with Houston and their legendary “Phi Slamma Jamma” moniker run roughshod over Louisville in one semifinal. A total of 13 dunks were counted on that day. Two nights later, the late great North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano watched helplessly from the sideline as Houston ripped off a 15-2 run to nearly end the Cinderella dreams of Sidney Lowe, Terry Gannon, and Derrick Whittenburg’s North Carolina State Wolfplack. All Tournament long, they came back from the dead and pulled out victories quicker than rabbits out of a magician’s hat. Even with Clyde “The Glide” Drexler and Akeem (later Hakeem) “The Dream” Olajuwon dominating at both ends of the court, Guy Lewis nearly had that ring fit perfectly on his long hand.
But someone forgot to tell Lorenzo Charles. There he was, all alone underneath the basket–and after Wittenburg’s near half-court prayer went unanswered, this time the shot was true and Houston saw their dreams shatter worse than a woman seeing a pumpkin turn to dust at the stroke of midnight. The 54-52 upset proved along that if you have heart, guts, and a positive mental attitude–no matter what the circumstances, you can accomplish big dreams. And that Wolfpack team proved many people wrong at the same time most of America was concerned on if CBS was going to find any suitable replacement for their perennial Emmy award winning series, M*A*S*H.
1984 saw Georgetown dominate from wire to wire ending the dreams of Houston and Alvin Franklin, but 1985 saw the real breakthrough with the introduction of the 64 team bracket and CBS televising the announcement of the seedings and pairings for the first time. Talk about a Hoyas dynasty was in true evidence until they met #8 seeded Villanova. The Wildcats made every shot count, and boy–did they ever! Setting all kinds of shooting records, and that was two years before the introduction of the three-point shot and one year before the shot clock was introduced at a rather modest 45 seconds (the current 35 second rule was implemented prior to the 1992-93 season).
1987 and 1988 had their singular “shining moments” with Indiana’s Keith Smart and Kansas’ Danny Manning each riding their schools to ultimate glory. But 1990 stands out in my mind more than any other year.
1990 had the highest scoring game in history, when Loyola Marymount and LSU staged a game for the ages the day before Super Bowl XXIV on CBS. Shaquille O’Neal was just a sophomore for the Tigers, but he played at an amazing pace that even Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble had to just sprint back down the Pete Maravich Court just to keep up. Nearly six weeks later, Gathers made one of his patented slam dunks in a West Coast Conference tournament game…then a few seconds later, he collapsed.
The run LMU made into the Elite Eight was truly inspirational in many ways. However, inspiration of a different sort would happen first with Coach K and Duke repeating in 1991 and ’92, then again later with Billy Donovan and his Florida Gators turning the trick both in 2006 at the old RCA Dome over Jordan Farmar and UCLA, and in 2007 at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome against Greg Oden and Ohio State.
And with recent years, you have mid-majors accomplishing major things:
2006 George Mason, reached Final Four–first school to knock off three #1 seeds in succession.
2008 Davidson, Stephen Curry and the Southern Conference’s magic carpet ride fell one game short, losing valiantly to Kansas in Detroit at the Midwest Regional Final–even with a guy who never played a minute of college basketball, NBA mega superstar LeBron James sitting in the stands at Ford Field.
2010 Butler, came within one basket of winning their first National Championship–made it back in 2011
2013 Wichita State, stayed with Louisville until the final minutes in a tense National Semifinal.
And So, We Arrived At This Interesting Moment
Controversy with the NCAA itself, along with schools changing conferences, a new TV home for the Final Four among a myriad of changes that will mark this 2013-2014 season.
That will be in my next blog as I plan to briefly touch on things that I see might need fixing in general and what would make the term “student-athlete” more than just a punching bag of a phrase.
See you before the first set of games tip off on November 7 and 8.