Now that the calendar has turned from October to November, you know what that means, right? No not another Terrell Owens trade demand. Or Los Angeles Angels playoff meltdown. Nope, it means it’s time for college basketball season!
And while we usually celebrate the start of the season by asking ourselves hypothetical questions like, “How many white guys you think Duke is going to start this year?” and “Think there’s any possibility that Pat Summit is actually a man? You know, maybe like 20 percent?” that’s not the case this fall. As a matter of fact, instead, college basketball is coming off a summer of scrutiny the likes of which it has never seen.
Following North Carolina’s title run in March, here are the three biggest headlines the sport saw in the past six months:
1. The shocking, bizarre and wildly uncomfortable sex scandal involving Rick Pitino. For those of you not scoring at home, here’s a quick Reader’s Digest breakdown of the event:
Over the summer, a woman tried to extort Pitino, claiming in 2003 that the Louisville coach forced her into sexual intercourse (good thing she decided to report it six years after the fact). And while Pitino was able to prove the sex was indeed consensual, we learned that after the incident, he actually gave the woman a $300 check for an abortion. Needless to say, this isn’t quite the wholesome image that the NCAA and Louisville are trying to portray, especially when you factor in that Pitino is married with five kids, and, by the way, this woman wasn’t his wife.
(There were two fun side notes on the case however. The first is that Pitino had a friend in the bar when the incident occured (the place had already shut down and was originally thought to be empty). Although supposedly in his buddy’s defense, the guy didn’t realize the whole incident was going on. Riiiiiiight.
The second fun fact? The accuser later went on to marry one of Pitino’s friends and Louisville equipment manager Tim Sypher. Needless to say, I’d give one of my kidneys to have been at that wedding.)
2. The second headline occurred when Memphis was forced to vacate their 2008 Final Four trip after it was revealed that the star of that team- Derrick Rose- had someone take the SAT for him, meaning he was ineligible that entire season. Of course by the time the revelations came out, former coach John Calipari had already left town to coach at Kentucky. Again for those scoring at home, Calipari is the only coach in NCAA history to have two Final Fours at two different schools vacated (the other in 1996 at UMass). Somebody get this guy a plaque!
3. The final headline came just a few weeks ago, when the Kansas basketball team- which is coming into the season as the top ranked team in college basketball- had a campus wide turf war with the football team, ending with starting guard Tyshawn Taylor having to go to the hospital. The reason for the fight? Because apparently on a campus with 20,000 people, there aren’t enough girls to go around for both teams.
Anyways, when you factor in those things, as well as UConn coach Jim Calhoun getting into a serious bike accident (he’s ok), Billy Gillespie getting pulled over for a DUI, and Coach K getting arrested for picking up hookers outside Cameron Indoor Arena (ok maybe I made that one up), college basketball is undergoing an identity crisis unlike any other time.
Luckily for everyone, I’m here. And to quote Mark McGwire, we’re “Not here to talk about the past,” but to get ready for the future, as the season is set to get underway in just a few days. There are countless reasons to be excited for college basketball season, but just to get your appetite wet, how about I give you 50 to start with?
1. Golden Age of Coaches: Because players come and go so frequently, college basketball will always be more about the coaches and programs than the guys on the court. And with Roy Williams, Coach K, Calhoun, Jim Boeheim and Tom Izzo on the sidelines, the sport has never been in better hands.
2. Getting To Know The New Stars: Hansbrough, Thabeet, Curry and Griffin are gone, and in their place are Ed Davis, Willie Warren and Greg Monroe. Wait who? No worries, you’ll know all these guys by March. So will NBA scouts.
3. January 2, Louisville at Kentucky: Cue to Jim Nantz:
Two great programs. Two controversial coaches. Pitino-Calipari. Louisville-Kentucky. The Bloodbath in the Bluegrass (copyright Aaron Torres 2009). Next on CBS!
4. Florida International’s Isiah Thomas experiment: He ruined the Toronto Raptors. And the CBA. And the New York Knicks. And now, looking for a new place to expand his ineptitude, Isiah has landed at tiny Florida International in Miami. What’s the Hall of Famer got in store for them? Tune in to find out.
5. Luke Harangody: Believe it or not, Harangody is back for more season in South Bend, and by the time this year is over, will go down as one of the greatest players in Big East history. Too bad he’ll also be preparing for a professional career in Bulgaria right around this time next year. Enjoy college Luke!
6. UCLA, My Favorite “And If,” Team: Do you ever read stories about your favorite baseball team during spring training, and some beat writer goes a little overboard and says stuff like, “And if Aaron Boone hits 30 home runs, and if Mike Hampton wins 20 games…the Astros could win the World Series.” Well that’s kind of like UCLA basketball this year, everyone is giving them love, and I don’t know why. Although…If Drew Gordon becomes a force down low, and if Jerime Anderson is better than Darren Collison was last year, and if Nikola Dragovic averages 20 points a game… they might win the Pac-10.
7. Ed Davis: The North Carolina sophomore has an old school swagger to his game that I promise you’ll enjoy. Just make sure to enjoy it this season, as he’ll probably be cashing NBA paychecks come the spring.
8. A Different Duke?: No they’re not likeable. Or athletic. Or even particularly talented. But for the first time in years, Duke’s roster is filled with big guys along the frontline, instead of skinny jump shooters along the perimeter. Who said you can’t teach an old coach new tricks?
9. And ___ starts off going man-to-man: Come on admit it, you missed Bill Raftery in the offseason. Admit it!
10. The Corey’s: No I’m not talking about the cheesy VH1 reality show with Corey Feldman and Corey Haim. Or what Corey Matthews and his buddies did on Season 4 of Boy Meets World. I’m talking about Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, the Villanova guards that were a huge reason why the Wildcats went to the Final Four last year, and an even bigger reason why they’re favorites in the Big East this year.
11. Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy: Remember last year when Kennedy punched out a cab driver? Wasn’t that funny? Oh wait, it wasn’t funny at all. Especially if you were the cab driver, Kennedy or an Ole Miss fan. Luckily for the coach, he’s got enough talent this year to make headlines on the court, rather than just off of it.
12. Shaka Smart: Who is he, you ask? A fallen ‘80’s pop singer? A troubled third world dictator? A trendy New York clothing designer? Nope, he’s the new coach at Virginia Commonwealth, and I promise this won’t be the last you hear his name.
13. The Lance Stephenson Circus Hits Cincinnati: Hmm…So Stephenson may have been the best player in last year’s high school class, but couldn’t find a school that would take him until June. And he’s still not eligible to play this year? Anyone else smell a little trouble? Look, there’s no doubt Stephenson is a talent. Whether he ever sees the court at Cincinnati, now that’s another question.
14. The Pitt Panthers, Rebuilding?: Think again; this isn’t Jaime Dixon’s first rodeo. And while Sam Young and DeJuan Blair may be in the NBA, and you’re not quite sure who any of the players on their roster are, just chalk Pitt up for 21-25 wins and an NCAA Tournament berth. Ok?
15. “That Guys Still Around?!?!?”: Because players come and go so frequently in college basketball, sometimes it seems like guys have been around forever by the time they get to their senior years. Which always leads to funny conversations between my buddies and me saying stuff like, “There’s no way that guys still eligible, he’s been around at least eight years,” and, “I think I remember him guarding Jordan in the ’82 championship game.” Needless to say, we need girlfriends. Or lives.
Anyways, one of the best parts about college basketball is finding those players. And without further adieu, here is the “That Guys Still Around?!?!” Starting 5:
PG: Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
SG: Marcus Ginyard, North Carolina
SF: Quincy Pondexter, Washington
PF: Trevor Booker, Clemson
C: Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
And just for good measure,
6th man: Jerry Smith, Louisville
16. Mike Rosario: He may be the best point guard in the Big East. To bad you’ll never catch him, since he plays for…Rutgers? Yep, that Rutgers. Think it’s too late to put in transfer papers?
17. The Eyes of Texas Are Upon Us: Kansas gets all the love in the Big XII. North Carolina, Michigan State and Kentucky get all the love nationally. Want to know a little secret? The Texas Longhorns might be better than all of them.
18. Bruce Pearl’s Tan: Ok, so “Bruce Pearl’s Tan,” made it onto the list last year too. But come on, look at the guy! Look at him! Coach, I think I speak for all us when I say, please, take a day off from the tanning bed. Please. I’m begging.
19. Mason and Miles Plumee: Your honor, I’d like to submit the Plumee brothers as Exhibits A and B, as to why everyone makes fun of Duke.
20. John Calipari in Kentucky: I already mentioned it in my summer column, “How I’d Change Sports,” but it’s worth re-iterating: The biggest coach, on college basketball’s biggest stage needs a reality show. As a matter of fact, I can hear the preview now:
He’s a coach with two vacated Final Fours. They’re a group of future NBA stars with sketchy backgrounds. See what happens when their worlds collide. Tuesday’s this fall, it’s “Calipari’s Court.”
21. Ohio State’s “Lighty,” At The End Of The Tunnel: Ok that was a bad pun. Really bad. But back to the Buckeyes. They were 7-0 with David Lighty to start last year, but finished just 15-11 when he went down with a season ending injury in December. The fourth year junior is back, healthy and a key if Ohio State is going to overtake Michigan State in the Big 10.
22. The Wisconsin Badgers: Their marketing slogan might as well be, “Making basketball 8 percent less cool, every time they take the court, for the past 10 years.”
23. Craig Robinson’s Second Year At Oregon State: The first brother-in-law (his sister is Michelle Obama) got Oregon State to a very respectable 18-18 in his first year as head coach in Corvallis. His next step? Getting Oregon State to their first NCAA Tournament since 1990.
24. Rick Majerus at St. Louis: It’s of Year 3 of the Rick Majerus era at St. Louis, who knew? Regardless, I doubt anything Majerus does on the sidelines will top the time on ESPN when he said, “I’m not a Gay guy,” in reference to former UConn star Rudy Gay. Come back to the studio coach, we miss you.
25. The Syracuse Orange: They lost Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris to the pros, but Jim Boeheim is trying to convince anyone who’ll listen that his 2010 team will be just as good as last year’s. Sure coach, whatever you say.
26. And The Player You’ve Forgotten About Since Last Year’s NCAA Tournament Is… Remember in Round 1 last year when Memphis was losing to Cal-State Northridge, Tyreke Evans and Robert Dozier couldn’t do anything right, and in stepped…Roburt Sallie? That’s right, it was Sallie who scored 35 points on 10 3’s, helping the Tigers survive the first round. Well Sallie is back in Memphis, and under new coach Josh Pastner his role is only going to expand. Only the next time he puts up 10 3’s, you’ll know who he is.
27. Kentucky freshman John Wall: He’ll likely be the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, and is the most hyped high school player to come to college basketball since Greg Oden. And I’d be lying if I said that I’m not dying to see him in action.
28. Darryl “Truck,” Bryant: So Bob Huggins is the face of the West Virginia basketball program and Devin Ebanks might be its best player. But anytime you’ve got a guy on your team nicknamed “Truck,” you’ve got to show him a little love. Right?
29. Indiana guard Jeremiah Rivers: Doc’s kid is undoubtedly one of my 10 favorite athletes named “Jeremiah,” of all-time.
30. The Mouth of Maryland: Remember last year when Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez talked smack to Memphis, and then the Tigers beat his Terps by 18 points. Well I remember, and I’ve got a little advice for Mr. Vasquez, keep your comments to yourself this year.
31. The Big Least?: Yes the Big East lost a lot of talent, but don’t get too excited, they won’t be down for long. Guys like Jonny Flynn, Terrence Williams and Hasheem Thabeet might be in the pros, but that just means others like Kemba Walker (UConn), Samardo Samuels (Louisville) and Wesley Johnson (Syracuse) are ready to emerge.
32. Robbie Hummel: Last year I said that “Robbie Hummel,” sounded more like a NASCAR superstar than a basketball player. This year? He needs to stay healthy if Purdue wants to do better than their Sweet 16 appearance a year ago.
33. The UConn Women: They won a National Championship last year, and remain women’s basketball’s most exciting team to watch. You know, if you like watching women’s basketball that is.
34. Xavier’s Jordan Crawford: Who cares what the junior guard does at Xavier this year? He’s already bigger than basically anybody in the sport, thanks to his monster dunk on LeBron James this summer, a dunk that’s already a YouTube classic.
35. South Florida guard B.J. Daniels: Not only is Daniels a below average quarterback on South Florida’s lousy football team, now he gets to be a below average guard on their lousy basketball team too!
35. Clemson Coach Oliver Purnell: He’s not really a good coach. His teams are perennially overrated and peak too early in the year. And I can hardly see him taking Clemson to a Sweet 16, let alone a Final Four. But hey, he sure is better than the last guy, huh?
36. Nic Wise: The guy has played for four coaches in four years, and seen more drama than a cast member on The Real World. But give him credit, instead of bailing on a tough situation at Arizona, he’s embraced it, and will be a better basketball player, and better man because of that.
37. Where’s The Love For Gonzaga?: For the first time in a generation, the expectations are low in Spokane, after Gonzaga lost four starters from last year’s Sweet 16 team. But like I said about Pittsburgh, don’t sleep on Mark Few or this program. They’ll be in the NCAA Tournament in March. I guarantee it.
No need to sweat if you’re a Gonzaga fan, Aaron
thinks you’ll be just fine come March.
38. North Carolina forward Will Graves: In one preseason magazine I saw Graves described as the “Best 11th man in college basketball.” Needless to say, it’s good times down at North Carolina. Good times.
39. The Oklahoma State Cowboys: Anyone remember in the second round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, when the Cowboys shot 48 percent from the field and nearly upset Pittsburgh? Guess what? They’re only going to be better in Year Two of the Travis Ford era.
40. Ben Uzoh: No he’s not the Cincinnati Bengals tight end, that’s Ben Utecht. Nope, he’s Ben Uzoh, maybe the best guard you’ve never heard of, and a big reason- along with Jerome Jordan- why Tulsa may win Conference USA this year.
41. Which Chris Wright Is Which?: Whether you prefer Dayton forward Chris Wright, or Georgetown point guard Chris Wright (no relation), know this: Neither team will get to the NCAA Tournament without a major contribution from their Chris Wright.
42. Abdul Gaddy: Quick, who is Abdul Gaddy? A Muslim fundamentalist leader? An up and coming welterweight boxer? Or a Washington guard, who may be the best freshman on the West Coast? (Take choice C)
43. Kevin O’Neill’s Return To College Hoops: Look I know that USC was in a bind after firing Tim Floyd this summer, but did they have to go with Kevin O’Neill? The same guy that’s most famous for being William Gates’ college coach in Hoop Dreams? And the same guy that was basically run out of Arizona two years ago? And the same guy that got fired as Toronto Raptors coach in 2004? And the same guy that barely left the Tennessee and Northwestern programs any better than he found them? That guy? Really? You sure you don’t want to check and see if Kelvin Sampson is available? Just to be sure.
44. Duke freshman Ryan Kelly: “And the B.J. Mullens Memorial Award for ‘Token White Freshman That We All Get A Little Too Excited About,’ goes to (cue the drum roll), Ryan Kelly! Ryan couldn’t be with us tonight, but sends along this message…”
45. New Memphis coach Josh Pastner: He’s replacing a legend, but I promise you that Memphis won’t miss a beat. There’s no one in the business- no one- that works harder than the 31-year-old Pastner.
46. Denis Clemente: Roberto Clemente’s cousin tried his hand at baseball, but decided that basketball was more to his liking. Seems like a good choice for a guy who averaged 15 points as a Kansas State junior last year.
47. Louisiana Tech guard Magnum Rolle: My only question is: Do you prefer “original,” “extra sensitive,” or “her pleasure?”
48. Bruce Weber: He’s cranky, he’s whiny and he may be the best game day coach in America. If he could only recruit, he’d have the Big 10 in the palm of his hands right now.
49. The Big East Tournament: Five days of wall-to-wall basketball with the best coaches, players and teams in the country. Any true basketball or sports fan needs to make the pilgrimage to Madison Square Garden at least once in their lives. You will not be disappointed.
50. The Kansas Jayhawks: They’re talented. They’re deep. They’re well coached. And if they can stay out of fights with the football team, they’ll be the best team in college basketball during the 2009-2010 season. Two National Championships in three years? I think so. Rock. Chalk. Jayhawk.