It’s been a great year … and a lousy one.
Pick your poison when it comes to college basketball 2012-13. If you’re a proponent, or fan, of the dynamic squad, the one that sets the tone for an entire season and has everyone else scrambling to stack up, this has been a rough few months for you.
If you prefer more of a wide-open approach, whereby you take a gander up and down the rankings and beyond, wondering if any team is a given to beat another, this has been as close to bliss as possible for you.
Think about, even as we head down the stretch drive, can any of us look at what we’ve seen and say with conviction what team is going to win it all? Or what teams will make the Final Four? Or even what ones will do some damage in the NCAA Tournament?
The proud basketball tradition had faded to a deep charcoal the past couple decades. Not exactly black because it hadn’t completely died, and remnants of a glorious past still remained around its North Philadelphia campus, but for far too long, when the words La Salle University and hoops were uttered in the same sentence, students and alums of the school weren’t exactly beaming and shouting out, “Yeah, that’s us. We’re the Explorers. Bring it on.”
Now, after a week unlike any other in the program’s history over the last 60-plus years, they just might.
In beating Atlantic Ten rivals Butler and Virginia Commonwealth last week, the Explorers knocked off ranked opponents in back-to-back games for the first time since 1952. In the interim, they won an NIT title (1952), an NCAA title (1954), finished runner-up in the NCAA tournament (1955), and have had four of the truly legendary college players of all time don their gold and blue: Tom Gola, Michael Brooks, Lionel Simmons and Kenny Durrett.
This was never going to be an encore performance met with raucous applause and rave reviews. With the headliners racing out the door even as the curtain closed, the most anyone could hope to witness was a reasonable facsimile put forth by a group of unproven understudies and fresh-faced newcomers.
Thus far, the effort has been shaky at best.
Welcome to the University of Kentucky men’s basketball 2012-13, the season after the Wildcats earned their eighth national championship.
Despite their youth, they entered the current campaign ranked third in the country – a byproduct of the program’s history, both recent and long-term, and the acknowledged talent that had joined coach John Calipari’s fold. Parade All-Americans Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Nerlens Noel not only gave the UK faithful hope that the good times would continue to roll, but, apparently, they had the experts convinced of the same thing.
Returning big man Kyle Wiltjer, the main link to last year’s 38-2 example of dominance, and North Carolina State transfer Ryan Harrow only strengthened those positions.
Blah, blah, blah … Blah, blah, blah …
Think about it, what more can you say after a weekend in which Syracuse knocked off No. 1 Saturday afternoon in Louisville and then got one-upped later that night in a mid-major classic for the ages, in which two mid-majors that really shouldn’t be considered mid-majors at this point showed once again why they shouldn’t be considered mid-majors at this point.
In short, “little guys,” you got the floor …
Butler, 16-2. If ever any doubts existed that something special was brewing with the Bulldogs under Brad Stevens, they should have been put to rest in front of a national-TV audience Saturday night. Of course, they should have been put to rest by back-to-back NCAA title-game appearances in 2010 and 2011, but that’s another story to beat BCS conference propaganda mongers over the head with at another date. A word of warning – Butler has a legit trap game tonight at overlooked La Salle before hosting giant-killer Temple on Saturday.
Sometimes being critical pays off, even if it’s just to have that “told you so” ammo stashed away in the back pocket, ready to whip out at a moment’s notice when truth catches up with blarney, or to avoid the feeling of crushing disappointment that comes at the same juncture as reality hits from being led astray.
In sports, heck, in all facets of life today, how can you be any other way … if you hope to maintain any modicum of sanity or any semblance of perspective?
Some words to the wise: Stop believing the hype. Whatever it is. Now.
Our latest uproar in the athletic realm may be among the most lame. From point shaving to performance-enhancing drugs, our BS cup has runneth over time and again. Yet, we keep going back for more in that ever-elusive, apparently never-ending hunt for pure glory, a true hero, some sort of salvation in a sports context. Who really knows why. But it continues with no end in sight.